Saturday, July 4, 2009

this ain't a love song

today am thinking about nationalism. rather have been for a while now, especially about two months ago with elections et al. I think its a rather taken for granted emotion and it could be quite a fiery one, sometimes flaring up at "wrong" times.

Two or three things have got me really thinking about nationalism. and what it really means to be part of a country. and if you are living in a country that is yours, can you still refuse to acknowledge it because of the things you think it stands for? i guess we might think that it is easier to take a stance when you are a citizen of a "rogue nation" (whatever that might be). But once in a while there comes a time when you have to question what you stand for when you are considered part of a group.

So there have been unfinished and not completely convincing conversations about nationalism and patriotism. however (and maybe I say this because i really don't understand the emotion) there seems to be an imbalance in that thought. for example, what does nationalism even mean in a country like ours? India is a so vast and diverse that each indian has his or her own individual little india. So then what does the Entire construct of India, in the political/geographical sense actually mean? or perhaps that's just it: each person - when it comes to any nation - should just hold on to what their idea of their country might be. if it works for them, they are a nationalist and if it doesn't they are one of those complainers who say "i hate this country". of course there's a spectrum of other stages in between these two extremes.

so yes there are some things that really disturb me about India and i don't mean potholes and powercut. yes, those are problems too but of an entirely different nature. what disturbs me most right now are individuals' own unwillingness to accept or overwillingness to reject people who are different from them.

It was great that Article 377 (a law that criminalizes homosexuality in India) got overturned by the high court (02/07/09). Much too late of course... but better late than never. but immediately there are a hundred people jumping up and saying this is against our culture. sure... it may be if you are stubbornly going to choose to look at it that way but in a country whose religious and cultural traditions have been built from listening to stories about characters like amba (the transgender in mahabharat who eventually helps kill bhishm), mohini (vishu in female form; rumored to be very beautiful and if i remember right he/she has fathered/mothered a chlld). and lets not forget the few years when Arjun was in hiding, dressed as a woman. so clearly the cultural argument really doesn't work here.

but beyond that, these people who are so quick to jump to the defense of indian culture never seem to do that where it matters. As far as I know ragging is not Indian culture but no one seems care about that. Torturing youngsters who want an education, am sure, was not part our gurukuls. The same goes for raping children and women in war zones - or anywhere. how come talk of culture comes up only when the argument is hollow? why does the entire country have to carry the weight of being narrow-minded because those in power can't think beyond themselves?

So here's my anxiety about nationalism: When I call myself Indian, am i supporting all this? Am i supporting all these unspeakable crimes against human rights? if India is one "thing" then whatever the country does, we all are part of and have to take responsibility for.

I don't want to part of these things that I can't relate to or understand - and thank God for that.

I remember the exact moment when my sense of "nationalism" crumpled. It was after hearing the news about two women who were raped in Kashmir by a whole army camp. It was not the first such instance but somehow hearing it from someone I know, instead of on the news, really shot a hole through me (no pun intended). But what shocked me more is that the nation only wants to talk about militants and bombs. but where does 'truth' in all of this go? Doesn't it matter what happens to people in our own country? And if it doesn't, then what is this great civilization that we are talking about?

Some might say I am taking this too seriously (but I know I am not)and that every country has these problems. Sure, why not? But that isn't an excuse.

My question is if my country Also stands for atrocities and injustice, how can I label myself an Indian without saying that I agree and am part of this?

Which brings me back to the concept of a scattered India. An individual India. A developing or enriching or shining India. Each one of us in our cozy corners can choose what we want to believe about here and anywhere else. It might be a convenient escape rather than facing the demons out there. But there has to be some compromise. And this one seems to be the best way out.

Having said that though, separate from the concept of nationhood (in fact a step Ahead of nationhood), some things are wrong no matter where it happens and who it happens to. So the injustices here and everywhere else, as a human being, I can't wash my hands off by saying "this is not my problem".


  1. no probs with sexuality.. personal choices..and for those rabblerousers well.. i call them good for nothings.. and as u said there r issues far more pressing to talk about..still i would consider myself very nationalistic though ofcourse i refuse to go along with much of this hullabulla.. lets give voice to the voiceless..they are in plently..

  2. yes, every country has these or similar problems and no, that should not and can not be used as an excuse...

    you know me and you know how out of place i feel in india sometimes.. i have no patience for narrow mindedness.. and even less for close mindedness.. the reason it's always easier for some people to fight hollow causes is simply because it is jst that.. easier. they know that they can rally support as long as they are not challenging the thinking of the people too much.. provoking them to see things in a different light.

    it seems to me that our country's politicians have chosen a few agendas that they know work with the masses: religion, kashmir, etc. but it is up to us, the "new generation" (haha.. yes, we are a lil old now but screw it, we are still part of this) to voice what the others don't. they have found their comfort zone. but by each one of us having found our "cozy corners", haven't we done the same?

    change takes time. i can't tell you how many times my parents have said that to me. unfortunately in india, it tends to take a lot longer than you and i are comfortable with. i have seen the ones close to me evolve, broaden their thinking.. at the same time, there are those who are so set in their ways and their views of what is "acceptable" and what is not, that they won't even hear me out. and that's just the small picture.

    yes, our country needs time to evolve and broaden its thinking as a whole. but it is also up to us to help it do so. as lame as it may sound, it is ppl who went out of their comfort zone and stuck up for what our nation SHOULD BE, that got us independence, made it ok for widows to remarry and not wear white, for women to me at par with men in society. i know that a lot of these are still issues in society. but if everyone were to get out of their "cozy corners" how long till we have what we want our country to truly stand for?