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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


the following is a write up on 'What Fuels Indian Nationalism' by Josy Mary Edwin

Nationalism involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. Often, it is the belief that an ethnic group has a right to statehood, or that citizenship in a state should be limited to one ethnic group, or that multinationality in a single state should necessarily comprise the right to express and exercise national identity even by minorities.

It can also include the belief that the state is of primary importance, or the belief that one state is naturally superior to all other states. It is also used to describe a movement to establish or protect a homeland (usually an autonomous state) for an ethnic group. In some cases the identification of a national culture is combined with a negative view of other races or cultures.

Conversely, nationalism might also be portrayed as collective identities towards imagined communities(The imagined community is a concept coined by Benedict Anderson which states that a nation is a community socially constructed, which is to say imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group), which are not naturally expressed in language, race or religion but rather socially constructed by the very individuals that belong to a given nation. Nationalism is sometimes reactionary, calling for a return to a national past, and sometimes for the expulsion of foreigners. Other forms of nationalism are revolutionary, calling for the establishment of an independent state as a homeland for an ethnic underclass.

Nationalism emphasizes collective identity - a 'people' must be autonomous, united, and express a single national culture. However, some nationalists stress individualism as an important part of their own national identity. National flags, national anthems, and other symbols of national identity are often considered sacred, as if they were religious rather than political symbols.

According to Ashis Nandy, since the mid 1980’s, there are three major concerns that has infected our view of nationalism. First being the diminishing role of the sacred in daily life, even though India is seen as a country flooded with religions and rituals. The traditional religious sensitivity has weakened up since people move from villages to cities, from state to state and from one linguistic zone to another. This uprooting has created a need for a generalized version of faith, in which a person who moves from Kerala to Uttar Pradesh can continue to believe that he is a part of his religion. So atlast secularization of life has accentuated the fear of losing one’s faith.

The second concern is the result of urbanization. India is still predominantly a rural society. However, urban norms, life styles and tastes have begun to make their presence felt in a way that would have been unthinkable two decades ago. The cities have opened up the possibility for an individual to escape and reinvent himself in an ambience of anonymity and impersonality. We know that the rural poverty has been considered to be one of the most important problems of the country in recent decades. Despite having spent huge sums of money on rural poverty alleviation, the incidence of poverty has not reduced to the desired levels. Gradually, poorer people in rural areas began to realise that it was a good idea to migrate to the cities to get productive employment that helps to cross the poverty line. Migration to cities is considered to be a serious problem and most of the political parties as well as the municipal bodies are generally interested in reversing this trend of rapid urbanization. But migration is not the only reason for growth of the cities. Internal growth of cities and inclusion of the periphery areas are two other reasons for growth of the urban areas. It is expected that in the coming two decades, the urban population share in the total population of the country would increase to 50 per cent.

Rural poor come to the cities and towns to look for productive work with a view to get two square meals for their families and secure better education for their children. They also migrate to the cities to ensure that they are able to lead a better life than their forefathers and the cities act as the dream destinations for the poor for a better tomorrow. But more often than not, their dreams get shattered as they arrive in the cities. They are hassled by the problems like lack of affordable housing, lack of availability of clean drinking water, lack of cleanliness, sanitation and other civic amenities.

Problems In Urbanisation

Lack of civic amenities is yet another problem. As per 2001 slum census only 65.4 per cent of the households in the cities and towns had access to drinking water within their premises. Remaining households either had the water supply source outside their premises or away from their houses.

Urbanisation - Source of lighting: Source of lighting is another important area which was surveyed during the census. Though the percentage of households having an electric source of energy was much higher than in the rural areas, yet more than 12 per cent of the households in the urban areas did not have an electric source of lighting and had to depend on other sources like kerosene. About 0.4 per cent of the households in cities and towns had no source of lighting at all.

Urbanisation - Availability of education facilities : In the urban areas is also a key area, particularly for the poor. While the affluent and upper middle classes normally have best of educational facilities available to them in the cities, the poorer sections find it hard to have access even to basic educational facilities. The level of male and female literacy rates in the slum areas is distinctly lower than non-slum population of cities, with Patna recording highest difference of almost 30 per cent between the level of literacy rates in slum and non-slum areas of city.

Urbanisation – Healthcare facilities : Lack of good healthcare facilities is also an area of serious concern. As per the report of a Task Force appointed by the government of India to advise on health scenario in the urban slums, it was pointed out that 6 out of 10 children in slum areas are delivered at home in Indian slums. Further, more than half of India’s urban poor children are underweight and the state of under-nutrition in urban areas is worse than in the rural areas. Reach and utilisation of essential preventive health services by the urban poor is generally found to be very low and about 60 per cent of the children below one year of age are not fully immunized.
In addition to the above mentioned problems pertaining to urban and social services, there are serious gaps in the availability of infrastructure facilities in urban areas. Roads are getting congested with more and more new vehicles getting registered every day and parking has become a serious problem in most urban areas. Solid waste management is also a serious problem in the country, particularly in the cities. Safe disposal of the solid waste in a scientific manner is a major issue in Indian cities and towns. With over 350 million people living in urban areas and generating millions of tonnes of garbage every day, without proper arrangements for safe disposal of the garbage serious problem of water contamination and environment pollution is on the anvil. The problem is worst in the areas inhabited by the poor and in the slums. So urbanization in India did more evil than good. Considering the migrants Ashis Nandy says that If one happens to be a first-generation migrant to the city, one is bound to look back nostalgically on the life and social ties he/she has left behind, and seeks the old sense of belonging.

Third concern, since the 1830s, the Indian middle class has been consistently exposed to a form of modern education that has underwritten a global hierarchy of cultures. Over 150 years they have come to believe that western societies are modern and Indian society is premodern and backward. Distinctions between westernisation and modernisation have not touched the bulk of western educated modern Indians, who are convinced that their future lies in being exactly like Europe and North America. Do not be taken in by radical rhetoric. If you examine where most of our Left and Swadeshiwallahs send their children to study, you will find remarkably little difference between them and other sections of the Indian bourgeoisie. Inevitably, modern Indians have come to live with a deep feeling of inadequacy. They seek parity, not with other Asian countries doing well, but with the West itself. Last year, a study found that Indians are the most nationalistic people in the world, overtaking countries like the US, Japan and Pakistan.This nationalism is propelled by a deep sense of inferiority.

The only set of political actors who have responded to these anxieties are the Hindu nationalists,( Hindu nationalism has been collectively referred to the expressions of social and political thought, based on the native spiritual and cultural traditions of historical India.) though their close competitors, the Islamic fundamentalists, too have come close to reacting to these anxieties. During the first 40 years of Indian independence, the electoral support base of the Hindu nationalists ranged between seven to nine percent approximately. It has expanded to more than 20 percent now. This support base is disproportionately higher among the urban middle classes and among educated, modern Indians. The support base of Hindu nationalism is more than 90 per cent. It is true that this base is unlikely to rise much further. But even this base goes a long way in Indian politics today, given the fragmented party space. The democratic process in India has brought close to power many social sectors that would not have dreamt of having access to power only 30 years ago. But in the process of creating a nation-state called India, this process has also ensured that those who are close to the Indian state also imbibe its global, homogenising message. Ashis Nandy says that if one wants to be successful as a nation-state in the global arena, one has to do to his/her cultural diversity, to the minorities, the forest dwellers and the tribes, what Europe and North America and Australia have done to theirs. According to him The Hindu nationalists seem well-equipped and well-qualified to do so.

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