dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

Enduring India
By Evelyn - 4 Dec, 1999

Page 2 of 3

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So being here, what does the world's largest democracy really mean? It means that there is a parliamentary democracy and a system for participatory politics. It means the balance of power has for the first time shifted away from the long-standing rule of the Congress Party (Nehru-Gandhi family), to favor the BJP—a Hindu nationalist party, which has so far proven capable of mature leadership with moderate policies. Municipal elections have been going on in the state of Rajasthan where we have been the past few weeks. In Jaisalmer we saw election results posted in town center, sounding jubilant calls and victory celebrations into night. Democracy appears to be functioning at the lower levels.

There is freedom of speech. Indians seeing that we are from another country are curious to know what we think about their country and why hasn't our government paid India the attention it's due? They want to talk politics, showing no signs of shyness in asserting their opinions. There is no fear that the views they express one day will come back to haunt them on another.

There is freedom of press. Not long after we arrived, we picked up an issue of Outlook, one of the many weekly English newsmagazines. It was a special millennium issue, thick with commentary by notable Indian intellectuals writing about India's past, present, and future. I found a number of articles to be very thoughtful. It is encouraging that individuals are able to pursue their freedom of speech, that there is public forum for open criticism of their society, culture, government, themselves. We have this back home, and I rarely stop to think about how profound it is.

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There is religious freedom. While the majority of India's population is Hindu, India still has among the largest Muslim populations in the world, even after it was divided with Pakistan at partition. Though only 2% of the population is Christian, in actual numbers that is more than the population of Australia. Within Hinduism there is individualization; traditionally there are some 330 million Hindu gods and devotees are free to choose the particular ones they wish to worship. People of different religions don't necessarily intermingle, nor do they always co-exist peacefully, but for the most part, they are able to show mutual respect towards each other's ways and beliefs.

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Over the past month, we've seen religious festivals of the Sikhs in the Punjab, Tibetan Buddhists in Ladakh, Hindus at the Pushkar Camel Fair (which is more about religious celebration), and Jains—members of the austere Digambara sect—parading down the street nude, devoid of all material possessions. In each of these festivals, participants and worshippers were completely left alone to perform their ritual ceremonies, to celebrate with the whole of their spirit. Individuals for whom religion defines much of their identity are at liberty to worship in complete devotion in their everyday lives. There is resilience within a society that acknowledges it cannot take away or control the beliefs of its people. Meanwhile in China, the government recently denied having detained 35,000 Falun Gong members—individuals belonging not even to a religious group, but a spiritual one, which the party deems an "evil cult".




Enduring India

  New York
    New York City
  West Africa
    The Gambia
  Middle East
    Palestinian Territories
    Eastern Anatolia
    Central Anatolia
    Pushkar Fair
    Madhya Pradesh
    Uttar Pradesh
    West Bengal
    Sikkim & the NE
    (Rep. of China - Taiwan)
  USA - San Francisco, CA

"If fate throws a knife at you, you can catch it either by the blade or the handle."
-- the ancient Persians
  © 1999/2000 ~ All systems purged.