Dialogue  January - March, 2008 , Volume 9  No. 3

India's Self Denial+ tc "India's Self Denial+ "

Francois Gautier*

For me itís a great privilege to live in India. Itís a very difficult country. Itís not easy to drive here; not easy to work here, itís not easy to move around here, not easy to get a permit. But nevertheless Iíve covered India from the tip of the South to Kashmir, South Asia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, but I would say that not only is it a great privilege to be in India, live in India, Itís a great privilege to be an Indian. Indians should be conscious about how great a privilege it is to be born in India. In the West life is very fast. Everything works. Youíll get everything readymade. Driving is easy. But nevertheless something is really missing there. There is lots of wealth there but there is lots of poverty there in terms of spirituality, in terms of peopleís life. There is lots of misery, spiritual misery. People are not happy there. But here in India, there is physical misery, but in the West there is spiritual misery. This is why I consider that itís a great privilege to be born in India because those who are born in this country have naturally very rich qualities which Iíve seen everywhere, in the Northeast, in the South. May be less in the North as Iíve found. Delhi is a big bubble. We live in a big bubble in Delhi. We think we know everything. We the foreign journalists, sitting in Delhi, think we know everything, but actually we know nothing. In fact being in Delhi we are ignorant about everything; whether itís the journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, we know nothing about the rest of India.

As a western journalists itís a privilege to be in India, to cover India. India is such a diverse country. There are lots of things to cover, good things, bad things, terrible things, so many happenings. But unfortunately we find that the Western journalists tend to cover the negative aspects of India. There are two reasons for such tendency. At first, we in the west are very ignorant about your country, about the Northeast region. We pick up lots of prejudices, notions from here and there. In England there might be Kippling, in France there are Ta Ta, Tintin from which one can know about it. Then we read the book like City of Joy which is a wonderful book written by someone who had been in India, who knew India very well and who had very genuine feelings for India. But it might give an impression that in the whole of India there are slums and the whole of India is Kolkatta which is totally wrong. So again we get a wrong idea. And then we hear about Mother Teresa, who did wonderful work in India. But she had been the worst publicity for India in the West, because everybody in the West associate India with Mother Teresa. But the whole of India is not Mother Teresa or not Kolkatta. So, such is the knowledge of western journalists who come to India; we already know what weíre going to write about! We already know about India, of course most of the time itís unconscious. But nevertheless itís a great problem.

The second problem is, when we come to Delhi, as we all have to sit in Delhi and because thereís certain amount of sincerity in us, we quickly realize that India is such a diverse country, such a complicated country that we never understand it within three or four or five years of posting in India. So the first thing we do after coming to India is to turn to the Indian journalists, ask their opinions and usually he gets a very negative feedback. I wonít generalize, but in most of the cases weíre given negative inputs. Most of the Indian journalists are very negative. What we read in the mainstream press about India we see always the same story, the negative angle of India which would sell in the West most. We get a story about corruption; we get a story about poverty. So what the western journalists get from the mainstream press is very negative and they present it that way to the western readers. We are to write stories about the catastrophes, corruptions, story about Phulan Devi, this is the only way to sell India in the west if you are a foreign journalist. Even if we donít go to a journalist for a story and ask the intelligentsia, the writers, the bureaucrats sitting in Delhi, the people of the country, we find that their opinions also are very negative. We find they keep running themselves down.

India is a country, which is not proud of itself. In my 25 years of service in India, I understood that Indians do not realize the greatness of the country, do not understand the value of the country, Indians have forgotten the ancient wisdom. Itís a very ancient country. So much wisdom is there, there are so many great writers, poets, philosophers. Yet we find India constantly denying itself. Iíve written a small book ĖIndiaís Self Denial and in this book Iíve tried to describe why Indians, the Indian intellectuals, elites generally have a tendency of self denial. Why is it that we, the western journalists when we want to write something positive, find the Indian journalists always write negatively that Indian intellectuals always keep running themselves down. Nothing seems to work, it seems that everything is rotten here, corrupt, hopeless. Yet itís such a great country, you realize in such a great country you are living, what a great people there are from Kanyakumari to Meghalaya, what great talents there are in this country, what diversity, what culture, what rich heritage you have. Do you realize that? I find what is lacking in this country is self pride, being proud of oneís country. How can India look forward to things unless it is proud of itself. You can call it nationalism. In our country right from our birth we are taught about the greatness of France, greatness of Christianity, greatness of Greece and Rome. How great Greece and Rome were! They invented this, they invented that, we are told about all that. Weíre given a lesson on nationalism, taught to be proud of our country. The same thing is there in the United States also. They carry even something more extreme, the certain jingoistic nationalism. Yet no country can move forward unless there is unity.

Indians, from this part to that part are not proud of their country. This self-pride is lacking here. You might individually think and be proud of belonging to this country, but as a collective body you lack this. As a foreigner I can observe this and analysed this that generally collectively you are not only not proud of India but keep running it down. Your politicians, writers, journalists, bureaucrats do not bother others. So I tried to analyse why India is constantly denying itself. There are so much potentials, talents. Its true that there are enormous problems. But every country has its own problems. Take Europe for instance, we share the same religion, may be there are Protestants or Catholics, we share the same ethnic origin, most of us are of the same roots. We have the same outlook, same democracy all over. Even then it took long to unite in Europe, Europe has so much difficulties to unite. Even now it is not easy to unite in Europe, there are problems. France and England keep fighting each other; England does not want to enter the common market. In India there are so many religions, so many diversities, so many ethnic origins, people are different from one state to another, they speak different language, have different customs. So it is normal that there are problems. But the biggest problem is that you are obsessed with your problems. There are problems because there is so much potential because there is so much diversity.

Yet there is something that binds India. I went to Shillong for a week. I met the Khasis. Thereís something similar between the Khasis and the people of Tamil Nadu, the same tolerance, the same understanding, the same gentleness. Yet everyone seems to be separate. Everyone thinks that their problems are unique. The Khasi people think that their problems are unique. But the situation in Andhra Pradesh is also the same. People in Kashmir think their problems are unique. Here is the problem. No body cares about the other. No one is conscious about the greatness and unity lying everywhere in India. As I traveled all over India Iíve seen this unity. Swami Vivekananda and Rishi Aurobindo also said the same thing. Even though there is difference in language, customs there is something that binds India. That is the greatness, but India keeps denying this greatness. Indians always keep judging themselves by the western standard. Why do Indians judge themselves by the western wisdom? Youíve a much ancient wisdom, much more ancient civilization. Why do you look to the west always to judge yourself? I tried to analyse this and got some conclusion.

The first reason of this denial is poverty. India considers itself as a poor country. But there are two facts which Indians do not know. The first thing is that the greatest famine that happened in India was under the British rule. In 1947 there had been starvation. According to British statistics one million Indians died of famine between 1800-1825, 4 million Indians died between 1825-1850, 5 million between 1850 and 1875 and 15 million between 1875 and 1900. Thus 25 million Indians died in 100 years! The British brought with them education, enlightenment. But its also true that 10 percent of Indians died during the British rule. 25 million died within 100 years. But you do not know about this.

India was the richest country in the world. It was known as the land of ďmilk and honeyĒ. There were no beggars. The British brought with them the farming system. Then there was a barter system in India and people bartered their home products for food. But the British broke it up. There had been the industrial revolution in the West then and they needed raw materials for their industries, which they started collecting from India.

After 1947 thereís no famine in India. India became self-sufficient. Of course the grains are rotting in godowns and people go hungry.                  Another thing is there is a tremendous amount of black money in India. People cheat a lot right from the richest to the poorest. People have been cheating since 1947. Because in 1947 Nehru thought that the best way to level the inequalities in India, the way to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor was to introduce the socialist system, which left a disastrous effect as it, resulted in making people cheat. Itís sad, terrible. The government is broad enough to introduce a system where black money could be white. There is so much money in India, but that has not been properly distributed. It has to be tapped. So the image of poverty in India is wrong. There is poverty. But it is because of the wrong system. Still Indians keep denying themselves because of poverty. You are clinging to the poor image. In turn the west take you as a poor country. There is no respect for India in the west. How is it possible? Such a big country, ancient country India is! Yet it is disregarded everywhere. There is so much talent in this country, more than Singapore; more than Hong Kong, Taiwan. Yet it is neglected by others. This is only because of Indiansí self-denial. Then Iíve tried to analyse the caste system prevailing in India. There is terrible abuse in the caste system. You again keep denying yourself in the name of caste system. Indiaís great sage Sri Aurobindo said,

ďCaste was originally an arrangement for the distribution of functions in society, just as much as class in Europe, but the principle on which this distribution was based in India was peculiar to this countryÖ A Brahmin was a Brahmin not by mere birth, but because he discharged the duty of preserving the spiritual and intellectual elevation of the race, and he had to cultivate the spiritual temperament and acquire the spiritual training which could alone qualify him for the task. The Kshatriya was a Kshatriya not merely because he was the son of warriors or princes, but because he discharged the duty of protecting the country and preserving the high courage and manhood of the nation, and he had to cultivate the princely temperament and acquire the strong Samurai training which alone fitted him for his duties. So it was with the Vaishya whose function was to amass wealth for the race and the Sudra who discharged the humbler duties of service without which the other castes could not perform their share of labour for the common good.

It is true that in time the caste system has become perverted. Sri Aurobindo also noted,

It is the nature of Human institutions to degenerateÖ There is no doubt that the institution of caste degenerated. The fundamental tendency of Hinduism which is to insist on the spiritual and the subordinate and even the materials thus lost its meaning. The spirit of caste arrogance, exclusiveness and superiority came to dominate it instead of the spirit of duty, and the change weakened the nation and helped to reduce us to our present conditions.

Indians were very clear about the caste system. But the abuses being done in the name of caste are often horrifying. Take for instance one of the former Indian Presidents, Shri K R Narayanan, who is a Dalit. When in 1999 he visited France, all the French press found to say that first he was an untouchable, secondly he is the first untouchable to shake hands with the France President and thirdly that the untouchable have had a very bad deal in India as they are Dalits. It was insulting to the President and the media accompanied him. But the facts could have been communicated differently: that a Dalit could also become the President of India, the highest position in the country. So there is a great amount of democracy and freedom in India. In France no one has been in such a high post, no one has become a President, nor a woman has become a President in France. But in India you had a woman who ruled India for 20 years. Even in Pakistan a woman became the prime Minister.

This is wonderful. We talk about Sati, child marriage, widow burning. The daughters of India played very important roles. But these are not said. It is another aspect of self-denial. In France there is no reservations for anybody, but here youíve reservations for Dalits and others. Here so much has been done for the Dalits.

Another aspect of Indiaís self denial is colonialism, invasion and first the Muslim invasions from the 7th century. You see these are the taboo subjects of India for a variety of good and bad reasons. But I would say that no nation can come forward unless it faces its history clearly. During World War II the Germans occupied France. France not only collaborated with Germany, with the Nazi, but also made them catch French Jews who had been living there for several generations. It is a very shameful episode in French history which France can not yet face clearly. 50 years later we still donít dare to address clearly that part of our history. So unless you are able to look at clearly and frankly something continues to be missing. That something which is missing is from our psyche, own collective consciousness.

Islam is one of the worldís youngest religions, whose dynamism is not in question; and it is a militant religion. They believe that India was a very rich country, the riches were theirs by right of birth, by right of being Hindu. Everything that Hinduism represented was against the tenets of their religion, the Muslim believed. They believed that there was only one God and all the other gods were false. So they broke down temples, killed people in the name of religion. So itís a very sad, terrible aspect of Indian history. But the Hindu collective psyche is still reacting to this. Once Gandhi said Hindus are cowards and Muslims are bullies. I think he was not far from the truth. Hindus do not stand up, they are scared, and as soon as there is a chance of riot they go inside, they donít stand for each other. But see the Christians they help each other always. Even a Muslim helps a Muslim anywhere in the world. Not so in India. This was why Mother Teresa was able to come to India. She picked up people dying on the street; Hindus, no other Hindus were picking them up. This is why missionaries can come to India and convert people. Thereíre helping the downtrodden. No Hindu is doing this. Hindus do not help others. They avoid terror. The Muslim invasion marked India in a very different manner, India did not take it properly. In 1947, at the time of freedom movement there were problems regarding Pakistan. It existed and still it is relevant. The deed that divided Hindus and Muislims at the time of partition has been creating problems. Whatever happens in contemporary India is a consequence of these invasions, whether it is creation of Pakistan, whether it is Kashmir, Ayodhya or Kargil. So youíve to look at this. You, the teachers, politicians, bureaucrats, journalists must take this problems seriously.

Then there was the European colonialism. The British came and ruled India. But they did lot of harm to India. They were very few and Indians were in large number. So they had to play the divide and rule policy. It is true that British divided India. The worst thing they did was education. They realized that they could not Govern India unless theyíve an intermediate class of Indians who would coordinate between the government and the native. So they started the policy of educating Indians and they are successful even today. People in India keep this education policy as it is their own. The British created this pattern 200 years ago. Today in India youíve a pattern of education which is a British pattern. It is incredible. You are making your children western. Why? Are you teaching them to be an Indian first? To be proud of their own country? Do you teach about the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, or even Rishi Aurobindo or Vivekananda! No not at all. This is a catastrophe. This is the biggest problem in India today that you are creating clones who have lost their roots. Hindu is one of the giant religions. You should not be ashamed of yourself. This country is great because it accepted everybody. Everyone in India is free to follow his religion, free to do his own trade. Its unique. No where in the world has such views. India has such a great tradition of tolerance! Hinduism is not only a religion; itís a way of life. India is a great country with great philosophy. You need not be ashamed of being a Hindu. What does Hindu mean? Itís a way of life, of tolerance, gentleness, acceptances of other religions, other gods. It has to be said. But India is denying itself. Again youíre ashamed of being Hindu. This is a big problem.

Education in India is a leftover of the British period. It is a very westernised education which produces brilliant students because Indian students are among the brightest students in the world. They are very fluent, versatile, brilliant, but at the same time they do not have much grounding in their own culture. Indians go outside and say that ďin my country people are persecuted, there is no freedomĒ. What do you mean by Ďfreedomí? Iíve found India the most secure place with my camera, my pads and all. Never was I marked. I had been in very dangerous places in India. I got no problems. As a journalist I can go anywhere, at anytime. But in China you cannot move so freely. A foreign journalist there needs a government permission informing about the topic. You should appreciate India. Of course there are problems. There are problems because of democracy, freedom. Separatism is here in India.

When the British came to India they realized that India is much more ancient than their civilization. So they made the Indian people believe that people from the west invaded India. Then the British divided India by pushing some to the south on the basis of the caste system. So the Aryans divided India like nothing else divided. The division between Dravidian and Aryan is very strong. But latest discoveries say that the Aryans originated from India only. In Greece it has been found that many of the arithmetic theories were from India. Yet in Indian textbooks the story of Aryan invasion says that the Aryans came from the west, they brought this, they brought that. But in reality Indian civilization is a very ancient civilization. Many of the gods in Greece, many of the stories of Christian literature were directly inspired by Hindu Pauranic stories.

Take another aspect; it is not easy for an Indian, a Hindu to be a national party President in France. But see Sonia Gandhi- she knows nothing about India. But still she is the President of one of the oldest and biggest national parties in India. This is great Indian tolerance.

But all these are kept under the carpet. Why cannot India be proud of itself clearly? At last Iíve something to say about Nehruvianism which is prevalent in this country. Nehru, probably with some good intention thought that socialism was the best way for India to lessen the gap between the very rich and very poor. But unfortunately it proved wrong. It created not only massive bureaucracy which no government can agree with. This country is run by millions of bureaucrats, half of them can be out and this would make no difference to India. The education system, judiciary, everything was adopted without trying to put the Indian originality into it. Democracy was invented in India. Nobody says that, not even the text books.  

There were republics in ancient India. In ancient Indian kings could be demoted also. Even today you go to the Khasi hills, you can see that the Syiems are also demoted sometimes. Democracy existed in India long ago. But the situation changed after Nehru came to power. Everything is being controlled from Delhi. But it is not proper. Being in Delhi theyíve no idea about what is going on in other parts of the country. So Nehru never cared to look at the ancient wisdom of India. And as a result millions of backÖ cases are lying in the court, youíve got such an education system, a Constitution which has given no power to the President. This is wrong. To get elected in India you need to spend crores. Where do you get this? These are all black money. So corruption starts from the beginning. Sincere people cannot become a politician in India as the system is wrong. Youíve to change this. Thereíre many sincere people who want to do some good. But they never become politicians. Weíve to change this. Because what Nehru did, may be with a good intention, he created havoc. The problems of the Northeast, the ignorance of the Northeast can be directly linked to Nehru. The Kashmir problem also can be related to him. So the effect of one manís legacy is still very much realized. This is why India is denying itself. Nehru created a breed of intellectuals who kept hiding everything from the people.

So my conclusion is that India should reject this self-denying. There will be enormous problems. Unless people unite themselves the problem cannot be solved. Even ecologically the country is in such a bad state and keeps growing in pollution; all the cities are crowded, polluted. Youíll have to take charge of your own country. You cannot leave it to the politicians. They failed for the last 55 years, whatever their party, they failed you, they betrayed you. You elect them, they go to Delhi and forget why they were elected. They are elected by the people for the people. But theyíve changed the Parliament to a fish market. Itís a shame that people behave in such a way. They donít care for you. The main problem is that there is no collective sense, civic sense. People do not care about others. Even in Delhi if someone falls from his scooter, nobody will stop. So, do not complain that the Christians come and convert you as you do not do anything for your own people. Very few organizations are here working for the downtrodden. Hindus are very passive. Unite from the bottom. Youíve to save India. Itís your duty. Otherwise it will be lost very soon. People are extraordinary here, unique. Youíve to stop running down yourself. So what is needed now is unity, collectiveness. Everyone is pulling one side. Meghalaya is pulling on one side, Tamilnadu is pulling on one side. So is Kashmir. Do you want India to break up?

Sanskrit, if simplified, could be acceptable to everybody, majority of the people can accept it then. No government in India has initiated such a step. Tell some scholars to simplify Sanskrit and tell the people to try it. There is no harm in it. India is divided by its language also. If you know only Tamil then you canít travel all over India. Again there raises a question of saffronization. Why? Sanskrit is your ancient language. Whatís wrong in teaching or learning Sanskrit? Regarding the introduction of Astrology in the University I would say that astrology is studied everywhere. So why are you wasting so much time in such a small topic? People thinks that the government is going to saffronize India, demonize India. But astrology is the biggest selling thing, everybody reads it. Indian ancient science was great. It is still great. The ancient Indian medical system. mathematics is great. Even astrology is a great science. But here it has become a controversial subject, much time is wasted in the Parliament house. Even on question of the Vedic culture [which is Indiaís very own] the opposition walks out.

Regarding the medium of instruction in school I would say that the medium of instruction should be the local language, whichever state you are; The national language should be the first language, then Sanskrit should be taught to the children right from the Kindergarten and of course English should be taught in the school as we cannot do away with English. The fact is that English is the world language in terms of business, internet and it is the universal language. Let the state language be the first language, national language be Sanskrit and international language be English. And it is very clear and logical too.

Some of the old aspects of Indian tradition should be done away. For instance when the Prime Minister goes abroad, the whole cabinet goes to the airport with him. I understand this is a part of the ancient tradition, but this should be done away with as much time is wasted and this is both sycophancy and also a tradition so this also should be given up. This sycophancy should be given up.



Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati