In the wake of the Pulwama attacks and the subsequent events that followed, India has had to reckon with existential questions about who we are as a country, where our historical trajectory has brought us, and how we choose to define ourselves now. Having had an eventful history of fragmentary and sometimes divisive identity politics, India has remained a democracy against all odds in which consensus and dissent have been forces that operated on parallel tracks and in doing so, contributed toward a relatively healthy democracy. The thread of secularism which runs along the fabric of our democratic ethic has been highly contested by several actors, but is extremely fundamental to the moral apparatus which defines the values that we choose to abide by in order to stay united as a country.

In the wake of communalising discourses and the rise of powerful, polarising figures within the Hindutva right, the ideology of nationalism has acquired a flavour that runs contrary to the secularism that is so integral to our country’s survival. Nationalism now contains a host of other meanings that operate simultaneously: patriotism, homogeneity, and security. Embedded within these and hidden from view, are jingoism, Hindutva politics, and militarisation, which function covertly from behind the all-encompassing curtain of nationalism.

With this strain of nationalism having quietly but steadily seeped into the consciousness of the majority which now feels under attack, the consequences for democracy are dire. A steady diet of fear with respect to security and loss of identity have sown the seeds for such nationalism in the public discourse. Rather than governing to instil peace, the modus operandi of this NDA government has been to amplify the rhetoric of fear in order to homogenise much of the general opinion and create an ‘us’ that is threatened by a ‘them’. Strategies such as these are eerily reminiscent of authoritarian leaders in the past and are being revitalised in the wake of a global far right moment.

the ideology of nationalism has acquired a flavour that runs contrary to the secularism that is so integral to our country’s survival.

The ‘them’ is then assigned to anyone who does not conform to this particular brand of nationalism. It is also assigned to any marginalised community against whom such nationalism works by solidifying social stratification, making substantive equality as guaranteed by our Constitution further away from reach. Dissent against the government is therefore equated with disloyalty to the country; the implication being that the government is the state itself.

A shrinking space for dissent is blatantly against the spirit of a democracy in which governments are fluid and constantly shifting, but the values by which the country is defined are enshrined in the living document that is our Constitution – designed to protect citizens from a government that seeks to replace these values with its own set of arbitrarily imposed rules. What gets lost in translation is that governments don’t exist prior to the people, they come into existence because of the people’s will and are therefore answerable to the citizenry that has elected them.

The popular sentiment propagated by recent governments, however, divert attention away from this fact by stoking fear and projecting themselves as the only available solution. In the case of India’s air strikes as a pre-emptive measure, the rhetoric of fear once again fans the engines of nationalism wherein the locus of blame, criticism and hatred all lie in the form of Pakistan as the enemy state.

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With there having been no official figures on the casualties sustained by the terror camps that were targeted, the age of hyper-information and fake news has quickly responded to the sentiment of revenge looming at large by providing misleading and hyperbolic figures. Nationalism is further legitimised through these discourses, and quick, short term measures such as the air strikes are far more symbolic than they are pre-emptive or preventive. Media pundits analyse this in terms of an appropriate strategy in response to the death of Indian soldiers but fail to trace the phenomenon of dying soldiers to its actual cause: that of the equivalence between militarisation and national security.

Within the framework of territorial integrity and sovereignty subsuming all other concerns within a state, the use of human beings as defence infrastructure at the borders and treating them as collateral in the larger project of national security is appallingly naturalised. What is instead observed is that the death of soldiers is allowed to continue, but the fact of their dying is used as a trump card to silence dissenters seeking to question the state’s legitimate use of human bodies as armour. In silencing them, the larger goal is to deflect valid criticism of such a system and allow the rest of the citizenry to exploit the sacrifices of our armed forces.

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In the case of Pulwama, the frenzied calls for revenge indicate that the anger does not lie so much in the death of these soldiers, than it does at the fact that Pakistan connected forces did the killing. In any other circumstances the nation is perfectly content to allow soldiers to put themselves at risk, braving the most hostile conditions at the borders. The increased calls for war indicate that there is no real concern for the lives of soldiers, there is only a bloodlust for victory over a perceived emasculation by an enemy state.

It is necessary to see through the rhetoric of fear and to begin advocating for real change in the state machinery that puts human lives at risk to achieve short term solutions in terms of security.

The nationalism that has now firmly taken root in the minds of the people enables and exacerbates dangerously fragile situations like these, prompting the government to resort to irresponsible and reactionary measures such as the air strikes that have now led to an IAF Commander’s capture whose uncertain status has the potential to draw the situation out into a full blown conflict. Those who are likely to face the maximum brunt of a conflict are the ‘them’ – the minorities, dissenters, and of course, the military and the armed forces.

It is therefore more pertinent than ever to deconstruct the nationalism which averts our gaze away from the state and toward a constructed ‘other’ who, from the outside, is responsible for our compromised security. It is necessary to see through the rhetoric of fear and to begin advocating for real change in the state machinery that puts human lives at risk to achieve short term solutions in terms of security.

In order to look toward long term solutions for security, the term security must be reoriented toward the people within the country in terms of meeting a basic threshold of health, dignity, education, empowerment, upliftment, equality, and so on. In other words, our highest priority for long-lasting peace must be human security. Human Security is a paradigm that emerged in 1994 and first appeared in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report. Its two-pronged definition includes “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear”. By constantly reproducing the discourse of nationalism through the rhetoric of fear, border conflicts are in turn reproduced alongside and the two feed into each other into a cause and effect cycle.

It is time we break out of this cycle by asking more from our elected leaders, and demand actual change from within rather than allowing ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security with symbolic, hyper-masculine gestures like war and military aggression. It is time we pay more attention to international human rights law norms that are seriously violated almost on a daily basis in vulnerable parts of our country – such as in Kashmir and Arunachal – rather than invoking the Geneva Conventions, which are largely applicable in situations of armed conflict and possibly giving rise to said armed conflict in the process, only when Pakistan is involved.

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Rethinking security in terms of human security would allow us to start paying attention to situations such as that of the trapped miners in Meghalaya, the Tamil fishermen being held in Sri Lanka, the deaths of people working in the sewers and the general phenomenon of marginalised people taking on risky and unstable work in light of there being institutional barriers preventing the betterment of their conditions. It would, in other words, be far more productive and lead to far less soldiers dying than the current system allows. In the wake of an increasingly tense global situation, perhaps the time has come for pursuing human security as a common goal as if, literally, our lives depended upon it.

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