“Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
India has always had contending visions of nationalism and patriotism. On one hand, you have “Janani Janmabhomishcha, Swargadapi Gariyasi”, the nation as mother that is better than heaven. There is also the idea of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam”, the world as a family breaking out of the narrow boundaries of nation.
The campaign for the tricolour to be displayed in every Indian home to celebrate the 75th year of Independence reflects a view of nationalism as mere sets of symbols to be unthinkingly worshiped under the rubric of patriotism.
Contrast this with what Rabindranath Tagore argued about the darkness that lies at the heart of such a bhakti or worship. In his novel Ghare-Baire (Home and the World), later turned into a film by Satyajit Ray, the protagonist Nikhil says that when love for one’s country gives way to worship, or becomes a “sacred obligation”, then disaster is the inevitable outcome.
“I am willing to serve my country; but my worship I reserve for Right which is far greater than country,” he says, “To worship my country as a god is to bring curse upon it.”
So whenever the question of national, anti national, patriotism, flag or nationalism is talked about, we reach out for our Tagore. For him, idea of a nation and a national community was
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
Not just Har Ghar Tiranga, a flag in every home, And anyway even when we hoist our tricolour, the flag does not symbolise narrow ideas of a nation state but certain sets of universal humanist values rooted in rights of freedom, dissent, egalitarianism, secularism and multi-cultural India. Those are the values we need to hoist in every home.
Angela Rangad is a women’s and democratic rights activist in Meghalaya.