“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?
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.
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.