Posted by: Vikram | November 5, 2008

What is India ?

This post is the result of my own confusions with this subject, and what prompted me to finally put hand to keyboard was the rather ugly discussion on Vinod Sharma’s blog. I will actually keep adding to this post as I learn and understand more.

Odzer says, anyone who has an Indian passport is an Indian, true, but thats just one way of looking at things. But ask our Chief Justice, and he may consider India and its Constitution are the tools of his emancipation and empowerment after centuries of oppression. Ask a Muslim girl from a small town in UP, and the Indian nation is a platform for fulfilling her noble ambitions. Ask a Mizo or Tripuri, and the Indian nation, unjust in the past, is today a more acceptable political identity than their Chin cousins have across the border in Burma. And these ideas will keep changing because nations are even more fluid than cultures.

Would these changes happened if India was not as it is ? Would empowered Dalits in Maharashtra be able to help and support help their brothers in UP ? Would a Muslim girl from UP be able to touch the moon through an agency that a Gujarati set up with his singular vision ? Would a dedicated NGO in Rajasthan undertake a tough, tortous decade long campaign to give people in Orissa a tool against their corrupt government ? Would soldiers from Punjab and Kerala protect Tibetans in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal from the Red Army’s oppressive grasp ?

There are people who of course have very negative (perhaps justifiably) notions of India. And they must be heard and understood if India is to become the nation it can.

The Indian nation as in its territory maybe arbitrary perhaps, as may be the territory of other post-colonial nations, but its Constitution is not. Of all the myriad failings of the Indian state and its society, the commitment to not ‘abolish’ the Consti at the whim and fancies of dictators/politicians like has been the tendency in other new nations has been a singular achievement. Yes, there have been many amendments, but most of them been technical details of administration, not the basic structure. India’s state if not stable, has been continuous. This is perhaps the real reward of the long, gruelling struggle for independence that India underwent, which left the new nation with a very politically active population and some sincere, dedicated leaders in its early years. Today, the political and leadership situation is very different. Perhaps it will change in the future.

I am not trying to brush away the inequality, violence and hypocrisy of today’s India, but just clarifying that they are not reason enough to dismiss this unique nation. And the hope of tomorrow’s India should strengthen our resolve to destroy the evil in India today.


  1. @ Vikram : Indeed I said that a while ago. I am quite sad that the discussion took an ugly turn as well. However I am Indian for the very simple reason that I believe that a vast majority of the ethnicity I belong to have chosen to be a part of this Union. However would I be sad or mourn if India fell apart. No. Although I would support the continuation of the present structure and more reform. I believe that this Union can be transformed. Transformed in to something where we all are equal.

    Odzer, I am not implying, that you saying that having an Indian passport is what makes one Indian, is incorrect, its one very logical way of thinking about things. Transformation can certainly be accomplished without destroying the Union, and I totally agree that the states should be made more equal. In fact, I have previously pointed out that the rise of state parties and the Bommai ruling have initiated that transition.

    What I would like to imagine is an India where anyone for example a Ladakhi Buddhist is the face of India and so is a Turbaned Sikh or a Jew. I am sick and tired of this mainstream non sense. I do not want to be mainstream. I am also tired sick of having to learn a national language. I sometimes find the vast majority in the interior states of India patronizing. May be that is my own personal failure to understand them.

    If you read my comments on IHM’s blog, and my previous posts, I am myself sick of the ‘mainstreaming’ of India, and I have supported you on the issue of state identities before. Btw, a turbaned Sikh is the face of India. 🙂

    I want to believe that anyone who speaks Mizo is as Indian as someone who speaks Hindi. However at the moment it just is not like that. If I am asking for a commonwealth today which is looser and more flexible than what exists today I am not asking for the destruction of India. I am just saying that if there are flaws in the present system lets just try something else.

    Totally agree on the decentralization aspect, it has serious development consequences too. But its upto us, perhaps the more ‘mainstream’ Indians, to accept the Mizos, Assamese and Tamils as Indian as us.

    I am sorry to say this but anyone who holds a different point of view is not a threat to a nation. If someone does not believe in nations it is their own way of thinking. As long as I am a subject or a citizen of one I will play my role is all I can say personally. I have always voted in elections here whenever I have been in the country. Many nationalistic Indians I know however only give lip service and do precious little else. I am not nationalistic but I am willing to give my two cents. Take it or leave it.

    You are most certainly not a threat to any nation. So we agree on almost points, perhaps we are twins. 🙂

  2. Vikram, I think you should come back to India and work for this country. I have seen from the posts on your blog and also your comments on mine and others’ blogs that you have a genuine love for this country and also that you have a questioning mind, and are willing to admit when you are wrong. we need people like you in India.

    Odzer, always felt you were a Sikh, although you didn’t say so. I also feel you have a transport business. Just a guess. 🙂

  3. @ Nita : I am not Sikh :p I do not own a transport business either. Although I do move information and technology around the world.

  4. Vikram, I second Nita’s opinion. Come back whenever you are ready.

  5. A very nice post Vikram. India’s political environment and people have been changed in these 50 years from good to worse. But I believe in my nation that it will move higher and higher and we will be the reason and proud about it.

  6. Vikram No matter what some politicians, groups and some people feel about India like you say, “There are people who of course have very negative (perhaps justifiably) notions of India. And they must be heard and understood if India is to become the nation it can.” I feel, we all first and foremost, must accept that India is a nation, one Nation. It bothers me when people say they are Punjabis, Marathis, Malayalis or even Kashmiris before they are Indians. ‘Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it’, and I fear unless we make it clear to these people/groups that India is not to be divided, that all of India is belongs to every citizen, we are doomed.
    I am also worried about Obama’s interest in Kashmir, and the news of some Army officers from Maharashtra being involved in terrorist activities. It was shocking to see some VHP spokesperson, saying that the army officers were justified in being involved with terror activities, since they were not happy with the government, they were frustrated and they are rebelling by joining Hindu terrorist groups, and all this on National Television !! Shows how much you can get away with, in India, in the name of religion and politics!!!
    IF (because unless they are proven guilty in court I don’t want to believe the media and police or ATS) it is true then even the most respected organization in this country has started rotting because of the hatred that we are allowing to divide this country.

    I always say, ours is a tough Constitution, and we should be grateful to the brain that drafted it, it has survived our leaders, and our voters, it has to be very tough! When I had to do a tag on what happiness for me was, ‘The Indian Constitution’ was there in the list 🙂

  7. @indianhomemaker : I have thought long and hard whether to say something here or not. You are quite confident as an Indian. Perhaps I am not. I am more happy as a Punjabi first. When I think of India it is always a second thought. I have always wished the Union well. However I do not want our people to be dependent on it alone. As our history has taught us nothing is permanent. We have seen many come and many go. I am not sure if 200 years down from here we would see India in this shape and size. If we do its all well and good but if we do not. I do not think we have to worry about it. Its best not to hold fixed ideas.

    I have a great love for my own language and culture. I think it has a great deal to inspire me and it does so naturally. My “Indianness” is acquired not automatically a fact for me. My Punjabiness is natural. So in a way its like having a biological mother and a foster mother. While one can be attached to both it is simply not the same thing. I have to make an effort to ‘fit in’ if I want to be Indian something that I really do not like so much. I always sort of feel like an otaku when I am in another state even in Delhi.

  8. my mother is a half tamilian + half kannadiga who lived in delhi
    my father is a kashmiri + punjabi who lived in bombay.
    i have an indian passport though i was raised in south africa
    who am i ?

    Anrosh, who you are is for you to decide 🙂 This post is not about labeling people. It is about what a nationality can mean to different people. Btw, you do have quite a gene pool, 😉

  9. @ Anrosh : I guess 5¢ seems cheap compared with 20 Rupees that we have to pay per one of those dorky environment friendly bags at some stores now. Considering this is a poor country.

  10. Vikram, i just made up the gene pool only for the purpose of discussions keeping in my mind some of my relatives and friends,,

    To odzer, For all those who earn a minimum wage of $7.15 cents per hour, and the persons has to spend 5 cents every the math..

  11. I feel I need to say something here, and it is addressed to all. It never worries me when people say they are Punjabis or Marathis first because despite what they think and others think, they are loyal Indians. Not all, perhaps, but most. In fact, I have seen many people with a pan Indian outlook the quickest to give up their nationality and often lacking a sense of roots or real love for their country. Yes, they avoid squabbling over regions, but that is because they don’t feel strongly about any. A man needs to be proud of his ethnicity and culture first, and only then can he stand up and join hands with others and say he is proud to be Indian.
    What we need in India is to be proud of one’s region, but stop putting down another’s region, culture and language. It is this mentality that has to stop but is common in India today.
    I don’t want to say which you are first, Indian or Punjabi or whatever, because its equal. Both are too entwined to be separated. We need the maturity as a country to stop people from one region demanding that others give up their language and culture. We need to accept and love our brothers and sisters from all parts of the country. As I said, a man who gives up his regional identity is most likely to be westernized and in the long run, his descendents will be be far less Indian than the descendents of someone with a strong regional roots. I say, hold on tight to who you are friends and be proud of your language, your culture, and develop it! And be mature enough to accept another’s identity. This I am more superior than you is the worst thing to happen and shows our immaturity.

  12. I would say Odzer is more Indian than many of us, whether he knows it or not.

  13. @ Nita : Well written. Perhaps there are a few things that you have said there that I have failed to express. If you look at things today it is getting increasingly complicated to stick with one “identity”. Some of us are lucky, we stay where we were born and where we are from. I often think that once you have left your home and gone to live elsewhere you do not have a “nationality” anymore even if you return back to where you came from. You will always remain an “outsider”. It is this inability to fit in to the inner group that makes me feel as if I do not belong. Oh well but broadly I agree with all you have said so nicely. Thanks!

  14. […] The above is a comment by Vikram in his latest post What is India? […]

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