Don't create divisions in society

We will survive as a society in diversity, or we will not survive in peace and stability.

I have just finished offering a course on Earth Democracy at Navdanya’s Earth University in beautiful Doon Valley, surrounded by fields of mustard and wheat, greens and chickpeas, linseed and fenugreek. It was inspiring to have people of all faiths, all ages and all vocations joining to find unity in diversity through our Earth Citizenship and our common humanity.

We live in times of deep ecological, economic, and cultural insecurity. The earth’s ecosystems and society’s ecosystems have always been fragile-woven gently through delicate relationships and balances. This web of life is being ruptured by an economic ideology of greed and limitless growth on a planet with ecological limits. The social fabric is being torn apart by the insecurities growing from ecological and economic displacement, which is rendered invisible in the growth paradigm, and an opportunistic political ideology of divide and conquer that feeds on these insecurities.

India is a land rich in diversity, both cultural and biological. Just as the forest is diverse, Indian civilisation has evolved in diversity. Indian civilisation is based on the principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam-the earth as one family, inclusive not just of all humans in their ethnic, cultural, religious, gender diversity, but all species in their biological diversity and splendor.

And like biodiversity, our cultural diversity grows from the soil. Our sense of self is rooted in the soil and the earth, pluralistic, inclusive, all embracing. Our food, our languages, our clothes change across this beautiful and bountiful land called “Hindustan”-the land
beyond the Indus. “Hindu” is a geographical indicator.
And till the British colonisers created the census based on mutual exclusion of “Hindu” and “Muslim”, people identified themselves in non exclusive ways. There was no excluded middle between Kashmiri Sufism and Kashmiri Shaivism till the recent rise of extremism and exclusion in the valley.

As the economics of insecurity grows, and the politics of
narrow identities feeds on it, identity itself mutates-from the positively experienced and shared identity of place to a negative artificially constructed identity of hate and exclusion. India has given yoga and pranayam to the world. We even have world yoga day now. When we breathe in and breathe out in pranayam, we say “So Hum”–you are, therefore I am.

Today the construction of narrow negative identity seems to be based on the premise:“My existence is based on your cultural annihilation. If you exist in your own uniqueness and diversity, I lose my identity, my sense of self and security.”

All fundamentalisms are based on obsession with monocultures, negative identity and the unfolding logic of “extermination” of the other. The recent attempt of imposing a monoculture of an artificially constructed identity based on religious homogeneity and uniformity in the name of “ghar wapasi” is not just the violation of freedom of religion. It is a violation of the diversity on which Indian civilisation is based.

Negative identities
Artificially constructed narrow and negative identities are being foisted everywhere, creating conflicts and violence where there was peaceful co-existence between diverse cultures and faiths. At the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington recently, President Barack Obama referred to the growing intolerance of religious diversity in India.

“Michelle and I returned from India – an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity, but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs.” The “acts of intolerance” would have “shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.”

While there was no outrage on Obama trying to impose corporate monopolies on our seeds and medicines through patents and IPRs, there was a sudden burst of concern about a foreign leader interfering in our national affairs. My concern is less with what Obama said than what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed to say as the leader of our country who is responsible for protecting our diversity and the rights of all citizens guaranteed under our constitution. An editorial in the New York Times has asked the PM to break his silence.
Indian leaders reacted by saying that India has a history of tolerance. They are wrong because we have not just tolerated diversity. We have celebrated it and lived it. The real issue is not India’s history of diversity, but the attempt to erase this legacy and attempt to replace it with an artificially imposed monoculture. Such attempts have never worked, because they are based on violence and are non-sustainable in the social world as much as in the natural world.
We sing “Sare jahan se acha Hindustan sada hamara, hum bulbule hai iske, yeh gulista hamara”. Our beloved Hindustan is a gulistan, a garden of diversity in which different flowers bloom. Diversity is our identity, our beauty, our strength. Our land unites us in diversity. Narrow fragmented ideologies, based on hate and uniformity, divide us. We have lived through the tragedy of the partition .We cannot afford new divisions if we are to hold together as a civilisation. We will survive as a society in diversity, or we will not survive in peace and stability.
(The writer is an environmental activist)

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