I was recently reading Rabindranath Tagore’s essay on Nationalism and that was when the enormity, farsightedness and the sheer genius of his thoughts stuck me….and stuck me hard. While we are busy today, coming to terms with a whole new dimension that is being provided to the term ‘nationalism’, while we are busy defining and redefining the ways in which a ‘nation’ needs to be respected, while we are busy internalizing the code of conduct we need to follow at each and every of our movie outings in order to prove that we are deserving and true citizens of our nation, the man who wrote what came to be our national anthem, had, almost a century ago, laid bare before us the contours of a world that would idolize ‘nationalism’. And so accurate do his insights seem today that one could only be awestruck and gasp in admiration at the unmatched vision of the man.
His writings on Nationalism repeatedly warn about the possible threat that humanity faced from patriotism, and he always remained an unequivocal supporter for the triumph of humanity above all else. About a century ago, Tagore believed that nation as a political concept was something alien to India, and that India’s strength lay in not letting the mechanical concept of a nation rule over our hearts and minds, as had already happened in the West.
Today, a century later, the concept of a nation as a political entity has become so entrenched and omnipresent throughout the world that even a passing thought about an alternative world is treated as a thought crime and penalized. Yet, for those who wish to pause and reflect, the distant voice of this man in warning one and all of the dangers and pitfalls of blind and unchecked nationalism, could not be clearer and louder.
Nationalism, in today’s times, is enjoying unprecedented triumph over humanity, which lies bruised and battered, pushing hard at its vocal chords to be heard, craning its neck to be seen. The entrenchment of the nation state as a separate political and legal entity, apart from the living entities that compose it, has been made so completely unquestionable that humanity has been slowly and steadily strangulated and buried under the huge weight of this all-pervasive concept.
The political entity that is the nation reigns supreme. The boundaries that crisscross the entire physical mass of the earth today are more important than any number of human lives that may be inhabiting this physical space. The fact that this huge landmass with all its precise and well-defined lines, is still only that, mere flesh and bones with no heartbeats to make it alive, to make it meaningful, is only incidental. It does-not matter in the actual scheme of things. These heartbeats are easily dispensable, because there are so many of them, because there is an unending supply. What does one life matter in this whole big system that has been so meticulously developed and entrenched over ages? What difference does it make?
If this is the thought process that is behind the glorification of the mechanical over the human, if it is believed that hiding behind systems and processes and procedures is possible, to the extent that the human is totally extinguished from the face of the earth, if it is believed that individual human lives are mere cogs in the wheels of the huge machines in the shapes of the nation states, then this hubris is going to lead to a disaster with no precedent, a disaster for the mechanical though, not for the human.
Why I am confident of this is because every time a Liu Xiaobo is refused acknowledgement from this monster of a machine, every time an Irom Sharmila is forced into oblivion, every time a human life, and all the human emotions, dreams and aspirations associated with it, is thought worthy of sacrifice in the name of the absolute sanctity, inviolability and supremacy of the rule of mechanical over human, on each and every such occasion this machine will lose some of its cogs. These cogs will choose to break away from this giant machine and reclaim their humanity. The more the machine will try to run them over and accelerate its speed, the faster it will proceed towards its destruction, for that very acceleration will be the signal for more and more cogs to break away and reclaim themselves. The process from human to mechanical was a long drawn one, the reverse might be even more so, but howsoever gradual or lengthy it may be, the process of reversal is inevitable.
Nivedita Dwivedi has done MA in Elementary Education from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.