Akrita Reyar Well known journalist MJ Akbar, while comparing India and Pakistan, made a very convincing point. How is it that two countries with a shared history, have met such dissimilar fates? He says it is not that the people of India are superior to those in Pakistan; it is that the idea of India is better. A democratic and secular India has succeeded more than a theocratic totalitarian Pakistan.
The point then should be of testing these principles on the ground. About whether the visions of the founding fathers have taken root in the respective countries, and especially in India, whose diversity is both a challenge and an asset. Religion as glue, has failed in Pakistan. That was proved in 1971 itself. The current crisis that the country faces in terms of home grown terror is even more dangerous and is bound to have grave consequences in the future.
Is cultural affiliation the key then? While South Asia shares a common culture in a broad sense, if having similar traditional peculiarities and linguistic roots was the lone measure of nationhood, then India would not have survived even for a day. This is where MJ Akbar gives the clincher. It is the idea of India and what it has come to mean to all of us. Local solutions I would like to cite an example I saw on television. It is about a real story of a village in Uttar Pradesh. Muslims and Hindus in this rural township were involved in a dispute. The abattoir that was used by the Muslims to dump leftover meat pieces was on a wasteland area not too far from a temple. Vultures and other predator birds would sometimes, while flying over the temple, accidentally drop these meat pieces in the temple compound, which obviously enraged the Hindu devotees. First the standoff continued for a while with some angry exchanges. Finally, the elders of the two communities sat down to find a solution. Meat needed to be discarded and it could not be done inside the village, but the menace for the temple also needed to end. So they came up with an ingenuous solution of digging some area of the ground to dispose of meat remnants and then covering it up with a bio-fuel plant, which also turned out to be an energy source. Living together despite differences and finding unity despite diversity is a philosophy that we have come to live by. Consciously or subconsciously, this thinking has seeped into the Indian mindset. The most hardliner individual needs to accept some basic middle ground to survive and thrive. Noted economist and social commentator Amartya Sen places the argumentative nature of the Indians among the positives of this country. He feels that the fact that we can debate, disagree and yet go home without a problem is to the credit of the Indian. He feels that the way forward should be that we argue even more and expect more imaginative results, especially from our political leaders. History of conflict resolution and tolerance In this context, it may be wise to note the historical perspective of our innate ability to accommodate disparities even if they involved the fire of friction in the initial stages. According to a documentary done by historian and author William Dalrymple on the advent of Christianity in India, it is believed that when Saint Thomas set foot in India, he undertook a concerted proselytizing effort, especially in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This required a twin strategy. First, he may have tried to demolish the symbols of the prevalent faith – Hinduism, and second, he may have tried to endear the locals including lower castes, which were at the bottom of the social heap and poorly treated. Once these efforts of St Thomas became widespread and the attack on Hindu notions continued, they irked the Brahminical order of the day so much that they complained to the King, who is believed to have got him arrested. St Thomas is then believed to have been taken to a hilltop and put to death. This in turn infuriated the Christian converts to an extent that they, for years together, demonised the revered gods and goddesses of the Hindus, including the presiding Goddess Kali, painting pictures vilifying them in their churches. Some of these paintings continue to survive on the walls of some village churches even to this day. The idea here is not to give the genesis of the conflict between the Hindus and Christians for a sphere of influence, but to give a historical background about how we have chosen to deal with such quarrels. Over the years however, with the consent of the ruling King, the temple priests, the representatives of the Hindu community and Christian clergy, their followers are believed to have ended the bitterness fusing some of their mythology. Christians are believed to have agreed not to be iconoclastic in their preaching and respect Hindu deities; the Hindus allowed them space, territory and freedom to practice their religion. The beauty of the entire episode blossomed into a form of dance depiction covering events from the time of St Thomas reaching Indian shores. The two communities are believed to have written the entire dance-drama together and this is performed till date, jointly. What must be acknowledged is that through the annals of history, the people of this country have had a remarkably non-violent record and have encouraged a harmonious coexistence. The wrangles within Hinduism have been no less challenging. From the fountainhead of the Vedic civilization, several streams have sprouted, like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. These are all by-products of an internal churning and a quest for different interpretations of the same reality. Change is never pleasant and takes time in gaining acceptance. But it has been accepted. In later stages, when the grip of caste became more of a dogma than a functional social system, reform too began with equal earnest. The Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj were all reformist movements. Sikhism and the Bhakti movement fall in the same category. India continued to wrestle with these caste and class complications when it wrote its Constitution, and is still seeking answers. Fissures have by no means ended in this country. But rather than concentrating on the tensions between communities and cultures that remain unresolved, what needs to be noted, is the willingness to accept differences as a part of life and to co-exist with them. If one were to look for such examples of success, we will find not one, but thousands strewn in the nooks and corners of this essentially tolerant land. The real triumph for India therefore, has been in the good fortune that the vision of our founding fathers was in actuality, a continuity of the core beliefs that were in some form or the other being followed for centuries together in various parts of this massive land. So while stories of riots, ruptures and discord paint headlines red nearly everyday, it is these unsung stories of the common man of India - who has been choosing peace over dispute, and whose ever inclusive spirit does not necessarily make it to the textbooks - that provide that unique and enduring bond that holds this country together.