Speaking in Cambridge University in 1880, a high official of the British Raj named Sir John Strachey said “This is the first and foremost thing to learn about India, that there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India possessing, according to European ideas, any sort of unity – physical, political, social and religious – no Indian nation, no ‘people of India’, of which we hear so much.”
This statement was taught to all British civil servants coming to India, and became the official British doctrine (as it contributed to their divide and rule policy).
Is this statement correct ? I submit it is not, but the issue requires a deeper analysis.
India has no doubt one common territory and is governed by one central government. But are we culturally one ? Is there anything culturally common which unites us, and constitutes us as one nation ? This is a question which must be examined carefully.
I submit that despite our tremendous diversity – so many religions, castes, languages, races, customs etc–there is something which culturally unites us, and indeed constitutes India as one nation, and that is our common Sanskrit-Urdu culture.
Now immediately objections will be raised that what have Nagas or Tamilians or many other people living in India got to do with Sanskrit or Urdu ? So I have to explain it in some depth.
I have said that India is broadly a country of immigrants, like North America. 92-93% of people living today in India are not the original inhabitants of India (the original inhabitants of India are the pre-Dravidian tribals or adivasis e.g. Bhils, Gonds, Santhals, Todas etc) but are descendants of immigrants who have been coming into our subcontinent for thousands of years, seeking a comfortable life.
Each of these groups of immigrants brought with them their own customs, religion, language etc. But by the intermingling of these immigrants in one land a common culture emerged in India, which may be broadly called the Sanskrit-Urdu culture, and which needs to be explained.
When I use the word Sanskrit in the expression ‘Sanskrit-Urdu culture’ I mean the spirit of Sanskrit, and not the Sanskrit language literally, and similarly when I use the word Urdu I mean the spirit of Urdu.
In my article ‘Sanskrit as a language of science‘ I have said that there is a misconception that Sanskrit was only a language for chanting mantras in temples and ceremonies. In fact Sanskrit was the language of free thinkers, who questioned everything, and expressed the widest spectrum of thoughts on various subjects e.g. philosophy, science, art, law, grammar, etc. In particular, Sanskrit was the language of our scientists in ancient India.
Thus, there was emphasis on rationalism in Sanskrit literature.
However, human beings possess not only reason but also emotion, which makes us have empathy for our fellow human beings who are suffering, and even motivates us to help them by action.
The great French thinker Rousseau said that too much emphasis on reason makes us selfish calculators, thinking only of what will benefit us and our families, forgetting the distress of the rest of society.
It was because of this over emphasis on reason that we rationalised the caste system, and degraded a section of our own society, the dalits, by inventing the karma theory, that dalits are in their low condition due to their misdeeds in their previous life.
Urdu supplied this deficiency in Sanskrit culture, by emphasing on emotion, and empathising with those in distress. Urdu poetry has a Sufi touch, and is largely a poetry of protest ( like the poetry of Kabir ), protest against the afflictions of the common man, against inhuman, rigid social customs and practices, and against injustice. hypocrisy and religious bigotry
Many people think that Urdu poetry is only a poetry of love (ishq). But in Urdu poetry, ishq often does not denote physical love between man and woman. It denotes passion for an ideal to attain which one is prepared to make personal sacrifices.
A false propaganda was done by our British rulers and their Indian agents, in pursuance of the wicked divide and rule policy, that Hindi was the language of Hindus and Urdu of Muslims. In fact Urdu was the common language of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs etc upto 1947.
So a common culture emerged in India by the intermingling of immigrants who came into India, the Sanskrit-Urdu culture, and this is what unites us. Surely Nagas, Tamilians etc too have reason and emotion, which is the essence of the Sanskrit-Urdu culture, even if they do not know Sanskrit or Urdu.
India is therefore indeed a nation.
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