Nationalism, according to the Oxford dictionary refers to a feeling of love and pride in your country; but in India, Nationalism has demonstrated many other aspects than this. It is someone’s matter of pride, someone’s reason to live, someone’s reason to die, and also someone’s reason to be killed. But how does the man, whose composed song has been adopted as the National Anthem of India, describe it?
Rabindranath Tagore, affectionately Gurudev, was an Indian polymath. A poet, a painter, an essayist, an author, and most importantly first Asian to be awarded the Nobel prize in Literature. Although Tagore always backed India’s freedom struggle with his novels and songs, he never accorded with the idea of nationalism possessed by many freedom fighters. His debates with Mahatma Gandhi over the evolution and acceptance of nationalism are still popular and known as The Great Indian Debate.
This is enough to describe Tagore’s discontent with Gandhian Nationalism that during the Non-Cooperation Movement, Gandhi asked Indians not to buy British goods and products and only consume Indian products. But Tagore has already considered it immoral. In his essay Shudopay (Bangla for the Right Path), published in 1909, became the voice of Indian traders who were facing problems, as Indian goods were more expensive and lower in quality than foreign goods. He even referred the boycott as “pushing many Indian traders into poverty”. According to him, we are only free when our minds are completely free. Until you are not free to think for yourself, you are not free. Despite all these disagreements Tagore and Gandhi always shared a strong bond, and when Gandhi visited Shantiniketan, Tagore made all the arrangements for Ekla Chalo Re (Bangla for Keep Walking Alone) be sung to welcome him and to make his will even stronger.
Tagorian Nationalism was based on love for all, unification of the Human race, and developing a common solution for everyone’s problem instead of competition, wars, and exclusion. In his book titled “Nationalism” he asks the human race to choose between two alternatives “to go on fighting with one another or find out some true basis of reconciliation and mutual help”. He has also criticized the curriculum of history that is taught in schools as he believed that rather than telling students the stories of kings and emperors they should be taught about the history of human civilization and the principles of humanity. In the same book, he writes: “There is only one history the history of man. All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one. And we are content in India to suffer for such a great cause.”
In Tagore’s idea of Nationalism, a country can never be prioritized over humanity. In a letter addressed to his friend A.M. Bose in 1908, Tagore wrote that he will never let patriotism come before humanity. In 1905, when Lord Curzon announced the partition of Bengal into East and West Bengal, Gurudev wrote Amar Sonar Bangla (My Bengal of Gold) as a medium of protest and took music from a musician hailing from the proposed state of East Bengal to signify the unity of Bengal. On the other hand, he firmly opposed and criticized the violence and anarchy that was created by “so-called” freedom fighters. He said that no violence could be justified in the name of Nationalism. In his book Nationalism, he even referred Nationalism to as “a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over the human world of the present age.” He warned us about Repressive Nationalism and Compulsory Nationalism which ends in war, conflict, and retraction of citizen’s rights. Tagore also argued that when love for one’s country becomes a “sacred obligation” then disaster is the only remaining outcome that is inevitable. In his essay Nationalism in India he writes: “…. from childhood I have been taught that idolatry of Nation is better than reverence of God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against the education that teaches that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.”
Being against oppressive or aggressive nationalism does not suggest that Tagore didn’t consider India as a country. He established a college in erstwhile Bengal with objectives of upholding the Gurukul education system and providing free education to Indian students without being obliged to the British Government, which is now known as Vishwa-Bharati University, at his own expense. At more than eighty years of age, he even organized stage shows to meet the expenses of the institute. While renouncing his Knighthood to the British Administration, following Jalliawala Bagh Massacre, he wrote to the viceroy: “The time has come when badges of honor make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation. I for my part, wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings… And… ask Your Excellency, with due reference and regret, to relieve me of my title of Knighthood…”
Tagore’s hatred and Sacred Nationalism comments seem more relevant for our country than ever before. The majority of our media houses rely on anti-Pakistan and communal news for their business and the nation watches it with pride just to satisfy their void ego of Nationalism. The most recent example of it is the pictures of Pakistani girls were publicly auctioned and there are people, unfortunately in the country of Tagore and Gandhi, who justify this action and consider it Patriotism. These are the circumstances Gurudev warned us about. Given the current circumstances of our country, Indians should be concerned rather than being proud.
Not only Pakistanis, but we also discriminate against our countrymen on basis of their “so-called” unlikeliness with us. The treatment northeastern Indians face in any other Indian state, and the recent example of the revocation of Article 370 led to numerous posts on social media urging people to beat someone just because they were Kashmiri. In many parts of India, a person can even be killed for the mere crime of sitting parallel to, so-called, Upper caste people. Surprisingly, all these misconducts are committed by members of organizations with the ideology of hard-core nationalism.
From Rabindranath Tagore’s ideology, we Indians must seek freedom of thought and freedom of soul rather than just being confined to the conventionalist approach of Nationalism that we have received an inheritance. By doing so we can acquire the India of Tagore’s imagination where everyone is free to think and free to express, where men’s energy is used in achieving new abilities rather than being wasted on fake and inconsequential feelings of patriotism. In Gurudev’s illuminated words:
“where the mind is led forward by theeinto that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake!”
Syed Mohammad Ali is pursuing Economics from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Reda Aamna
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.