Taking Indian Culture Beyond Stereotypes: All That Needs To Be Done

Posted on April 17, 2014 in Society, Specials

By Vishal V Kale:

Wikipedia describes Indian Culture as “The culture of India refers to the way of life of the people of India. India’s languages, religions, dance, music, architecture, food, and customs differ from place to place within the country. The Indian culture, often labelled as an amalgamation of several cultures, spans across the Indian subcontinent and has been influenced by a history that is several millennia old”

Most of us Indians take justifiable pride in the above, for what Wikipedia has stated, is either the simple truth, or as close to the truth as it is possible to be. Any general discussion on what defines India, or India’s strengths, unfailingly veers around the above within the first few sentences. This is ingrained into us from the very beginning of our lives, and the bombardment of the above upon our senses continues all through life – so much so that this almost becomes a defining aspect of Indianness, and of the Indian way.

Ideally, over a period of time, this feeling of pride, and identification with the “Indian Way” should give rise to a feeling of security in us, in our national ethos, and in our culture. This should be further buttressed with connected events that carry our culture across the world, giving us a force multiplier – much as western culture acts as a force multiplier for them. This is precisely what can be seen to be happening. For us, such events are our PIO (Person of Indian Origin) and NRI diaspora, in combination with our movie industry – both of which are contributing to making ‘the Indian way’ begin to resonate across the world. Already, most nations and peoples identify India for its diversity – which is a success for us in putting our USP across.

And yet, somehow, for some reason(s), the feeling of security in ourselves seems to be eluding us. We still seem anxious for recognition, rather than being confident in ourselves, in the continuity of our culture, and of our unique way of life. It is high time that we Indians faced this reality, this feeling of insecurity, and of a need for a constant reassurance in our way of life. The litmus test of this insecurity is in the media reports of PIOs who succeed in other nations, in the news reports and the ardent following of developments in the Hindu diaspora worldwide, in our constant emphasis on our USP, in the reportage of an interest in Indian cultural events in the West, and in our repeated reassurances.

Do media houses in the West report it on their front or first few pages if a Westerner makes it big in India or if a western cultural show happens? They don’t – and part of the reason is because they are secure in their culture and confident of the projection their culture makes on other people. Earlier, there may have been a case of focus on and desire for such events, happenings and reportage of Indians making it big and of cultural events abroad. But that was another time, with different realities.


That was a time of nation building, the primary requirement being the building of a strong political union from a cultural union. That was a time for building an image of India in both its citizens as well as in the world at large. That was a time to bring people together as one entity, after a highly divisive partition. That was a time when newly freed people were looking for reasons to feel secure in their political as well as cultural identities, after centuries of subjugation. Today, in the here and now, we are at an inflection point wherein, in order to tap into the successes we have achieved in our efforts at nation building, we need to confront our insecurities, and become bolder and more confident in our approach. We also need to keep in mind that insecurities carried too long can turn toxic.

Today, the realities have changed enough for us to stop, look inwards and move on from the point where we are now. The PIO and NRI community is now known for its skills, intelligence, hard working abilities and approach. They are known as significant value additions to society. Today, our movies are just beginning to expand into a global footprint, carrying our culture, our way of life across the world. This is going hand-in-hand with our slow but steady emergence in the sphere of trade and economics. Today, our achievements in various fields of technology are beginning to impart a small but clearly discernible halo of achievement, of an identity around our nation. High time we recognised these signs, and moved on from our cultural predilection.

It is high time we stopped focusing on the Indian culture and stopped mentioning it as a USP. There is no longer any need for any of us to feel great if an Indian movie clicks abroad, if an Indian makes it big abroad or if an Indian cultural event happens abroad. In my opinion, we as people of this country need to focus more on India as a nation, rather than on the Indian ways.

Let us all now get together to concentrate on and market India as the modern nation, and not as India- the Ancient Land, or The Land of Unity In Diversity Рand build a modern India that is free from its many weaknesses. That will go a long way in removing the somewhat clich̩d image of India in some areas of the world. There is no need to overemphasize what is now known as a universal truth.

Most of all, it is time for all of us to stop thinking of how we are perceived in this world. It is time for us to stop eulogizing sporadic unconnected happenings in this world. That time, space and energy can be better used in other, more productive activities. Why should it be headline news, for example, if an American Indian does something big in USA or the UK – even if it has no discernible effect or impact, whether direct or indirect, on India? If it does not benefit or impact us majorly, it should not be news at all! Why the inexplicable fascination with such happenings, as a Temple in a far off nation, or a promotion 10,000 kilometres away of a person who has no connection of any sort with India, apart from his lineage, a person why never even visited India?

We have now reached a level of development, of exposure to the world, of an image in the world where such proclivities become quaint habits at best, and can even be regarded as signs of a culture, of a people in constant need of attention, and of assurance. These are signs of insecurity in cultural and religious matters. It is no laughing matter and is not to be taken lightly. As all of my readers will agree, no one is more qualified than us to comment on such feelings of insecurity and its harmful impact. It is time to face the reality, and move on from our insecurities!