By Mayank Shekhar
In the general elections of 2014, India renewed its promise of development in the new government. India has made some headway in the last two decades from its positioning as a ‘third world’ country to a developing nation, even though it got its independence 68 years ago after a millennium under invasions and colonial rules. The people of India expect development to be on a fast track in the current Govt.’s tenure. As is typical, the expectations are high and patience very short. At the same time, the opposition and the media together are creating diversions one too many in too little a time. The current government and a good number of its leaders, largely social and traditional, think that India should lead and guide the world. India’s traditional past from before its colonization does support such an idea. For the promise that Indians carry for its future, India must change. No matter which area it takes up for change, be it economic or social development, it finds itself at the crossroads.
India faced these crossroads in 1940s at the time of transfer of power from the British. Unfortunately, India side-stepped these issues and followed the British policies and European ideas of society, economy and government, thereby undermining its own tradition that gave it a brilliant past. From the beginning of the Common Era (CE), of which there is recorded evidence, up until about 1750 CE India had been the largest economy. The gap between India and the rest of the world was such that even though it was on a sharp decline India maintained its economic status during much of Islamic colonization. Dharampal, a Gandhian, details the rich heritage of India, be it technology, education or agriculture, in his seminal work published in five volumes from historical research in education, agriculture and technology from about thirteenth century onwards, largely of the colonial period. His writings draw on the records of travelers, govt. surveys and reports of commissioners, which he had to hand copy when he ran short of funds. India gave the world technologies in the fields ranging from agriculture to manufacturing. Education in India was wide spread across all sections of its society. Contact with India, I would dare to claim, triggered a change in education in the European societies just as technology from agriculture increased agricultural production in the West. Medicine, weaving and loom also were areas in which Indians were much superior. India, then, gave the world its modern life, while it received oppression, famine and genocide in return from all it’s European and Islamic colonizers. Worst, as Dharampal disposes, the colonists of the last few centuries, and the British in particular, deliberately created policies to colonize the Indian mind such that it lost all contact with its past and its tradition. S.N. Balagangadhar has established and coined the word Colonial Consciousness describing the phenomenon in detail. This is the first crossroads India faces. Can Indians look into their consciousness and find the ways that guided their ancestors to success and development while living in harmony with nature for so long? What lessons have we learned in the last six decades of ‘our own’ government? India must debate, decide and formulate its policies based upon answers to these questions.
India has followed and pursued the colonial practices even after six decades of transfer of power from the British. Right from framing of the constitution, everything that India took up it followed one or another European idea. It did not invest in any study to analyze the model it was about to follow, let alone understanding the Indian society and how these models would work for India. It brought in systems that were not only foreign to India, but were not understood even by the promoters themselves. The members of the committee responsible for writing the constitution and the members of the constituent assembly did not invest in analyzing the ideas and policies they were discussing. The Panchayati Raj which was adopted in the Indian Constitution is a case in point. Dharampal has documented how the constitutional panchayat did not work whereas the traditional panchayat was very effective even in the second half of the twentieth century. During the framing of the constitution, questions were raised, arguments made pointing to the deliberations since early 1930s towards a panchayati system that some had discussed for their own country. All of this was not only ignored, but even the proposed constitutional panchayat was not discussed citing lack of time. In one of the villages in Rajasthan, where Dharampal was sent to evaluate the implementation and functioning of the constitutional panchayat, Dharampal found and has recorded how the constitutional panchayat failed to approve a building for the Panchayat. The panchayat did make an application for the construction of the building but had not received any response till the time Dharampal was inspecting the working of the Government Panchayat. However, the panchayat did have the building constructed and on inquiry Dharampal found out that the building was constructed by the traditional Bisbiswa panchayat while the constitutional panchayat was still awaiting approval. One already knows that the reservation policy has failed India and is nothing more than an appeasement policy. Prof. Balagangadhar (popularly known as Balu) while analyzing the reservation policy in its formulation found that the discussion on reservation was based around an idea of social justice, but it is not clear what this idea was and what social justice meant to the members of the constituent assembly at the time of transfer of power. There was no theory, no clear understanding and yet such adhoc ideas were the basis for formulating policies for the independent India. The more one will look, the more adhoc decisions and policies one will find.
Today’s societies are preoccupied with the ideas of modernism in the garb of development. First and foremost, the development that most of us are concerned with is financial security. Given the state of cities and towns, and the large manufacturing facilities that we have built, infrastructure is lacking since it was done without keeping the future growth in mind. Economic development is a necessity and welcome. However, modernism has not been analyzed in the context of the Indian society. What this modernism has done to a society and its fabric is not even under the scanner of any study, perhaps following the ideologies of their leaders of the recent past. Development followed under this modernism has served only a few, specifically those who were already better placed economically while leaving the majority of the people out of the growth story. Modernism has perpetuated a class system that European society ended up with when it started replacing its own caste system. Feminism is also a product of this modernism. It first made women unequal partners and then insinuated them to fight for justice against the gender inequality. Women are instigated against their own value system. It creates barriers within families leading to unhappiness. Women in traditional India have been great warriors, queens, head of panchayat, and contributed knowledge as the authors of the Vedas. Traditional Indians behold women as Janani, the creator. There are voices amongst Indians albeit few and far between, but most are labeled nationalists and muted by the loud mouth media and perpetrators of this modernism. Moreover, this segment also lacks the wherewithal to formulate social policies. Unless studied within the context of a framework of the Indian tradition, which Dharampal recommends and Balu is searching for, it cannot be said whether these voices are one of desperation grown out of current state of society, or have roots in the traditional ways of thinking and bringing forth changes. This modernism essentially destroys the very notion of a nation and that of a family. It feverishly promotes individuality. Citizens become individuals standing on their own while community ceases to exist. The mindless pursuit of individuality for financial security has resulted in breaking traditional families to nuclear ones with each individual looking out for one self while competing for a life style they least understand. Continuity is disrupted with rapid changes. People are mimicking aspects of the ‘modern’ Western life with little understanding and destroying their own culture, and making a mockery of their own tradition calling it superstitious, religious, unscientific, backward, uncivilized and thus undeveloped. The mother tongue is replaced by English, essentially the colonizer’s language, and its tradition by the institutions created by the colonizing nation to maintain their control. A nation’s traditions become defunct and people colonized. Modernity is the new weapon of colonization. It is fast paced; giving little time to pause and think what it is, what it means to them and to their society. Individuals are busy building their lives in an attempt to move from one economic class to another. The nation ceases to exist leaving the state rudderless without a history but with just a set of laws. The laws are often made by vested interests and governed in the name of a constitution. A constitution becomes a document that the larger populace has to swear by but no one knows and lest understand who it is for, what it is, and supposed to do. It reflects very little of the people and their ways of going about life and society. Coherence in life and nature is replaced by its meaning to an individual – soaked in “I” and divided between mine and yours.
Even in its industrialization, India is under the grip of the large multi-nationals. The colonists this time are the large multinational companies and the financial giants playing the game in the name of removing poverty, science, and development; all these wrapped in modernism. No one in the academics or public debate seems to be thinking of the development model India should move forward with. No one in the public debate is thinking of a nation that India should be. Larger India is lost in securing themselves financially. Academia in India is busy repeating and reproducing what West has already disposed. There is a mindless aping of the model promoted by the ‘Super Powers’ despite ample evidence of its failure to achieve development for all and that all their economies are in crisis today. While it escapes the imagination of larger India, the intellectuals in India are also not discussing the future of India beyond the lofty ambitions of being a hub for manufacturing and services, high GDP and growth rate – all parameters of a Western economic models. One wonders where the intellectuals are.
India is at the crossroads because it has followed the West while its traditional values have been laid to waste and worst, being rendered inaccessible. India, in fact, was made to follow the West first by creating a generation of brown sahebs and then by putting them in positions of power. The story of the two colonizations is a longer story spanning the last millennium. It will be much easier for the larger populace to accept that India on its independence from the British, did pursue the policies of the colonial British. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, told his countrymen that we Indians have a lot to learn from the Englishman when he opposed Tilak’s Poorna Swaraj. It had to be with the idea of usurping Tilak’s popularity that only a few years later the same Congress leaders were forced to adopt the idea of Swaraj who gained control of it from the hardliners. Even independent India crushed its indigenous thinkers as mercilessly as their colonial masters and their brown sahebs. If the British called these thinkers Nationalists and hardliners, independent India called them Hindutvavadi, Hindu Nationalists and Saffron brigade; all in the name of secularism for they were all viewed as ‘religious’ and worst even ‘Hindus’. History of India has likewise been written to sanctify colonial rule, as ‘saviors’ of uncivilized and superstitious Indians. Researches in the last fifty years now clearly indicate that the history that is taught and being told about India is not only wrong but mischievously designed.
Consequently, India still faces a multitude of problems. It has a good number of people living in poverty. There are law and order problems in cities. Women’s safety is a concern, though not any more than anywhere else in the world. Infrastructure is far behind the current needs. To solve these problems, India needs to understand itself, its people, the traditional past they come from, what paths they have traversed recently and where they need to go. Now that India is breathing a fresh energy, it is high time to debate the issues India is facing and make its own choices rather than being forced upon by multinationals, brown colonial slaves and, worst, by time.
[ Mayank Shekhar is an IIT Madras alumnus, and currently Director of an IT company. He is an avid reader, thinker, researcher and a volunteer social worker. An out of the box thinker, Mayank is dwelling on the Chitta, Manas and Kaala of Bharat. With his knowledge of history, philosophy and Indian darshanas, he is looking to revive the Indian tradition. His writings are directed to reinvigorate thinking towards a new India that world can look up to.
Mayank is a founding Director of California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Material (CAPEEM) (www.capeem.org). CAPEEM primarily works with the California Department of Education and pursued legal action to remove bias from the textbooks in California. Mayank is also the Secretary of Educators’ Society for the Heritage of India (ESHA) (www.eshausa.org). ]