India : A Cultural Decline or Revival?
by Dr. Bharat Gupt
Published and printed by:
D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd.
Regd. office : ‘Sri Kunj’, F-52, Bali Nagar
New Delhi - 110 015
Phones : (011) 2545 3975; 2546 6019; Fax : (011) 2546 5926
This 'Book Marks' has been sent to us by the Author Himself.
This Book is in the Press. It has been sent for review. However since it is a significant treatise on Indian culture to stimulate our readers curiosity the preface written by the author is presented here
It is often taken for granted in India that political Independence from British rule also ushered an era of cultural and social freedom. It is further imagined that in spite of its poverty, India is admired by the richer nations of the West as a culturally evolved nation. This self congratulation, lingering from the euphoric days of our freedom struggle, sounds now like the thunder on distant mountains shedding not a glimmer of hope on our present lives.
For most of us our memory is enough to be a lived-through account of the cultural decline that set in barely within a decade after freedom. Any analysis is sufficient to counter the smug belief, still fostered in schools and political speeches about the superiority of our culture, once voiced in Iqbal’s song, “Saare jahaan se acchaa hindostaan hamaaraa”. Very insidiously this rhyme nurses a misplaced conviction that while many other ancient civilizations were wiped out in time, India alone is indestructable
(Yunaan-o-Misr-o-Romaa sab mit gaye jahaan se/ Ab tak magar hai baaqi naam-o-nishaan hamaaraa!/ Kuchh baat hai ki hastee mitatee naheen hamaaree/ Sadiyon rahaa hai dushman daur-i-zamaan hamaaraa).
Greek, Egyptian and Roman civilizations were wiped out from the earth/ But we alone have survived and kept our name and fame/ There is something that keeps our identity from elimination/Although we have had enemies for centuries together). The song takes special pride in stating that while the Greek and Roman civilizations, the so-called predecessors of the West, lost to ravages of time, Indian civilization alone remains immortal. Such headiness was excusable during the struggle for freedom but is hardly justified after half a century of self-misrule. Our name and significance (naam-o-nishaan) are now under gradual but marked erosion, fading faster than anything witnessed in the last millennium. The ravages of technology are greater than even those perpetrated by the Islamic misrule. In every sphere of life it is now obvious that India has not been able to internalize European technology to match its own civilization concepts, the foreign techno-kaayaa into its traditional dharma-kaayaa.
After Independence, each passing decade, except the first, ushered in an uncomfortable and dislocating change. In spite of the great violence experienced during the territorial reordering at Independence, only the decade of fifties was characterized by hope, within India, and as well in the minds of her well wishers. She was expected to perform by leaps as a developing nation by the international community. The optimism of this decade was symbolized by India’s first Prime Minister, called “Chaachaa Nehru” by his sychophants who spent his every birth day, November 14th, with school-children as a state ritual. He projected the expectation that the nation was going to grow big and strong like its children. Every year, in the capital of the re-born nation, international exhibitions connected its people to the big and small nations of the world. Perhaps in the fifties only the country like its kids and their Chaachaa could smile hopefully.
In the sixties, things continued to take some shape as schools and colleges expanded. New factories and dams, Nehru’s “temples of modern India”, gave employment to many. Yet the less lucky but more enterprising started moving to far off lands in larger numbers. The present prosperous lot of the Indian diaspora in North America and Europe left the country at this time. By now the stagnation in the economic growth of Socialist order that an unchallenged Nehru had foisted upon the newly born sovereign nation began to extract its wages. Nevertheless, because of a strong nationalism, in spite of a heavy bullying by China (1962) and a severe injury by Pakistan (1965), India was able to defend most of its territory and reaffirm its identity.
The seventies, in their first half, witnessed another triumph of nationalism when Indira Gandhi played midwife to the birth of Bangladesh terminating a horrendous genocide of the Bangla Muslims and Hindus by the Punjabi Muslim army of West Pakistan. But giddy from her success she unheedingly consolidated the Socialist agenda to prune it of all liberal intellectual and democratic vitality that Nehru would have not have liked to disappear. While Indira Gandhi imagined herself much taller than actual, the turning point in the history ushered itself imperceptibly. By the midseventies darker days set in. External support to terrorism and internal regional factionalism cast their net around the nation. Both were promoted under many garbs by a pernicious propaganda masterminded in the bastions of Western subversive agencies and academics as well.
To contain the politically centrifugal forces, Indira Gandhi, flushed with her earlier success, made the pendulum of State governance swing from the dictatorial Socialism at the center to conspiratorial manipulations in the regions, thus seriously eroding democracy. This period was also beset with a grand illusion shared by all at the Left of center. They imagined that socialism could be poured from the top and changes at the grassroots would follow. The consequences of this make-belief were disastrous. Socialism created a class of corrupt politicians who acquired total control over national wealth and perpetuated a permit-raj that killed personal enterprise and initiative, while very little from the State percolated to the poor. On the cultural front, in the name of secularism, religious regression was promoted not only among minorities, but more so in the Hindu majority. Under the policy of nurturing parochial minions for Centrist manipulations, regional outfits were promoted to the extent that they went out of hand. By the end of the decade both the Socialist state and nationalism came to be discredited.
No wonder that the eighties were a decade of the first terrorist wars, caste polarization and withering of Socialist State that revealed the monumental corruption operating beneath. It is now established that in the early eighties, while a proxy war was begun against us by Pakistan in Punjab and Kashmir, another section of Indian policy-makers particularly from Tamil Nadu, sympathized with the terrorist and separatist outfit of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam including training terrorists and supplying arms from the mainland. It is already clear that instead of providing diplomatic, political and moral support to Sri Lankan Tamils suffering at the hands of Singhalese fanaticism, some sections of Indian authorities and the Tamil people chose the path of fuelling militancy, a strategy of intervention of which the nation itself was and still is a victim at the hands of others. But the final blunder of sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force to eliminate LTTE was beyond belief and dealt a severe blow to nationalism.
Nationalism suffered not only at the hands of separatist movements, but also even more through internal struggles along caste lines that further weakened its social suppleness for absorbing technology and ushering modernity while keeping its heritage. The ensuing caste strife diverted India from playing its important role in leading the colored and the colonized nations of the world in the international arena. The consolidation of the middle castes, which had acquired enough economic muscle to translate their cultural identity into a political clout, was subverted by ideologues like VP Singh, working consciously or unconsciously, under the impact of Western notions of ethnicity and compensatory discrimination under the garb of affirmative action for the so called Other Backward Classes. The results were counter productive and hyper-regressive that set the clock backwards and impeded the much needed technological advances. Like all upwardly mobile castes in the history of India, the Other Backward Classes (OBC) have mostly re-enforced the regressive values upheld by the upper caste elite. Even at the present juncture, their messiahs of reform are desperately re-inventing the economics of a decrepit Socialism and the non-democratic hierarchy of the varna-jaati system. Their slogan of ‘social justice’ has become another name for social stagnation riding rough on the backs of the lowest castes. Reiteration of the caste identities has not only subverted Indian nationalism, it has also made international open mindedness impossible at the grass-root level.
At the end of nineties, there was a continuation of proxy wars, a greater erosion of national unity, a tighter grip of casteism, and the ping-pong battle between the die-hards of the command economy and the uninformed votaries of liberalization. While in the West, liberalization, in spite of the evils of a rapid transition, is seen as the unquestioned option after the shattered Socialism, in India on the contrary, half way into the first decade of the 21st century, the Socialist Juggernaut has too many high priests and acolytes to let the yaatraa be called off. These priests, spear headed by the Marxist parties, have promptly substituted the doctrine of class struggle with that of caste struggle (in India, class is caste, they say) and pinned their hopes on affirmative action for social justice to keep their Juggernaut rolling. So far, “social justice” has only promoted a “rabree layer” (cream of the caste) that has virtually stalled the liberalization of the economy and more so of thought. Not only the Leftists, but even the rightists like the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), are not in favour of democratic privatization as that shall inevitably lead to the end of permit raj and may impel their vote bank of the middle level businessmen to find new loyalties. In India, even products of Harvard Business School talk Internet but practice Inspector-net by demanding tax returns from persons using minor essential amenities like a telephone or a car.
Every political party, for a handful of votes or a momentary alliance, pampers the regional, religious, or caste identities. For instance, the BJP may find in DMK (Dravida Munetra Kadgam) an attractive partner forgetting its decades of anti-Hindi-Sanskrit venom, or to pamper Sikh obscurantists, it can exempt helmets for Sikh women riding two-wheelers, or to protect its trader-tenant voters it can reverse a new rent bill, or declare the Jats as a backward caste as in Rajasthan for a few votes. It can adopt the same tactics of “pseudo secularism” for garnering popular support perfected by the Congress, equally mindless of the fragmentation these tactics generate. It aims at enlarging its base by relying on the same brahmin-bania-obc-minority combine with which the Congress made its salad-bowl for decades. The bowl was toppled for some time by Mandalism, but the basket of permit-raj with the vegetables of “ethnic plurality” and “minority rights” remain as of old, to be arranged by this or that hand.
The new millennium has opened with a glaring entropy in the Indian political system and social institutions. The ruling elite of legislators and bureaucrats is unable to handle even every day governance let alone crisis situations that are routine as sunrise. National interest seems to have been totally sacrificed at the altar of power struggle and corruption. In such a scenario there is a temptation to throw cultural matters in the background and focus on enforcement of law and defense of national territory. But this is not an age of territorial invasions. It is the age of cultural invasion and subversion. Political territories are altered after the cultural landscape has been reordered from within. Formation of new nations out of Yugoslavia is the most recent example. India has to resist that fate as the same strategies are being used against her. Most unfortunately her ruling classes are abetting the break up. There are three distinct forces that have at present laid a strong siege of India after the Cold War and the fall of her politically supportive though hardly economically beneficial ally, namely the Soviet Union. They are, Commerial Globalism, Jehadi Islam and Evengelical Christianity. India needs a new leadership to counter these three. This requires strategies born of a cool and analytical mind and least of all an emotional retaliation of the momentary kind that seems to be the fashion of the day.
The Mahabharata contains a shloka that has found its way into many later day classical texts. Presumably, it offers a neeti or practical ethics for organizing a humane social order that provides as much for the single person as for its larger units.
Tyajedekam kulasyaarthe graamaarthe kulam tyajet, Graamam tyajet janapadasyaarthe aatmaarthe prithveem tyajet.
Give up the individual for the family, the family for the habitat, the habitat for land. But for the Aatman, give up the whole earth.
The Eka, Kula, Graama, Janapada, Prithvee and Aatman make up the mental and terrestrial shells for the inner and outer being of an individual in Indian terms. The changes that have taken place in these areas can index the decline or revival in cultural life.
Eka is the individual, male or female, that makes up the unit of cultural consciousness and the fulcrum of creative ability. If the Eka breaks either due to a hostile social environment or due to lack of inner ethical strength, the social order that depends upon individuals will also collapse. But so it shall also if the individual is unable to give up one’s selfish interest for the larger unit of Kula (family), the family for Graama (habitat), the Graama for Janapada (regional kingdom/political unit/nation), and the Janapada for Prithvee (earth) and all material interests of the earth for the Aatman (Self ). The mode of this non selfish action varies with time and place but as a principle for action it is none other than what Socrates called the Supreme Good (ton agathon) and what the Indian philosophers have called dharma.
The state of cultural excellence in a country cannot be measured in terms of its economic prosperity or the number of books in her libraries or the volume of her performers and professors that tour abroad. It is seen in her ability to lead a life that creatively satiates her worldly and transcendental desires and her ability to defend and preserve the institutions that train her people to lead such a life.
The present book is divided into six sections: Eka, Kula, Graama, Janapada, Prithvee and Aatman. I have chosen these terms as they not only define the Indian cultural experience more accurately than the Western categories like the ‘individual’, ‘society’, ‘nation’ and the ‘global order’. The ancient Janapada was neither synonymous with the modern nation state or raashtra, nor with the present day provinces of a nation state. It was a local cultural space with community governance that enforced a moral and financial discipline that mattered much more for a person than the distant court of an emperor or the defacto emperor. In the age of nationalism and globalization, it has been virtually replaced for the time being by the nation state and will be further replaced by a newer entity.
But beneath the present ‘regional states’ and the nation state of India, the Janapada is still alive as a cultural force that seriously affects the behaviour of the rural Indian. It offers him a sustenance through festivals, dress and cuisine, colour and designs that are more rewarding than the ‘weekend’ is to the metro-Indian. The six categories seem more natural not only to understand the Indian identity of the past, but also to develop a healthier framework for personal, social and cosmic organization for the future. More than anything else, as indicated in the verse from the Mahabharata, they provide a well tested way (marga / pantha) to progress from the personal to the universal. I am grateful to my friend, Sh. Ramesh Bindra for repeatedly proof-reading the text of this book. Several other friends and scholars who made suggestions and corrections are also to be thanked.
May 8, 2008 Bharat Gupt
About the author:
Bharat Gupt, an Associate Professor in English at the College of Vocational Studies of the University of Delhi, is a classicist, theatre theorist, sitar and surbahar player, musicologist, cultural analyst, and newspaper columnist. He is trained in both, Western and traditional Indian educational systems. He was awarded the McLuhan Fellowship by University of Toronto, and the Senior Onasis Fellowship to research in Greece on classical Greek theatre. He has lectured extensively at Universities in India, North America, Europe, and Greece. He was a Visiting Professor to Greece and member of jury of the Onasis award for drama. He serves on the Visiting Faculty at the National School of Drama, Delhi, and as resource scholar at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and several other major centres and academies of the arts. He also gives annual public lectures in New Delhi at the Habitat Center and several other forums. His published books include: Dramatic Concepts Greek and Indian (1994), Natyasastra, Chapter 28: Ancient Scales of Indian Music (1996), Twelve Greek Poems into Hindi (2001), India: A Cultural Decline or Revival?(in press)