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The rising nationalism in the country is a pernicious problem, especially for women who suffer as soft targets, v/s patriotism that empowered them to step out and come into their own.
The climate today all across the globe, is politically charged. With the rise of right wing conservative leaders in major countries, politics has become divisive and polarizing, rather than unifying. In India too, the scenario does not look great with the term anti-national being thrown around generously, and voices of dissent being suppressed.
Nationalism and patriotism are being used as synonyms, ignoring the fact that there is a world of difference that lies between them, and in order to improve as a nation we ought to know this difference.
Patriotism involves pride in one’s nation. This pride is however not extreme and a true patriot is one who does not shy away from critiquing and changing systems of a country that one considers to be unjust or improper for the betterment of the nation and its people. Patriotism involves devotion to the country only to an extent that it does not come in the way of one’s rational thinking and does not make one blind.
Nationalism on the other hand calls for supporting the country no matter what the country or the government does. A nationalist always shall justify, defend or try to excuse the faults of the country. Nationalism is thus seen to be a kind of brainwashing used to create unwavering loyalty for the state, and history has shown us how dangerous it can be if left unchecked. (Just refer to World Wars 1 and 2).
When we search for names of people who had fought for India’s independence, almost all of them are names of men. History likes to forget the contribution of women in great historical events in order to glorify masculinity. Sarojini Naidu and Rani Laxmi Bai are just two names that are popular and known among hundreds that are lost.
Women’s participation in India’s freedom struggle began as early as 1817 when Bhima Bai Holkar fought bravely against the British colonel Malcolm, and defeated him in guerrilla warfare. Women like her did not shy away from questioning those in power and raising their voice of dissent. Kasturba Gandhi was a leader of the Women’s Satyagraha for which she was imprisoned. She helped her husband (Mahatma Gandhi) in the cause of Indigo workers in Champaran, Bihar and the No Tax Campaign in Kaira, Gujarat. She was arrested twice for picketing liquor and foreign cloth shops, and in 1939 for participating in the Rajkot Satyagraha.
Not just in form of combat, women took charge of the household when their husbands, fathers or brothers were killed in the struggle. Much like what happened in Europe during the World Wars, the absence of men from the scene and need of the hour propelled women to get out of their houses and enter the work field or take part in the protest. It gave women the freedom and the agency to take charge.
The surge of nationalism that had gripped and united India in the wake of the struggle for independence did not subside. Post 1947, the nation formation saw the continuing surge of cultural nationalism, in an effort to rediscover Indian culture and take pride in it. Women were expected to go back to their traditional roles now with their contribution forgotten and their sacrifices buried.
75,000 to 100,000 women were kidnapped and raped during the partition of India. Rarely acknowledged is the fact that women paid a high price for the freedom of the country. The violence on women’s bodies stands at the very moment of inception of India as an independent nation. This violence has been enacted over and over again in numerous moments across the history of this post-colonial nation, be it the Emergency, the 1984 riots, the Godhra killings, the Gujarat riots, Operation Green Hunt, Kandhamal and Muzzafarnagar riots.
The powerful protest of the Manipuri women who stripped naked defying the indefinite curfew imposed in Imphal, screaming “Indian Army rape us, kill us, take our flesh” after the rape and heinous murder of Thangjam Manorama, continues to disrupt our national pride from the ‘margins’ of this nation.
About a dozen tribal women raped by police officials in Chhattisgarh fail to make their screams heard.
30 women from Kashmiri villages of Kunan and Poshpora who were raped by Indian soldiers 26 years ago still await justice.
All these innocent, pain stricken faces of women, left as victims of movements and wars come to my mind when I think of Nationalist pride. It makes me question if torture, control, and surveillance of female bodies lies at the very basis of nationhood and nationalism, and if women have any place at all in this regime.
Nationalism involves blind devotion to the nation and its culture. And like many other nations, India’s culture too is deeply patriarchal and wholly masculine. We call our country “Bharat Maata” and by engendering it, make it apparent that women to us are nothing but reproducers of the men who are ‘true citizens’ of the country. This image idolizes women in the form of the divine and selfless mother whose only form of bravery is in terms of self-sacrifice. And this idolized figure too belongs to a certain class, a certain caste. Adivasi women, Dalits or even Transgender women are not deserving of that status or respect.
But what about other forms of transgression? What about women who seek to break free from the role assigned to them and raise their voice against those in power? What about those who don’t fall in the category of the “Good Indian Woman”? What about the humiliation, the shame that they are made to face?
Haryana CM’s ex-OSD, Jawahar Yadav’s statement, “For the girls who are protesting in JNU, I only have one thing to say that prostitutes who sell their body are better than them because they at least, don’t sell their country” leads us to the patriarchal idea that lies at the very heart of nationalism and points towards the blind devotion one is expected to have in order to be called a nationalist.
A woman who leaves her designated place (the kitchen) and ventures out into the world, or voices her opinion, or even demands or exercises her bodily autonomy is fallen and has no place in the nationalist struggle. Her problems, her oppression have no place there.
Patriotism leaves enough space for change. It encourages people to criticize, argue and improve on current social systems. Worldwide, patriotic movements have aimed at improving the lives of people, and have given women a voice and a place, leading to them passing on the gift to many others. Patriotic movements have made them question institutions that have oppressed them or systems that have led to their subordination, and rather than accepting it as a part of the great culture of the country like nationalists, they have fought and in a lot of instances broken free.
During the Chipko movement in Uattarakhand when the local government conspired to keep the male activists away from the protest it was the women of the village who took it upon themselves to face the industrialists head-on in order to preserve their natural resources from exploitation. Gaura Devi, a middle aged Bhotia woman was the one to spot the men of the company who came to fell the trees. She immediately mobilized about 30 women to lead the movement. Challenging the men to first shoot her down before touching the trees she forced them to retreat. Soon after the state government investigated the case and withdrew the company from the Reni forests. This incident sparked off similar movements in other parts of the sub-Himalayan region such as in Gopeshwar (1975), Bhynder valley (1978) and Dongri Paintoli (1980). And although the movement was about seeking ecological protection, the women at the forefront symbolized women demanding better representation at decision making.
In 1990s the women of Andhra Pradesh took it upon themselves to fight the liquor dependency of their men and the subsequent physical and sexual abuse. Led by a woman named Sandhya, the movement demanded abolition on the sale of liquor in their village.
And who can forget Gulabi Gang, a group of female vigilantes in Badausa district in Uttar Pradesh who took it upon themselves to correct social evils?
When a woman decides to question her oppressors and the system in her nation, she automatically gets excluded from the nationalistic regime. No matter how large her contribution, she is pushed into the darkness of anonymity by men.
It is can be safely said that nationalism is harmful in various ways and it has no place for women, for the institution itself is deeply patriarchal and classist. So is it in anyway justified to focus on a system that rests on oppression and leaves no place for the betterment of the nation? Is it of any use turning a blind eye towards the problems of your country and calling yourself a true deshbhakt?
After this Independence Day let’s begin to ask the right questions.
Image source: YouTube
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B.A English Honours at Jadavpur University.
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