Friday, October 26, 2007

Excessive Nationalism and Blurring of Local Identities

Establishing Nationalism

Right after Independence, India has had gone on an overdrive to establish a single identity amongst its citizens- that of a national identity. This program has been going on for a long time before 1947 – it was used as a rallying call to unite all Indians under one banner to create one nation. It was based on an idea borrowed from the alien invaders who saw this big sub-continent as one unit. And it worked.

Never before in history did an Indian, living in Lakshwadeep or Nagaland, think that he was an Indian. This program became successful to a great extent in uniting various cultures, regions, languages, tribes, clans, kingdoms, etc, to create an Indian nation.

At the same time, this attempt suffered a brief setback when a huge chunk of Muslims of this sub-continent wanted a Pakistan under a different rallying call to establish another identity- that of religion. Mahatma Gandhi could never recover from his partially-failed experiment to unify people of this land under one banner.

However, the rest of us who inherited India were quite happy with the results and continued to push and promote one identity- that of an Indian, not knowing we were creating a new ideology called nationalism which would have its own set of drawbacks.

Insecurities of a new nation

The leaders of post-Independent India were overzealous in their attempts to impose this new identity onto the Indians. They feared India might breakup as speculated by many critics of those times. This feeling that India might break anytime was looming large on the minds of all our founding fathers. Actually it was almost a miracle that we created only two nations in this sub-continent. There was a good chance there could have been many more. No one actually thought we could pull it off, that all princes would give up their kingdoms, that British would actually encourage those kingdoms to abdicate to join either India or Pakistan, that Tamils and Punjabis, Marathas and Bengalis, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, would actually sit together to create a single destiny for themselves under one banner.

In the beginning, right after Independence, it was quite important to all these leaders that they promote national identity- one identity above all others. Their attempts created a brand of nationalism that was a mix of ideas borrowed from the West and indigenized elements. Over a period of time, it created a brand of nationalists who considered it a shame to call oneself a Bengali, a Tamil, a Telugu or a Punjabi. It was paramount that everyone called himself an Indian. This notion was instilled into Indians using every mechanism possible.

In the process, we created some symbols- a flag, an anthem, a map, etc, and we created movies, songs, text books, etc, to indoctrinate them. These symbols were heavily used to rally its people under a banner of nationalism. Also important was binding everyone under a common grief- which is so essential to create national identities. We got our share too- when India was invaded by neighboring countries, when its national leaders were assassinated, when we suffered due to natural tragedies, etc. Some other attempts to unify us, such as imposing a national language, failed when certain regional units did not accept imposition of a different language over their own.

On the whole this drive to inculcate nationalism was a huge success. When Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Tamil Nadu, the whole of Tamil Nadu wept as if he was their own man even though the killers were Tamils (from a foreign nation). After his death it was clear that our national identities ran higher compared to some regional ones. Even today many Indians sympathize with many Kashmiris as if they are their own kind (though these sympathies are confined to Hindus alone). Labeling the Muslim Kashmiris as ‘national enemies’ or ‘lovers of a foreign nation’ is enough for most Indians to abandon similar sympathies towards them.

Excessive Nationalism

While India was going on this overdrive to promote nationalism in India to keep it united, Europe was reeling itself out of two World Wars that had resulted due to excessive nationalism. That excessive nationalism which was established in the preceding years in Europe was easily hijacked by certain fascist regimes to rally its people against enemies within and outside national boundaries. They eventually threw the whole world into bloody wars.

Learning their lessons, after WWII, most of Europe rolled back its nationalism and went on a campaign to moderate it. Soon, a person waving a national flag was seen as immature warmonger. It went onto consolidate itself under different nationalities respecting one another without infringing upon others' identities.

India hasn’t witnessed the consequences of such excessive nationalism as yet.

Though there are enough signs to indicate that certain fascist forces are already operating and hijacking it to promote their vested interests, we are too blinded by our newly-found national fervor to see it. Our ignorance of world histories is not helping us either. The incessant doses of nationalism have already reached its peak and it is now spilling over into many spheres of Indian life. We are already brimming with excessive pride over our nation and its achievements. And where there are no achievements, we are ready to invent them (just like what Europe did in the late 19th and early 20th century).

Blurring local identities

There is a negative side effect to all this which we cannot ignore. In an overzealous attempt to establish a single identity- that of nation, we have consistently led campaigns to blur other identities which are as important to the Indian people and to the very existence of India in the long run.

Nowadays, it is preferable and politically correct to call oneself an Indian but not a Telugu or Bengali. In the movie, Chak De, the coach of the Indian women hockey team exhorts every player to call herself an Indian, as a response, when those players call out their state name. The audience was happy to see him reprimand them. I found that quite ridiculous.

I was told that in a TV show called Voice of India, one contestant protested when each person was referred to the state or region he belonged to. Instead, he wanted everyone to be called an Indian. The audience applauded him and the practice of naming one’s state was discontinued (for a while). I find such attempts foolish and funny.

If it is an ‘Indian’ Hockey team, isn’t it redundant to say one is Indian? If it is voice of ‘India’, isn’t it redundant to say one is Indian? I see this whole charade of calling oneself Indian on such forums nonsensical. If it is a Miss USA contest in USA, it doesn’t make sense for each participant to say she is an American. In its current practice, every contestant clearly tells which state she belongs to. When they indicate their state, they are not accused of being less patriotic.

Miss India contest in India is a different beast altogether. Only in India, do we see only one agency selecting all the candidates to pit them one against the other to select a Miss India. In this ‘Indian’ contest, you may want to see Miss Meghalaya or Miss Orissa but you won’t find any of them. All the candidates are mostly from four or five metros of India.

In our overzealous attempt to promote nationalism, we curb our regional identities, thus reducing the Miss India pageant into a joke, selecting contestants from a small section of population and that too by one agency. In my opinion, it should be called 'Miss Femina' (or something like that) and they should just drop the tag ‘India’.

What is wrong in saying where a person is from, when living in India? When I am traveling in a train in India and I meet another Indian, do I say, ‘I am Sujai, I am from India’, or does it make sense to say, ‘I am Sujai, I am from Warangal’?

In Information Theory we learn that if you transmit a symbol which the other person already knows then the information content is zero. Its better you don’t transmit it. If you tell the other person some information that he already knows, what good is it? If you have to rate Indians on their idiocy, I believe this should rank first.

Nationalism as ideology

In an attempt to promote nationalism India has been trying to blur our local identities, and that is not going well. There are some arrogant people who think their local identity is in fact an Indian identity and therefore they try to impose their local identity onto others using the national flag. In a country where people are brimming with excessive nationalistic pride, any such action under the national flag becomes sacrosanct. All those opposing it are treated as less patriotic, and hence less Indian.

For example, the people of the North, who speak Hindi, think they are more Indian than the people of the South just because they speak Hindi which they think is the national language. All Indians should be told that there is NO such a thing called NATIONAL LANGAUGE in India. Any talk of Rashtriya Basha is a bullshit concept. It was turned down long ago in 1960s itself and the Indian constitution has no mention of that word. Instead we have two official languages for each state and the national capital. An Indian speaking his local language is as Indian as an Indian speaking Hindi.

However, there is arrogance amongst certain Hindi speakers to assume that everyone should be speaking Hindi. Such a false notion arises because of our attempts to blur our regional identities while trying to impose national identities.

In another example, in an ongoing debate on this blog at 'separate Telangana', the detractors always bring in the argument of 'breakup of the nation' to discredit the local movement. Such detractors who equate 'creation of a new state within the legal and constitutional rights of India' with an 'attempt to disunite India' are trying to portray such separation-seekers as traitors.

It has become a practice in all spheres of public debate to take upon oneself a higher moral authority being defenders of national symbols while portraying the opponents as traitors.

In our overzealous attempts to establish nationalism as the highest virtue, we have created a new ideology. And that ideology has now grown strong and has come back to haunt us. In this game of proving oneself better than the other, the highest flag bearer gets the right to impose himself onto others even if he is pursuing his vested interests. The question of patriotism is answered by how smartly you cover your vested interest in the garb of ‘for the sake of nation’ slogans.

Other negatives of excessive nationalism

Excessive nationalism when not really in use sometimes vents itself as other isms- such as regionalism or communalism. As a corollary, certain groups starting out with parochial and radical regionalisms and communalisms get legitimacies when they portray themselves as nationalists. For example, Shiv sainiks who named themselves after Shivaji (who is considered a patriot under a national banner), first targeted Tamils in Mumbai, displaying their excessive regionalism, and later transformed themselves into a group targeting Muslims, displaying their excessive communalism. They get their legitimacies from many educated Hindus when they champion nationalism. Many Hindus laud Bal Thackeray and his Shiv sainiks when he takes a belligerent stand against Pakistan during a cricket season. Shiv sainiks get their legitimacy as true patriots and they use this slogan to cover up many of their other isms.

Certain groups move between these various isms very easily. The defenders of Kannada in Bangalore target Tamils on Cauvery issues, and then vent it out on non-Kannadigas during other incidents showing excessive regionalism, but also portray themselves as the defenders of the nation when protesting against Narayana Murthy over his comments on National Anthem. BJP and its affiliations use this card on a regular basis. They are defenders of national prestige and pride on the national arena while targeting Muslims and Christians in their local constituencies.

India should tolerate and respect local identities.

India’s strength lies not in its excessive nationalism, but in its ability to tolerate and respect local identities. And India is losing that strength at a rapid pace. India should now tone down its pursuit of indoctrinating excessive nationalism, and should take a step back, and moderate its campaign.

At the same time, India should encourage its people to be proud of their local identities, allowing them to display it and flaunt it without having to encroach upon other identities. 'Tolerate and Respect' is the need of the hour.

A national identity encroaching upon a local identity is as bad as one local identity encroaching upon the other local identity. We have to learn to live with our identities, be proud of them, and be able to respect other identities of other people. In a previous article on this topic (India: North and South Debate) I argued that the strength of India lies in celebration of its diversity. That means, in addition to being Indian, we have many other identities, which are equally important to all of us.

India derives its strength from allowing such identities to flourish. Long term existence of India is dependent on how well India respects its diversity. These attempts to curb local identities while promoting excessive nationalism runs counter to vision of India’s long term existence. While it may satisfy near term goals of keeping it united, it’s not based in strength of its people, but out of fear of its people.

Only by allowing its people to celebrate their own identities, India will continue to live as one nation. Only then will each Indian feel free to be a part of this nation.

27 comments:

  1. Very well argued proposition. Yes, no one should try to suppress our identities which are and should be in addition to our national identity,but never the other way round. India may be politically one as a nation state( a recent concept) today but the oneness of India is in its sacred geography since time immemorial. Earlier there used to be kingdoms all over the country but the Bharat Varsh, Jambudweep was always one. Renuka Narayanan of the Hindustan Times has written explaining this quite beautifully. I too commented have on this in my blog in what I have written in the context of the Ram Setu controversy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excess of localism is as bad as excess of nationalism.

    What is the inference behind this whole article? Such a long argument to say it is good to break states in to smaller "local" pieces?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Abhilash ShastryOctober 28, 2007 6:06 PM

    Sujai said:

    "All Indians should be told that there is NO such a thing called NATIONAL LANGAUGE in India. Any talk of Rashtriya Basha is a bullshit concept. It was turned down long ago in 1950s itself and the Indian constitution has no mention of that word."

    Factually wrong!

    Indian constitution does indeed provide special status to Hindi. Please read article 343(1) of the constitution:

    "(1) The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devnagari script. The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals."

    There are caveats following this article that allow English and other languages in official work but the wording of the article leaves no doubt about the spirit.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Abhilash Shastry:
    People like you waste my time.

    I did not refer to OFFICIAL LANGUAGE. I was referring to NATIONAL LANGUAGE.

    We have few national symbols- such as national emblem, national flag, etc. But we do NOT have a NATIONAL LANGUAGE.

    The center has two OFFICIAL languages - Hindi and English.

    Each regional centers have two OFFICIAL languages too - their own regional language, such as Kannada, and English.

    Hope you can appreciate the difference.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Global Oneness is the name of the game. Being local and small makes sense in a lot of things and being one global community (I am not talking about just national oneness) makes sense for the other things.

    Some of these videos might calm you down - http://www.globalonenessproject.org/

    The idea of oneness is not new. For thousands of years it's been a basic part of human consciousness, taking countless forms in the world's spiritual, religious, artistic, and cultural traditions. Indigenous lifeways, myths showing the interconnectedness of all things, intricate philosophical systems, literature, and art are just a few of the ways we've sought to understand and express oneness. For the most part, however, these different expressions have been isolated from one another by geography, language, and time, or restricted to an intellectual or spiritual elite.

    In contrast, today we experience global interdependence with a unique level of clarity and urgency. In natural sciences like biology, physics, and mathematics; in technology, economics, and ecology; and in spiritual, cultural, and social movements across the planet new perspectives on oneness are emerging with breathtaking beauty and transformational power.

    Right now, for example, as you read these words on the World Wide Web, you are participating in oneness in a way that was inconceivable just a few decades ago. In this moment you are connected to the millions of Web-users all over the world -- a global network of people exchanging ideas and finding common ground across different histories, nationalities, languages, interests, and lives.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sujai at it again - stirring the mud with half-baked logic to prove his point? ;)

    The movie 'chak de india' was not about losing one's state identity, but to recognize the national identity. That doesn't mean one forgets one's state/local identity, but simply that in a national team, it is in the best interests of the team to put the local identity on the back-burner and recognize oneself as an Indian first and a local second.
    The misinformation and twisting continues here.
    -Chirkut

    ReplyDelete
  7. I say this is well written. Some people just dont understand that appreciating all cultures and languages and states within India is always good towards being "One" India. It is quite logical because nobody will get into fights or baseless arguments when they are not pressurised into being first known as an Indian and then their state or culture.

    ReplyDelete
  8. leaving one more comment so i can follow this up on mail

    ReplyDelete
  9. Well written Sujai. It still amazes me to see some people pushing Hindi is a "national language" myth. All the major languages of India are official languages - whether it is Hindi or Malayalam or something else.

    I also see a streak of fascism in people who equate patriotism with a language or a particular religion. In case of Hindu right wingers, they want to use Hindi (and the dead Sanskrit language to some extent) to "unite" people. Damn all those local and regional cultures and languages in the name of unity.

    As Darpan said, excess regionalism is also bad and has no place in a healthy democracy.

    Another thing that gets buried in our texts and discussions is the fact that concept of India as a nation is itself less than 150 years old. India in its present form had never been together, both culturally and politically before 1947. This is an unsettling idea to nationalists who do everything to avoid debate on this issue. Even the mutiny of 1857 is passed of as first freedom struggle when in fact there were many mutinies before 1857, and even 1857 mutiny was largely local or regional in scope.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I really liked ur post, thanks for sharing. Keep writing. I discovered a good site for bloggers check out this www.blogadda.com, you can submit your blog there, you can get more auidence.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Another thing that gets buried in our texts and discussions is the fact that concept of India as a nation is itself less than 150 years old. India in its present form had never been together, both culturally and politically before 1947.

    Simply not true. Unless you think that King Ashok ruled only 150 years ago instead of from 273 BC to 232 BC.

    -Chirkut

    ReplyDelete
  12. Dear Chirkut,

    Try to learn the differences between a nation and an empire. What Ashoka had was an empire, not a nation. Empires have subordinate rulers and states. Even the map in the Wiki link does not include all of present day India.

    Based on your logic, USSR had no reason to breakup. Most of it was under Mongol Empire at one time and Russian empire another time.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anon:

    I am not beholden to a specific Indian boundary as a nation - I am well-aware that national boundaries move with time (and I've also seen formation of new states within India), and I do realize that what's India today may not be India 100 years from now. My response was to the statement that India in its present form hasn't been together, which is not true. That doesn't mean my logic dictates USSR should have remained together, or that India's present boundaries are written in stone. And, the boundaries do not have to be exactly the same today as during Ashoka's time to make my point.
    Kapiche amigo? :)
    -Chirkut

    ReplyDelete
  14. A suggestion.
    Just like non-Hindi speakers learn three languages in school (usually the mother tongue, English and Hindi), let Hindi-speaking people learn three languages too, viz. Hindi, English and another non-Hindi Indian language.
    This will create more understanding and appreciation of non-Hindi language/culture among the Hindi speaking populace - a key ingredient to a more unified India.

    ReplyDelete
  15. @Somnath....
    That is an excellent idea. In many western schools you have to study a second language even if you are in an English speaking country like Britain or U.S. (usually another European language). Not that that in itself is a reason for us to do it. But it does solve some of the problems that we face in terms of desensitivity that new comers to a city has, to the local culture. (and this is happening a lot now a days).

    ReplyDelete
  16. Raj Thackeray has now clearly demonstrated that local identities can be as dangerous, if not more, as excessive nationalism. No reason to believe that one is better than other as argued in your article. Time to write a sequel.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Vivek Behal:
    I have always maintained that 'excessive regionalism' is equally bad.

    I don't see 'excessive regionalism' to be different or opposite of 'excessive nationalism'. In fact, I club them together.

    I write:

    Excessive nationalism when not really in use sometimes vents itself as other isms- such as regionalism or communalism. As a corollary, certain groups starting out with parochial and radical regionalisms and communalisms get legitimacies when they portray themselves as nationalists. For example, Shiv sainiks who named themselves after Shivaji (who is considered a patriot under a national banner), first targeted Tamils in Mumbai, displaying their excessive regionalism, and later transformed themselves into a group targeting Muslims, displaying their excessive communalism. They get their legitimacies from many educated Hindus when they champion nationalism. Many Hindus laud Bal Thackeray and his Shiv sainiks when he takes a belligerent stand against Pakistan during a cricket season. Shiv sainiks get their legitimacy as true patriots and they use this slogan to cover up many of their other isms.

    Certain groups move between these various isms very easily. The defenders of Kannada in Bangalore target Tamils on Cauvery issues, and then vent it out on non-Kannadigas during other incidents showing excessive regionalism, but also portray themselves as the defenders of the nation when protesting against Narayana Murthy over his comments on National Anthem. BJP and its affiliations use this card on a regular basis. They are defenders of national prestige and pride on the national arena while targeting Muslims and Christians in their local constituencies.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Vivek Behal:
    May be, its time to write a sequel- only to clear some misconceptions.

    Many people took my support for 'maintaining of local identities' as a case for 'excessive regionalism' though I decry the latter in the same article.

    [Also, I never said that one should not maintain a national identity as Indian. I only talked against some negatives of 'excessive nationalism'. ]

    ReplyDelete
  19. When Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Tamil Nadu, the whole of Tamil Nadu wept as if he was their own man even though the killers were Tamils (from a foreign nation).

    I am a Tamilian. Do you expect me to celebrate if national leader is killed by Tamilian. Do you expect me to become sad if Tamil terrorist is killed by Indian army?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Abhi:

    I am a Tamilian. Do you expect me to celebrate if national leader is killed by Tamilian. Do you expect me to become sad if Tamil terrorist is killed by Indian army?

    I don't think you got the message of this article.

    This example was given to support my argument that introduction of nationalism as a fervor has succeeded in this country.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Another thing that gets buried in our texts and discussions is the fact that concept of India as a nation is itself less than 150 years old.

    Nation state itself is not an old phenomenon. Here is the wiki -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation-state

    Most theories see the nation state as a 19th-century European phenomenon.


    Sujai: I don't think you got the message of this article.

    It is time to see a pattern here Sujai. A lot of people are not getting the message of a lot of your articles. As articulate as you are, it is time to introspect what is going on.

    ReplyDelete
  22. SKapur:

    It is time to see a pattern here Sujai. A lot of people are not getting the message of a lot of your articles. As articulate as you are, it is time to introspect what is going on.

    On the other hand, I would be worried if people understood and agreed with me right away.

    [Then I would be a Narendra Modi.]

    ;-)

    I don't think I am writing to the masses, nor it is for the elite. It is for those who want to spend a little time and reflect.

    Many commenters don't even read the whole thing and don't reflect on it. They just start typing away an objection.

    Mull over this.
    Are you on the right path if everyone around agrees with you?
    [Not really]
    Are you on the wrong path if everyone around disagreed with you?
    [Not really]

    ReplyDelete
  23. When Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Tamil Nadu, the whole of Tamil Nadu wept as if he was their own man even though the killers were Tamils (from a foreign nation).

    Sujai: Still I don't understand. In an ideal scenario envisaged by you where local identities and national identities are balanced, how do you want people to react if terrorist with local identity kills national leader? How will you react if Telengana naxal kills national leader? How do you want people of Telengana to react in such a scenario?.

    I maintain enough of local identities like Language, State, Religion but I am not able to tolerate person of my identity killing some national leader? Am I wrong?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Abhi:

    Am I wrong?

    Its not about right or wrong. I try my best to avoid discussions that have answers ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

    In an ideal scenario envisaged by you where local identities and national identities are balanced, how do you want people to react if terrorist with local identity kills national leader?

    First, I don’t discuss ideal scenarios. Second, How I would react is different from how others react. I am not proposing a right way to react.

    Usually, in a country where the law of the land is upheld, the killer will be treated as a killer whether it is a terrorist or a freedom fighter. However, people of Indian subcontinent do not treat terrorists (who kill) same as their freedom fighters (who kill).

    In this subcontinent, allegiances to one’s identity- either it is region, language, nation, religion, tribe or caste are held higher than what is considered an act of crime according to the law of the land. People come out onto the roads to protest the rulings of the court just because the convict happens to be one of their own.

    To such people, one allegiance comes above another – never the rule of the land.

    And if such people chose nationalism above regionalism, it shows that nationalism has succeeded in getting itself accepted. [I took the example of Tamils because Tamils are notorious for their aggressive and proactive regionalism.]

    How will you react if Telengana naxal kills national leader?

    It’s not how I would react. There are many Telangana people who may come out in support of this killer (if they perceive the motivation for killing the national leader is something to do with the cause of Telangana) [excessive regionalism in play here]. And many the naxalites would support and hail the killer irrespective of what the motive is [‘an ideology stronger than regionalism’ is in play here].

    How do you want people of Telengana to react in such a scenario?

    How I want the people of Telangana to react is to treat the killer a killer. But I am not sure if people of my region are going to listen to me. [Look at the kind of opposition I get on this blog itself].

    ReplyDelete
  25. I don't know if this is relevant here but of late i've noticed Kashmiris hailing terrrorists who blew themselves up in a suicide attack or who were killed by the army as martyrs and coming out in huge numbers in support of them.
    Huge processions were taken out in support of dead terrorists who held two people as hostages in a mosque recently and were killed by the army in an an operation to rescue the hostages. Pretty disturbing.

    ReplyDelete

Dear Commenters:
Please identify yourself. At least use a pseudonym. Otherwise there will be too many *Anonymous*; making it confusing.

Do NOT write personal information or whereabouts about the author or other commenters. You are free to write about yourself. Please do not use abusive language. Do not indulge in personal attacks and insults.

Write comments which are relevant and make sense so that the debate remains healthy.