Will the Real India Please Stand Out?

BY THE QUIRKY INDIAN
Jan 09, 2011

Land of the growing billionaires club and a prosperous middle class? Or where the forgotten millions live, struggling to make ends meet? The Quirky Indian asks how we might resolve the contradictions.

344 Two sari-clad beggards guard the door at Humayun's tomb in Delhi. (Credit: Trey Ratcliff)

 

Why There Are No Indians in India

Another Indian blogger Indyeah has resurfaced with a post that asks why we seem to be Punjabis, Jats, Malayalis, Yadavs, Dalits and Kannadigas, but not Indians. A post written, I suspect, more in hope, idealism and perhaps frustration than anything else.

So, who is an Indian? Ask me. I really don’t belong anywhere – including the place where my ancestors lived. At any place in India, wherever I go, my identity and acceptance – and therefore my ability to function as a normal human – seem to hinge on my speaking a particular language, or my belonging to a certain caste, a certain religion, a certain ethnicity. The boundaries of identity that we have been drawing around ourselves seem to be getting tighter and tighter, as we discover reason after reason for some new fissure, a fresh fracture. Ironically, the only place within India where I will be labelled and identified (and therefore hated) as Indian is Kashmir.

I don’t see this changing. If anything, I see these fissures getting wider and deeper. Why, you ask? Well, for one, constitutionally-guaranteed-right-to-work-anywhere-in-India or not, migration will always happen. Both from within the country and outside. We might grow from six cities that are economic magnets, for instance, to 12 cities that attract the bulk of the migrants. But the flow of migrants is not going to stop – at most, it might ease somewhat.

Then there’s this wonderful concept of identity, honed to a fine art in this country called India. The politics of identity feeds on the concept of the “other”. My thesis is that migration will not stop. Ergo, the conclusion is that neither will the politics of identity. Not here, not anywhere. But here’s what’s worse – even if I am wrong, and migration does stop, the politics of identity will never go away. If there’s no “other” from “outside”, well, a new “other” will be created, from the existing, deceptively homogeneous mass. There will always be new players who will want power and a piece of the pie – and they will slice and dice identities until, quite literally, there might come a day when the politics of identity will reach ridiculous levels. You know, when we have political parties like the Mylapore Dravida Nadar Catholic Kazhagam, or the Nizamuddin East Punjabi Hindu Khatri Janata Vikas Manch.

And don’t think I’m trying to be funny here. (Well, maybe a little…). But isn’t it true that we have moved into an era of even greater fragmentation, where everyone seems to be getting violently agitated about the same things – caste, language, religion, region – but in a more granular way? Witness the rise of the sub-categories: sub-castes, dialects, sects, sub-sects and sub-ethnicities.

 

The Great Divide

Of course, we will have the usual apologists who dole out the same tired clichés about how great India is notwithstanding all this…their arguments (and that’s being charitable) seem to be in the form of “only 60 years, so much progress, growing economy, survived global recession, superpower” without looking at either our trajectory or the direction in which we are heading.

A bunch of businessmen getting richer and entering the global list of billionaires is great. The emergence of a middle class more prosperous than the previous generation is wonderful. A million or so bloggers having collective orgasms about India’s place in the world is fantastic. But we seem to forget that timelines have been seriously crunched in this age we live in.

Each generation demands faster and quicker change. All this optimism – we shall overcome, we are the best and other such infantile fantasies – does not seem to have much basis in reality, unless of course the reality is that these optimists live in a mythical India far, far away from the dust, grime and poverty of the real one.

The real India where the forgotten millions live, struggling to make ends meet, without access to water or basic health care.

The real India in which – depending on which definition you use – around a third of the population lives in poverty. The real India in which a great part of the country is wracked by a deeply entrenched and violent Maoist insurgency. The real India where half the children are underweight. The real India where the forgotten millions live, struggling to make ends meet, without access to water or basic health care. Did I mention primary education? This cheery list could go on.

But Indyeah’s article was more an attempt to find solutions. Well, to be proud of being Indians, we first need to be proud of India. And we can be proud of a better India. So there we go. That’s the ultimate question, as far as we are concerned. Do you want Better India? Yes. Can we expect anything good from Our Great Rulers? No. So now it’s down to us.

I believe small things can make a difference. While Indians don’t give back to society and are not philanthropists in any sense of the word, we could – and should – guide the next generation in that direction. We can just start by behaving like good citizens. Let’s be courteous to our fellow citizens – in small ways, in the way that we dispose of our trash, in the way we drive, in the way we stand in queues and generally in the way we behave, especially in public areas. Let’s teach our children these small things. Perhaps they’ll be better people than us. Better People.

Pay for an underprivileged child’s education – fees, books, the works. Any child in your immediate vicinity. Ideally, as far as resources and time permit, do more than that – take an interest in her education. Monitor her progress. Interact with her. Hopefully, that child will learn something other than what is in books, and perhaps the India of 2030 might be a slightly better place than the one of today – and that’s not really a big ask!

I truly believe this is something small enough to easily do, but big enough to matter.

 

This post was originally published on The Quirky Indian in May 2010.