Sunday, May 14, 2006

INDIA'S IDENTITY

A question was raised by my good friend Naveen a few days back:

"I have always had this question.
Did India even exist before the advent of the Europeans? Geographically at one point of time the entire Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanisthan was India and even more before that. There has been no dynasty that has been in absolute power nor there has been a defined geographical boundary to India until the britons took over. Even after their taking over, we were a big chunk of land divided and ruled by Nawabs, Rajas etc. So when we refer to India before independence what are we referring to?"

At that point of time I had tended to accept the general idea that this question presupposes. However I was not fully convinced by what he had said and decided to investigate. On reading the same book further as also looking back on points that I had missed earlier, I find convincing evidence against the line of thought raised by the question. Discussed in the book in much more detail (read the book 'The Argumentative Indian' by Amartya Sen to learn more). I have not completed it yet. And thanks to Naveen's argumentative attitude and my argumentative mind I am closer to the truth, as also Naveen would definitely be if he reads this, as he has 'always had this question'.

To counter and answer the question in the negative, (and since I am not an expert and will rely on the research carried out by experts) I will quote a para or two from the book :

"The British belief, very common in imperial days and not entirely absent now, that it was the Raj that somehow 'created' India reflects not only a pride in alledged authorship, but also some bafflement about the possibility of accomodating so much heterogeneity within the coherent limits of what could be taken to be a pre-existing country"

Sen further writes:
"Yet ... general statements about India and Indians can be found throughout history, from the ancient days of Alexander the Great, of Megasthenes (author of Indika, in the third century BCE), and of Apollonius of Tyana (an India-expert in the first century CE) to the 'medieval' days of Arab and Iranian visitors (who, like Alberuni, wrote so much about the land and the people of India), all the way to the Enlightenment and post-Enlightentment Europe (with heroic generalizations about India presented by Herder, Schelling, Schlegel and Schopenhauer among many others). It is also interesting to note that, in the seventh century CE as the Chinese scholar Yi Jing returned to China after spending ten years in India ... is an attempt at seeing a unity of attitudes in the country as a whole, despite its divisions ... "
"Akbar was one of the ambitious and energetic emperors of India (along with Candragupta Maurya, Ashoka, the later Candragupta of the Gupta dynasty, Alauddin Khilji and others) who would not accept that their regime was complete until the bulk of what they took to be the country was under their unified rule".
...
"Neither the homogeneous conception of a unitary India, nor a view of isolated segments, could take the place of a pluralist India that was establishedwell before Lord Clive began erecting the foundations of the Raj"

This goes on to show that the concept of India and the Indian civilization existing long before the coming of the East India Company, though the borders may not be exactly as they are today. Sen also writes in another essay on how both the superior view of the British and the 'exotic' concept of India by foreigners undermines the essentially and truly rational, argumentative, scientific and cultural aspects of Indian civilization since ages.



Was watching the LOTR trilogy - got the DVD from a colleague, reached midway into 'The Two Towers', will continue next weekend ...

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