Analysis

INDIA’S COMPOSITE CULTURE

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Dr M.D. Thomas

Culture is basically a social concept. When individuals or communities share their lives between them, culture spontaneously emerges. That is to say, culture is necessarily a composite culture. This fact applies to the entire human society in general and to India in particular.

Legend has it that there was a king called Mahabali who ruled the region of Kerala in ancient times. In his territory, all human beings were equal. There was no poverty or sickness. People were healthy, wealthy, prosperous and happy. His kingdom was known for “good governance” on account of the wellbeing that prevailed then.

The memory of Mahabali is celebrated as Onam, a festival of prosperity, on a yearly basis. What is exceptionally notable about Onam is that Hindus, Christians and Muslims celebrate it together, whether they are in Kerala, in other parts of the country, or abroad. As Mahabali was a powerful example of composite culture, so is Onam a powerful symbol of togetherness.  

In the context of the entire country, sublime ideals like “one world one family” “truth is one, the wise call it by different names” let noble thoughts come from all directions”, “let all be happy” compose the spinal cord of the composite culture of the country. What is required is that these ideals are translated into lived realities.

The existence of India as a nation is the most vibrant example of composite culture. Several cultures and traditions have contributed to the making of India. The tribal, Dravidian and Aryan cultures have been there in this geographical area for millennia. Even before the Christian era the Jain and Buddhist traditions were present in India.     

From the Christian era, slightly before and slightly after it, too, Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities found their space in India. Later, Zoroastrian, Sikh and Bahaís also became part of the country. All the above communities have contributed significant share in making India. Even the Mughals and the British, who came to rule over the country, contributed to making of this nation in a significant manner.

In addition, India is not the construct of any particular group. Valmiki and Dr Ambedkar from the so-called low caste communities gifted to this country the epic of Ramayan and the Constitution of India respectively. In the same way, prominent individuals from diverse communities, like the Tatas and Birlas, contributed to the making of India, in diverse areas.  

What follows from this outline is that no community in India has any right to consider the country as its private property. All the communities that have contributed to the making of this country and to all the citizens present in the country right now have equal right over the country. India belongs to all of them. Composite culture affirms this truth in a manner beyond question.  

Moreover, diversities in India are so many that no country in the world can compete with it. The political world, with various national and regional parties is a Himalayan example for schools of thought, so much so that if one would learn political ways and varieties one should perhaps learn from India.

In the same way, India has a rich variety of geographical landscapes, climatic conditions, ideologies, cultures, religious traditions, social mores, food habits, dress patterns, artistic expressions, etc, which defies comparison to any geographical region in the world. All these are vibrant examples of our composite culture.  

The Constitution of India could be considered one of the best constitutions of the world. Some of the finest values of human life are inherent in the ideals of secularism and democracy. Equality, respect, dignity, justice, cooperation, and the like, are at the core of human culture. The values of the Constitution reflect the motivating imperative of composite culture.

It is obvious that the human society has its limitations and can never be perfect. All communities and nations have had shortcomings and problems since from time immemorial. Those maladies will be part of human life, in some way or other, too. But, when problems increase beyond a measure, social life is sure to slip into chaos and get shattered beyond repair.    

Since some time, certain mischievous elements seem to be hyperactive in our country. As part of their foul design, autocratic attempts are being made for weakening the spirit of democracy and for suppressing the rights of citizens. Some appear to be trying to enslave people to their network by being intolerant of voices of freedom.

Besides, some forces exert ownership over the country and try to play the role of a contractor for the country. Some try to conduct acid tests for citizens in patriotism and distribute certificates to that effect. Some volunteer to provide citizens even with passports and visa to countries of their choice, when their whims and fancies are ignored. Some dare to make un-parliamentary and irresponsible statements in public against other groups of citizens.   

Moreover, some elements are bent on breaking and dividing the country along the lines of groups of their choice. They increase the distance between communities by propagating hatred among them. Some attack other communities to weaken their self-confidence, by destroying their property and even killing persons making fabricated allegations against them. Some engage in fanaticism, hooliganism, cunningness, lies and cheap behavior for gaining power and money.  

Consequently, social harmony and balance are being disturbed. False notions and confusion seem to be increasing in the country. The relationship among communities gets weakened. The golden heritage of composite culture of the country seems to be breaking up. This diabolic phenomenon is the greatest threat to the unity and integrity of the country and is, in fact, suicidal. Enlightened citizens require getting alert and united, for maintaining the composite fibre of India as a nation.

I have two suggestions for strengthening the composite culture of the country. One, people of all communities have to visit places of worship of other religions, celebrate festivals together, make efforts to learn the language of others and learn good values from other traditions. This will remove the sense of unsociability with regard to what the other holds on to and achieve feeling of togetherness and national solidarity, which would be the strength for a brighter future.

Two, a preferential attention has to be paid to the disadvantaged sections of our country. It is like filling the gutters first while making roads. It has to be ensured that women enjoy half the social space of our country and are empowered to shoulder responsibilities for making the country better. It has also to be ensured that more than half of the younger generation of the country has its share of participation in making the country and gets the right sense of direction in life.  

In addition, a strong and special step also has to be taken in favour of the least, the last and the lost of our country. There has to be planned efforts to ensure food, shelter, clothing and dignity to those who live below poverty line. Those pushed to the margins, even on to the roads and streets, require being brought to the mainstream of life. This country belongs to those have-nots as much it belongs to the haves. Only when this happens, the composite culture will be complete and strong.

As a matter of fact, composite culture is a culture of taking all along and harmonious living with one and all. As the first line of the Hindi film Zameer goes, hum bhee chalein, tum bhee chalo, chatlee rahe zindagee. Just like the garden that is composed of flowers, grass, bushes and trees, people of all traditions and communities have to stay in this country. The country needs all of them, as the garden needs all of them, too. Like the kingdom of Mahabali, each of them has to enjoy his/her own sacred space, dignity and opportunities to blossom.

The golden sentiment of vasudhaikutumbakam is the privilege of the one who is genuinely udaarcharitaanaam. Hearts and minds of people have to open up beyond the divide of high and low as well as mine and of others. Citizens of our great nation are called upon to do their homework of imbibing the spirit of one’s own faith and come out to engage together in making the family of God, where every other is a friend and companion in life. Composite culture is still in the process of being made and the country has miles and miles to travel towards this sublime ideal.

The author is founder chair and director, Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi. He may be contacted at mdthomas53@gmail.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2016 on page no. 11

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