Saturday, March 14, 2015

Nationalism - II

Tagore was wary of patriotic fire escalating to xenophobia and the pursuit of material gain depriving people of their humanity thereby converting them into machines. He was of the view that hatred of the foreigner could easily be converted into hatred of Indians who were different from themselves. He illustrated his fears in a novel Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) which Satyajit Ray made into a movie. (You can watch the movie with English sub-titles in Youtube.)

During WWI he went to US and Japan where he warned  his audiences against harbouring the thought that love of one's nation meant celebrating its military strength. These lectures were published in a slim book called Nationalism which is not as well known as his stories and poems. reflecting the appeal of nationalistic sentiment among the middle class. Penguin has issued an edition with an introduction by Ramachandra Guha in which he writes:
No one could accuse Tagore of not loving his country. That is what lends a special force to his criticism of nationalism. As he saw it, the staggering heterogeneity of India was the product of its hospitality, in the past, to cultures and ideas from outside. He wished that the openness be retained and even enhanced in the present. Unlike other patriots, Tagore refused to privilege a particular aspect of India - Hindu, North Indian, upper caste, etc. - and make this the essence of the nation, and then demand that other aspects conform or subordinate themselves to it. For Tagore, as the historian Tanika Sarkar has pointed out, India 'was and must remain a land without a centre'. 
In the book, he doesn't mince words in criticising the nationalistic fervour that the European colonisers try to stoke in their people which was 'based on exclusiveness'. It destroys the whole futures of other people and 'tries to thwart all symptoms of greatness outside its own boundaries'. He calls this rapacious civilisation a 'prolific weed' that sets great store by ' the costly ceremonials of its worship, calling this patriotism'.

He acknowledges where Europe is great, her art and literature, her science and technology etc. He says that 'Europe is supremely good in her beneficence where her face is turned to all humanity; and Europe is supremely evil in her malefic aspect where her face is turned only upon her own interest'. He emphasises that true modernising does not lie in mimicry of Europeans but in 'freedom of mind, not slavery of taste'. He frowns on the mentality of 'survival of the fittest' or 'might is right'. (Unfortunately that is the meaning that most people have which, as I have written earlier, is a misunderstanding.) Then he writes this ringing  passage:
But now, where the spirit of the Western nationalism prevails, the whole people is being taught from boy- hood to foster hatreds and ambitions by all kinds of means, by the manufacture of half-truths and untruths in history, by persistent misrepresentation of other races and the culture of unfavourable sentiments towards them, by setting up memorials of events, very often false, which for the sake of humanity should be speedily forgotten, thus continually brewing evil menace towards neighbours and nations other than their own. This is poisoning the very fountainhead of humanity. It is discrediting the ideals, which were born of the lives of men, who were our greatest and best. It is holding up gigantic selfishness as the one universal religion for all nations of the world. We can take anything else from the hands of science, but not this elixir of moral death. Never think for a moment, that the hurts you inflict upon other races will not infect you, and the enmities you sow around your homes will be a wall of protection to you for all time to come. To imbue the minds of a whole people with an abnormal vanity of its own superiority, to teach it to take pride in its moral callousness and ill-begotten wealth, to perpetuate humiliation of defeated nations by exhibiting trophies won from war, and using these in schools in order to breed in children's minds contempt for others, is imitating the West where she has a festering sore, whose swelling is a swelling of disease eating into its vitality. 
In Mahabharata, there are some aggressive, war-mongering views, for eg. Duryodana quotes Brihaspati as saying that no device could be considered wrong which had as its object the destruction of formidable enemies. Opposing views are also expressed eg. Balarama says that a fit envoy would be one who is not a war-monger but is dead set, in spite of every difficulty, on achieving a peaceful settlement. I would have loved to read about Tagore's views on these statements but unfortunately, I am not aware of whether he has written about them.

No comments:

Post a Comment