By Biswambhar Panda
Recently, I saw a documentary on Rohingya refugees posted on the web. The visuals of the documentary are really very disturbing. Small children, women, men and old people are fleeing their country of birth because of ethnic cleansing. They are fleeing to remain alive.
I am not an expert to comment on the origin of this crisis, but I was disturbed to see those visuals of hapless refugees fleeing with their baggage – whatever they could carry anywhere, to any place – just to save their lives. It reminded me of our own history of the Partition.
I may be ignorant of the complexities of statecraft. I cannot comment on any policy decision of our government. I also cannot articulate any comprehensive plan to deal with this situation. I am too small for that.
I am just looking at the way we are reacting to a humanitarian crisis. I strongly feel that we are losing our sensitivity. The comments and reactions of our leaders, the never ending television debates and newspaper commentaries, WhatsApp memes and Twitters tweets have shoved us into a ‘new-normal’ phase. All discourses collectively echo our newfound national obsession – our obsession with nationalism – devoid of any compassionate assessment of any situation.
This obsession has encroached upon every space of public discussion and debate. We are so consumed by politic that we have lost the basic decency. In a recent television debate, a star anchor extolled: “Why are those refugees not going to Europe to seek refuge? Why to India? Is India is a dumping ground?”
Yes, he used those words “dumping ground”. That means the refugees are trash, according to him! Is this our new India? And is this the language of our discourse? Is this not a symptom of xenophobia?
The Rohingya crisis is not an isolated case. Our nationalism is displayed unabated in every discussion of the public domain, sometimes so bizarre that discussion on somebody’s death also metamorphoses to demonstrate nationalism.
I firmly believe that despite all the hyperbole of nationalism, we are losing our rationality. It is evident from our insensitivity towards our own Muslim citizen, our Kashmiri people, our tribal people in areas affected by Maoist activities and people of North-Eastern states affected by insurgencies. In the frenzy of our newfound chauvinism, we are degenerating and gradually losing our humanity.
We are consumed by our misplaced and narrow interpretation of nationalism. We are becoming colour-blind to differentiate ordinary Rohingya refugee from ISIS, ordinary Kashmiris from terrorists, and ordinary tribals from Maoist. We fail to understand the plights of those innocent poor people who are victimised only because they are native to those areas.
A nation with a soul
Our sovereign nation is a legal entity – just like any individual. Just as any citizen, our nation is entitled certain rights and obligations. Apart from that legality, our nation is supposed to have a soul – a collective conscience. Our national behaviour should be a reflection of our collective conscience.
At the risk of being branded as anti-national, let me confess that I am not a party to the heartlessness of any government devoid of the compassionate spirit of my civilization. The spirit of my nation does not belong to any political party or to any government. My spirit is free of any governmental restriction. I want to help every refugee in whatever possible way within my means. I want to share my deep sympathy to those parents who have lost their children in course of ongoing militancy in every nook and cranny of my country irrespective of their religion, caste or political belief.
I dream that someday my country will reclaim the lost large-heartedness of our civilization and restructure our politics based on compassion, universal brotherhood, and peaceful co-existence.
(Biswambhar Panda is a writer based in Odisha. The views expressed are personal)
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