Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What is Patriotism?

Any discussion on patriotism is bound to evoke passionate responses and a debate on the very meaning of the word would inflame passions! And as always one can count on the likes of my dear friend Kawardeep Singh Bajwa to spoils a perfectly good Sunday on Facebook by initiating such debates! But as usual issues he raises forces us to look inwards and question, evaluate, consider some of our closely held but rarely understood beliefs. I will try to answer his question, “What is Patriotism?” very briefly.
But let me admit that my views are my opinion and not facts with empirical evidence to support them. My views are the progeny of my observation & interpretation of events and inputs from people I consider authority on the subject. I have also decided to let this be an open letter to my friend Kanwardeep Singh Bajwa!!

Dear Kanwar

I must begin by saying that I can only imagine the storms of internal conflict living in a foreign land and still being in love with one’s mother land can cause. But I do understand that now you will have a reference point to evaluate your feelings for your country. I also would like to place on record my sincere gratitude for being able to sustain your desire to positively contribute to social change in India. A successful arrival anywhere in the western hemisphere has been known to be fatal to any such intentions!

I also like the fact that you usually choose to question rather than comment on issues. Now you may say that I am digressing from the issue at hand and am busy praising your philanthropic nature! But I assure you, I never lavish praise so easily. Here too I am using them to frame the point I intend to make.

But before I go any further, let me state in no uncertain terms that you Kanwar are as patriotic as they come. I believe that patriotism is mistakenly characterized as ones love for a territory defined by political boundaries. I believe that patriotism is more a love for who you consider “your people”. I must appreciate your friend Gurinder Saini on his wonderful exposition! Come to think of it, he is right! I am sure we all have yearned for company even in middle of large crowds! The desire to be in social groups is indeed a very natural trait we as Homo sapiens seem to have inherited. Ever since I read your post, I have been struggling to articulate my feelings and I was not able to lay my hands on the exact argument I wanted to put forth justifying my perception of patriotism. I have to thank Gurinder’s exposition on evolution and our need to converge in social groups for giving me the break I needed!

Patriotism, Kanwar I believe is a love for individuals one recognizes as his countrymen. But that love may not necessarily be for a geographic unit defined by political boundaries. Had that been the case, one would not see preferential treatment by expatriate social groups and communities for people of their community. I am sure you may have seen that in Canada (like back home) most of the Indians may not be able to “help” another Indian beyond a certain point but if an Indian faces some kind of problem on account of being an Indian, a lot of people would be willing to be a bit uncomfortable but help another Indian. I have seen how people react to reports of violence from down under. We like Gurinder stated have inherited the “tribe” mentality. The members of the tribe bonded with one another rather than a territory. Similarly teams are about people, so is family, community, society and country. India is not a geographical unit but a group of people we know are “ours”. When we feel for our country, we are feeling for its people. Yes geography plays its role too but that role becomes too. After all you need to have a place you call home but we know too well that as when man was nomadic, even modern society has not been able to obviate migration. Some of us migrate from one locality to the other, some from a state to another and some migrate globally. When we do move, we adopt our new home and learn to love it the same way we used to love the one we left. Even if we discount such migration, we must still admit that as a nation we do not know India beyond what we have seen and feeling for that what we don’t know is only because we know we are supposed to! Even if we discount the fact that we cannot feel for what we don’t know, imagine, the political boundaries of India are still dynamic with at least three nations disagreeing with the political maps we used to use in school!

I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the defense services and most seemed to scoff at the classical media driven, symbolic yet hollow concept of patriotism harbored by most civilians! We to have had the privilege of having had an Ashok Chakra winner in our friends circle. Most of the people I have met and discussed with claim that they do what they do as it is their job to do so and if they were to rank the intensity of their feelings for social groups, their unit and regiment take precedence over their country any day!

We Indians like symbols! We love our heroes and we love drama! Is it then a surprise that our patriotism is driven by stereotypical images of heroes who have mysteriously ceased to appear after 1947. My boss who himself was in the Indian Air Force suggests that “One who does not jump red light to honor the constitution of India and to prevent any injury to any fellow Indian is patriotic” He further goes on to describe a motley bunch of yoga aficionados he bumps every morning on his walk in the park. They would go through the motions and in the end raise loud slogans; “Bharat Mata Ki Jai!” “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and unfailingly the leader of the group then spits on the sidewalk! So much so patriotism! According to my boss, you are a good enough patriot if you have civic sense, are considerate for your countrymen and do break laws. A drive around Chandigarh highlights the issue of most civilians lacing civic sense. We park anywhere we feel like, jump lights, speed, break all rules and we do all that as if it is the natural thing to do!

I agree with Prof. Sudhir Diwan and I believe that a patriot is the one who loves his fellow country men, is a good neighbor, has civic sense, does not harbor extreme feelings towards any community, is positive and goes about his job in an ethical and socially responsible manner! You don’t have to a war hero to be patriotic. You can be a patriot by refusing to employ a child as a domestic help……you can be a patriot by not braking laws……. You can be patriotic by standing up next time you hear your national anthem play…. You can be patriotic by paying your taxes……you can be patriotic by not electing corrupt politicians to the parliament…..you can be patriot even if you opt to live in some other country…… In fact there are so many ways we can be patriotic! Why do we ignore the mundane and the ordinary and look for patriotism in great acts. Why can’t we be patriotic everyday everywhere? Why be selective and be patriotic by convenience? Why do we need to romanticize patriotism to subscribe to it?

I am sure we will need to explore further, deeper but inwards. Patriotism then may emerge as a function of our own perceptions, attitudes and values.