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The Imposed form of Nationalism in our Schools

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The “strangeness” feeling in one self brings out the question of nationhood. Writing for the introduction to Julia Kristeva’s book on “Nation without Nationalism”, the translator says,

“The notion of “strangeness” is what holds these essays together. It is one that has been with her for the past quarter of a century, from the time when she came to Paris from her native Bulgaria. Even there, I suspect that a feeling of difference, if not strangeness, was already weighing on her consciousness”

Indian nationalism in every context, whether it’d be philosophical or organizational, has been a subject for debates and ideological arguments. It had always been the extreme anger and xenophobic for the “other”, at the same time a holy prayer for the nationalists. According to sociologists, it can be confined to promoting of human values such as democracy, secularism etc. For the mainstream, it is something to be obliged to and a sense of feeling of being one, with slogans like “Unity in diversity”. G.Aloysius’s “Nationalism without a nation in India” is a detailed study on nationalism and its formation in India. More than the British government’s intervention, he says, it is a development inside the governmental innovations and administrative system in India’s rule. He also points out how the caste supporters used it as a mask as opposing the colonial rule over the intolerance of the downtrodden society who used this as a political weapon against the caste society. The author argues nationalism as a constructed reality among the upper class for suppressing the protests among the lower class. The traditional nationalist imaginations on India taking the feeling of nationalism as a product against the colonial power is being completely deconstructed through this book. It also shows how immensely the public domain stands for a cause that is being inherited in us only to oppress a particular class of society. Even though one cannot deny the fact that the British rule made it more hardening, the upper class has got a great role in creating such a favorable notion of bringing their ideology and creating a hegemony.

In the recent past, with the emergence of the Hindutva revivalist party on the national political scene, the nation-state is increasingly claiming to be the sole authority to speak on Indian society, attempting to relegate all other agencies to the background. All agencies, including religion, are defined in a manner entirely consistent with the needs of the nation-state.

Benedict Anderson put forth, the concept of nation, in an anthropological spirit would be, “it is an imagined political community-and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign”. He also adds Gellner’s ferocious comment on nationalism, where he says, “Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.” He gives an explanation to his formula, “Gellner is so anxious to show that nationalism masquerades under the false pretenses that he assimilates ‘invention’ to ‘fabrication’ and ‘falsity’, rather than to ‘imagining’ and ‘creation’. In this way he implies that ‘true’ communities exist which can be advantageously juxtaposed to nations”.

 Nation-state as an Imagined community.

With the emergence of nationalist sprouts among many countries in 19th century, it also resulted in the rise of nationalism in India. Now going back to our question, why nation-state should be considered as an imagined community would again take us to the explanation of Benedict Anderson. “It is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.” This definition on imagined communities itself explains everything on believing to belong into one nation. The answer to further questions lie in the cultural roots of nationalism.

Kashmiris in India have always been a part of this imagined community. Gopal Menon, an activist and documentary film maker had a horrible experience few days back at Bangalore airport. He was stopped at the security after his checking was done for a second screening. And when he asked for reason, they said that he “looked like a Kashmiri Muslim”. He commented on the same saying, “This nation has no future until it treats minorities and marginalized more sensitively and with dignity and respect”.

The colonial powers did really take use of these caste system and Hindu-Muslim conflicts in India and always played the role of neutral mediators. Any instance of social conflict is seen as the inevitable repetition of this phenomenon. In post-independent India, this discourse has been inherited by the nation-state. In the recent past, with the emergence of the Hindu revivalist party on the national political scene, the nation-state is increasingly claiming to be the sole authority to speak on Indian society, attempting to relegate all other agencies to the background. All agencies, including religion, are defined in a manner entirely consistent with the needs of the nation-state.

Sociologists speak of ‘imagined’ or constructed community when talking about communities other than the natural ones. A constructed or imagined community “….consists of members who do not know each member there lived an image of a larger communion” Such communities demand allegiance from people who have no concrete relations with each other. It fosters relations by creating images of communion and oneness. In traditional societies like that of India, communities with multiple levels of relationships and moral agencies exist. However, the creation of a nation-state at the arrival of colonialism, and later by the independent India, led to increasing standardization of relationships. Indian sociologists are critiquing the pathologies of the nation-state and modernity, and are engaged in developing a concept of society that is more normal and healthy. Gandhian social vision is a primordial vision in taking care of pluralistic society. At the social level Swadeshi amounts to self-reliance and self-sufficiency. One does not become a burden to society, but relies on one’s own resources for subsistence.

How does nationalism influence the school curriculum?

Education in India is no longer different from the hegemony across the nation. The school curriculum is more catering for nationalism than any other discipline. Post 1990 era can be considered as an age that tied up nationalism with Indian academia, not only through syllabus but also through restructuring daily affairs of our student life. We can clearly take examples of any majoritarian (elite) schools in India which starts with the pledge and ends monotonously singing National Anthem. I was also part of such a schooling. Even before I could feel the sense of nationalism, I started the mantra of believing in “I Love my Country”. In short, school education rather than instructing us with a balanced view of history, including democratic values and secularism, injected the extremist notion of social realities.

As Yogesh Maitreya, a student writer, says, “What was worse was that I never heard of Babasaheb Ambedkar during my entire schooling, at least not as an important national figure. Much later in life, I discovered everything was a part and parcel of planned nationalistic pedagogy.”

 The notions of being a true nationalist were revised in our minds in the very early age itself and to follow them were our prime duties. I wish we had studied not to throw waste in the public road, to help a human who met with an accident, to stand with the rights of the marginalized just to prove that we all “belong” to one nation.

History textbooks most of the times portray heroes as those who are living and dying for the country. The schools teach us that one who does not stand up for the National anthem or salute Indian flag are anti-nationalists. One needs to by heart, study the pledge of the country to prove himself to be a lover of the nation. The notions of being a true nationalist were revised in our minds in the very early age itself and to follow them were our prime duties. I wish we had studied not to throw waste in the public road, to help a human who met with an accident, to stand with the rights of the marginalized just to prove that we all “belong” to one nation.

Any student, conscious of their identity and representation in the society as a minority would raise the caste question again and again. As Yogesh says, “Those who inspired me to study and helped me out with my academia struggle were all Dalit, although I had been taught by Brahmin teachers, who taught me things through instructions but never with their experiences (especially with regard to caste conflicts which were and are the pillar of almost all the social, economic as well psychosocial problems in India), simply because they did not have caste empiricism which failed them to connect to my problems and self.”

Any medium of education must only propagate the substantial values of rationality. Rest depends on one’s thought. How they develop it and so on. Nationalism must also be in developing one’s notion on their nation, rather than imposing it as an ideology. It results in arising of a counter public, who strongly stand for the identity politics. As Julie Kristeva explains, “One can hope for the emergence of mature people who do not need a someone to represent or even state the principles of their identity.”

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