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India and the Prejudiced Perceptions

by Rinku Khumukcham
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By: M.R. Lalu
My journey to the Himalayas a few years ago as a young traveler and a yoga practitioner had been so resounding and significant at a personal level. As a yoga practitioner, my stay in one of the hermitages on the banks of the Ganges is still an enriching experience and what is vividly imprinted in my memory is the interactions that I was capable of with the foreign students among whom I met an old lady of 74 years from California. My conversations with most of the forty of them from 20 countries have given me insights on what India is and a chance that I cherished to look at India through a western prism with clarity. I wondered at the level of commitment and love that those people had about the idea of India, especially the old lady from America who preferred to smear a pinch of soil on her forehead every morning calling India the holiest land and her second home. The entire duration of my stay with those India lovers made me really delve into the depth of what, as a country, India reflected to the foreign minds. The respect, as a country, India at present is gaining is due to both the spiritual and political patronage that India was capable of for years. Spiritual it is, because we, as a country could deliver spiritual solace to a large number of global seekers with our inclusive ideals. Politically we are equally influential across the globe as a peace-loving nation that advocates for universal peaceful coexistence and brotherhood. Indeed, the aspects of influence that India is known for today, give it a special stature of recognition among countries of diverse interests and geopolitical aspirations. My experience was personal and many, for that matter, must have experienced the same with little or more lucidity and serenity in the slopes of grandeur in the Himalayas.  
I thought to quote this at the backdrop of multiple disturbing clashes that began to rattle the country recently and India, with its global aspirations to emerge as a power, seems to be portrayed as standoffish and irresponsible when it comes to its ability to maintain equanimity as the diversity presses its nerves so hard. Agencies, foreign to the idea of India’s cultural heritage are seemingly out to project the country as the most intolerant and a hostile destination devoid of peaceful coexistence. The western world always had a disparaging mindset on everything that politically India represented. The latest stroke has been from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). It made a comment on what it feels and identifies, that India according to the agency, is a tumultuous land with the minorities being strong-armed from practicing their religious faiths peacefully either by the state or by its religious majority. It also recommends India be identified as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) which it probably tags with those countries where religious freedom is frequently offended.  The USCIRF identifies Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan as the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom.  The spiritual values that India stood for ages never questioned the need of being in contradiction with other faiths. It always upheld the view of assimilation and never did animosity come its way of peaceful coexistence. This is the reason why many in the west are getting attracted to the eastern spiritual wisdom especially that India offers to the world, unconditionally.
This happens in real terms because the basic tenets of India’s spiritual wellbeing are based on diverse and pluralistic social engineering that it, from the ages of the sages, propagated with clarity and humility. Despite the belittling of the idea that India represents from different global platforms and some deliberate attempts from India; there seems to be a spiritual essence emanating from the core of Indianness that keeps strengthening the country inexorably. Agencies, headquartered in America and elsewhere have been vigilant to mischaracterize the diversity that India was successfully nourishing for long. Choosing to criticize a country based on intentionally selected issues that randomly lead to local skirmishes with a minority community at the receiving end; their intention surfaces with their studied silence on India when the majority community is persecuted by certain radicalized doctrines. We need to know the level of hypocrisy that India is rated with. Now, one example is enough to topple the argument that the USCIRF is making. The population registry of India reveals the fact that the country has been consistently witnessing an increase in the population of minorities since independence. Muslims alone, who comprised 9.8% of the country’s population in 1950, is estimated to have grown to almost 14 % or more today. This itself is evident from the fact that the main minority community has been flourishing in India while the country is blamed and debated worldwide by agencies and pseudo intellectuals painting its majority as an acrimonious sum.
Pakistan and Bangladesh give us a gruesome picture of the minorities in those countries. They are being targeted, persecuted and forcefully converted and killed with their religious places desecrated and destroyed and their population dwindling rapidly every passing day. The tendency that we are comfortable with, is to call the hostility in our neighborhood as a usual affair to the radicalized Islamic states. India is the country where the planet’s largest human gathering takes place in the name of religion which indeed is the largest peaceful human gathering. The Kumbh mela is a perfect example of India’s cultural heritage being displayed in its spiritual splendor seeking peace and prosperity for the entire humanity. Politically, India’s independent stand on the Russia-Ukraine war was not disputed by the world. We could successfully convince the world the stand that we thought was right, without being judgmental and duplicitous on the pressure that the west and America put on us. This is emblematic to the sphere into which India has globally positioned itself as a responsible country. The binary that India is, in a largely polarized world is both, its spiritual and political might that it could successfully showcase in the last few decades gaining reverence. We are not to forget, the petty squabbles that we have been witnessing today and the international community took notice of, are the results of the suspicion that has gone deeper into the social psyche due to the centuries of conquests and political subjugations and misrepresentation of history. Today, what we need to have is a larger canvas of acceptance, suitable to sprinkle a variety of colors to form a beautiful pictorial symphony of cohesion. The old lady from California with her soil smeared forehead is a symbol of reverence that India deserves and represents and we need to maintain it.
(The author is a Freelance Journalist/Social Worker)

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