A common question often asked is- how to cultivate patriotism, nationalism, and sense of belonging among its inhabitants. How to make people root for their nation, feel proud to be associated with the nation, and feel a sense of duty in maintaining the dignity of the nation. How to break the walls of caste, creed, religion, language etc? That we carry with us throughout our life and whose baggage pulls us down from being true to our nation. How to diffuse the “you” and “I” into a collective “us”? How to cultivate a collective identity of being an Indian that surpasses all other differences? Mind you, there are no easy answers for all these questions. Even though personally i am highly skeptical to the sacro-sanctity of a nation we have to give cognizance to the fact that nationalism has evolved as a formidable structure which can’t be ignored. even when we are contesting the theoretical basis of nation and nationalism, we have to somehow maintain the myth of nation for the purpose of solidarity and peaceful co-existence. thus the trope of nationalism needs to be channelized in the right direction.
The first thing that comes to my mind is an oxymoron, “to construct a nation first we need to deconstruct a nation”. That is, we need to be conscious of the fact that what is a nation? Who makes a nation? Why do we need a nation? How are we identified as a nation and conversely how nation is identified by us? Once we are conscious of the process of nation building, once we are aware of the fact that nation is as much a social construct as other social institutions, it becomes easier to mold the nation, to effect changes in the nation because we will no longer involve in the “jingoism” and “fetishism” that we often confuse with “patriotism”
Having a historical consciousness of the nation, now the next step is to know what changes we need to see in our country and countrymen, what are the features that we wish our state, society and people inherit and imbibe in their subconscious mind? There are several such features that we can point out in this regard- firstly, India is a nation of immense cultural diversity in terms of culture, ethnicity, language, customs and traditions etc. the strength of the nation lie in the truism of “unity in diversity”, to recognize and to appreciate the diversity of the nation. This appreciation of diversity also inculcates the feeling of preserving this diversity; it prevents cultural hegemony and places us an inch closer from realizing the ideal of “vasudhaiv kutumbakam”.
Religion and caste are irrefutable and integral part of our society. The nature, extent, influence, necessity of both though is highly debatable matter. But a bitter truth of the society is the divisive role that religion and caste plays in the society. It is essential for the state to have a non-partisan view regarding religion. Religion is personal and social belief system and even though most of us identify ourselves with some or other religion, it is essential that in before the eyes of law, state, and nation- we all are equal. No matter our religion, “nation comes first”. We need to adopt an attitude of “contextual secularism” that is, respecting all religions equally and additionally; your national identity is supreme amongst your multiple identities. In term of caste, a much stricter attitude is required. We need to recognize the divisive and antagonist force of caste and it should not interfere in our pursuit of national unity. We can call ourselves part of a common thread only if social discrimination like caste and religion are eliminated.
We call our nation “Bharat Mata” but this is a sorry truth that women are often seen as symbolic embodiment or passive recipient in the process of nation building rather than playing the role of an active agent. We cannot talk of national consciousness by putting half population on the margins. But gender encompasses not just women, it encompasses all categories of sexual divisions and the social constructs associated with it. For everyone to feel for the nation it is necessary that the nation feels for them, for everyone to place nation above everything else, nation needs to place them on an equal plane if not more.
Illiteracy, superstitions and irrationality are biggest hindrance to the idea of nation because biases and superstitions and ill knowledge make people behave contrary to the spirit of the nation. You don’t need to be university educated to have a rational outlook, just a broader viewpoint and a mind open to ideas, only then we can embrace the message of nationalism above all.
Finally, to act like an adhesive to the structure of nationalism is the “sense of belonging”, not just in the context of nation but on a broader plane, humanism. We root for our family our group our institution because we feel we belong to it. Then we share the joys, sorrows, concerns, achievements all as our own. This feeling is to be felt by everyone, to be imbibed through our culture, our institution into our subconscious mind.
Now we come across an even difficult question, that is- “how”? And again there are no easy answers. The first thing that will cross our minds will be that this feeling should be inculcated since our formative age. Schooling, particularly primary schooling plays a very vital role in shaping the character of a person. Using effective means of pedagogy, we can inflame a spirit of patriotism, nationalism and sense of belonging for the future generation. Similarly we can imbibe a sense of duty for the nation and the need to work for the welfare and betterment of the nation. but here we also need to be cautious, feeling for the nation is not same as subservient for the nation. nationalism should not be placed in the rhetoric of xenophobic tendencies and alienation and exclusion of groups should not define our orbit of nationalism. nor should our pedagogy of nationalism be dominated by rhetoric as rhetoric emanates from a false sense of glorification. nationalism can be acceptable on the premise of it being a catalyst for “unity in diversity” and a microcosm for universal brotherhood. thus nationalism should be defined in thoroughly inclusive terms.
Secondly, attempts should be made to forge cultural unity and create an eye for appreciation for different cultures within our nation (and also outside it). This could be done through assimilation, close interaction and display of different cultures. Through creating a cultural panorama, creating nodal points for the interaction of cultures and inculcating a sense of aesthetics will be immensely helpful for growth of “cultural nationalism”which should be again defined in inclusive terms, without enforcing a particular culture or shunning or marginalization of some other cultures.
Many art forms, many cultures, many endeavors of nation building fail because of cost- profit mechanics which restricts the potential of such endeavors. By deliberately patronizing and often commissioning events, art works, books, museums and above all public commemoration state plays the role of a catalyst in the process of nation building. It not only give a pan Indian character and reach to these activities it also encourages individuals to attempt and display and project the “national panorama” without the concern of financial and institutional support.
But for people to utilize the means of pedagogy, to appreciate different cultures, feel proud of being a part of the nation and play an active role in nationalist endeavors, it is essential to provide him or her means to do so. The structure of nation cannot be laid on the base of poverty and oppression. Thus it is essential to provide a “minimum respectable living standard” to all in spheres of life- economic, social and cultural. Social justice and equitable distribution need to be the two foundation stones for the structure of nationalism to stand still.
As pointed out earlier, caste prejudices and discrimination are the biggest divisive forces that need to be curtailed for the unity of the nation. Reformers like Ambedkar gave a lot of emphasis on the role of intermarriage and to some extent inter-dining to dilute the basis of caste prejudices. It is important not only for the assimilation of different social groups but also for the dilution of “identity politics” which tend to create a huge rift between different communities.
Language is not only a medium of communication. Words also carry with them cultural symbols, images, idioms etc. how we express an idea is equally essential as what we express. Rhetoric, propagandist, communal, discriminatory and derogatory form of speeches, texts, audio-visual mediums is many a times used deliberately to provoke sentiments. This kind of misuse of language is used to generate hatred by the hate mongers. Through the use of language a distorted view of history is presented, feelings are aroused. Thus, at least in the public arena some restraint and regulation over propagandist rhetoric derogatory (for the unity of the nation) should be practiced and conversely, language should be channelized for the service of nationalism.
Media can play a very vital role in propagating everything from “grass root nationalism” to influencing people’s opinion in favor of the nation. Media has the potential to make people root for an issue, come in solidarity and work for the welfare of the nation. Media through the powerful medium of cinema can influence and instigate patriotism, nationalism etc. media makes us aware of our duty and media makes us conscious about the happening of the nation. Thus media binds us and help in creating a sense of belonging among different people in different part of the country.
Apart from the concern for its culture, people, society; nationalism should also include an additional and serious concern for its environment. Environment is the part of human existence, it makes a nation a living place, and our existence is severely dependent upon it. So an additional tool of nation building is judicious allocation of environmental resources, conservation of non-renewable resources, concern and reverence for nature and a bid towards sustainable development is as vital part of nationalism as the above mentioned points. We should replace our greed with our need, as the popular truism goes- “to everyone according to their needs”
Thus, to generate a feeling of nationalism and feeling of oneness, prioritizing nation above all, may seem at the first sight a chimera but this is not a revolutionary instant process. This is more of a journey, a penance where the goal is multiplicity of identities converges into a national identity, like different rivers converge into the great ocean, different cultures, societies, identities into the ocean of the nation and become one!! but mind you again this project of nationalism should be facilitated side by side by the discourse on nationalism, and different epistemology of nationalism should be contested and debated upon. nationalism as a theoretical preposition should always be challenged in academic domain so that it doesn’t acquire a pretension of being an inevitable and natural domain. nation should always be treated as a social construct, meant for the society, by the society of the society and is one of the important though not the only identity essential for human existence as a social and communal being.