As we get set to celebrate yet another Independence Day, a few thoughts come to my mind. Two nations were born, a day apart from each other, August of 1947 after several years of British rule. One has gone on to become an economic powerhouse with a bright future and the other is tottering on the brink of bankruptcy. One is a thriving democracy and the other is mired in political turmoil.
India’s founding leaders chose us to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic while our neighbor chose to be a nation built on religious ideology. The results are here for us to see.
What are some of the lessons we can learn from this?
If you drive from south to north i.e. Kanyakumari to Kashmir, or east to west from Gujarat to Manipur, the diversity you see in terms of language, clothing, food, race, color, creed, way of life etc. is simply phenomenal. You could see remnants of all the continents just in one country of ours. It’s like many countries and its people all meshed into one. All this diversity, yet united as one country, it’s magical, isn’t it? I cannot think of any other country in this world with so much diversity and complexity under one flag.
I still remember, growing up in Bangalore, although being a local Kannadiga, was always surrounded with people who spoke Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Marwari etc. both in my school and in my neighborhood. We also had Muslims, Jains, Buddhists and Christians as classmates. Nothing seemed odd or different, and this is part of our Indianness.
Our movies and way of life celebrated this diversity back then. Bollywood always had the fun element of representing people from all over. The quintessential “Amar Akbar Antony”, Veer Zaara, Refugee etc. are some, to name a few.
Another great example of our strength in diversity is our own sports teams. A team of diverse people from India landed in London in 1983 to play the cricket world cup, almost sure to lose the matches quickly and go on a vacation. Most did not understand each other’s language. Little did they know that, led by a strong Jat Haryanvi, they would be changing the face of Indian cricket forever. From being the weakest side at the beginning of the tournament to becoming the world cup winning side was truly inspiring. The team consisted of Punjabis, Maharashtrians, a Tamil from Chennai, a Muslim and a Christian from Bangalore etc. They came together to create history. Again, a story of unity in diversity. The same holds for our Olympians the runners from Kerala, wrestlers from Haryana, Boxers from Manipur and other athletes from Punjab, Assam etc. Every region has given us something to cheer as one nation one flag.
Some numbers: (Pew Research Center)
Indians are much more likely to view their country’s religious diversity as an asset than as a liability. About half of Indians (53%) say religious diversity benefits the country, while 24% say it is harmful. The remainder (24%) don’t take a position either way.
Marching forward in diversity
When you’re in trouble you don’t think about language or religion, you’re just grateful for the human behind who helped you. Religion, race or language, I believe, is personal and should not be the basis of judging people. Our biggest success according to me is our democracy and our multi-ethnic, pluralistic nationhood!
Pluralism is that much needed X factor for the future, and India has had that since time immemorial. While we have thrived on this diversity all these years, it is important for us to continue to celebrate this in the future too as we go on to become the third largest economy of the world in nominal GDP terms within the next 5 years.
Happy Independence Day on 15th of August 2023!