At a talk I was asked to give recently about my 20 years in India, someone asked me what was the best thing I had witnessed and what was it that kept me here. Without hesitation I replied, ‘The people.’ Despite on my first couple of visits, having been embarrassed about being British and the obvious connotations that comes with, this was soon dispelled by the most wonderful, hospitable people I have ever met. Particularly in rural India, the hospitality I have been shown by people who have little, has been humbling yet heart-warming.
Of course there are exceptions, but until recently, I have always found India to be all-inclusive and all-encompassing; I once described India as a giant wave, which sweeps everyone up as it rolls along, forever to be enveloped as individuals, accepted by the whole.
Disappointingly, recently, there has been growing unrest once more and cases of inter-religious violence are making the headlines, lynchings for eating beef among many others. For the first time in my 20 years here, I also have recently been directly, verbally abused for being British and for the atrocities my ancestors committed. I am not aware of having direct ‘ancestors’ who were ever in India and should any have been, I would like to think they shared my affinity with the country and were the more ‘kind’ of my birth nation.
However, this abuse came as a shock to me for two reasons; the first, in terms of just how vitriolic it was and not only that, it was from someone whom had clearly wanted to work with me and promote inbound tourism from the UK, which is somewhat worrying. Secondly, it has never previously happened in all my time here. I haven’t shied away from the topic, I have spoken to many people about it, yet never has there been even a raised voice, merely tolerant discussion and debate. What then happened, was that this abuse then prompted other similar comments from people I have known for years and to the best of my knowledge had never previously harboured such animosity against the British. Of course, I don’t condone what the Brits did here, I never have and never will. I often joke that I have spent my entire working career bringing Brits back here so that the Indians can attempt to fleece some of the lost wealth back out of them. But it has made me wonder at why all of a sudden this backlash?
Is it that, generally speaking, there is growing unrest in the country and speaking and acting out against other faiths, nationalities, etc., is now becoming accepted behaviour? I couldn’t agree more with free speech and debate and that each person should be allowed their own opinions, but using vitriol and violence to showcase these opinions, can never be acceptable. I wonder if it is the effect of Shashi Tharoor’s latest speech and subsequent book, ‘An Era of Darkness,’ which is riling up people’s suppressed anger? History should be written correctly and should be known, but when stirring this up turns to anger and abuse, is it a positive effect? Surely tolerance of all people’s faiths and cultures is a more positive way forward?
I was fortunate to hear the Dalai Lama speak last week and one of his messages was that there is no winner when it comes to war and fighting, the focus must be on dialogue and compromise.
Indeed, in the Preamble to the Constitution of India it states:
“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this 26th day of November 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
Article 51A goes on to say: It shall be the duty of every citizen to promote harmony and spirit of brotherhood amongst all people transcending religion, linguistic, regional or sectional diversity.
India is the most extraordinary country with, by and large, the most wonderful and accommodating people. I applaud her 70th Independence Day today and truly hope that her people find a way to continue living together in peace and harmony.
Two interesting reads from the day: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-40887900#
India at 70 – hastening slowly as nationalism looms in a chaotic democracy