• kewal sethi

what does it mean to be an indian

what does it mean to be an indian

july 2021


this was the topic of discussion today in our group. it opened with the chairman posing the question

1. should it be hindu centric

2. should it be civic centric.


the former implies that the cultural foundations predominate the latter includes respect for the constitution, normally expected attitude towards righteousness. quality of tolerance, courtesies, and respect where due. the question arose out of an article written by ashutosh varshney which chairman used for his opening reforms. varshney is sol goldman professor of international studies and the social sciences at brown university, the article itself is based upon the just released Pew Research Centre Report, Religion and India: Tolerance and Segregation conducted by the washington based organization.


one need not go into the details about the survey or the article written thereon except to say that they suffered from pre conceived notions. the reference to hindu hindi approach of ruling party betrays the utter lack of understanding of present indian situation. this approach will leave entire south and east out of consideration. a reference is made in the pew report about veer savarkar and his slogan of hindu, hindi, hindustan though, in his article, varshney leaves out hindustan.


the discussion broadly followed the expected pattern. civic identity is more important. only this would ensure progress for all the citizens. the view was expressed that this hindu centric idea has gained ground since 2014, obviously referring to change in power structure. it is as if before 2014, the only identity was civic centred with every one thinking of india s one nation. somebody remarked that india has many nations (referring to regional variations) thus obliquely pointing out irreconcilable differences. after all muslim league started with the theory of two nation – do quamen. still the hope was that despite different approach to existence, we have not been developing separate identities so far and it was expected that it will not happen in future too thereby stressing that there is something beyond common language and adherence to tolerance of different views to bind india together.


towards the end, however, the basic vedantic philosophy was identified by some participants as the binding force. cultural unity was pointed out and so was the common history. a view was also expressed that we have to go forward to nature which meant giving up the materialistic approach to life and giving up the greed.


about the common cultural identity, it would be in order to quote mark tully, the newspaper man who writes in his book "india in the slow motion" (penguin books -2002 – page 176)

"the renowned indian historian mohammad mujeeb has written _ 'by the end of the fourteenth century, the devotional character of hindi songs and the appeal which the language made to the sufis brought hindus and muslims closer together than any other influence'. it was music and sufism's other affinities to bhakti, or devotional tradition of hinduism, which . the bhakti gurus were teachers, their faith inspired music and poetry. the gods adored were often colourful manifestation of the almighty and their worship was the path to union with god. the two traditions grew so close that it is not always possible to disentangle them now".


the article by ashutosh varshney, which was referred to above, also says "india’s muslims subscribe to the idea of karma, as much as the hindus do; every fourth muslim believes in reincarnation, in the purificatory power of the ganga, in the multiple manifestations of god; and every fifth muslim celebrates diwali".


it is not known whether the sample of 30,000 claimed by the survey were representative sample of indians, including muslims. but it is true to say that basically it is the common traditions which bind nations. reference was given to czechslovakia which was broken up after marshal tito. but another reference can be made to the european unity which has been there for many decades now, fed more by common traditions than by language. many states which broke from the yoke of soviet union have joined the european unity for the same reason. there is no political unity yet but for all practical purposes they are one nation now.


the normal practice is to refer to india as a great example of 'unity in diversity', perhaps this is a topsy turvy view of the situation. what we should be saying is 'diversity in unity'. the difference is that it is the unity which is the important centric idea. diversity is allowed as in any civilised society – diversity in religion, diversity in form of worship, diversity in language. diversity in local customs. but 'unity' remains the basis on which all diversity rests.


it is, therefore, apparent that hindu centric or vedant centric or common cultural values, whatever you may call them, is the bedrock of unity of india. and that this defines what we mean by 'indian'.

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