Shall the twain meet? Can we conceive of a modernity which is not Western but evolves from the matrix of Indian culture, asks MARTIN KÄMPCHEN The Statesman Jan 23, 2003 (The author is a German Tagore scholar and freelance writer based in Santiniketan.)
One of the most fascinating and troubling aspects of Indian life is the co-existence of pre-modern and modern mindsets and lifestyles. One does not seem to influence the other. Pre-modernity does not merge into modernity. The invisible wall dividing the two seems impenetrable. What makes this wall so strong? Scholars may give many reasons, relating this intransigence to the power of tradition, to the strongly felt need for identity of each group in a highly diversified society, or to colonialism which has created an aversion to modernity. Having lived in this country for nearly 30 years and mingled both with the upper and lower strata, I’ve reached a conclusion: Modernity and pre-modernity coexist because of India’s strong family bonds.
Critics bemoan the weakening of the Indian family system; its breaking up into nuclear units; weakening of morals, especially of the erosion of selflessness which allows to put family interests before the individual’s. And it’s always “the West” with its selfish individualism which is seen as the corruptor. Even the vulgar Bollywood film extols in its incongruent ways the family values of Hindu society.
- The family is held together by hierarchy.
- There’s no room for equality in a traditional family set-up.
- The “higher” and “lower” is determined by seniority, or by the proximity of relationship.
- The entire cosmos is kept functional by the way each member knows his/her position in relation to the others.
- There can be no serious challenge to authority because traditionally authority is determined by extraneous factors, such as age, gender, and kinship, or sometimes by ritual authority, but not by such vague concepts as knowledge, experience, or wisdom.
- The assumption is that with age, knowledge, skill and wisdom increase as well.
- The hierarchy and non-equality of the Indian family is, I wish to emphasise, mostly a comfortable one.