Browse by year:
September - 2011 - issue > Anniversary Special
What is India?
Justice Markandey Katju
Friday, September 2, 2011
A famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, had once quoted, “Gulon me rang bhare, baad-ae-naubahar chale, chale bhi aao ke gulshan ke kaarobaar chale.” The inner meaning of this quote is that the objective situation in the country is ripe, which invites the patriotic people now to come forward to serve the country.

India is presently going through a transition period, from feudal agricultural society to a modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonizing period in history. A study of European history from the 16th to 19th Centuries, which was the transition period of Europe, shows that this period was a period of turmoil, turbulence, wars, revolutions, chaos, social churning and intellectual ferment. It was only after going through this fire that a modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through this fire. We are going through a very painful period in our history which, I guess, would last for about another 10 to 20 years. It is the duty of all patriotic people to educate the masses in India about this, and thereby try to reduce the transition period and its agony. There are five theses which would help the masses understand India better:

1. A country of immigrants

While North America is a land of new immigrants, who came in mainly from Europe over the last four or five centuries, India is a land of old immigrants—wherein people came in from the North-West and to a lesser extent from the North-East. About 92 - 93 percent of the people living in India are descendants of these immigrants.

The reason why people migrated into India, and rarely from India to outside India, is obvious. People migrate from uncomfortable areas to comfortable areas. Before the industrial revolution there were agricultural societies everywhere. India was a paradise for these. Agriculture requires level land, fertile soil, plenty of water for irrigation, etc. This was in abundance in the Indian sub-continent. Why should anybody migrate from India to, say, Afghanistan which is rocky, mountaineous, cold and covered with snow several months in a year and hence very uncomfortable. Instead people kept rolling into India for 10 thousand years or so.

2. There is tremendous diversity in India India having a population of about a 1,200 million people has tremendous diversity, since each group of immigrants brought its culture, religion and language along with it—People having different religions, languages, races, ethnicities. China, on the other hand, is broadly homogenous though not absolute. Majority of the people have a Mongolic face, have a common written language—Mandarin Chinese (though the spoken language varies), and about 95 percent belong to one ethnic group—Han Chinese. The Indian Constitution caters to this tremendous diversity in India by providing for secularism and equal respect to all communities. The federal structure of the Indian Constitution caters to regional aspirations.

3. Indian culture can be broadly called the Sanskrit-Urdu culture

Is India a nation at all, or a group of hundreds of immigrants? Is there anything common in India? The immigrants to India brought along with them their own language and culture, which explains the tremendous diversity in the country. With the interaction among them, emerged the Sanskrit-Urdu culture.—Sanskrit and Urdu are our two greatest national cultural languages. There is a great misunderstanding about both Sanskrit and Urdu.

Sanskrit is regarded as the language of rituals among Hindus, although 95 percent of Sanskrit has nothing to do with rituals and religion, and instead deals with a whole range of subjects like philosophy, science, law, mathematics, interpretation, phonetics, literature and more. Therefore it cannot be compared to other regional languages, as Sanskrit is the language of people with inquisitive minds. Similarly, there is a misconception that Urdu is a foreign language or a language of Muslims alone. In fact up to 1947 Urdu was the common language of all educated people whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh in large parts of urban India. Arabic and Persian are no doubt foreign languages but Urdu is an indigenous language, and the proof of this is that all verbs in Urdu are from Hindustani (simple Hindi). It is the verbs which determine to which language a sentence belongs, not the nouns or adjectives. Urdu was a language created by superimposition of some features and vocabulary of the Persian language on a Hindustani foundation. Hindustani was the common man’s language in large parts of India, and Persian was the language of the elite for several centuries in India. Thus Urdu has a dual nature. It is both a common man’s language, as well as an aristocratic language. It has the sophistication and polish of an aristocratic language. While Sanskrit places emphasis on reason, Urdu places emphasis on emotion, and both are necessary for the development of the Nation.

While Sanskrit pays more emphasis to rationale, Urdu pays more emphasis to emotions, both of which are important for the development of a nation.

4. Secularism and giving equal respect to all communities

Akbar has been termed as the greatest ruler of all times. During a time when England witnessed massive killing due to religion, Akbar introduced the Sulh-e-Kul (universal toleration of all religions). This was continued by our great leader Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, who was thoroughly secular and showed respect to all religions.

The history books state that many of the Muslim rulers killed Hindus, or demolished Hindu temples, which can be rubbished on the fact that the records show that almost all Muslim rulers gave lavish contributions to Hindu temples all over the country. Up to 1857, there were no communal problems in India, the Hindus and the Muslims used to celebrate all festivals together. Even if there were some differences, the gap was becoming narrower. No ruler would like the society to revolt against him, so why would the Muslim rulers create unrest by demolishing Hindu temples, when majority of their subjects were Hindus? Our history books were deliberately distorted by the British rulers in pursuance of their policy of divide and rule, so that Hindus and Muslims should fight with each other. The truth has been clarified in the speech “History in the Service of Imperialism” which was delivered by Prof. B.N. Pandey, former Professor of Allahabad University and Governor of Orissa in a speech delivered in the Rajya Sabha – Upper House of Indian Parliament in 1977 (which can be read online).

5. India is going through a painful and agonizing phase

India is transitioning from a feudal and agriculture-based economy to a more modern and industrial economy.

The role of the judiciary becomes more important in such a stage. The judiciary, not being an elected body, is an independent body, which can be very powerful if it wants. Effectively, the judiciary should not try to interfere with the legislation, but in exceptional cases (like in the case of honor killing). There are different laws (the Indian Penal Code, Hindu, Muslim law, and more) which play a vital role in deciding the code of the constitution. Any effort to bring in a uniform civil code can be fatal, as the government has to cater to regional aspirations.

India is in a phase, in which it can neither be termed as being backward, nor as a developed nation. Several practices like the caste system are becoming diluted, with the advancement in technology. It will take many years for the people to have awareness about the various aspects, which would make India a developed nation in the true sense. Till then, educating the masses about the true story of India will help to fight the fire which the country is facing today.

This awareness of the true story of India would help to speed up the development, reduce the turmoil that the nation is going through—which otherwise would have to be fought for about 20 more years—and make the country united to move forward towards being a superpower.

The author is Justice of Supreme Court India

Share on LinkedIn