Fear of the foreigner is what helps the nation-state survive
The Polish emigre sociologist Zygmunt Bauman claimed that modernity always had problems with the stranger. The stranger is one who is here today and gone tomorrow. But what happens to strangers who are here today and stay tomorrow? The exile, the migrant and the refugee become problematic categories. They violate boundaries because they belong to both inside and outside. We treat them as foreigners, aliens haunting our everydayness. What makes such a relationship lethal and even genocidal is the nation-state.
India as a civilisation was naturally syncretic. It welcomed the outsider. Even the British coloniser was invited to become another caste and the English would have if the missionaries had not ruined the part. Even our national movement was hospitable, allowing the likes of A.O. Hume, Annie Besant, C.F. Andrews and Madeleine Slade to participate in it. Even Partition, which went on between 1947 and 1955, maintained a sense of openness, a condition which allowed Jinnah to think he could settle in Bombay. It is only when our imagination froze along the boundaries of the nation-state that the foreigner became an object of fear and suspicion.
Once a nation-state crystallises, suspicion becomes a ritual against those who are not citizens. They become threats to security, the visible hand that threatens the integrity of our boundaries. Foreigners are necessary; the nation-state could not exist without them. In a world of anxieties, they provide an object of hate, a trigger for solidarity. Where would the US be without the Communist or the Islamic terrorist? It is they who sustain the nation-state as phenomena.
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