JLF 2018: Homi Bhabha Speaks on Tribal Nationalism, Aadhaar

JLF 2018: Homi Bhabha Speaks on Tribal Nationalism, Aadhaar


Trust Homi K Bhabha, a stalwart of postcolonialism, to quote BJP Minister Satya Pal Singh and political theorist Hannah Arendt in one breath. While the Darwin-dissing minister is ridiculed, Arendt's idea of 'tribal nationalism' is used to demonstrate the dangers of such statements.

Tribal nationalism is not in opposition to monolithic nationalism; it is another mutation of it. 
Homi K Bhabha, writer and academic

“Today we see it in countries where individuals like Erdogan, and to some extent even Trump, see themselves as a figure representing the essence of majoritarianism," he elaborates in an exclusive interview with The Quint.

Many would like to add Prime Minister Modi to this camp and Bhabha alludes to it when he says, "Here, you have a Hindutva nationalism which is becoming majoritarian."

What happens, then, when tribal nationalism surges and certain communities lay claim on the essence of nationalism? Surely, the binary of ‘us and them’ becomes more pronounced. In a democracy, citizenship becomes the focal point of this nationalistic vision.

Bhabha is quick to offer a nuanced understanding of citizenship. He explains that tribal nationalism creates a feeling that some people have deeper claims to citizenship than others, the latter never fully accommodated despite having social, legal and economic rights.

In such a situation, you can have all the legal rights, social rights, you can even have some economic benefits, but you are not included fully in the national body.
Homi K Bhabha, writer and academic

And at this juncture, the conversation veers towards Aadhaar, since it has been engendering a fierce debate around exclusion.

He weighs in with, “What is important to me is within what framework are we putting Aadhaar? There are issues of security and corruption. If there’s a breach in security, you become very vulnerable to the state. Like all big data ventures, it has its usage.” Bhabha feels that Aadhaar is very useful but it needs to operate within a dialogical democratic space. “People should feel that their rights are protected,” he insists.

Protection of rights strikes a rather bitter note in the context of the ongoing protests around Padmaavat, where the violence unleashed by Karni Sena is also in the name of rights.

The right to be offended.

Bhabha asserts that nobody has the right to destroy any piece of art or structure —referring to Babri Masjid. “These are not acts based on rights. These are actions to impose a certain kind of reading of history. These are criminal acts.”

He brings back the memory of the hounding of MF Hussain because of his nude depictions of Hindu goddesses. His larger point is about education. He states that people were offended because they were not informed about the place of sexuality in the Hindu mythology. If the naysayers knew better, they would have acted better. “Nudity for an artist is not pornography.” He also defends Hussain against the charge that he never depicted figures from the Islamic faith in a similar fashion. “But Islam doesn’t permit representations of ANY kind.”

Yes, Hussain was rebelling against orthodox Islam, too.

“You can’t just say people have no taste; people have no education,” he says with mild exasperation.

Can one teach groups of women threatening to commit Jauhar over Padmaavat the finer nuances of honour and dignity? Bhabha stays optimistic.

“Dignity is a concept. Its meaning needs to be imparted in people from a young age so they understand that these notions of my dignity, my shame, my pride are only individually embedded in their own psyches.”

He signs off with establishing dignity as a learned concept that can also be unlearned.

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