Monday, March 22, 2010

Demystifying India: part 1

I have decided to start writing about this at multiple times in past but felt very strong motivation during the Brazil trip, so here it goes. I am going to try Demystifying some things about India as country and Indian people, to remove some myths and misconceptions and citing some similarities and differences with other countries/cultures in this series of blog posts.

How it started
As I was traveling in Brazil I came to know that people in Brazil (not necessarily Brazilians) had seen a Soap Opera which was based on India. Apparently the whole show was a big hit there and people had developed a great interest in Indian culture to the extend that Indian clothes and Indian music sounds like a hap thing.

This sounded cool in the first impression but as we become better friends I heard the real curios questions from the people. "Are you a Brahmin ? Are you very religious etc." and then some one showing some Bharanatyam steps and asking me to tell them more about Indian dances :).I quickly understood the series has yet again done the same thing many outsiders do in portraying a country, they mix all hetrogenous parts of the culture and apply them on one family and it feels like thats the typical lifestyle.
(Of course I have seen Hollywood movies and series and spend time in US to have an idea of this disparity).

So, bewildered as I was, I thought "Am I a brahmin?" probably second time in my life, the first being when I came to know there WAS a caste system in India. Nah, I cudn't judge if I was or not :)

About the Caste System
As against the first general impression people had/have, no modern India doesn't really have caste system practices of differentiating people in terms of discriminating them or bounded labour or whatever the caste system implies.

As it happens with the Surnames/Last names in Scotland or some other places its more like a symbolic or historical concept for most of us now. Like Scott Shoemaker doesn't mean Scott makes shoes,
Being a Brahmin doesn't mean I am priest or a very religious person anymore so does being a Kshatriya not enforces you to be a warrior :)

Of course there are parts of India which are socially backwards and backwards in terms of development and these things horrible as they are, are still practiced to various extends. Some would claim it means discrimination in terms of opportunities but as you would imagine there are laws against such acts. On the contrary the government encourages people who have been oppressed in past because of their caste to come to level playing field by reservations of various kinds.

Which of course is a debatable process of its own.
But the point is, when I studied in a school in a relatively small city of Jabalpur (may fall in top 30-40 cities) I never cared for my classmates' caste. We all had same privileges and opportunities. So was the case in my undergrad and post grad college in Hyderabad (a pretty important city) no discriminations but just merit based evaluation based on your performance. Taking further when private companies come to college for hiring the same thing goes on.

About Hindu/Hindi the Religion, the culture, the language
The friends from Argentina who had developed some interest about India was always confusing the use of word Hindu/Hindi/Indians and India :) as many of these should be very related but are not same.

Unlike most other countries India doesn't have a small set of Languages which everyone in the country knows. So as you talk to different group of people you most definitely end up learning more than one language. A good example I always tend to give is that when I joined my college most batches would know three languages 1. Their Mother Tongue, 2. Hindi and 3. English (not in that order always).
As you would realize Hindi is not mother tongue for a big percentage of Indians. In fact many of us may not need to learn/use Hindi all our life. This seems very contrasting to one Language countries like Brazil (pr), Argentina (es), USA and UK (en). etc. Another example of the diversity, when I joined my job my team of four people the only common language between any two people was English.

So yes, Indians don't always know Hindi, the language. Some people however use the word Hindi to mean the people of India. All I can say is that with all such diversity and recognition and respect for all religions, languages and backgrounds, calling Indians Hindi is inaccurate, though we may have such references in old writings and songs like one song says "Hindi hein hum" (Hindi we are).

Now Hindu, well Hindu is a word for a person following the religion of Hinduism like Catholics are people who follow Christianity and its relation with Hindi is almost same as that of Christianity with English. In most sense Religions aren't geographical while languages are. So all Indians are NOT Hindus, we have a diverse set of religions too! Of course all this makes India very different and interesting from many other places in the world.

More to come in next post on the series ..

1 comment:

  1. Update: Corrected some points based on feedback by Rakesh.