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Reimagining Home in the Face of Global Instability within Nations – IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

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Reimagining Home in the Face of Global Instability within Nations - IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Joseph Mathai and Sandeep Chahcra

The longing for home is known to every person who is fond Manna Dey’s voice singing “ay mere pyaare watan…”. If we see home as a nation, what has this meant over the centuries, and what does it mean today, when global pandemics and climate change are forcing us to realize our common destinies.

In civilizations such as ours, which have evolved over thousands of years, the nation cannot be understood from the lens of modern nation-building alone. Nationalism draws inspiration from culture, identity, history, religion, tradition and patriotism. One cannot agree with the argument that nationalism did not exist before the nation state, and that consciousness of being common people was not prevalent in the popular imagery.

The ancient Indian texts refer to terms such as chakravartin, samrat and sarvabhauma, signifying a ‘universal ruler’ establishing rule across the subcontinent or Jambudvipa—this Sanskrit word means “land of the jamun tree”. First, the rulers of Magadha, the Mauryas and finally, the Gupta dynasty achieved this in the ancient period.

Across the rise and fall of rajyas (dynasties) and ganas or sanghas (oligarchic republics), trade routes and pilgrimage journeys helped to weave a common cultural space and a shared pool of auspicious symbols.

Centuries later, the Sufi and Bhakti movements contributed to the most significant humanist approach to theology. Together these movements represent the most incredible resistance to the many social hierarchies and oppressive cultural traditions shared across the region—especially caste oppression, gender discrimination and social divisions on religion.

As cultural movements that expressed themselves in people’s voices, Sufism and Bhakti also strengthened diversities of language and strengthened what has been called “proto-nationalism” as seen in concepts such as des, watan and nadu—all meaning country in Hindi, Urdu and Tamil. These identities existed, and some historians argue flourished, within the “pax Mughlana” that emerged in the latter half of the sixteenth century.

However, the overarching legitimacy of the Mughal empire, especially in most of North and Central India, can be seen as late as May 1857. That was the month when mutinying sepoys urged the reluctant Bahadur Shah Zafar, the “last Mughal”, to accept the leadership of their cause to secure the legitimacy of the First War of Indian Independence.

It was this civilizational and cultural unity, amidst the many diversities, that led to the Indian freedom struggle emerging as a people’s movement from the early twentieth century leading to Independence in 1947. But, of course, Independence did not fulfil all the hopes and aspirations of the freedom struggle.

And in 1950, the Constitution of India affirmed them both as rights guaranteed in the here and as an agenda for action, setting out the task for India to bring about a peaceful social and economic revolution.

As Indians, we can feel proud that the Constitution of India best represents the anti-colonial freedom struggle, a balidano ki rangoli that is part of our shared sacrifice and legacy. This document lays down how our decolonization project should address historically oppressed sections of society and be built on traditions that bring us together rather than divide us into more insular entities.

Nationalism also appears as angry chauvinism. In the past this led to fascist rule in Italy, Germany and Spain, and as significant presence in many other European countries. In this angry form, nationalism encourages the dominant sections to stifle all other voices within a nation.

While it may be tempting to see international conspiracies in the emergence of chauvinist forces across the globe today, we need to recognize this as having its roots primarily in the failures rooted realizations of liberal and progressive agendas in every country.

On a planet proving to be increasingly fragile, in a world becoming increasingly hostile to people seeking refuge and within economies that no longer nurture its vast majorities—the question arises: Where is home? What is home?

Joseph Mathai and Sandeep Chahcra

Nationalism should embrace the purity of a home in which the cultures of all lands move about as freely as possible. Progressive poetry and literature are suffused with such love. Many instances can be referred to, but notable is when the revolutionary Punjabi poet Avtar Singh Paash writes: “We thought of our country as something pure—like home, where there is not a hint of heaviness in the air.”

In writing about Bangladesh during the liberation war, Kaifi Azmi, the great progressive Urdu poet, writes as the spirit of nationalism personified: “I am the passion of the obsessed / the deathless dream of the oppressed. / When man bleeds his fellowmen, / when exploitation crosses all limits / and tyranny breaks all bounds / I suddenly appear in some corner / I arise from within some heart.”

Thus, a nation is a home from which solidarity extends to others asserting better futures for vulnerable peoples and the fragile planet. A home that welcomes solidarity from others. This would be a relationship where the sovereignty of the national emancipatory process is never compromised.

It is indicative of some universal truth that the sentiments of this piece also resonate with the assertions of Bhagwan Maaji, the tribal poet from Odisha, “We will not leave our village; we will not leave the forest. We will not abandon Mother Earth; we will not give up the fight.”

First Published in The Sunday Guardian on April 15, 2023 as Where is home in an increasingly fragile world?

Read more about the author: Towards an Inclusive Imagination of Citizenship

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