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India: Losing humanism in nationalism

Friday 25 March 2016, by siawi3


Opinion, Op Ed
Pratham Sagar & Pavan Korada

Pratham Sagar and Pavan Korada have done their post-graduate studies in international relations

Published Mar 25, 2016, 12:37 am IST
Updated Mar 25, 2016, 12:37 am IST

Prioritising their ‘Indianness’ over their caste is therefore, only a luxury that privileged castes enjoy.
Photo: Rohith Vemula hanged himself in a hostel room in Hyderabad. (Photo: Facebook)

Inclusion is exclusion.
Hierarchy is fraternity.
Imagination is captive. Privilege is discrimination. Tolerance is intolerance. National is antinational.

History progresses by means of contradictions. It allows us to simultaneously hold two conflicting ideas/images — knowing fully well that they negate each other, and still believing in both — drawing back to the conscious whenever they are needed and conveniently forgetting them when they are not needed. This revolving glass door of contradictions has been set in motion ever since Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar and activist was suspended by the Hyderabad Central University for attacking an ABVP activist and the MHRD took an unusual interest in his case.

The intense pressure exerted by BJP’s ministers and MPs, who condemned him after his brush with the ABVP, led to his eventual suicide and consequently, massive protests across universities. Next, the government, arrested 3 more JNU students for being ‘anti-national’ under the colonial sedition law. JNU and the student community have subsequently fought back and challenged the narrow, chauvinistic and aggressive conceptions of nationalism.

So how do they manufacture the ideas of nationalism, who does it include and who are left out and is it at all possible to conceive of a nationalism that is inclusive and non-discriminatory? These are questions that deserve a closer appraisal.

There are two important features of nationalism, one cultural and another political. No version of nationalism has never been culture neutral, whether, German or Italian or Pakistani, or Indian, they all tie citizenship and rights to certain necessary cultural traits that their nationals should possess. The emergence of fascism in Italy and Germany which saw the most significant nationalist movements is not as much a coincidence as inevitability. When a country is created for giving sovereignty to a religious or ethnic group, then those who aren’t part of it are naturally viewed with suspicion.

The most overarching preoccupation of the Sangh Parivar was to unite Hindus under Hindutva nationalism and yet, the Sangh conception of nationalism excludes the cultural, political and economic history and concerns of the oppressed castes of India. Much of the historic commonalities that they allude to are more a modern invention than historic fact. The language of Sanskrit, for instance, is considered a great relic of Indian history, for Dalits, Sanskrit is, a symbol of oppression.

Reservations were vehemently opposed by many in India and clever and innovative ways are found to propagate caste discrimination against Dalits/SCs in educational institutions. The privileged, particularly those belonging to the creamy layer, keep away. The fact that the majority of students who have committed suicide recently have been Dalits points to a deeper malady. The difficulty the marginalised face in coping with the issues that alienate them can only be exacerbated by this fight on nationalism.

Apart from the broad right wing discourse on antinationalism, even sub-nationalist movements have served as tools of discrimination and oppression against Dalits and SCs. The Tamil nationalist discourse, for instance, is hegemonised by dominant intermediate castes and excludes and is antagonistic towards Dalits. The spate of honour killings due to inter-caste marriages serve to illustrate this point. For the Dalits thus, rejecting caste is not an option as it is due to their caste that they face the inhuman treatment that they do. Prioritising their ‘Indianness’ over their caste is therefore, only a luxury that privileged castes enjoy.

Unlike the complex and contradictory implications of nationalism on Dalits, the relationship of Hindutva nationalism with Muslims is quite straightforward, they’re simply not a part of it. It is important at this stage to examine the imagery and the cultural iconography of the Sangh’s nationalism in order to see how it excludes and alienates Muslims. The idea of India as a venerable Hindu goddess complete with a lion for a ride and the saffron flag of the Sangh Parivar is essentially antithetical to the religious beliefs of Indian Muslims.

The Sangh’s instance on forcing them to subscribe to such imagery is a very unsubtle effort to negate the religious and cultural features of Muslims. Campaigns such as the Babri Masjid demolition, love jihad, cow vigilantism etc., have further contributed to the ‘other’-ring of Muslims, which has served to segregate and isolate them.

Where there is venal religiosity and aggressive nationalism, a potent economic objective cannot be far behind. The section of society that has, perhaps, lost the most as a consequence of India’s economic development is the forest dwelling tribes. The tribals who resist and the NGOs and activists who champion tribals’ rights and the journalists who report are all labelled ‘naxals’, and by extension anti-national.

For instance, when Soni Sori was attacked or the public spirited brave women lawyers working in Jagdalpur were harassed with death threats and forced out, ironically the victims and not the attackers were labelled anti-national. The nationalist discourse therefore, is envisaged in self-serving terms, not just in the cultural and political spheres but also in the economic sphere.