Rediscovery of India
Large numbers of Indians have a faulty concept of Indian nationhood. The narrative of “Unity in Diversity “ attributed to Nehru has been highly misleading, where more often than not “Diversity” is over-stated at the cost of “Unity”. India pre-dates “Discovery of India” by a long shot and it is high time we rediscover it.
India as One Nation
India is not an agglomeration of provinces rather it is one nation belonging to a unified civilization. The provinces have come into existence over a period of time derived from the nation than vice-versa. So also are languages which have taken shape over the last couple of millennia that can be traced to less than a handful of groupings. Across the nation, native religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, Sanskrit along with Indian Art, Culture and tradition have acted as a common unifying strand from ancient times. Again, over the centuries Indians have migrated and mixed with each other all over the Indian sub-continent. The migration and mixing have led to adoption of local languages and formation of many new languages and dialects.
Positioning India as an agglomeration of provinces meant the country had to suffer partition as British found it convenient to avoid referendum at the national level. A referendum at the national level would have given a vote against partition. Not only could they divide India among regions and religions and rule, but also left behind a divided sub-continent in conflict. In present times, we have to encounter western nations’ efforts to craft say a Kashmiri identity outside the larger Indian identity, even though Kashmir is core to Indian civilization from Vedic times.
On top of this, there is a perception among North Indians that North is very different from South due to difference in languages. This is only partly correct. All south Indian languages have come under varying degree of influence of Sanskrit. Sanskrit has contributed to large number of words used in day-to-day life as well as in literature, law and any intellectual endeavour. In India, it was South India which revived Hinduism, when most of North came under the influence of Buddhism, and preserved Hinduism as well as traditions such as Ayurveda, when North India had to face Islamic conquest. Aryan-Dravidian divide led to harassment of Brahmins in Tamil Nadu as well as came in the way of adoption of one national language, which countries like USA did even when they had speakers of other languages such as German in significant numbers.
Some have an impression that India is more diverse than Europe. But Europe is equally diverse. They also have Indo-European languages as well as languages like Finnish, Hungarian and Uralic, which seem to have some unexplained commonalities with the Dravidian Languages. The Indo-European languages replaced earlier languages which were not Indo-European. Within UK, the home of English which has spread all over the world, English belongs to only a portion of speakers, rest being Scottish, Irish and Welsh.
In ancient India, people could move from any kingdom to any other buy property and stay. They could practice their own faith and customs without interference. In fact any Indian King considered it was his Dharma to give shelter to refugees. After Portuguese passed Christian Ordinance in Goa with option of convert or leave and indulged in destruction of temples and disruptive activities, Hindus migrated south and Jain kings gave shelter. Forcing people to follow a particular religion or a set of customs, not allowing people of other religion to come and settle using laws, as in Kashmir valley are against Indian tradition. Those who do not understand this larger, softer Indian identity characterized by Himalayas in the North and oceans in the South deny 5000+ years of shared history of India, claim that there is nothing like India before 1947.
We should take inspiration from these ideals of ancient India to move towards a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood with shared values. Countries from Iran, Afghanistan on the west had religion similar to Hinduism prior to Islam. Nepal, Tibet, Burma and Sri Lanka have provided a home away from home to Buddhism.
Nation beyond Nation
India has a continuing civilization for millennia which gave unique gifts to man-kind in terms of language such as Sanskrit, a tradition of literature from Vedas to Gita, Yoga, Ayurveda and advances in Science, Maths and Astronomy. All those with Indian ancestry anywhere in the world have an association with this civilization. The present Government has positioned India as a natural home to people of Indian descent, away from persecution and back to roots. This holds as much to members of Hindu and Sikh community who have faced issues in our neighbourhood and any dissenter like Taslima Nasreen. The PM also emphasized that the colour of current passport does not determine one’s Indian identity. Both Chinese and Jewish Diasporas have played a significant role in promoting their national interest and invested back home. The Indian Diasporas can champion India’s interests globally. We should move away from the mind-set of decrying those who move to other countries to fulfil their aspirations.