It’s the election time in India. The voting will begin in phases in a week’s time. The politicians are counting votes based on caste, religion lines. This makes me think are we really racists? This is the sad truth that we are guilty of racism: not always but distressingly often. It’s shameful. Yet, we are blissfully unaware and unconcerned. The Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand said:
Racism is a mindset of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage — the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry
Traditionally we’re not racists. We are continuing with the same old British education system and the history taught to us by the British. Their education system was divisive and most suited for continuity of their imperialism. Henry Mayer Hyndman, 20th Century British politician said:
Many hundreds of years before the coming of the English, the nations of India had been a collection of wealthy and highly civilised people, possessed of great language with an elaborate code of laws and social regulations, with exquisite artistic taste in architecture and decoration, producing conceptions which have greatly influenced the development of the most progressive races of the West.
Since independence, there has been no serious effort to create the Indian-ness. Sadly, vote-bank politics is widening the social divide.
India is endowed with the beauty of diversity in languages, geography, features, habits, cultures, religions, ethnicity and origins. We were not like this before. We accepted everybody with open hands. We lost that tolerance, that sense of acceptance. Before British, whosoever came to India became a part of it, from Shaka, Hun, Pathan, Mughal, Parsis…, they all settled in India. With them, they brought here their culture, tradition, foods, and knowledge. There was social cohesion. Rabindranath Tagore developed the idea of Indian civilization as a composite culture. He said:
“Shaka, Hun dal Pathan, Mughal ek dehe holo leen…”
The original varna system was based on co-operation, mutual service to God, and commensurate rights and responsibilities. The earliest application to the formal division into four social classes appears in the late Rigvedic Purusha Sukta. Recent scholarship suggests that the discussion of varna, as well as untouchable outcasts in these texts, does not resemble the modern era caste system in India. Patrick Olivelle, a professor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions and credited with modern translations of Vedic literature, Dharma-sutras, and Dharma-sastras, states that ancient and medieval Indian texts do not support the ritual pollution, purity-impurity as the basis for varna system. Ancient Buddhist texts mention varna system in South Asia, but the details suggest that it was a non-rigid, flexible and with characteristics devoid of features of a social stratification system. Adi puraṇa, the 8th-century text of Jainism by Jinasena, states “there is only one jati called manusyajati or the human race, but divisions arise account of their different professions.”
It now seems that the great pot is broken. It’s the time again for rebuilding the social cohesion. We must teach our children the history of India, cultures of India, festivals of India and accepting the diversity. Tolerance is our strength and not weakness. Tolerance is not passive. It demands an active choice to reach out on the basis of mutual understanding and respect, especially where disagreement exists. Tolerance means recognizing that our diversity is a strength — a wellspring of creativity and renewal for all societies. Then only we can learn to respect India and its Indian-ness – the rich diversity, the greatness that is only peculiar to India. Indian-ness is an idea, a thought, a mindset that accepts and respects the diversity that makes us special, that makes us believe and understand that we are only Indians. We should identify us with that Indian-ness. Education is the solution. There should be a uniform education system in the country that is invested in the youth of the nation, cultures, and history of the nation from the glorious days of Veda and earlier. Vedas preached freedom of thoughts, acceptance of differences so long as we are seeking the Truth.
I again quote Rabindranath Tagore and we should strive to realize his dream of our great country —
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action …
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
We are living through a period of global transition. Technology is connecting us ever more closely, and cross-cultural exchanges are deepening every day — but this does not mean there is more understanding. Societies are more diverse but intolerance is on the rise in too many places. I further recollect the golden speech of Swami Vivekananda delivered on September 11, 1893, during the Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago, USA held from September 11 to 27, 1893. He said:
… I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth… Sectarianism, bigotry, and their horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now… In the face of this evidence, if some people still dream of the exclusive survival of their own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity them from the bottom of my heart, and point out to them that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not Fight”, “Assimilation and not Destruction”; “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.