If India lacks something, that is a collective consciousness — the most important pre-requisite for a nationalistic identity.

JNU students protest in Delhi after the arrest of  their union president Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition

A friend of mine has not converted her Indian passport to a British one because she fiercely wants to hold on to her Indian identity. Her husband is a British citizen, so are her two sons and everywhere they go all the rest of her family needs is a mere stamp on the passport for an entry into a country.

She, on the contrary, has to do the running around to get her visa done because an Indian passport holder needs a prior visa for entry into majority of the countries in the world.

She once told me, “But I have rarely been appreciated by anyone in my own country for holding on to my passport, which I believe stands for my Indian identity. They always tell me what a fool I am for doing so.”

Sonia (name changed), who is a resident of Abu Dhabi in UAE for the last 30 years, however, loathes the idea of returning to India eventually.

“I don’t know how I will cope in India. I have become so used to the cleanliness and luxury of this country,” she says unapologetically.

In many ways, Sonia stands for millions of Indians who would rave about the progress India is making, would talk about culture and roots, would defend their country if anyone dares to criticize it but would be closet critics of their own countries and would jump at the first opportunity to settle abroad.

Then the idea of shifting back home after living in a foreign land gives them the jitters. Yet they would want to hold on to an Indian identity through a passport.

As the nationalism, anti-nationalism, tolerance and intolerance debate rages in India and there is media war and constant social media mud-slinging over it, in my mind, there is considerable doubt whether Indians are nationalistic at all.

Kanhaiya Kumar, a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader, was behind bars (and recently freed on bail) for raising supposedly anti-national slogans against India and supporting Afzal Guru, who was hanged for the Parliament attacks in India in 2001, which he has said he has not done. Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya are two other students who are behind bars on sedition charges.

While reams are written on Op-Ed pages whether sedition charges are right or not, I looked up the meaning of sedition in Wikipedia and this is what I found:

In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization that tends toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority.

If this is it then before the elections, what the political parties do to gain vote also amounts to sedition. Doesn’t it? They might not be urging an insurrection but the fact that they vehemently oppose the current order and ask to be brought into power is wrong enough, if we go by the definition.

They are perpetually talking against the ruling party, its members, against the PM even, but why is it that there are never any sedition charges against them?

This is indeed confusing.

I then looked up the meaning of nationalism in Merriam-Webster dictionary:  Nationalism means loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

According to this definition, most Indians could be called anti-national because if there is something lacking in India that is a sense of devotion to the nation and a national consciousness.

Indians do not usually think twice before littering their roads or dumping garbage just anywhere. It’s OK if tea shops sprout just about anywhere while municipality and police keep turning a blind eye towards it or even accepting bribes from the small-time owners in order to allow them to clean their dirty dishes right on the main road, dump the used paper plates just about anywhere and make the pavements unusable for the purpose it is meant for – walking.

That is why so many years after independence, the Swacch Bharat (Clean India) campaign started by Prime Minister Modi has done little to clean up its cities. It is all because of a lack of collective consciousness which leads people to continue dumping garbage and littering our streets. No wonder all Indian cities – big or small – are starting to look like giant garbage dumps, which keep growing along with the number of BMWs on the road and the malls too.

Isn’t it pathetic? In a country where the rate of internet usage and education is increasing every passing day, there is no civic sense. Rarely would you find an Indian with an unclean house but he or she is perfectly OK with throwing garbage on the road.

It is once again because of this lack of consciousness that people think it’s perfectly fine not to follow lanes when they drive their cars because rules are meant to be broken.  It’s fine to drive past red lights, cross the roads from just about anywhere and break the traffic rules whenever possible.

In fact, every Indian, who lives abroad can be called ant-national because at some time or the other they have criticized their own country. And why wouldn’t they?

After living in other countries for years if you land in your home and simply find it difficult to breathe the air because of its pollution levels then it does make you angry.

The definition of nationalism also means “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations.”

While the first few words reek of jingoism, precisely the reason why many progressive countries don’t give emphasis to nationalism at all, the latter words make us Indians anti-national in every possible way.

We are open and resilient about embracing other cultures and we are particularly fond of western cultures. That is why we prefer to wear jeans more often and find sarees hard to handle. A night of fun means dancing at nightclubs and not an evening at a Bharatanatyam (classical dance form of south India) recital and anyone serving pasta for dinner to guests is more likely to be lauded for better taste in cuisine.

When talking to foreigners, our English quickly takes on a drawl because our Indian accent is not good enough for them to understand and we don’t blink an eyelid before we start criticizing our country for its bad roads, filth and attitude towards women right in front of them.

Yes, if you can contribute to a conversation around the deplorable condition of women in India because they are raped and assaulted every moment and how the Indian government is doing little about it, then you are all set to win the next drawing room debate.

Well! This was all about the educated Indian. A large part of India with hardly any education starts running from the break of dawn to earn a living, feed hungry mouths. What about them? Are they anti-national too?

I asked my 35-year-old maid, who has never gone to school, is a grandmother to her elder daughter and has two younger children of 12 and 10.  Her day begins at 5 am with cleaning, cooking and washing at home then she takes the cramped local train to my place to do the same set of household chores.

I asked her if she knows anything about what’s happening in JNU or does she know what anti-national means. She gave me a blank look.

“I have been watching TV in your house but I haven’t understood anything. Are people attacking India and setting off bombs?” she asked.

I said, “You mean the Muslim terrorists?” She said, “Oh! Are these people Muslims? I have a number of Muslim neighbors. They are very nice. There has never been any trouble in our village.”

I realized in India, it is sometimes better not to know too much. Then maybe you can live in peace and harmony. If you end up knowing too much, questioning too much and criticizing too much, you might end up like Kanhaiya Kumar.

Amrita Mukherjee is a freelance journalist who writes on social issues in India with focus on women. She divides her time between Dubai and India and blogs at www.amritaspeaks.com

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times. 

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