Why post-independent India is at odds with its true nature

By Sanjeev Nayyar

Which movie do you associate actor Vidya Balan with, Kismat Konnection or Kahaani?

In Kismat Konnection, Vidya gave herself a western look while in Kahaani her role as Mrs Bagchi capitalised on her Indian looks and showcased the qualities one arguably associates with the “Bhartiya nari”. The audiences lapped up Mrs Bagchi and Vidya was accepted as a big star, though her big break came with The Dirty Picture earlier.

What did Vidya do right?

In Kismat Konnection, Vidya enacted a role that was alien to her real self. In Kahaani it seemed like a real life story. Conclusion? When Vidya played roles that were in tune with her mind, body and inner self, she excelled.

The point: when an individual behaves in a way that is different from his or her true nature, he/she is bound to fail because one is doing what one is not. Similarly India is facing problems today on all fronts because we are governed in a matter that is alien to our true selves.

This article attempts to offer a few examples of how independent India is at odds with its true nature.

Rights vs duties vs dharma

During a session this writer had with students of VKV Jirdin School in Arunachal Pradesh, the student on row one asked me why India’s political system was in disarray and the country in a bad state.

 Why post-independent India is at odds with its true nature

The VKV Jirdin school in Arunachal Pradesh. Sajeev Nayyar

I quoted Sri Aurobindo. “It has been said that democracy is based on the rights of man; it has been replied that it should rather take its stand on the duties of man; but both rights and duties are European ideas. Dharma is the Indian conception in which rights and duties lose the artificial antagonism created by a view of the world which makes selfishness the root of action, and regain their deep and eternal unity”.

By not imbibing the spirit of dharma, Indians (especially urban Indians) have become a beehive of negativity, unproductive debates and consumerism. It is all about me!

Our country is called by three names

The names are Bharat, Hindustan and India. Most Indians use the words interchangeably, not realising that the word Hindustan (Urdu speaking areas of the Indian sub-continent) excludes a substantial part of India.

The syllable ‘Bha’ means light and knowledge and ‘rata’ means devoted, thus Bharat means devoted to light. As originally understood, knowledge was about the inner self and its relationship with the external world. The more aware you became of yourself the closer you came to the spiritual goal of self-realisation.

Can you think of any country where the meaning of its own name is not understood by the people at large?

Change is the only permanent thing

One of the reasons why Sanatan Dharma has survived is because the rishis realised that change is the essence of life, and followed a decentralised approach while retaining the core. That explains why India welcomed reformist movements starting with Buddhism.

Conversely, India continues to be ruled by outdated laws like the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, Essential Commodities Act, 1954, the Industrial Disputes Act, et al, and governance is over-centralised. Most Indians want to maintain status-quo. Example: the recent refusal to even debate the benefits of Article 370 50 years after it became a part of the statute.

Let knowledge come from all sides

We get enamored when knowledge that exists in India is repackaged by foreigners as their own.  Scholar Rajiv Malhotra gave a talk at IIT-B some time back: “Are Indians buying back their own ideas from the West?” He gave examples of how westerners have borrowed Indian thoughts and he have started believing this is a new idea.

Malhotra said that "the Anthroposophical Society that was founded by Rudolf Steiner.... is based on Hindu thought. Two, is the Theory of Multiple Intelligence, by Dr Howard Gardner, which is based on Sri Aurobindo’s ideas of Plays and Parts of Being. Three, is Christian Yoga, where Hindu symbols are substituted with Christian ones, for eg, Surya Namaskar is Son Salutations, where the Son is not Surya but Son of God”. (To hear Malhotra’s talk, click here.)

The moot point is whether those who have made money selling Indian thought had the right to use this intellectual property without paying royalty?

Debate is for generation of more light and less heat

Were we always argumentative? Here's a counter-view: “In the Harasacarita of Bana the king paid a royal visit in the 7th century AD to a forest university. The king saw Buddhists, Jains, ascetics, followers of Kapila, Lokayatikas (materialists)/Kanada (of the atomic schools)/Upanishads, students of legal institutions/Puranas, adepts in sacrifices/grammar and others, all diligently following their own tenets, pondering, urging objections, raising doubts, resolving them, disputing, discussing and explaining moot points”.

Such open-mindedness and intermingling of thoughts was one of the reasons for India’s pre-eminence then.

When we lack confidence in our abilities and a discussion is driven by the desire to outsmart another, we tend to speak too much which then befits the definition of ‘An Argumentative Indian’.

Look at India through Indian eyes

I visited Varanasi on Dev Deepavali, which is celebrated on Kartik Purnima.

It is considered auspicious to bathe in the Ganga that day. Women start bathing from 3 am while men come in after sun-rise. Curious, I asked a chaiwala, why?

He said that post bathing women change their clothes on the river bank itself, and so the absence of men made them comfortable. Rather sarcastically, he added that men from big cities thought only about sex in such situations.

Varanasi-ghat-Nayyar

Women bathing at the ghat. Sanjeev Nayyar

I was chastened by this early morning sermon from a 15-year-old.

Different parts of India contributed to its religious life

During a session at VKV Jirgin school at Itanagar, a student me asked how textbooks in Maharashtra excluded Arunachal Pradesh from India’s map.

One of the reasons why India has survived is because our ancient rishis understood the need to recognise the contributions made by different parts to the whole.

"No particular part of the country can claim monopoly in spiritual speculation. Thus to Kashmir we owe the Trika philosophy in association with Saivism. Punjab gave us the hymns of the Vedas, as also the magnificent Gandhara School of sculpture in Buddhism. The heart of Aryavarta gave us ritualistic literature, the earlier Upanishads/epics, etc. To Magadha, we owe the inspiring messages of Mahavira and Buddha. Bengal has given us the Caitanya movement whilst Assam gave us the pure Vaishnavism of Sankara Deva, etc. The Dravidian area gave India not only the foremost commentaries on the Brahma-Sutras, but also the most lyrical of singers, both Vaisnava and Saiva.” (Read more on thishere)

Unfortunately, the government has failed to involve Indians from every state and this is one reason for their alienation.

Synthetic secularism or natural dharma

The concept of secularism originated in Europe where the church controlled education, property, etc. It became so powerful that even the king felt oppressed. So secularism meant separation of church and state with the intent of curbing the former’s influence and power.

Hinduism never had the equivalent of a central religious body like the church. Thus the concept is alien to India.

India must follow its svadharma

Verse 35 (ch3) of the Gita says it well: “One’s own duty (svadharma), though deficient in quality, is superior to duty other than one’s own (paradharma), though well accomplished. Better it is to die in svadharma; paradharma is fraught with fear and danger”.

Until governments and the Indian people imbibe Indian concepts we shall fail to realise our potential or be at peace with ourselves.

The author is national affairs analyst and founder www.esamskriti.com

Updated Date: Jan 04, 2014 13:24:25 IST