Sunday, May 4, 2008

Messages from India

India escaped from the British Empire on August 15th, 1947. The event was referred to as "the granting of Independence", though I find it hard nowadays to understand how a country the size of India, with such a wealth of ancient culture, religion, science and philosophy could ever have been "dependent" on Queen Victoria and her successors. Subjugated by ruthless military force and cunning diplomacy, yes, but "dependent"? Never. One of the big what-ifs of history is where we would be today if the colonial powers had developed honest open trade with the Indian sub-continent instead of behaving like pirates and attempting to subjugate the people. A Hindu friend tells me that bribery and corruption were not a serious problem in India until they were introduced by the British as part of their scheme to divide and rule. Whether this is true or not, he certainly believes it.

Back in 1947, I was a six year old schoolboy at a Catholic school with a mixture of gentle Irish and Jingoist English teachers. I learned that the Empire was a Good Thing, and its gradual transformation into the Commonwealth was a Good Thing too, because all the peoples still recognized George VI as their King, even if he could no longer stamp IND IMP (Emperor of India) on the coinage. And our wonderful missionaries would eventually convert all the benighted Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs to the one true Catholic faith, Amen. No mention of Buddhists, Jains, the ancient Christian Churches in Kerala and all the other traditions. Missionaries have to keep their view simple.

Since then, I have met many people from different countries of the sub-continent here in the UK, and as I am interested in religion and politics I have had many fascinating discussions which washed away my earlier indoctrination and replaced it with respect. However, there is also an uneasiness here about the way that large parts of the population of India live in extreme poverty and degradation, while other parts are enormously rich. I'm not a missionary, so I don't try to do anything about it other than contribute to Oxfam, but I do watch news reports from India with interest.

News reports, unfortunately, are biased and filtered. Not deliberately, but because the news corporations are interested only in the sensational, so the daily lives of real people are not covered. Therefore it was a breath of fresh air to come across Didi Seena's blog, Humming Leaves. Didi Seena describes herself as a hopeless romantic, but her writing brings a strong sense of what the real India of real people is like now. Many thanks, Seena, I'll keep reading!