Friday, October 03, 2008

Patriotism is not a prerequisite to live in a country II

I have been asked few questions on the previous topic.
Can or should a nation give preferential treatment to those who love the nation more than others?

In my opinion, no modern nation should start measuring patriotism in its people. Patriotism is not a set of marks you get in an exam, or an identity that you can wear. It is a state of emotion that people share- like love, hate, anger. A person can ask in a relationship, ‘prove that you love me!’ but a state cannot deny someone a teacher’s job because his love-for-nation quotient is 38 which is less than 50 that is required to get that job.
To many Indians, who have been told that patriotism is a virtue, the fact that patriotism is not measured or is not used in making decisions on individual’s rights and opportunities can be a bit discomforting, as seen by the questions raised in the previous blog. 

There is a case where India gives sops to freedom fighters. In those cases, it is not a measure of love or patriotism, but it is recognition of job well done, such as winning accolades for a country in a war or at Olympics. One can win gold for a country and not be patriotic. One can be a soldier and not be patriotic. That’s why there were so many Indians in British Army protecting interests of British Empire far and wide, in Iraq, Egypt, etc. Gorkhas of India continue to serve Great Britain.

Can we give special treatment to patriots? Shall there be new lanes for patriotic people, seats reserved for patriotic people, or jobs allocated for patriotic people? Shall we start kicking out unpatriotic people out of the country? If so, where do we send them? To which country? What if someone hates India but chooses not to love any other country? Should every human profess faith in some nation or another?
Holding a passport of a country is different from expressing one’s love for that nation. This is where a relationship between a nation and a citizen is different from relationship between two individuals. One can break a marriage citing lack of love as a reason. You cannot do the same in a relationship between a nation and a citizen.
Love is personal, not a legal mandate. Also, can’t someone love more than one person? Does loving your mom automatically make you hate your dad? Does love for another nation automatically make you unpatriotic? Can’t one football fan support more than one team? Can’t you be living in India and still support Poland or Kenya? 

The dilemma is when the other nation that Indians love happen to be Pakistan, which according to many Indians, is an enemy. So, is there a legal sanction or an official document that says Pakistan is an enemy? Do we create rules on how Indian citizens should treat their enemies? Why do we have trade or bus routes to Pakistan if that country is an enemy? Is loving one’s enemy or making positive overtures towards that enemy legally restricted? If that is the case, do we see any of our fights within our country or outside subside or exacerbate? Is the designation of enemies confined to international politics and not national politics? Can Karnataka declare officially that Tamil Nadu is an enemy? After that, can you still speak Tamil living in Bangalore?

Feelings are personal, not a sanction of a state. Emotions are personal, not a sanction of a state. Yes, we are all guided by our feelings and emotions. We get angry, sad, and ecstatic, as people. We love, hate, dislike, adore and abhor, as people. To say that at a certain point of time, the collective conscience of the nation is reflected as sum of all emotive reactions of its people at that time which in turn decides the legal sanction is quite absurd.  

We are already traversing that idiotic path, and we do not even realize it. Kingdoms and nations have put to death people for professing faith in another religion. Women were convicted of witchcraft and were burnt at stake. Such things happened on this planet before, and yes, they can happen in India too, where people will be measured by how well one chants National Anthem to get into IIT. Then the marks will be given on the exactness of the words sung, the accent, the intonations, and pitch, the decibel, and they are used as measure of one’s patriotism.

A modern nation has to distance itself from such emotive measures, such measures of anger, one’s measure of loyalties, one’s measure of love or hate. They are subjective, personal, and completely invalid parameters to mete out the duties of a state towards its citizens.
However, choosing a political leader based on his qualities, which are not measured legally, but could be focus of attention of the people who vote him, are all part of a democratic process. Choosing a leader because he is seen as a better family man, because he served in the army, because he is seen as a patriot, because he is seen as an honest man, are all subjective topics that can sway the mood of people into voting him to power. However, that leader cannot be disqualified from contesting under the grounds that he is not a better family man, or less of a patriot.

An ordinary citizen cannot be measured by his love for the country, a measure of his honesty, a measure of his anger levels or hatred levels, as far as his negotiated rights are concerned.

There cannot be a reward program for hosting better feelings, or carrying out certain basic duties. A citizen cannot be given preferential treatment just because he respected rules better than the other. We do not, and we should not have such mechanisms to reward people who are just doing what they are supposed to do, like always stopping at red light, or putting the trash at the right place. On the other hand, the state can give you punishment for crossing the red light. In the same way, we have laws for convicting people if they inflict direct harm to a nation. 

Apathy cannot be construed as hatred. No action is taken against those who look at the trash on the road and still fail to pick it up. His apathy is not a direct measure of disloyalty. A state should not treat a person differently when doling out justice in a court of law just because he did not display his patriotism in the appropriate manner. Someone who has not expressed his patriotism overtly in a certain way as prescribed by certain nationalists does not automatically become a traitor. 

Indian State cannot go to every newly born child and measure his patriotic levels to grant him citizenship. A person can be a citizen of a country by virtue of being born in this country. He could grow up to like Poland or Kenya. If he wants to migrate to that nation, he can do so. And the current legal system allows for that without branding him a traitor. While the kid is growing up, he could still get into a school without discriminated against just because he loves Poland. When he is about to get into college, no question is asked to measure his level of patriotism to decide his admissions status.
While the state sanctions different treatment to its people based on certain physical attributes – such as a physical handicap, identity status – such as belonging to land of Tamils, economic status – such as earning less than certain amount of money, there is no criteria for measuring one’s emotive levels, such as how much love, how much hatred, how much pent up anger, or how much patriotism.

And most important point – the relationship between a nation and citizen is not subject to reciprocity. All citizens have the same rights and duties, irrespective of their patriotic levels. A nation has to mete out its duties even if that citizen hates that nation. The modern legal system is designed to protect citizens from whims and fancies that come out of arbiter’s emotions and feelings. 

Just because a citizen has not done his duties properly, not stopping at red light, or trashing the place, does not automatically disqualify one from a citizenship. There are many duties Indians citizens are supposed to abide by. But there is no legal sanction against all inaction. Emotive issues are usually left out of legal sanction. 

A nation has to protect its citizens, no matter what, and that protection is not decided by a measure of patriotism of those citizens. Let’s say there’s a bus full of people hanging on the cliff and the state has to rush a crane to lift them. The state will not and should not decide the fate of the people based on the collective sum total of patriotic levels of the people inside it. The fact that they are Indian citizens, a legal identity, is good enough for the state to respond. It cannot say, ‘Oh! That bus consisted of unpatriotic people! Hence we let it fall into the crevasse below’. 

You can do that in a relationship, but not as a state. In a relationship, you can say, I don’t want to help you out with your hospital bills because you hate me. As a nation, you cannot say, I don’t want to give you education or employment because you love Poland more.


  1. Sujai

    If you were to come up with criteria to grant Indian citizenship to an applicant, what would they be?

    ~ Vinod

  2. Somehow your ideas occur to me as the political theory equivalent of the legal positivists (bentham, Austin, Hart) and those who oppose you as the political theory equivalent of the natural law theorists (Aquinas, Fuller, Finnis).

    ~ Vinod

  3. I forgot to mention, Gandhi was a positivist too.

    What is the nature of the relationship between a citizen and the nation? Shouldn't there be an emotional component to it? If it is purely a utilitarian relationship, as you subscribe, then the idea of nationhood loses its romantic appeal. Nationalism then simply becomes as dry as a legal concept. Perhaps that is what the concept has come to for people like you and me, who have been outside the influence of the indoctrinating national ethos of India and have seen nations function pretty darn well under such a utilitarian concept. Nationalism rose as a reaction to colonialism and has perhaps outlasted its days. It has perhaps become little more than one of the many identities that we wear.

    The only time nationalism or patriotism gets an emotional component to it is when there is a common suffering/threat by a common "enemy". That is something perhaps many Indians get when Pakistan or muslims are mentioned. I think that this perception of an enemy can often be skewed by our biases - anti-muslim, anti-whatever. That is why it tends to find expression in such disagreeable forms in today's times.

    I have a hypothetical question in mind - if let's say our legislators get doped for a prolonged period and they end up amending the constitution of India to state that the Supreme Court of Pakistan would be the Highest Court in India and let's say they work out a system to execute that plan with Pakistani authorities. Would you find that objectionable? If so , why? What if it was not Pakistan but the UK Supreme Court (the House of Lords)? Would it change your opinion?

    ~ Vinod

  4. "The dilemma is when the other nation that Indians love happen to be Pakistan, which according to many Indians, is an enemy. So, is there a legal sanction or an official document that says Pakistan is an enemy?"

    While I agree with most of the points you have made, I am lost as to why you wouldn't consider Pakistan our enemy. We have fought 2 major wars with them and still have skirmishes going on with them along the Kashmir border. And it is known by one and all than the ISI is behind many terror activities in India. And guess for what purpose Pak is developing nukes? Surely, it is not to guard itself against China.

    I have no qualms in treating Pakistan as an enemy of India. I would make a distinction between an Indian supporting Pakistan and one supporting Poland. And I am sure many other Indians would share this view.

  5. There is a slight difference between Patriotism and Nationalism. Lots of people in India suffer from nationalism. That is the real problem since India as a nation was not created by the people living there. It's borders were mostly set by the British. To identify oneself with the people in the country living in the other remote corner, but not with someone just a few kilometers across the border is hard and doesn't make sense.
    For all its history the various kingdoms in India were not nationalistic. The concept of a nation is a 19th century construct and it's spread has coincided with several wars including the two world wars.
    Countries as diverse as India have different historical memories of it's peoples; sometimes these are against one another. The only way is to come together on the basis of the present and it's challenges, than to talk about the past.
    Also, lots of Indians seem to confuse patriotism with cricket. For most people in India, their notions of nationalism does not seem to include even a majority of the people in the country. Hence this is a path which is divisive rather than uniting us a nation.

  6. I am lost as to why you wouldn't consider Pakistan our enemy.

    I am not sure India considers Pakistan an enemy as an official stance. If so, why are we still making positive overtures to bring bonhomie between the two. We still visit each other's countries to play cricket.

    During the height of cold war US and USSR boycotted each other countries when they hosted Olympics and gave stern official warnings to government officials visiting each other.

    In what way do we consider Pakistan an enemy? I see we are opening bus routes, doing lot of trade, and talking about laying an oil pipeline.

    Is there an official sanction that says Pakistan is an enemy. What if the guy who supports Pakistan cricket team says, 'Hey! you are eating wheat from Pakistan, but I can't support their cricket team?'

    And guess for what purpose Pak is developing nukes? Surely, it is not to guard itself against China.

    One could say that we are developing nukes against China. Does that make China an official enemy?

    I would make a distinction between an Indian supporting Pakistan and one supporting Poland. And I am sure many other Indians would share this view.

    That's your personal opinion. We could have opinions on who is a better citizen and who is not, who is loyal and who is not, who is a patriot and who is not. But those opinion cannot be made criteria for giving preferential treatment as an official policy.

    If you go by the gist of the blog here- Is patriotism a prerequisite to live in a country? I don't talk about loving or hating someone for their show of lack of patriotism. That opinion can be used to move people against selecting a politician, but not when a state is doling out justice.

  7. I agree that patriotism cannot be a prerequisite for living in a country. I agree that there can be no "official" policy to discriminate against someone who waves a Pakistani flag in a match. But if his boss sees him do that, he should not be disappointed if he doesn't get a promotion in his job. While there can be no legal action taken against someone who claims to support Pakistan, he should also be prepared to face the consequences in the form of soft discrimination, be it housing or employment. It cuts both ways.

  8. I should share this with you. This past weekend I met an American friend of mine, She asked me to checkout the American flag hanging outside her neighbors'door. To my surprise the flag was upside down and she said that her neighbor would hang it upside down when he is in a mood of a good debate. He waits for someone to notice it and ask him about it and then the debate starts. His argument is that the US army is fighting day in and day out just for this, so that he and every American has his Freedom of Speech. I was so fascinated to know about it and just wanted to share with you. And wonder what if its Indian Flag in India that was hung upsidedown.

    I think there is something to learn here. There are always healthier ways of protesting than just bombing or creating terrorists. Sometimes it means being Unpatriotic

  9. Jyothi:
    Thanks for sharing that with us.

    Its a very nice example of how a society can act mature on dealing with things we don't like.

    There have been innumerable number of debates all through American history on their freedoms.

    Unfortunately, we never had to strive to get those freedoms and hence we see no value in them. We are ready to scuttle them at the first chance since we don't know how to appreciate them.

  10. What freedom you are talking about when you want to stop Hyderabadi people from exercising their right for self determination?

  11. Sujai

    I agree with you when you say patriotism or the measure of patriotism cannot be and should not be made a pre-requisite to live in a country. I live in U.S, I have U.S citizenship yet I don’t feel a thing for U.S honestly. It is just that I have a U.S passport so I can travel freely to any country.

    However without an Indian passport, without living many years in India and living more years in U.S, if you ask me from where I am, my answer would be India.

    That’s my identity and that’s what my patriotism is. No passport, no legality, no boundaries can remove it from me. I am proud of my identity and that’s exactly what my patriotism is. I cringe at many of the things the Indian Government do, yet I am proud of belonging to a nation called India which has given me an identity. And that exactly is what my patriotism is all about.

    Was this cultivated or brain washed by someone, say the Government while I was studying in India? Or say, is this kind of nostalgia as you suggest? I don’t think so.
    As you rightly say, it is an emotion, but it is not pseudo or fake. It is the pride of having an identity.

    Ask the Palestinians who are fighting for a country, what patriotism is all about. Ask the Tamil Tigers what belonging to a country means?

    Why should they fight for a country, if it can just be described in legal terms? Why can’t they fight for equality in legal terms? You can have all the legality, all the similar rights as a citizen, just like I have in U.S, yet you don’t belong.

    Will my kids feel the same? No. They belong to U.S and that’s their identity. So it is not their skin color or heritage either.

    Is there any danger in thinking you don’t have to be patriotic? Yes, as a nation, most of the junta would need to subscribe to a same set of feelings to build that nation. It wouldn’t be possible for India to exist to have Tamil Nadu or Punjab to fight for separation? We could have been loyal citizens of Britian too. In the comforts of having a nation to back you, it is easier to degrade patriotism.

    The process of not defining patriotism like you have done is equally dangerous for a country when some Hindu chauvinistic cry un-patriotic. The problem is you are throwing away the water bucket with the kid in it, because the water got polluted.

  12. Okapi:

    Thanks for writing.

    You seem to different expectations from others while you don’t seem to adhere to the same.
    On one hand you say that you live in US and carry its passport while having an allegiance (emotionally) to India, and at the same time you say that there’s a danger in ‘thinking you don’t have to be patriotic’.

    Yes, as a nation, most of the junta would need to subscribe to a same set of feelings to build that nation.

    Who defines that feeling? Is that feeling legalized?

    You say:
    The process of not defining patriotism like you have done is equally dangerous for a country when some Hindu chauvinistic cry un-patriotic.

    I am not sure where that comes from. I didn’t want to define patriotism as a legal measure. It can still be an emotive issue to rally people and will continue to do so. And I have never discounted identities either . I have always promoted identities – of all kinds. On the other hand, I have discouraged blurring of local identities to impose a newly constructed mega identity called nationalism – which seems to backfire in old multicultural societies.

    Why should they fight for a country, if it can just be described in legal terms?

    Apply that yourself now - what would happen to your US passport if people started defining patriotism in legal terms?

    Thank you.

  13. Sujay

    On one hand you say that you live in US and carry its passport while having an allegiance (emotionally) to India, and at the same time you say that there’s a danger in ‘thinking you don’t have to be patriotic’.

    Yes, there is. Say as a naturalized U.S citizen, I prefer a government who is favourable to India, who would offshore more to India. I dont really share much things about the real american spirit, american workers etc. Same with a fellow Mexican, he is happy when the Government eases immigration so that his relatives can now join him. Now you ask a southern white, and they are all about how to create new jobs and stuff like that. Three of us differ totally in perception. And why U.S still has it's all glam and git? Definitely the White American has more part in it. Dont you think so?

    I do understand what you mean. But I do think if a set of majority dont share the same passion, the country will be pulled in many directions. India is definitely being pulled all ways.

    Sujay, I do agree patriotism should not be appled in legal terms. I do understand a person like Raj Thackery can create havoc in the name of "patriotism". But I do think there should also be some amount of that and just because some hindutva goons have started to define patriotism these days, we shouldnt run away from it. We should be able to take it back from those bloodmongers.


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