Feb 17, 2009

My India. Your India. Their India.

"Is it a crime to talk about religion? Is it a crime to infuse patriotism in young minds?"

This is how Karnataka CM Yeddyurappa snubbed those who felt outraged at the recent Mangalore shame. More than anything else, this statement comes from a CM to justify violence and brutality, as also violation of women's modesty, beind a veil of 'religion' and 'patriotism'. It is not even funny how personal facets as lifestyle or clothing or forms of entertainment are linked to other personal facets as religion and patriotism, with the resulting mix being fed to the population at large. This absolutely left me, and I'm sure many others, seething. So, I thought, why not enlighten people such as our Mr. CM on what religion and nationalism really mean.

Religion, first. A religion is usually a set of stories, symbols, beliefs and practices. It more often than not encompasses a supernatural quality. It gives meaning to a practitioner's experiences of life through reference to an ultimate power or reality. It may be expressed through prayer, ritual, meditation, music, art, among other things. It also yields a set of religious laws and ethics to define a particular lifestyle. In most modern contexts, it refers to both personal practices related to communal faith as well as to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction. When more or less distinct patterns of behaviour are built around experiential and emotive facets, this structure constitutes religion in its historically recognizable form. It also is the organization of life around experience — varied in form and completeness in accordance with the individual to whom it pertains.

Now, patriotism. Patriotism is commonly defined as love of and/or devotion to one's country. However, patriotism has had different meanings over time, and its meaning is highly dependent upon context, geography and philosophy. Although it is used in certain vernaculars as a synonym for nationalism, nationalism (the ideology that only one particular 'resident' group holds national status, while the rest are seen as 'outsiders') is not considered an inherent part of patriotism. Neither is jingoism. Most notions of contemporary patriotism reject nationalism in favour of a more classic version which accepts diversity and includes social responsibility. Patriotism, though implied as such, may not always be seen as virtuous. Sometimes, minorities may reject a particular facet of patriotic loyalty and pride. They may feel excluded from the political community, and see no reason to be proud of it.

Sadly, these definitions hold their worth only in the books, literally and figuratively. There is a gaping chasm between what a religion wants to convey and what is being interpreted out of the religion. It has always been a mix of patriotism, politics and religion which has been responsible for the killing of people everywhere in the world. But one can say with certainty that religion plays a main role in the start of various conflicts. Extreme right-wing politicos in India have been for years trying to make religion the sine-qua-non of patriotism. The flaw here is that they take only the majority religion into account, and view followers of other faiths as 'outsiders'. Therefore, according to them, all true Indian patriots must also, necessarily, be true Hindus. And suddenly, a temple at a famously disputed site becomes the be all and end all of what defines patriotism in India.

The streets of a neighborhood are a truer symbol of nationhood than a place of worship. The former are used by all and paid for by the contributions of all. Yet, they remain filthy and neglected, while people pool money to build places of worship which already abound. Why is it that the demolition of a temple or a mosque or a church causes such a furore, leading to disruption of normal life and resulting in mass genocide? Why, like the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, does the Godhra carnage not tug at heartstrings to attract national sympathy? Why must the murder of a Hindu saint be avenged by raping and killing Christian nuns who had nothing to do with it? Why do we think that the only solution to curb terror attacks in India is to go to war with Pakistan? Why should weaponry and military arsenal, and not economic or social development, be as a test of a nation's strength? These questions exemplify the fact that when a fictitious patriotism is flaunted, perpetrators of intolerance are glorified and the opinion of liberals and intellectuals ridiculed.

Why all the hullabaloo, one may ask. After all, how can religion and patriotism be used interchangeably? Every social group has its own notions of loyalty. The institution of family embeds loyalty to the family as a social group. Caste associations emphasize the benefits which come from an active participation and cooperation between different members of the same caste. Tribal groups too emphasize similar benefits from collaboration. But the notion of patriotism is different from such forms of group loyalty. The difference lies in its close affinity with the state. Patriotism is not based upon kinship or of shared descent; it is based upon the idea of a nation and its central institution, the state.

Modern India is based upon the idea that all its citizens are equal, and that its government must represent the will of not just a few, but all of the different social groups that make up this country. India today is based upon different foundations than most of those which went before it. Its legitimacy, therefore, lies in its being able to equitably satisfy all its various component communities and safeguard their interests. Irrespective of an individual's religion, caste, community, sex, the state must to represent each and every of them. The modern nation has its appeal because of its being able to mediate between and reconcile often conflicting interests. The state is considered legitimate only when it speaks with the same voice to all.

The universalistic modern state is what the most powerful countries of the world have, and should ideally have. It is through this social form that resources are used most efficiently and the diverse forces of a country are focussed on the benefit of everybody. Patriotism in a modern country cannot be created on the basis of ideas that appeal to only partisan groups or some sections of society. The naked use of force to coerce acceptance of the nation is not a characteristic of a society based on reason and democracy.

Like William Hearst once said, I too reiterate this: "A politician will do anything to keep his job - even become a patriot."

Et tu, Mr. CM?


  1. You write so well Surbhi. Pouring your heart and mind into these posts. I had read the statement by the Karnataka CM and wanted to write about it too, but i cannot be as eloquent as you, nor as clear in my thought and as informed in my writing. Its wonderful to see you put in so much of effort behind each of your posts.

    Just found your new blog, and have blogrolled you already. Keep writing girl, I love your work, and really admire your efforts.

  2. Goofy Mumma:
    Thanks so much! I'm so touched. :)
    My wrting is a combination of my thoughts, research, and some copy-paste. So nothing extraordinary, really. At least not for you, who writes equally well, and many times far better than me.

  3. Surbhi, believe me, there is hardly any research involved in my posts, I don't put in as much effort as you do really!! And that is the reason more than anything else, that I really appreciate your efforts.

    Why don't you put up your mail-id here?

  4. Goofy Mumma:
    I don't wish to make my email id public. If someone I trust asks for it, I can give it to them. You want?


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