15 August, 2014

the idea of india

pride |prʌɪd|
noun [ mass noun ]
1 a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of one's close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired: the faces of the children's parents glowed with pride | he takes great pride in his appearance.
• a person or thing which arouses a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction: the pride of the village is the swimming pool.
literary the best state of something; the prime: in the pride of youth.
2 consciousness of one's own dignity: he swallowed his pride and asked for help.
• the quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one's importance: the worst sin in a ruler was pride.
3 [ count noun ] a group of lions forming a social unit. the males in the pride are very tolerant towards all the cubs.

ORIGIN late Old English prȳde‘excessive self-esteem’, variant of prȳtu, prȳte, from prūd

i have been debating with myself on whether i should have any pride in being an indian, or is it just an accident of birth (and history). today, on 15 august 2014, india's 68th independence (from the british empire) day, i thought i should put my thoughts down on this whole idea of an indian identity

first things: do i like the country of my birth? yes. do i love it? yes, but...how does one define a country at all? are we a country or a nation?

country |ˈkʌntri|
noun (pl.countries)
1 a nation with its own government, occupying a particular territory: the country's increasingly precarious economic position | Spain, Italy, and other European countries.
• (the country) the people of a nation: the whole country took to the streets.

nation |ˈneɪʃ(ə)n|
a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory: the world's leading industrialized nations.
• a North American Indian people or confederation of peoples.

yes, indians are a nation (not, fortunately, as the religio-political right often puts it, of hindus, as is evident to anyone who even cursorily glances at the history of the peoples of this area of the world) before we are a country...and now, for the last 67 years, we are a country, but without covering all of the 'peoples' of this nation in some places, and covering more than what we ought to cover in some. i do not want to get into the details of which parts of the current 'Republic of India' are one people and which are left out, as citizens of another country, but suffice to say that today's political borders do not represent the nation of india. however, the focus of this blog post is on those that are indeed included, for convenience's sake (not the inclusion, but the focus)

does this make me indian?
and yes, i was born here, in india. i hold an indian passport, and i do identify myself as an indian. further, my immediate family has served the country's armed forces (with some matter of pride, i must say), and not to put too fine a point on it, died in line of duty. so, having declared my biases, i should like to point out some of the things i do not like, or want to be associated with me (when i say 'me', i mean me as an indian):

1. irrationality: of any kind...may it be religion, patriotism, regionalism, communalism, linguisticism, casteism, or anything that does not appeal to the intellect. in fact, i look askance at any 'ism' generally...i am myself only slowly coming out of specism, and that too, with great effort, and i daresay, pain

2. corruption: of mind, body, or profession...of morals, and in practice. corruption of any kind makes me want to disavow not just the person who is corrupt, but the entire society that made him/her so, that perpetuates it, and that condones it in practice (while condemning at least some of it in public, but that is not a saving grace)

3. hypocrisy: of thought, of speech, or of action...two-facedness, cognitive dissonance, don't-do-as-i-do-but-do-as-i-say attitude

4. violence: of mind, body, or even spirit. violence of any kind, even figurative, makes me sick. it makes me question my own existence, and its worth. it may be coercion, blackmail, use of threats, or force, or any non-consensual act, regardless of the actors, whether it is a state, or an individual, or a collective that threatens, or carries it out. the only place i like physical violence is perhaps on the sports arena, and that too, within well-defined rules, by consensual adults, for the purpose of entertainment and commerce. maybe, that will change too as i get older

5. inequality in anything but commerce: whether in justice, education, opportunity, competition, freedom, ownership...everything other than what one makes through one's own inspiration and perspiration must be available equally. it is perhaps utopian to think that this is practical, but it is not utopian to despise inequality

6. disrespect for anything but ideas: everything but ideas deserve respect, whether people, private property, self-accepted rules, other's lives and physical well-being, behaviour/acts/appearances/clothing seen as 'abnormal', a contract made between people, a word given, a promise made, animals, the environment...every one of these, and more, deserves to be respected. lack of respect puts me off

7. communism: "from those who are able to those who are needy" is the worst possible ideology that has been taken too seriously by too large a number of people in the past (to the detriment of human civilisation in general, and those people caught in the frenzy, in particular). this is second only to religion in the amount of harm it causes and has caused in the past

8. xenophobia, parochialism, cultural revivalism, racist nationalism: these go hand-in-hand to create monsters like hitler and stalin, mao and pol pot, aurangzeb and bhindranwale, amongst a long and dark list of people from the recent past. these do not add, but rather subtract rather substantially, from the advance of civilisation towards increasing happiness and peace in the society. people who are afraid of other people for no other reason but that they are 'other people' are not listening to themselves say this. i have no love for those who have no love

the "someone" who said it. funny, i always thought it was robin hood!
that is one long list! of course, that does not mean i do not possess any of these traits within my own imperfect self. it just means i wish i didn't. and as someone said, "there are no perfect men in this world, only perfect intentions", and i am happy that at least i know what i don't want to be!

now, back to the indian identity and the 'pride' in such an identity: are these above-listed traits seen in the culture, the civilisation, the people, the nation, and (finally) the country i identify myself with? yes, without doubt they are

is there anything then to be proud of my accidental indianness? it seems that everything that can indeed be wrong with a group of people is wrong with this country

yes, i do!
i started by saying i love india...

...and then went on to list all the things i hate about it...so, what gives?

the truth is that though i may hate many indian traits...that i may not like the politics of india, that i may not like the religiosity of shahi imams and shankaracharyas, or the rabid communalism of indian mujahideen or the bajrang dal, or the huge inequality in opportunity between castes, or the asymmetry between the haves and have-nots living side-by-side as if blind to one another, or the parochial attitude of even the urban educated as well as the rural feudal societies, or the irrational spiritualism of gandhi and rajneesh, or the socialism of nehru and amitabh, or the xenophobia shown to manipuris and nepalis, or the hypocrisy of asaram and zakir naik...i still love india, and that is because india is not a country or a people or a nation. it never was, at least before our official historians came up with their version of history and rammed it down our throats in school

india is an idea, and in this, it is very much like america. i may not like the american administration (sorry obama, you are a great orator, but honestly, i wish you were a better president), or the american military, or the american media, or even some of the american people (or what has become of them now), but i love the idea of america. just take a look at the inscription on the statue of liberty (though gifted by the french, this quote perfectly sums up the idea of america, or at least the idea of america i love)

"give me your tired, your poor...yearning to breath free"
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

yes, i may not love america, but i love the idea of america, and hold it very dear

in that way, i love the idea of india!

the idea of india has been around for centuries, if not more. but only in 1949 was it brilliantly elucidated in our constitution, specifically in the preamble:

preamble to the indian constitution
"WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

yes, i am aware that the words 'socialist' and 'secular' were added in 1976 in the 42nd amendment. but here, i refer to the original document. by the way, i am also aware that today is independence day and not republic day, and the day to celebrate the preamble might be the 26th of january. but this post is not about the preamble. it is about what it stands for, and what it means to be indian, all of which is very pertinent on a day we celebrate our 'independence day' and to the question of what it means to be 'indian'

the american bill of rights: comparable?
in this matter, one may be tempted to make comparisons to the american declaration of independence and bill of rights, but take a look at the language of the indian preamble just to differentiate it. i mean, just look at it: its brevity, its elegance, its clarity is awe-inspiring. it is an amazing piece of writing. i do not know who specifically wrote it (was it dr babasaheb ambedkar? jawaharlal nehru? someone else? i could not find a single reference to indicate who it was specifically), but my guess is that it was not a collective effort. committees seldom create such beautifully precise documents

but regardless of who wrote the preamble, it is this document that gives the clearest, and most precise idea of what india is. the preamble to the indian constitution encapsulates the very idea of india: justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity

it was probably this wise man
look at the descriptions too: it is not just justice that one wants for oneself, but social, economic, and political. it is not just an empty promise of liberty, but liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship. it is not just equality as a slogan, but equality of status and opportunity. it is not fraternity for its own sake, but for the dignity of the individual and the integrity of the collective. it is beautiful, this language. it says everything that we may or may not be today, but are at least smart enough, wise enough, thoughtful enough, introspective enough, and bold enough to wish for, and work towards in the future

it is an idea of the ideal. it is the essence of india, not as it is or was then, but as 'we the people' thought we ought to strive for

now THAT is an idea i am willing to defend, to fight for, and to die. THAT is the idea i want to be identified with. THAT is the idea that describes who i would rather be. THAT is an idea devoid of any other identity but human. THAT is an idea every human must want to be part of. THAT is an idea that is aspirational, inspirational, ideal, and real, all rolled in one beautiful sentence. whether the country of india survives or not, or whether the people of india stick together or split, whether the nation of india lives long and prospers, none of this matters to me. things change. cultures come to life and die. nations unite and disperse. countries are formed and disbanded. nothing is eternal. and nothing deserves to be. no one has any divine right to eternal survival. this world will go on regardless of countries, nations, or peoples forming themselves in one group or another, and i do not see why one group has a greater right to survive than another

but this idea...the idea of justice, of liberty, of equality, and of brotherhood...this idea is universal. it is timeless. it deserves to live. india may or may not make it, but the idea of india must be protected at all costs

did he want pakistan to be indian?
the universality of this idea is such that the idea of india does not need india. india needs the idea of the india. anyone can adopt this idea and become india. europe can be india; russia can be india; australia can be india; mexico can be india...why, even pakistan can be india! as a matter of fact, it might even be the best thing they do, if they take the idea of india and live it. come to think of it, the father of pakistan, jinnah actually wanted it for pakistan originally. in his speech to the constituent assembly on 11 august 1947, jinnah said, "Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be on end to the progress you will make."

i do not know how many indians understand this, or consciously believe that this idea of india is worth more than them, more than their families, their religions, their communities, their castes, their regions and states, more than even the the country of india, but i believe it means far more than all of the 1.2 billion indians put together. these 1.2 billion indians may live or die, together or differently, based on their religions, and languages, and costumes, and rituals, and skin colours, or whatever other trivial differentiation they wish to live and die by. i care nothing for that. but the idea of india will outlive them. it must. it is important for humanity to survive, for human civilisation to prosper and grow

once again, for clarity: i love india, and count myself lucky to be an indian

but am i proud of it? no. i did nothing to make it happen. i am doing very little to keep it alive. i have nothing to do with the way this meme was created, mutated, or survived. i can only love it. i cannot believe i have contributed to it

so, once again: i am not proud to be indian. i am just an indian who loves being one! and oh yes, before i end: no, not, "mera bharat mahan", not "sare jahan se achha", but JAI HIND! i mean it...may the idea of india live long!