The Election Commission of India announced the general election to the 15th Lok Sabha
on March 2, 2009. The elections will be held in 5 phases starting on April 26, 2009 and ending on May 13, 2009. The results of the election will be announced on May 16, 2009. Two phases are over by now.
In democracy the election is opportunity to discuss about the future of the country. The state of economy, the current policies, the achievements and failures of the current government etc. should be part of that discussion. Unfortunately our politicians and main stream media seems not interested.
Major parties published election manifestos as usual. It talk about subsidies, pensions and free stuff. Also some useless claims of secularism, stability and security. But all of them failed to provide a plan for the future of our country in this fast moving interconnected world.
The major discussion points of our politicians are still around secularism. All of them favouring religious and communal elements and accusing the other for the same. Is anybody want to talk about corruption, illiteracy, poverty, accountability, responsibility and infrastructure development? Is anybody want to see a plan for the future? Is anybody want to think about our challenges and using our strengths and capabilities to address
them? It is unfortunate that we have many politicians who want to lead but none have the better future of the country in mind.
Is the people of India deserve better? Yes. This is the time to act and ask questions. The power to change the discussions
and change the direction of our country are within ourselves. If you are interested only in food for today, your god and your own ego then there won't be any change. Your vote in this election can be an instrument for that change.
India is the land of many religions, languages and customs. Many philosophers are born here. Many religions started here. Modern India is the result of a division based on religious lines. The partition was succeeded by one of the worst human tragedies in world history. Mass migration and communal violence left millions dead. It also made scars in the minds of the people and even after half a century the wound are not healed.
Religion and spirituality are very important for the Indians. From the history we can see that the successful rulers of the past understand the importance of tolerance among different sects and communities with different faith and customs.
Emperor Ashoka (273 BC-232 BC) had been ruled a large centralized empire that ran from present day Afghanistan to Mysore in South India. Diverse communities, regions, cultures and sects inhabited in his empire had differences of opinion expressed in direct and antagonistic ways amongst the various religious sects. Ashoka must have realized the harm that these sectarian conflicts would produce. From his policy of Dhamma published through series of rock and pillars are evidence of his beliefs and practices. Ashoka himself practiced Hinduism at the beginning then converted to Budhism but his personal faith didn’t interfere with the affairs of the kingdom. Ashoka believed that all religions shared a common, positive essence, encouraged tolerance and understanding of other religions. Inscription on the 7th rock says, "All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart." Inscription on 1st rock says, “Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice." Inscription on the 12th rock says, "Contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods desire that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions."
Mughal Empire was roughly coeval with that of the Safavid Empire in Iran and the Ottoman Empire based in Turkey but majority of its subjects were non-Muslims. Jalaluddin Akbar (1542 A.D. – 1605 A.D.) devised his policies and politics was more accommodating than those of the Safavids or Ottomans. With it his network of marriage led alliances, his giving top military and administrative posts to Hindus, or having artists in his courts of all hues, abolition of Jizya (a tax imposed on non-believers in Muslim states) and switching from the (Islamic) lunar to the (Hindu) solar calendar showed a pragmatic streak and a determination to adapt to the Indian environment. Akbar propounded Din-e-illahi, a new set of beliefs, drawing on elements from the mystical strains in both Islam and Hinduism and deeply influenced by Zoroastrianism. And Akbar did not try to impose Din-eillahi as a state religion.
The founding fathers of Indian Constitution makers clearly stated, “that nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the state from making any law regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice.”(Article 25 (2) (a) constitution). Through 42nd amendment to the Constitution in 1976, the preamble clearly stated:” We the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Secular Democratic Republic”. Yet the political parties who oppose the secular principle and who support the practice of Secularism dare not interpret in proper perspective.
Dr Radhakrishnan (President of India 1962 – 1967) defined secularism as equal respect to all religions and never should be considered as irreligious. Political parties in power follow this definition and take advantage of the situation to their advantage.
Mahatma Gandhi always practiced religion in politics through prayers realized in the last days of his life the need for separation of religion from politics, especially the state. He followed the principle of equal respect to all religions. He also emphasized the separation of religion so that it can be practiced only at personal level. Jawaharlal Nehru as first prime minister of India always stood for secularism. But he could not take it to the logical end due to pressures from political and religious lobbies. He even failed to bring uniform civil code in the country.
Today, India is following its own peculiar secularism. Government office bearers exhibit their faith publicly at the cost of government funds. The government officially declares holidays to all religious festivals. Temples, Masjid and churches are allowed in the premises of government offices. During office hours the prayers are allowed. Persons bring their own individual Guru’s pictures, images into the offices. Government officially patronage the pilgrimages, provide all facilities and extend financial concessions. Government lands are allotted to religious purposes.
Each religion took advantage of the weakness of political parties and gained much to benefit in several ways. Religious establishments became powerful institutions with huge amounts accumulated. All religions get exemptions from taxes. There is no accountability either for the illegal money or business affairs conducted in the name spiritual activity.
India should practice real secularism which means separation of State and religion in all matters. Religion is faith based and hence confine to individual belief related to god and supernatural spirituality. In the matters of state the law should be equal to all irrespective of religion. There should be no exemptions to the principle that all are equal before law. Nobody including religious persons should be kept above law under any circumstance and all citizen of the country should follow the same civil and criminal laws. Religious practices of untouchbility, castes, child marriages, polygamy, divorce rules, burning of wife when husband dies, oppression of minorities, discrimination against women, child labor should not be tolerated and there should be no exemption to those who practice them.
In the field of education, scientific method should be inculcated from primary level. Religious instruction should not be included in texts and curriculum since that belongs to faith and belief. Rights of minorities so far as religion is concerned should be confined to personal level. The religious minority should have all the rights the majority religion followers have and religious minority should not have no rights the majority religion followers have. Today at least in some states of the union religious minorities can setup schools and appoint teachers as they wish and government pays the employees. If the minorities enjoy the benefits in the expense of majority in the name of secularism today should not be allowed.
In addition to setting up educational institutions, some religious minorities enjoy special benefits from the governments like job reservations, subsidies and grants. Some minority groups enjoy reservation and quotas in Government jobs. Religious minority can keep the income from their holy sites and spent it as they wishes, but for the majority religion the money goes to the government. Religious minority groups getting grants for their religious work and visiting holy sites. A country were half of the people are hungry is doing it!!!
In India Religion encroached into politics and public life. There is a perception that religious belief system shows the moral life of the people. Religious morality should not be confused with values and ethics. So the faith in a religion should not be confused with human rights, human values and human morals. Political parties are associating with religious groups and sects. Selections of candidates are done based on religion and caste. Political parties trying to please the religious minorities and secure their votes. Is it secularism?
Secular practices with human dignity, human values and human morality will alone bring bright future for India. The country should have a common law which is applicable to all citizens, no exceptions. There should be no privileges based on religion or faith.
Even though colonialism and British barbarianism are the major reasons for the decline of India’s wealth, prosperity and technological advancement, there are some socio-cultural issues made it easier for the colonialists and accelerated its impact. Religious customs and social framework made possible the independent self-sufficient communal villages of ancient India. But the restrictions on travel, education, division of labor and social customs restricts people from acquiring skills necessary for the self improvement and social advancement.
Division of labor among the members is necessary for a self-sufficient independent community. But this division should be based on skills and experience rather than color of the skin or family. The possibility to change labor and class will allow competition to acquire skills and further advance technological achievements.
In ancient Indian society the system of social stratification and social restrictions was mainly based on labor alone. The four major classes were the Brahmins (teachers, scholars and priests), the Kshatriyas (kings and warriors), the Vaishyas (traders, landowners and some artisan groups), and Shudras (agriculturists, service providers, and some artisan groups). Memberships to these classes were assigned by merit. So this stratification or caste system had a major role in preservation of order in the society, integration of foreigners and invaders into the society, economic activity in the society and preservation of culture in the society.
Later the caste system become more rigid and the caste become inherited rather than acquired by merit. Educational opportunities were denied to people in the lower caste which produced millions of illiterates and forced people to stay within the strata. When the literate in the society was a few and from the same group, it was easy for them to interpret the laws and customs the way they wanted. So the Brahmins get an upper hand in the society. More social restrictions added later to continue the supremacy in the society. Not only deny the opportunity for education but also deny the right to visit temples, access to public roads, right to have property and right to have a compensation for the labor.
This rigid caste system causes social injustices, disabilities and inequalities among a vast majority of the people. The continued practice exposed the weaker sections of society to unjust exploitation by the socially and politically privileged groups in the name of religion and tradition. The caste system became an instrument of oppression in the hands of socially privileged castes and they exploited the lower castes and subjected them to inhuman treatment. It promoted disunity, distrust and prejudices among the people. Soldiers were recruited based on the caste not based on the physical ability. Also the caste system divide the soldiers based on caste line which made the co-ordination difficult. This resulted in failure to defend the country against foreign invasions. Less qualified or incompetent members of the upper classes often chose for the highest positions rather than well qualified and experienced low caste members. This resulted in slowing economy and contributed to the fall of India.
The caste system is still alive in India. The inter-caste marriages are not allowed in some traditions especially in rural areas. Caste based organizations are exist today and conflict between them sometimes become violent. The government has caste based reservation policy to uplift the low caste members in the society. More castes wanted to be included in these reservation categories. At the same time the organizations associated with upper classes against reservations and quotas. Caste is a powerful factor in politics and many political parties are associated with caste. So these issues rather complicated today.
The caste system might have served its purpose in ancient times, but does not fit into the values and principles of modern times. In a democratic country with many languages and cultures progress can not be achieved without find unity in diversity. Ancient wisdom teaches us tolerance and universal brotherhood. The history teaches us what happens when we deviate from those basic principles. Half of the population of India lives in poverty today. We can ignore them by saying it is because of their bad ‘karma’ or we can help him to get out of poverty by your good ‘karma’.
Some people still have the illusion that the British Raj was not all that bad. But in reality is that the British Colonial rule as against the interests of the common people of the Indian sub-continent and it destroyed the education system, economy, ancient monuments and livelihood of the people.
One can trace the education system in India to third century B.C. Ancient days, the sages and scholars imparted education orally. After the development of letters it took the form of writing. Palm leaves and bark of trees were used for education. Temples and community centers often took the role of schools. When Buddhism spread in India, education became available to everyone and this led to the establishment of some world famous educational institutions Nalanda, Vikramshila and Takshashila. These educational institutes in fact arose from the monasteries. History has taken special care to give Nalanda University, which flourished from the fifth to 13th century AD, full credit for its excellence. This university had around 10,000 resident students and teachers on its roll at one time. These students included Chinese, Sri Lankan, Korean and other international scholars. It was in the 11th century that the Muslims established elementary and secondary schools. This led to the forming of few universities too at cities like Delhi, Lucknow and Allahabad. Medieval period saw excellent interaction between Indian and Islamic traditions in all fields of knowledge like theology, religion, philosophy, fine arts, painting, architecture, mathematics, medicine and astronomy. The British bring English education to India but the old education system was destroyed. The literacy rate in British India were only 6% in 1911, 8% in 1931 and crawled to 11% in 1947. In 1935, only 40 in 100,000 were enrolled in universities or higher education institutes.
It is true that the British built modern cities with modern conveniences for their administrative officers but these were exclusive zones not intended for the natives. In 1911, 69 per cent of Bombay's population lived in one-room tenements and in 1931 it had increased to 74 per cent. The same was true of Karachi and Ahmedabad. After the Second World War, 13 per cent of Bombay's population slept on the streets. As for sanitation, 10-15 tenements typically shared one water tap.
But in 1757 Clive of the East India Company had observed of Murshidabad in Bengal: "This city is as extensive, populous and rich as the city of London..." Dacca was even more famous as a manufacturing town, it's muslin a source of many legends and its weavers had an international reputation that was unmatched in the medieval world. But in 1840 it was reported by Sir Charles Trevelyan to a parliamentary enquiry that Dacca's population had fallen from 150,000 to 20,000. The percentage of population dependant on agriculture and pastoral pursuits actually rose to 73% in 1921 from 61% in 1891.
In 1854, Sir Arthur Cotton writing in ‘Public Works in India’ noted: "Public works have been almost entirely neglected throughout India... The motto hitherto has been: 'Do nothing, have nothing done, let nobody do anything....." John Bright in the House of Commons on June 24, 1858 said, "The single city of Manchester, in the supply of its inhabitants with the single article of water, has spent a larger sum of money than the East India Company has spent in the fourteen years from 1834 to 1848 in public works of every kind throughout the whole of its vast dominions."
Ancient India was famous for its canal system which controls flood water and provides irrigation for the agriculture land. Under the colonial rule it was destroyed because of the lack of maintenance. In 1838 G. Thompson noted in ‘India and the Colonies’, “The roads and tanks and canals which Hindu or Mussulman Governments constructed for the service of the nations and the good of the country have been suffered to fall into dilapidation; and now the want of the means of irrigation causes famines." In 1858 Montgomery Martin noted in ‘The Indian Empire’, “…omitted not only to initiate improvements, but even to keep in repair the old works upon which the revenue depended." The Report of the Bengal Irrigation Department Committee in 1930 reads: "In every district the Khals (canals) which carry the internal boat traffic become from time to time blocked up with silt. Its Khals and rivers are the roads end highways of Eastern Bengal, and it is impossible to overestimate the importance to the economic life of this part of the province of maintaining these in proper navigable order ... As regards the revival or maintenance of minor routes, ... practically nothing has been done, with the result that, in some parts of the Province at least, channels have been silted up, navigation has become limited to a few months in the year, and crops can only be marketed when the Khals rise high enough in the monsoon to make transport possible". Sir William Willcock, a distinguished hydraulic engineer, noted “Not only was nothing done to utilize and improve the original canal system, but railway embankments were subsequently thrown up, entirely destroying it. Some areas, cut off from the supply of loam-bearing Ganges water, have gradually become sterile and unproductive, others improperly drained, show an advanced degree of water-logging, with the inevitable accompaniment of malaria. Nor has any attempt been made to construct proper embankments for the Gauges in its low course, to prevent the enormous erosion by which villages and groves and cultivated fields are swallowed up each year."
Even some serious critics of colonial rule grudgingly grant that the British brought modern medicine to India. A 1938 report by the International Labor Office on ‘Industrial Labor in India’ revealed that life expectancy in India was barely 25 years in 1921 and had actually fallen to 23 in 1931. Mike Davis noted in ‘Late Victorian Holocausts’ that life expectancy fell by 20% between 1872 and 1921. Infant mortality in Bombay was 255 per thousand in 1928.
Several Indians when confronted with such data from the colonial period argue that the British should not be specially targeted because India's problems of poverty pre-date colonial rule, and in any case, were exacerbated by rapid population growth. Of course, no one who makes the first point is able to offer any substantive proof that such conditions prevailed long before the British arrived, and to counter such an argument would be difficult in the absence of reliable and comparable statistical data from earlier centuries. But some readers may find the anecdotal evidence intriguing. In any case, the population growth data is available and is quite remarkable in what it reveals.
Some people believe that the poverty and famine caused during colonial rule was partly caused by population growth. But in reality the population growth in India was less half o that in Europe. Between 1870 and 1910, India's population grew at an average rate of 19%. Average population growth in the same period in Europe was 45%. In the first half of the 19th century, there were seven famines leading to a million and a half deaths. In the second half, there were 24 famines (18 between 1876 and 1900) causing over 20 million deaths (as per official records). W. Digby, noted in ‘Prosperous British India’ in 1901 that "stated roughly, famines and scarcities have been four times as numerous, during the last thirty years of the 19th century as they were one hundred years ago, and four times as widespread." In ‘Late Victorian Holocausts’, Mike Davis points out that here were 31(thirty one) serious famines in 120 years of British rule compared to 17(seventeen) in the 2000 years before British rule. The export of food grains had increased by a factor of four just prior to that period. And export of other agricultural raw materials had also increased in similar proportions. Land that once produced grain for local consumption was converted to plantations for the cultivation of lucrative cash crops exclusively for export. Even during the famine years the British colonial rulers continued to export food grains from India to Britain.
Annual British Government reports repeatedly published data that showed 70-80% of Indians were living on the margin of subsistence. This is in contrast with the following accounts of Indian life prior to colonization. Tavernier wrote in ‘Travels in India’ about 17th century India, “....even in the smallest villages rice, flour, butter, milk, beans and other vegetables, sugar and sweetmeats can be procured in abundance ....” Manouchi, chief physician to Aurangzeb (17th century) wrote: "Bengal is of all the kingdoms of the Moghul, best known in France..... We may venture to say it is not inferior in anything to Egypt - and that it even exceeds that kingdom in its products of silks, cottons, sugar, and indigo. All things are in great plenty here, fruits, pulse, grain, muslins, cloths of gold and silk..." The French traveler, Bernier described 17th century Bengal as "The knowledge I have acquired of Bengal in two visits inclines me to believe that it is richer than Egypt. It exports in abundance cottons and silks, rice, sugar and butter. It produces amply for its own consumption of wheat, vegetables, grains, fowls, ducks and geese. It has immense herds of pigs and flocks of sheep and goats. Fish of every kind it has in profusion. From Rajmahal to the sea are an endless number of canals, cut in bygone ages from the Ganges by immense labor for navigation and irrigation."
The poverty of British India stood in stark contrast to these eye witness reports and has to be ascribed to the pitiful wages that working people in India received in that period. A 1927-28 report noted that "all but the most highly skilled workmen in India receive wages which are barely sufficient to feed and clothe them. Everywhere will be seen overcrowding, dirt and squalid misery..." Also in 1922, an 11 hour day was the norm and in 1934 it had been reduced to 10.
Perhaps the least known aspect of the colonial legacy is the early British attitude towards India's historic monuments and the extend of vandalism that took place. Instead, there is this pervasive myth of the British as an unbiased ‘protector of the nation's historic legacy’.
R.Nath in his 'History of Decorative Art in Mughal Architecture' records that scores of gardens, tombs and palaces that once adorned the suburbs of Sikandra at Agra were sold out or auctioned. He wrote, "Relics of the glorious age of the Mughals were either destroyed or converted beyond recognition… Out of 270 beautiful monuments which existed at Agra alone, before its capture by Lake in 1803, hardly 40 have survived". David Carroll wrote in ‘Taj Mahal’, "The forts in Agra and Delhi were commandeered at the beginning of the nineteenth century and turned into military garrisons. Marble reliefs were torn down, gardens were trampled, and lines of ugly barracks, still standing today, were installed in their stead. In the Delhi fort, the Hall of Public Audience was made into an arsenal and the arches of the outer colonnades were bricked over or replaced with rectangular wooden windows."
Lord William Bentinck went so far as to announce plans to demolish the best Mogul monuments in Agra and Delhi and remove their marble facades. These were to be shipped to London, where they would be broken up and sold to members of the British aristocracy. Several of Shahjahan's pavilions in the Red Fort at Delhi were indeed stripped to the brick, and the marble was shipped off to England. Plans to dismantle the Taj Mahal were in place, and wrecking machinery was moved into the garden grounds. Just as the demolition work was to begin, news from London indicated that the first auction had not been a success, and that all further sales were cancelled -- it would not be worth the money to tear down the Taj Mahal. Thus the Taj Mahal was spared.
Perhaps the most important aspect of colonial rule was the transfer of wealth from India to Britain. In his pioneering book, India Today, Rajni Palme Dutt conclusively demonstrates how vital this was to the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Several patents that had remained unfunded suddenly found industrial sponsors once the taxes from India started rolling in. Without capital from India, British banks would have found it impossible to fund the modernization of Britain that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In addition, the scientific basis of the industrial revolution was not a uniquely European contribution. Several civilizations had been adding to the world's scientific database - especially the civilizations of Asia, (including those of the Indian sub-continent). Without that aggregate of scientific knowledge the scientists of Britain and Europe would have found it impossible to make the rapid strides they made during the period of the Industrial revolution. Moreover, several of these patents, particularly those concerned with the textile industry relied on pre-industrial techniques perfected in the sub-continent. In fact, many of the earliest textile machines in Britain were unable to match the complexity and finesse of the spinning and weaving machines of Dacca.
Some euro-centric authors have attempted to deny any such linkage. They have tried to assert that not only was the Industrial Revolution a uniquely British/European event - that colonization and the phenomenal transfer of wealth that took place was merely incidental to its fruition. But the words of Lord Curzon still ring loud and clear. The Viceroy of British India in 1894 was quite unequivocal, "India is the pivot of our Empire .... If the Empire loses any other part of its Dominion we can survive, but if we lose India the sun of our Empire will have set." Lord Curzon knew fully well, the value and importance of the Indian colony. It was the transfer of wealth through unprecedented levels of taxation on Indians of virtually all classes that funded the great "Industrial Revolution" and laid the ground for "modernization" in Britain. As early as 1812, an East India Company Report had stated, "The importance of that immense empire to this country is rather to be estimated by the great annual addition it makes to the wealth and capital of the Kingdom....."
Few would doubt that Indo-British trade may have been unfair - but it may be noteworthy to see how unfair. In the early 1800s imports of Indian cotton and silk goods faced duties of 70-80%. British imports faced duties of 2-4%. As a result, British imports of cotton manufactures into India increased by a factor of 50, and Indian exports dropped to one-fourth. A similar trend was noted in silk goods, woolens, iron, pottery, glassware and paper. As a result, millions of ruined artisans and craftsmen, spinners, weavers, potters, smelters and smiths were rendered jobless and had to become landless agricultural workers.
Another aspect of colonial rule that has remained hidden from popular perception is that Britain was not the only beneficiary of colonial rule. British trade regulations even as they discriminated against Indian business interests created a favorable trading environment for other imperial powers. By 1939, only 25% of Indian imports came from Britain. 25% came from Japan, the US and Germany. In 1942-3, Canada and Australia contributed another 8%. In the period immediately before independence, Britain ruled as much on behalf of its imperial allies as it did in its own interest. The process of "globalization" was already taking shape. But none of this growth trickled down to India. In the last half of 19th century, India's income fell by 50%. In the 190 years prior to independence, the Indian economy was literally stagnant - it experienced zero growth.
Those who wish India well should re-read the history so the nation isn't brought to the same situation once again in this era of globalization.