You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Reflecting in lieu of the conflict in India - JNU, Trump and nationalism

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 22/03/2016 Tanushree Ghosh
MULTINATIONAL © Robert Churchill via Getty Images MULTINATIONAL

In the past month, India was thrown into quite an unforeseen turmoil over nationalism; or rather a possible lack of it.
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, served as base for a series of rallies after the execution of a convict (convicted on charges of attack on the Indian Parliament, 2001). The protesters (or dissenters?) at the rally were said to have voiced anti national slogans in addition to their concerns on the execution. Video aired on a popular news show indicated pro-Pakistan, pro-separatist movement slogans being shouted. The video was later proven to be doctored and witness accounts emerged claiming nothing "anti-national" happened at the rallies, but it was too late for the student union president and his companions. They were jailed, beaten (by a group of lawyers!), and subsequently charged with sedition. This caused weeks of unrest, protests around the country and social media, support from national and international universities extended to the JNU community, and a sudden burst of posts on social media on the sacrifices of the Indian soldiers who protect our borders!
The student union president (Kanhaiya Kumar) has since then been released on bail and is now quite a hero owing to his passionate yet restrained speech following his release. But the nation hasn't calmed down. Social media newsfeeds are still crowded with posts of this nature: 'why is Kanhaiya made to be a hero, when soldiers die unsung?' and the news channels are continuing to report headlines on the subject with expert testimonies and debates every day on what is nationalist vs. what is separatist.

Following on from the US, the louder rhetoric coming through didn't seem very different to me from what I have been hearing here. 'Let's make this nation great again - by building walls around - by throwing out the ones we don't think belong - and punching the ones who disagree'.
Is there really a rise of ultra-nationalism simultaneously all over the world? Or is it that nationalism tantamount to fascism is starting to stick out like sore thumbs to the conscience of the modern post- colonial world?
What is the relevance of such nationalism today? What it prevents? What it fosters? What are my own feelings towards my country of origin and my country of residence? Am I a national? An anti-national? Or a multi-national (if corporations can be - why not individuals)?

Indian soldiers - like soldiers of almost every nation - are rightfully hailed as heroes for their service and sacrifice. But in this case, are they being tacitly used as a facade to divert attention from the unlawful arrests and oppression of a student community? For any nation, protecting her sovereignty is an easy topic to evoke emotions. It incites strong feelings based on fear of possible loss. And what better way to do so than to bring the martyrs forward? This is what I suspect is being done here.
JNU students didn't protest against the Indian army - nor is India currently in an active war. Yes, there were and are ongoing discussions on the history of modern India (I tried to review most you tube videos, news clippings and posts available on the topic before writing this piece). Discussion on Indian states - how they came to be a part of modern India and if the grievances are valid - are being reacted to as a threat to India. But to discuss, debate, be aware and acknowledge doesn't demonstrate intent of disruption of borders.
India has had separatist movements and uprisings throughout her modern history. But how can this be solved by denying or re-defining history and silencing dissenting voices? There needs to be instead efforts of assimilation and integration of those who feel oppressed and left out from mainstream India. They can't be bullied into being champions for India: they need to be heard and convinced through action that they matter. Quoting Kanhaiya Kumar: provide 'freedom in India' not 'freedom from India'.

Nationalism is being touted as defending borders and preserving a nation's sovereignty against outside enemies (real or perceived) only.
But nationalism should (and more importantly) be commitment to building a nation from within - striving to be a society fostering equality, civility, lawfulness and human rights. Nationalism should be upholding and furthering of a nation's values.
We are at a risk of diverting away from the second in our efforts to perform heavily on the first all over the world.

Whether it is a front runner here shouting to build a wall, attacking certain communities and threatening to deport an unprecedented number of people in front of a cheering crowd, or nations willing close their doors on persecuted children, or nationals taking to social media to justify unlawful arrests as border-keeping, it is symptomatic of a fascist and fearful mindset - one that touts national interest over human interests.
What is the point of protecting borders if free, just, stable, humanitarian and lawful state is not pursued within the borders? A nation's cogency is defined by the quality of life and opportunities availble to its residents and its stance and policies. Not by its size and borders.

What should nationality mean to Indians? Or to inhabitants of any other nation really? What should it mean to a global citizen? What should it mean to us as a human race? - I am not attempting to answer this question as an absolute, but I can present a personal example to try and elaborate my thoughts on the same further.
One of my posts on why I would prefer to raise my daughter in the US in spite of always having a sense of belonging to India, drew some criticism from patriots in both countries. Indians criticizing my stance called me anti-national for bringing up and publicizing shortcomings in the field of women's safety in front of the world and therefore choosing to vindicate my nation. Americans criticized me for longing for India and pointing out things I don't like here.
I can't understand how stating the problems I know from personal experience plague the nation proved that I am against my nation - aka - anti-national. I believe only if you love deeply you can care enough to discuss shortcomings. So I felt the concern was more because of the forum being international and the possible negative perception that could result in about India.
This 'nationalism', in my opinion, is of concern. Not only does blind national pride cause citizens to live in denial instead of seeking improvement, if you choose to not have free media and international insight into issues of significance, because you would rather not be embarrassed, you are not doing your state a favor. You are paving the way for any government or entity in power to be oppressive and fascist if they choose to be. You are protecting the borders, but not seeking improvement within.
I would care to have "freedom in India" to raise my head high, have the assurance of protection from law and fair prosecution if accused of wrong doing. I would be quite upset if in spite of having secured borders, I could be beaten up by a mob before I was proven guilty and my assailants could be not prosecuted. And why I say 'I' in this? Because what happened to Kanhaiya and the students could happen to anyone dissenting if we allow this to be excused in lieu of protecting national interest.
The other themed criticism to my piece - 'if I felt I belonged more in India, and am not in complete love and awe of the US way of life, I should not be here' - surprised me more than the above.
Do we really believe that US is 'made great' by people choosing to immigrate here leaving behind and forsaking all sense of belonging to their respective countries of origin? Or can be 'made great' by shutting off/throwing out people? Do we think immigrants/refugees/any-one choosing to come permanently to or reside temporarily in another country turn blind to anything that is different/questionable here? Or do we want their gratefulness to suppress their rights to voice concern? Is that what assimilation is?
I believe America is what it is today because of people who emigrate here choose to remember and compare. Because they strive to improve what they don't like here, and fight to preserve what is better.

Every nation has struggles and shortcomings, and just like I said above for India, to love and care means to be sensitive to these so that we can work and strive for improvement. And sensitivity is enhanced by perspective: from being able to compare.

That brings me to sum up the point. Nationalism is overrated. It, like religion in the hands of zealots, is made into this all or nothing space where you are expected to be a blind devotee. It makes us consider long term possibilities before immediate humanitarian needs. It causes us to doubt the right steps at the first signs of struggle - wondering if we made a mistake by opening the door. It fosters fear and mistrust. Being national should not be antonym to being rational. It shouldn't make us forget, while we revere the soldiers, the rights and values they are fighting to protect.
What makes sense instead and is relevant for today is to be pro human. Borders and sovereignty are practical necessities, but to question and recognize cracks within is not separatist. Wanting to fix such cracks when they threaten human rights whether or not they are within the borders we choose to reside in, or were born into, is human.
In no way can being pro one nation should exclude being pro any other, or foster assumptions that the proponent is automatically anti another. I am an Indian citizen and US permanent resident. Born into one, assimilating into another, belonging and contributing to both. I feel a deep belonging to Bangladesh too, where my ancestors come from, although I have never been there. I do not need to take sides in favoring the good and criticizing the bad for either of these. Neither do students in JNU vocalizing concerns of other nations or protestors here vocalizing support for immigrants from another country. The culture of demonstrating 'love' by practicing 'hate' doesn't make sense in any other context - it needs to stop here too.
'Anti-National' should apply only when there is active engagement in actions or thoughts causing harm to or intending to cause harm to a nation. Everything else is being a concerned and aware human.
For more about the author, visit

More from Huffington Post

The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon