Inspiring Thoughts, Powerful Words|Aug 19, 2011 3:33 PM| by:

Nationalism in India

(Rabindranath Tagore was undoubtedly one of the greatest intellects of India. He was a poet, writer, educationist, and India’s ‘conscience keeper’, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. The problem for Indian nationalism, according to Tagore, was that of race which was a social and not a political problem. To solve this problem, India should not ape the West but should try to follow her own destiny in her own way. This speech was addressed to an American audience.)

Our real problem in India in not political. It is social. This is a condition prevailing not only in India, but among all nations. I do not believe in an exclusive political interest. Politics in the West have dominated western ideals, and we in India are trying to imitate you. We have to remember that in Europe, where people had racial unity from the very beginning and where natural resources were insufficient for the inhabitants, civilization has naturally taken on the character of political and commercial aggressiveness. For, on the one hand they had no internal complications, while on the other they had to deal with neighbours who were strong and rapacious. To have a perfect combination among themselves and a watchful attitude of animosity against others was taken as a solution to their problem. In former days, they organised and plundered; in the present age, the same spirit continued – they organise and exploit the entire world.

From the earliest beginnings of history, India has had her own problem constantly before her – it is the problem concerning race. Each nation must be conscious of its mission, and we in India must realise that we cut a sorry figure when we try to be political, simply because we have not yet been finally able to accomplish what was set before us.

This problem of uniting the races which we have been trying to solve for so many years has likewise to be faced by you here in America. Many people in this country ask me what is happening to the caste distinctions in India. But when this question is asked of me, it is usually done with an air of superiority. I feel tempted to put the same question to our American critics with a slight modification: ‘What have you done with the Red Indian and the Negro?’ You have not got over your attitude of caste towards them. You have used violent methods to keep aloof from other races, but until you have solved the issues here in America, you have no right to question India.

In spite of our great difficulty India has done something. She has tried to make an adjustment of races, to acknowledge the real differences between them, where these exist, and yet seek some basis for unity. This basis has come through our saints like Nanak, Kabir, Chaitanya and others, preaching one God to all races of India.

In finding the solution to our problem we shall have helped solve the world problem as well. What India has been, the entire world is now. The entire world is becoming one through scientific facility. The moment is arriving when you must also find a basis of unity which is not political. If India can offer to the world her solution, it will be a contribution to humanity. There is only one history – the history of man. All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one. And we are content in India to suffer for such a great cause.

Each individual has his self-love. Therefore his brute instinct leads him to fight with others in the sole pursuit of his self-interest. But man has also his higher instincts of sympathy and mutual help. People who lack this higher moral power and who cannot conjoin with one another must perish or live in a state of degradation. Only those people who have this spirit of cooperation strong in them have survived. We find, therefore, that from the earliest times men had to choose between fighting with one another and combining, between serving their own interest or the common interests of all. In our early history, when the geographical limits of each country and also the facilities of communication were small, this problem was comparatively small in dimension. It was sufficient for men to develop their sense of unity within their area of segregation. They combined among themselves and fought against others. But it was this moral spirit which was the true basis of their greatness, and this fostered their art, science and religion. At that early time the most important fact that man had to take count of was members of one particular race coming in close contact with another. Those who truly grasped this fact through their higher nature made their mark in history.

The most important fact today is that all the different races of men have come close together. We are again confronted with two alternatives. The problem is whether the different groups of people shall go on fighting with one another or find some true basis of reconciliation and mutual help; whether it will be interminable competition or cooperation. I have no hesitation in saying that those who are gifted with the moral power of love and vision of spiritual unity, who have the least feeling of enmity against aliens, and the sympathetic insight to place themselves in somebody else’s position, will be the fittest to take their permanent place in times to come. Those who are constantly developing their instincts for a battle will be eliminated. For, this is the problem before us, and we have to prove our humanity by solving it through the help of our higher nature. The gigantic organisations for hurting others and warding off their blows, for making money by dragging others will not help us. On the contrary, by their crushing weight, their enormous cost and their deadening effect on living humanity, they will seriously impede our freedom in the larger life of a higher civilization.

If it is given at all to the West to struggle out of these tangles and rise to the spiritual summit of humanity then I cannot but think that it is America’s special mission to fulfil this hope of both God and man. You are the country of expectation, desiring something else than what is. Europe has her subtle habits of mind and her conventions. But America as yet, has come to no conclusions. I realise how much America is untrammelled by the traditions of the past, and I can appreciate that experimentalism is a sign of America’s youth. The foundation of her glory is in the future, rather than in the past, and if one is gifted with the power of clairvoyance, one will be able to love the America that is to be. America is destined to justify Western civilization to the east. Europe has lost faith in humanity. It has become distrustful and sickly.

In my country we have been seeking to find our something common to all races, which will prove their real unity. No nation looking for a mere political or commercial basis of unity will find such a solution sufficient. Men of thought and power will discover the spiritual unity, will realise it, and preach it.

India has never had a real sense of nationalism. Even though from my childhood I had been taught that idolatory of the nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against the education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideal of humanity. Europe has her past, Europe’s strength, therefore, lies in her history. We, in India, must make up our minds that we cannot borrow other people’s history, and that if we stifle our own we are committing suicide. When you borrow things that do not belong to your life, they only serve to crush your life. Therefore, I believe that it does India no good to compete with Western civilization on its own field. But we shall be more than compensated if, in spite of the insults heaped upon us, we follow our own destiny.

Rabindranath Tagore