Recently, I was debating over the farmers’ protest (perhaps my hundredth debate since November 2020), and my friend on the other side asked me “Is your nationalism more important than your commitment to human rights? Should nationalism be accorded more value than human rights?”
While the context in which this question was asked does not make a lot of sense to me, this is a question a lot of people have asked me since the nationalist rhetoric started rising after 2014, more so after BJP’s phenomenal success in 2019 general elections.
Most people who denounce nationalism today often cite Rabindranath Tagore. As stated in one of the letters he wrote to his friend A.M. Bose in 1908, “Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. 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.” This was how he viewed patriotism; Nationalism was considered far more evil, and he termed it “carnivorous and cannibalistic”.
Rabindranath Tagore is one of the most celebrated poets of India. He is viewed with great respect and reverence, and the way he reshaped Bengali literature and music, along with Indian art by infusing Contextual Modernism continues to win appreciation.
Back in 2016, when the honourable Supreme Court adjudged that the National Anthem would be played mandatorily in movie halls, many people objected to the same. They attached the blame upon BJP for instilling “rabid nationalism” in Indians. One parliamentarian also said that BJP and its followers would probably declare Rabindranath Tagore as anti-national, if they were to read his views on nationalism.
Thus, I have often been accused of being a hardcore nationalist, to the point where I overlook human rights issues.
This is not true.
I deeply believe that nationalism is, in fact, going to help us uphold human rights. This sounds highly illogical. But it is true.
The reason is that we human beings seek affinity. Whenever we are in unfamiliar surroundings, we seek companionship and comfort of those who are similar to us.
For example, If I travel to a state where the locals do not speak in either Hindi or English, but I run into someone who does, I will feel safer, knowing that someone who understands me will be willing to help me in dire circumstances.
Human evolutions have occurred in small groups since time immemorial, giving rise to what we call as Tribalism. It has been proven time and again by psychologists, anthropologists, social scientists, sociologists, that tribalism is basic human nature. A research paper I read once upon a time also said that tribal bias is natural and is an indestructible cognitive feature of human beings from a fairly young age. No group is immune from this, because this is inherent in our nature.
Moving on from the brief course in psychology and jumping into history, it was the ineradicable nationalism of our freedom fighters which fetched us our freedom from our colonial masters. While a few leaders, especially the British-educated elite class were happy sharing power with the Britishers, a larger chunk of leaders continued to demand Purna Swaraj, that is, complete self-rule. While All India Home Rule League, as well as All India Muslim League, advocated for Home Rule (Dominion status within the British Empire, as granted to Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa.), the Indian Liberal Party continued to oppose independence and home rule.
It was the Indian National Congress, harboring the sentiments it today classifies as ‘rabid nationalism’, which advocated for Purna Swaraj from 1930, and persisted till we actually won independence. Despite having some elite class leaders who had reaped benefits of the British life while they studied abroad, they did not settle for home rule, knowing that British rule would continue to dismantle Indian economy and education gradually (not that they were left with much to destroy), simply because India was not their country, Indians were not their people, and they had no sense of attachment to this land. They were mere employees of the Empire, who had been ordered to keep us as poor slaves.
Today we all have our own opinions of various INC governments under different Prime Ministers which ruled us for the first few decades after independence, but despite their shortcomings, they did better than what Home Rule would have achieved for us.
The Nationalist BJP Government today is accused of being a party of jingoist jokers, who have strongly inculcated the sense of us vs. others in Indians with respect to others.
This might be true to an extent, and I don’t understand what is wrong with this.
Indians have always been welcoming, accommodating, brimming with generosity. However, this has always been abused by other nations which would like to see us poor.
When we talk about human rights, we talk about aiding refugees from other countries. The question is: what do you do when these refugees come in illegally, take over our resources illicitly, treat the Indians who welcomed them ungratefully? Should we not object when others leech benefits off the Indian State, to the detriment of Indian citizens?
When we talk about human rights, the question of protestors exercising their democratic rights comes up. But nobody will ever bring up human rights when protests turn violent, lead to riots, cause deaths of police personnel and incite fear in the minds of the ordinary citizen. Should a section of people with vested interests be allowed to exercise their “human rights” even as it curtails everyone else’s?
When we talk about human rights, inclusion of fundamental rights such as speech, expression of opinion on social media, freedom to move per one’s own wishes, religious freedom, etc. are often brought up (especially since the present Government has been accused of abusing all these rights.) The issue is: should these “Human Rights” be allowed to be misused to such an extent, that other citizens are left bereft of theirs?
All of this may seem unconnected to the point I made earlier, that nationalism will uphold human rights today. But it is not.
A nationalist government will do its best to uphold human rights of its own citizens in the face of mounting international pressure, global terrorism, economic subjugation. A nationalist government will ensure that Indian citizens anywhere in the world are not deprived of their human rights, because it will view them as their own even if they are in another continent. A nationalist government will make the nation so strong that the question of human rights will never arise where its own people are concerned.
Human rights are essential, but if the champions of human rights cause start undertaking activities which will undermine the nation, call for its annihilation and wish for the general citizens’ subjugation in order to uphold some unnecessary rights, then it will – in the long run – only hamper the actual human rights of all citizens.
We are living in a globalized world and we often believe in very romantic notions of a ‘world without borders’. But as I brought up earlier, we only care for those whom we feel a bond with. This comes primarily from a shared national identity. So no, I don’t agree with those who tell me that nationalism is destroying human rights. A strong, nationalist state will only undertake steps beneficial for the nation, which will automatically empower people and help them exercise their rights.