Thursday, 24 April 2014

U is for Unity, Unity in Diversity and the Indian-ness

#atozchallengeLet me get to the point straightaway. No mincing words.

Thanks to our modern education we Indians have lost our sense of what Indian-ness may truly mean. Instead of blindly following the ways of the West, we Indians – individually and collectively – must discover our unique place and role in the world. If each nation has a specific and unique contribution to make for the future of the world and humanity, what is India's role? What is my individual obligation toward helping India rise up to its potential and work toward its true mission? And how does it relate to Indian Education? Let us explore a bit.

So what makes us Indian? Obviously, Indian-ness is not just about the rich variety in Indian cuisine, clothes, festivals, rituals, customs, traditions, though they are all part of it. It is not only about the social-political systems we have set up in our country, though they too are part of it. And it is also not only about the different religions and ways of life practiced by different sections of our people, though again they are all part of it. What is that Indian spirit that binds as all despite all these differences in our identities and ways of life? And how can we make that Indian spirit part of our educational experience?

It should be made very clear that our attempt to learn about the Indian spirit should be driven by our zeal to make this essential Indian-ness relevant for the present times, and for the new age which is dawning upon us. A true renaissance of Indian spirit is not about going back to the so-called golden age of the past but moving forward to a new future that is yet to be shaped by us. And this future depends on how each one of us understands what the essence of Indian-ness is about. At the same time it needs to be emphasized that we must not shun anything as irrelevant for true revival of Indian spirit simply because it is “western” or “modern”. 

India exists in its plurality, and yet India is also One in spirit. India is traditional, pre-modern, modern, postmodern and post-postmodern, all in one, all at one time, all co-existing. Whether we are conscious of it or not we carry all of this diversity within us. What might be the invisible factor that transcends yet somehow binds all the multiple, outer aspects of Indian identity in such a way that each of the many outer aspects of Indian identity retains its individual status yet merges in something larger, something more whole than itself? What may be the deeper source of my connection with another Indian, or with Indian culture in general? Is there anything like the soul of an Indian? Or Indian soul which helps people who consider themselves “Indian in heart” connect with one another despite the external differences in any or all of the outer identity aspects?

These and other questions like these must be reflected upon by Indian educators, so that they, in turn, can facilitate such reflection among their learners - in age-appropriate ways, of course. At present, such introspection and reflection among teachers is hardly encouraged. I would even say it is never even considered a part of teacher's learning programme - pre-service or in-service. The emphasis in teacher workshops and in-service training sessions is often on promoting the newest educational technology or the latest pedagogical approach imported from elsewhere. But why not first work with the inner technology given to all of us, the ability to look within? 

Imagine when a teacher discovers that perhaps this Indian-ness, this essence of being Indian lies in our shared and firm belief in something invisible beyond the visible, something supra-rational beyond the rational, something infinite beyond the finite, something eternal beyond the temporal, something that transcends yet includes All that is, was and will ever be. And that there are many different paths possible to "test" this belief  and "realize" its truth within oneself-- perhaps as many paths as there are people on the planet, including the path of questioning and disbelieving this belief itself. Such an insight would  not only be deeply transformative for her own intellectual and personal growth, but it could also lead to some great discussions in classroom on discovering the truth behind the Indian principle of unity-in-diversity. 

Diversity concerns all that which is outer, visible; Unity concerns the invisible, the inner. It is the inner One that binds the Multiple outers. [Afterall, the same principle applies to who/what we are as an individual - an inner one self holds together, sustains and unites our multiple outer selves - physical, emotional and mental. Same truth holds for the collective being.] Any attempt to bring unity from the outside will lead to forced uniformity. And yet some uniformity in the outer mechanisms, structures, social policies, laws and rules might be necessary for an efficient and effective outer collective life of the society so that the true inner freedom and diversity may prevail. This fine balancing of the inner and outer, the oneness and the multiplicity needs to be brought home -- first in the hearts and minds of the educators, and through their example and influence to that of the learners. Don't we want our learners, our future generations to have a sincere intellectual awareness of and a deep commitment to this ideal that their country puts before them? Our future as a nation depends on this.

The other important question that is becoming more and more significant for almost all Indians with every passing day is this -- How to stay Indian in spirit and at the same time healthily assimilating the influences from other cultures -- that is the challenge we have in front of us in this fast globalizing world? This is a very real issue facing our future generations. Why shouldn't our education, and our educators be constructively and creatively involved in such an important discourse of our times? 

Most of us know that famous line of Mahatma Gandhi about keeping all the windows of our house open so ideas and air from everywhere can come in. He further emphasized that we should however not get swept away by the gush of outside air, but stand firmly rooted in our homes/roots. Extending this analogy a bit more, I may add that a good cross-ventilation in a house can keep the air circulating, and at the same time allow for some of the unhealthy influences (that don't mesh well with the overall spirit of our home) to easily move out keeping the inside environment fresh and renewed. Also, like in any good house we first need a strong foundation upon which rest of the structure can be built including the proper placement and alignment of windows. So windows or not, unless the house has a strong foundation it will not last for all times to come. 

This is perhaps we need as Indians too. If we are able to get back to the true foundations of our culture, if we can imbibe deep within us the true spirit of being Indian, the outer covering - food, clothing, religion, language, etc will not matter. Let me also add that Indian-ness is not something that can be taught (but then we saw earlier that nothing really can be taught), it is something that is discovered over time. But our schools and other educational institutions can play a very big role in facilitating such a discovery process - for students and teachers alike.

As we begin the process of knowing more about who we truly are in our deepest core, we begin the process of discovering what it means to be Indian. The search for the soul can lead us to the search for the soul of India. Sooner or later we are all -- born in India or elsewhere -- destined to be on this path of discovery, and until then all the outer changes and experiences we are going through may just be a preparation for us. Even this phase of excessive and mindless aping of the West we are presently going through in India may have a deeper purpose behind it. [As they say, we have to first try out something in order to know what to throw out and what to keep.] 

Now there is one more question we must consider – is Indian-ness something that is limited to a particular set of geographic boundaries? If Indian-ness is a way of being (more on this coming up in the next post), can it really be bound by boundaries or by bodies born within certain boundaries?

If one feels some sort of quest to seek beyond the known and visible, to search for something invisible, something beyond the limit of human reason, and tries to make this seeking the true basis for all other seeking and progress in life, then one has chosen a certain way of being in the world. And perhaps that may be called Indian-ness. 

This idea of Indian view of life and its relation with Indian education will be picked up again in my next post, on V. 

Let me conclude this post by adding that a truly Indian education will encourage and must facilitate such kind of deep reflection and introspection - for educators, for students, for all those entrusted with the task of educating and preparing India's future generations.

Picture credits: 1,  2 

This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in this series.

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