History: Nationalism: Chapter Objectives, Origin and Meaning of Nationalism, Culture and Nationalism

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In simple words, nationalism means loyalty to the country. A person who loves his country is a nationalist person. This chapter will discuss nationalism in details, and it covers the following topics:

Chapter Objectives

Chapter Objectives

Chapter Objectives

Nationalism: Origin & Meaning

  • In Indian history, nationalism is a recent phenomenon which had its genesis in the 19th century. The idea of nationalism in Indian history is very closely linked to the history of Europe. In Europe nationalism was the result of the fundamental changes that took place in society and economy around the 18th century. The industrial revolution produced massive goods and materials which in turn created the need of a large and unified market for the sale of these goods.

  • The creation of a large market led to a political integration of villages, district and provinces into a larger state. In this scenario, people performed different roles and were also given training for skill enhancements. The need for proper communication among people led to the creation of uniform educational centres with focus on one language. Thus, with the help of modern economy, a uniform system of training and schooling came into being. As a result, modern English language in England, French in France and German in Germany became the dominant languages in these respective countries.

  • This uniformity gave rise to a national culture which reinforced national boundaries. People living within those boundaries began to associate themselves as belonging to the same culture and as members of one large community, i.e. Englishmen started identifying each other and with the geographical boundaries of England. This gave rise to the idea of nationalism.

  • To put it differently, nationalism is the result of the emergence of nations and nation states. The early societies could easily manage their affairs without a central authority or a state due to their simpler form of human organizations and division of labours. State came into existence after the beginning of organized agriculture.

  • The need for a state becomes more demanding with the coming of industrialisation and a modern world economy. The cultural and political uniformity that accompanied these changes helped in the rise of modern nation states. These states require the loyalty of the people residing in their territory for their sustenance. This results in the genesis of nationalism. Thus, nationalism is the identification by a people or a community with the boundary of the Nation, state and its high culture.

  • But in India, the idea of nationalism was quite different because Indian situation was different from Europe. Although the feeling of patriotism was present here yet Indian economy was predominantly agrarian and different people spoke different languages. Therefore nationalism- which is a unified system of administration, common language, a shared high culture and political integration- did not exist in India until about the middle of the 19th century.

  • The development of nationalism in India was a response to the British rule. The British rule, which had its genesis in India with the Battle of Plassey (1757), was resented by many native rulers and people. Initially, they opposed British rule but not as one people because different groups had specific grievances against the British and therefore, they fought for the redressal of their specific grievances.

  • For instance, the native rulers (as happened in Awadh and Jhansi) fought the British to recover their lost territories while the peasants and tribal fought against the oppression they suffered at the hands of the British. But Nationalism, on the other hand, was the realization that all the Indian people had a common nationality and that it was their collective interests to resist the British rule. The generation of this consciousness took a long time and its presence was felt in the fields of culture, economy and politics.

Culture and Nationalism

The idea of nationalism was first expressed in the field of culture at two levels:

  • Firstly, it started with interrogating some of the elements of traditional Indian culture and a desire to bring about reforms in it by removing some undesirable features of Indian culture like caste system, religious superstitious, priesthood, discrimination against women etc.

  • Secondly, Indians made an attempt to oppose the British encroachment in the Indian culture.

  • With the colonial conquest of India also came the colonial culture. The spread of colonial culture generated two responses among the Indian elites. Some of them started comparing traditional Indian society and culture with the one that existed in Modern England and thereby questioned some of the elements of Indian culture. For example, Raja Rammohan Roy attacked the practice of Sati (burning of the widow along with the husband on his death), Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar supported widow remarriage and Jotiba Phule initiated anti-caste movement in Maharashtra. These leaders wanted the colonial rulers to intervene in the Indian culture and bring about reforms because they believed the British rule was a modernizing force which could help in the development of Indian society.

  • At another level, some Indian leaders did not want any encroachment of the colonial culture into the Indian culture. In 1850s, when attempts were made to impose European dress and other practices on the Indian people, it was resisted by them. Interestingly, this was also true of those leaders who admired British rule. For instance, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar refused to go to a function hosted by the Lt. Governor because he was required to wear European dress.

  • It may look that both these approached are diametrically opposed to each other; the first invited colonial intervention in the Indian society whereas the second opposed it. But in reality, both approaches complemented each other because 19th century Indian social reformers wanted Indian culture to become truly modern, but they did not want it to become totally western. They were thus opposed to both the traditional culture as well as to the modern colonial culture. This was the essence of cultural nationalism of the 19th century.

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