The first step to solving any problem is acknowledging its existence.
We need to agree that our nation is divided. There are no two ways about it. While it has been an election strategy for some parties to divide the majority to create vote banks, and other parties to unite the majority and divide the minorities, we can agree that India has been torn into various castes, religions, faiths, languages and various other divisions.
When we stand for ‘Unity in Diversity’, we need to ask ourselves where the unity is. Because there exists little “unity” between Indians, with the number of divisions in society. A Tamilian is taught that he was ill-treated by the ‘North Indian Aryans’. A man wearing a janeu is painted as a Brahminical chauvinist. A Dalit household is visited once in four or so years to be reminded they need to vote as Dalits, not as responsible citizens of this country. A household believes that the only connection they have with this nation and its people is that they live here because they’re taught that their ancestors were foreigners who settled here. When we see no sense of togetherness in terms of identity and constantly see divisions, sub-divisions and even more segregation, what love would we have for this country? What reason have we, to stay united and not ask for a Kashmiri separation, a Khalistan, or even a Dravida Nadu?
I think that the best way to instil a true sense of belonging amongst Indians is by bringing about a common identity that acts as a uniting factor.
Clearly, the concept of all of us feeling ‘Indian’ will not work, when one person believes that their ancestors were Syrian Catholics, another group feels it descended from the Mughals who came here and another bunch of people believe that their ancestors were Europeans and thus, that they have nothing to do with this country and its people. The ‘Indian’ tag has not worked because we have ceaselessly fallen for atrocity literature and propaganda tools, and also lost our sense of belonging to this country.
The solution, is simply, to bring about the true sense of unity. The people of this country need to know that their ancestors were of the same land, faith and belief system, to know that they are very much connected with every person of this nation: irrespective of that person’s caste, language, religion or geographical location.
It is a historical truth that Indians had the same origin and followed a Dharmic culture at one point in time. It was later intervention, that led to the conversion of the people in India. While I have come across various Christian and Muslim students of my age who get offended if I say this, I simply tell them that their ancestors chose to convert (aside from the numerous forced conversions) based on what they saw in those respective religions. Therefore it is by no means a degradation of their faith, to concede that our ancestors pertained to the same faith.
When the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said the same thing, he was staunchly criticised. But people turn a blind eye to the fact that Islamic preachers such as Zakir Naik and the late Sheikh Ahmed Deedat were perfectly fine with accepting their Hindu ancestry. Therefore, what is the purpose behind the resistance?
Dr Subramanian Swamy suggested taking away the voting rights of those who disagree with this historical fact, to disincentivise the propagation of such flawed beliefs. While I understand his premise, I personally wonder as to how effective his mechanism would be, with regard to bringing about a sense of unity amongst every segment of Indian peoples. Not only would I be sceptical of the backlash that could arise as a result, but I would also fear a nominal agreement with the notion, yet a reiteration of the same belief of a foreign ancestry.
However limited my understanding may be, I believe that if you want to inculcate this sense of belonging within Indians, you need to hit the grassroots and teach this to children. Students need to be taught the fact that we all have the same ancestors: call them Hindu, Dharmic, or anything else, but they were the same. But make it clear that as a result of foreign rulers, people changed their beliefs and converted, and that we are all one and the same as Indians.
School history textbooks as a principle, also need to do away with any ‘Aryan-Dravidian’ theories, as they explicitly bring about divisions, founded on fallacies and basically do no good to a society. In such a model, it is very important (to avoid calls of ‘propaganda’) for the curriculum to cite the heaps of genetic evidence that prove the notion of a common ancestry.
Let us agree to the fact that there is a serious divide amongst Indians. The one truth that we can bank on, at this point, is the common origin we all have. Civilisationally, we are one and the same. Do not let the acceptance of our ancestors be painted as “communal” or “divisive”, because accepting that people got converted down the line, by no means, is a degradation to a person or their predecessors. It is merely a fact, which brings us a step forward to unification.
I, as a school going student, maintain, that there is no better place to start unification (through a common identity) than educating young minds. To those who still believe that the idea is ‘intolerant’ because it ‘undermines minorities’, or that this would be a ‘Saffronisation’ of the education system, let me quote a verse from the Qur’an (3:64), on the best way to unite people with different beliefs:
تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ
Come to common terms between us and them.
I say that the best way to reach that common term is by using the medium of education- what Nelson Mandela called the most powerful weapon that can change the world.