Saturday, June 13, 2009

Diversity is good

The importance of unity has been stressed on time and again in almost every sphere of life dominated by western thinking. The Physicists, Mathematicians and theologists all seek the unity of basic principles, system of logic and beliefs and faiths. The quest for unity has lead to remarkable achievements in Physics with the theory of everything having being propounded. Where as it is still to be seen if the theory of everything can be verified by practical examples or is it just a very elegant and beautiful system based on some axioms which may not be the one this universe is founded on? Mathematics has somewhat conceded that an axiomatic system cannot prove all truths. Since Godel proposed and proved the incompleteness theorem, it has been a subject of intense debate. Fortunately people are more liberal than Kronecker these days and varied interpretations of this theorem are allowed.

The realm of religion has been the most challenging one when it comes to the unity of system of beliefs. The western religions are dominated by the idea of monotheism and many people find it blasphemous to worship anything not in "the sacred book". The number of conflicts this idea has lead to makes me believe that it was fortunate that there was no central control over Hinduism, Jainism or Buddhism. There was no codified law or the book which had to followed in letter and spirit even f it was written for society and needs of man some 200o years ago. It is no wonder that the modern (read western) philosophies about nationhood consider India an exception which lacks unity of religion, language or history. The religion in India was never as entwined with the politics as in the west where the Roman emperor Constantinople found it necessary to have one draft of the holy bible and one form so that his empire can be consolidated. India had always been a mix of religions and religion has been something very personal not be the basis of political power. This rationale had come very naturally to the east. MJ Akbar points out that if religion was the basis of state then why do we have so many Islamic states and why not just one.

The religions of the west brought peace to the turmoil and the infighting between various tribes or to lend stability to the roman empire. With peace came the founding of large empires where tribes previously at war with each other lived in peace and the political and religious identity got mixed. Soon crusades and jihad became the religious duty of masses and the marriage of religion and politics was complete. The Caliphate and Popedoms controlled the political and the spiritual realm of all our lives. This mix became a very formidable force. While some would be able to revolt against the political heads when they feel wronged but the religion would prevent them from doing so. The chains of nationalism and submission to the will of God became the cause of slavery of humans.

The premise that uniformity means unity was absent in the east. Religions catered to the spiritual curiosity of man rather than a glue for peace, state and order. No wonder many theories sprung up each right in its own perspective and faltering in few. This spontaneous development of spiritual thought was very distributed and as interactions grew the more logical and more emphatically put thoughts carried around the region but with each step across the east lands one could find the variety that can only be found in every grain of Delicious khichdi. It was easy to challenge wrong practices and follow what one feels is right in this system as there was no over arching authority of the sacred book or Popedom. Hinduism was never a religion in the sense the west describes it. It is also believed that the term Hinduism was coined by outsiders and not Indians who used to describe the people in the lands to the east of the Indus river(called Sindhu river in old times) as Sindhus which became Hindu later on. Though orthodoxy creeped in the Hindu religion in time but true to its nature the rigid rituals were as diverse as the geography of India. Thus when India gained freedom, democracy was feared by many as the mechanism for the Hindus to force their rituals and customs to all citizens by the force of law. Quite to the contrary the aggregate or the intersection of all the diverse practices followed by Hindus in India ensured that the pristine and rational thought prevailed which allowed all to breathe freely with their own mix of practices until they fell into a broad framework fencing the the criminal or feudal mindset. In his book "The Swatantra Party and conservatism" H. L. Erdman wonders that though the Indian society is so conservative there has been no conservative party of significant might that has stood so for a long time. Conservatism and codified definitions of religion and nationalism leave out a very large chunk of Indians no matter what the definition is. Thus any process of uniformity covered up in the garb of unity falls into the minority view.

To understand India one has to shun the western ideas which have caused so much conflict. It is widely said that riots began only under the British rule India saw the first riots. This was not due to just the divide and rule policy of the British but due to the Western ideals which feel that everything can be easily broken into various aspects and fit into frames of religion, language etc. Thus the personal religion became the symbol of identity of persons and politics and lead to conflict. India can never be put into such narrow definitions as a Hindu state or a Hindi state or anything like that. It was very wise of our leaders to not succumb to the over marketed logic systems of the west based on unity is uniformity and that every state must have a single national language or culture. Though some uniformity is required for operational feasibility of law and state. Thus we had the Hindu Code bill as the Hindu laws regarding property and personal right varied from place to place and caste to caste. The other religions had more less uniform personal laws as they follow one book. The liberal stance of the hind code bill and its modernity proved that modern thought is not the fiefdom of the contemporary times or post renaissance period but could be the pristine thoughts of the old peaceful times when Bhudhha walked on this earth. Though we may have lost much of that purity and rationale of those practices into the "desert of dead habit " but still the intersection of all the practices do yield the underlying basis of these practices. While the other religions had decayed uniformly under a Pope or a Caliph thus making it hard to find the true reason for the prevailing practices and customs, the eastern religions decayed in various parts in different regions thus making it theoretically possible to get back the original information in the same way as we would have been able to obtain the correct message from many copies of the same message garbled in different parts.

Thus this diversity has proved a boon for us rather than the source of disunity. This diversity has abled us to keep our freedom in political as well religious realms and raise questions without the fear of some one invoking to be the supreme interpreter of God's will and words. We must strive to keep this diversity and also prevent nationalism, and other such concepts which invoke unjustified power in the hands of few, to be codified by the policemen of our society and nation and leave many many people out of its fold. I would like to end this article with quotes of two great Indian leaders on Nationalism and Patriotism.

"Nationalism is good in its place, but it is an unreliable friend and an unsafe historian. It blinds us to many happenings and sometimes distorts the truth, especially when it concerns us or our country." ----- Jawaharlal Nehru

"One must go through nationalism to reach internationalism, in the same way that one must go through war to reach peace" ----Rabindranath Tagore

"Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as i live. " ----Rabindranath Tagore

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