Whose Nationalism is it anyway?

Parvin Sultana

In the last two
months the country has witnessed fervent battles in the name of nationalism. We
have unwittingly entered a competition of proving who is a greater ‘
and who is a greater ‘
deshdrohi’. While the 9th February
incident in JNU accentuated the developments, hypernationalism was well on its
way since quite some time. We should not forget how Ambedkar Periyar Study
Circle, a students’ organisation of Madras IIT was targeted and how Rohith
Vemula and others of Ambedkar
Circle of University of Hyderabad
were also marked as anti-nationals.

This incident
has brought a good time to rekindle certain debates – be it on the much needed
anti-people colonial law of sedition or the question of an exclusive brand of
nationalism. 9
th February, 2013 marks the day when Parliament attack
accused Afzal Guru was hanged. Some students in JNU organized a talk in which
they decided to take up the issue of Afzal Guru being wrongly hanged. A simple
research on his case will reveal that many have felt his hanging was wrong and
how for Kashmiris his death is closely related to the
question. Denied to meet his family for the last time, his hanging carried out
in utmost secrecy seemed like a pacifying tactic for a ‘collective conscience’
which would satisfy with nothing less than the life of a man.
When alleged
‘anti-India’ slogans were raised in the same programme, it was a dangerous
concoction as angst of Kashmiris came together with the question of the
‘judicial murder’ of an alleged terrorist who was a Kashmiri Muslim. This is a
crucial moment to revisit the question of nationalism in the context of Kashmir. One cannot deny the fact that we are still at a
distance from solving the Kashmir problem.
Years of alienation and administrative failures in the valley has led to
reverbation of ‘India
go back’ frequently on the streets of the valley. However one also must take
cognizance of the fact that not everyone from Kashmir
lends support to the demand of secession.
The current
debate has given birth to the idea of a narrow nationalism. A narrow
territorial or cultural idea of Indian nation reduces the very diversity that
our country claims to espouse. Professor Gopal Guru who spoke in one of the
alternative classes of JNU made a case of looking at nation not as an
institution that excludes but as an institution that acts as a means to achieve
egalitarian goals. State’s institutions like bureaucracy and ministries should
play a nation-building role.
nationalism as promoted by RSS and its political wing BJP reduces the nation to
a majoritarian construct. As such those who question the dominant hegemonic
ideologies are branded as anti-national and a potential danger. As a result
Dalits who reject Brahminical Hinduism, leftists and secular intellectuals who
reject Hindutva, beef eaters, inter-religious couples and even those like
Kanhaiya Kumar who demand ‘azadi’ from social evils like poverty, communalism,
casteism etc are branded as anti-national.
Lets move to another
part of India
which have also challenged a narrow reading of nationalism. The Northeastern
region has had a difficult relationship with nationalism and nation building.
While North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA) became Arunachal Pradesh, the nature
of the frontier region has not changed much over the period. After decades of
army operations Assam,
Mizoram, Tripura have been identified as low intensity conflict areas but
Manipur continues to burn. The persisting problem in this small state of Eastern India has led to gross human rights violation.
Much of the
state’s problem can be traced back to its problematic assimilation to the
Indian state post independence. In place of loose autonomy the Manipuri King
was made to sign the Instrument of Accession without consulting his ministry.
This is still for many nothing less than deception. What followed after
independence is there for all to know. Terrorism and counter-terrorist state
intervention have wrecked havoc in this tiny state. A state much smaller in size
than Kashmir, has seen casualties which are
close to that in the valley. Gross violation of human rights of women, children
are pervasive. Use of child soldiers as human shield is rampant in the state.
 When General G D Bakshi broke down on National
TV on the issue of hoisting national flags in central universities, a Manipuri
student reminded him that there was more than the national flag in Manipur University. They had their
own Assam Rifles’ Camp in the campus. The same Assam
Rifles which have been held responsible for the rape and murder of Thangjam
Manorama and numerous fake encounters in Manipur. The chilling encounter of an
unarmed 22 years old Sanjit Meitei points to the state of the affairs in the
state. A pregnant woman was also shot in the cross fire. Civil society
organisations have demanded probe in around 1,528 alleged fake encounters. 
Our bleeding
heart nationalists did not stop from coming out in streets in large numbers
baying for blood of ‘anti-national university students’. Lawyers who act as
custodians of law behaved like rowdy hooligans beating up students, professors
and even journalists. But their nation and nationalism was not shaken by the
Malom massacre where Army passed a 16 year old and a 60 year old among others
as ‘dangerous potential insurgents’. 10 people waiting at a bus stop were
gunned down by Assam Rifles in November, 2000. This very incident prompted Irom
Sharmila to start her fast for repealing AFSPA. Their nationality is not
further ashamed when Irom sharmila has been fasting for the last 15 years and
is force fed by police personnel. The likes of General Bakshi have no tears to
spare for her.
The racism that
people from Northeast face in other parts of the country shows how our
imagination of nation and its people is at best stunted. The assault ranges
from remarks like ‘chinki’ to sexual and physical assaults. A 20 year
old Nido Tania from Arunachal Pradesh was brutally attacked in 2000 which led
to his death. 19 year old Richard Loitam from Manipur succumbed to his injuries
of being subjected to tortuous ragging by seniors. Minor scuffles lead to
physical assaults. Northeastern students were also picked up by police confused
with Tibetans protesting the Chinese premier’s visit.
Nationalism and
its derivative sub- nationalism have caused turbulence in Assam since decades. Borders drawn through the
kitchen of many families made them foreigners in their own natural homeland.
People living in border districts are bearing the brunt as large number of
voters are marked as ‘Doubtful Voters’ and denied voting rights. It is this
very idea of narrow nationalism that fuelled the Assam Movement which started
the systemic harassment of Muslims of East Bengal origin as ‘illegal
immigrants’. Their identity continues to be under question. These border areas
are treated as security zones where the developmental initiatives of state are
conspicuously absent.
These incidents
show that we are far away from believing that a mongoloid featured non Hindu,
non Hindi speaking person is as Indian as someone from Delhi or Uttar Pradesh. That the suffering of
erosion led displacement comes within the purview of human rights violation and
should not be overdetermined by the nationality of the victims. These people
who buy into the narrow idea of nationalism also uphold, glorify and hold
sanctimonious an ahistorical idea of India.
It does not take into account the reality of the process of nation building and
the pragmatic politics that went into the same. When citizens are systemically
excluded and sometimes air bombed (like Aizawl in 1966)
then their response to hypernational cries of love for motherland is
mediated by their own experience of exclusion. The bombing of Aizawl in 1966
remains till date the only instance when India
carried an airstrike against its own civilians.
The condition in
the region continues to be grim and with election around in Assam, politics of polarisation is at play. The
claims of the political party in power, BJP’s antics with giving citizenship to
Hindu Bangladeshis have one hand made mockery of the genuine concerns of the
indigenous population, on the other hand have put people belonging to the East
Bengal origin at the receiving end of xenophobic hatred. Nationalism which has
become a fancy tag for many in the capital continues to be a question of life
and death for many in the region. 
 The marginalized of Northeast will be more
comfortable in standing up with the Dalits, minorities, LGBT and other excluded
communities rather than chest thumping self acclaimed deshbhakts who
will use a Hanumanthappa in every second sentence but opt for a better paying
job abroad then slog in India. When one is constantly treated as the ‘other’,
in terms of nationalism they are compelled to ask difficult questions like
whose nationalism this is. Why those people who are willing to physically
exterminate the ‘threats’ (read University students) to the country does not
find the time to come out in the streets for the dying farmers??
A few decades
back many in the northeastern region asserted its cultural difference with
other parts of the country and demanded the right to secede. Of late most have
accepted Indian sovereignty and Constitution. But what is unacceptable is the
continuing gross violation of this very Constitution in different parts of the
largest democracy on a regular basis. What is required is giving more people at
the margins a stake and a stronger voice in the nation. Development agencies
rather than armed forces should be the face of the nation. Once it is done all
will come under the banner of nationalism and work towards a more egalitarian
society. Narrow chauvinist nationalism will stop being the benchmark of love,
respect and allegiance for the country that one lives in.
Author is an Assistant Professor in P B College of Assam. Her research interest
includes Muslims in Assam, development and northeast, gender etc.