In the age of competitive hyper-nationalism and demonstrative patriotism, it’s hard not to be some sort of “deshbhakt”. Yet, as a teacher and perpetual wanderer, I urge my students not to be the bhakt of any particular deity, be it a nation, political doctrine, or organized religion. My fear is that a bhakt often loses the ability to decondition his mind, expand his horizon, and even criticize what appears to be “sacred”. We must not forget that the bhakts of Nazism, totalitarian socialism, greedy capitalism, religious fundamentalism and militarist nationalism gave us a world filled with nuclear weapons, surveillance technologies and psychic / spiritual muteness. In other words, a bhakt is not really a student who continuously evolves, grows, explores and unlearns to learn the music of existence. Therefore, the idea of the “deshbhakti program” (even when the Delhi government seeks to portray it as genuine patriotism), I would say, cannot be aligned with a life-affirming pedagogy that encourages intelligence. awake, reflective thinking, ethics of love, and critical awareness.
My criticism does not mean that I devalue the importance of your close affinity with the territorial / geographic and socio-cultural landscape that you inhabit. Yes, you like the river that crosses your village; the Himalayan summits are calling you; the tales of Bhagat Singh and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi fascinate you; the splendid diversity you experience on a fast-paced train journey from Chennai to Kolkata might be of particular interest to you; and maybe the meditative self and the compassionate eyes of Gautam Buddha touch your soul. Additionally, the immense body of knowledge and wisdom that once flourished in this ancient civilization – from the Upanishadic quest for the transcendent to the doctrine of logic and reasoning – makes you a humble beholder of your creative heritage. You love your country; and it is natural that you want your kids to know and love him. Why deny this?
Yet do you want your child to mechanically recite Saare jahan se achchha Hindustan hamara at the school assembly? Or do you want your child to open their eyes and gain the courage to accept that as it is, our country is culturally, spiritually and politically sick? A young IAS officer – a pampered icon of the Indian middle class – who accepts the dowry in an instrumental marital alliance should not make her proud of her country. A politician who cherishes the cult of narcissism and enjoys being surrounded by sycophants should push it away. A “devotee” who pollutes the river in Haridwar through his “puja” and yet calls himself “spiritual” should make him question the emptiness of priesthood and ritualism. A “nationalist” who continues to build his “enemies” and finds indirect pleasure in militarism and all manner of metaphors of war should scare him. The alliance of patriarchy, religious bigotry and vulgar consumerism should disturb her. How can she continue to be bombarded with deshbhakti sermons when she finds herself in a country characterized by mind-boggling inequality and hierarchy, brutality of human conscience and pervasive corruption? I imagine that as a concerned teacher / parent you would like your child to sharpen the art of resistance (because to truly love the country is to say “no” to what degrades our land and our people) , and strive for something higher than non-reflexive / demonstrative deshbhakti and loud / loud nationalism.
As a teacher, I think we don’t need a “deshbhakti program”, and this too at a time when a heavy dose of hyper-nationalism has plagued our collective consciousness. Instead, we need something qualitatively different; we need a learning environment that seeks to cultivate qualities such as empathy, the art of compassionate listening, and the ethics of care. Imagine a school principal giving a whole new meaning to the morning congregation and urging his students to understand what it means to be a Stan Swamy Father in our time. Imagine a physics teacher urging his students to realize that science is the search for truth through critical thinking; it’s not just a “success mantra” – a road to the lucrative tech business world. Think of a history teacher inspiring his students to imagine that they too were with Gandhi at Noakhali in 1946, and struggling for harmony and interfaith dialogue. Imagine the Republic Day celebration – not Vande Mataram, but students and teachers sitting together and watching MS Sathyu’s Garm Hava or Satyajit Ray’s Sadgati, and probing this fractured independence. Imagine a school that activates critical thinking, arouses a humanistic temper, and softens the soul.
Believe it, the current practice of education lacks this kind of imagination. With rote learning, bloated grades, coaching centers and mad racing, he makes the “toppers”, most of them grossly ambitious and unable to imagine anything beyond the freeway and beyond. IIT-IIM-America. Or he stigmatizes those who have “failed”. Yes, he is making a disenchanted generation. It is nothing but violence – physical, cultural and psychological. Therefore, for our collective redemption, we must strive for an emancipatory education characterized by critical pedagogy and an abundance of love and understanding. Our children deserve it. In this “risk society” filled with threats of climate crisis, devastating wars and terrorist violence, they need a touch of healing; a learning community that enables them to distinguish the calming light of knowledge and wisdom from the pomp of lies and propaganda, or, say, the dedicated work of an environmentalist from the dramaturgical performance of the “messiah” of the nation, or the Gora journey of Rabindranath Tagore of that of a nationalist activist shouting “Jai Shri Ram”, or the story of Saadat Hasan Manto of what our “patriotic” television channels do every night.
Will educators and policymakers advising the Delhi government come up with the idea of a radical educational restructuring rather than this mantra of “patriotism”? We already have enough.
Pathak is professor of sociology at JNU