Thursday, July 02, 2009

You're telling me about tolerance?

Coomi Kapoor here raises the same comparison of the booing of the English team by Indians at Lords and our reaction backhome when certain segments celebrate Paki wins as I did here.

She then goes on to question Indians’ attitudes towards foreigners in general.

The article is well-meant but poorly thought over. I recently came across a blog by an Aussie where he questions India’s moral authority on xenophobia when our own track record of tolerating minorities is so abysmal. A similar fallacious approach underlines Coomi’s article.

India is a unique case in its plurality – no other country can be compared to it. Even US’s claim is invalid. I’m not merely talking only about the quantitative, but a qualitative uniqueness. An Italian-, German-, Irish- American, is essentially an American – in the sense, there is a definition of an American that he will fit. He will be a Christian, he’ll wear a shirt and trousers, he’ll have cereals for breakfast, he’ll play softball with his kids, he’ll speak English and he’ll watch Lost. I mean, that there is a broad assimilation in its plurality. As Mukul Kesavan points out – ultimately the leader of the black movement for equal rights was a suit-wearing, English-speaking, Christian priest, already assimilated in the mainstream definition. Would he have made an impact if he wore what his ancestors in Africa did and spoke the same language?

The world is beginning to understand that migrants have different cultures but they still remain migrants. Their culture is never given the same recognition in the new national culture as the mainstream one, and their lack of integration in mainstream is explained away as their still fresh arrival – underlining the expectation that in another generation or two they will be more integrated with the national culture.

Again, MK brilliantly dissects the American – and increasingly European – plurality with the Indian plurality. In American plurality the right to being different is at an individual level but not so much at the community level. In India, the right to being different is at the community level and being fought for at the individual level (today’s ruling legalizing gay relationships is a landmark judgment in this regard.)

No one else can understand the plurality of our country – how deeply it runs. I share a citizenship, an identity with people I do not share a language, religion, diet, habits, culture with. The only way this is possible is – to have no single monolithic identity at all! Everyone’s culture becomes the national culture – and hence the biggest threat to this culture of plurality is the right-wing parties who seek a oneness in our identity, a monoculture.

As an example, take the case of the hijab in France. I know a lot of Indians agreed with the contention of the French authorities (a sign of the Hidutvization of our “informed” middle-class). But who defines a norm – is the wearing of hijab wrong because the white Christians don’t wear it? Then by the same logic, the not wearing of hijab is equally wrong in Islamic countries. The issue is not the hijab but – where do you define the nucleus of the monoculture?

India is, and has always been, the one true poly-culture place in India. Add the scale of this unique phenomenon (The country split on religious grounds and still more Muslims remained here than in Pak, and almost anywhere else in the world! The world has seen so many partitions and genocides on ethnic ground, and the biggest one ever failed here.) and, of course, when you allow for so much interaction of plurality the potential of conflict is a lot more.
But this conflict is a result of this integrated plurality. The rest of the countries do not face these conflicts because there is no plurality in the Indian sense. To be an American you have to be, well, American.

When there are 16-18 official national languages, the minorities are the largest of their kinds anywhere else in the world, people look different drastically – and they all have equal claim to your national identity – come to this level and then we’ll talk.

No one, no one but us Indians only, can question ourselves on our tolerance. Because no one can understand it as they do not live through it. I have shared food and rooms with people from all religions, regions, languages and cultures – and that can never happen at this scale in any other country. My school was composed half of Muslims who ate different food, followed different social habits, had different festivals, different scripts, newspapers, mother-tongue – and yet had not arrived in the country two generations ago. They were there for eight hundred years and had as much claim to India as me.

I would disregard the Aussie’s comment because he’s a fool. He’s talking about things he can’t even imagine. A country which killed all its natives in recent history and supplanted a culture from around the world and called it the native culture.

But what about you Coomi? You’re asking us to look outside for lessons on tolerance? We are the A to Z of tolerance! What next – do I look at China for lessons on constitutional freedom?

The Aussie concern you’re talking about is the MNS concern about migrants. If there is one single national character to our country is its blind tolerance; and I don’t who does it bigger disservice – Raj and his goons or opinion-makers like you who lose perspective in the flush of their righteous indignation.

1 comment:

ramya sriram said...

hello, it you cant access any email? turns out i need to mail you about something asap.. how do i contact you?