August 20, 2012
I was surprised to see the sea of humanity from the North-Eastern part of India suddenly descend on the Bangalore Railway Station, as India celebrated Independent Day. The train to Guwahati that usually has a few hundred passengers, had thousands of people queuing up. There was no major festival nor was a reason for such mass exodus. I was intrigued and asked around, but most people were keener on leaving the city than to answer questions of a curious onlooker. A few influential amongst them called Members of Parliament (MPs) from the North-Eastern part of India, seeking Railways tickets from the MP quota. Soon the Congress Party President was informed by a MP and then Prime Minister stepped in to safeguard the idea of India. It is an idea of unity in diversity.
India is the most diverse country in the world - economically, culturally, geographically, socially and in several other ways. It is often said that in India, travelling 40 kilometers, one encounters a new dialect and new culture. India is composed of communities that were have fought with each other in the past, but then were wound together as one nation on 15th of August 1947.
At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world slept, India awoke to life and freedom. It was a young nation but an ancient culture, which carried with it the baggage of animosity between different communities that habited our country. In the 65 years there have been several attempts that have been made to break India, in form of insurgent moments and riots. But India has survived and has only become stronger. The reasons for its survival have always intrigued me when there is so much suspicion amongst the different groups. This lack of trust was exemplified in Bangalore when some roumers caused panic.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said in his speech to the Constituent Assembly of India on the eve of India’s independence from the British, “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment, we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”
I believe that the reason for India’s survival and growth as a nation have the formation and growth of strong institutions that define the idea of India. These institutions are symbols that give a sense of identity of being Indians. They also imbibe the core values of our nation that have been derived from our ancient culture of duty and service towards ‘the nation’. Pandit Nehru had pledged us to this duty when he said, “We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest. Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death.” Indians have kept this pledge and the entire concept could be termed as ‘Patriotism’.
We often notice patriotic outbursts during times of emergencies, when India or the idea of India is attacked or during sporting events. We often miss the quiet duty that all of us perform in our patriotic fervor. Adlai E Stevenson has said, “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” One does not need to be in the defense forces or represent India in sports to perform patriotic duty, but all of us, in our own little way perform this duty every day.
Patriotism comes from the innate belonging to the idea of nation. A sense of belonging is very important to human beings. India and its institutions give us that sense of belonging. Citizenship enables us to enjoy certain protections be it economic, social and cultural but it comes it responsibilities toward the people such as performing duties such as to uphold the ideals of the nation and protect it from external threats. The ideals live through institutions and culture. It is a concept that has endured the test of times and has survived for centuries.
The nation as we know in the modern sense emerged in the last four centuries. Before that people have associated themselves with different idea of nations. Allegiance to the ruler or to a culture was considered to be allegiance to the nation. The ancient idea of patriotism could be exemplified by a painting I came across in an exhibit in Delhi.
The painting shows the rich heritage of India with regard to the concept of patriotism. I was attracted by its color and contrast and was impressed by the depth of the painting. The painting gives an impression that it traces the evolution of patriotism in India from the beginning of time to the modern day. The viewer is not looking back but is transformed to the beginning of time and is looking ahead till the modern era of democratic India.
During the time of the Ramayana, the concept of patriotism was allegiance to the King. Hanuman was a subject of Shri Ram, who subscribed to the view of patriotism. The depiction of Hanuman shows his initiative of doing his duty with a sense of responsibility- a patriotic gesture.
Hanuman has been depicted carrying the Ashok Vatika which depicts the ancient traditional medicines of Ayurveda, Unani and Homeopathy. These ancient sciences have survived and continue to grow in this modern era of chemical medications. The painter uses these traditions to depict a sense of continuity from the ancient times to the modern nation state. It depicts and important nature of patriotism that it evolves and is deep rooted in a sense of common culture of different Indian communities.
Every year on Independence Day, the Prime Minister of India addresses the nation from the Red Fort and hoists the Tricolor or the Indian Flag. The flag and the Red Fort in many ways is representative of India’s rich democratic traditions and of political freedom. The democratically elected leader of our country hoists our national flag and it evokes a sense of patriotism within all of us. The painting depicts the importance of images and rallying points to simulate a sense of belonging and hence patriotism.
The Red Fort is also a symbol of our Freedom Struggle. It became the center for the first Indian revolt against the British in 1857. Like Hanuman in the picture, the mutineers came to the Red Fort with the idea of freedom. The flight of Hanuman shows the freedom of thought and creativity- ideals which are at the core of our patriotic feelings. These ideals live in our country through democratic institutions such as Parliament.
Another ideal that defines India is shown by the walls of the fort. No Indian ruler has ever attacked another country outside India. Essentially Indian are defensive people. The walls of the Red Fort in the painting show the defensive nature of Indians. As a country India can stand up to all odds. No weapons that are shown, which again is an example of peace Indian Foreign Policy of- Live and Let Live.
The painting has also shown the diversity of India. The painting is in different colors of the Indian soil. It is the very soil that sustains life by providing us with water and fertile lands for agriculture. The hills and the mountain show the topographical diversity as well. We are all united in spite of the diversity as we are bounded by a unifying thread of patriotism.
The defense forces have been an institution that has held the country together. Their unity and sense of duty can be exemplified by memory of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It is a state that was once plagued by strong insurgency movement that was supported and sustained by foreign powers. In heights of its winters, when mountains and roads were covered with snow, I would see soldiers patrol the streets with grit and determination. There was a sense of duty within them and one could see in their eyes, their love for our nation.
One day, I went to interact with them and I could see the diversity. The soldiers belonged to different religions, spoke different languages and came from different backgrounds, but they still patriotic about one nation. They fought for its defense. They left homes and families behind and gave up their lives for their motherland, a land which looked and seemed very different from places that they were born. They were symbols of true patriotism and silent duty.
Authors such as Tolstoy have written that, “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious. It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.” But I disagree that a sense of patriotism towards ones motherland can be harmful for the rest of mankind. Patriotism allows the survival of institutions that have been created for the welfare of mankind. India which believes in peace and non aggression; Patriotism to the idea of India promotes peace around the world.
Inspired by India and with improvements in communication & transportation, all 7 billion human beings could one day be a nation. That day, Indian style of patriotism, that dwells on culture and believes in silent duty would be for the benefit of all of mankind.
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