Guillotining Dissent on the Altar of Conscriptive Nationalism

By | March 19, 2019
Indian Politics

Abstract:

Nationalism as a term is more than a mere territorial connotation, it is rather a belief, a movement and an identity. The facile attempt to define the boundary of nationalism in the Indian context is like crossing a Rubicon. The Indian nationalism is the by-product of freedom struggle laced with the experiences and ambitions of different groups. The dawn of independence, the social contract entered by the state with each citizen promised to safeguard their freedom. The sorrow of the time is that these promises are not only negated rather they are being violated. Contemporary politics is impinging the secular nationalist fabric of the nation. The misuse of sedition laws, the rise of cultural nationalism and muzzling dissent amongst students and activists have contributed to an environment of apprehension and violence. The conscriptive nationalism, where the narratives are written and prescribed by the institutions that were meant to other functions is a creation of the Orwellian dystopia. The propagandists and the moralists need to understand that the republic is by the people and for the people of India and we are the best judge of what constitutes nationalism. || Read Guillotining Dissent on the Altar of Conscriptive Nationalism Only on Legal Bitess

Guillotining Dissent on the Altar of Conscriptive Nationalism

Every human has an innate disposition to desire freedom and the endeavour to achieve the same is a lifelong journey. The conception of liberty associated with a group of people within a territory of a state, the concept then fructifies to be called as ‘nationalism.’ Any terminology has to pass the twin test of relevancy and acceptance to be used in the common parlance. There occurs an epistemic disruption when the word ‘nationalism’ searches for a defined boundary as its taxonomy has multiple meaning and connotations. The genealogy of the word lies in western philosophy but the essence existed much before the Italian or Germany unification. The term ‘nation-state’ though of recent origin had some strands in the Athenian philosophy. The philosophical underpinnings saw practical application in the 18th and 19th century. The contemporary issue focuses on the Indian narratives of nationalism and the existing manufactured myth that the legitimate and sacred definition of the term is the burden of the majority. It highlights the political venturing in endorsing the committed version of nationalism and how the institutional failure further aggravates the problem. The present predicament lies in the rise of cultural nationalism and the intended and unintended repercussions on the secular fabric of India.

Meaning

Nationalism is the state of mind, in which the supreme loyalty of the individual is felt to be due to the nation-state.[1] Nationalism has always been defined as a confluence of common language, ethnicity and culture, but this definition is inadequate and fails absolutely in justifying Indian nationalism. Indian nationalism is not a mere term; rather it’s a journey, a daily plebiscite,[2] an emotion, a belief. The nationalist fervour that developed in India is a byproduct of the freedom struggle of different ethnic and cultural groups. Every person fighting for freedom under prominent leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose had their own meaning of nationalism. The means and manner of expressing and professing nationalist sentiments were different. Some took aid from arms and ammunition, some non-violent dharnas, some added their religious ethos whereas some inculcated western ideas. Albeit the country was under a foreign rule but the self-cultured, modelled of nationalism was allowed to flourish without attaching or grading the most effecting or the legitimate version, thus, India did not have any freedom from colonial rule, but had the freedom to imagine and share different connotations of nationalism, which in itself was the biggest freedom one could have. But with the shift from a perpetual foreign tutelage to the self-governing body, the vocabulary of nationalism was bound by limited narratives.

The problem with the water-tight definition

The Foucauldian expression ‘nationalism’ is now like private parking and only those with a reserved ticket are permitted to define and protect it. The slow death of freedom of speech and expression to devise different versions of nationalism was decimated. The two-fold assault from the legislature, the judiciary in present time needs to be emphasized. The baptism of nationalism by making it mandatory for all has been supported by the judiciary as well, though time and again it rescued itself from complete submersion. In the case,[3] where the issue of disrespecting of the national anthem was raised the Supreme Court while giving directions stepped into the shoes of a moral police and made it mandatory to play the national anthem before the feature of any film and everyone present in the hall had to stand in respect for the national anthem. Later it modified its order and held that there is no objection to the singing of the National Anthem accompanied by mass singing so long as it is done with due respect as a salutation to the motherland and maintenance of the proper decorum. Thus, three aspects are obvious: First the National Anthem is not only to be respected, but it is a respect as a salutation to the motherland; second, the list of occasions cannot be exhaustively stated; and, third, proper decorum has to be maintained when the National Anthem is played or sung.[4]

Respect for a nation cannot be a coercive exercise; it’s an innate love that thrives even in the absence of any external expression. Every citizen is grateful towards their nation but disciplinary methods of expression set by institutions meant to function as adjudicating or legislative bodies create a sense of self-estrangement among the citizens from being a national to becoming ‘an assembled national’. 

The sorrow of the time is a misuse of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, UAPA and the National Security Act to suppress the demagogy different from that of the government.[5] The recent Elgar Parishad incident and the sudden secret hatching by police threw suspicion in the minds of common people. In the case of Romila Thapar v. Union of India,[6] the Supreme Court of India dismissed the writ petition filed by the celebrated historian for the release of five illustrious persons who were arrested on account of having any correlation with Bhima Koregaon violence when in reality they were not even present during the Elgar Parishad. The Elgar Parishad was nothing but a culturally historic event to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. However, the Maharashtrian police investigating the Bhima Koregaon violence felt the need to arrest these eminent personalities having no association with the incidents currently under investigation. The petition was dismissed on the grounds that the accused has no say in the choice of investigation agency or the manner of investigation when the petition only aimed to ensure an independent and credible investigation into the concerned matter by the composition of the Special Investigating Agency. The present situation is an action to silence dissent, stop people from helping the helpless and instilling fear in the minds of the citizens and thereby, deflecting their attention from the real issues. The ongoing state of affairs, present an evolving erosion of the democratic values from the independent fabric of the nation in the name of patriotism and nationalism.

It merrily ignores the igniting need for dissent in the superficially existing democracy under the banner of the government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Justice Chandrachud while dissenting with the majority stated that dissent is a symbol of a vibrant democracy. Voices in opposition cannot be muzzled by persecuting those who take up unpopular causes. Where, however, the expression of dissent enters upon the prohibited field of incitement to violence or the subversion of a democratically elected government by recourse to unlawful means, the dissent ceases to be a mere expression of opinion.[7]

The Problem with cultural nationalism

The cultural nationalism is converting into conscription, either you support it or go to Pakistan; there is no room for discussion, debate or dissent. The entities attached to culture, be it cow or bull or temples, the active resistance against liberal questions is seen as a direct assault on the culture itself and an assault on culture is made up as an exaggerated form of the cult of nationalism under attack. The attacker, though an innocent dissenter is a traitor and the legal tool of sedition or extra-legal measures like a thrashing, threatening is being resorted to. In such an environment, those at receiving ends are vulnerable minorities. The game of whacking the moles is being played and many innocent, helpless are even lynched.

Of all the narratives of nationalism floating on the political landscape, the government holds no authority to legitimize one definition. The foul play over the status of educational institutions like Aligarh Muslim University, which is reduced to a misnomer as Muslim institution, the witch hunting in and around JNU, the parochial debris of conscriptive sacred version of nationalism is choking the free flow of ideas, speech an expression. The arrest of Kanhiya Kumar over sloganeering and slapping sedition charges questions the very motive of the government. Creating and labelling students as criminals do go against constitutional morals. In the case of Emanuel Bijoy,[8] three children from Jehovah community refused to sing the national anthem as it was against their religious tenets. They were expelled from the school but the court in deciding whether the act of not singing national anthem was unpatriotic or anti-national held that the act of standing for national anthem in itself tantamount to respect for nation and forcing them to sing against their religious tenets would violate their fundamental rights, the court opined that we only wish to add: our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.[9]

Love for one’s nation cannot be proved by resonating with the majority. Disagreement or distinct ideology need to be defended. As Eric Hobsbawm states that the proto-nationalist feeling of collective belonging cannot be imposed upon anyone. We need to defend the very right to disagree or dissent against the collectives. In the case of F.A. Picture International v. Central Board of Film Certification,[10] the court strongly asserted that the dissent in all walks of life contributes to the evolution of society. Those who question unquestioned assumptions contribute to the alteration of social norms. Democracy is founded upon respect for their courage. Any attempt by the State to clamp down on the free expression of opinion must hence be frowned upon.[11]

The hegemonic discourse of nationalism by the brute majority in India is simply creating a kangaroo court, where the dissent of the minority is seen as an assault on their exclusive identity. Dissatisfaction is now synonymous to disloyalty; any person questioning the working of government is labelled a traitor. The cultural conformism deepens the fear and anxiety among those who either don’t confirm or want the nuances to change. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 has been slapped against many activists, journalists and organizations like Arundhati Roy, Amnesty International, Kanhaiya Kumar who have been declared as traitors. From 2014 to 2016, a total of 116 cases on sedition charges were booked arresting 165 people but only three were convicted.[12] The sedition law becomes helpful in suppressing any retaliation or disagreement against the government. Charles Bradlaugh had stated that a better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech, the abuse dies in a day but the denial slays the life of the people and entombs the hopes of the race.[13]

The biggest problem at hand is the cultural nationalism, the Frankenstein monster of cultural nationalism can be defined as an undercurrent of nationalism with cultural flair. The problem with the narrowly doctrinal is that it focuses not on the political entity rather on a morality that is shaped by the ones in power. Thus, not eating beef, renaming cities fall within the realm of such morality, irrespective of the consideration of ‘others’ who have no say in power play.

The roots of cultural nationalism can be traced to the freedom struggle from the Ganesh Puja celebration of Tilak[14] to the Muslim ideology of Iqbal[15] and Savarkar’s Hindutva philosophy.[16] The problem in history was not the existence of such discourse but the toxicity that oozed from such discourse led to the formation of two nations. The framers of the constitution vowed to never revert to lethal recitals and thus, to assure the minorities within the nation, they frame the constitutional protection under the fundamental rights. Later the word secularism was added and was held as part of the basic structure of the constitution.

Political Endorsement of Nationalism

Another problem at hand is the glorification of the politically endorsed nationalism fervour, the spending of public money on erecting statues and building parks serve no public purpose. There is a continuous tug of war to be an assertive central authority that can prove to the people of a manufactured fact that it’s they who think of the nation’s welfare and cultural integration. The propagandists are key players who pick and choose from the history chapters some acts or personalities whom they can glorify and further their ends by assuring the gullible citizens that they are planting the sap of national unity and are the representative of legitimate authority.  They need to assert their monopoly over the historical truth, for there is a strange symmetry between their historical allegations and their present violence.[17] This exaggerated form of the cult of nationalism is destructive of public choices as they force on people to accept their motifs as the epitome of the national entities. The spree of changing names of cities like naming Allahabad became Prayagraj and Faizabad became Ayodhya. These small steps will create Doppler effects on future communal tensions and violence.

The commanding central authority has discarded the restraint on their power to amend the constitution and misused their position by bringing an amendment in citizenship law of India. The recent amendment proposed stroking nail to the foundation of religious nationalism as the basis of citizenship is being changed. A man’s nationality forms a continuing state, of things and not a physical fact which occurs at a particular moment. It is a continuing legal relationship.[18] The Indian nationality is conferred either on the principle of jus soli or jus consanguine but for the first time, it has been attempted to include religion as the basis of citizenship. The polemical alteration is a direct attack on the basic structure of the Constitution.[19]

Conclusion

Indian secularism means freedom for different religious communities to profess and propagate their own faith and beliefs and the state remains as a neutral party to protect the minorities from being trampled by the ambitions of the majority. The civil society is now too confused to understand the consummation between nationality and religion. Why does the amendment in the garb of protecting Hindus from persecution from neighbouring states forget that other religious groups are targeted as well, for example, the Ahemdiyas in Pakistan, Rohingyas in Myanmar? Forcing a marriage between religion and citizenship will not be acceptable by the constitutional guardian. The marriage is void and negates the social contract that the nation signed with the minorities of this country at the time of independence. We are pacing towards a self-induced national crisis where the apprehensions of minorities, the confusion of civil societies and the ambition of leading majority are mixed to form a lethal cocktail and ready to burst any moment.

K.M. Panikkar wrote that any national movement evolves through, three stages of maltreatment; indifference, ridicule and abuse.[20] India is going through the phase of abuse and this political movement is being emasculated by the cultural forces that think in term of exclusivity and not inclusivity. Experience and foresight can always be applied before pursuing any law, policy, agenda or narratives. The toxic conscriptive nationalism in play in India where either we conform to the standard designed by the government or simply go to Pakistan is just not acceptable. The role of the state is that of a referee not as a key player, the government must stop forcing people to accept their big brother definition. The Savarkar’s distinction of a nationalist is not sustainable in India, as it is a secular country and the preamble is the hallmark of the idea of India. The education institutions must be left alone to flourish and thrive in its own to define and shape the destiny of this nation. Targeting a bunch of students and tarnishing their future by labelling them as anti-national is against democratic principles. Human resources are what make a nation great and disfiguring the future of the potential students and throwing them behind the bars will hamper the growth of India as a great nation. The idea of India is an evolving process and no Leviathan can threaten us to bow down to just one single ill-balanced idea. The genuine social contract that was entered into on 15th August 1947, and the subsequent coming of Indian constitution into force on 26th January 1950 opens with the word ‘We the People of India’ thus, let the people of this nation decide how they want to define their relationship with the motherland.


By – Aarvi Singh and Swantika Kumar Rajvanshi

Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab

This Essay was shortlisted in the Third Edition of the National Essay Writing Competition on Nation and Nationalism 2019


[1] Homi K. Bhabha, Nation and Narration, 57 (Psychology Press, 1990).

[2] Ernest Renan, Nations and Identities, 175 (Blackwell Publishers, 1882).

[3] Shyam Narayan Chouksey v. Union of India, (2017) 1 SCC 421.

[4] Shyam Narayan Chouksey v. Union of India, (2017) 1 SCC 421.

[5] Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Fighters for Rights, 35(19) Frontline, 16 (Sept. 2018).

[6] (2018) 10 SCC 753.

[7] Romila Thapar v. Union of India, (2018) 10 SCC 753.

[8] Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala, (1986) 3 SCC 615.

[9] Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala, (1986) 3 SCC 615.

[10] F.A. Picture International v. Central Board of Film Certification, AIR 2005 (Bom.) 145.

[11] F.A. Picture International v. Central Board of Film Certification, AIR 2005 (Bom.) 145.

[12] NCRB,  Crime in India Statistics, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, (2016), http://ncrb.gov.in/StatPublications/CII/CII2016/pdfs/Crime%20Statistics%20-%202016.pdf.

[13] Charles Bradlaugh, Jewish Supremacism, 45.

[14] Bipin Chandra, History of Modern India, 160 (Orient Black Swan, 2009).

[15] Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Kitab Bhavan, 1930).

[16] V.D. Savarkar, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu, 102 (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, 2003).

[17] Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, The Saffron Agenda in Education: An Expose, Press Commentary Reportage (2001).

[18] Annual Digest of Public International Law Cases, 221 (1929-1930).

[19] Keshavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225.

[20] K.M. Panikkar, Indian Nationalism: Its Origin, History and Ideals, 1 (The Faith Press, 1920).


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