As I was doing my morning rounds of checking the front pages of the seven newspapers that I find interesting, looking for a blog topic, one to get me all riled up: Dawn did not disappoint. Jawed Naqvi’s article entitled ‘Is Nationalism a Challenge for India?’ meanders through several topics, including nationalism, religion and violence. But what really got me going was the fact that he was equating Indian nationalism with Hindu nationalism and how people of minority religions (Muslims in particular) in India can never truly belong.

Okay, so I identify as an Indian but I study nationalism as an academic interest and think of myself as quite the internationalist, which was why I was so surprised to realize that I was having quite the visceral reaction to this (supposed) affront to the India, which I was reading as a personal attack on me and people like me. Nationalism has far too many times come to be equated with extremism and loyalty to a group in which all members have the same inborn characteristics. I believe Indian nationalism is of a different breed. Indian nationalism is the direct result of the Indian freedom struggle, starting from the beginning of the late nineteenth century, based on a narrative of self-determination against the colonial power. Hindu nationalism on the other hand is a form of ethnonationalism that relies on religion to define the ingroup-outgroup distinctions. I see Hindu nationalism as having picked up more mainstream support over the last few decades, with the organisation of political parties and movements based on the religious identity. Given the extremely different origins and motivations of these two examples of nationalism, I find it not only offensive but also blatantly incorrect to bandy it about as the same thing.

Trust me, I don’t think that India is nearly as secular as it thinks it is. Its like Christianity in the United States: Come election time, every Presidential candidate has to prove that they are not faithless pagans (like TIME running Belief-O-Meter readings for all the primary candidates of both parties). In India, non-Hindu candidates have to show the many ways that they are tolerant and some even adhere to Hindu customs to seem more accessible to the Hindu majority. There is religious persecution in some areas but for the most part India does follow the ideal of secularism. For one, the right to practice any religion is guaranteed by the Constitution and is protected by the courts. Secularism is one of the founding ideals of India as a modern political entity, championed by Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the founding fathers as well as a guiding force behind moving India from a disjointed set of peoples to a regional power. India may not be perfect, but I still believe it stands as an anomaly of a successful democracy though every pre-condition for democracies seems to be missing. And as vital to Indian democracy is Indian secularism, enshrining the rights of the individual in the fundamental area of expression, personal choice and practice especially as Western democracies are becoming more and more intolerant of religious expression.

Now, that’s Indian nationalism.

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