“An eye for an eye makes the world go blind” – Mahatma Gandhi
This post by Amit got me started thinking again about an issue I have meant to write about for sometime now.
All over the world, and in our country especially ( for reasons that I will mention later), I sense and see a growing wave of nationalism. Why is this of any concern? Are feelings of nationalism unwarranted? (Note: Nationalism is used here and rest of the post to consist all kinds of regionalism, communalism and casteism)
Yes, because nationalism as a concept is hollow and ridiculous. There is a general view that since we are born and belong to some place, we should behave as if we own it. That we must all feel offended when there is a joke cracked about that place. That we must feel proud about an individual’s success because he hails from my own place. Firstly, if I had a choice, I may not have chosen this place to be born with. So, if it was chance that caused my birth in a particular city/state/country, how can I claim to say I am obligated to defend and own that place? Secondly, most failures and achievements owe their origins to the efforts of an individual or a group of individuals. Claiming collective regional ownership of those does no justice to anyone.
The problem with nationalism does not end here. The actual danger of nationalism almost always manifests itself in the intolerance of the other. This is the clear and present danger that all of us face in an increasingly globalized world. For in the same day, there will be many of us meeting, working and socializing with people from different castes, religions, languages, cities and countries. Cities that consisted of people from one language or community in majority have to do with influences from all around. It is in such scenarios that feelings of nationalism are dangerous. Frictions that occur due to trivial misunderstandings soon snowball into a collective intolerance against a particular set of people from one region/language/city. So, people who want to exploit this simmering tension ( no second guesses on who these are) conveniently start talking about ‘Maratha Pride’ or ‘Kannada Pride’, as if to present an united front against an imaginary enemy. Thankfully, in our country we have not much examples of language-based conflicts, but we have had more than enough of communalistic violence. Just substitute, religions instead of regions, and you see how the causes are similar. But, as I had written in earlier post, I have seen such behaviour first-hand in Mumbai and Bangalore. Not just India, around the world, in Austria, Germany, the US, the UK and Russia, you read about the devastating effects of nationalism mainfesting as neo-Nazism, anti-Islam and racism.
An interesting thing about the nationalistic sentiment is how correct it seems. All of us associate with places, people and things we grew up with. So, since I grew up in Bangalore, I am very nostalgic and proud about my city. But, I do not own it to ask/request/ban anyone from visiting and living in my city. That is the fine difference most of us seem to miss. A city is not yours, mine or even the government’s. It is just a place that gains its character, culture and persona by the people inhabiting it. Just as my ancestors came to this country to make it their home hundreds of years ago, so do the people who come in now. As long as anyone who resides in a place does so by the rule of the law of that place, there should be no problem. All the threatening feelings of losing ownership, of feeling run over by immigrants, of feeling angry are not justified. If you are inconvenienced by presence of foriegners, it is most likely that the cause is elsewhere. It is either the administration that has not let infrastructure develop to support the newcomers or it is the law-makers who have failed to ensure safety to prevent social unrest.
The reason that feelings of nationalism are of an even more concern in India is apparent. Thirty states with more than a hundred languages, hundreds of food varieties, more than 15 religions, and zillions of castes. A country that is wholly and truly diverse. As migrations occur from backward to prosperous zones, clashes between dwellers and newcomers are bound to occur all over. Mumbai has already seen and tided over such a wave in the Shiv Sena eighties. Bangalore is witnessing it currently. Soon, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata will be following suit. I hope, and it is not a very hopeful hope I have, that the administrations elsewhere will have the vision and show the statesmanship required to foresee and plan for these changes.
If nationalistic sentiment is wrong, what do national sport teams represent then? Should you not support India? Is it not one’s duty to back the Indian cricket team? It definitely is no one’s duty to support only one’s own country. I support the Indian cricket team because I like the way they play. That is why, by the same token, you will not find me watching the Indian soccer team play. They play poorly and it is no joy to watch them. Yes, most of us end up supporting teams from our state/country. But, note that no one is obligated to support a particular team. You are the fan, you choose.
The same extends to international and domestic affairs. If I am aware of abuses by the State, it does not mean I am obliged to not speak up. Just as I am depressed by the death of Palestinians and Israelis, so am I by the death of innocent Kashmiri civilians. No matter who the perpetator is.
As you keep expanding the scenarios, you notice how so much of the world’s problems are due to the inflated feelings of owenership and dangerous pride. All of its wars have been fought over land. Land, on which often thousands can reside, is barren with landmines. The funny part is the warring sides are fighting over this minefield. The sad part is the number of such conflicts just keep increasing. Politicians exploit usually latent emotions and then take it to a peak to ensure fueling tensions keep them in seats of power (and money).
It is, therefore, important to remember not carried away by feelings of being a Kannadiga, Bangalorean, Indian, Brahmin, Hindu or even as a member of one gender. Because most often than not, we did not have a choice in any of the above. So, we claim no rights over the successes of a co-member nor should we be victimised by the crimes of another. Extend the token and we will see that it also means we have no right to victimise a community because of the crimes of a few.