India Answering One Form Of The Question, Essay

Length: 6 pages Sources: 15 Subject: History - Asian Type: Essay Paper: #62849480 Related Topics: Caste System, Asian Philosophy, Mother Tongue, Gone With The Wind
Excerpt from Essay :


Answering one form of the question, "Is there an Indian way of thinking?" Ramanujan (1989) states, "There is no single Indian way of thinking…Each language, caste, and religion has its special worldview. So, under the apparent diversity, there is really a unity of viewpoint, a single supersystem," (p. 41-42). The pluralism of India is not a colonial construct, and nor is it even a modern one. India's diversity and multiculturalism has been embedded in the fabric of its society for millennia. Most critical analyses that attempt to attach singular monadic identities onto India are not only prejudicial but categorically false. Considering the quantitative dominance of Hinduism throughout the subcontinent, it is miraculous from a sociological standpoint that so many strong minority faiths find expression, support, and celebration. "The diversity, fluidity, and complexity within as well as between cultures precludes a reification of their differences and allows one to avoid the kind of monadic essentialism that renders cross-cultural engagement an a priori impossibility," (King, 1999, p. 3). Hinduism is far from monolithic itself, and never has been. The projection of a singular identity onto India is a faulty premise, for India has never presumed the world to be as simplistic or as boring as that. As Ramanujan (1989) points out, there is a unifying "supersystem" that serves as a cultural web in India. This supersystem functions much like the American identity functions in the United States: it provides the means by which to embrace multiplicity under a shared rubric.

From within this kaleidoscopic lens, it is possible to view all ethnic and religious groups in India as being integral to the whole and yet possessing its unique character, culture, and creed. There is an Indianness about each group, but there is also a non-Indianness to all religions save for Hinduism, its counterparts like Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and indeed all religions actually born and bred in India. Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are the most notable foreign-born faiths that have flourished on Indian soil for centuries or more. Prior to partition, some of the plurality on the subcontinent knew no boundaries. There was a fluid exchange of goods, services, and ideas that allowed, for example, the Mughals to enjoy prosperity via their connectivity with Central Asia. Partition has altered the political dynamics of South Asia considerably, but has not changed the fact of India's diversity.

The Parsis make the best case for highlighting the complexities of India's political, social, and spiritual dynamics. On the one hand, the Parsis are of Central Asian origin, and would be clearly classified within the rubric of "eastern" rather than "western" based on that fact alone, along with the fact of their having been established in India for well over a thousand years. Parsis, whose religion is Zoroastrianism but whose cultural identity is as Indian as any Hindu's, show that there is indeed what Ramanujan (1989) calls a single supersystem in India.

Kotwal (1974) dates the Parsi arrival in India to the tenth century, with the first documented settlements in Gujarat. Rukshana & Dhalla (2008) trace the first settlements to Sanjan. Moreover, the Parsis had consciously intended to bring with them a literal piece of their geographic heritage and spiritual lineage in carrying with them sacred ash from fire temples in Persia. The sacred ash would be used to kindle and keep up the sacred fire in India, within all Zoroastrian fire temples throughout the subcontinent. Communities were concentrated in Gujarat, but historically there have been small settlements as far north as Karachi and as far south as Sri Lanka (Choksy, 2008). Commuting the Zoroastrian sacred fire from Persia to India is a deeply symbolic gesture, representing the rebirth of the Parsi community in India and its corresponding severance with Persia. Parsis in India consider themselves Indian, not Persian (Kotwal, 1974). They speak primarily Gujarati and other Indian "mother tongues," whereas the Avestas and other sacred texts preserve the languages used to transcribe such religious texts and were intended to remain liturgical (Hinnels, 2000).

On the other hand, the Parsis established tight bonds with Raj hierarchy, evolved an appreciation for Western culture, aesthetics, politics, and social philosophies. Parsis straddle more than one world; they straddle many as they have an entrenched identity as being Indian without being Hindu. For a Parsi, one can clearly be Indian and Parsi at the same time. India provides an umbrella society in a way no different from the way the United States is an umbrella to its diverse religions and cultures. The Parsis had not indicated in any documented records persecution from other ethnic or religious groups prior to the Raj,...


3). It is precisely because of traditional values of tolerance and openness that non-Hindu, non-Buddhist, and any non-indigenous group including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Parsis, have been able to thrive in India.

Viswanathan (1998) blatantly ignores the role of Parsis in India, even though a study of the Parsis would have added depth as well as breath and accuracy to the analysis of the "cross currents" of culture and history in India. In typical post-colonial fashion, the author assumes an antagonistic view toward Anglicization without taking into account the essentially un-Indian process of closing doors and discarding elements of culture and humanity. It is far more Indian to open doors, embrace, and accept the Raj as yet another chapter in the long and complex history of South Asia. After all, no one would write off the Mughal dynasties in spite of their having altered forever the character of Indian art and culture in the north. For all the Raj did in terms of imposing colonial hierarchies, the subcontinent derives from the British lessons that linger and resonate particularly well within the Parsi community. Perhaps this is precisely why Viswanathan (1998) could not include Parsis into the discourse of Outside the Fold; it would have nullified parts of the author's thesis.

The study of the Parsis in India requires a critical examination of one central post-colonial issue: the issue of socioeconomic class (Herring & Agarwala, 2009). The importance of socioeconomic class and its triumph over the Hindu caste system can be traced more to the expediency of globalization and globalized capitalism than to the Raj itself. The British corporate concerns in India like the East India Company had been serving the global economy and bolstering capitalist growth throughout British territories. The introduction to India of capitalism and its bedmates like parliamentary democracy meant that the Hindu caste system would be painted as being a backwards model of social stratification because it did not necessarily blend with the ideals of capitalism and democracy. Instead, the English introduced the European model of social stratification. Division of labor and other elements that blend with this type of capitalism had also woven their way into Indian methods of commercial activity. Class structures were in part based on the willingness or interest in working within British frameworks. The Sihks and the Parsis were unique among India's minorities in their eagerness to embrace some types of Anglicization. As Viswanathan (1998) points out, the British ceased to require conversion as a requisite for upward social mobility, which is why the Parsis were able to remain both Indian and Parsi. It was no more necessary to surrender the Parsi identity than it was to surrender the Indian identity in order to find value and expediency in British institutions and methodologies. Prior to the Raj, the Parsis existed ex-casto, so to speak. Their caste status from within the Hindu system would be external to that system. Under the Raj and after, the Parsis generally occupied a strata with relative economic power but not as much political power as the post-partition Hindu majority have enjoyed. Because India as a nation relishes an unspoken and informal balance of power, the status of Parsis in India remains entrenched. There is no political or social unrest within the community, which gives back financially to India in unparalleled ways through philanthropic organizations (McLeod, 2008).

Parsis remain every bit as South Asian in the diaspora as in India, testimony to their subcontinental character (Hinnels, 2000). Yet the Parsis do not have what Viswanathan (1998) calls the "divided self" in which identity is a source of confusion. The reason for this is embedded in Parsi customs and law. In order to preserve its integrity as a community, Parsi custom has been to strictly prohibit intermarriage (Hinnels, 2000). The result has been the narrowing of the Parsi gene pools, but also the strengthening of Parsi identity as being linked to race as much as to socioeconomic class or to religion. In this sense, Parsis have remained solidly linked to their South Asian identity as being ironically exclusionary within a remarkably inclusive society. Most of India's cultural groups eschew intermarriage, and the Parsi decision to pursue a sense of racial purity is…

Sources Used in Documents:


Chadha, M. (2003). Parsis split over marriage rule. BBC News. Retrieved online:

Choksy, J.K. (2008). Iranians and Indians on the shores of Serendib. In Hinnels, J.R. & Williams, A. (2008). Parsis in India and the Diaspora. New York: Routledge.

Herring, R.J. & Agarwala, R. (2009). Whatever Happened to Class? Landham: Lexington.

Hinnels, J.R. (2000). Zoroastrian and Parsi Studies. Aldershot: Ashgate.

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