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Home > International Relations in the Age of Empire > India - an Empire in Denial > For Province, Read Nation - Pramatha Chauduri
India: an Empire in Denial
For Province Read Nation
Pramatha Chaudhuri, 1920
Note by tamilnation.org: "More than 80 years ago, in 1920, Pramatha Chaudhuri wrote an article titled "Bengali Patriotism". It appeared in the famous Bengali monthly, Sabuj Patra (Green Leaves), which he edited. Chaudhuri described the various people of India as different "nations" entitled to national self determination. According to him the possibility of harmony and co-operation was much more, if this separateness was recognised rather than denied. This is shortened version of an English translation which appeared in September 1982 in the Indian magazine Facets, as a contribution to a rational debate on the question: "Whither India?" And that was 22 years ago! Pramatha Chauduri's writing remains essential reading today for those who are concerned to secure and protect the unity that is India.
You have accused me of "Bengali patriotism"....
You have accused me of "Bengali patriotism". I feel bound to reply. If it is a crime for a Bengali to harbour and encourage Bengali patriotism in his mind, then I am guilty. But I ask you: what other patriotism do you expect from a Bengali writer?
The fact that I do not write in English should indicate that non Bengali patriotism does not sway my mind. If I had to make patriotic speeches in a language of no part of India, then I would have to justify that patriotism by saying that it does not relate to any special part of India but that it means love for India as a whole. In a language learnt by rote you can only express ideas learnt by heart. The proof of that is constantly visible in our conferences and congresses. In those meetings, our 'by heart' people are the leaders as well as the performers.
However, just as it is difficult to ask for an explanation about love, so also it is difficult to give such an explanation - whether the object of one's love be a person or a nation. It is better to say that in this case, when one says love for one's country, it is really love for one's people.
To love a country means to love its people
To love a country means to love its people because human beings love other human beings. If there is someone who loves, not humans but the soil, then we can conclude that he is no human but a slab of inanimate matter. Science after all, has discovered a law under which matter attracts matter inexorably and blindly.
But let us forget this irrelevant crap. The real truth is that it is unfair to ask anyone for an explanation for loving one's own people because such love is considered to be a weakness of the mind. If even Arujna could have been weak enough to have affection for his own people, then why should it be strange for small persons like us to have the same? A Bengali is kin to another Bengali because, in the field of mind, the link of language is like a link of blood. So all Bengali's have a tie with each other; it would be odd if they did not.
I have become a neo Indian alias a non Indian
Though I was born in Bengal, in a Bengali home, yet I am not a pure Bengali. Having lived under total British rule, having been to schools and colleges dominated by English from age five to twenty five, I have become a neo Indian alias a non Indian, that is to say I am the same caste as the Congress wallahs. I have drunk a lot of the heady wine of politics and I have not yet been able to rid myself fully of its effects. Right till today, I must say, that I judge the past, present and future of India, if not quite at the prodding of that wine, then at least through the spectacles of that tipsiness. So if I have anything to say on provincial patriotism from the perspective of Indian politics, I shall do so.
At the root of Bengali patriotism is the sense of distinctiveness of the Bengali people. According to the doctrine of self determination of nations, Bengali patriotism has a special significance. We are, first, a special nation and we are also a small nation so the enemy of our self determination is Indian imperialism - and the last war (1914-18) has shown that imperialism is an evil thing, be it foreign or domestic. British imperialism had an international wing, the German variety was purely domestic and now it is clear, as in an open book, that it is this internal imperialism in Germany which was responsible for its moral, spiritual and political degeneration.
The uniformity of slaves and the unity of free men
If you ask why this simple truth is not self evident to all, the answer is: because of present circumstances. The whole of India is now under British rule, so no province has political independence. Therefore, the main link between us, is the link of our bondage and no province can cut through this subjugation by its own efforts and actions. In this situation the political dilemma is the same for us all. That dilemma is how to transform this subjugation into independence. So today, we are obliged to tell the 30 crores of Indians, "Unite and Organise".
But, people will realise the value of provincial patriotism the moment they attain independence. The bond of subjugation will disintegrate at the touch of freedom. Under the press of domination, slaves usually become uniform but independent people will cultivate their heritage and express their individuality. Then the various nations of India will not try to merge, they will however, try to establish a unity among themselves. There will be a difference as wide as between heaven and hell between that unity and the Congress unity of today.
Politics of the bird world
As children, we read in the Hitopodesa that at night birds from all directions would gather on a shimul tree on the banks of the Godavari. Why? To cackle for a while and then go off to sleep. Cackle in this context means to discuss the politics of the birdworld.
Each Indian nation must "Know Thyself"
Because of our foreign education, it has become easy to forget that truth and that is why each Indian nation must be told "Know Thyself" and that is where provincial patriotism has its value. We must be prepared to serve the interests of our own people.
Before going further, we must make clear the meaning of the word "self interest". The moment we hear of the nationalism of one people and react by fearing that it is hostile to the nationalism of others, we are using the word nationalism in its most crude material sense, because men fight and squabble over food and property while things of the mind are not any people's private property. When any people decide to stop the exchange of things of the mind with another nation, then it must be concluded that they are dyed in the wool materialists because they think that, like matter, the mind is also circumscribed by boundaries.
Men may be the same in a broad sense but just as their physical characteristics differ so do their mental character. Just as individual differs from individual in temperament and strength, nations too have the same differences. And whether individual or nation the progress of each is to develop that distinctiveness because in that effort is happiness and freedom.
Those who have nothing to protect do not need independence
But for any nation to lose its true nature and try to be independent is stupidity. When Indians become independent, they will not allow people from one province to meddle with the education of another province. Every conscious nation has a special national ideal and it arranges education according to that ideal. Those who have nothing of their own or who do not want to protect or develop individuality do not need independence; even the word is meaningless for them.
But there is a little difference even between our Bengali book fed minds and the book fed minds of the rest of India. Our political mind is also not quite on all fours with the political minds of other provinces. Remember, man's political mind is not outside his total mind and is not unconnected with it. Ofcourse there are some Congress wallahs who do not admit this. If they did, then there would not have been in their ranks that freaky creature, the tikiwala democrat.
Democratic swaraj needs a change of attitude. That our young people are aware of this need for change is plain to me from my conversations. Not to consider humans as humans, to keep most of the country's people and its women in slavery, while citing shastras as an excuse - most Bengalis have understood that such an outlook is both shameful and laughable.
It is not easy for a people to cut free from age old beliefs and gain new life and strength. The way to gain fulfillment in this new way is not through political circuses, for momentary excitement is always followed by lasting lassitude. National wealth is built upon national achievements. It may be difficult for men to give up things such as titles or a law practice but far more difficult is it to achieve something. It is easy to run away from life, much more difficult to fight and overcome. Since the fight is eternal there is not a moment of respite.
Self sacrifice cannot be the ideal of any nation...
I like to believe that my mind is the Bengali mind of this age. If that is so, then it is not difficult to figure out the ideals of Bengali nationalism. It cannot be our ideal to clothe all Indians in langotis. If the Bengali has one passionate prayer it is this: Do not make me a scholar, a man of fame, or wealthy; give me beauty, success and victory over the enemy. But this is not a prayer to any outside force but to one's own internal strength.
Because we have discovered the truth that knowledge, fame, riches - all these can be earned through inner strength. If any body says "but there is nothing about self sacrifice in this ideal" then my reply is: self sacrifice cannot be the ideal of any nation, the only possible national ideal is self realisation. And the only path to it is for a multitude of people to take the vow of self realisation.