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A threat to the idea of India

Was India a nation-State created by the British or was it a geographical and cultural concept that grew along the banks of the Indus? writes Sagari Chhabra.

india Updated: Jun 25, 2013 22:28 IST
Sagari Chhabra
Sagari Chhabra
Hindustan Times

The enormous monsoon tragedy in Uttarakhand has left me wondering if the very idea of India is under threat. Was India a nation-State created by the British or was it a geographical and cultural concept that grew along the banks of the Indus? It is along our rivers that a certain way of life — arth, dharm, kaam, moksha — developed. The Char Dhams — Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath — are part of that intensely spiritual way of life.

Before we embraced globalisation, Indians led a simple life (need-based consumption and on the principle of ahimsa) but this culture is now gone. In Haridwar, Rishikesh, Uttarkashi and Gangotri, I have witnessed the destruction of the Ganga thanks to the numerous dams. It is in this river that millions bathe to wash away their sins and float the ashes of their loved ones. To divert the course of this river is to court ecological disaster and destroy that spiritual way of life. And we are doing exactly this.

Recently, I was in Dharamshala, the seat of the Dalai Lama. He has kept six million Tibetans calm even though China has stolen their permanent address. This is an exercise in beauty, restraint and self-discipline. The Tibetans have showcased their culture at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. The museum has exquisite pieces of work rescued from Tibet and the library offers courses in Buddhist philosophy. But up in the mountain in McLeodganj is another story: complete chaos thanks to tourists, SUVs, hotels.

The fact that India gave refuge to the Dalai Lama and his people is an example of our compassionate, secular and plural culture. It is this idea of India that allows the Tibetans to live peacefully, practise their religion and flourish here.

We need to preserve this idea of India and treasure our natural resources. I am haunted by Gandhi’s statement in Hind Swaraj: “I bear no enmity towards the English, but I do towards their civilisation”. We in India seem to be following the western model of development even though it stands discredited today.

We must remember that the idea of India was Swaraj: ‘swa’ meaning self. It is that sense of self, nurtured for centuries which is now under threat.

Sagari Chhabra is an author, film-director and social activist
The views expressed by the author are personal