I am not too much of a patriot, I am afraid, although I do love my country in many ways. I am proud of its rich and varied(pardon the cliche) culture, the innumerable languages , the sheer variety of landscapes, the wealth of ancient architectural beauties that dot the country. The song Ae mere watan ke logon does bring a lump to my throat. But that’s about it. I don’t think I can lay down my life for the country, though I greatly appreciate those who can. I don’t think I can kill for the country, though again I kind of appreciate those who can. And I certainly don’t want to be an ostrich about the formidable problems and social issues that face us, something which, according to me, the conventional idea of patriotism seems to expect us to do. Actress Mallika Sherawat drew a lot of flak last year for her ‘unpatriotic’ comments in front of international media, to the effect that Indian society was very regressive in its attitude to women.
In general usage, the term patriotism is used to denote a love for the country one belongs to. Now, people everywhere in the world profess a certain affinity and affection for the place they think they belong to, but patriotism is held to be a higher, nobler version of this natural affection–a virtue we are exhorted to aspire to in our schools , colleges and homes. It follows that it is more a learned virtue than a natural one, and appeals to some people more than the others.
Our rulers and politicians are often the ones who lecture us the most about patriotism. This is true not just in India but the world over. It is also well-known that generally, the more dictatorial a regime is, the more vociferous it is in trying to promote patriotic behaviour, and by the same token, the more intolerant of unpatriotic behaviour. That famous saying about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel surely has some truth in it.
The term ‘motherland’ has equivalents in most languages around the world and is used liberally and successfully to stir patriotic fervour in the hearts of people. The idea behind it is that the country should be loved as much as the mother and it is one I have issues with.
You love your mother basically because she gave birth to you and you owe your existence as ‘you’ to her–now, what is it that you owe to the land of your birth? Would it really have mattered to you if you were born somewhere else? Besides, where do the boundaries of the land of your birth lie? Is it the city where you grew up, the general region, the state or the country? Nationalism is a slippery slope–it all too easily becomes parochialism.
In any case, why this excessive emphasis on the land of birth? What happens to people who are born in one country and raised in another? What if they were adopted or kidnapped at birth and taken to another country? Or when people emigrate to other countries? The ‘land of birth/motherland’ argument easily flies out of the window in such cases. Ultimately you are free to choose to belong to one country or the other, provided they agree to have you. Are all emigrants somehow less worthy or bad as people–after all, they did choose to leave their land of birth behind? All Americans are either immigrants or descendents of immigrants. Should that be held against them?
In the scheme of things of modern nation-states, promotion of patriotism serves one important purpose, though–it helps draw in people to work for the armies, where they are trained to die/kill for the sake of the country should the need arise. This requires extensive training, and appealing to patriotic sensibilities is an important way of making this training effective. It cannot be done for the paycheck alone. I understand and accept that–just that it irks me how any overtly patriotic discourse rapidly becomes jingoistic, hyper-emotional and generally lacking all logic.