Why India is a nation for everyone


Why India is a nation for everyone
Variety brings vitality to the societies we live in and tolerance is the binding factor.

Variety brings vitality to the societies we live in and tolerance is the binding factor. | Allan Jacob


Allan Jacob

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Published: Fri 11 Jan 2019, 5:39 PM

In the UAE's Year of Tolerance I am all for diversity that celebrates life itself. But why are some people confounded by its imperfections? The more different we are, the better it is for our communities and our politics. It's that simple but what beats me is we often fail to heed the call - to appreciate and tolerate the 'other' side for what they are.

Variety brings vitality to the societies we live in and tolerance is the binding factor. The UAE has understood the value of this basic human need for letting things be, which stems from ahimsa, an Indian tradition that is culturally rooted in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism that respects all living beings and shuns violence towards others.

Have I bored you by being preachy? Perhaps. But I suggest you tolerate me a little longer. I understand that it is hard to stay neutral and reasonable in these times of strife when rivers of blood have been shed in religious and sectarian wars. People have been injured, maimed and murdered.

Emotions get the better of us and past vices creep to haunt and wound the psyche. Violence begets violence. What we have now is religious terrorism and extremism by the right. Back in India where I grew up, the media called such tense situations 'communal' as opposed to the secular ideals that were inscribed in the Constitution.

In other words, the state would not be swayed or influenced by any creed but is constitutionally bound to support and protect every religious sect or group which is free to preach and practise its  beliefs. It was based on the premise of justice, equality and liberty for all people across gender, caste and religion.

What many people fail to understand about India is that it is everyone's nation, a global assimilation hub, far removed from a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) or Akhand Bharat (larger Hindu Nation) that some modern bigots project it to be. The Indian civilisation's strength lies in the fact that it has never been the aggressor through the ages. There were no major foreign conquests to speak of though cultural exchanges and trade were common back in the days.

Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism had its origins in the country and rapidly expanded into influential religious and cultural movements in their own right. Buddhism went as far as Japan and Sri Lanka. India was also ripe for foreign conquests as early as 326BC with Alexander the Great's invasion. He didn't stay long but Islam made its presence felt from the 13th Century with the establishment of Muslim dynasties that reached their peak under the Mughals in the 16th-18th Century.

The French, Dutch, Portuguese and British came later, bringing with them their Christian faith, cultures and customs. These made the civilisation unique and gave it a diverse character. Thus was born a mini-continent - a Sub-continent as it is called today.
Growing up, I remember living in diverse communities all my life. We moved house, met different people unlike us and I must say that those early experiences shaped my worldview.

I was inspired by the vision that was shaped by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. For all his flaws, Nehru was a statesman, a man of peace who held India's secular credentials high as the alternative politics of identity reared its head. He put me on a road to the Discovery of India through his masterpiece by the same name.

"We talk about a secular state in India. It is perhaps not very easy even to find a good word in Hindi for 'secular'. Some people think it means something opposed to religion. That obviously is not correct.

What it means is that it is the state which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities; that, as a state, it does not allow itself to be attached to one faith or religion, which then becomes the state religion," he said.

The word secular was introduced in the Constitution through an amendment during his daughter India Gandhi's term as India's third prime minister in 1976. The Indian National Congress, the party that led the fight for independence from British colonial rule can largely be credited for celebrating and promoting India's linguistic, cultural, ethnic and religious variety.

And for the current ruling party in India that promotes a brand of majoritarian identity politics, here's a piece of advise: try some tolerance, history is not on your side.

- allan@khaleejtimes.com

Allan Jacob
Allan Jacob

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