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Understanding Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb: How diverse is the "Indian multiculturalism"

Sunday, 15 June 2014 - 4:51pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna webdesk
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As a believer, promoter and firm practitioner of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, I am often asked what it really stands for?

For many others and me, it’s a way of life. A creed we live by!

I had explained it once simply as:

“Post 1992 when there were calls of garv se kaho hum Hindu hain and garv se kaho hum Musalman hain, those deeply soaked in Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb had replied garv se kaho hum insaan hain.”

This is of course a very simplistic answer to very complex multi-cultural pluralistic phenomena, which is unique to India, and one, which is very misunderstood and misused. 

From childhood, if one phrase stands out in my mind from my history lessons it was, ‘unity in diversity’. 

This diversity came from the years of migration to the fertile plains of India of people from different countries in Asia. Sometimes, it was as an invading army, sometimes as scholars/ artists/ artisans looking for jobs in the culturally rich land, sometimes people fleeing persecution in their lands and sometimes by those looking to exploit its rich potential for trade.

And the unity, which came from the coming together of all these different ethnic, cultural and religious communities, which resulted in ‘The Wonder that is India.’

“The idea of multi-communitarianism has been derived from the composite, syncretic civilisational legacy of India, which is a product of centuries of interaction, exchange and accommodation between Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Christian traditions. Despite the tragic partition of the Indian subcontinent along religious lines and the current atmosphere of communal polarisation and mistrust, this composite legacy remains an inseparable part of Indian society “ says sociologist T K Oommen.

 What then is ‘Multiculturalism’?  It isn’t just the blending of cultures leading to a ‘composite culture’ as erroneously perceived by many but facilitation to preserve their distinctiveness and the people who belong to different cultures to ensure equality.

For this, we need a broadly shared culture to sustain it, which will come from healthy respect for each other’s cultural identity, nurturing of diversity and a unity of purpose towards a shared goal of a strong and prosperous country, which affords equality to all. 

Further delinking of national identity and religious identity is a must. It should be ‘Indian first’ for every citizen. Religion should be a private and personal for all. The state mechanisms should be delinked from any religious bias.

Lala Lajpat Rai gave voice to this idea of Indian nationhood in 1920. ‘The Indian nation, such as it is or such as we intend to build, neither is nor will be exclusively Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian. It will be each and all’.

According to a 1992 survey there are 4,634 communities in India. It was the interaction between these communities, which gave impetus to our unique composite culture, which is called Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb in common, parlance. The seeds of course were sown in ancient India with  "Sarva Dharma Sambhava, which literally means that all Dharmas (truths) are equal to or harmonious with each other.

Composite culture,“ the continual presence and processes of reciprocity; mutual sharing and overlap of cultural practices; styles of life; a technological and economic worldview of the relationship between nature and culture; shared practices of economy and technology; values and belief systems cutting across the divides of space; and religious belief systems and specificities of community differentiations, “ says sociologist Yogendra Singh.

These communities while cherishing and preserving their own cultural, religious identities participated and shared freely and spontaneously in the customs and cultural activities of the other communities.

This concept of cultural pluralism is what is called ‘secular’ in India. Indian secularism does not conform to the Western definition but implies respect for all religions, celebration of religious toleration and equality for all religions. That we call it ‘sickular’ shows how we misunderstand our own ancient traditions and ethos.

We eat gujiyas on Holi and play with colours, we light lamps and eat sweets on Diwali , we embrace and eat siwai on Eid and hang a star on Christmas. This is our common heritage and cultural identity. The rest of the praying, fasting etc, which goes on in our houses, is our religious identity and should be kept private, personal and separate. 

The motto to follow should be

“Main jaanu’n mera Khuda jaane’.

This unique culture gave birth to and was further reinforced by the teachings of Sufi/bhakti saints.

So while on the one hand you had Baba Bulleh Shah singing,

Hori khelun kah kah Bismillah

Naam Nabi ki ratn chadhi

Boond padi Allah Allah

On the other, we had Mian Mir laying the foundation of the Golden temple at the behest of Guru Arjun Dev.

As Kabirdas ji said “Moko kahan dhoondhe re bande, main tau tere paas hun.’ 

We have Muslim artisans making idols of Durga ji and Hindu artisans making taziyas. At that moment they are just devotees involved in a pious job. They are not consciously the ‘other’. 
And it is this ‘other’ that we have to avoid. Being. Calling.




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