Let us become nobler

Sanskrit word 'Arya' or 'Aryam' stands for nobility. Let us implore everyone to become noble, the Arya or Aryam. Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews, communists or capitalists, rich or poor, clever or dumb, weak, meek or bully. Uncomfortable perhaps are they with other, threatening peace. Ray of hope for the world is ‘include-all’ ideas of ancient Indian wisdom popularly known as Hinduism. Only they knew how to celebrate individuality of each person. Aryas respect ideas of others, respect way of worship of others, help others and become a noble citizen of this wide and varied world. Idea behind this blog is to bring out those ideas and help each of us become better than what we are. 'N' in the 'Aryan', by the way, was a mistake made by colonial 'experts' who wanted to underplay and undermine the culture and religion of those who they clandestinely enslaved.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Unity in Diversity of India

I found it rather curious that all speeches and essays that I happened to see on this subject were talking only about diversity among us and none talked about our unifying factors. It was as if the subject was ‘Diversity in Unity’ instead of ‘Unity in Diversity’. I remembered a BBC documentary, ‘Around the World in 80 Days’[1], first broadcast in 1989 where its presenter, actor Michael Palin, who was astonished at diversities of language, religion, traditions, climates and geography of India, asks this relevant question, “What unites India” to an apparently well educated passenger travelling with him on a first class compartment of a train from Mumbai to Chennai. In its 4th episode of 7-part series, the lady passenger frankly admits, “Oh that really is tough one to answer”.

How come? I thought to myself and then did a little informal research, a ground reality check. Albeit, everyone knew what divide us, how different from each other are we and how we are even opposing each other, the rest of the responses were; ‘this is our country’, ‘we are born here’, ‘we share same constitution without discrimination’, we are united under one flag, etc. More knowledgeable sort of respondents took the unity happily for granted and enlightened me on agencies that were, in their opinion, responsible for our unity. The ‘nationhood’ ‘created’ by British and their network of railways and postal services. If those were to be the uniting agencies, I thought to myself, the colonial ‘Indians’ would never have asked for splitting what was then India on religious lines. History has in fact recorded that British divided us as never before.

Even if we credit Britain to have presented Indian nation as a politically united entity to us, we should remember that it was our current map minus 562 princely states and the huge landmasses that went to make Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Princely states between them controlled 40% of the liberated Indian Territory. It was thanks to Saradar Vallabh Bhai Patel that we have India as it looks on the map today after he integrated those states into then India. And if religion really can unite a country, we need to consider if it did by looking at bloody separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan and, 8 years of war between Iran and Iraq and general sense of distrust among members of 56 OIC[2] countries.

What is a nation? It is a political entity governed by a single agency; be it a political party, a king or a dictator. However we know that population living under one single administration does not always feel one. The erstwhile USSR, a formidable country, a powerful administration – world’s largest, broke up into 15 independent nations whose populations hardly share any common vision today, even if they had excellent railway and postal network. Similar alienations became manifest when several countries split up, for instance, Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, North and South Sudan etc. Synthetic unity is brittle. On the other hand the German population that lived under two separate and opposing administrations - GDR (East Germany) and FRG (West Germany) culturally felt united and did unite in the end as one Germany in Oct 1990. So also did North and South Vietnams. Currently we see that China and Taiwan are culturally similar but share opposing administrations. To a great extent this is true also for us and our neighbors. The bonhomie seen between citizens of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal is not really surprising. Especially when meeting on foreign soil such as in Gulf, Africa, Europe or USA, these citizens (or ex-citizens) have formed natural bonds, irrespective of religions followed by them.

In South Asia, even before the occupation by foreign invaders (Afghan, Uzbek, Turk, Mongol, Iraqi, Iranian, Portuguese, French and British), even though we were split among hundreds of kingdoms we did feel a sense of unity. If neither their administration, nor religion, language, or railways and postal network have provided, is there that something deeper rooted in the Indian minds that give them a sense of unity?

The fact that (present day) India was split between many kingdoms in the pre-colonial era and yet the whole mass of South Asia was known by one common name from early prehistory is unique for any country. Arabs called our part of the world as ‘Hind’ despite us sharing several rulers. The name ‘India’ was derived by Europeans from the Arabic ‘Hind’. Herodotus (484-425 BC), a Greek historian, wrote about our wealth and non-violent habits and called us Indians. Another Greek, Megasthenes (302-298 BC) who was appointed as an Ambassador[3] to the court of Chandragupta Maurya gave name to what chronicle he wrote as “Indica”, an authentic source for historians to gauge what Greeks thought of Indians at that time. Among many things, he wrote[4]: “No Indian ever went outside his own country on a warlike expedition, so righteous were they." Also that, "Indians do not put up memorials to the dead; but they regard their virtues as sufficient memorials for the departed, and the songs which they sing at their funerals." And "This also is remarkable in India; that all Indians are free, and no Indian at all is a slave”. We share sense of one overarching Indian nation from ancient times. We share together tributes paid to us by historians and visitors.

In other parts of the world, diversity is not easily tolerated. They are afraid of difference[5]. We Indians proudly celebrate our plurality without apology. We take pride in our ‘unity in diversity’, the heterogeneity.  We do not seem to tire out listing our diversities, the religions, the languages, the gods, the castes, the climates, the customs, the attires, the cuisines, the dances, the ceremonies, the festivals etc. We have diverse opinions on each and every subject, aptly proving the Sanskrit proverb “Tunde, Tunde Matirbhinna”- in English it would mean that opinions differ with every head. Uncannily, our politics provide ample proof of this compulsive differing. In most other countries, two or three political parties would suffice but not in India - here we have 58[6] parties, and hundreds of independent members who can not find any of the available political party with who their opinions match. Especially our this trait, agree to disagree, was so striking that when Prof. Amartya Sen, a left leaning Nobel laureate sat to write down the differences and when he dived into our history and ancient literatures to find its evidence, he could easily come up with so overwhelming a quantum of episodes that he could devote an entire volume to listing differences Indians had among themselves from the time immemorial, yes I mean his book: “The Argumentative Indian”.

‘Agree to disagree’ is no laughing matter; it is actually the matter that unites us. We are unique in the world in the sense that we do give a formidable resistance to anyone who tries to dictate our minds. In other parts of the world, captains of the industry through their advertisements and lobbying, religious leaders through their institutions and fatawas, and, rulers through their official and unofficial machinery control the opinions of people. In India too this happens, however, people do not get overly swayed by ‘leaders’. An Indian, rich or poor, religious or otherwise, political or apolitical, listens to every one of them, even somewhat follows them but always keeps his own mind open and does a fair analysis ultimately. He can not be fooled for too long. Should not a man worth his salt have his own individual opinion? Borne out of own personal evaluation, assessments and verification? Actually, this ability to think independently is the core behind the plurality that we celebrate and a leading virtue that gave us indisputable edge in the IT[7]. We ask questions that others dare not. It is not a coincidence that not even one suicide bomber has emerged from India during decades of global terrorism, nor it is a coincidence that those MNCs[8] that once dreamt of sweeping Indian markets with their pizzas, fried-chicken, ice-creams, coffees and colas found going a bit difficult. We simply refuse to be shepherded as lambs.

Well, that the differences do exist is more or less obvious; I wish someone was now to write as interesting a volume on the factors that unite us by going behind the obvious. This is more important to any nation. What are the uniting factors and what are those nuts and bolts which keep us united?  Not that the information is not available, it is just that those factors are not emphasized enough and therefore have escaped making impression. Perhaps it is time we talk more about the ‘factors behind unity’. Why do we feel we are ‘one’ despite so many obvious differences? What generates the sense of oneness despite barriers?

One thing that strikes most to us and to foreigners alike is that we are an ancient country. Ancientness is our first uniting factor. True this is even for China, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Iran, Mexico etc that all had thriving civilizations in distant past. However what distinctly separates us from them is that our ancient culture is a living culture even now. In India, we have modern and ancient traditions existing side by side. We live by tenets of ‘maatru devo bhava, pitru devo bhava, aacharya devo bhava, atithi devo bhava, swaadhyaayanmaa pramadah, shraddhaaya deyam” (See God in mother, father, teacher and guest. Introspect regularly without being lazy, help others in good faith) that were formulated thousands of year ago and yet enjoy latest discoveries in sciences without slightest sense of conflict. Ancient Gods and their stories, Ra or Horus in Egypt, Jupiter in Rome, Zeus in Greece, Itzamna in Mexico, Viracocha in South America and Odin in Northern Europe have lost their sway a long ago on their peoples, they are no more their Gods. But in India, Raam and Krishna continue to sway millions of us, religious or otherwise. Huge temples of Jupiter in Rome and Baalbek are nothing more than ruins. No one worships there. In India, the ancient temples are still busy centers of worship. No corner of India is without signature of our common ancient heritage.

For us India is motherland, we have lived off its food, water and air, we have formed our mind and ideas here, we are educated here, we have earned here, we have friends and relatives here, so if we say “Vande Mataram” or “Maa Tujhe Salaam”, it is probably easy and natural. However, believe you me, our these very feelings of shared inheritance are intensely shared by millions of Indians living overseas, some of whom may not even have seen India and some of them may be holding foreign passports. An incredibly large number of foreigners, white, black, yellow and brown, love India and her people. It is the sense of oneness that counts. What our forefathers have asked from us, “to look at the people of the whole world as one family”, is not an admirable self-target? We as Indians are united in sharing this ideal handed down to us.

Our forefathers have made great effort to instill the love of land by their prose, poetry and rituals. In certain ceremonies[9] soil of India is revered and its pinch is placed on head to honor it. All rivers of India are held sacred and especially River Ganga is so highly revered that in the millions of homes across the country they permanently store at least a few drops of its water for use during sacred rituals, birth or death. Reverence for the twelve Jyotirlingas spread across four corners of India, seven sacred cities, holy lakes, wells and mountains etc are kept in collective consciousness of Indians by several hymns, songs, rituals and images. They have held every square meter of India sacred. If Rabindranath Tagore reminds us of our provinces, rivers and mountains in the national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana…” it is done even more intensely in the hymns of our ancient rishis. Their songs, even after thousands of years and even without any official endorsement have remained in our hearts and on our tongues.

Its result is for everyone to see in terms of religious tourism. From time immemorial, without any advertisements, without ‘tourism promotion councils’ and without any charity from wealthy or subsidy by governments,  people-old and young, men, women and children- crisscrossed India in a vast zigzag. During war and peace and during unsettled times of middle ages too, the pilgrimage continued unabated. The world is amazed that without needing any invitation or announcement, the millions of people have been gathering for Kumbha festival from several thousands of years, since the days of ‘great churning of milky ocean’. To say that it is extraordinary would be an understatement. Besides thousands of pilgrimage destinations, India is blessed with thousands of other touristic places that we enjoy in India, the beaches, mountain resorts, lakes, wildlife sanctuaries, adventure sports, etc spread across length and breadth of this big country, 7th largest in the world having an area of about 3 million square km and a population of 1 billion. We are united in feeling awe for age old and still going strong spiritual pilgrimage that gives rise to better integration by exchange of culture between far flung places. To further enhance integration, scriptural authority provides that no other but a Malayalee of southern India only can be appointed as a priest at several temples of the northern India such as Kedarnath and Badrinath and apply rituals specified in the Krishna-Yajurved developed in western India while seating looking at east.

India is emerging from the shadows of poverty, strife and plunders left behind by colonial rulers, foreign invaders and even corrupt local rulers. In a short span of 65 years as an independent nation, it has made a great progress. We have lifted millions from the poverty threshold, our businessmen have launched global corporations, our CEOs, CFOs, technocrats and scientists run hundreds of global entities. Our education counts and our students obtain best ranks and jobs anywhere they go. A recently published survey showed that the average Indian family income is highest among US population. From the margins, we now occupy seat at G20 summit. World leaders expect us to bail out some of the bankrupt nations or help them fight the menace of terrorism and despot rulers. In short Indians in India and even overseas have succeeded despite very modest restart in 1947 virtually without any godfather in this ruthless world at large. It is our mind, evolved from wisdom of centuries, ripened and honed, is our common heritage. It was a wealthy and culturally rich beacon like India that lured the world in past. Even after endless loot, plunder and cruelty it suffered, today it is once again ready to give. Always a giver of wealth, physical, intellectual or spiritual, with that mother India I feel united, be me here, there or anywhere in the world. Yes, there is much diversity, it adds to our richness but also we have deep rooted factors of unity which keep us together-with pride.

An American[10] national security adviser famously stated in her March 2000 speech that “enemy unites us”. If only an enemy was to unite, every nation would have to create and keep creating enemies. Indians are different; we do not need an enemy to become united. With or without, we are united. In diversity we are united, we are fortunate; we have hundreds of reasons to feel united and stay united.

[1] This BBC serial was inspired by classic science fiction “Around the world in 80 days” written by French author Jules Verne in 1873.
[2] Organization of Islamic Conference. http://www.oic-oci.org/
[3] ambassador of the Greek general Seleucus Nicator
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indica_(Arrian)
[5] Refer to “Being different”, a book by Rajiv Malhotra,
[6] As per the latest figures available with Election Commission of India, there are a total of 1,197 registered political parties in India. Of these, 6 national level parties and 52 state level parties (Collectively 58) are registered & recognized by EC and are allotted symbols. Rest 1,139 political parties are registered by EC but have not been allotted symbol. Ref. government of India website: http://eci.nic.in/eci_main/ElectoralLaws/OrdersNotifications/Notification_symbol_08032011.pdf
[7] Information Technology
[8] Multi-national corporations
[9] Ceremony of Upaveet or holy thread
[10] Condoleezza Rice

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