- Indian Millennials have shed old-skin and have a healthy sense of Indian nationhood, whereas oped writers live in a world where some or the other old, hackneyed Marxist trope still rules the day.
- India is instinctively defined in the imagination of the millennials, for which it does not need much help from old-timers who labored all through the first decade of the 21st century — constructing some vague but forever-in-the-works “secular” and “liberal”- “idea of India”
So many of the enlightened op-eds, which come out of the left-leaning newspapers and online spaces are such hackneyed, they are now not even funny anymore. Placing my full faith in the goodness of everyday Indians I have long made my peace with the likes of Aakar Patel telling how all of us in so many different ways are upper-castiest, how all of us hate Dalits, and how in a subtle way our parents nurtured us with misogynistic values when they introduced us to the Amar Chitra Katha which is anti-minority, anti-Dravidian, anti-women, and explains everything from our obsession with fair skin to the violence against women.
Repeating this formula for the nth time, in his latest piece in Mint, Aakar writes how we in the north grew up calling all southerners ‘madraasis’, how such attitudes towards our southern brethren were ingrained in the collective imagination across the Hindi belt through characters played by the likes of Mehmood in Bollywood movies (think Padosan).
Now all of this would have been very instructive had it not been for the fact that such issues have been dissected in their minutest detail many times over and hardly need reiterating, and more importantly, because of the development of the twin cities of Bangalore and Hyderabad in the South, there is increased navigation of northerners towards the South which has resulted in far better attitudes overall.
The fact is that Aakar is late by a decade and a dozen of similar, more nuanced writings on the subject. We are not living in Nehru’s India anymore where only very few could travel the length and breadth of the country, spending much of their lives engrossed in the matters of their own village or city. Today, with increased intermingling through economic opportunities in big cities spread in the entirety of India’s geography, there is now perceptibly increased awareness of other communities. This is best illustrated not by pouring through research papers published in the EPW, but through so many anecdotal surveys done by and for the popular culture of today.
Take for instance the very popular YouTube channel, Being Indian, among other similar channels which, more than our oped writers, is winning over Millennials and is truly reflecting their views. Being Indian (BI) is a popular urban youth-oriented YouTube channel which reflects the array of milieus and moods of our country’s youth in urban centres. I would recommend Aakar to watch a few videos of BI such as ‘We Are South Of India’, ‘Every UP-ite in the World’, ‘Every Delhi Girl in the World’, etc. Every community is brought to the fore as the show randomly interviews people and asks them what “shit” Gujju boys say, what “shit” Gujju girls, Maharashtrian boys, Bengali mothers say. Doing so, we celebrate this new 21st century intermingling of a plethora of Indians. We celebrate how we are not just each other but how — to borrow an expression of Neruda’s — “we are many”.
image courtesy: Google Images
And alas, for there is no conflict when our main-man Sahil Khattar, a Punjabi (I presume), speaks to Indians of different communities. There is for one, no racial hatred between the progeny of the northerners — ‘Vedic aryans’ — and the southerners —‘Dravidians’ — or desire to avenge the injustices visited upon their ancestors through the false and mythical Aryan invasion, and for two, no existential confusion brought by any conflict between the regional and national identities that our enlightened intellectuals can help resolve.
That is because through so many generations after Independence and the birth of the Indian Union, it has dawned upon Indians, howsoever obtusely, with or without reading NCERT history books, that they belong to one country which is host to a plethora of regional identities, all of which only deepen and strengthen the national character: because a proud Bengali draws upon the rich legacy of the Bengali tradition visited by the likes of Tagore and Vivekananda, just as a proud Marathi looks upon Shivaji and Lokmanya, and a proud Tamil towards the great and timeless Tamil tradition visited most recently by the great poet Bharathi — all of whom spoke of Hind Swaraj.
The debates of and the imagination of Indian Nationalism
It has been argued by historians of the Marxist fold that Indian nationalism rests on, and is born out of the freedom struggle. I have deep reservations against this idea; however, it is very obvious that with the fading memory of colonialism, spoken if at all, in the dense post-colonial theory, no one on the younger side of 30 (60% of India) really cares if we were brought together through collectively opposing the Brits or through sitting round in a circle peeling potatoes in someone’s wedding. What is of relevance is that at the end of it all there has been cultivated a sense of the collective “Indian”.
We should pause for a moment and look at the letters and lectures given by the likes of Lokmanya Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal to realize what a momentous feat this is and just for how long this has been coming. They who labored all their lives to inculcate a sense of the national — so that it could inform the freedom struggle; Lokmanya being a Marathi who did not know Hindi and hence spoke in English to a crowd gathered in Varanasi, similarly Pal a Bengali who did not know Tamil and so spoke in English to a gathering in Chennai — exhorting them to unite in the name of Hind Swaraj.
Aside: Left-leaning intellectuals on the one hand seem far too suspicious of just about any idea of nationalism: arguing sometimes that there was no India before the Republic was birthed through the Constitution, and at other times, as Ram Guha writes in his book The Enemies of The Idea of India, essentially admitting to a lack of any positive sense of Indian nationalism:
The nationalisms of 19th century Europe, which provided the template for many later nationalisms (including those or Israel and Pakistan) united citizens around a single religion, a single language, and a common enemy. On the other hand, as articulated by Tagore, Gandhi and the Indian Constitution, the idea of India contains within it capacious borders more social diversity than any other nation. It privileges no particular religion, does not enforce a common language, and does not promote patriotism by identifying or demonizing a common external (or internal) enemy. (Emphasis mine)
It is thus that the JNU historian Mridula Mukherjee (arguably more serious than Mr. Guha) has to step forward and clarify that “there is a progressive nationalism, there is also a jingoistic nationalism”. We reckon that Mukherjee in her meditations on Indian history came across the idea of ‘Hind Swaraj’ far too often to dismiss Indian nationalism (the same thing as Hind Swaraj) wholesale, unlike most of her fellow travelers at JNU who feel no such compulsion. However, and funnily enough, Mukherjee in her speech tries to appropriate the idea of Indian nationalism towards a “progressive”, Leftish bend, and away from the Right, instead of, perhaps, arguing for a nationalism as an idea good in itself without belonging to either Left or Right.
All this is not to say that every Indian millennial understands the deep nuances of Indian nationalism — but I submit that it is in the new imagination of this large mass of young intermingling people — one that goes to University of Delhi and fills Kamla Nagar with so many hues, or one which comes to Bangalore from every nook and corner of the country and speaks in one voice in the comment section of an NYT article on India — that forever now a collective India and a collective Indian is emerging, and that this is a positive and healthy sense of Indian nationhood.
Like the Delhi-bred corporate techie character of Anushka Sharma in the movie NH10, who cannot name her own caste: the youth of India is shedding old skin, while cultivating a new sense of nationalism, when at the same time our oped writers write whatever has trickled through and become permanent and popular in their world of old, hackneyed Marxist post-colonial literature where a struggle against the “elite upper castes” is forever in bloom.
In a lecture given in Kochi on the topic of ‘Asian Cosmopolitanism’, Ashis Nandy said that while studying ethno-religious violence, he focused on the city of Kochi because it had not seen such violence for 3000 years as per oral and 600 years as per recorded history. Nandy said that he interviewed many hundred people for his research, and when the usual answers that “we are progressive, therefore we don’t have violence” or “we are educated people, we are not like the North Indians” or that “oh we are all secular” were exhausted, he probed further to learn about their community-life. What Nandy concluded as the reason behind Kochi’s lack of history of ethno-religious violence was that “nobody (no community) liked anybody (other community) else in Kochi”. That “Kochi’s amity is based on mutual dislike”.
Nandy learned that all of the communities in Kochi had “had their own private histories, (which in other parts of India we call jati puraana)…in which other communities do not fare well.” In these “mythical histories” the other communities are “ranked according to the way in which they have helped them in some distant past…and it’s all mythical history, it is not history. But these mythical histories, this attitude has two or three running themes… One, all communities were internalized: they were not only outside, they might dislike them, but they were…inside. You could not define yourself without referring to the other communities.”
To illustrate his point Nandy gave the example of the two Jewish communities in Kochi as he found out that “even the two Jewish communities in Kochi didn’t like each other… One community said we don’t allow our children to marry theirs, because they have forgotten Jewish rituals [as] we are 500 years old, we know [these] better, because they came 200 years before. And the other one say what do they know of Cochin, what do they know of Jewish tradition, [when they have only been here for] 500 years…” Concluded Nandy that this is “a different concept of cosmopolitanism” wherein “every community knew that the other community didn’t think much of them either, and they gulped it”.
Said Nandy to the Kochi crowd that this is not a cosmopolitanism where one is supposed to “one by one…shed all your prejudices, negative stereotypes, and so on and so forth, and emerge pristine, pure”—inviting laughter from the gathering—“global citizen hating nobody”. “I don’t think its possible, particularly in a society which is a community based”.
In his final damning addressal to the high Brahmins of our day said Nandy that the White Man’s Burden has “now gradually transformed into yellow man’s or brown man’s burden, because we have internalized it so well that our leadership, our rulers have begun to think this way, about how to push this recalcitrant, obstinate people towards higher plane of civilization, towards a higher plane of development, and so on and so forth”.
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Kush Arora is a consultant with a Big Four American bank.