On being Indian

The Living Lakshmi writes on being Indian

I left India many years ago to live in Britain but having said that I have always felt deeply connected to her. I was born and raised in Madras (now Chennai) and like many Indians living abroad would attest; one feels tethered to her in ways that transcend culture or habits.

I invariably gravitate to news on India and Indians as a default, despite 12 years of living away, my Facebook and Twitter are overwhelmed with stories about India (this is of course a result of the accounts I follow).

I’ve always kept loose track of the big Bollywood releases, and have never been successful at adapting my palette to anything away from desi food. Then of course it is hard to ignore Indian politics, no matter where you live in the world; the news finds a way to your timeline or twitter feed.

I don’t think this has anything to do with patriotism, it is a default. It is the inability to shake away some aspects that are hard-wired. If you lived in India long enough to soak in her distinctive and unique qualities, you remain tethered for life.

If someone asked me to describe what it means to be Indian?

  • I would say we come in all colors, shapes and sizes, between the length and breadth of India.
  • There are innumerable dialects spoken, there are groups, sub-groups and sub-sub-groups people like to organize themselves into. These could be religions, languages or other clustering factors.
  • We don’t dress the same, speak the same or even think the same way.
  • It is quite possible to find two Indians who share nothing in common except the country they belong to.
  • This lack of tidiness has never been a cause of dismay but the very essence, the very description of India, her distinguishing trait in the world.

It’s what makes us better than our neighbors.

To try and mask over this amazingly messy, glorious, mixture would be a travesty and something that needs to be safeguarded against. This strong heterogeneity has no influence on how people interact at a micro-level. Within the country people migrate to states they didn’t hail from and find ways of flourishing, magically.

Hence, a really succinct definition of being Indian would be ‘being liberal’.

It were these — liberalism and secularism, the founding principles of the state of India. By and large Indians everywhere in urban and rural areas have lived by and embraced these principles.

In the India I grew up in, it was not important whether you were a temple or a church goer but if you can help someone make headway. There was no time or room to focus on subjects inconsequential to ones prosperity. In a country like India, to prosper is the underscoring dominating aspiration.

Have things changed in today’s India?

Here is my take: While the mainstream news will tell you otherwise, (and frankly enough virtual and physical ink has been spilled on discussing the rise of Hindu nationalism post 2019 national elections) I don’t think the government in the world’s largest and perhaps most untamed democracy can so easily sweep through and change the way people fundamentally behave.

While it is important to fight illiberalism, barbarism and racism; we cannot be so consumed by dissent that we forget to focus on issues of material significance and our growing superpower status in the world. For India, the ruling government or its leanings have always been extraneous. The individuals and the institutions have mattered much more.

As a country we have several pressing matters at hand, we are trying to make our mark alongside China as one of the world’s largest economies. We need to clean up our cities and preserve our monuments, we need to educate more people and give jobs to a lot more.

We need to make things better for millions of farmers. We need to market our culture, food, art, literature in an increasingly globalising world. We need to make better films, write better books, do better science and retain our brilliant minds.

We need to stay relevant. We need to sell more to the world so we can be more prosperous. With over a billion people in tow we cannot afford to lose this race, but we will if we continue to squabble over matters of little material significance.

There is so much we can already offer to the world and so much more to work towards. This is both our burden and our duty. Let’s not get distracted.

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82 Replies to “On being Indian”

  1. Hence, a really succinct definition of being Indian would be ‘being liberal’.

    i think a major issue is that modern india’s economic development and urbanization is bringing into the elite(ish) culture ppl who NEVER had this view of india or themselves, but they were always out of sight and mind. this is the same dynamic in the islamic world, as social conservatism is to some extent the upwardly mobility of ppl who had been in villages far from the metropole.

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    1. “who NEVER had this view of india or themselves”

      But the newly emergent elite isnt asking for any radical overhaul of laws or the Constitution. If anything, Modi seems to have a far more reverential attitude towards India’s Constitution than previous leaders.

      I dont think India’s newly emerging elite has any grand political plans. Note that the BJP did lose state elections in two major Indian states just before the election. These new classes are backing BJP mostly because they find its promises of better governance more credible.

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      1. This is true, but politics is also about identity and symbols. To a large degree, Modi won because he’s better at getting people toilets and electricity. But he also won because he’s a rejection of views that people like Vidhi hold.

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        1. “But he also won because he’s a rejection of views that people like Vidhi hold.”

          I disagree. I really dont think political structures or even cultural narratives are on the table in India, no matter the fantasies of commentators from the left and right.

          Hindu-Muslim issues in India cannot be seen through the usual prisms of majority-minority and conservative-liberal.

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          1. Right, I agree with you that this is a mostly middle-class preoccupation, and the main things most people vote on are “who will get me a toilet/farm subsidies/electrification” or “who shares my caste.”

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    2. Right. Vidhi is free to press her opinions, but hers is not a view that’s held by more than a tiny elite. My own extended family (from rural Uttar Pradesh) would disagree with her strongly.

      In any case, Indians are not and never were postmodern cosmopolitans. They were and are a deeply conservative and communitarian people.

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      1. There’s a few more things that bug me about the piece:

        “There was no time or room to focus on subjects inconsequential to ones prosperity. In a country like India, to prosper is the underscoring dominating aspiration.”

        Are we talking about the same country whose byword is “Chalta Hai” and whose path to prosperity-creating reforms have been halfhearted and perfunctory (being generous here) even though there’s no shortage of good ideas on what to do?
        Whatever Indians are, we are not people prioritizing economic prosperity above all else.

        “I don’t think the government in the world’s largest and perhaps most untamed democracy can so easily sweep through and change the way people fundamentally behave.”
        This is absolutely correct!

        But then why doesn’t she apply this logic to the Nehruvian “secularist” regime? Keep in mind that those guys were working with a population of provincial, illiterate peasants. The BJP has many more avenues with which its spreads its message.

        Seems to me like the Nehruvians never succeeded, and didn’t have the tools to succeed in, turning Indians into postmodern globalists. Instead they remained premodern bumpkins, until a concatenation of events (Mandal, Mandir, 1991, urbanization, internal migration, economic growth, internet, Modi) resulted in them starting to modernize under the aegis of the BJP.

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        1. Hmm who should I listen to?

          An Indian born & bred in India or a second second generation Indian-American backing the far-right simply because of internal identity issues and relies on his rural relatives in India.

          Definitely a tough choice..

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          1. Well, Zack, I’m India born-and-bred, have no truck with the Indian right, and no connections to rural India. But HMB isn’t too far off the mark here IMHO.
            Can’t really identify what points you guys disagree on though. Care to elaborate?

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          2. You have some real gall accusing anyone else of “backing the far-right simply because of internal identity issues”.

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  2. i think to me the biggest thing is how common it hear from grad students about how they want to go back to india/china after graduate today if the ydon’t want to do academia (industry). that wouldn’t have been the case 12 years ago.

    there are bottom-up dynamics occurring as thousands of non-metropolitan people get on the internet and their views begin to be heard.

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    1. I don’t discount the pull factors, but some of this drive may come out of compulsion: it’s close to a hopeless cause for an Indian or Chinese to secure permanent residency in the States at this time, unless they are somewhere close to the tops of their fields and can secure an EB-1 green card. For the rest, a decade is likely to be the least amount of time they remain in limbo.

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  3. One common irritating thread that runs through a section of liberally educated India is this extreme overindexing on freedom of speech, political (somehow never economic) liberalism, the idea of India. I long experienced this among the Indian diaspora in my US undergraduate days. My personal take is that it comes from growing up with enough material wealth to insulate yourself from the society at large. You are in essence a native expat.

    Economic growth matters. Prosperity matters. It’s not the difference between owning a Hyundai and a Jaguar – it’s the difference between being able to afford medical care for your child or not.

    The utility function is logarithmic in wealth which means that as it approaches 0, almost all monstrous behavior can be excused in an effort to climb up. This same logarithmic utility function also means that when you’re prosperous, wealth loses its charm. Thus we arrive at the contradiction in world views.

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    1. I deleted your other comment right off the bat. The next time you misspeak I will ban you even if it seems that English is not your first language.

      Vidhi doesn’t “purport” to be a Computer Scientist; she happens to be one. Her several degrees (all distinctions – all from the top schools) frame the wall of our home and she’s at one of the most prestigious ML labs in the world, which is frankly impossible to get into (I’ve seen the lived experience first-hand). What’s she managed to do is pretty phenomenal and unique and is a huge credit to India rather than the foaming Saffron brigade.

      I know there are many virgins on this blog but I won’t brook any insinuations about my wife, intentional or otherwise. I also won’t be so charitable next time.

      I do feel this charged aggression towards women probably leads directly to the inherent Rape Culture in hyper-masculine Bharat and profound misogyny against hyper-feminine India.

      In their quest to be like Pakistanis; the Bharatstanis have jumped the shark.

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      1. Sincere apologies Zach, I’m not a common enough listener to know the person in question is your wife. I’m secure enough in my achievements that the rest of your jabs don’t connect. (you may google my patents firsthand if you wish ).

        Now to my point:
        It would be a fairly large disservice to India to assume all Modi supporters are foaming at the mouth half-educated ignoramuses. Eventually, an Indian nationalism would arise (if nationalism is a force of any potency) and it would inevitably have a Hindu nature (what was the Satyagraha if not at least Hindu tinged).

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        1. Word to the wise to our Resident Desi Edison.

          Before asking as to google you, a first time commenter who doesn’t seem to extend his innovative streak to his comments, it may be worth your while to google the authors and podcasters on this blog in which you wish to comment?

          Btw I did try googling you and all I saw was 25 twitter followers.

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  4. More with HMB on this than Vikram. Cultural issues don’t “look” on the table because the right long realized that a hostile take over of the state would lead to backlash which they are ill equipped to fight.

    For example Any talk of “changing the constitution” might mean “Hindu state” for the right but for the middle and lower castes (70 percent of India’s population) it means abrogation of reservations. So the right has found the solution, de jure constitutional secularism/pluralism and de facto Hindu “upper hand” in scheme of things. Much like Israel/ Bangladesh though not totally like that (but you get the drift)

    Couple of years back i used to feel like HMB that only thing that really matters is caste or who gives me toilets and stuff. But i have started reviewing that stance, there is a rise of a nascent Hindu identity now where OBC and dalits (not a middle class thing anymore) have independently started to feel “Hindu” in electoral terms , without much prodding from the Upper caste (which was the case in the 90s) . The result in Bengal is prime example where the BJP is the OBC/ Dalit party while the UCs bhadralok are with the Left/TMC .

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  5. I don’t know where my views reside ideologically but i mostly agree with the description about India by Vidhi except that Indians everywhere in urban and rural areas have lived by and embraced these principles. No they never accepted anything {because by nature Indians don’t agree about any of the issues including the ones which constitution enshrined} instead they play the games as situation demands them to play the game.

    For e.g. –
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kgL6tlhre8
    Quote – From 13 min 17 Sec. till 13 min 52 sec.
    It meant the first dip in civility in 1950’s had gained the momentum full-dlown plummet……………….the rules of the game had changed.

    I would suggest everyone to watch the clip & consider the positions carefully discussed in the video as a sociological experiment to get a deeper understanding about how & why people behave in certain manners those who believe that Indians are inherently communitarian.

    ————————————————————————

    The things which are not mentioned or where i disagree –

    It is easy to blame people {for being communitarian} but nobody here is questioning the role of elites in nurturing that behavior, why ?

    Indians stick with constitution till –
    1. Emergency got imposed
    2. Political compulsions allowed minority religious leaders esp. after Shah Bano case & Salman Rushdie affair to compromise on their constitutional promise in favor of religious beliefs.
    That ignited the larger communal debate about the constitutional promises as Laws about Hindus were modified one after another in the name of ‘religious reform’ but no reform was deemed necessary for minority communities.
    3. Major Hindu religious temples are governed & controlled by govt.’s political committees but there is no such govt. control over minority institutions.
    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/why-india-is-not-a-secular-state/articleshow/50072294.cms?from=mdr
    4. Denial about acknowledging the true history of the region to promote a certain idea of history –
    https://scroll.in/article/925096/did-the-secular-sanitisation-of-pre-colonial-indian-history-allow-hindu-nationalism-to-weaponise-it

    Basically constitution undermined all the ‘Hindu Identity’ rights & did not believe that Hindus can resolve their differences themselves instead forced it’s will over Hindus & not only that actively worked to maintain the majority weak by keeping them clashing in the name of Castes.

    There in lies the origins of current Hindu-Muslim discourse of current times which constantly gets questioned as solemnly Hindutva project but the role of secular parties in communalizing the religious issues in India does not get called out & hence i have written this post.

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  6. “It’s what makes us better than our neighbors”– I feel this line is gratuitous. The substantive argument would not have been effected if this remark had been deleted. It seems needlessly condescending to Pakistan and Bangladesh. Yes, the “idea of India” is superior to the idea of Pakistan. However, since 2014 India has been rapidly regressing. The fact that the lynching of Muslims has been normalized makes it difficult to believe such things as “being Indian means being liberal”. One wishes it were so, but clearly there are many people for whom being Indian means being aggressively Hindu. In the battle between the two ideas I hope Vidhi’s side wins, but let’s not underestimate the power of the competing idea.

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    1. believe it or not, i kind of agree with you kabir. that sentence kind of jumped out at me too.

      otoh, i think vidhi is expressing a very common viewpoint that i hear from indians. they DO feel superior. and perhaps they have a right to feel that way.

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      1. It just felt unnecessary.

        There is a kind of Indian exceptionalism reflected in such comments and in remarks like “world’s largest democracy”. There is no doubt the idea of the secular state is superior to that of the religiously-based one. But I don’t think the evidence on the ground over the last few years shows that Indians have any reason to feel superior to other South Asians.

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          1. American exceptionalism is also not an attractive quality. It comes across as bullying to other countries just as India’s attitude comes across as bullying to other countries in the neighborhood.

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        1. India is the Mother Goddess; Vande Mataram and VVan states pluralism embedded (maybe the concept of mutual repulsion).

          Hindustan (who in his Shuudh frenzy dubs himself Bharat) and Pakistan are her angry sons borne of ideological fervour. One is borne of rape the other parthenogenesis and hence they are perpetually locked.

          I find it interesting that when I raise the Turanian Questions; Pakistanis dispute it. However my lived reality is orders of magnitude more Indian/Hindu than theirs.

          In fact my life proves Two Nation Theory, because I am not a Muslim I am now gravitating towards a “Damad of India identity.”

          My fellow Muslim Pakistanis are in no-mans land; not Hindu enough to be Indian, not Persian enough to be Turanian.

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    2. “Yes, the “idea of India” is superior to the idea of Pakistan.”

      Better execution, too.

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    3. That line did not jumped out to me because i like to focus on ideas separately never as a package. So debates which focus on identity, ethnicity etc. I always neglect or oppose them because too much focus on human constructs like identity hinders us from the best insights into raw human nature.

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    4. I like (and agree with) the distinction you are making about the idea of India being better than the idea of some other neighbours more so than the actual reality of India being better.
      Still it is a very powerful idea and the defeat of secularism in Pakistan has cost it dearly. Until Zia Ul Haq grabbed power, Indian visitors to Pakistan would come back envious of how much better things were there in comparison to India. Zia managed to reverse that trend.

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      1. Well, Modi is your General Zia. And you guys voted him in (twice). We had General Zia imposed on us.

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        1. No one imposed anything on you. That;s how your country rolls. Its like saying Xi jinping is “imposed” on China or MBS on Saudi Arabia. Zia was as much a Pakistani leader as much as any other leader of any other country.

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          1. Modi has honestly been pretty banal so far. That’s both good and bad…good because it proves the fearmongers wrong, bad because he’s not going to change things about India that need changing (primarily economic.)

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          2. “No one imposed anything on you. That;s how your country rolls. Its like saying Xi jinping is “imposed” on China or MBS on Saudi Arabia. Zia was as much a Pakistani leader as much as any other leader of any other country.”

            A military coup is a little different from a democratically elected leader. I’m far more inclined to fault the people of the country when they democratically elect a fascist than when they are at the whim of a military coup.

            Either way, Imran Khan is just as religiously crazy as Modi. Among other things, IK’s defense of blasphemy laws at the OIC meeting was utterly ridiculous.

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          3. How is it different on world level? Are they not treated as leaders or rightful representative of their countries? Each and every coup(in Pakistan case) was constitutional valid as well as OK-ed by the Supreme court. So yeah they are as a form of Govt as valid as the communist party rule in China etc.

            That’s the system their own people want and that makes it valid. Or else no Govt apart from democratic elections are valid through out the world.

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          4. General Zia was not democratically elected. He deposed the legitimate prime minister and had him executed. Pakistanis did not choose the Zia regime. In that sense, he imposed himself on us.

            Modi was chosen by Indians twice. It indicates that a substantial proportion of Indians is sympathetic to the views of the Hindu Right and is at best indifferent to the persecution of the minority as evidenced by the various lynching incidents. It is far more troubling when a society freely chooses an extremist than when one takes power by force.

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        2. We’ll have to wait to see if Modi is Zia in terms of his lasting legacy. Back in the 80s no one knew whether even Zia was Zia. 🙂

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        3. “Well, Modi is your General Zia. And you guys voted him in (twice). We had General Zia imposed on us.”

          Modi is our IK / Trump.

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          1. Modi is like General Zia in the sense that Zia was responsible for “Islamizing” Pakistan. Similarly, Modi wants to transform Nehruvian secular India into a country for Hindus first. The beef bans and the normalization of Muslim lynchings are examples of this. What is troubling is that Indians freely chose Modi, despite his record in the Gujarat pogroms. Pakistanis did not choose General Zia.

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  7. I generally agree with the sentiments expressed in the post.
    I left India 30 years back, still my libido is strongly connected with India . I left India at the age of 36 so all my formative memories and formative affinities and antipathies are from an orthodox Hindu environment , notwithstanding liberal, left intellectual convictions. Bio-diversity is the core unspoken philosophy of India , that is why you see so many castes, languages , animals and birds unmolested , people putting up with rodents, monkeys merrily roaming in temples , cities and rural areas, even snakes and rats get venerated at some places. As ‘Pitr bhumi’ there is only one.
    Live and let live.

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      1. Libido originally meant strong primitive, instinctual, psychic energies
        According to Sigmund Freud, the libido is part of the id and is the driving force of all behavior. While the term libido has taken on an overtly sexual meaning in today’s world, to Freud it represented all psychic energy and not just sexual energy.

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  8. We need to make things better for millions of farmers.

    I don’t disagree with this sentiment, but we need to carefully think about what this means and what it entails. Every government of free India since Nehru has been trying to “make things better” for farmers. The programs they come up with are invariably paternalistic, populist, and anti-market (or anti-economic thoery.) On the grounds that most of our population is dependent on agriculture, “India lives in her villages” and such cliches.

    All these policies have resulted in the general depression of our agricultural economy and the economy as a whole. (Farmers are both subsidized from the public coffers and not allowed to buy and sell at market prices.) I think it’s time to “free” our farmers from the shackles of the state. I fully expect the result to be far fewer people engaged in inefficient and penurious farming, and instead move to higher-remuneration sectors of the economy. Also a lot more consolidation of rural landholding will result, which is altogether a good thing as it will bring forth more efficiency and innovation (hopefully.)

    I also expect that nothing of this sort will come about as rural India has a lot of political power and wants to keep sucking at the teats of the Indian state.

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  9. I should just mention that “Secularism” (and “Socialism”) was added to the preamble of the Indian Constitution in the 42nd amendment during the Emergency, which was the low point of Indian democracy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forty-second_Amendment_of_the_Constitution_of_India

    India is certainly not “Secular” in the correct Western sense of the term. It is typically third-world in that respect (as it is in many others).

    The good thing Indians did (which Pakistanis did not) was to copy best practices from successful Republics like France and the US and not go overly sentimental about old BS Hindu systems of governance. Some of the kooky bits are in the Directive Principles of State Policy that barely anyone pays attention to except in school civics lessons (when kids have to rote learn that shit).

    Moral of the story: Indians like us shouldn’t apply our generally small brains to problems of governance. We should instead follow the British FPTP system through, the fine print and all (like obedient brown folk). Therein lies our salvation, maybe in a century or two if we’re lucky.

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    1. / small brains to problems of governance/
      Lol. It is true Indians have not been good at making modern institutions nor maintaining it. It needs a mental and spiritual (in a broad sense) discipline, long range thinking and planning, Espirit de Corps, suppress individual wishes and prejudice for common good and proper selection of newer leaders. Alas, Indians have got to go a long way in that direction.
      Occasionally some institutions are good like Election Commission and even their oversight is patchy as convicted criminals become law makers.

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      1. @VijayVan

        Indians were terrible at creating leaders (we did good babajis though!) and great at importing leaders from foreign shores. For a while we got the cream of the crop – Aryans, Persians (basically Aryans who picked up few more tricks from Assyrians), Greeks (father race of Europe, need I say more) etc until we got saddled with low-quality material from Arabia and Mongolia. Set us back by centuries until the Übermenschen from England showed up. What’s more they have left us with a good manual. We should know better than to screw with what it says.

        As we say in Kashmiri: su raTh ta ma zyeTh (follow it and don’t overthink) 🙂

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    2. / small brains to problems of governance/
      Lol. It is true Indians have not been good at making modern institutions nor maintaining it. It needs a mental and spiritual (in a broad sense) discipline, long range thinking and planning, Espirit de Corps, suppress individual wishes and prejudice for common good and proper selection of newer leaders. Alas, Indians have got to go a long way in that direction.

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  10. Sort of a personal question, Zac. You can choose to ignore.

    Have you taken Overseas Citizenship of India?
    I think spouses of citizens are eligible for it. In case you have, how has it made your life easier in terms of travelling/visa etc?

    I think British citizens have it pretty easy anyway. So not sure if OCI adds much value.

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    1. Not sure if that is possible unless you migrated from India and have never held Pakistani or Bangladeshi citizenship.

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  11. Thanks for all the feedback.

    So I tried really hard to steer clear from talking about the BJP or the PM, the intention was not political bashing and frankly I don’t know enough about the core policies of the current government. The article was more about the ruminations of a migrant and my idea of India.

    The central point being that I cannot understand the obsessive focus on the government, whether it is a far-right, or center right or left is less important than if it works. The nature of the government at the centre has never really impacted my life at a micro level (but I do concede the point, that might be the case for me and many Indians are directly impacted by national policies).

    And yes I do think it is important to belabour the point that our neighbours are not secular states and to continue to maintain that secularism comes at a great price. But there is no choice here, as that is the right thing to aspire for.

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  12. what do you mean by ‘secular state’? how does it differ substantively from nepal, sri lanka, or bangladesh? (pakistan is an islamic republic so i’m leaving it out of the list as that’s obvious)

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    1. Needs to be secular in the composition of its population + policies, not just constitutionally secular. These countries are technically secular but their composition is fairly homogeneous, hence the condition of secularism is easily achieved but it is a vacuous truth..

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      1. “These countries are technically secular but their composition is fairly homogeneous”

        What’s especially sad is that Bangladesh used to be ~25-30% Hindu after partition and its attendant population exchanges, and now it’s less than 10% Hindu. That homogeneity has kind of been forced.

        For as much as people talk of the treatment of Muslims in India, there’s no doubting that their population is rising dramatically.

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        1. they’re treated as second class citizens. in the 60s my dad would talk about how half his classmates (physical science) were hindu. pretty sure most of them have drifted over to west bengal or tripura. why not? it’s pretty clear their religion is going to serve as a ceiling on professional advancement (e.g., when i was in bangladesh i would look at the names of the heads of banks and other institutions…literally every single one was a muslim name).

          the hindus that remain tend to be on the poorer side without family to take them in i think.

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          1. I have a friend from Chittagong from a wealthy family who had a poor Brahmin servant (who lost a lot during the war). He was like an uncle to her (helped raise her). Her sister married a guy from UK with roots in Sylhet. When his mother visited the family in Chittagong she refused to drink the tea prepared by the Hindu servant.

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  13. well that seems fair re: bangladesh. but nepal is ruled by marxists now, so i think they take their secularism seriously.

    sri lanka is religiously more diverse than india by the numbers.

    also, someone should write a post on what secular means at length in the indian context. cuz it really seems totally different than anything in western-english (“secular in composition” makes no literal sense in the US context tho i get what you are saying).

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    1. Marxists have the “brand” for secularism but if one looks at the record of actual marxist regimes the evidence is quite mixed e.g. institutionalised anti-semitism in Soviet Russia, ethnic/religious suppression of the Uighurs in China. Even Viet Nam, a relatively sane regime, has a spotty record when it comes to their Chinese and Hmong minorities.

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  14. arjun, your comment makes no sense to me. but i think that’s because i have no india what you indians mean by ‘secularism.’

    this is one reason i hate it when internet hindus call me ‘secular’. i have no idea what they’re even trying to imply aside from ‘razib bad person.’ conversely, with liberal indians i know that ‘secular’ means ‘good, good,’ but that’s about it…

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    1. Razib the definition of “secularism” has changed in India over the past decade. It now means in the minds of many:
      —pro sharia, pro triple talaq, pro Nikah halala, against muslims having freedom of art and thought, supporting extremist muslims against minority and moderate muslims
      —anti LBGTQ (although this has started to shift recently)
      —against freedom of art and thought
      —against Sarva Dharma or against the concept that all religions are true
      —anti feminist
      —anti meditation, consciousness, yoga
      —anti scientific research into psychic phenomena and consciousness

      I also find this confusing. I think that the marxists and post modernists have recently tried to hijack the word “secular”.

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      1. “—anti LBGTQ (although this has started to shift recently)”

        Ah yes, unlike the BJP which refused to take a position on or acknowledge the Indian Supreme Court striking down the criminalization of gay sex.

        Even worse, you have BJP leaders like Subramanian Swamy saying that being a homosexual is against Hindutva; that it is not normal; and that homosexuality must be cured.

        https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/being-gay-is-against-hindutva-it-needs-a-cure-bjp-mp-subramanian-swamy/articleshow/64927333.cms

        “—against freedom of art and thought”

        How many people have been arrested for expressing anti-governmental views on social media? The numbers are crazy. Hindu groups are just as easily triggered by freedom of art and thought and seek to suppress views that trigger them while propping up those who are willing to criticize minority communities like Naslima Tasrin. I’m all for free speech, but this is something both sides engage in.

        “—against Sarva Dharma or against the concept that all religions are true”

        I would hope that most liberals aren’t very religious. But this position is rather silly, especially when you consider that many religions are exclusivist and believe only their path is the way forward. It’s hard to tolerate the intolerant.

        “—anti scientific research into psychic phenomena and consciousness”

        Is this some attempt to defend the Hindutva attempts to regard Astrology as a science?

        “—anti feminist”

        Of course! When you see incel Internet Hindus threatening to rape any woman who doesn’t support Hindutva, you definitely think… these guys are the vanguards of feminism!

        2+
    2. I suspect internet Hindus call you secular because they see you as non “Muslim-partisan” (which is their threshold for ‘secular’ if your name sounds Muslim).

      I used ‘secular’ in my comment above to mean someone who does not discriminate on the basis of religion. That is the – possibly incorrect – meaning by Indian definitions.

      1+
  15. I left India many years ago to live in Britain but having said that I have always felt deeply connected to her.

    I invariably gravitate to news on India and Indians as a default, despite 12 years of living away, my Facebook and Twitter are overwhelmed with stories about India

    For me quite a different trajectory and interaction with home Sri Lanka and the US.
    I left in SL in 1988, came back in Dec 1990, got married. There were no wish or against by parents. Walked to marriage registrar and that was it. The next time I went back to Sri Lanka was in 2003.

    In between my father died on 23 Dec 1998. He was buried on the 24th and I was informed by my sisters on the 24th.
    Could I have gone back if they delayed burial. Would have been one way , my visa was changing from Opt Training to a H1B. Did I want to see may father dead, no. You do what you can while people are living.

    One big point. From the day I left my plan was to be back. If I had children to be schooled in SL.

    While in the US for 25 years, had no real yen to meet and hobnob with other Sri Lankans. My wife wanted to be surrounded by Sri Lankan events and peoples and I tagged along. I just read all the history and research pubs and debated online what I read.

    After I separated from my late wife I had less than a handful of Sri Lankan friends in the US.

    Now I try to rationalize why I had no wish to associate with Sri Lankans in the US. Was it because I knew I was going back some day. It was just a visit, a job stay and best to get to know the natives. Because who knows when you will be going back home.

    Undivided loyalty makes thinking easy, though you may win some or loose some.

    1+
  16. @sbarrkum @VijayVan, and others,

    On a somewhat lighter note, my definition of NRI is “Never Relinquished India”. Perhaps despite trying to relinquish aspects of India 🙂

    This means being connected to India at various levels, be it through friends and family, music, traditions, literature, news, movies, engaging with local community organizations which have Indian affiliation, etc., etc. There are so many threads. Some of these threads become stronger with time, while others wither away.

    The many nuances of being brought up in India – accent; the way you show respect to elders; the ability to deal with diversity; sets one apart no matter how long one lives abroad. The ability to “adjust” helps us fit in and yet be an outsider.

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  17. @Razib

    Western definition of secular – strict separation of church and state. Church has no business meddling in the affairs of state. This ideal wasn’t much useful in India, because the Hinduism didn’t have any strong tradition of being an overarching state religion anyway (as opposed to Islam or Christianity for e.g.). Therefore secularism came to mean liberalism and religious pluralism in India.

    This is what was intended when the word was incorporated in the constitution of India during 42nd amendment. It emphasized the idea that India belongs to all religions, and not to Hindus alone. (The context was emergency during which Hindu Right wing led by RSS was ganging up against Indira).

    So in Indian context secularism can be thought of as a synonym for liberalism. By and large this is still a workable definition. However, there are nuances..

    On the ground the word has been misused so much by all camps, that in essence now it just means how deeply you love or hate Muslims. (Muslims being the proxy for all religious minorities). Therefore political parties like Bengal’s TMC or Kerala’s IUML or Owaisi’s MIM, who indulge in strongly pro-Muslim politics are still called “secular” by Indian press.

    Similarly, secular is generally used as an antonym for “communal” by the “secular camp”, with BJP being the biggest communal party. This can also be misleading, because some of parties who indulge in strongly community based identity politics (like Mayawati’s BSP or Yadava’s SP) are considered very secular.

    Clear as mud? :).

    Just go by secular = liberal = believer in religious pluralism, and you should do fine.

    4+
    1. his ideal wasn’t much useful in India, because the Hinduism didn’t have any strong tradition of being an overarching state religion anyway (as opposed to Islam or Christianity for e.g.)

      I would add Buddhism too was/is a state religion, at least in Sri Lanka

      1+
    2. In the west, secularism means equidistant from all religions. It India it has come to mean equi-friendly to all religions , some kind of Amar, Akbar, Anthony syndrome

      2+
  18. because the Hinduism didn’t have any strong tradition of being an overarching state religion anyway

    this is false. just because indian polities didn’t always prefer on a particular cult, they were clearly sacral polities. until the united states of america all polities were actually sacral in some way.

    but i get your point and it is decent.

    1+
  19. reading some of these comments it’s like india was a secular utopia before modi.

    what about the communal riots in the 90s? what happened to the sikhs in the 1980s?

    modi’s india can’t be that bad if ppl get grad degrees in the usa and move back to india. but neither was the 20th-century secular india all roses & honey.

    2+
    1. very true. It is partly due to English language media in India that Modi/BJP is painted as the pit of fascism compared to India Gandhi or Nehru

      0
    2. “reading some of these comments it’s like india was a secular utopia before modi.”

      India was never a secular utopia and things aren’t as bad as they could be right now, but it feels like India is headed further away from secularism.

      “what about the communal riots in the 90s?”

      IIRC most of the major 90s riots were directly or indirectly caused by the BJP and its affiliated organizations riling up people to destroy Babri Masjid. So it is still the BJP to blame.

      “what happened to the sikhs in the 1980s?”

      What happened was awful but it wasn’t like INC was running on an anti-Sikh platform or riling up people to be anti-Sikh.

      “modi’s india can’t be that bad if ppl get grad degrees in the usa and move back to india.”

      Some of that might just be sour grapes because it’s impossible to get a green card if you’re born in India.

      There could also be a sampling bias in that I would guess most of those people are upper caste Hindus (though I may be wrong).

      It’s also a big country. I doubt, for example, religious minorities in Kerala are as concerned as say, religious minorities in Haryana.

      1+
      1. Some of that might just be sour grapes because it’s impossible to get a green card if you’re born in India.

        Bingo 🙂

        0
      2. Wut!? All 90s riots were BJP? Come on Advani didn’t even get on his chariot before Bombay riots happened or Hyderabad old city riots…
        People forget sivasena? Congress blatant state politics manipulation? We all watched Roja and Bombay to know enough :p

        Also, is it all on BJP and somehow Hindu rastra? Not Indian parliament attack and not Mumbai hotel attack?

        Come on, like regular Americans cared about one sand nigger or other before 9/11…. people react to events. Otherwise nobody actively changes the values they grew up with.

        1+
    3. reading some of these comments it’s like india was a secular utopia before modi.

      It wasn’t. There have always been tensions between Hindus and Muslims as far back as the memory goes. (Why would Pak exist as a separate nation otherwise?). However, the critical difference is that under Modi dispensation a strongly pro-Hindu outlook has become a new normal in public discourse.

      Before 90s the public discourse in India was “secular” by default (using the word in Indian sense 🙂 ). So Indians instinctively knew that being overtly pro-Hindu, talking about Hindus having exclusive rights to the land, and openly denigrating Muslims was somehow wrong. Not any more. Now it is generally considered normal to say that Muslims have a right to live in India, but only on terms and conditions set by Hindus. So in a sense the goal of Hindu rashtra has already been achieved.

      Before the 90s, when the tide of Hindu nationalism stated rising, bollywood movies were generally “secular” in theme. Movies typically had an obligatory “sachcha musalman” (good muslim) character, usually hero’s best friend. (hero = protagonist in Indian English). I can’t think of one single movie with a strong Hindu nationalist theme before the 90s. Now they are dime a dozen.

      You can think of Modi as India’s Erdogan who has tinged Indian public policies and political discourse with strongly right wing colors without fundamentally altering the structure of the state.

      0
      1. // However, the critical difference is that under Modi dispensation a strongly pro-Hindu outlook has become a new normal in public discourse. //

        That’s where the real distinction is – Hindus are not clamoring for pro-Hindu outlook but for securing their rights out of Western framework {which has been used to create Indian constitution, Laws etc.} that has not allowed them to reform themselves instead they must reform acc. to the whims & wishes of the state and Judiciary which keeps capitulating to minorities.

        For e.g. – Essential religious practice test.
        https://barandbench.com/question-of-law-essential-religious-practices-test-a-problem-in-our-jurisprudence-dy-chandrachud-j/

        What Hindus want is a freedom from overarching govt. control on their religion which got established during colonial period. It happened because Hindus didn’t have a common thread like Pope or Maulanas but in modern times many babas have been playing that role which again is bad for the Hinduism as it is not allowing the regional religious evolution aka folk religion. Everything has now turned into a dogfight between – Mulnivasi Vs Brahmanism.

        This is what is getting exploited esp. using the poors & educated centrist people are kept at bay by both political factions because they want division for mobility of the votes.

        1+
    4. modi’s india can’t be that bad if ppl get grad degrees in the usa and move back to india.

      Like I said earlier, the balance between the ease of staying on in the US and getting a high-paying position back home has changed in the past 10 years or so. Living conditions in India are still quite crappy, even for people with means, compared to the US. But the sense of security one gets as a citizen is worth a lot compared to the possibility of being deported at a moment’s notice if the President or Congress choose to crack down.

      If the green card caps (7% per nationality per year) are abolished (as, ironically, all the bills proposed by the nationalists, like Cotton, would do), you’ll likely see very few grads choose to come back.

      0
  20. Razib Khan
    “because I have no idea what you Indians mean by ‘secularism.’
    You should have said ‘you Hindus’ not you Indians. For many Hindus, a secular Muslim is a non-practising or atheist Muslim. A practicing Hindu will laud such a Muslim as secular while continuing to nurture his own prejudices against the community.

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  21. Another Pakistani who was “allowed” to come back to India without facing any consequence of partition

    1+
  22. This lady seems to be a dumbfuck perception wise.Clearly a supergeek in her line of work but clearly no transference to analyzing the feeling tone of India.We all have supercomputers in our upper floor from losers to that ones got in MIT,but the focus&perception is that matters.If your perception capabilities are not kept sharp(especially by full stomach,gated living&soft expensive cushions),this erodes.As an Indian,I would put my life in hands of Omar Ali than this idiot.She is at best a headline drive by reader.May be too much scroll_in/wire_in feed lead to this.

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