“The crimson glow of light on the horizon is the light of thy dawn of peace, my motherland,
It is the glimmer of the funeral pyre burning to ashes,
Flesh – the self-love of the nation – dead under its own excess.”
– Rabindranath Tagore, in, “Nationalism” (1918)
To critique and dissent are the basic ingredients of a democratic polity especially in the very long pluralist customs and traditions in India. But the contemporary socio-political environment, crying hoarse on Hindu nationalism, needs to stop apotheosising nation above its people. Let’s look at Tagore’s understanding of nationalism, to begin our assessment of the aggressive project of Hindu nationalists.
Nationalism according to Tagore was “ a great menace.” To him, it was “a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over the human world of the present age and eating into its moral vitality.” He saw nationalism as the most powerful anaesthetic that man ever invented.
Nationalism is inherently exclusionary and self -aggrandising. The contemporary times are a witness that it is nurtured by pride, chauvinism, aggressive posturing and a hate culture against an imagined or actual “other” who is to be seen and targeted as an enemy.
It would not take time to know who the enemy is being constructed today by the government. One can have visible evidence in front of them through what happened in Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University.
The police brutality that took place in these two universities highlights two important points. Firstly, the brutal attack was not merely a clash between police and dissenting students but that was a targeted attack on a specific community to silence them.
Secondly, the violence at JMI and AMU were not just episodes of police brutality but they were the first glimpse, which showed us how violent CAA and All India NRC will be, all over the country. It showed us that the state will use similar coercive apparatus, to implement its project of CAA, and all India NRC and that even bloodshed won’t stop them.
Nationalism is a strange doctrine, in that it proclaims a system, in which only a few, powerful have the privilege to practice it, while the others, either will not “afford” it or will be excluded from that privilege if they show signs of coming up to it.
The present idea of providing documents to prove one’s citizenship clearly exposes this flaw of nationalism. Throughout centuries, knowledge was the monopoly of the Brahmanical system of education. The Dalits and Adivasis were kept out of it. Collecting and keeping records was possible only for the ones who could afford it, not only through monetary capital but also social capital. This lack of knowledge has passed on from generation to generation of the marginalised. As a result, the very process of identification of citizenship through “documents ” is not only anti- Muslim but also anti-Dalit and anti-poor.
But, is such a form of Hindu nationalism even suitable for a country like India, with its innumerable forms of diversity? Was this what our freedom fighters fought for? One needs to understand that nationalism in the West, was starkly different, from the nationalism that emerged here, as a result of anti-colonial struggle.
European nationalism was imperial from its inception where the expansion of the empire was considered to be a part of nationalism. In the Indian context, Hindu nationalism is clearly running along the imperialist lines. The western nations expanded by conquering territories but the Hindu nationalists, while having the same intentions are using a different technique to expand.
Instead of conquering the territory (because they are unable to do so physically) they are trying to conquer the populations. They are aggressively trying to bring back together with the Hindus, while clearly demarcating the “other” as Muslims. Their idea of Hindu Rashtra is not limited to India alone but also neighbouring countries from where the non-muslim population needs to be brought back.
The argument given by these right-wingers that it is the backward and Dalits who are being given citizenship through CAA is flawed because the marginalised communities know that once the Hindu Rashtra is constructed, then there would be no Hindu Rashtra but there will be a “Rashtra of Caste ” based on Manusmriti. The Dalit-Adivasis know their place in the so-called Hindu Rashtra and hence reject it.
The garb of “persecuted minorities ” gets unveiled at the very moment when the Citizenship Amendment Act deliberately ignores the question of Ahmadiyas and Shias in Pakistan, Tamils in Sri Lanka and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. To build the Hindu Rashtra, they have not only masqueraded the idea of “persecuted minorities” but also have given way to protect Indian Hindus who might be left out of NRC to get citizenship via CAA. Whereas Muslims, in this case, would directly be made stateless, without citizenship and hence without rights.
Not only the entire idea of constructing a Hindu Rashtra falls in line with European imperialism but also the methods to curb dissent against it are colonial in nature. We can see a transfer of power from the colonial to the post-colonial elites, through draconian measures of Section 144 and detention.
CAA, All India NRC and NPR are not mere administrative policies and acts; but they are clearly the projects of the Hindu nationalists. The fight, hence, is of a huge population of Dalit-Adivasis, Muslims, poor and women against the Hindu Rashtra. It is a matter of extreme irony that the so-called “nationalists” who try to portray themselves as the ones who take pride in the tradition and culture of India derive the very essence of their acts from repressive colonial powers and their imperialist, expansive concept of nationalism.
Damni Kain is studying Masters in Political Science at the University of Delhi.