5 years of Mukto-Mona
India, a Natural Ally of the United States; a Brief Socio-Political Perspective
A presentation before the Rotary Club of Quincy, MA
Sukhamaya (Sam) Bain, Ph.D.
Published on May 25, 2006
A Brief History of India
The civilization of India, the Indus Valley Civilization, is at least 5000 years old. The land between Mayanmar (Burma) to the east, Afghanistan to the west, China to the north, and the Indian Ocean to the south was known as Bharat (India) for millennia. It was a land of many kingdoms, never really one politically defined country. Today’s India was formed in 1947 when the British-ruled India was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan. The eastern and the western parts of the subcontinent formed Pakistan, while the middle part became today’s India. In 1971, Pakistan broke up into today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The Philosophy of 1947 and Today’s India
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation, is well known to the world for his spinning wheel, where he used to weave his own cloth. While that probably was a primitive approach to self-sufficiency, it was indeed a powerful symbol for India to depend on its own. The other major leader of India’s independence movement from Britain, Jawaharlal Nehru, had a more modern approach to a truly independent India. Under his guidance were formed the Indian Institutes of Technology. Today, India has many world-class schools of higher education, and is second only to the United States in producing scientists and technologists. While it is not yet considered to be a developed nation, it is indeed as self-reliant as most developed nations.
In this talk I would like to discuss some sociopolitical issues of India about which, I think, most Americans are not clear.
Since its birth in 1947, India has been a multiparty democracy. Unlike many nations that got freedom from the British colonial rules, including its neighbors to both the east and the west, India has never been run by military dictators. Somewhat like in the United States, the central government of India has been run by two major political parties, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (the Indian Peoples’ Party), BJP. However, the duopoly there is not as powerful as that in the United States. That is why, like some of the Western European democracies, India has seen quite a few coalition governments, when no single political party had more than 50% of the seats in the parliament. Just like some countries of Western Europe, India also had to have run-up elections because of breaking up of political coalitions. It is clearly to India’s credit that a hugely diverse population of many ethnic, linguistic and religious communities has maintained smooth democratic transitions of governments, even during collapses of political coalitions.
Ethnic, Linguistic and Religious Diversity
There are primarily three ethnic groups in India, the Indo-Aryans, the Dravidians, and the Mongoloids. Hindi is the national language of India, and is the primary language of about 30% of the people. India has 14 other official languages, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi and Sanskrit. These are languages, not merely dialects, and they are pretty much as good as the European languages in terms of standard usage. Because of the British colonial past, English is widely used and understood in India. India’s religious groups include, Hindus (81%), Muslims (12%), Christians (2%), Sikhs (2%), Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis.
The Hindu Caste System
The caste system among the Hindus of India is probably the most nagging sociopolitical problem of the country. According to this system, Hindus are divided into four classes. The Brahmins are the preachers and the intellectuals, the Kshatriyas are the warriors and the politicians, the Vaisyas are the business people, and the Sudras are the peasants and the laborers. Outside this caste system are the untouchables. The problem is, this system of division has been giving economic power to some people, while depriving some others, generation after generation. There is no way for a lower caste person to get promoted to a higher caste. For centuries, this system of division and injustice in the Indian society has kept a lot of hatred there, and made the subcontinent quite suitable for foreign invasions and occupations. However, in today’s India much of the educated population has been ignoring the caste division. The state has been giving preference to historically lower caste people in educational and professional opportunities. Unfortunately, the process is quite slow, and there is still a lot of caste hatred among the illiterate and uneducated masses, particularly in the vast rural and remote areas of India.
India was divided in 1947 to create the state of Pakistan for the Muslims, based upon what is known as the two-nation theory. According to this theory, some Muslims justified the division by saying that the generally less educated and less powerful Muslims had to have a separate country in order to have their proper share of power in the Indian subcontinent.
However, this division has created enormously more problems than solutions. Millions of absolutely innocent non-Muslims have been killed, made inferior citizens, and forced to leave the land of Pakistan by the forces of the Hindu-Muslim two-nation theory. While this kind of hatred against the non-Muslims happened in a large scale in 1947, it really never stopped. It is going on in Pakistan and Bangladesh even today with the support and sponsorship of the state, and the non-Muslims from there continue to migrate to India. During the chaos of 1947, in spite of a secular leadership in India, hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims either felt too insecure to stay there, or were forced to leave India by the Muslim-haters there. However, the Muslims of today’s India are treated by the state with equal rights, and they are not at all migrating to the Muslim dominated states of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The present governing political party of India, BJP, is considered by many to be Hindu nationalistic. While there are elements in the party that wish for a Hindu nation, (they themselves probably do not know what that term means), the leadership of the party is secular, and there is no proposal on the table to run the country according to the Hindu religion. Non-Hindus hold many powerful positions of the state, including the President and the Defense Minister.
However, there seems to be a growing sense of resentment against the Congress Party and the communist forces of the country, where the allegation is that these forces have gone overboard with their brand of secularism; that instead of being truly religio-neutral, these forces have been appeasing the Muslims. The fact that Hindu victims of Islamic hatred continue to immigrate to India from Pakistan and Bangladesh is also not helping the cause of Hindu-Muslim harmony in India.
The Kashmir Conflict between India and Pakistan
The Kashmir problem of the Indian subcontinent has been getting a lot of attention in America. However, most people in this country probably do not realize the humanitarian aspect of the problem.
Legally speaking, all of Kashmir is supposed to belong to India. When the British left in 1947, the king of the princely state was given the authority to decide to join either India or Pakistan, or remain independent. However, before the king could make his decision, Pakistan invaded Kashmir illegally. Before his state fell to the Pakistani invaders, the king decided to join India and seek India’s help in getting the Pakistanis out. Thus started the first war between India and Pakistan, and the ceasefire agreement divided the state of Kashmir between the two rivals along the line of control. The dispute still continues, with India making its claim on legality, and Pakistan making its claim based upon its two-nation theory of Muslim brotherhood, as Kashmir is Muslim-majority.
The Pakistani occupied part of Kashmir has already fallen to the Islamic fanaticism of Pakistan, where the non-Muslims are victims of state sponsored hatred of inferior citizenship status, eviction from home, torture and murder. A humanitarian world could not allow the Indian part of Kashmir to have the same fate. The Indian part of Kashmir is the most autonomous state of India, with Kashmiri Muslims in control, except for the Indian security forces who are fighting Islamic terrorists that are supported by Pakistan. After more than half a century of division, it seems only logical to convert the line of control into legal border between India and Pakistan.
India, a Natural Ally of the United States
The cold-war politics have kept a distance between the United States and India for quite a few decades. Now that the cold-war is over, it really is time for America to look more objectively to find appropriate allies in the world. India is clearly one country that America should look at. Both America and India are democratic nations with semi-autonomous constituent states. Both have people and leaders that are religious, but keep religion away from the business of the state. Both India and America have been victimized by Islamic terrorists, the former for decades, and the latter for quite a few years now. It was only natural for India to offer complete support to America when this country planned its fight against the al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Both America and India have large technologically advanced manpowers. In the community of nations, India and America really can be true friends with mutual respect and admiration.