Show me the real India, Pleaseeeeee!!!

Navniit Gandhi
Monday, January 22, 2018

We exchanged millions of messages, attractive images, jingles and jokes on the 1st of January 2018. On the 2nd of Jan, the financial capital of India was brought to a standstill and public property worth millions destroyed, protests with menacing overtones were held throughout the state of Maharashtra, including in Mumbai, and rail tracks and roads blocked… The videos on Jan 1 were full of colour and creativity; the videos on Jan 2 were replete with hatred and hostility.

Which day better describes the reality that India is…?

I am deeply confused. In fact, I have been confused all throughout my growing years. My teachers in school had painted a unique picture of India for us and we were content in colouring the same in our minds until a 10-year old me heard the gory tales of horror, recounted by family and friends, during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots—when the seeds of confusion were sown deep inside me. We were told by our teachers that Ganga was a river considered holy, but when I saw it—it was just dirt and squalor. How a place that is considered holy could, be also considered a dumping ground for corpses and garbage by the same set of people??? We were told tales of valour and courage of Indians; stories of the brave efforts of our hundreds of social reformers; accounts of the selflessness of the social stalwarts and philanthropists. And, either in the very next chapters or in the next class—we were told tales of treachery by our very own people; stories of the numerous occasions when we consciously chose to kill our very own people for silly reasons; sagas of our self-centredness and inhuman ways of pushing a vast section of the society at the periphery and forcing them to stay there. We grew confused, but did not dare raise unpleasant questions. Even when we made feeble attempts at asking a few—our elders hushed us up saying that it happens… the good and the bad is there in every society.

Today, I reckon the fact that the good and the not-so-good co-exists in all societies, but never heard of a place which thrives and survives on nothing but hundreds of contradictory facts. There are societies in which people do fight with each other but then their love for their nation triumphs always and everyone knows it; there are societies and nations which are known for blatantly upholding materialism or individualism; there are nations known for aggression as their cherished value. Name a country, and a specific image or a set of values immediately spring to mind. What comes to mind when one mentions ‘India’??? Thousands of mutually contradictory images, isn’t it?

Is that India real which is known for the on-going boom in start-ups? Or, is that India real where the paraplegic winners of gold medals in Special Olympics are reduced to pulling rickshaws or begging on the streets? What is the ethos that defines our country? Looking at our insistence on taking a bath twice a day, at our spic n span homes and religious premises---a normal person would assume that cleanliness matters in this country, but then how are we probably the dirtiest nation in the entire world?

We have not invaded or unjustly attacked any nation in the past 5,000 years and more. Is India therefore a nation that believes in peace and in live-and-let-live? I am confused because I have seen a India wherein you can be subject to the worst possible torture, on the basis of the gender you belong to or the language you speak in which corner of the country or on the basis of your caste, religion and economic status. The torture that we are capable of inflicting on our people; on our own daughters; on our own trans-gender brethren; on our own tiny tots; on our own physically and mentally challenged—defies the myth of even a speck of the humane instinct in us.

However, the mind cannot even accept the above as the final fact and feel settled, concluding that the lack of humane instincts is what defines India. Most of the disasters and natural calamities have brought out, more than once, the spirit of camaraderie and support amongst the common folks. We have offered food and shelter to strangers; we have cared and nursed wounds and even risked our lives, for the larger humane cause. And yet, there are an equal or more number of instances, when the above spirit has been shamelessly absent. Any visitor to India could innocently express awe looking at people devoutly worshipping Goddesses in their varied forms; at people not eating a morsel for nine days to appease the Goddess. However, if the visitor simply peeps into a normal household—he would be aghast to find the same devout worshipper mercilessly raising his hand on his wife over the slightly burnt chapatti or raising his hand on his little daughter for insisting on going to the school picnic along with her brother who has been permitted to go. Who are we? What stuff are we really made up of?

Was that the real India which invented the zero and gave to the world its first ever University—built on the highest standards of excellence? The India which could boast of town planning hundreds of years ago, in Harappa and a sun-dial hundreds of years ago in Jaipur and the India which could boast of 300 surgical procedures and 120 surgical instruments in and around 800 BC ---do we live in that India? Or, is India that nation where its people have to be told in 2018 and probably for the next half a century—as to where should one go to defecate? We are a nation that seems to be saying to nearly 50 crore people: ‘please go to a toilet and do not sit on the tracks and in the farms to relieve yourself’, and strangely enough, we are the same nation that is successfully and commercially launching satellites into space and placing them in the designated orbit.

Are we the India that offers visas for medical treatment on humane grounds to foreigners or are we the India where thousands die every year because there is no access to money—and therefore, poor access to medicines, to the ambulances, to the medical tests and no access to a doctor’s ears and heart? Does the real India signify and symbolise health, Ayurved, Yoga, and a balanced weather-based diet? Or, is the real India diabetic, obese, and afflicted with TB, hyper-tension and AIDS?

Who are we? Is there anything we all unequivocally believe in? Are there any values for which we are prepared to die in order to uphold them? Do we unflinchingly believe in certain core human values which we never ever compromise? Are there any animals or rivers or snow clad peaks which are truly sacred for us and which will therefore never succumb to our greedy designs? Will we be ready to defend and die for the sake of preserving the honour of our seniors, our women and our children?

Some might argue that if there is any one thing that we strongly believe in and prepared to die for—then that is ‘religion’. But, is that really so? If only our faith in and our understanding of the religious scriptures and religious icons had been strong—we would have been the most compassionate and empathetic community in the world. People who believe in religion, do not hate and kill; they just cannot. We are not religious, as a people; we are blind, ritualistic, foolishly swayed by hoax cult-figures and commercially-driven in the name of religion. For most of us, religion and faith are synonymous with either mechanically-performed rituals or seeking more and more from one’s God; and at times, doing charity and feeling great about it.

Are you not confused? If not, will you please define the real India? Are we not a nation that preserves carefully our religious structures over thousands of years? If so, then how do we manage to cause beastly wreckage to our trains during their maiden voyages itself? We preciously safeguard the jewellery handed down to us spanning generations; and yet we mercilessly kill tigers, rhinos; our habitat and eco-systems? Which behaviour represents the real India?

After a lot of contemplation, my reasoning tells me that simply put, we are a nation with:

memory—poor; lack of reasoning—strong

vision—poor; aspirations—big

reality—grim; indifference—high;

patriotism—weak; jingoism—high;

history—glorious; future—no one knows what miracles you can achieve if you believe.

Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academic, a feature writer and an author. Her publications include several academic papers presented at National and International conferences/seminars, nearly 250 feature articles in magazines, newspapers, and on web portals, two e-booklets and nine Books. Presently, she teaches at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and counsels and conducts training workshops at Gurukul, Kuwait.
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