The invisible bonds that connect the nearly 30 million strong Indian diaspora are culture, traditions and the shared heritage. This is the biggest link that keeps generations of People of Indian Origin still feel deeply connected with their mother nation, reports Deepthy Menon
At every PravasiBharatiyaDiwas, there is immense focus placed on keeping India’s cultural ties with its widespread diaspora alive and thriving. The seminar on India’s culture and heritage moderated by India’s Union Minister for Human Resources, Dr ShashiTharoor proved to be a global forum in representation too. Apart from eminent personalities of the Indian diaspora from world over that included legislators from the United Kingdom and Malaysia, politicians representing the national governments of Nigeria and Canada provided the outsider’s narrative to the story of assimilation of the Indian Diaspora into their host countries, even while preserving the customs, traditions and culture of India intact in their chosen lands.
They say marriages are made in heaven and many couples want to create it an epic grandeur, and opt for exotic locales -- from tranquil beaches to royal palaces. Weddings in India have always been a larger than life affair. Mritunjay Kumar explores some of the best destinations for weddings in India.
Nowadays, bachelor hangouts in Goa and ethereal bridal showers in the pristine locale of the Himalayas are not enough to pump up the adrenaline rush, topping on the cake is to locate exquisite venue to say “I do”. We know your dream destination for wedding should be serene, family-friendly and filled with romance.
It is assumed that it is known to most how negative impact casteism has on Indian society, polity and economy in recent past. A sizeable section of the population is still exposed to abuse and discrimination.
The effects are also felt abroad at times. However, education and awareness has significantly increased, Indian government has taken many measures, including reservation in education, jobs and political positions. Significant improvements have happened since India shook of the British yoke from her neck. But there is still a long way to go to fully solve the challenges related to caste issues. After all, this social problems were developed over centuries and cannot be wished away so fast in an ancient and complex society like India.
On the other hand, many so-called 'upper-class' people in India today has complaints of reverse discrimination and disadvantages due to the 'quota-raj', or reservation for minorities has gone to some extreme to deprive the other groups, even though they may not be economically or politically privileged.
However, scholars like K S Lal believed that the worse form of discrimination in the name of caste was not in existence before the invaders and colonial powers held sway.
He and other scholars suggest that there was little evidence to show that the lower classes suffered from the tyranny of the Hindu upper classes in the medieval period. According to him, if that was true then the backward classes would have joined hands with the Muslim invaders to take revenge against the upper caste. But Lal noted a contrarian view: "Throughout the medieval period, the lower castes fought shoulder to shoulder with the upper castes and against the foreign invaders and tyrannical rulers."
He explained: "Backward classes and forest dwellers went on growing under Muslim pressure. Their numbers and nomenclatures have proliferated. Muslim rule spread all over the country. Resistance to it by Hindus also remained widespread. Jungles abounded throughout the vast land and fight into them was the safest safeguard. That is why the SC/ST people are found in every state in large numbers. During the medieval period, the years and centuries of oppression, they lived almost like wild beasts (remember Rana Pratap's life?) in impoverished huts in forest villages, segregated and isolated, suffering and struggling. But by settling in the forests these freedom fighters of medieval India were enabled to preserve their religion and their culture.
As we put the record straight, we find that the small and scattered class of trained and traditional Hindu warriors, mostly Rajputs, stood exhausted by the time of the Mughal invasion, having fought the earlier invaders at every step for well-nigh centuries from the middle of the seventh to the end of the 15th. The leadership of Hindu resistance to Muslim rule thereafter was provided by what are termed the Backward Castes and the Dalits in present-day India. These classes had fought earlier under the leadership of Rajput Rajas and zamindars. Now they took up the leadership on themselves, and battled with the Mughal regime till the latter stood shattered by the middle of the eighteenth century. It is a different story that in the process the backward castes and the dalits suffered grievously and found themselves in a bad shape by the time the Islamic nightmare was over. That story has yet to be put together from indigenous annals which historians have neglected so far. This study is only a beginning, based for the most part on medieval Muslim chronicles."
Many scholars believe that the caste exploitation may have been the result of rigidity of the Hindu caste system which was developed as a result of moral degeneration of the Hindus after losing political power for a long time. Evidence supports that before the Islamic invasions, the Hindu social system did not have the rigid discriminatory rules which were developed after this.
But if we pause and analyze a dark part of Indian history we will see how the Indian social system actually helped saving India from sinking into dark medieval ages ruled by religious fanatics. Here are few observations on how the so-called caste system helped India to protect from total socio-political-cultural annihilation by foreign forces. In fact, the reference to the word caste here actually is for the jati system.
According to many, the jati system was pivotal to the survival of the Indian nation. In Swami Vivekananda's words, "Caste is an imperfect institution no doubt. But if it had not been for caste, you would have had no Sanskrit books to study. This caste made walls, around which all sorts of invasions rolled and surged but found it impossible to breakthrough."
India always had a strong well-trained world-class army under various kings and kingdoms. However, there were times when in-fighting and lack of unity paved the way for the invasions. K S Lal in his book 'Growth of Scheduled Tribes and Castes in Medieval India' writes:
"Hindus suffered repeated defeats on the battlefield because due to a weak state system, their armies were ill-organized and ill-equipped as compared to the Muslim state system which was highly militarized and geared to total war. Hindus would have been wiped out if their social system had been as weak as their state system."
Scholars observe, that almost all countries lost their past culture and heritage altogether after the crusades and invasions. India was specifically targeted by Islamic invasions, was ruled by Islamic rulers for about 1,000 years, many of whom were religious fanatics. Yet, India retained her ancient culture and heritage and a pluralistic society; many attribute this to India's jati system.
Scholar Ram Swarup wrote: "With the advent of Islam the Hindu society came under great pressure; it faced the problem of survival. When the political power failed, castes took over; they became defense shields and provided resistance passive and active. "
According to K S Lal, "So well coalesced was the Hindu social structure that it not only saved India from the fate of countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt when they confronted the Islamic onslaught, but did not rest content till it had supplanted the Muslim political power in the land even thought it took a thousand years to do so. Hindus had suffered only a military defeat against Muslim invaders. It was not a collapse of the Hindu social system."
The maximum accomplishments in science and philosophy happened in India when there was absolute freedom of expression. But with the advent of Islamic invasions, things went down the hill. The traditional scholars and thinkers, the Brahmins were butchered or captured and the rest withdrew them from the arena of knowledge sector. Finally they had no choice but to remain happy occupying themselves in the preservation of the sacred texts and the practice of rituals. India's Bhakti movement was not as prominent as it became after the Muslim period. Though a great movement, it has a painful history behind.
In a shocking revelation Swami Vivekananda had to say this about the advent of the Bhakti traditions that Dr Arun Shourie quoted: "The aim of the Bhakti movement was not just an ecumenical one of picking the best in all traditions. The aim, the Swami says, was to prevent wholesale conversion to Islam."
"The movements in northern India during the Mohammedan period are characterized by their uniform attempt to hold the masses back from joining the religion of the conquerors, which brought in its train social and spiritual equality for all... The friars of the orders founded by Ramananda, Kabir, Dadu, Chaitanya, or Nanak were all agreed in preaching the equality of man, however differing from each other in philosophy. Their energy was for the most part spent in checking the rapid conquest of
Islam among the masses, and they had very little left to give birth to new thoughts and aspirations. Though evidently successful in their purpose of keeping the masses within the fold of the old religion, and tempering the fanaticism of the Mohammedans, they were more apologists, struggling to obtain permission to live."
Same can be said about the British rulers who had deployed numerous missionary projects for spreading Christianity and protection their interest in India.
Dharampal wrote in 'Rediscovering India', "For the British, as perhaps for some others before them, caste has been a great obstacle, in fact, an unmitigated evil not because the British believed in casteless-ness or subscribed to non-hierarchical system but because it stood in the way of their breaking Indian society, hindered the process of atomization, and made the task of conquest and governance more difficult".
Scholar Koenrad Elst goes little more in depth. He wrote, "Christian and Muslim missionaries found it very difficult to lure Hindus away from their communities. Sometimes castes were collectively converted to Islam, and Pope Gregory XV (1621-23) decreed that the missionaries could tolerate caste distinction among Christian converts; but by and large, caste remained an effective hurdle to the destruction of Hinduism through conversion. That is why the missionaries started attacking the institution of caste and in particular the Brahmin caste. This propaganda has bloomed into a full-fledged anti-Brahminism, the Indian equivalent of anti-Semitism. Every caste had a large measure of autonomy, with its own judiciary, duties and privileges, and often its own temples. Inter-caste affairs were settled at the village council by consensus; even the lowest caste had veto power. This autonomy of intermediate levels of society is the antithesis of the totalitarian society in which the individual stands helpless before the all-powerful state. This decentralized structure of civil society and of the Hindu religious commonwealth has been crucial to the survival of Hinduism under Muslim rule. Whereas Buddhism was swept away as soon as its monasteries were destroyed, Hinduism retreated into its caste structure and weathered the storm.
He explained, "Abbe Dubois, a French missionary, was one of the most influential European travelers. Dubois had difficulty in converting Hindus to Christianity. He attributed this difficulty to the Hindu caste prejudices. Hindus are addicted to their superstitions and prejudices born of caste affiliation. Nobody can change them. His book Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies (1816) became the official gospel of the East India Company. Christian missionaries in general were frustrated in getting Hindus to convert to Christianity. All the abuse was heaped on the institution of caste and on crafty Brahmins who kept the masses duped."
Hence, it is clear that mainstream Indian history has shied away from doing proper analysis of causes and effects of the Indian caste system. It is well-known that Indian political system influences Indian history till date where in the name of 'social-harmony' and political correctness, many times facts are swept under the carpet. Now, India is matured enough to take up these uneasy facts and embarrassing truths sot that truth prevails. After all, the national motto is 'Satyameva Jayate', or truth alone triumphs.
"I never thought I'll teach bharatnatyam to such an acclaimed actress like Hema Malini. Though she is senior to me, still she took me as her teacher. While working with her for her stage performances I learnt things that I did not learn even from my guru, says Hema Malini's Bharatnatyam teacher S P Srinivasan.
Srinivasan who comes from Srirangam, a small village near Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, learnt dance at the Kalakshetra, Chennai, moved to Mumbai and trained Hema Malini and for a short period her daughters, Esha and Ahana Deol as well in Bharatnatyam.
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