Rediscovering India by Dharampal

Intro Indian Society     

Friends this chapter tells you about community based living in India, consensus thereafter, the concept of Chakravartin is explained and satyagraha in Varanasi app 1810.

Introduction to India Society and Polity - In comparison to the near total annihilation of the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, and later of those of Australia, the very violent disruption of political, social and cultural life in western and central Africa where young and adult males were treated as merchandise, the treatment of Asia by Europe looks fairly mild. The natural descendants of the people who inhabited the lands of Asia before 1498, when Europe discovered the sea passage to them, continue to inhabit these lands even 500 years later. The impact of Europe on the Asian lands, however, was accompanied by continual violence, and while their people physically survived the European onslaughts, their social and mental disruption over time went much deeper.

The nature of the non-European societies and the distinctive impact upon them can perhaps be well illustrated by a reference to India. One of the major characteristics of India has been its emphasis on communities based on shared localities as well as relations of kinship termed as jatis, in contrast to the preference for individuation in non-Slav Europe. The number of localities in the India of 1947 was around 7,00,000. Their number a thousand or two thousand years earlier might not have been very different. The number of the main jatis, sometimes with different names in differing regions of India, is, however, not more than one hundred. One of the characteristics of a jati is the sharing of one or more specific occupation amongst those who at some earlier period would have got admitted to it. A sort of interrelatedness or complementarity of the jatis and also of localities makes up Indian society. This not only applies to the Hindus, who even today form some 85 per cent of the Indian people, those who have been converted to Islam and Christianity in the past 800 and 200 years respectively are organized and interlinked more or less similarly.

Given this characteristic of the jati, India basically has been a society of consensus amongst the groups living in any particular region or locality. It was complementarity and relatedness amongst groups within localities, and more so within regions, which has shaped India’s polity for the past two thousand years and more. This interrelatedness and the consensus, which grew out of it, seem to be the major elements that define the Indian concept of dharma. Indian civilization is based on this sense of dharma and a shared view of the past. It is not as if there were no tensions or differences between locality and locality, region and adjoining regions, or between the various interpretations of dharma. The Indian mind, however, seems to have been molded by a common basic approach to life and phenomena, and this has ordinarily overridden the local tension and differences.

Given such characteristics, India has been a slow moving society, a society not easily disturbed by events. Consensus, equivalence and balance have been more important to India than the most alluring images of a new future. It is not as if no movement or change occurs at all. But the change, or rather the movement, socially acceptable in India, has been such that it does not destroy the consensus and the balance. Hence, the role of the polity in India was not that of a guide, or that of superman as preferred by Plato, or of a controller but merely of performing the task of an administrator functioning in accordance with the customs and preferences of the locality or the region. This naturally led to a civilisational confederal polity in which, while its parts shared common basic ideas and features, one with the other, yet the linkages amongst them were considered loose and flexible.

The ancient concept of Chakravartin seems to have been evolved to serve as a symbol of the confederal nature of India as well as of its shared civilization expressions. The symbol of the Chakravartin also probably provided a sense of strength and invincibility to this confederal polity. Such a polity seems to have served India well for a long, long time. Despite European theories about the non-Indian origin of the people of India, it is perhaps correct to say that India, the ancient region of Bharatavarsha, has been one of the least conquered areas on earth. It is not as if the people inhabiting it are necessarily of one ethnic stock. Some immigrants did enter India, largely through India’s western land borders, from time to time. But till about the end of the twelfth century India was ruled by its own people and polities. Even the Islamic conquests and domination of part of India from the thirteenth century onwards to the early eighteenth century, did not in any basic way disturb the tenor of Indian society and its arrangements.

The Islamic intervention, however, did make, as time passed, much of Indian society weaker and fearful, and uncertain of its own inner strength. Such weakness and sense of uncertainly also possibly has roots in some of India’s ancient concepts. The sense of courage in India however was not wholly lost even till early nineteenth century. During the period of early British dominance there was widespread resistance to what by Indian norms was considered unrighteousness. The major resistance was in the form of persuading the unrighteous, or the wrongdoer, of the unrighteousness of his conduct and make him return to the shared norm. The techniques adopted in current idiom were of non-cooperation, boycott, civil disobedience, and what Mahatma implied by the term satyagraha. Such resistance was expressed by the peasantry, the artisan classes, as well as by those who lived in towns and cities.

A major instance of (non-cooperation etc) it was in 1810-11 in the ancient city of Varanasi, and in several other towns of the present Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where a tax on houses had been imposed by the British. Contemporary evidence suggests that various inhabitants of the Varanasi region, including the peasantry and the artisans, especially the metal workers and other technologists, were party to this unarmed resistance. Some 20,000 persons were reported to have sat on dharna in Varanasi for many days, and around 2,00,000 persons were reported to have gathered in the grounds adjoining the city. Even those who assisted in the cremation of the dead, had struck work and the dead were placed in the following Ganga without cremation rites. Innumerable cases of such resistance are recorded during the early years of British rule and these occurred practically in all regions of India. There was major resistance against the British enhancement of the tax on salt in the city of Surat even as late as 1843.

Early British and European observations of seventh and eighteenth century Indian seem to suggest that till then it were not the people who were in awe of their rulers but, instead, it were the rulers who stood in awe of the people under their rule. If the ruler was considered unrighteous of unjust, the norm was to replace him. Such a norm also implied an in-built courtesy between the ruler and the ruled, and when one visited the other it was customary that each gave some gift to the other. The one who came to visit came with some gift, often nominal, and on departure was offered a gift, often a substantial one, from the host. Even persons appearing before judicial authority seem to have expected and received pan-supari (betel leaf and betel nut) at the time of their departure.

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