January 21, 2009

I keep the faith

"We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

-- Barack Obama, January 20 2009

***

"We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of partition and massacre in the name of religion, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that India must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

-- Unknown Indian, some unknown date in the future.

I keep the faith.

13 comments:

Chetan said...

a beautiful parallel.

Suresh said...

Come on Dilip. Our ¨patchwork heritage" is neither a strength nor a weakness, it is something we have inherited and have to work with. It may be a source of strength in some cases but equally it can be a source of weakness. Without the multiple languages, we would have no tricky language issues to deal with, for example. Perhaps, also, the Kaveri river dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka could be sorted in a more amicable fashion.

And we are certainly not shaped by ¨every language and culture¨ in the way the USA is shaped. We are diverse, no doubt, but is there any need to exaggerate it?

On the other hand, we have had an openly agnostic (atheist, even) Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru which I don´t think the USA is anywhere close to emulating.

At any rate - this is a time, as I´m sure recognize, for Americans to feel legitimately proud of their country. Let us leave them to enjoy it: the problems that President Obama will have to confront will come soon enough.

AMOK said...

Suresh of course our patchwork heritage is a strength. Were it not for this, India too would have been a dictatorship like many of our neighbours. Long long ago.

Dilip has expressed an excellent thought. As for Obama -- he is the best there is, to confront those problems. I admire his enthusiasm.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Suresh, nothing at all is inherently a strength or a weakness. It's how you see it. After all, our immense population has for long been seen as a drag, and yet today we can also see it as an immense source of strength, our demographic advantage over so many other countries.

We are not shaped by every language and culture? We speak more languages than any other country, those languages come from various different roots and have been molded by all kinds of cultural and historical influences and trends ... what's there to exaggerate? It's a reality.

Ultimately, it's not about exact parallels. There are lessons and analogies to think about, and possible learn from, in what Obama said. That's what it's about.

Thanks, Chetan and Amok.

Suresh said...

This risks going into a sterile discussion so I'll have a last word and leave it at that.

Suresh of course our patchwork heritage is a strength. Were it not for this, India too would have been a dictatorship like many of our neighbours.

This seems to be a commonly held belief among many Indians. Here are some problems with such an assertion. One, it ignores the very real diversity of our neighbour, Pakistan. Pakistan is relatively homogeneous along *one* dimension, religion. Yet it is home to something like 40 different languages! Wouldn't you call that diversity? G. Parthasarathy, our former High Commissioner in Islamabad recalled that he once received a petition from as many as 21 different groups asking for India's support in their struggle to be free of Islamabad. So why has Pakistan such a terrible experience with democracy? [Note also that Pakistan prior to 1971 was diverse even religiously - the white part of Pakistan's white-and-green flag apparently symbolizes the religious minorities. And yet, Pakistan fell under military dictatorship as early as 1956 or thereabouts!]

Second, do you have a theory as to how diversity translates into democracy? Is it not possible that India is a democracy not because of diversity but *despite its diversity*?

Third, think back to our experience with the infamous Emergency - if you are old enough. Note that the emergency ended not because we the people rose against Indira Gandhi but because she decided unilaterally to end it. Why did she do it? We don't know Indira's motivations but Ramachandra Guha speculates that she was probably deeply wounded by criticism stemming from some of her close friends in the West (mostly UK). The point is that, diversity notwithstanding, we accepted Indira's authoritarianism without much fuss [only a few honourable exceptions] and were saved only by a still unexplained decision of Indira herself.

The reason why India has remained democratic in contrast to Pakistan is a fascinating subject but I think the reasons are more complex than "diversity." (Note also that even our other neighbours - Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar - are all quite diverse but all have had problems of one type or the other with democracy.)

We are not shaped by every language and culture?

Did I deny India's diversity? Yet, arguably, America's is greater. Do we have a Hispanic population? Or a Nigerian? In the US, all these and more can be found - in addition to almost every type of Indian.

Suresh, nothing at all is inherently a strength or a weakness. It's how you see it.

Dilip, of course, but I wonder why you felt the need to state such a truism. I'll simply note here that homogeneity is no guarantor of anything either - think of Haiti, almost totally homogeneous and small but nonetheless plagued by problems. And if you read what I wrote, I did not deny that our diversity could be a source of strength, just that it could be the source of problems too. Hence, from my perspective - one presumably with which you disagree - "diversity" is neither unambiguously good or bad, it's just something that we have inherited. While I am thankful for that heritage, I don't see the need to emphasize it - and unlike some Indians - use it to feel "superior" to others.

I'll leave it at that and apologize for the overlong comment.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Suresh, I can only repeat, I think it is in how you see it. We can choose to see our diversity as a burden, or we can choose to see it as a strength. In that sense I actually agree with you.

I don't feel superior to other people because of whatever diversity we have, not least because other countries have arguably greater diversity. But I will admit that I am glad we are not homogenous in some direction -- whether religion or language or something else.

Santhosh said...

I could help but notice the parallels in the speech and I'm glad you picked it up.

I keep the faith too. Amen

AMOK said...

And then, there is Mangalore. Unforgettable Amnesia.

Amit said...

Amen!

Anonymous said...

Obama ordered the religions correctly in his context.

But the parallel didn't order it to the proper context.

And I know that many people will come at me with their fangs bared for pointing this....

--SK

Anonymous said...

Let India first defend itself from Pakistan...and then it can dream about leading the world.

We have plenty of dreamers around. Where are the taskmasters?.

Muppets

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