A Columnist Asks What’s Wrong With India

Chetan Bhagat at The Times of India:

“Countless articles, books, thesis, papers and research reports have tried to answer the question, ‘what is wrong with India ?’ Global experts are startled that a country of massive potential has one of the largest populations of poor people in the world. Isn’t it baffling that despite almost everyone agreeing that things should change, they don’t? Intellectuals give intelligent suggestions – from investing in infrastructure to improving the judicial system. Yet, nothing moves. Issues dating back thirty years ago, continue to plague India today. The young are often perplexed. They ask will things ever change? How? Whose fault is it that they haven’t?

Today, i will attempt to answer these tricky questions, although from a different perspective . I will not put the blame on everyone’s favorite punching bag– inept politicians. That is too easy an argument and not entirely correct. After all, we elect the politicians. So, for every MP out there, there are a few lakh people who wanted him or her there. I won’t give ‘policy’ solutions either – make power plants, improve the roads, open up the economy . It isn’t the lack of such ideas that is stalling progress. No, blocking progress is part of the unique psyche of Indians. There are three traits of our psyche, in particular, that are not good for us and our country. Each comes from three distinct sources – our school, our environment and our home.

The first trait is servility. At school, our education system hammers out our individual voices and kills our natural creativity, turning us into servile, coursematerial slaves. Indian kids are not encouraged to raise their voices in class, particularly when they disagree with the teacher. And of course, no subject teaches us imagination, creativity or innovation. Course materials are designed for no-debate kind of teaching. For example, we ask: how many states are there in India ? 28. Correct. Next question -how is a country divided into states? What criteria should be used? Since these are never discussed , children never develop their own viewpoint or the faculty to think.

The second trait is our numbness to injustice. It comes from our environment. We see corruption from our childhood. Almost all of us have been asked to lie about our age to the train TC, claiming to be less than 5 years old to get a free ride. It creates a value system in the child’s brain that ‘anything goes’, so long as you can get away with it. A bit of lying here, a bit of cheating there is seen as acceptable. Hence, we all grow up slightly numb to corruption. Not even one high profile person in India is behind bars for corruption right now. This could be because, to a certain extent, we don’t really care.

The third trait is divisiveness. This often comes from our home, particularly our family and relatives, where we learn about the differences amongst people. Our religion, culture and language are revered and celebrated in our families. Other people are different – and often implied to be not as good as us. We’ve all known an aunt or uncle who, though is a good person, holds rigid bias against Muslims, Dalits or people from different communities. Even today, most of India votes on one criterion – caste. Dalits vote for Dalits, Thakurs for Thakurs and Yadavs for Yadavs. In such a scenario, why would a politician do any real work? When we choose a mobile network, do we check if Airtel and Vodafone belong to a particular caste? No, we simply choose the provider based on the best value or service. Then, why do we vote for somebody simply because he has the same caste as ours?

We need mass self-psychotherapy for the three traits listed above. When we talk of change, you and I alone can’t replace a politician, or order a road to be built. However, we can change one thing – our mindset. And collectively, this alone has the power to make the biggest difference. We have to unlearn whatever is holding us back, and definitely break the cycle so we don’t pass on these traits to the next generation. Our children should think creatively, have opinions and speak up in class. They should learn what is wrong is wrong – no matter how big or small. And they shouldn’t hate other people on the basis of their background. Let us also resolve to start working on our own minds, right now. A change in mindset changes the way people vote, which in turn changes politicians.

And change does happen. In the 80s, we had movies like “Gunda” and “Khoon Pi Jaaonga”. Today, our movies have better content .They have changed. How? It is because our expectations from films have changed. Hence, the filmmakers had to change.

If we resolve today that we will vote on the basis of performance alone, we will encourage the voices against injustice and we will place an honest but less wealthy person on a higher pedestal than a corrupt but rich person. By doing so, we would contribute to India’s progress. If everyone who read this newspaper did this, it would be enough to change voting patterns in the next election. And then, maybe, we will start moving towards a better India. Are you on board? “

My Comment

This is an interesting and, within its limits, accurate piece about the character traits that contribute to the rampant socio-economic problems India faces. Those problems are in sharp focus right now, thanks to the ongoing bungling involved in the hosting of the Commonwealth Games at Delhi.

To many libertarians, these sorts of  generalizations are specious, collectivist, and possibly racist.

I disagree.

Granted, cultural generalizations are just that and shouldn’t be misapplied, it’s still possible for an acute observer to identify cultural problems with a degree of objectivity.

Chetan Bhagat manages this quite succinctly.

But if Bhagat had wanted to be even more succinct, he could have summarized his entire thesis in one word: dharma.

Dharma is often incorrectly defined as “duty,” in the Kantian sense.

While it can encompass that too, it’s more accurate to define it as “the way things should be” (social order)…or “the way we’re wired” (nature).

Dharma is perhaps a unique composite of duty, social and natural order, and individual destiny.

In its essence, then, it is a concept of the highest refinement and wisdom.

But even supernal ideas lose their value as civilizations lose touch with their sources.

Dharma, for many Indians, has ended up being “the way things are,” or, alternatively,  “que sera sera.”

It ends up inducing passivity. Which leads to the first two flaws identified in the article –  servility and apathy toward injustice.

That passivity also reinforces people in their instinctive tendency to prefer kith and kin over strangers.

If I had to pick just one character flaw that holds up India’s development, this would be it – dharma,, in its negative mode,  as slavish passivity.

However, the odd thing is that if I had to pick one thing that constituted a special strength in the Indian character, it would also be dharma.

But dharma in its positive mode – noble acceptance.

New Findings About Race in India..

This news item republished at the genetics blog, Gene Expression, is likely to have some impact in India, where there’s been a long-standing debate about the North Indian-South Indian divide, also known as the Aryan-Dravidian divide.

There are several theories about the origin of the different peoples of India. The most popular one and the one that’s favored by the most prominent historians is the Aryan invasion theory.This theory suggests that there was a substantial difference between a preexisting population of shorter, darker people in South India (called Dravidians) and an invading bronze- age culture of taller, fairer people (Aryans) that brought in Vedic or Hindu culture.

This theory, of course, has had a lot of repercussions not only for history and anthropology, but also for politics. The Aryan invasion theory depicts Hindu culture as having a foreign origin, so it was considered colonial, if not racist, by many Indian scholars.

Anthropologists consider Indians to be a branch of a widely dispersed Indo-European group that sent out branches to Persia (Indo-Iranian), Europe (Indo-European) and India (Indo-European). Race theories that developed in the 19th century tended to use this Aryan theory as their foundation (if I’m not mistaken).

However, many Hindu nationalists have considered the Aryan invasion theory a colonial distortion and have argued instead that the movement of people was in the opposite direction. In other words, the Aryans moved outward from India. This would make India the mother culture of the Aryans

Critics of this Indian origin theory call it an outgrowth of Hindu chauvinism. The debate has been a pretty heated one, as a consequence.

Now comes new research.

The Times of India notes:

“The great Indian divide along north-south lines now stands blurred. A pathbreaking study by Harvard and indigenous researchers on ancestral Indian populations says there is a genetic relationship between all Indians and more importantly, the hitherto believed “fact” that Aryans and Dravidians signify the ancestry of north and south Indians might after all, be a myth.

“This paper rewrites history... there is no north-south divide,” Lalji Singh, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and a co-author of the study, said at a press conference here on Thursday.

Senior CCMB scientist Kumarasamy Thangarajan said there was no truth to the Aryan-Dravidian theory as they came hundreds or thousands of years after the ancestral north and south Indians had settled in India.

The study analysed 500,000 genetic markers across the genomes of 132 individuals from 25 diverse groups from 13 states. All the individuals were from six-language families and traditionally “upper” and “lower” castes and tribal groups. “The genetics proves that castes grew directly out of tribe-like organizations during the formation of the Indian society,” the study said. Thangarajan noted that it was impossible to distinguish between castes and tribes since their genetics proved they were not systematically different.

The study was conducted by CCMB scientists in collaboration with researchers at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. It reveals that the present-day Indian population is a mix of ancient north and south bearing the genomic contributions from two distinct ancestral populations – the Ancestral North Indian (ANI) and the Ancestral South Indian (ASI).