Hatred in the name of nationalism only brings chaos
In the dramatic downward spiral of Indian democracy, another depressing lowlight occurred last week, when 19-year-old student Amulya Leona Noronha was pulled offstage from a multi-religious protest, organized in Bangalore by the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Issai Federation in opposition to controversial new amendments to the country’s citizenship laws.
Her offense was to shout “Pakistan zindabad” into the microphone (she also yelled “Hindustan zindabad”).
No one knows exactly what Noronha was going to say after that initial outburst, because her public appearance ended with those two slogans. But they were enough to set off an ugly firestorm.
The Karnataka government (its ruling party is the BJP of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah) immediately imprisoned her, and levied two extraordinarily severe charges: Sedition (under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code) and promoting disharmony, enmity, or feelings of hatred (Section 153A).
As if that shocking overreaction were not enough, the teen was then subjected to an unending series of potshots by public figures.
The chief minister of her home state, BS Yediyurappa, while citing no evidence, said she sympathized with Maoists (another grave crime in India).
His agriculture minister, BC Patil, went further, arguing “shoot-at-sight law has to be brought in India for those who raise pro-Pakistan slogans. Those elements must be killed on sight. They’re enjoying food, water, and air of India. Why should they be here if they raise ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogans? In China, people are scared to talk against their country. I request PM Modi to bring in a tough law to deal with traitors.”
The extremist Sri Ram Sene group, which regularly terrorizes Karnataka with public violence, went so far as to issue an ISIS-style murder threat via video.
Sanjeev Marady declared: “We request the government to not allow the student Amulya to be released on bail. She said Pakistan zindabad, and should not be released. And if she is released, we announce a reward of Rs10 lakh to whoever kills her in an encounter.” (Note: In Indian English, “encounter” is the euphemism for “assassination.”)
In all these wildly unhinged responses to Noronha’s “love thy neighbour” idealism, we see the truth in Albert Einstein’s 1929 remarks, delivered in the midst of the cataclysmic half-century which destroyed two European generations and eventually consumed most of the world’s attention and energy: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism.”
In fact, the rabidly bigoted politics of division being exhorted at the moment makes particularly little sense in the sub-continent, where our peoples are inextricably bound to each other by blood and family ties, besides every other cultural and social commonality which blurs us together in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Under these circumstances, it’s unconscionable and immoral to demand that anyone -- let alone everyone -- act out hatred for our neighbours.
Here, our newest generation of blinkered bigots should understand that circumstances always change, and history will inevitably move to leave them behind.
A fine example of this played out in my part of the sub-continent earlier this month, when the president of Portugal spent two days on a state visit in Goa, which became part of the Indian Union only in 1961, after Jawaharlal Nehru’s armed forces forcibly (albeit relatively bloodlessly) ended 451 years of colonial rule.
For quite some time afterwards, the two nations remained sworn enemies, constantly pillorying each other in international fora.
But the wheels of time keep moving, and scenarios shift. A couple of years ago, the speaker of our state assembly, Pramod Sawant raised headlines by hectoring Goans about rooting for Portugal’s football team, while saying “Viva Portugal.”
His overt implication was that these obviously innocuous acts were unpatriotic, and should be punished.
But fast forward to a few days ago, and there was Sawant again -- now the chief minister -- beaming broadly next to the Portuguese head of state in every available photo op, celebratory glass held high to keep on toasting unlimited amity between the two nations.
Joy Bangla. Jai Hind. Pakistan zindabad. Viva Portugal. One sentiment most definitely does not cancel the others out.
The perfectly understandable love that all human beings feel for their native land can never be reduced to a zero sum game. My neighbour’s wellbeing is intimately linked to my own, always and without exception.
Here, the words of Rabindranath Tagore remain ever-fresh and relevant: “Nationalism is a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over human world of the present age, eating into its moral vitality … [it] 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.”
Vivek Menezes is a writer based in Goa, India.