Nationalism in Decline

via Priyank Barthwal published on March 9, 2010

The word nationalism evokes different emotions in different people. Some proudly proclaim them to be nationalists, some curse the very idea blaming it for the mayhem of first and Second World War while a large majority is completely indifferent to the idea. There is a sudden surge of nationalist feeling during a cricket match or when we face an external threat as was seen during Kargil war and much recently during 26/11 attack. But as soon as the match is over or the threat is neutralized this feeling also retreats.

But is nationalism a switch that can be switched off and on at will? Can this surge of nationalist feeling be called nationalism? What is nationalism? According to me nationalism is a desire to be useful for the country. It is the willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of your nation. It is selfless state where your nation becomes more important than your religion, your caste, your region, your family and even your life.

It was due to this selfless nationalist feeling that we were able to attain our independence. It was a staunch nationalist movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi that won the freedom for our country. Historically, we were a divided lot fighting with each other in the name of region, caste, religion, etc. It was due to this weakness foreigners came and have plundered our country. It was under the majestic leadership of Mahatma that all these difference were forgotten and everyone stood united in the fight against the foreign imperialists. But after the independence, instead of strengthening this, the political class started dividing the society. Feeling of nationalism was suppressed and casteism, regionalism, communism were encouraged. Most of the political leaders have mastered the art of divide and rule and used it to divide our society to strengthen their hold on power. “Let the people fight for the bigger share of the pie. For if they fight they will not ask why the pie is so small” seems to be the motto of our leaders.

Post independence, political parties have played on the fears of people; they have worked tirelessly to project one community against another. The reason why they have been successful in doing this is because there is a miss match between requirements and available opportunities. In an environment of limited opportunities people are fiercely competing with one another. In this competition some people are at great disadvantage due to their social and economical conditions. This has led to their just demand for reservation but this demand has severely damaged the unity of our society. Reservation as a policy has failed miserably; the groups that were backward before independence (socially and economically) are still backward. Some individuals have benefitted from reservation but community as whole has not benefitted from it. India would be the only country in the world where people agitate to be called backward. There is a recurring demand by different castes to get included in SC or OBC list. These demands are resisted by castes that are already there in the list. This leads to caste conflict like the one we saw between Gujjars and Meenas in Rajasthan. There are demands made by people that locals should be given preference in the jobs, this demand has led to violence and loss of life as in Maharashtra were Marathis and north Indians are fighting for very few available jobs which are not even enough for any one community.

Any organisation that is looking to unite India has to find solution for the lack of opportunities. We have to create India where everyone has equal and abundant opportunities to excel. But it is a job that is easier said than done. May be we all know this but how do we do it. There is no magic wand or one step that can solve this problem. It will require a series of honest efforts by everyone, the government, social organisations and people. One of the main reasons for the India’s backwardness is her neglect of education, specially the primary and secondary education. Few days back, I was reading an article on Economic times by Mr Yasheng Huang. In this article he had argued that the reason for the impressive growth of China is the major investment it made in primary education during 50s, 60s and 70s. In India our population has become a cause of concern. Millions of people are getting added to the work force every year but job creation is not able to keep up the pace. So we see a large number of unemployed people or under employed people. This huge population has become a major liability for our country. The quality of human resource in India is one of the worst in the whole world. We have blindly followed Maculay’s education system which was meant to make babus for British Empire.

This system is doing exactly what it was meant to do i.e. create Babus. Maculay had a disdain for anything Indian and this scorn was reflected in the system he created for India. There is hardly any emphasis on our rich culture and traditions in our test books. Vedas, Puranas, Gita have one line existence in our books. Vedic maths, which was rediscovered in early 20th century from Vedas, is an unheard concept in our classrooms. The Hindu philosophy of Karma finds no mention in our test books. Our Ayurveda and Yoga have largely been ignored by our education system. It is not only what is being taught but also the manner in which it is taught that has changed. In Gurukul exploratory learning process was followed, where teachers and students were co-travellers in a search for truth. The teaching methods used reasoning and questioning. Nothing was final. In Gurukul system students were made self sufficient and effort was made to develop reasoning. Classes were held close to the nature which helped in building creativity in students. This method of teaching is any day better than current way of teaching as it ensures students involvement and interest while the current education system is based on rote learning which kills creativity. A teacher is supposed to give a monologue which students are expected to mug up and reprint on the examination paper. In many schools students, especially in rural areas, are discouraged to ask any questions. The product of this education system is under confident, uncreative person who is afraid to take any initiative and need instructions to do any work.

India has rich culture and traditions. Each and every village has a story and a history to tell. Every place has rich traditions and a developed culture that is based on thousands of years of enlightenment. Are we not forgetting these stories, these histories, these traditions and our culture? Rajasthan has been able to retain and preserve some of its heritage because of its emphasis on tourism but can the same be said of other parts of our country? If you go to the village adjacent to a depleted fort and ask the people about its history more often than not you will be stared back by blank faces. Is it not the failure of our education system that we are forgetting the rich heritage of our country, heritage that is the result of thousands of years of experience?

In our race to become developed we have forgotten the real meaning of progress. We have defined development according to some scales and are blindly rushing to perfect the score on those scales. We are trying to achieve 100% literacy, so what if the quality of education is not up to mark. We have set-up a goal to industrialize our country and have created SEZ for their growth, so what if they have created regional disparity. We have set-up the goal to increase the productivity of our farm, so what if the food produced in those farms are making people sick. We have set-up a goal to urbanize our country, so what if it has created the problem of slums. We have set-up a goal to increase our tourism, so what if that has destroyed our heritage and natural beauty. The list goes on and on. The problem is not with the goal but the way by which we have tried to achieve it, if it is not so then how will you explain the rise in unemployment with increase in literacy or increase in disparity with increased growth.?

In this race to grow we have forgotten our roots, our culture and our traditions. Many times we have heard about danger to our national boundaries from foreign and internal forces what we generally forget is the danger to our culture from westernization. Never before has our culture faced such a challenge. Our culture withstood the onslaught of Islam and Indianized it. It remained unaffected by around 200 hundred years of slavery. But now it is facing its greatest crisis for this crisis is from within. It is we the people of India who have forgotten our roots. This has led to degradation of values, corruption and indifference. What is the reason why the people who were once described as “having high moral values” have degraded to such a level? Why the Society that coined the phrase “Athithi Devo Bhawa” (Guest is God) needs an advertisement to understand its meaning? What is the difference between the past and the present society of our country? The difference is that today “Athithi Devo Bhawa” is good business while yesterday it was way of life.

Today wealth and material has become the most important thing while yesterday it was Character and Contentment. People today are individualistic, ambitious, insecure and unhappy while yesterday they were collective, self content, secure and happy. One of the reasons for this transformation is that priorities have changed for the people. They are ready to cheat, hurt and malign for self advancement. But these are against the basic structure of our conscience and this leads to insecurity, fear and unhappiness. But why have we become so weak and morally void? One of the reasons I think is breaking up of joint families. Previously, the role of building a character was unwittingly taken up by the nanis and dadis. They used to frame the basic fabric of human being through the countless stories of Ram, Krishna, etc. the stories that had lessons of Gita and Vedas. This early education that used to define an individual has almost disappeared from our society and has been replaced by cartoons and comics.

Not just the morals but also the history and more than 5000yrs old culture of our country are fast disappearing. When I was 8yrs old I went to my mother’s village to attend my Mausi’s marriage. I distinctly remember the countless songs called Mangal Geet that the ladies of the village sang. Few months back I went to a similar village to attend another marriage but this time those mangal geets were replaced by music system that was playing latest hindi and gardwali songs. The folk songs are our heritage. They contain history of every corner of our country. They contain our beliefs and our knowledge acquired through thousands of years of experience. We are forgetting this knowledge and it will be lost forever because this knowledge has passed on from one generation to other through recitation and if one generation chooses not to learn it, it will be forgotten forever.

I have listened to many speakers who have mentioned about our more than 5000 years old culture to enthuse their audience. We Indians have taken pride in our culture by talking about it. But do we have any right to feel proud of our culture? Is it really our culture? We have forgotten it and are letting it disappear; we are just like any foreigner who knows little about our culture.

All of us are in a state of inertia. We all know that something wrong is happening, we all want to change it but we are too lazy to stand up and change it. We have wasted the last 60years of our independence. we need a movement to ensure coming years are not the same. We need another Gandhi to walk up and down the country to push us out of this state of inertia. Someone who believes in our culture like Mahatma did. Someone, who can stop us from becoming the shadow of the West.

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