What kind of India do we want to live in?

What kind of India do we want to live in?

If India were to be a person, who is he? Or is it a she?

Is it a Hindu? Or a Muslim? Or a Sikh? Or a Christian?

Is it black? Or is white?

To my mind, none of these questions have an emphatic YES answer. I am happy that it doesn’t. There are many Indians like me who would not answer any of these questions with a YES. Unfortunately, I think there are many who would want to answer YES to one of these questions.

I live in Gurgaon, which is one of the metropolitan cities of India. I have friends who belong to different religions, castes, cultures. I have never cared if my friends are Hindu or Muslim or Sikh or whatever their religious beliefs may be. I am not a Congress or a BJP or an AAP supporter. I will support a political party which feeds into my idea of the kind of country I want to live in.

I am not a compulsive nationalist. Let me explain what that means. A compulsive nationalist is someone who pushes nationalism into everything-work, cinema, society-everything. I am proud of being an Indian.

Who is an Indian?

An Indian is a man or a woman who belongs to India, the nation.

What is India-the nation?

A pluralistic, multi-cultural society where people are free to be who they are. A society which doesn’t discriminate people on the basis of their religious or cultural beliefs. A society which doesn’t impose nationalism down people’s throats. A society where people are free to choose their own definitions and their own ways of respecting the country.

Unfortunately, that’s not the direction we are going toward. We have become, in the last few months, a nation of compulsive nationalists who are forcing their brand of nationalism down the throat of other people who may have divergent views. Yesterday, the honorable Supreme Court passed a ruling which makes playing the national anthem mandatory before movie screenings. It is mandatory.

Now, how does this amount to personal freedom? I go to a movie hall to watch a movie and to entertain myself. My mood is relaxed and I am about to get entertained, if the movie is good. If the movie is bad, I may get disappointed. How does nationalism come into the picture? By standing for the national anthem, who am I proving my nationalism to?

Frankly, I am not sure. When I was a child, in the school assembly, we would stand-up and sing the national anthem. I love our national anthem. It gives me Goosebumps when I sing it with my heart and I sing it when I want to sing it. I may sing it in solitude. I may sing it at an occasion to commemorate the greatness of our country. But, why do I need to sing the national anthem in a cinema hall? I am not sure.

Whose will is being imposed on me? That’s not the point. The point is somebody’s definition of nationalism is being imposed on me. I am sorry, I don’t agree. Now, I do not want to get arrested. So, if the law stipulates that, I will stand up when I go to watch a movie. But, I disagree.

There is no reason why the will of the majority, no matter what the majority believes in, should be forced upon EVERYONE in the country. We are all different people and we express ourselves differently. Allow us our ways of self-expression. We are proud of living here because we are free. It is a free country. Let’s not choke a section of society just because the majority wants something imposed. People want things imposed are called authoritative. This is a democracy.

I am sorry. I don’t agree.

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What for God’s sake is Culture?

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Indians in the house give me a cheer!!! We remember ourselves as Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis and forgotten who we are together. Do we have an Indian culture? What is it?

While we talk about what is sensitive to our culture, let’s try and understand what we really mean by ‘culture.’

This is a feeble attempt at understanding culture. What forms culture? What are the sources of culture?

I have been asking myself these questions for a while now. I tried discussing them with friends and could not find answers which were very convincing from anywhere, yes, not even Google could tell me where culture originates from.

Nobody knows, and everybody follows it. Isn’t it funny, or rather, ridiculous?

I liked the following definition online:

‘The ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society”

The ideas, customs and social behavior have to have a source now. Don’t you think so? Look at yourself. There is a way you are dressed. It could be western clothing, which means, what they wear in the west of the world map. From the female dressing perspective, this could mean skirts, trousers, shirts or what you have. Alternatively you could be dressed in Indian suits, saris or kurtas, which are considered largely traditional wear in India.

You behave in a certain way. There is a way you greet people when you meet them. There is a way you talk to them. Different societies have different ways of greetings. In India, we say Namaste with our hands folded. Etymologically speaking, Namaste is derived from Sanskrit and means bowing to you. It is a sign of respect across the country. The archaeological findings from the Indus Valley Civilization have revealed many male and female terracotta figures in Namaste postures, as per Wikipedia.

So, history is one of the sources of culture. It has been happening for hundreds of years and so, it must be right. Well, for Namaste, it makes sense because Namaste is a sign of respect and when we think about it with our own minds, it is a wonderful gesture. It makes sense even in the context of the 21st century, not matter how old the tradition of Namaste has been.

I would like to quote the Buddha.

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

So, you think about Namaste and you accept it and make it a part of your daily behavior. You want to respect someone; you fold your hands and say Namaste.

What are the other sources of culture?

Religion is one of the biggest sources of culture. Religion, espoused is one of the greatest sources of acceptable behavior and one of the key sources of morality in our society. India is deeply religious society. All religions existing in the country tend to assert their own definitions of acceptable behavior, good acts to do and bad acts which should not be done, since they are not a part of the particular culture. This is what makes India complex. Unlike western civilizations and societies which are monotheistic, Indians, especially Hindus are a polytheistic people. Although Ram and Krishna continue to get better press owing to the mythological texts of Ramayana and Mahabharata, there are millions of Gods in the country and people travel far places to visit the ‘temples’ of their chosen Gods.

This is what makes the issue of Indian culture even much more complex. Let’s look at the practice of monogamy. It is a part of our culture. In some countries in the African continent, polygamy still continues as a practice. I learnt that even the president of South Africa Jacob Zuma has 3 wives and has 20 children from them.***

Polygamy is illegal in most civilized societies because it disrupts the institution of marriage and its existence since it leads to feelings of jealousy and immorality among other objections to polygamy.
Which side are you on? Well, it depends on which culture you belong to. In countries where polygamy is illegal and since the law states so, you cannot even think about it. So, you don’t think about it. In cultures they accept polygamy; the key argument is expansion of their own breed. You could argue that in order to do that, they don’t care about the physical and emotional exploitation of the women, which is a fair argument.

So, what is culture?

We are back to square one, I know. I have realized in the course of writing this piece, that I won’t be able to answer this question for you. I don’t think it is correct for me to answer this question for you.I can say one thing and it is this- question everything, accept nothing without having thought about it in your mind.

The state will do its own it to define what culture of the land is. To what standards do we hold ourselves to will define the culture that we choose to embrace or we choose to reject.

Religion and history are the key determinants of culture. That something is being done for a very long time makes it a case for being done in the future as well. That something was practiced by the Gods is another extremely potent and almost sacrosanct source of culture. But, wait, ponder, consider, think and then decide if a custom or a tradition which has been going on for thousands of years is a useful in the current context.

What are the standards do we hold ourselves to, when we think about the question of culture?

To my mind, it is the peace and happiness of the people involved. The practice of Sati- where a recently widowed woman would commit suicide by fire, typically on the husband’s funeral pyre existed for many years before it was outlawed. To what kind of a mind would such a practice attract? Why should a woman die because her husband has passed away? What was her fault? She has already been rendered unfortunate and now the society wants her to incinerate herself! What kind of society allows such a practice?!

So, what is culture?

Is culture what we individually believe in or what we collectively imbibe? By definition, it is the collective behavior. Our collective behavior must lead to the welfare, peace and joy to the people who imbibe and inculcate such a behavior.

Caste system is an ingrained part of the Indian culture. One day, hopefully, we will reach a point where it will cease to matter what your caste is. It will cease to matter what your origin was and which religion you were born into. That day, there will be joy.

I knew at the outset, that I will not be able to convincingly answer the puzzle of culture. However, I hope, I have been able to give you some snippets about a few it its sources and the underlining reasons.

Other sources of culture are our celebrities and our leadership. What they do becomes popular culture. What the king does becomes the culture of the masses. But, don’t accept it blindly. If you think what the king does is right, embrace it. If you think the king is wrong, question the king.

Culture is what we collectively do. Culture is what we collectively embrace. Culture is what we are known for. What would we like to be known for, years after we are gone?

Thanks for reading.

Sources***: http://www.polygamy.com/polygamy-in-africa.html

The State of Indian Politics

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The year 2014 changed many things about the Indian colloquial dialogue. Politics has become the subject of prime interest since the beginning of last year. Everybody talks about politics. One of the key KPI of the current government seems appears to keep the PM trending on twitter 24 hours.

Everybody is talking about politics and I, find myself talking about it much more often than I used to. Narendra Modi’s elevation to the national scene changed the course of Indian politics. Here was a man, whose claim to fame was development and polarization in the state of Gujarat. Gujaratis seemed to love him for both.

Many people, going by the results of the Lok Sabha elections chose to overlook his ‘lack of sufficient action,’ to say the least, in the genocide of the Muslim community in 2002. Development became the core agenda of BJP, led by their Prime Ministerial candidate.

BJP also changed. The old guard at the helm made way for the aggressive Modi. He made BJP the party which, perceptively, focused on development. Perception, after all, is reality. He succeeded in capturing the imagination of the nation and offered hope.

Congress, on the other hand, had nothing to offer. Rahul Gandhi, who led the party’s campaign, seemed forced and reluctant for the task at hand. He still does. His public appearances were few in contrast to those of Modi and the ones he made, failed to inspire anymore. He appeared once on prime time and people laughed at that interview. The congress party had no inspiring leaders, unlike BJP, which had Modi.

2014 was the year when India desperately sought a leader. The nation sought a leader who could fire up the nation’s imagination and lead it into the future, at a time when Congress only had scams to offer. They also had the silence of the then Prime Minister who didn’t speak up and became famous for saying nothing, most of the times.

AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal tried to fight a much stronger and powerful party, whose cadres were on fire. He overestimated himself and AAP’s chances at the Lok Sabha elections. More importantly, his resignation from the post of Delhi’s Chief Minister became his Achilles’ heel, which did not leave him, wherever he went asking for votes. It still haunts him as he seeks another term as the Chief Minister.

Kejriwal is not a bad guy. It was his inexperience and lack of political judgment, which made him, quit the post within 49 days. He made a mistake and he has admitted to it. He had to admit it, especially after the results of the Lok Sabha elections.

Circa 2015, not much has changed. Congress has almost gone into a shell since their worst performance in the history of the party. AAP is trying to revive itself. BJP swept the Lok Sabha elections followed by many state assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and other states. Unfortunately, as expected, the so called fringe elements have started the same old rhetoric about India being a Hindu Rashtra.

Thankfully, due to the pressure from the civil society, the ghar vapsi and conversion programs have slowed down. I would not be very confident that the fringe elements won’t resuscitate these issues again in the coming future. These events have cast aspersions on the development agenda of the Prime Minister.

I am not a believer in rhetoric. I was fairly skeptical about BJP being totally able to focus on development since their history is replete with communal strife with the Muslim community. The silence of the Prime Minster, when such incidents happen, makes one doubt his commitment to the social fabric of the country.

We are fortunate to be democratic nation. However, the quality of the chosen representatives depends on what the electorate demands from them. As people of the country, it is our duty to protest and shout, in whatever way we can when our elected representatives move in a direction which challenges what we ought to be proud of- a country where people from any religion, caste, belief live happily, work hard and grow together.

If we don’t demand high standards from our leaders, I don’t know who will. I hope I am proven wrong and our current Prime Minister proves himself as one of the greatest leaders this country has had.

I want development too but not at the cost of religious polarization.

As a footnote, Delhi elections are hither. I don’t even have a vote, since I live in Haryana, which is okay. However, in my heart of hearts, I wish Kejriwal wins. Congress doesn’t seem to stand any chance. Kejriwal is a fighter, as he has shown. He has apologized for his mistake and I am sure he is yearning desperately for redemption.

However, we live in Modi’s India. Anybody who says anything in favor of a party which is not BJP is frowned upon. So, I am not sure if Kejriwal will get his chance at redemption. As far as congress is concerned, well, they need Lord Krishna to reincarnate to save them.

We live, in interesting times.