The Slow Dance to Exclusive Nationalism

May 23, 2019.

I open my eyes, rays of sun shining in through the window shutters of my apartment in Tel Aviv. I reach for my phone on the bedside table, heart beating faster. BJP is leading. It doesn’t surprise me, I knew they were going to win another term. Yet, the inkling of the horror about to dawn on my country doesn’t make the exact moment it turns into reality any easier.

I call my mother, who leads a mostly apolitical existence. Once again, I knew how the phone call would end: with me in tears for her lack of comprehension of what this means for the country. As an upper caste, traditional Hindu woman, whose parents came as refugees from East Pakistan, she is a generation closer to the trauma that has dictated so many aspects of my existence, often in exact reverse of how it impacted my grandparents.

My grandfather, a former English professor, who made me familiar with the likes of Wordsworth, Keats, Goethe, Da Vinci and Rousseau, is a closet nationalist. The pain of having to leave his home for a country, unfamiliar and anew, has condemned him to a life of prejudice, the shackles of which are too complex to break so late in his day.

It took my family four generations of political security and a chance encounter with The Diary of a Young Girl to break the shackles of closeted prejudice, so deeply rooted in the so-called intellectually aware upper-caste Bengali society.

My great maternal grandmother, who left East Pakistan with only her children and no possessions, would not let any Muslim into her house; my grandfather would change the Muslim handyman’s name from Hasan to Hariram to trick his mother, but would keep his distance himself; my mother had no reservations whatsoever in mingling with Muslim friends, but would potentially faint at the prospect of ever having the misfortune of (un)welcoming a Muslim son-in-law.

I, thus, grew up in a society, family and culture where they welcomed interfaith relations while practising the two-metre social distancing rule. When I first read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl at the age of 12, it wasn’t the European anti-Semitism that I saw around me but the looming shadow of prejudice against our own minorities.

As I get ready for college on that day, as an aspiring human rights student, how do I dissociate from the unnerving reality of my own country? My thoughts travel back to an afternoon in 2015, when the headline ‘Church vandalised by RSS sympathisers’ blasted in our living room. Lunch tasted of fear that day; fear that stays with me to this date. It started small – a few verbal assaults, some vandalisations of places of worship, some casual casteist discrimination against Dalits.

Also read: ‘Axomiya or Bongali?’ What Growing Up Bilingual in Assam Taught Me About Its Fraught Past

Then it became more frequent – the lynching of a Muslim man who was accused of buying beef, the shaming of women for entering the temples while menstruating, the ban of meat in domestic flights, a wheelchair bound citizen being beaten up for not standing for the national anthem.

Before you knew it, talking about any of these made you ‘anti-national’. We resisted, but not enough.

It took some big guns – a lockdown in Kashmir and a state-sponsored frenzy of documentation that openly violated the basic structure of the constitution – to finally realise the waltz to exclusive nationalism we have been doing to the tunes of extremism.

You see, my grandfather had introduced me to Jean Jacques Rousseau. But it was only years later, during my undergraduate studies, while doing a comparison of his and Alexis de Tocqueville’s political theories on democracy, that I realised there is, in fact, the possibility of such a thing as “tyranny of the majority”.

Our grandparents were born into a reality, a condition that created a few future generations worth of traumatic tragedy. Our privilege of not having to live through a reality that is as endangering to our individualities should make us the torchbearers of vigilance for those that suffer in our own secure reality.

The slow dance to exclusive nationalism that our country has embarked on feeds on the tunes of prejudices, hatred and hostility towards the other. But most importantly, it feeds on our indifference – the apathy of those it does not affect.

Ours is a generation that is being pushed down a road that was shunned by the world for a few decades. It is only up to our tunes of defiance and awareness to drown the music that the dance of exclusive nationalism is performing to.

Pritha Majumder is a 20-year-old undergraduate student, originally from Kolkata, currently studying at Tel Aviv University who has been writing different things – articles, poems, blogs – since she was 13. 

Featured image credit: Oleg Laptev/Unsplash