What Makes India Different From The West

Posted by Anushka Srivastava
January 18, 2018

India is a complex amalgam of different cultures, traditions, ideas, values, languages and ideologies. This amalgam is often labelled as ‘chaos’ by the West. Their cognition, which, in this regard, is predominantly linear and works effectively in an organised environment, is often baffled by the myriad overlaps and intersections the Indian diaspora shows in its work. I believe this is a direct result of the diversity of our country.

India is not a ‘chaos’ – it is a land of diversity.

The second difference is an ideological one. India has been able to sew together so many cultures in a single thread because of our belief in mutual respect and love for everyone. While the West has, time and again, asked its people to maintain religious tolerance, we have inculcated love. In fact, when Indians greet, they often say “namaste”, which means ‘naman to your spirit’ (I bow down to your spirit). The ‘te’ refers to the third person – the spirit.

I believe that the western ideology of religious tolerance led to the ‘digestion’ of civilisations there. On the other hand, India has not only resisted any such ‘digestion’ – it has also been able to sew each civilisation in its inherent form, making it a part of its social fabric.

These two fundamental differences have brought us to a point in history, where we are witnessing a U-turn. Various scholars, academicians, policy-makers, poets, scientists read Sanskrit and other Indian works, translated it into their own languages and even patented it as their own. In the process, they also often blatantly disregarded the source. I think TS Eliot wrote many verses, inspired by and by borrowing from the Gita. There were many others who followed suit – but often, they didn’t acknowledge the source.

This article does not mean to increase the alienation. Instead, it intends to leverage the issue of who we are, so we don’t become slaves to a new kind of colonial imperialism.

Personally, it is disheartening to know that our education system seemingly follows the European model of linearity, specialisation and fragmentation of the humanities – without a single academic subject on religion. The biggest strength of India is its diversity ipso facto. But, due to the vacuum created by the lack of ‘religion studies’ in higher institutions, our diversity is being misused for vote-bank politics.

To prevent chicanery and the tricking of gullible voters in the name of religion, including an academic subject on ‘religion studies’ is the need of the hour. Reading religion academically encompasses studying the basic tenets of all religions, respectfully. America has answered to this call a long time ago. Today, several thousands of students have enrolled in the American Academy of Religion and The Centre for Biblical Studies in America.

Just like China has maintained the status of Mandarin, Japan, France and Germany have also been able to successfully preserve their languages. On the same lines, India should start promoting Sanskrit on a national scale before it becomes extinct.

There are so many non-translatable words in Sanskrit that can make it relevant forever.Words have the power to keep this generation in touch with who we are – words like dharma and yoga, for instance. I do not think ‘religion’ is the correct translation of dharma. Neither is there a correct English translation of yoga. It is my belief that such Sanskrit words, which are non-translatable, should be compiled in a book and studied in higher institutions.

Given the political dynamics in the West today, it seems that it is again going through a ‘crisis of myth’, just like it did in the 1960s. The West is looking to the East for answers – and the best way India can respond to this is by doing so organically.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images