Friday, February 8, 2013

building the Indian identity

Yesterday, the dhobi's mother rang the bell at 11 AM. She is a graceful woman, in her mid 40s, always neatly dressed in a sari, head covered in the traditional manner.The wrinkles on her face may give the impression that she is older, but then she has not had the good fortune of being born in the affluent classe whose members neither struggle with deprivation nor have any paucity of aids (chemical, organic, out-of-the-kitchen!) to slow down the ageing process. Her husband was an alcoholic who abandoned the family. She has two young daughters who live with the extended family in their native place, waiting to get married. Her son, Satbir, is a despondent young man who had to drop out of school so that he could earn a living. He works hard, is scrupulously honest, and the sight of his drooping shoulders made me ask him one day whether he had nothing to look forward to. I was married off at 18, he said, I have a wife, a daughter and a baby son now, I long to educate myself, travel, I wish I could connect to the world the way you do on your laptop but I have far too many responsibilities to throw away this stable source of income. The family migrated from Rajasthan many, many years ago in search of employment having lost the bit of land they had to the mortgage they could not pay off. They live in a one room tenement in a semi slum on the edges of a group of shining, multi storey, gated, landscaped apartment complexes and earn a living ironing clothes. 

As I handed her the bundle of clothes, she asked whether I could help her in educating Deepika, her grand daughter. Deepika is three and a half years old, a sweet, alert, mischievous looking kid who sometimes accompanies her grandmother, wishes me Good Morning, and politely says Thank You if I have a sweet or savoury for her. There is a government school in their vicinity which -----yes, you guessed right ----is nearly non functional and certainly no place for a three year old. The private schools are far too expensive, even the ones run out of pokey little buildings --- the application form alone costs Rs 250, the grandmother told me. 

I called up a neighbour, who runs a school for under privileged children. A couple of years ago, she had arranged for them a performance by a visiting Israeli musician in a nearby park, which performance I had enjoyed as much as the enthusiasm, discipline and cheerfulness of the students. Of course, she said, Deepika is welcome to join, just make sure there is someone to pick her up after school, she's too little to be sent home in a group. 

So Deepika will begin school next week, in a clean, loving environment. I hope that in the coming years I can help her grandmother in her endeavour to give the little girl a better life than her own.

In the evening, I switched on the television news and every channel carried animated discussions on the political significance of the RSS et al raking up once again the Ram mandir issue. The Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have announced that the Ram Janmabhoomi temple must be built since it defines the Indian identity. 

I am baffled by this statement. The Indian civilization is more than 5000 years old. By some estimates, we have been around as a civilisation for more than 7000 years. Are we yet to evolve our identity? Is that identity, apparently still too diffuse to enamour the RSS and VHP, to be defined by a temple? If it is, how is that identity of any help to those who struggle to make a living, to keep a roof over their heads, to sleep with stomachs full, to access medical care and education ? Will the Ram temple help Satbir live his dream, will it get Deepika an education, will it give her grandmother respite from relentless struggle? Will it generate employment in villages so that millions don't get uprooted from their social and cultural milieu and struggle to find meaning as nameless slum dwellers in a city?

In my very limited understanding, the core values of the Hindu/Indian way of life are spelled out in the Vedic shloka
"Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramaya,
sarve bhadrani pashayantu, maa kashchid-dukhabhavbhaveta!

An India where every Indian is free of want and disease, where every Indian lives a life of fulfillment, a nation of hard working, educated, progressive people, a nation which subscribes also to the belief "vasudhaiva kutumbakam" ---- that is the Indian identity true to our civilisational ethos, the identity we must strive to be true to.

How can a mandir define the Indian identity?


  1. The tragedy of our times is that it is in the interest of the political classes if our identity is not defined by an educated, progressive workforce. How else will they continue to loot the nation while the people are treated like pawns in the name of language, religion, caste, etc. Great post.

  2. Politics in India is what i call "The Politics of Poverty" - keep the people poor, uneducated and struggling for survival. Then their minds are ripe to poison with useless concepts like caste, religion... "identity".

    If people become educated and prosperous, what will the politicians and their cronies exploit?

  3. you will find this story in everybody's backyard- so to say. It is a long haul, a very long haul. In the name of demographic dividend we have conveniently side stepped the need for population control. People with no resources are not advised by any govt functionary to hold their horses after one or two kids. So more the merrier for our vote. So more people to feed, to educate with no or barely there crumbling infrastructure.
    Very few people do their jobs with sincerity, rest all while away their time, working only for that 'little extra'...It is indeed a long haul. If at all.

  4. There has been this rhetoric since ages. The Ram temple will be built, should be built and it should not be built. In this discussion I lost my Rama. The Rama who is more worshipped by Deepika and likes.Rama never needed a temple, He never constructed one all along his 14 years of exile.he sat with Shabri and ate her jootha ber.this is why Rama is the identity of India, because Rama is more loved, respected , worshiped and adored by the people who we think will be better off with out Rama.
    Advocacy is fine, but let us face truth. 80% Hindu population of this country love Rama and worship him. Let us not forcibly make this Rama an RSS Rama. I am not being an RSS activist by worshiping Rama , by reading his sunderkaand or by calling seeta a Maa. What else do I call a woman of such a great calibre , patience and purity. If I do this I am only being a true Indian. And God knows why we identify Rama only with RSS and thus bestow upon RSS the uncalled for honour to be the only Indian organisation.
    Our critisism is becoming their capital.
    Let us not bring Rama , and Krishna in this debate of providing education or values or things like that.
    I am speaking with all experience at my back, if we want to do something in this social structure, be it education, be it training, be it employment be it anything if you want to do good you need to have a business case and no a hatered case for Rama or any one.

  5. No amount of social service is enough. There are too many poor. The chronic deprivation esp in the darkness of eastern UP and Bihar can never be obliterated. Demographic dividend is all crap. India is where all development stops.