Many writers have tried to give us the essence of Indian identity. One view of Indian identity is that India is a home of a composite cultural and religious traditions and has combined the essential elements of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and many other traditions. The other view is, Indian identity is formed basically by Hinduism which is like a mighty Ganga which comes down from the great Himalayas to join the Sagar in the Bay of Bengal which is joined by many rivers, small and big, but remains the Eternal Ganga. It is the great Hindu civilization flowing from the distant past to the present day - “ Indic civilization has remained in constant ferment through the processes of assimilation, transformation, re-assertion and recreation that happened in the wake of its encounters with other civilizations and cultural forces such as those that came with the advent of Islam in medieval times and European colonialism in the most recent past.”
The book, The Indian Portrait of a People, by Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar,( Penguin,pgs.226.) puts the idea of India in perspective.They say in the introduction, ” Our book is about Indian identity. It is about 'Indian-ness', the cultural part of the mind that informs the activities and concerns of the daily life of a vast number of Indians as it guides them through the journey of life.” The 'big picture' or a 'grand narrative' that they have drawn is like the pattern of a forest, not every detail may be visible.They have analysed Indian life through family, caste, role of women, sexuality, health, religious and spritiual life.The concluding chapter, the Indian Mind, discusses the Hindu world view. They have devoted a chapter on the conflict between Hindus and Muslims.
The family and the caste.
Discussing the central role of family in Indian life, the Kakars observe that it is “the glue that holds Indian society together”. However, they add, “ this focus on the family as the exclusive source of satisfaction of all one's needs also reflects a continuing lack of faith in almost every other institution of society”.The subordination of young to the old, son to father, women to men is a part of the patriarchal family structure.
Similarly, their observations on caste are also very perceptive if marriage and kinship are the body, hierarchy is the soul of caste. The Hindu horror of faeces is the cause for the persistence of untouchability. The caste system is different from a clan or a tribe with the phenomenon of untouchability which Mahatma Gandhi rightly considered as the biggest blot on Hindu society.
The family structure and the caste system has made Hindu society into a hierarchial society. Subordination to the authority of the family-head or caste-head is a part of the Hindu society. The caste and the family are so structured that every one has a defined role and he/she can find fulfillment in it. However, while these structures protect the individual and give him/her a role, it also prevents him/her from realising his/her potential sometimes. These structures became rigid due to many wars and invasions especially during the middle ages and the resultant unstable polity in India.
However, Hindu spirituality and philosophy always allowed individuals to leap out of these constricting structures. The advaita philosophy which says every individual is a spark of the Divine is a charter of individual freedom. It is also a charter of democracy. Manu's dictum, 'Where women are honoured, God feels honoured', is a harbinger of women's liberation. The Hindu liberal spirit became visible after India's encounter with the West. Kamasutra is also a testimony of the liberal spirit of Hinduism. Sex or desire ( kama) is a part of life. Is is part of the four-fold fulfillments of life Dharma ( that which is right), artha ( riches) , kama ( desire) and moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).
The Sangh Parivar.
The Kakars observations on the Sangh Parivar are interesting. In the chapter, Religious and Spiritual Life, they say, “ Yet the militancy of his (the Hindu nationalist's) outlook and actions is also constrained by two binding elements of Hindu religion and culture : the themes of tolerance and universality. He is not free from these fundamental aspects of his religious-cultural identity that are also the major themes running through the grand recit, the 'master narrative', of Hinduism's encounter with other religions, secular ideologies and the historical forces of change.” They say that while championing a singular identity for Hindus amidst many sampradayas ( sects) to face the onslaught of cultural and economic globalization, the Hindu nationalist cannot cross the Laxman-rekha of tolerance and universality, the two fundamentals of Hindu culture and civilization.
Another significant observation is about what they call, ' flexible Hindu' urban, educated, middle-class Hindu : “ the flexible Hindu's response to modernity is not turning away from his religious heritage but giving it a new form and adapting it to his changed life circumstances.” The flexible Hindu believes that the bhakti and the faith are more important than a set of rules laid down by the elders.
Hindus & Muslims.
The chapter, Conflict : Hindus and Muslims, deals with various factors which have contributed to it . The authors say that thers is some agreement among the commentators that factors other than religion as the root cause but there is no agreement on the root cause. Is it a civilizational conflict or just the result of colonial 'divide & rule' policy ? Some see economic factors in the conflict. Social scientists find threat to identity from modernization and globalization. There is a demographic dimention as well conflict occurs where Muslim minority population ranges from 20 to 40 percent. Even Mahatma Gandhi believed that ' imperialist expansion for thirteen centuries has made Muslims an aggressive lot'. Killing of cows and eating beef has been the most important source of Hindu bitteress.Among the Muslim upper class and clergy there is a nostalgia for the old Moghal empire and the authors say, it is like “ the Andalus syndrome” - a grief for the lost glory of the Muslim civilization in the Iberian Peninsula felt in the Muslim world.Then there are demagogues and politicians. This is a potent mix for any conflagration.
The authors do not expect any dramatic changes in the conflict even after economic development in India and suggest a modest aim of containing it.“ What we would like to believe ( that is hope) is that we are moving towards an era of recognizing Hindu-Muslim differences rather than pursuing their chimerical commonalities. That we are moving towards a multicultural society rather than a 'composite' culture. Such multiculturalism is neither harmful nor dangerous but necessary since it enables different religious groups to deal with the modernizing process in an active way rather than withdraw in lamentation at the inequities of modernization or endure it as passive victims.”
The authors have not taken note of the failure of multiculturalism in UK where faith-based schools have failed to integrate Muslim minority in the mainstream.What the present requires is, common schools where the great principles proclaimed by various religions are taught to our children. The common humanism inherent in all religions should be the basis of bringing people of various faiths together.This has to be highlighted by all people of goodwill. If people are made aware of the common values of different religions fatherhood of God and brotherhood of humanity it may pave the way for a new world of 'live & let live'. After all, rituals do not make a religion, values do equality, fraternity, liberty/freedom of thought, search for truth, non-violence, restraint and so many others.
The Hindu view of life.
The last chapter, The Indian Mind, sums up the Hindu view of life. The authors say that the distinctive world view of Hindus is contained in three concepts or ideas which have shaped the thoughts, actions and feelings of the people: moksha,dharma and karma. The authors rightly observe that the belief in the existence of of an 'ultimate reality' is beacon in the lives of most Indians without any class and caste distinctions and rich and poor, literate and illiterate, urban or rural. The Indian civilization has taught every child that there is an order or a design to life in the world which make it look to the future with hope. The concept of immanent divinity quietly nourishes the individual's self-esteem.
Dharma is law of life, moral duty, right action and in conformity with the truth of things.The pronounced ethical relativitism of Hindu way of thinking is not an absence of moral code but only context-sensitive. 'Right' and 'wrong' are relative depending on its specific context. “ The relativism of dharma supports tradition and modernity, innovation and conformity”, say the authors.The third concept, karma, informs the Indian life at every stage. It helps him cope with disappointments. It can also limit his potential. The idea of karma also means that one's future is in one's hands.
Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar have given a glimpse of the life of Indians in today's India and how it is connected to its ancient heritage.They have provided an bird's eye-view of the saga of Indian life and how an ancient framework of ideas and concepts which are flexible enough to meet the challenges of life even today. The book is a guide to understand India and Indians.
(The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he has a blog, Sense, Non-Sense and Common Sense.)
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