When one tries to understand India, think Hindu. This seemed to be the unstated essence of the diaspora quest for identity. UTSA, Origins: The Creative Tracks of the Indian Diaspora organised by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts from January 5 to 9, which coincided with the government of India'sthree-day Pravasi Bharatiya jamboree has pleasantly turned out to be a unique cultural pilgrimage in search of the roots of Hindu India. The event, first of its kind in the annals of the national culture calendar proved a starting point for millions of people of Indian origin to reestablish their bond with the changeless and eternal Hindu-centric cultural mosaic of India. Can the secular republic of India fulfill this mission? Or will the compulsions of political correctness force the country shut its doors on the vistas of opportunity this innovative concept highlighted?
The journey of Indian Diaspora is perhaps as old as Indian history. In countries across the globe the Indian migrants and their descendants engaged in phenomenal struggle for retaining their Indian cultural values. Branded as pagan and barbarian by colonial masters, confronted by aggressive hostility to their value systems, tormented by social discrimination and political persecution, they responded holding on firmly to their tradition and ancient Indian roots.
This saga came alive in the exhibitions, narrations, oral history archives and films at the five-day IGNCA programme. How does the Hindu survive? Says Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, renowned scholar and President IGNCA Trust, ?unlike the botanical phenomena of relocation, which yields a hybrid, the Indians who had left the land carried with them the capacity to hold seeds of two cultures together. This is the uniqueness of our tradition,? she added.
?India makes a blend, of both giving up and not giving up, the identity. Giving up so that you become an empty vessel to absorb new things. Not giving up, in retaining the essential you.? The Gypsies? story is a portrayal of this. Despite having left India over 800 years ago, the Gypsies still retain the traditional costume, jewellery, rituals and the language. In fact, the linguistics is the strong link between the different groups of Gypsies. They even maintain the caste system. Dr. Paul Polanski, noted Gypsyologist, tracing the Gypsy movement said, ?The easiest identifiable immigration of Gypsies (and probably the first) was in 985 A.D when the sun temple in Multan was destroyed by Islamic extremists. The second was in the beginning of 13th century when the Mongols invaded north-west India in the Afghan region. (The famous poet Rumi is part of this Diaspora.).? The third, according to Dr. Polanski was from the region of Kashmir. This immigration was largely due to natural calamities in the 13th 14th centuries. The large mass exodus of the Gypsies was caused by the capture of Chittor in 1303 A.D. With the defeat of the Rajputs, the Gypsies, majority of whom were Lohars (blacksmiths) making weapons, were left jobless and they moved west. Shri Shyam Parande in his paper on Russian Romani Life said the Romas entered Russia in the 10th century to escape Muslim assaults. From here they have migrated to East European countries. They have maintained the panchayat and sarpanch system to this day. Since they have retained their Indian traits they are often the targets of racist crimes. According to Shri Parande, the Romas were poor, and deprived in the Russian society. Agreeing with Shri Parande Dr. Lokesh Chandra, the respected historian on Indian arts and culture said the Romas were the only community who has retained their linguistic links. He said they should have a special place in the Indian Diaspora as ?Romas of Indian Origin? as they are spread in several parts of the world, though they share a common culture. Discussing the Diaspora history, Dr. Karan Singh, renowned scholar and Chairman Indian Council for Cultural Affairs said, there have been five phases, beginning with the ancient times when Indians reached nations across the oceans with our culture, philosophy and art. There was no conquest in the western sense of the term. The largest place of worship in the world, the Angkor vat temple is a living proof of this, he said. The second phase was when the Gypsies left in huge numbers. Then came the indentured labour during the British rule. In several countries, within a period of 100 to 150 years, the Indians rose to top positions. After the World War II and around the Independence of India, low-skilled labourers left for the west and contributed to the rebuilding of the war-ravaged nations. The 5th and the continuing Indian Diaspora is that of hi-skilled Indians who fall in the category of professionals, doctors and scientists. Whatever be the time they left India in whichever category, it became clear from the narrations of people that they still consider India their home. They carry the memory of their homeland, and whatever else they took from it religion, rituals and language. Said Suriname Ambassador Krishen Bajnath, ?The Indian Diaspora is well alive in Suriname. We speak Bhojpuri and all the festivals of India (Hindu) are celebrated like Deepavali, Dussehra and Holi.? Mr. Virender Gupta, who was the Indian Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago some time ago, said that the Indians celebrate the Arrival Day, the day when the first ship of Indians arrived there centuries ago, on May 30. The celebrations involved Hindu rituals. This was one of the reasons why the Muslims, who form 15 per cent of the population kept away from the celebrations, though they were also Indians. For their benefit, the celebrations were ?secularized.?
Shri Rudd Chander, Director Om Hindu Movement (OHM), Netherlands, said that the Indians were influencing the socio-economic development of the community they live in. He said the Indian attitude towards investment, expenditure and saving were affecting the economy not only in India but also abroad. He felt that this aspect needed to be studied. He felt that the urban India was changing and changing too fast. When he looked at the discos in Mumbai, he felt that they were not different from the ones in Amsterdam or London. It was his view that the present Indian generation needed to be more rooted. One of the films made by the OHM Upanishads narrates the story of second generation youth, a girl and boy, who come to India for a holiday with their uncle and aunt and get attracted to the Indian knowledge, the Vedas and the Upanishads.
The IGNCA from its side released 25 films in CD that could as an education module for the people aboard. They deal with various Indian cultural heritages. Dr. K.K. Chakravarty, Member Secretary, IGNCA, summed up the spirit of the event and said ?the objective of the programme was to set in motion a process of osmosis and symbiosis between motherland India and Diaspora as also among the Indian Diaspora in cultural terms.? He said the world today was engulfed by a tide of homogenization, loss of diversity and complexity. In this context, it was essential to develop the oral histories of the Indian Diaspora, promote intra-Diaspora exchange, and nurse the cultural diversity faced by this Diaspora. Many participants felt that while they had nurtured the Indian languages and culture dearly abroad, the Indians back home were losing touch. The language Hindi came in for a lot of comments. They felt that the newspapers, TV channels and the films were in the grip of Hinglish, a mixture of Hindi and English where the Hindi were being substituted by the English word. They complained that it was not a good trend. There were also others, like Shri Tushar from Canada who rued the change the country was undergoing. Shri Ruud Chander also mentioned that too fast a change would erase a lot of things.
But Dr. Vatsyayan disagreed with them. She said there was the constant play of the tides and the waves in the ocean. These can even be quantified and measured and influenced. But the ocean is not affected by any of these, it remains the same. India was such an ocean. She felt that inner confidence and strong umbilical cord would overcome these temporary aberrations, she felt. The world is becoming unicentric. More and more homogenized. Plurality is under threat. What can the Indian Diaspora do in this scenario?
With millions of People of Indian Origin world over looking at India as their religious, philosophic, cultural and spiritual home, the Indians have to take on the challenge and take up the fight against the cultural hegemony taking place. This Diaspora meet set the tone to that. The IGNCA would have a permanent Diaspora Corner where the intra-Diasporic dialogue would be promoted and the ties between the Diaspora and the motherland strengthened.