Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The NRI an His Nation

What nation does an NRI belong to? It is fashionable among NRIs to worry about India and its condition, occasionally even do something about it. Then comes this post which suggests that they do something about the country that they live in rather than the country they were born in. Then again, comes this rebuttal to the post.

Quite apart from what these posts are trying to say, to me they appear to be an indication of how the concept of the Nation is beginning to lose its meaning in todays world.

What exactly is a Nation? Like all true-to-their-profession engineers, I asked Lord Google to ‘define: nation’. It came up with the following definition from wordnet.princeton.edu :

state: a politically organized body of people under a single government;

So, definition wise, you no longer belong to the Indian Nation once you lose the Indian citizenship and acquire an American one. But is that it?

A Nation is more than what that definition conveys. A Nation is a group of people bound by common ethnicity and culture. It is easy to part with your passport but not easy to part with your ethnicity and culture. No wonder NRIs keep looking back towards India in various ways.

So are they wrong in doing that? Are they being unpatriotic in leaving the country and then hypocritical in looking back towards it and wishing to do something about it? Are they being immoral in not feeling the same way about their new country of residence and not feeling ‘patriotic’ in the same way about the USA or Germany or the United Kingdom?

The problem arises when you coin your questions in National terms. Of course, if you subscribe to the concept of Nation in totality then it is unpatriotic to leave ones country and work for the benefit of another. And if you do choose to do that then it is immoral and ethically wrong to hold citizenship of one country and work for the betterment of another.

But the problem does not arise when you coin your question in terms of culture and ethnicity. If I settle down in some other country in the future I would still want to contribute towards the people that I grew up amongst. I would like to contribute to the institute that I studied in. I would like to contribute to the society that helped shape the values that I believe in.

I would also contribute to the society that would be giving me the opportunities that my native society was unable to give me. And I would seek to create those same opportunities in my home country so that other like me don’t have to come so far away from home in search of what they seek in life.

I don’t see any contradiction of terms when you put these things in such words. Contradictions arise when you subscribe to concepts like Nation.

Indeed, I can see hints that the concept of Nation is starting (merely starting) to grow obsolete in the present world. The spreading Indian (and indeed Chinese) diaspora is an example. Another example is the European Union where Europe is endeavoring to create a European (economic?) identity instead of separate National ones. These changes remain large economic in nature and have not extended to the social structure. Racism and xenophobia is still strong in most regions of the world. While I dread that these changes would never seep down to the social structure, I intensely hope that they would. I would like to see one united world where a man is man and not an Indian or American.

1 comment:

  1. "A Nation is a group of people bound by common ethnicity and culture." In that case, India consists of many nations. In his book against imperialism, Robert Jensen writes about how, though we can identify with and feel an affection for a few things, there is absolutely no reason to associate them with an entire nation. (Will comment more soon.)