The Dubyaman cartoon in the Times of India says it best: What happened to all the Indians? After the release of the 2001 census by the Commission, the country seems to be finding herself divided across religious and community lines, with the politicians rushing to make capital out of the findings. Coming from a cosmopolitan family, it is very irksome to read the way that the data has been publicised. Never before has there been so much of interest in the minutiae. Even more upsetting is the feeling that some of the data might actually have been misrepresented to serve a sinister purpose.
If the census has to be taken seriously, let it be with regard to issues like literacy, gender imbalance and economic disparities. We miss the wood for the trees when we have politicians making statements in the press about a certain community proliferating in unbridled numbers. This statement comes in the wake of the announcement that the Muslim population has gone up at a higher rate than the Hindu one. Trust the Hindutva brigade to use every opportunity to focus on a threat to the Hindu religion!
Shankar Raghuraman in his lead piece of the TOI (dated 10th. September) says that at the present growth rate of 29.3% for the Muslims and 19.9% for the Hindus per decade, it will be A.D. 2251 when the former overtakes the latter. Raghuraman estimates that this will result in a population of 158 billion in India, 30 times the figure of the current population of planet Earth. None of the politicians who are crying out loud, or any one of us, will be around to see whether this will really happen. But before it does, I fear that the Malthusian Theory of population will make its effect felt through natural disasters, as is already happening in various parts of the world. As for India, it is hard to say what situation it will be in, if it allows divisive politicians to stoke the flames of religious passions. Let right-thinking Indians shun them and think instead of celebrating our differences in a country that has been cited as a perfect example of multiculturalism.
Maya Angelou, the Nobel Prize-winning writer, speaks of this in her essay calledOur Boys. In a telephonic conversation with a white acquaintance, she is surprised to hear him speak of the American soldiers thus: The black soldiers arehaving it particularly rough, but our guys are having it bad too. When the gentleman concerned realises his gaffe, he hangs up quickly and refuses to meet or talk to Maya thereafter. The writer mourns the missed opportunity of the two families getting to know each other and expresses regrets about how racism has diminished all the lives that it has touched. Maya says: It is time for the preachers, the rabbis, the priests and the pundits, and the professors, to believe in the awesome wonder of diversity so that they can teach all those who follow them. She exhorts parents to teach their young that there is beauty and strength in diversity. Her analogy is to a rich tapestry in which all the threads have equal value regardless of their colour and texture.
Angelou gets it absolutely right when she says: Our young must be taught that racial peculiarities do exist, but that beneath the skin, beyond the differing features and into the true heart of being, fundamentally, we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike. Her words reveal shades of the Sanskrit shloka from the Hitopadesa, Udara charitanamatsu vasudhaiva kutumbakam translating as: To the broad of vision, the whole world is one family. So as Indians, first let us celebrate our similarities as well as our differences and then extend the same sense of acceptance towards people of the global village.