Extremism, I believe, is the most gruesome abuse of one’s righteous belief. People, more often than not, take a fanatical stand only to drive their point home. Being born in this great country called India, I have come to understand what makes the people of this country tick. In a nation with the length, breadth, population, and diversity in every respect, as large as India it is ridiculous to make any sweeping statement which would be fitting for the whole of country. And yet, there are so many traits, link, dots that the country has left on the pages of history over thousands of years, which when connected together form very distinct, comprehensible patterns.
Buddhism and Jainism have their origin in India, Buddhism being one of the widely followed religions in the world and more popular in the far-east. What makes Buddhism different from the more popular beliefs like Hinduism and Islam is that, it was born as a result of an attempt to bring together the best teachings of the contemporary religions in accordance with Buddha’s own understanding of the world and attaining Nirvana. Buddhism represents a confluence of a large number of fragmented spiritual understandings and for me, on a spiritual plateau, it stands in the center.
From time immemorial, India has represented this ideology and have taken this stand of choosing the middle path when faced with options of tilting either to left or the right. This is true even in literal/physical sense of the term. Since its partition and emergence of new nations of East Pakistan and West Pakistan (now Bangladesh), India stands in the middle of two pieces of lands which were once a part of it. This ofcourse was not by choice but by a cruel happening. India has allowed to flourish every race, caste, creed and religion in the world on its land and pretty much all of them can be found here. Inspite of continuing communal tensions and riots there has not been a demand for partition based on religion ever since the creation of Pakistan. The Constitution of India respects the religious sentiments of every individual and grants him the right to practice the religion of his choice.
This is also true in the political sense of the term. India was one of the four countries of the world who led the non-aligned movement when the world was simmering in the aftermath of the cold-war, which threatened to turn it into a bi-polar world. Ofcourse, there are many different aspects to this story. Pandit Nehru, even to this day being the subject of criticism for his strong bias towards a socialist regime and his affectionate relationship with Russia. Many believe, it is the legacy left behind by Nehru that haunts India even today and which is responsible for keeping India in shackles for so long. So strong was this bias and the country’s political class in denial that it refused to unlock the doors of its economy for years even after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union in ’89. When it did happen in ’92, it was too little, too late. Nevertheless, the country as a whole, has tried to abstain from taking sides on political tables. It has been a democratic attempt, although a struggling one, to give every political sentiment in the country, their rightful place.
Mahabharata, the oldest epic in the world and one of the holiest Hindu scriptures, is the greatest witness to the philosophy which India, or more aptly, ‘Bharat’, stands for. It tells of an incident when Yudhishthira was faced with the difficult choice of having to announce a false news of the death of Ashwatthama, son of Guru Dronacharya or lose the battle at the hands of Dronacharya. Yudhishthira, being the epitome of truth and honesty, and hence known as Dharmaraja, refuses to speak a lie. Instead, under the guidance of Lord Krishna, he chooses a middle path. He only announces the death of Ashwatthama after someone had killed an elephant by the same name.
It also tells of an incident, when Arjuna is faced with the difficult choice of having to fight a battle with his own brothers, teachers and his respected elders. In another instance where Arjuna hesitates to pull his arrow upon the mighty and invincible Karna, who even without his armor that made him immortal, is so powerful that even the great warrior Arjuna having Lord Krishna himself by his side and blessed with the power of Lord Hanumana on the flag of his chariot proves weaker in the battle. Lord Krishna convinced Arjuna that it was not Adharma to attack and kill Karna while he was unarmed and trying to remove his chariot wheels out of the mud and that it was his only chance to defeat the great warrior.
It was on the advice of Lord Krishna that Bhima was able to bring down Duryodhana in the final battle which lasted many days but only by violating the rules of the fight and hitting Duryodhana on his thighs, the only place of his body which did not have divine protection given by his mother Gaandhari.
What Lord Krishna has tried to preach all through Mahabharata, and through his greatest teachings – Geeta, is the path of righteousness but with pragmatism and the ultimate understanding of what constitutes righteousness.
Legend has it that the last Hindu Emperor of India, Prithviraj Chauhan, defeated Muhammad Ghauri many times but released him out of mercy when Ghauri pleaded before him. But Ghauri kept attacking Delhi and finally defeated Prithviraj. Prithviraj, although a great Emperor, was killed by his kindness towards the hostile Muslim attackers. He set an example of Indian diplomatic mindset and how India deals with foreign powers almost 1000 years ago.
India has a no-first-use nuclear policy. India is the only nation which is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and yet has been allowed to import Nuclear technology and Uranium from countries like Australia, France and USA. This has been the proof of faith that the world puts in India which has been acquired over the years through exemplary diplomacy in a tough neighborhood.
I guess these are the characteristics that define Indianism. It has been our way of life for thousands of years. There has been very few instances of radical changes in mindset with respect to social and cultural practices in our society. People are resistant to overnight changes in the things they are used to and take for granted, although it is true for any society. To make complete sense of it, changes in Indian society will have to be noticed not in isolation but holistically with its history.