I have taken to watching Downton Abbey recently and cannot help but marvel at the British style of conversation, accentuated with those subtle one-liners. British humour and sarcasm have always found favour with me. My daughter had also started enjoying it until such time when Dan Stevens’ character was killed. I wonder if it was the cultural and linguistic style that charmed her, or was it purely Dan Stevens’ charisma. Being a loud Punjabi family, we have always found soft-spoken people with restrained style of talking (a stiff upper lip) very attractive. Unfortunately, I am not going to talk about the attractive as much as the unattractive.
We Indians take pride in our cultural history and the ethics that date back thousands of years. I will not get into the dispute of how many thousand and would rather refer my readers to a book by Rajaram NS, ‘Search For The Historical Krishna’. Coming back to the topic, Indian culture has always been progressive and Indian mythology can give the testimonials to the same. We never shied from questioning the ethos, and were more forthcoming in adopting new doctrines. Unfortunately, the current scenario is a mishmash of native and western cultures, with blurring lines of sanity. Are we on the throes of societal degeneration or only dealing with a little cultural confusion?
How far back should we go in the history to talk of the societal mind-set? (Remember, whenever I say ‘mind-set’, I am referring to gender inequalities.) Let us begin with Ramayana, where Lord Ram gave up Sita for His kingdom’s ‘wellbeing’. He knew of her chastity and still chose to accept the popular mind-set over His reasoning. Moreover, why was chastity ever a question? Then there was Draupadi in Mahabharata, wife to five brothers. This fact alone was enough for the Kauravas to use it for a political game and revenge. Both the epics dealt with the wars waged for the honour and safety of protagonists’ respective wives. We are talking of the times some 5000-7000 years ago. Neither Lord Ram nor the Pandavas shied away from their duties. However, both epics dealt differently with the societal pressure. One epic took the issue head on and over time, Draupadi’s five husbands found acceptance as one-off instance in mythology. In the other epic, husband rescued the wife only to abandon her at the whims of a washerman. It is a different matter that thereafter Lord Ram observed austerity of an ashram life within His palace and lived as a hermit in celibacy. I am aware that I am stirring up a hornet’s nest, starting an endless debate, and I am yet to debate the actual point of this article.
The recent spate of events has set an image of India in the global media. We are 1.27 billion, with the youngest population in the world. We have been independent for all of 68 years after more than two centuries of foreign subjugation. I remember my growing up years with the middleclass attitude of being honest, courteous, generous, and charitable, without greed, with eternal contentment. Times changed and all of us pined for more. Western money through multi-national companies, dreams of luxury a la western lifestyle, desires for more – did it all change the nation’s mind-set to greed, lust, and anger. When did the poor, the rural, the farmers, the villagers, and the urban middleclass lose its pride in good values and started hankering for more? Did easy money and exposure to material excesses brought the criminal out in our culture? The class divide is decreasing and the desires are increasing. Before anyone pounces on me, let me clarify that I am not implying that one is a result of the other, or there is necessarily a connection between desires and reducing gap between classes.
Make no mistake in thinking that this corruptible outlook is India’s legacy. We are in the news for not so many good reasons. Yet, the reasons stem from a greater awareness of the masses, their courage to take the bull by the horns and demand justice. The initiative of the public to not ignore the problems, to ensure that the misdemeanour is punished, has brought the spotlight to our doorstep. There may be a great flux in the values due to the changing generations, increased growth potentials, and growing consumerism due to greater accessibility. Is there any society around the globe that can boast of a crime-free existence?
Is the focus on every misstep due to the threat that we pose to the world when we are ready to take back our rightful place? Indian history, mythology, culture, and people have been a victim of negative propaganda from the time British docked their first ship in 1608 at the Indian port. Many had invaded India before that and the history is replete with the stories of invasion by Alexander, Genghis Khan, Turks, Afghans, Mughals, Portuguese, and British. We have survived all these invasions and adopted successfully the cultural synthesis.
The current scenario is a melting pot, with the cultural honchos going in an overdrive to safeguard our ancient culture by even regressing in their thinking, and the affluent making the best of the western freedom of no-hold-bars in taking to the bars. The uninitiated, the uneducated, and the not so rich are confused. The freedom has its pull, but the cultural, societal, and value systems are not easy shackles to break. To top it all, the corrupt and the criminal minded are trying to have a field day at the expense of innocent people, especially girls. Even the churning of the ocean brought out the poison before the nectar.
The world media’s focus on the negatives is sullying the Indian image. The foreign media’s policy to malign everything third world and Indian belief that whites are superior and always right is not doing us any good. The entire scenario is reeking of racism. The reports of nine or 11 years olds getting pregnant in the UK and the consensual sex education for them in schools (excerpts), or satanic worship education in the US schools (report), or high crime rate due to sociopaths, psychopaths, and paedophiles never get the kind of attention that India is garnering due to the events of December 2012. We are far below the US, Ireland, Russia, France, Mauritius etc. in the crime index.
So, what are the implications of the current situation? What are the solutions? What are we doing right or wrong? There can be many arguments. Different schools of thought will have different strategies to dissipate the situation. We have a large population of uneducated people. The education system is changing too. The focus is not on inculcating the basic values. Instead, students are being prepared for the competitive examinations for higher education. The portion of population that are restricted to farming, manual labour, and blue-collared jobs are not getting the required education. Even our media, like the movies and the television, has nothing to contribute in terms of cultural education. There is a continuous conflict between the cultural and material needs.
The answer lies not in giving up the thirst for a better life. Instead, it is imperative to retain our heritage of good values, self-respect, generosity, goodwill, and to take pride in it. We need to educate all. Our media and the education system have to take up the challenge of changing the regressive and patriarchal thought process. People have to be reminded that we are the land of Razia Sultana, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Sarojini Naidu, Savitribai Phule, Indira Gandhi, Kalpana Chawla, Fathima Beevi, Kiran Bedi, Lata Mangeshkar, M S Subbulakshmi, P T Usha, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Nirupama Rao, Mary Kom, Chitra Ramakrishna, and many more Influential Indian Women. There are countless ordinary women doing extraordinary work under challenging circumstances, balancing work and home with poise. These are the examples that should be brought to the fore for inspiration. In fact, media should go on an overdrive to fade out the patriarchal, regressive, demeaning voices and report only the meaningful, positive voices and set the stage for progressive thinking.
We have been successfully thriving against all odds. Our diversity, population, culture, and simplicity have proven to be our strengths. We have proven to be hardworking and law abiding citizens of the world and major contributors to the economy of the countries we migrate to and adopt as our karam bhoomi (land of choosing). We have rich cultural heritage and a huge section of educated citizens that are making a difference around the world. We need to strive harder to bring an attitudinal change in our citizens towards our property, our nation, and instil the feeling of pride for our country, culture, languages, and people. We have arrived and we need to accept it and show it with confidence through our actions. White skins or not, Indians have to stop being intimidated. We have issues and we accept them. And like any great nation, we are ready to rise to the challenge. We do not need the foreign jury to pronounce judgement on us. We are capable of handling our own.
||Sarvam Sri Krishna Arpanamastu||