“Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live. ” ~Rabindranath Tagore
Every Independence Day and Republic Day I grapple with the concept of patriotism and nationalism. Am I a patriot? What does it mean to be one? Does it encourage me to hate people I have never met and take pride in accomplishments I had no role in? Does it teach me to put nation before humanity? It certainly does not. There are two major flaws in patriotism and nationalism as we know it today.
Firstly, it makes no sense to me that just because some great shit happened in the past in the land I was born in, I should be having a patriotic orgasm for all my life. The 5000 year old civilization across the banks of river Indus is surely a great shit but so is any other shit in any other part of the world. Ours is no better or worse than others, every civilization, every culture, every country is unique, they all are fucked up in their unique ways.
Secondly, before the Constitution, there was no nation so what shit is nationalism? The so called ‘Akhand Bharat’ was just a piece of land where blood thirsty rulers were at war with each other all the time and masses lived in poverty isolated from the royal wealth and privileges. Diverse culture, language and religion existed independent of each other with no sense of unity. Nobody knew what a country or nation is. So it’s bloody ridiculous to glorify ‘akhand bharat’ and spread hatred for so called ‘outsiders’ all in the name of nationalism.
Was it a good thing that invasions happened, accompanied by loot, murder and massacre? Of course not but what happened in the past is neither my pride nor my shame, neither my win nor my loss. I wish our ancestors, the Rajputs for example, were not so good at losing all the battles and could prevent the invasions but hey, shit happened.
But still there is surely a feeling of patriotism towards the nation, and here I am strictly talking about the nation that was born on the day of independence – the sovereign socialist secular democratic republic of India. Being a Law student, I have read the Constitution and I love every bit of it. I take pride in the vision of the document and the road map it gave. I appreciate how we have progressed so far while acknowledging all our failures, the biggest being the state of Indian women. I admire the Western world in the way they treat their women and I have no post colonial feminist sentiments that puts my nation above my feminism.
I love my national identity, but in truth it is my Bengali identity that I am more proud of and the Bengali identity transcends the national identity as I feel no less patriotic or call it allegiance if you will, towards the nation of Bangladesh where my ancestors were born. This sort of fucks up the nationalism agenda because Bangladesh is not my nation on papers. Tomorrow, if India goes at war with Bangladesh I would be expected to do cheer leading for India but except for an invisible political line that was drawn by some politicians I see no reason why I should root for India? Let’s say until some war breaks out, I am proud of my ‘Indian Bengali with roots in Bangladesh formerly East Pakistan’ identity.
Above all my greatest love for my nation is because of the secular vision our leaders had at the time of independence. Suppose at the time of independence we had a different set of leaders, who had the vision of building India as a Hindu Rashtra, I would have had no pride in that. I do not know what women of Saudi Arabia feel for their nation which doesn’t allow them to drive a car or go out on road without a male escort but I assume they feel pretty crappy about it. I doubt if there is a single patriotic Saudi women who goes singing ‘East or West, Saudi is the Best’. I mean if I were a Saudi woman I would be waiting for my country to be invaded by the forward thinking Western colonizers and give me a democracy that treats women equally. Or I would try my best to leave the country and never come back. Same way if I was born in an India which called itself a Hindu rashtra, where Hinduism was put above other religion and there was no separation of religion from state activities I would have been utterly ashamed of my country.
I was a proud Indian for the values laid down in the Constitution but not anymore since the last general elections. Today I am greatly troubled with the country’s political direction and I don’t know how to negotiate my national identity with the changing milieu. I feel ashamed that today people of this country see ‘secularism’ as a bad word, they have voted to power a Prime Minister with a dubious past, belonging to the organization that murdered Gandhi, and since then Hindutva forces have only gained powers; our intellectual capacity is being attacked, educational institutions, school curricula all being Hinduized.
It is a shame to be born in a RSS/BJP ruled Hindu Rashtra, but I still have some hope. I trust in the strength of the Constitution and hope the basic fabric of the nation cannot be changed.
With that thought, happy independence day.
Update 1: 16th Aug 2015
BJP trolls on Twitter are asking me to go to Pakistan after reading this post. I am absolutely enjoying the attention, I think I have finally arrived. The Caravan Magazine has a wonderfully written article which is pretty much says the same thing but in much better language and of course, they don’t use cuss words. Read here India as a historical project: A failure of the imagination