UNIFORMED NATIONALISM

The term ‘we’ has become very controversial in the current era of being a Nationalist. Who are ‘we’? Why are we ‘we’? How can we become ‘we’? There seems to be urgency in collectivising, connecting, networking and associating as ‘we’. Every community whether they are belonging to a normative parameter or they remain outside such parameters seems to be relating to the idea of ‘we’. Sometimes I wonder if the ‘we’ gets more pronounced when one is bereft of any form of comfort zone. That is why sometimes when we move out of our native place, our connection with anything that formulates the ‘we’ becomes very blatant. In the current regime of everything ‘right’ belonging to the ‘we’ or not belonging to that ‘we’ has become extremely critical. ‘We’ used to be such an affirmative assertion of belongingness during our formative years of social work education. The concepts of teams, groups and communities are rooted in this complex understanding and application of ‘we’. ‘We’ can unite and the same ‘we’ can divide as well. It is this politics of ‘we’ that is currently defining the tenets of majority. In a world filled with individual assertion and collective consciousness, it becomes very complex to identify with the mono-cultured ‘we’ concept which is only a one-size fit-all form of democracy. When one tries to understand who are ‘we’? One finds a blurred vision of a mass consciousness which is concerned about their livelihoods, resources, gender specific relationships, disabilities, authorities, power sharing, well being and equitable access. Initially ‘we’ used to be a complex yet a composite whole where people identify with each other on the basis of the larger picture of belongingness but in the changing times, ‘we’ needs to be understood from the context specific concerns of the ‘I’ within that ‘we’. Accepting the differences and distancing from assimilation might work well for the concept of I-focused ‘we’. Sometimes masses means a mob where the ‘we’ becomes a weapon of annihilation. Such ‘we’ can be engineered through legislations, authority and assimilation.

In recent times, uniformed ‘we’ have become a norm and anybody outside that uniform has been accused of being a deviant, traitor and an anti-national. It is a convenient space for all conformists of such an enlarged identity of ‘we’. Some also find solace and respite from the constant battles of being rootless and resource less when they are included within the larger mass of a superficial ‘we’. But currently ‘we’ needs to be cloned, conformed and compulsively uniformed. If someone begs to differ from the grand narratives, then such thought process is stifled with force, exclusion and alienation. Social and gender redistributive inclusion is hardly a reality in today’s context. Today’s uniforms are socially secure, financially lucrative and emotionally indifferent. Hence such uniforms are much sought after be it in any service, industrial, judicial, sports, medical, IT, construction or corporate sectors. Even in the context of rural development, agriculture, forestry or animal husbandry, uniformed livelihoods are much more preferred by youth.

Uniformed nationalism is not only limited to the idea of the nation within the territorial boundary but it transcends to all other nations where Indian origin persons are located. Such nationalism limits the possibilities for people to be global citizens whose humanism supersedes their insular nationalism. But in the current context, people are much more comfortable to identify with the value driven identities of being foreign educated, trained or returned in an attempt to find instant social acceptance within the territorial identity of a nation. These days even popular cinema is projecting the celebration of a uniformed nationalism through the films like Airlift, Dishoom, Dabaang, Sultan, Bajrangi Bhaijan, Rustom, Baby, Madari where the protagonist can be rewarded with impunity when his actions are meant for the nation. People also appreciate such roles and remains averse to criticism of their favourite actors. But when a film is focusing on the scars of the same nation, such films like Water, Udta Punjab, Earth, Fire, I Am, P.K., are either censored to the core or banned from usual publicity stunts.

In today’s context the uniformed nationalism is also translated through uniformed masculinity within armed groups. Wearing a uniform increases the credibility, social mobility and powerful influence of the uniform bearer in every social and cultural forum. Uniform becomes the second skin and endorses an egoistic display of pride for the person wearing such a uniform. Most women find security either as a uniform bearer or being an intimate partner to a uniform bearer. It is an assertion of being protected under the veil of a uniform which apparently protects women. Uniformed women have a sense of authority, duty bounded assertion of power and a gender transformative role towards delivering gender justice and social inclusion. But such women also tend to be oppressors within the expected dispositions of power and influence under the veil of the uniform. At the same breath uniformed women tend to be grossly problematic within their domestic domains where they are viewed as deviants from their stereotyped performative roles. The way society celebrates acts of valour for uniformed men; such acts are hardly recognised for women in uniforms. Women’s status does not transform with or without a uniform. Uniforms are a form of discipline which either includes or excludes women from realising their essence.

Nationalism is a superficial sensation of post colonial domination which does not exist within the diverse nuances of a multi-ethnic, gender fluid, fragmented and fragile network of organised parts. Even though it remains a composed whole yet all the parts are actually collective wholes which does not endorse the idea of an over-arching nationalistic image. Hence the only way such nationalism can be engineered is through the discourse of uniformity which is imposed compulsively rather than churning it through consensus, consultation and cooperation. Uniformed nationalism is a chauvinistic display of masculinity which does not have space for dissent, deviation and diversity. In the spirit of freedom, it is the livelihoods attached to such uniformed nationalism which determines the contours of the nation. This month celebrates the rising of the free nations from the grip of colonial constructs whether it is India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Myanmar and such celebrations rests on the heavy shoulders of the uniformed nationalists not necessarily on liberal critics whose existence is shrinking with every passing day.

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Samhita Barooah Written by:

Samhita Barooah has worked with communities of women across North East India, trained professionally as a social work practitioner and currently pursuing her doctoral studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati Campus, Assam. She likes writing non-fiction and travels often to rural pockets of North East India.

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