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How India Is Falling Apart Over Our Narrow Definitions Of Nationalism

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Nationalism is a concept conceived in the 19th century, according to which, states and principalities come together, often by use of threat or oppression, to form a larger institution with defined geographical limits, called a nation. In India, the idea of nationalism has always been confused with what could be called ‘sub-nationalism’. Sub-nationalism is a policy of asserting the interests of one’s own state/region/province, as separate from the interests of the nation and the common interest of all other states/regions/provinces.

Sub-nationalism in India is being used to overpower the feeling of  ”we-ness” created long back during the freedom struggle, and is consequently considered as a component that urges people to search for an identity completely different from the one offered by a sovereign state.

Nationalism in India was born as a result of opposition to British despotism. In the early phase of the freedom struggle, Hindus and the Muslims revolted together against the foreign enslavement. The most sensational and effective political strategy by the Britishers was the ”Divide and Rule Policy”. It used the most wicked ploy to divide India into different sections.

But, before we criticize the Britishers for dividing India, it has to be understood that ‘India’ was never really one. Rather, it was a group of princely states which actually got an identity of oneness only after the British took over. This identity of oneness could not sustain the stark differences between the states that existed, as India has always been considered to be a “state-nation” which appreciates “multiple and reciprocal” socio-cultural selfhood and provides constitutional safeguards to accommodate various political ideologies and claims arising out of these identities. 

REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee – RTX27J90

How The States Re-organisation Act, 1956, Led To The Rise Of Sub-nationalism In India

Until independence, everyone had the common objective of attaining freedom from the Britishers, and it was pretty much a case of Bharat Mata ki Jai everywhere. A defining moment that instituted the idea of Sub-nationalism was the States Re-organisation Act of 1956, which led to the re-organization of states on a linguistic basis. It remains the single most extensive change in state boundaries since the independence of India in 1947. These key legislative reforms ensured that the national identity is not homogeneous.

Dr BR Ambedkar in his book, “Thoughts On Linguistic States”, says “A linguistic state with its regional language as its official language may easily develop into an independent nationality. The road between Independent Nationality and Independent State is very narrow. If this happens, India will cease to be Modern India; we have and will become Medieval India consisting of a variety of States indulging in rivalry and warfare.

Re-organisation of states could have been based on administrative competence, capital availability, natural resources, etc, but not on the basis of language. It is just a medium of communication, and can’t form the basis for re-organisation. Upliftment of people is far more important than nurturing the idea of linguistic division.

Sub-nationalism In The Present Context

Sub-nationalism in the present era has emerged as a political idea that has been growing in communities, societies, individuals, ethnic groups and in the people. It is a culture of hate that is being perpetrated in the name of nationalism, as politics is no more about nation-building but has become a game of power-grabbing.

Emerging most strongly from Karnataka is another example of how nationalism in India is being shaped into sub-nationalism. The difference of opinion is about a separate state flag demanded by the state government of Karnataka, in spite of having an unofficial state flag as a symbol of Kannadiga pride for the last half a decade. The idea of a separate flag is not restricted to Karnataka. A separate flag for Nagas is one amongst the 33 demands made by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM).

The other controversy is about the imposition of Hindi, most notably on the signboards at the metro stations in Bangalore, as it is a perception that the new settlers in the state are apathetic towards learning Kannada and insist that the others speak in Hindi.

Be it flags, or any other symbol, the people of India will devise creative ways of attaining their cultural freedom. The greater the differences between the states, the more severe is the attachment to their individual identity and principles and the desire to form an autonomous homeland where those values can easily be implemented.

This idea of sub-nationalism in a multi-ethnic state like India is threatening. It looks after internal frailty, liberates people from control, and promises greater personal freedom – but all at the cost of the nation. Sub-nationalism has made it too easy to name somebody an anti-national, if he is found to have differences with a homogenous ideology prevailing in a particular state. The sub-nationalist feeling in states like UP has also resulted in repeated lynchings, thrashings, and condemnation in the name of cow protection.

Sub-nationalism Isn’t Just Bad, It’s Ridiculous

Sub-nationalism is just used as a weapon to haul fragmented groups of people with a strong cultural identity of their own and parade them around with an absurd idea of a separate homeland. This leads to a situation where people start believing the state without further verifying the state’s ‘facts’. One has to understand that nationalism isn’t limited to any one ethnic group, language, or a nation-state. Rather, it is a national identity which could coexist and co-operate fruitfully.

What is bad about sub-nationalism, apart from its inherent cumulative coercion, is that it inspires rivalry. What often starts as a populist measure for vote bank politics, leads to the strengthening of regionalism over nationalism. Even in its purest forms sub-nationalism kills the objective of a democratic state and gradually but firmly instils secessionist tendencies within the people. But, in India, the right to secede has not been guaranteed under the constitution, and precisely because it is not guaranteed by the constitution, it is essential that violations of the constitutional provisions and voices raised about such violations must be discussed.

With a pluralist democratic perspective, I strongly believe that actions like these – effectively forcing a personal identity different from the collective identity – compromises any feelings of unity. Any attempts to weaken the collective conscience, whether through an idea or through homogenization through languages or through undemocratic single-party domination, will all be fought and won against over time.

Who Are You? A Patriot Or A Nationalist?

While nationalism can unite people it must be noted that it unites people against other people.”  George Orwell.

Nationalism and patriotism are more often used as synonyms to show the relationship of an individual towards the nation. But, they connote different meanings. Firstly, patriotism is a feeling, nationalism is an ideology. Secondly, nationalism focuses on the ”State”, whereas patriotism focuses on the ”People”. A nationalist would give more importance to unity with respect to culture, language, or territory. Whereas a patriot would show his affection for the nation with more significance on morals and beliefs.

But the fact remains that in the wake of the changing ideologies, a very impressive piece, embedded with liberal values that bind everyone together, is the Constitution of India. Justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity, as it says. May our dream of a new tomorrow come true for us.

A version of this post was previously published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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