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I'm A Proud Indian But I Refuse To Be A Nationalist

02/03/2016 8:13 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Nepalese protest against their newly adopted constitution and demanding declaration of Nepal as a Hindu Nation on September 22, 2015 in New Delhi, India. Nepal adopted a new constitution that sparked weeks of border violence that killed more than 40 people. (Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

A lot has been written recently about 'nationalism'. The recent events at JNU caused emotions to flare up across the country and ignited a debate that has viciously divided Indian citizens into binary categories -- where you are either a nationalist or an anti-national. Sadly, it conveniently ignores the various shades of grey that exist between the two, failing to imagine that nationalism manifests in a variety of colours.

The gradient of nationalism too varies depending on one's social, cultural, economic and political realities. Try asking a Dalit who continues to face discrimination, or a tribal who lost her land to a mining company or a person of a minority community who is at the receiving end of the rising majoritarian mindset.

The JNU controversy has compelled me to speak out as someone who sees India's role in the world through the prism of humanity, justice and equitable development.

The JNU controversy, which comes after a series of similar developments in the last few months, has compelled me to speak out not just as an Indian citizen but also as someone who sees India's role in the world through the prism of humanity, justice and equitable development.

The global nature of my job often requires me to travel out of India and that has shaped my perspective over the last few years. Rabindranath Tagore's words resonate deeply with me:

"Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. 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".

As a teenager, I would join friends in taking pot-shots at Pakistan, sometimes as a joke and sometimes not. It took a while and direct interaction with those across the border to realize that unfortunately our relationship with a country gets defined by how our government sees fit, with the mainstream media helping to skew the image further. Limiting people-to-people interaction by design aids in maintaining the gulf of misunderstanding, denying us a fair chance to see the world beyond our nationalistic outlook.

A decade ago, when I began visiting neighbouring countries, the (probably naïve) feeling that struck me was why are we separate countries and why do we fight with each other when we have so much in common? Let me make it clear here that I don't subscribe to the RSS notion of Akhand Bharat (Undivided India that includes the modern territories of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh). Instead, I dream of seeing the region following the footsteps of the European Union to allow free movement of people, goods and culture while at the same time respecting individual laws.

I do not want my country to be for the region what USA is for the world -- a big bully!

Some time back, while travelling to Africa, I bumped into someone who was working with an Indian company. His job was to 'liaison' with African bureaucrats and politicians to win contracts. Clearly, his company was not only thriving on the prevailing corruption in Africa but also cultivating it. Should we ignore this upsetting fact and only take pride in our growing presence in Africa to outpace China?

Nepal is still reeling from the impact of the economic blockade due to the protests by Madhesis (which Nepalis call #IndiaBlockade) they faced in the last few months. I have seen anguish and anger in their eyes towards India and Indians for their apathy. Bangladeshis painfully feel that they have got the raw side of the water-sharing deal with India.

Should we simply turn a blind eye to their suffering only to safeguard India's interests?

Should we not challenge our government and companies to follow the principles of humanity, equality and justice and practice fairness while doing trade or forming natural resource-sharing agreements with the neighbouring countries or elsewhere?

We must. I do not want my country to be for the region what USA is for the world -- a big bully!

I am a proud Indian but certainly not the new 'nationalist' who blindly and brutally wants the country to grow by fostering inequality elsewhere.

India is a country that conceptualized Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) thousands of years ago, so how can we not treat other countries as our family members? We hold our head high in the fact that our Constitution is premised on the value of unity in diversity, but are now blowing those very same values to smithereens in the name of the latest narrative on 'nationalism' that is brewing in the country.

I am a proud Indian but certainly not the new 'nationalist' who blindly and brutally wants the country to grow by fostering inequality elsewhere.

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