Friday, 20 February 2015

Indian Culture : Being Indian, Truly Indian - An Examination

Being and becoming is definitely the flavor of the season… there are a few trends that are now clearly discernible in the national discourse in India along these lines: one is the yearning for a return to our culture and our roots, the second being a push to be Indian and buy Indian, a third is the rising tide that pushes a national narrative of a Hindu subjugation, and a fourth being the rising tide of Hindu sentiment for a golden Hindu period, with Hindu values, and morals. The icing on the cake is the moral brigade, and the attendant reverse, with the pillorying and vilifying reactions to this moral brigade. Intermingled among all these is the single viewpoint of contempt and disdain some educated Indians have for ancient Indian culture.

In the atmosphere of Ghar Waapsi, I noted that the true Ghar Waapsi will happen when we stop giving bribes, stop eulogizing The West etc. Similarly, in the light of the rise of the AAP, we are talking of a rising hope, which is great, and a rising euphoria, which is misplaced. In both the cases above, as well as the scenarios in the first paragraph,  we are talking about a complete change in a people being dreamt and imagined by a people who first of all only pay superficial obeisance to Indian Values,  Sanaatani Vichaardhaaraa and our culture, and have little or limited knowledge of history.  As a small example, just try and tell anyone the fact that Hinduism is a British creation; that our real religion is Sanaatan Dharm; note the aggressive reaction, and the ignorance.  

Being "Indian" in culture, in this context, is taken to mean something either completely superficial and  external, without getting to the core of the issue - by and large, equated with language, dress, and such like - things that have precisely nothing to do with culture, and are manifestly superficial; or something based on a biased, one sided and incorrect narrative of History. This article delves into the first aspect, and the historical narrative forms the 2nd part of this mini-series.

Being Indian is being taken and interpreted as a stance of morality in relations between the sexes, which is a loaded and one-sided sentiment even at the best of times, as another example. Some of the more interesting views is the political landmine of Hindi being needlessly and incorrectly termed the national language by some people. Being Indian is taken to mean eulogizing the ancient culture we had, with a more hardline stance pillorying even the Mughal and Arabic rulers of New Delhi from 1150AD onwards

These people forget that the very language they go ballistic over - Hindi - is a borrowed tongue, being born out of Arabaic, Persian, Awadhi, Braj and a couple of other dialects. 300 years ago, this language had not even been invented, and was in the process of being crafted – whereas some modern languages like Marathi had already evolved out of Maharashtri Prakrut and Apabhramsa several hundred years before this time. Yet, it is Hindi which is spoken across Northern India, not the other ancient languages. What does this tell us about our culture?

India has come under one political yoke many times in ancient days, and yet a single language did not evolve, and was never enforced. Even in Muslim central rule, when Persian was the official tongue, one single language did not evolve; the language that did evolve from this – Hindi – was more akin to Marathi and other Indian languages than to Persian and Arabic. Not only that, at no point did an indigenous arts and literature evolve around the foreign language in India. Point is the openness and non-interference in cultural affairs and the cultural tolerance even during Muslim rule!

On the topic of women, one side of the argument vociferously denounces the changes happening, while the other, quite naturally, in automatic and justified outrage, goes the other extreme! For the moral brigade : technically, you might have been right – had you decided to approach the problem as a point of education and awareness, rather than moral policing; an issue which meant that Indian Values need to be inculcated… but even there, we run into problems, as becomes evident in the next paragraph. On the other side: it is your life, your decision; I personally see no locus standi of anyone not from your respective families.

I am all for a reversal for the role of women to that in ancient India, provided it is in keeping with the genuine Indian culture, not what is normally pandered in the guise of Indian Culture. What was the role of women in those days, and in what societal context? Women have always had a position of primacy in the Indian household, society and politics – right from ancient times. Even in normal lives, women were not oppressed – yes, there were some practices which are unacceptable in the current societal context, like age of marriage – but by and large, they were relatively free.

If you say women should marry as per male family members’ wishes, fine by me. If you say open display of love is a no-no, fine by me. But… it can’t be a one-way street; you then have to re-examine the entire scenario: what was the overall attitude towards women in those days in our society? How safe were they on the streets? What was their contribution towards the economy, the society and politics? How were they treated, and how were they viewed? Were they objectified and treated as showpieces, as men are habitual of doing today, openly staring a women, treating them as objects? Was open display of love really a no-no in those days – within the then prevalent societal norms?

Women were treated with respect, given a pride of place, were safe in ancient India, and were not objectified, were actually honoured. Can we say that today? Display of affection was allowed within the norms of that society. Further, their contribution in economics, politics and society was valued. Given the nature of that society, and the role of women as home-makers, that was relevant. In the modern context, women are important contributors to economics, politics and society far in excess of ancient times.

If we then say that the old norms stay paramount, then revert them to their old roles, stop their contribution in various fields. Fine by me – but what about the damage to politics, economics, livelihoods of males working in organizations formed by women etc? You cant have your cake and eat it too! In other words, males want to benefit from female efforts from other families, while simultaneously keeping and treating them as property! They are fine if other women do it, their family should remain in their control… what If everyone thinks the same? What will be the difference between us and the Middle East in that case?

As a matter of fact,  a powerful case can be made for the fall of the Indian Political power in the medieval times as being a result of the rise in the maltreatment of two classes in our society: women, and the downtrodden. The rise of norms such as Sati, increasing obstruction of women coincided with the fall in our fortunes – this tallies with our scriptures, which specifically state that Gruhalaxmi has to be respected, else wealth flies away. We started ill-treating women, and our wealth went bye-bye! Remember, Goddess Sita opted to bury herself in Mother Earth rather than go back to Ayodhya!

Moving on, the easiest aspect to tackle in this narrative is the be-Indian-buy-Indian brigade, which has both economic and cultural aspects; the economic side of the argument has been well covered in mainstream media, and needs no repetition. The cultural side of the argument deals with a narrative of re-colonisation, and is a very popular and oft-forwarded message on Whatsapp and even Facebook, as well as blogs and digital media. This narrative actually is completely the opposite of “Indian” from an ancient perspective! Ancient and Medieval India was a trading powerhouse, with a vast and massive trade of a large number of goods with the entire world from the past 5000 years, which is a known and established fact.

We had trading outposts as far away as Central Asia, a busy land trade route as well as extensive commercial guilds that traded with other ancient cultures, as is evident from the mentions of India in other ancient literature from other cultures, as well as the interchanges with diverse visitors and invaders like the Greeks and the Huns. India flourished as it learned to trade far better than others – giving what it did best, and taking what it could not specialize in. This is essentially what Modern Economics states, and we did it 3000 and more years before the birth of Economics!

But this narrative never reaches the public, who focus only on be-Indian-buy-Indian, which is not only against all economic logic, but is also against our own culture, history and learnings from the past! Far from learning from our mistakes, as we saw in the case of language, women or in this case of trade, we are reacting in a way that holds some serious questions for us as a people and as a culture. Sad part is, there is no attempt in the mainstream to handle this logically, and without passion… the good part is, that the first stirrings of a logical debate on these matters has now started.

The point of the article is that “Being Indian” in culture is more about what you THINK, what you do and how you behave : Vedic values are more about honesty, cultural and religious tolerance, openness, free trade across political borders, equality of the sexes {viewed in the context of the respective era}, etc. It has to be viewed holistically, not piecemeal as per our convenience and vested interests. It also has to take into account our prevalent societal, socio-economic and other paradigms, and cannot be viewed in isolation. And lastly, it has to be based in light of facts, not a desired fiction or a notion or even an imagined Golden Period;

My small suggestion for what it is worth,,, can we all try and really be Indian in every sense of the term?

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