I had a long interaction with a western diplomat who had come to India for the first time and wished to familiarize himself with political and social scene of India. He bombarded me with his questions for nearly two hours that included lot of questions on RSS, its allegedly communal outlook, concept of Hindutva etc. etc.
My spontaneous counter question to him was, “What are Western values?” I elaborated then, that we are not opposed blindly to Western value systems. For example, we respect and need to learn from their values like hard work, dignity of labour, spirit of adventure, exploration, research, discipline and long term vision for the country and society.
At the same time, there is no reason for us to copy their extreme love for individual liberty that takes them to the other end of atomic life style, destruction of institution of family that has seen nearly 50% of babies born to single mothers or out of wedlock, and government taking over the job of nanny for these children.
While it may be perfectly fine for the parents, but have we measured or imagined the harm that it does to the child who is brought up in such an environment? Possibly this is the reason for wide spread depression among youth in the West in spite of material security. And should we ape these values too, that West is finding hard to counter now?
Similarly, why should we drop so called orthodox values like nurturing family system that gives strength to our society and provides secure emotional environment for the children? Why should we change our habits of recycling our resources and thrift turned into net savings?
Most of us do not realize that India has survived worst economic crises because of our saving habits which finance most of our economy. FDI, incidentally, does not form more than 10% of our industrial investment. My friend from American continent thought it over and admitted that he never thought on these lines and it made him think over his assumptions.
My submission is that our West oriented thinking tries to ape everything that is happening in West without discrimination and criticizes and pounces upon anybody who criticizes such a western life style. There is also confusion between being western or being modern.
In the wedding I talked about in the opening lines, drinks flowed like water in each and every function. Even during a typical traditional and religious ceremony there would be drinks and non-veg food. My wife showed her disapproval of this over attraction for such a way of celebrations; especially since the family was from so called highest caste of Brahmins.
Till a few years back the family was totally vegetarian and teetotaler. So, it was quite surprising. But, when she talked about this tradition, she was hush-hushed, saying this is how the new customs are, ‘everbody’ does it. This is how ‘modern’ families behave.
Who is this ‘everybody’ that is modern’? Fact is that social drinking as an acceptable form of socializing has been adopted from West and it is being aped from upper classes down to lower classes, because this is apparently how modern people behave. But, is it a fact?
They forget that this social drinking is more to do with weather conditions of ‘modern westerns’ there rather than being a part of modern socializing. And, they forget that even so called ‘modern’ and ‘western’ people don’t drink themselves silly during their social events like wedding. They don’t go ‘talli’ so to put in Indian slang.
They don’t go loud and raucous pre or post wedding. On one side our upper class families whom so called lower classes people ape, think of modernity in this kind of degraded form. On the other, same families go over the top during weddings in form of gifting and dowry etc.
So, on one hand we stick to some of the most archaic social practices that degrade families, daughters, on the hand other we distort drinking habits of westerns in the name of modernism and turn it into a drinking orgy where a few boys and girls, a few middle aged gentlemen may end up passing out or puking! Is this how we should interpret western values and Indian values?
I feel cultural values are created over centuries of a society based on their living conditions, environment and traditions that become culture, as they get built brick over brick over years. They override the religious identity of a person, though certain values are also inculcated by the religion being followed by majority of that society and knowledge gathered over millennia by that society.
Cultural values of an Indian Christian or a Muslim would be more in common with Hindus of India, rather than Muslims of Pakistan. Or values of a Pakistani Muslim would be different from values of a Bangladeshi Muslim. For example evil of dowry and casteism follows a person even if he/she is converted to Islam or Christianity or Sikhism etc.
This, logic will be true of new generation of Hindus of US and of Trinidad vis a vis those of India too; i.e. they would have value systems closer to their country of adoption than that of their forefathers. An ideal synthesis is what we are seeing currently in the new generation of People of Indian Origin in many countries where they stick to old cultural values of their Hindu roots but adopt best practices of social behaviour of their adopted countries or countries of their birth.
There are certain ethical values which are universal – like truthful conduct, honesty, not coveting somebody else’s property etc. etc. while some are tempered by conditions described above. Thus, we cannot label person orthodox or old fashioned blindly when he/she criticizes certain values and nor can we coolly consider ourselves modern by simply copying Western attire or habits.
We cannot look down upon a Hindu priest who dresses in traditional dhoti and recites Sanskrit Shlokas etc. as a person living in 19th century, nor respect a wife beating man in modern attire. I recall a famous ‘new age’ director of 1970s who made movies on womens’ liberation, was considered a respectable ‘libral’ but regularly beat his own well educated wife!
There are certain eternal values of our civilization that have stood test of time and also proven their efficacy in individual and social level. For example institution of family, institution of marriage, respect for nature, respect for pluralism, worshipping elders – dead or alive.
There are certain negative habits that we have inculcated in the name of distorted form of democracy – worrying only about our rights and not taking care of our duties, indiscipline in the name of freedom, lack of respect for other’s time; or only taking pride in ancient Indian culture and science and not building upon the knowledge that we have for millennium with new research.
To conclude, I would say that we cannot be prejudiced either for or against value systems of different civilizations but view them in perspective of their environment, social and cultural ethos. If we adopt the best practices of different civilizations, we can truly build a happy universe.