(Dis)Unity in Diversity?

September 30, 2007

Unity in Diversity. We have grown up hearing this common refrain while referring to India.

But as India celebrates its 60 years of independence, and amidst the immense euphoria regarding the massive strides that the country is taking on various economic and technological fronts, we Indians need to pause for a moment and do some introspection.

Are things as great as they appear?

Indian industry is reaching new heights. Indians are doing some great things all over the globe. But what about India - the nation? In pursuit of our individual pursuits, do we ever give the nation a thought? And is the diversity India so proudly acclaims proving a hindrance? Are the divisive forces winning over the cohesive elements that have kept us together so far?

Some nations are bound together by religion. Some by their language. Some even by geography. But what is the common thread to unite India?

Unfortunately, Indians practice most of the major religions in the world. The constitution of India recognizes 22 languages as official languages, with plenty more spoken in different parts of the country. And the multiple breakups in the Indian subcontinent over the course of history have ensured that there are multiple nations with people who look and act similar. Due to this diversity, India is left with no common thread with which to unite its people.

There are so many divisions in our society. Among the most unfortunate ones being the division based on religion. Fundamentalist forces (predominantly Hindu and Muslim) have done a lot towards breaking up society. Then there is the feeling of belonging to a region more than the nation – being a Tamil (or Bihari, or Punjabi, for that matter) before being an Indian. Add to the list the animosity that some North Indians feel towards people from the south, and vice versa. The recent trend towards reservation based on castes has arguably not really helped much towards uplifting those castes, but become a crucial instrument in vote bank politics. Instead, this has probably even increased the ill feeling on the basis of caste.

Why can’t we stick together? Why must we Indians hate each other as much as we do? Throughout history, India’s problem has been its dividedness. Earlier invaders took advantage of this to trample the country over and over. In the recent past, the very famous divide and rule policy resulted in one of the most significant events in Indian history, starting a gradual decline in Indian society.

Are we ashamed of our people? Or are we all just too plain selfish to warm up to each other?

I came to the US some years back with the impression that Indian people in this country would normally be very happy to see another one of them. Not quite. On the contrary, while walking on the road if I come across some Indian, they wouldn’t even make eye contact, let alone smile at you.
I am tempted to ask of them. What did you think? I would stop you and ask for some favor? Or am I going to take your job?
I could never really come up with a logical explanation for such behavior. And I am not the only one who feels this way. Many people that I know have also experienced this.

Indian economy is growing but the society seems to be going into a decline. Bomb blasts in Hyderabad, Riots in Agra, Dalit movements in Haryana, and separatist movements in the north east and elsewhere. The world can not take us seriously till we get our house in order.
India is at a critical junction at this point of time – poised for greatness. It’s time for the people to decide what direction they want to go towards. Time for the people to come together, and the political leadership to rise over the narrow vote-bank mindset and work towards the country’s growth, not just their prospects of a second term in power.

To add on to a quote from my favorite movie of 2007 (Chak De India)- be an Indian first, and then a Hindu, or Muslim, or Mumbaiite, or Gujarati.

Also Read: Divided We Fall

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16 Responses to “ (Dis)Unity in Diversity? ”

  1. mahendrap on September 30, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Very, very nice post. Great!

    The popular Maharashtrian humorist, P. L. Deshpande, more commonly known simply as “Pu La”, has made the following observation in his article on pet birds and pet animals: While visiting a London zoo, he happened to come across a crow in a cage. A normal, ordinary, crow, you find so common in India. He says the crow appeared not to notice him, just like Indians appear not to notice each other in foreign countries!

    //The world can not take us seriously till we get our house in order.//
    How true!

    The rest of your words would be too long for me to quote in the comment - But I agree with you wholeheartedly!

  2. pr3rna on September 30, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Cricket and Hindi film industry are the two things that bind us together.Don’t forget outside threat!!!Let any outsider threaten India and we forget all our divisions.Kargill war proved that.

    • Gump on May 22, 2014 at 11:36 am

      This is way better than a brick & mortar esbsiltahment.

  3. [...] Peter Kafka wrote an interesting post today!.Here’s a quick excerptUnity in Diversity. We have grown up hearing this common refrain while referring to India. But as India celebrates its 60 years of independence, and amidst the immense euphoria regarding the massive strides that the country is taking on … [...]

    • Gracelynn on May 21, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      I found myself nodding my noggin all the way thoghru.

  4. Shefaly on October 1, 2007 at 3:12 am

    “On the contrary, while walking on the road if I come across some Indian, they wouldn’t even make eye contact, let alone smile at you.”

    Amreekandesi: When you passed people in the streets in India, did you smile at them, let alone make eye contact? We have a whole different thing going with the population density making it very difficult to preserve any sense of personal space around ourselves.

    The other way round: In the US, how many “natives” do you see acknowledging each other, making eye contact and smiling at strangers of the same ethnic group as them? In modern days, “you looking at me?” is no longer a De Niro like. In some parts of the UK and the US, it is an invitation for a gun to come out and start shooting. The personal space argument also applies in tightly packed Tube/ T/ Metro trains.

    When I first went to live in Switzerland, it was cold, -30C and people wore dark clothes and coats, collars upturned. There was no eye contact at all. That did not change as summer came. People just do not make eye contact. BUT that does not mean they will be impolite. People in the UK - no matter what colour - do not make eye contact either.

    The whole point of saying this is to say humans everywhere avoid eye contact for many reasons. Indians or Indians abroad are not the only ones. I think you are reading too much into it… :-)

    * I am guessing that the answer to the first question is “not often” and that to the second one is “close to none”.

  5. amreekandesi on October 1, 2007 at 6:39 am

    Mahendra - That Pu La quote is so full of wisdom. And thanks for the appreciation

    Prerna - You are right - cricket and movies are definitely some of the binding factors. But are they enough?

    Shefaly - The answer to the first question is ‘always’ and to the second one is ‘most of the time’.
    Dont know about the UK or Switzerland, but i guess this sort of courtesy does exist in the US.

  6. madhuri on October 1, 2007 at 6:59 am

    Nice post.
    ‘The other way round: In the US, how many “natives” do you see acknowledging each other, making eye contact and smiling at strangers of the same ethnic group as them?’

    Actually in the US, 90% of natives do smile and acknowledge others on the street. Not only well dressed executive types but i have had homeless persons smile and say good day without actually asking for alms. This was indeed a big cultural difference i faced when i initially moved here. Also it is very true that desis do not make eye contact with desis on foreign roads. Not only on roads but in communal gatherings like durga puja for instance, desis are usually in groups of their own. Which to a new comer without friends in this country is very intimidating.This does beat the purpose of the gathering in the first place.

    But there is always hope and out of the 10 desis you meet on roads even if 1 smiles, let that be a positive step.

  7. Shefaly on October 1, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Amreekandesi and Madhuri: Thanks.

    I must have grown up on another planet then, because I do not recall strangers smiling at me even in India. :-( And my experience of people not smiling at me also extended to the US, where I lived and worked for some time (Cambridge, MA and Washington DC).

    Is it that people in India do not smile at strange girls, for fear of being branded road-side Romeos? May be the male experience IS different. Probably Amreekandesi can comment?

    But wait, Madhuri, you said “This was indeed a big cultural difference i faced when i initially moved here”, did you mean difference vis-a-vis India or elsewhere?

    My experience of desi gatherings in UK is that everyone talks to everyone, randomly too, without waiting to be introduced. But these are self-selected gatherings. In that 1st gen migrants like me do not socialise with 2nd gen desi Brits. They have families, extended families and cousins, where I imagine their thirst for desi-ness and desi contact is well-sated. :-)

    However I do not think it is a big deal that people do not smile at me. With all respect to them and their roles here, some of the migrants in the UK may have never crossed paths with me if they had remained in India so whether they smile at me or not is moot but worst case, hardly an opportunity loss.. I definitely do not think this means anything sinister or awful about Indians abroad or Indians in general. I have encountered meanness in every colour so I would not single out Indians for that special honour 8-)

  8. amreekandesi on October 1, 2007 at 11:40 am

    I have encountered meanness in every colour so I would not single out Indians for that special honour
    aww Shefaly…come let me give you a hug!

    I would think that you missed the point…i am not even talking about other races. Just saying that as aliens in a foriegn land, you tend to expect some warmth from your compatriots. And are surprised to find that that doesnt happen.

    Oh well..what am i explaining? You already called me a hypocrite.
    Wrings hands in despair and walks out the door waving maniacally at the heavens and sobbing uncontrollably

  9. madhuri on October 1, 2007 at 11:55 am

    @ Shefali
    I agree with you that in India people do not smile at strangers on roads and that is a cultural difference that i mentioned before. But strangers on roads of India do make eye contact and are not oblivious to your existence. On the other hand, I have noticed that ‘natives’ in Los Angeles and in New York (lived in these cities for almost five years)do smile and acknowledge strangers on roads. I would be happy to believe that Indians in USA still follow a non smiling Indian code on streets, but not to make eye contact is a separate issue. Since the write up is about a decrease in warmth between Indians due to their separate spoken languages and faiths, it is very pertinent in this context, whether another Indian smiles or makes eye contact with you in the roads of USA.
    However i am glad that you have faced warm friendly Indians in gatherings in UK.
    And as far as our differences of opinions, the world is big enough for both of us to co exist isn’t it?. I also feel that a difference of opinion does sprinkle some spice into an otherwise mundane environment.

  10. Anil on October 1, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    A million dollar question.

  11. Shefaly on October 1, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    “You already called me a hypocrite.”

    When??? It must be my evil twin, the devil…

  12. Dharm on February 14, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Hii to all!
    My name is Dharm and i am from Delhi, India. I liked this article… there are some strong points in this article which i think too that are true and right at some point.
    It is true that the biggest problem in india is Castes and Religions ( Hindu / Muslims / Sikh / Christians and so on…). I am Hindu, I am Bihari, I am Sikh, I am Muslim….but nobody says that i am Hindustani that i am Indian. The latest example of it is the Mumbai case in which Shiv Sena did very shameful act…they tried to divide india now on regional wise. How shameful it was that these few peoples had attacked on other regions peoples. India is a free country, who have given right to them to stop anyone to coming in their state? How they think that these few politician can divide 100 Crores of Indians who are living together. This is really shameful act Shiv Sena did recently.
    But still i feel that indians are strong and unite when it is matter for the Nation. We are unite no doubt about it. China War, Cargil and not just this but there many times i seen the unity of indians.
    Corruped peoples are every where, in every country… in their eyes no value for nation, no value for humans…they just have meaning with themselves…. India also have corrupted peoples… but still the nation is running on honest peoples shoulders.
    About eye to eye contact… i do not think so that in india there is something like that… i always see peoples like to smile when see each other… they see in each other eyes and you will see a great attraction in the eyes of those who are honest. Yeah most of the peoples busy in struggling with their lives.. but still indians are better then anyone in this world…i bet.
    Movies and Cricket… Movies plays both parts…good as well as bad too… Very rare times i see any good movie that inspire peoples to do something good… The movie Chak de india…really a good movie… but on other hand u see the movie Om shanti om… how poor that they insulted Mr.Manoj Kumar ( who has honored with the name Bharat Kumar) just for money how can you spoil a great person identity? There is one good movie recently launched by Mr. Amir Khan… Taare Jamin Pe… a great movie..
    Cricket… now just a symbol of money and politics… no natural cricket… Still have SattayBaazi and Still politics in it. Competition between BCCI and ICL is the biggest example.
    I just wanna say… indians are good but only few wrong politicians plays cheap politics.

    Indians are Best and Unite when its the matter of Nation.
    I support India Always.
    Jay Hind.

  13. Divided We Fall | amreekandesi.com on November 16, 2008 at 3:34 am

    [...] (Dis)Unity in Diversity, Kashmir Still [...]

  14. amlistening on November 16, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Hi Again AmericanIndian
    Read this one from 2007 after the new 2008 one(Divided we fall). Glad to see a ray of hope in this one.
    Trust me, we do feel happy when we see another Indian on road, though we/I may not smile.
    Its not the Indian culture to just pass smiles to strangers (especially if one is a girl). I still get to see the occastional eye contact, tilt of head or a rare smile from a friendly Indian. I like the warmth of the presence. Its like feeling your mother is around even when she might be busy and not giving you anytime.

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