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The wounderful article on India Art and Culture

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

India's Culture, Society and Economy
Past present and future
Shri. S. Gurumurthy

 I. The Critical Question
The single most critical question which has tormented the Indian establishment consisting of most thinkers, intellectuals, academics, political leaders, policy makers, economists, sociologists of India since Independence is whether the Indian religions, culture, traditions, lifestyle and values are compatible with the contemporary time, particularly for economic development. This question has also acutely tested the faith and conviction of the people in Hindu culture which constituted, according to the Supreme Court, the way of life, ethos and traditions of the Indian nation itself. [1] It has also challenged the capacity of the religious and spiritual leaders to help sutain the faith of the people in their religion and philosophy. While the Indian establishment had virtually concluded that India's traditions and culture are incompatible with contemporary economic thinking, the people of India did not agree with the establishment and the religious and spiritual leaderships of India had kept the faith of the people alive in both. But, with India now perceived as a rising world super power by think tanks like the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relation [ICRIER] in India [2] and many outside, it is time to make a value judgement on Indian culture – its past, present and future – to know to whether it is compatible with contemporary demands and what is it contributory role for India and for the world as India emerges as a global force. This calls for a look back and look ahead from our current position

II. Indian mind under western influence

 In free India's discourse, the proponents of our sense of this ancient nation, Hindu philosophy, culture and lifestyle had always been on the defensive for the last several decades because the colonialists had made us belive that the West was always advanced in economics and technology and we were always backward in both. Since the soft India was militarily conquered and colonised, the colonial and the other Western thinkers, consistenly labelled India as barbaric [Wm. Archer (3)/ Winston Churchil (4)], or as semi-barbaric [Karl Marx (5)], or as disqualified for development in modern capitalism because of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs [Max Weber (6)] or as functioning ararchy [JK Galbraith (7)] and exerted great negative influence on the Indian mind and on Indians' opinion about India. Of them, according to studies, Karl Marx and Max Weber, neither of whom visited India nor otherwise deeply familiar with Hindu culture and traditions, have exerted the greatest influence on Indian academic and intellectual establishment [8]. The continuing tsunami of such negative academic and intellectual vibrations devalued the Hindu philosophy, culture, society, traditions and values in the mind of the Indian scholars and rated them as backward and unsuitable for contemporary world. A well-known Indian economist Dr Raj Krishna even described, as late as in 1978, the moderate GDP growth rate of India as 'Hindu Growth Rate'.[9] This term was later popularised by the then World Bank chief McNamara [10] to say that India would always survive on aid from West and deride India. Undeniably the Indian mind was dominantly influenced by the Western scholars and philosophers

III. The U-turn – western scholars now disprove the detractors

But in the last decade or thereabouts, this whole impression has undergone a change with the rise of India. With the rise of Japan in 1970s, of the East Asian nations in 1980s, of China in 1990s and of India at the dawn of the 21st century, a huge geo-political and cultural power shift has been taking place in the world from the Euro-American West to the Asia. The assumption in, and of, the West till Asia rose was that West was the First [rate] World and the rest belonged to the Second and Third [rate] Worlds. The rise of Asia, Japan first, prompted the Western scholars study whether such rise was founded on any potential inherent in them. On such study, Paul Bairoch, a Belgian economist, came out with his stunning finding that as late as in 1750, India, with 24.5% and China with 33% had a combined share of 57.5% of global GDP, when the share of Britain was 1.8% and that of US just 0.1%. [11] This led to two huge debates in the West. One, whether the West had a lesser standard of living compared to Asia as late as in 18th century; two, whether the rise of West was due to any superior qualities or capabilities inherent in it, or, it was just exploitation of its colonies. Based on Bairoch's study some historians like Ferdinand Braudel said that the standard of living of the West was not higher than that of Asia before industrialisation. Some felt that the West exploited the Rest and particularly Asia and grew and others differed. As if to resolve the debate, the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation [OECD] a forum of developed nations of the world, constituted a study – the Development Studies Institute – under Angus Maddison, a great economic historian, to study, in substance, whether Paul Bairoch was right. Angus Maddison, who felt at the start that Bairoch was unlikely to be correct, ended up endorsing him completely. In his study 'World Economic History – A Millennial Perspective' [12], Maddison not only confirmed Bairoch, but went on to say that India was the world economic leader for 17 centuries from the beginning of the Common Era, with China, which overtook India later, as No 2. And after CE 1800, both of them lost out – with India crashing to 1.8% and China 6.2% in 1900. As the British Historian William Dalrymple wrote, the current rise of India is not rags to richest story, but that of an empire, which had lost out temporarily, striking back to acquire its due position in the world. These studies have completely disproved the views of Marx and Weber, Galbraith and Raj Krishna and also established that the Indian culture and way of life could and did build a successful globally powerful economic model for India. So, India rich in cultural heritage was also economically prosperous. It was therefore canard spread by the colonial scholars that the Indian culture and traditions were incompatible with economic prosperity.

IV. Traditional culture and modernity, economy and society

It is necessary at this point to know what, in the Hindu understanding, is tradition, culture and modernity and what is their role in the economy and soceity. Our culture, according to the Kanchi Mahaswami who lived for a century among us, is founded on the twin principle of “aparigriha” [contentment] and “nirahambhavana” [humility]. Both these virtues are the products of the larger consciousness of relation among humans and within all elements of creation; they recognise and imply a higher duty to fellow humans and to nature. The virtue of contentment recognises and balances economic differences. Humility comprehends and addresses all differences. These two virtues help to unify the diversities. This twin virtues are therefore in tune with the very principle of creation, namely, unity in diversity. The diverse appearances of high and small, high and low, and weak and strong are harmonised by these virtues of higher relations. This is supplemented by worldly relations, family, community, society and nation. Our culture honours relations. It rests on relations and it promotes and sustains relations in turn, as Sri Krishna says in Bhagwat Gita, on the basis of “parasparam bhavayantah”, namely mutually co-operative relation. Our tradition and culture mutually co-operatively related individual to families, families to communities and communities to larger society and the larger society to the country and finally the country to the world on the principle of “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam”. No other ancient civilisation even thought of the world or the world as 'family”; the modern civilisation looks at the world as 'market'.   The expanding relationship of these collectives is well-described in Mahabharata capturing the integral relation betwen individual, family, village, the country and God, thus: “Tyajet ekam Kulasyarthe, Gramasyarthe Kulam tyajet; Gramam Janapadasyarthe, Atmarthe prithivim tyajet”[13]. It means that [rights of] individuals are to be sacrificed for the family; [rights of] families are to be sacrificed for a village; [rights of] villages are to be sacrificed for the country; and when it comes to realising God, the entire everything can be sacrificed.” The meaning is that the individual owes duties to families, families to village [neighbourhood] village to the country. So the relation between the individual to the nation is interlinked and integrated by a sense of duty to one another. The traditional society is relation-oriented which binds everyone to duties to families, near and dear, community and society, even to nature and animals. This sense of duty is comprehended in the concept of Dharma. Now let us see how the decline of culture or collective behavioural norm leads to economic decline.

 V. Cultural decline leads to economic decline

In contrast, in the Western civilisation there is no integrality, only compartmentality. The individual and his rights are supreme, subject only to the law. If there is a conflict between the individual and the family or between the individual and the village or society, the individual rights prevail. In the Western view, the family itself is a contract, a terminable one. There is nothing called society, said Margaret Thatcher [14]. Driven by individualism, modernity rests on law and contracts to regulate individual human beings. The principal drive of modernity is rights and rights-consciousness – the individual rights, human rights, gender rights, animal rights and so on. In fact the core of modernity consists in releasing humans from tradition, traditional relations and bonds and atomise them and grant rights to them.

 While India, China and generally Asia are on the rise, the Euro-American economies are declining or slowing. The world which has witnessed almost a breakdown of the global financial system in the year 2008 saw two distinct responses. The Asian countries which are largely family-community based recovered fast. The Economist Magazine wrote a cover-page article on Asia's “Astonishing Rebound” [15]. But the West, which has over several decades, weakened family and communities has not recovered from the downtrend. Actually, the bankruptcy of households in America triggered the financial crisis in America that exploded as the financial crisis in US, which is later exported by America as global economic meltdown. The recent economic downturn of the West, particularly America, is a standing example of how this sequence of decline in culture and values to decline in national economy is a cause and effect sequence. This led to the decline of families. This necessitated the state with social security programme to intervene to take care of people – the elders, infirm, and the unemployed, who were left unprotected because of the decline of culture and therefore families. In the year 1980, the National Bureau of Economic Research [NABER] in US had warned against this kind of State-provided social security which makes families functionless and purposeless adding that it would inevitably cause “serious erosion in family values”. The NABER said that while business firms have taken over much of the family functions production of food, the State taking over the vital functions would render the family meaningless [16]. This amounted to virtual nationalisation of families. With the nationalisation of families, the propensity of the families to save also was eroded. This also futher accentuated decline in savings. The current value of the future social security burden of US is estimated at $104 trillions [17], which is 6.5 times the GDP of America! This is the cost of the decline in culture and families. Experts say that this is a dynamite waiting to blow up the US economy.

VI. Indian thinker Bahuka's economics rejected in India thousands of years ago, is now followed by America

The economic policy which makes the people government dependent on the government was originally expounded by an ancient Indian thinker Bahuka in Srimad Bhagawatam. Kamsa, who became a hate figure because he repeatedly killed the children Vasudeva, asked his adviser Bahuka how to make the people, who hate him, accept him. To which Bahuka replied: 'open your treasury to the people; give them free money to enjoy life; breakup families; teach women that chastity is not worth having at the cost of pleasure; bring up children to look upon parents as old and useless; once people begin to believe in unrestrained pleasures of life as the goal of life, self-restraint will disappear; and men will be like well-fed cattle at the mercy of their cowherds and like uncomplaining beasts, obey your lash as if it were a favour from you.' [18]

This is precisely what the US economic system has done to its people. It has freed the people from families and relations and enslaved them to the government. This individuals are individually free, but collectively slaves! Each one of Bahuka's advice has been implemented in US. Women have lost chastity for pleasure and that is why a fifth of the pregnants are teenaged girls; 41% of the pregnants are unwed women [19]; and half of the households are government dependent [20]. The Americans have discarded their relations, turned families into contracts, to be finally at the mercy of the government. The individuals, women, and elders got freedom from their families only to become slaves of the governments. So the advice of Bahuka rejected by Indians thousands of years ago, has now been adopted by US with the disastrous consequences which India has avoided. The US today bears testimony to the fact that the decline in culture leads to decline in econonmic performance and strength of a nation.

VII. Dharma and modernity

The sense of duty in traditional model and the sense of right in modernity are a total contrast. The duty of one transforms into the right of another. So dharma transcends both duty and right because it comprehends both. Dharma consists of self-enforcing norms by the voluntary submission of the people. Culture is the collective behaviour according to the norms of Dharma which protects Dharma; and Dharma which is the behavioural norm of the individual and then collective protects culture. The relation between Dharma and Culture is mutually beneficial co-operation. Enforced law which creates enforceable rights cannot create families; but it can destroy them. It cannot create relations; but it can destroy them. It cannot create communities; but it can destroy them. This is self evident from a comparison of law and contract dominated West and culture and relation dominated – read dharma driven – Indian society.

VIII. Indian culture has protected Indian society, economy

The principles of Dharma embedded in our cultural values which have protected our society and economy are: respect for parents and elders, respect for women; respect for teachers; respect for animals; respect for nature. These principles are embodied in the concept of Pancha Mahayagna. The upanisad proclaims “matru devo bhava”, pithru devo bhava” “acharya devo bhava” and “athithi devo” bhava. Our Vedas proclaim reverence for mother earth. Our religious literature calls upon all to worship girls and women through kanya puja and sumangali puja. Mahabharata insists on protection of forests and tigers saying that tigers protect forests and forests protect tigers [21] Our spiritual literature implores us to worship rivers, mountains and other forms of nature. It is these principles of dharma embodied in our culture which have saved the Indian economy; environment and ecology in India. It has preserved the respect for parents, elders, teachers, women, nature. No other major religion of the world today makes it part of the religious practices to respect parents, teachers, elders and nature. In fact Bible says that all form of nature worship is not only idolatry, but also stupid and to worship nature in any manifestation is to exchange the creator for the created [22] Islam is even more opposed to reverence for anything other than Allah. It calls upon the children to disobey the parents to obey the religion [23]. Neither in Christianity nor in Islam are teachers other than those who teach of Bible or Quran recognised, much less celebrated.

How the cultural value of society and family influence over the individual is not just a theoritcal idea but an effective functioning value is brought out in a commercial research to sell products. It says: “In India, social acceptability is more important that individual achivement and is give priority in an individual's life. Group affiliations are given precedence with family traditions and values. For most Indians, family is the prime concern and an individual's duties lies with the family. “In India people's search for security and prestige lies within the confines of the near and dear” [24]. It is traditional cultural value which has sustained the Indian family, society and economy, even when the Indian state had remained hostile to our dharma for almost a millennia, and continues to sustain even today. These values constitute the social, cultural, and civilisational capital of India.

This cultural orientation is self-evident in the Indian economy. The family savings in India which is the direct product of family culture is now 25% of the GDP [25] and according to Goldman Sachs, a top global banker, this has ensured that India does not need foreign investment for its infrastructure development. Since 1991 to 2011 the amount of foreign investment that has funded Indian development was onlly 2% of the total; while the rest 98% has been funded by local savings [26] in which the family tops with 70% of the national savings. [27]

It is the culture of protection of the elders, care of young and the responsibilities which the family undertakes as a cultural institutions, and the disciplining of the relations between humans and between humans and nature through the concept of dharma and sustained by culture that has protected our economy and society. In contrast, in the West, the care of the parents, unemployed, infirm, ill-healthy are all the concern fo the state. All family obligations are nationalised in the West, while it is dharma and culture founded on dharma which takes care of all family obligations.

IX. Indian culture protects environment

In respect of protection of environment by inculcating cultural values there is no parallel to the Hindu ethos which look upon and train the people to look at nature as divine. On the contrary in monotheistic faiths nature is considered to be secular intended for the enjoyment of humans. In his famous essay published in the popular Science magazine in 1967 by Lynn White held the biblical view of dominace of earth and nature by man as the primary cause of environmental crises. [28] This view is directly in contrast to the Hindu view which considers nature as sacred and human beings as part of nature. The world in the tip of environmental crisis needs the Hindu perspective of nature as sacred.  

X. World needs India and Indian culture and spirituality for its survival, say historians and economists

The world, particularly the West, needs India. That is why two most famous historians, Arnold Toynbee from UK and Will Durant from US, who lived through the turbulent 20th century had this to say:

“It is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in self-destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in human history , the only way of salvation is the ancient Hindu way. Here we have the attitude that can make it possible for the human race to grow together into a single family”: Arnold Toynbee [29]

“It is true that even across the Himalayan barrier India has sent to us such questionable gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all numerals and decimal system. But these are not the essence of her spirit: they are trifles compared what we may learn from her in the future. Perhaps in return for the conquest, arrogance and spoliation, India will teach us tolerance and gentleness of the mature mind, the quiet content of unacquisitive soul, the calm of the understanding spirit, and a unifying, a pacifying love for all living things”: Will Durant [30]

If this were what Arnold Toynbee and Will Durant said in the last century, one of the most well-known economists and thinkers of the world, Jean Pierre Lehmann, who was also the Adviser to the World Trade Organisation and is presently Professor in IMD, the famous management institute in Swtizerland wrote, in 2006 that what is needed is a global ethical and spiritual role model for which the best candidate to fill the spot is India with non-conflicting Hinduism, adding that globalisation cannot work without Hindu way of life. [31]  

XI. What values the West needs from Hindu India today are what is precisely at risk in India

The West needs to learn from Hindu India's culural values (i) to rebuild and protect the family and social foundations of its economy, (ii) to reinstate the reverence for nature and (iii) to revive the respect for women. Individual rights, gender rights, children's rights, elders' rights, and other rights consciousness have undermined the respect for women and brought down the sustaining structures of the family and caused the lack of reverence for nature in the Judeo-Christian Western civilisation and led to the current environmental crisis. Though, fortunately in India, these sustaining values – family and society, respect for women and reverence for nature – are still functioning form, they are at great risk because of the continuation of colonial mindset through the intensification of the process of westernisation of the Indian intellectual, educational and media and generally the secular establishment, in the name of modernisation which is just alibi for westernisation. The Indian intellectual establishment is unable to draw the line between the individual belief system and the country's ethos and way of life, it tends to throw the baby with the bath tub – namely discard the national culture as conflicting with secularism, which according to the Supreme court it does not. This is precisely what the Supreme Court has said in its judgement in Prabhoo's case [32] and Farooqi's case [33] where it has distinguished between Hindu cultural values as the way of life of the people of India and the Hindu religion as such, saying that the Hindu cultural values is the foundation for secularism itself.

XII. Conclusion

Because of the Indian establishment's lack of intellectual and political courage and because of the concept of politcal correctness, the very values which sustain the Indian family, society, economy and environment and which the West desperately needs to import from India for its own good and even survival, are at risk in India. The public discourse promoted by the politically correct establishment is making it fashionable to follow the very western model which has brought down the families, societies and economy; undermined the respect for women and made them carbon-copy the West and fight for their rights at the cost of respect; and destroyed the reverence for nature which has invited the global environmental crisis. QED: Indian people need to reinforce their conviction in those values which most of them practise even today and the young India must be made to imbibe these values first in the interest of the Indian economy, society, and environment, before India can teach these values to the West. The world – particularly the Western world – is keen to follow our values and is already following it. Lisa Miller, the religious affairs editor of the Newsweek magazine wrote a stunning article on August 14, 2009 titled “We are All Hindus now” [34] referring to the changing American beliefs. She said that data shows 'we are becoming more like Hindus and less like Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity; 65 percent of us believe – like Hindus – that "many religions can lead to eternal life”; they include 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone; a third of the Americans burn, not bury the dead; a quarter of the American believe in rebirth. The West needs from us, and imports, our spiritual and cultural assets. Is not that Dhrshta Swami Vivekananda proving right? Is not America now opening the gift from Swami Vivekananda it had kept unopened for over a century? But ironically when the West is looking at us, many of our intellectuals, academics and thinkers are looking to the West! QED: to make young Indian consciously imbibe Hindu cultural values which the contemporary India largely follows is the biggest challenge to India.  

References: [1] 1995 All India Reporter SC 605 [2] [3] Is India civilised by Sir John Woodroffe Foreword xli. Available at [4]] [5] [6] Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, University of California Press, 1977, p.196 [7] Taming the Anarchy: Groundwater Governance in South Asia By Tushaar Shah. Chapter 7 [8] Weber in Asian Studies by Andreas E. Buss Publishers Brill Archive [1985] [9] [10] http:/ [11] Economic Development of the Third World since 1900 by Paul Bairoch [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] Krishnavatara I The Magic Flute by KM Munshi Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. P50-51 [19] [20] [21] Mahabhratam Virat Parva 5:45-46 [22] Study on University Students in India Arpita Khare. IIM. Rohtak [22] The Mission of God: Unlocking of the Bible's grand narrative by Christopher JH Wright p402 [24 Quran 29.8/31.5; [25] Prof R. Vaidyanathan IIM Bangalore [26] Economic Survey of India 2011-12 p5 [27] ibid [28] [29] Concordant Discord by RC Zehner. Oxford University Press p22.23 [30] Our Oriental Heritage. P633 [31] [32] Ibid [1] [33] 1995 All India Reporter 605 [34] Newsweek magazine August 14, 2009 Lisa Miller

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