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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 23, New Delhi, May 22, 2021

A Pledge for ‘National Re-Construction’: A Homage to Nehru | Rakesh Batabyal

Saturday 22 May 2021


by Rakesh Batabyal*

The lack of dignity which the Indians of all hues found themselves in their life and deaths during the pandemic revealed not only the depth of exclusionary and uncivil vision to which the Indian state and its leadership has plummeted but it also demonstrated to us the ways the state has decimated the spirit of the civic life and institutions to the detriment of the life and well being of people. As India is poised to enter into the 75th year of its Independence, with the 57th death anniversary [1] of Jawaharlal Nehru, who nurtured the foundation of a modern and democratic society, looming, we must pledge ourselves to a national re-construction.

1. Our first pledge must be to re-establish our commitment to a society based on Universal norms of civilised existence, where life, death and disease are treated with dignity and compassion for all irrespective of their social and economic station. Such approach to life comes from the societal and political ethos which treats human beings not as categories ( friends or foes) or instruments of narrow political ends. India is increasingly emerging as a place where the individual’s dignity and rights are violated by the state, the vigilante and the unseen hands of organisations that are determined to establish their political goals. It has been an established logic that if we devalue human life in trying to attain some narrow sectarian aims, commit violence with impunity, the devaluation just does not stop there. It enters into our consciousness and becomes a social bone marrow. The way the state, administration and the political formation saw the diminution and dignity of human life speaks volumes such a state of affairs. We must restore to our society that healing touch of ‘being’ human once again.

2. We must take a pledge to bring back to our public consciousness the basic foundations of the journey of India towards a modern society. We began by contesting a colonial rule and its ways of subjugating humans along racial lines. Today we are seeing the same colonial minds operating through us: we want to subjugate our own people in ways reminiscent of colonial arrogance of the Dalhousies or Warren Hastingses of yesteryears. The recent attacks on the regional parties and cultures are pointers in this same direction. India is a congeries of local, regional and sub-regional cultures, languages and customs. The recent attempts at imposing a particular kindof majoritarian and political Hinduism smacks of a colonial mindset. We make a pledge not to allow India and Indians to become prisoners of the ideology and the system against which it fought its valiant freedom struggle.

3. Our third pledge is to allow the thousands of cultural experiments happening at the caste, gender, community and institutional levels which are a reflection of the space the democracy has created in the history of this landmass. We shall help Indian children to imbibe the spirit of Rammohun Ray to become citizens of the world by acquiring cosmopolitan values, the ideas of Periyar, Phule, Gandhi and Ambedkar to see that the society changes ceaselessly, and cease to become prisoners of moribund systems and rituals. The need for solidarity and a non ritualistic cultural life was felt deeply during this experience and we must pledge to recover this aspect of our modern heritage.

3. The disdain for knowledge has been actively promoted by the narrow and sectarian groups and formations, and it is the propagation of such ideas which is at the root of our present institutional predicaments. The incessant communal depredations on our universities, colleges and schools through curriculum changes, replacement of history by myths and showing complete disdain for knowledge and the processes of knowledge formation have allowed the schools to produce ideological zombies of the future and at the same time will denude the respect that Indian scholars and scientists have acquired through their rigorous work through the last century and a half. Any force which destroys institutions that were building Modern India in fact is truly anti national in its character. It is but be logical that when our own leadership and political organisations delegitmises and defame our universities, institutions, scholars and historians, and humiliates the rigours of the scientists, the world outside is under no obligation to extend its respect to our scholars and our institutions either. In the post pandemic situation, we shall be pledging ourselves to help them regain their sense of dignity, institutional support and freedom they require to reflect, innovate and translate the knowledge they gained through their rigour.

4. Our fourth pledge will be to get our youth a new sense of freedom which in recent years has increasingly been snatched away from them. They were intimidated, harassed and in many cases incarcerated for absolutely false reasons or even minor lapses. Many of them acted with an ethic of voluntary act that comes so naturally to youth of all kinds and of all nations. It is rather the most beautiful expression of human desire to be with other human beings in their moments of criticality, crisis and vulnerability. This is why the young minds have for centuries found their most inner expression through service. However by criminalising all voluntary acts which are not the acts committed under the rubric of a communally defined ‘nationalism’, the state and agencies have scared the youth away from giving their best to the society in such times of crisis.

The dehumanising experience of the Pandemic makes us realise that for a dignified roadmap to its social, economic and cultural future, we must provide the Indian youth with an atmosphere which is not bent on criminalising their youthful associations with causes which elevate our social, cultural and civic life.

5. For Nehru, the word ‘enemy’ was not a civilised and cultured term. The world also should not be viewed from the prism of perpetual enmity. It reduces the human being and their self expression. That is why generations of people have fought against war and violence. The time has come for us, and the pandemic has shown it so clearly, that if ever there has been an enemy which has killed more, it exists in our minds rather than outside. We therefore must take a pledge to oust the metaphor of enemy from within our minds so as to make the world a beautiful place again for our children, for the children of those who passed away due to Covid, and for all those successive generations which will demand explanation from us for our role during such a crisis. We must dedicate our national resolve on this day to serve the humanity for peace and we must stand with the struggling people across the world for their rights and rightful place in the human society.

*(Author: Dr Rakesh Batabyal is associated with Centre for Media Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-110067, India)

[1India’s former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru died on 27 May 1964

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