Nationalism is probably the most popular word in India under the regime of NDA. You can see the ‘patriots’ harping on about it at every nukkad, every corner. Certificates of ‘anti- national’ and ‘terrorist’ are being handed out at every chance. But ask them what the hell is nationalism and you’ll get a vague nonsensical answer about the greatness of Bharat Mata and the ‘saazish’ of others to destroy her. (Some people watch too much Ekta Kapoor soaps I guess.)
I am a sociology student, therefore, I have a habit of deconstructing every phenomena that comes across me. So I will begin by deconstructing the concept of nationalism. Assuming that not everyone knows sociological jargons, I’ll make my explanations very simple.
I must clarify at the outset that the idea that people across the world can be classified into some sort of mutually exclusive species is beyond me, and therefore nationalism seems a very contentious concept. However it is natural for humans to classify themselves in groups based on some similar traits and that by extension gives rise to ‘nations’.
It is also natural to love one’s nation. That love is what amounts to patriotism. But, somehow, comes the next step, of identifying oneself with a single nation, and placing it at a pedestal where criticism amounts to blasphemy. This is very ironic since by definition, a nationalist is supposed to recognize the advancement of the interests of their nation as their supreme duty. This kind of nationalism renders one blind to the thing called ‘constructive criticism’.
Now let’s come to the special breed of nationalists we have in our country; i.e. the RSS and others under its umbrella, namely, BJP, ABVP, HMS etc. Of a million things wrong with their kind of nationalism, the one that bothers me the most is their idea of nation itself.
A nation is not a random pattern drawn on a paper, a nation is not its map, its flag or its anthem. A nation is, its people. People irrespective of class, religion, caste, gender. The landless labourer, the Dalit mother, the Muslim youth, the lesbian girl and the dissenting student are our nation.
It’s typical of the Sangh and other similar organisations and their sympathisers to call their country ‘Bharat mata’, and in doing so they idolize it. The nation, the composite of humans of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds then becomes a mere symbol for them. The human becomes secondary to the symbol. Therefore it comes as no surprise that human rights violations do not stir the same bout of emotions as the violation of the symbols.
Secondly, an RSS type nationalist is intolerant of criticism. They are oblivious to the difference between hatred and critique. Like the typical villain of old Bollywood movies, who would shoot the person who brings them the news of their daughter’s kidnap instead of going after the kidnappers, the nationalist will label you anti-national if you dare to point out any scope for improvement in their ‘perfect’ nation instead of working towards that improvement.
As I mentioned earlier, it is a ridiculous notion for me to see different human groups as mutually exclusive ‘species’, but this is exactly how the RSS sees it. For them, Indians as a category are different and superior to all other categories. More superior to some than others, but superior. They cannot digest the fact that in spite of everything, humans all over the world share the same joys and the same sorrows. That all of us are similar in the most essential of the ways. That is why, if you prick the bubble of superiority in any way, you get termed anti-national. Their nationalistic loyalties always end up clouding their other judgements. For example, they cannot even enjoy a simple game of cricket without hating on the other team.
Most importantly, the ‘RSS chaap’ nation is a very exclusive category. When they talk about the Indian culture, they are talking about Hindu upper caste culture. Their nation does not include the Religious minorities, Dalits, alternate sexualities and of course, dissenters. That is why they dub the republic day as ‘Black day’ since the constitution given by Ambedkar was adopted instead of Manusmriti. That is why institutions which challenge their hegemony and give space to these silenced voices are smeared as anti- nationals (JNU being the latest victim).
On the other hand, JNU’s idea of nation is not that of a rigid, supreme, god-like structure. It is that of an all-inclusive collective which is very dynamic. In JNU’s nation, there is scope for improvement. There is an insatiable desire to make the nation worthy of love. That’s why you see an average JNU student taking water cannons and beating from the police for the sake of higher education. That is why JNU keeps questioning the structure, even though it draws flak from the self- appointed guards of ‘our’ culture.
JNU is not anti- India, but when the RSS says that JNU students are not nationalists, I completely agree with them. For JNU, nation is not the tricolour flag. Nation is the last person standing in queue for the money which was supposed to ‘trickle-down’ to them and never did. For JNU, nation is not the ‘Bharat-Mata’, nation is the mother demanding justice for her son who was killed in a fake encounter. Nation is not the anthem for a JNU student, nation is the man being called racial slurs for his appearance. For a JNUite, nation begins from the most excluded Indian living at margins away from the prime-time snobbery. Such a notion can be treated only as anti-national by the ones who don’t like to face the hard relaities of this nation.
JNU might not care for the flag, the anthem, the symbols, but it does care for the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden and the silenced. JNU cares for the nation.
Save JNU, because if nothing else, it teaches you to enjoy sports without hating on the other team at the very least!
Maitreyee Shukla is a Masters student at school of social sciences in JNU.