The late Mexican Nobel laureate, a former ambassador to India, observed that Hinduism and Islam stared at each another in incomprehension. When Hindus came in contact with Islam, they were afraid of what this radical new religion – with justice and brotherhood as ideals – would do to their way of life and caste system. When Muslims looked at Hinduism, they were equally threatened by its openness and plurality, something that could demolish Islam’s claims of exclusiveness.
Both religions lost out by failing to engage with the other. Hindus withdrew into their shells, the caste system worsened and became a trap; Muslims went on to rule India and injected themselves with a false sense of superiority. Today, both Hindus and Muslims suffer from an inferiority complex – which boils over into violence. Insecurity breeds violence.
In fact, lack of self-esteem seems to be an affliction with all major religions globally. Religion typically appeals to people low on confidence, or low on self-esteem. But religious leaders themselves suffer from the same inferiority complex. The need to proselytise is indicative of a need for numbers – as if more adherents means your truth is truer than your neighbour’s.
Nothing typifies this lack of self-confidence in religions more than each one’s insistence that if you believe in my religion, you should not believe in another. But can Krishna, Buddha, Mahavir, Jesus, and Mohammed not all have had something special to say? Why should I believe that only one of them had a monopoly on truth? Clearly, the major votaries of religion are themselves lacking in self-confidence.
But let’s go beyond religion, to the most basic binary division among human beings – gender. Thanks to centuries of patriarchy, Indian men and women are today staring at each other in mutual incomprehension, unable to engage in a dialogue that can only benefit them both.
Consider what is really happening in society. We read about rapes and molestation of women almost every day. These episodes speak volumes about Indian men’s inability to handle the reality of a power shift. Lack of self-esteem renders men unable to handle simple rejections by women – leading to acid attacks and rapes. Lack of self-confidence makes men incapable of handling female self-assertion.
Some men go the other way, and call themselves feminists, just to prove they are not the old patriarchal types, and to curry favour with women. No woman is fooled by men calling themselves feminists. This is short-sighted, and again indicative of low male self-esteem. Men cannot be feminists. Or masculinists, for that matter. They can only be humanists – people who respect everyone’s independence as their own.
Lack of self-confidence also makes long-subjugated women take a more dangerous road to self-assertion – aggressive debunking of men. From the spurned wife who dotes on her son to get back the love she doesn’t get from her husband to the compulsive woman smoker or drinker who thinks this is the way to freedom (almost mirroring the male route to macho), feminism is still in its infantile phase in India. Women have to graduate from feminism – a kind of female flag-waving routine – to the values of humanism, which are gender neutral. True independence always has to encompass both victim and victimiser.
Another area where women are being led up the garden path is beauty – and they are now dragging the modern male in the same direction. In every species but the human one, males are the ones that look better: the peacock is better looking than the peahen, the lion compared to the lioness, and the male gorilla compared to the female one.
But patriarchy among humans has created the opposite phenomenon: better looking females. The evolutionary reason for this is clear. In a male-order society, good-looking women derive an advantage over not-so-good-looking women. But even as we slowly start bidding goodbye to patriarchy, the beauty myth has taken on a life of its own – forcing women to spend fortunes in beauty products that don’t do much to enhance real beauty. Moderate investments if looking better are fine, but spending fortunes in looking good is more an obsession – unless your job requires you to be applying facial gook all the time (modelling, acting). For the rest, this can only mean inadequate self-esteem.
In India, lack of self-esteem is one reason driving women to fairness creams and other such gook, which is really a revolt against your natural skin colour, your natural femininity, and marketers have made fortunes from this lack of self-confidence.
Women are emerging from patriarchy only to mortgage their souls to a mythical ideal of beauty. If I were a women, I would invest in self-defence and economic self-reliance.
I can go on and on. A country, a people, a community, a region, a man, a woman – no one can achieve true independence without developing better self-esteem.
Let me conclude with another quote from Nathaniel Branden: “We cannot “give” a child self-esteem, but we can raise them in a manner that will encourage (rather than undermine) their journey toward healthy self-esteem.”
If we raise our children and ourselves with good self-esteem, we will build a nation that is independent.
Till then, I-Day has no real meaning.