I wrote last month in a blog post that some of our (Indian) staple foods originated in alien lands. Yesterday’s Hindu newspaper informed me that even idli, the quintessential South Indian food, probably had its origin in the Arab lands.
The Right Wing ideologues in India like Mohan Bhagwat are still harping on the same old worn-out string of Hindu Rashtra though the more practical people like our beloved Prime Minister and his right hand man, Amit Shah, are choosing to keep mum on the issue at least for the time being.
Why should India be a Hindu Rashtra when the whole world is becoming a global village, countries are opening up their borders and people are moving across the borders with increasing frequency? There are millions of Indians living in other countries, practising their religion without interference from the indigenous people of those countries. Why should India turn parochial when the world (leaving aside a few theocratic countries which are struggling to discover their identities in the secular, scientific world ) has become cosmopolitan?
More importantly, how much of what we think are purely Indian are indeed so? Most of our foods seem to have come from elsewhere. Right from the days of the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations, people visited India for various purposes and some of them settled down in India too. Cultures intermingled. India, like most other countries, witnessed much miscegenation.
There is so much diversity in India today that the country’s culture cannot be brought under one label. In the North-East alone one would find an amazing range of varieties. Take Meghalaya, a tiny state, for instance. The Khasis, Jaintias and Garos are the major tribes in the state. The former two tribes belong to Mont-Khmers ethnically and their language belongs to the Austroasiatic family, while the Garos belong to an entirely different race and their language belongs to the Bodo-Garo branch of the Tibeto-Burman language family. If we take the other North-Eastern states, we will be astounded by the linguistic, cultural and ethnic varieties in that one small part of India alone.
Can the advocates of Hindu Rahstra simply wish away the non-Hindu elements, and very dominant ones at that, in Kashmir, Goa, Puducherry, Kerala, and many other places? It should be remembered that even the Hinduism practised in Kerala may have little in common with that practised, say, in Gujarat.
Indians, like people in any country, have multiple identities determined by language, culture, religion, race, and so on. Today’s Indians also don’t mind mixing these identities when it comes to marriage and other such accepted relationships. Many Indians of the envisaged Hindu Rashtra relish McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken more than masala dosa and bhel puri. Indians are far more broad-minded than their contemporary political leaders.
Why do people like Mohan Bhagwat wish to take India in a direction that is diametrically opposed to the one in which the world is moving? Why can’t Indians be left to choose for themselves their religious faiths or lack of such faith? Why should India take an obscurantist trajectory when those countries which followed such trajectories have already ended up with the dreadful problem of religious fundamentalism and terrorism?
One hopes that the BJP will start using the immense power it enjoys for the welfare of the nation, to take the nation on the path of modernity and rational outlooks, instead of turning back and moving toward medievalist practices and beliefs.
The least that people like Bhagwat can do is to educate themselves a little more and realise that the world is too interconnected a place now for raising racially separatist demands. I’m sure he is aware of what some of our forefathers wrote some 2500 years ago: “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam.”