By Abhijeet Kumar:
In the raging war between ‘nationalists’ and ‘anti-nationals’ regarding the recent Jawaharlal Nehru University controversy, the dangers and horrors of the nation-state and nationalism have come alive. India has a history of culturally diverse groups, often not at the throats of each other! The history of a common oppressor, the British, somehow developed the feeling of nationalism among Indian masses, as presented by the nationalist historians. Prior to that, there was no ‘unified’ India as such.
As Ernest Renan had said, “the experience of a shared past brings about the feeling of nationalism among people. A heroic past, great men, glory (by which I understand genuine glory), this is the social capital upon which one bases a national idea.” For Benedict Anderson, nations are imagined communities. They are not real. And if nations are imagined then we can say that nationalism is a mirage as well. It’s a creation of ‘the few’ to govern a large populace and in the process ignoring certain communities from their respective framework, thereby creating the ‘Other’. Putting it simply, nationalism seems like a movie in which there is a hero and for the mere glorification of the hero there has to be a villain. In the Indian case, one such ‘villain’ was created at the time of Independence. Since then, anybody who vouches for this ‘villain’ or the ‘Other’ is assumed to be an anti-national.
In JNU, slogans of “Pakistan Zindabad” were allegedly raised, creating a huge uproar. People who are said to have raised these slogans are being abused both physically and verbally by mobs. Now, this is the time to stop and think. What is a nation? Who are we? Have we come to a point, after 68 years, where we cannot even wish well for people who once lived together with us, minus the geographical divide. They also share the same oppressive past as the rest of India. The irony is that today, nationalism is being defined by a few and the masses are following. Such is the power of ‘nationalism’. It can guide a mob to any direction it desires.
Nationalism, nowadays, is being proven by mere acts of chanting Vande Mataram and hoisting the tricolor. These acts have always defined and even now define the Indian nation and its nationalism. All the caste, class and gender antagonisms seem to be forgotten and under the rhetoric of nationalism. People have united to curb the rights of others by coercion. Anybody not following these set rules of showing their nationalism is being attacked. People are being forced to show their love for the nation.
Let us try to understand the meaning of ‘nation’.
India is such a large geographically and culturally diverse nation that every community has a different understanding of what a nation is. Their daily experiences forge their opinions about India. For women, the understanding of the Indian nation, with all its patriarchal violence, mandated by the sacred texts of the dominant religious ideology, that is the Hindu religion, is different than that of men. The people of Kashmir, the north-east, tribals, each have different opinions on the Indian nation and the meaning of nationalism depending on their daily encounters with the Indian state and the rest of the country. The stereotyping and discrimination they have to face in other regions of the country develops their understanding of India.
One begins to wonder that if these antagonisms exist so strongly within society, how people suddenly unite, forgetting all their experiences of discrimination which have been a part of their lives, and will continue to be once this nationalist fever dies down. When one digs a bit deeper, it seems that this whole hatred against Pakistan is largely prevalent among the unsatisfied middle class of the country who gets a bit of everything from everywhere. They are the ones, even now, shouting at the top of their voices ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. But in private, they don’t hesitate for a second in robbing their own country, their own people. The rampant corruption being a clear example of the same.
It looks like the idea of nationalism of a few is being imposed upon everyone with help from the news channels and their anchors! People are being forcibly made to ‘find their nationalism’ within, like in the case of an Assistant Sub-Inspector of police in Maharashtra where he was beaten up and paraded with a saffron flag in his hand and was made to shout ‘Jai Shivaji’ by a mob. Nationalism is often confined to the act of hoisting flags and is completely devoid of what it is actually made of – it’s people.
Coming back to our question of the factors that lead to people uniting under the umbrella of nationalism, let us look at how the minds of people are framed by the media and the role it plays in laying the grounds through which Pakistan’s image as being the inferior and notorious ‘other’ is imprinted in the minds of people.
Bollywood has a huge role to play in the making of our nationalism. Sunny Deol, the brand ambassador of Indian Nationalism, through his movies and his hate-filled dialogues against Pakistan, has successfully created an image of an envious nation that wants nothing else but to destroy India. Many more such movies have successfully created this consciousness of ‘self’ as India and Pakistan being the (hated) ‘Other’. The identity of the nation that these movies have created is the same which presides over the differences existing within the Indian society.
Even the recent advertisements that we see every day where Pakistan is belittled are an extension of spreading hatred against it where the act of humiliating Pakistan is widely cheered by the Indian audiences. Take for example the advertisement of the Asia Cup that we saw recently, where there is a clear undertone of hatred when Piyush Mishra says “Padosi ab Padosi nahi rahega,” that is, now the neighbors won’t be neighbors anymore. And then one need not talk about the atmosphere when India is playing against Pakistan.
All these examples indicate something horrible, the result of which is clearly seen in India as Muslims are discriminated against in a number of ways. There are repeated incidents of violence and discriminations against them due to their different cultural practices.
Considering the present scenario, one is compelled to ask if we still remember the horrors of Partition. We have forgotten that atrocities were committed on both sides. We only remember the part which suits or rather boosts our nationalism. Have we failed to accept our history and move on with our lives? As Renan had said, “Forgetfulness is a historical error.” And by the looks of it, we have committed that error. As a result of this, we can see today that slogans of well-wishes for our neighbour Pakistan are leading to a branding of people as ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘terrorists’. The horrors of partition still lurk beneath the surface, following us like a ghost and ready to return if the slightest chance is provided. The future looks bleak.