India : A Decaying Culture
SK Sharma

India prides itself with a several thousand years civilisation that nurtured high spirituality, deep insights about environmental
issues, sensitive planning systems such a vastu shastra, creative art forms, and a scientific temper. We credit ourselves with the invention of the zero and numerals 1 to 10 that replaced the clumsy Roman numerals in the West.

Since ages, India nurtured a self-reliant egalitarian society. Such a value enriched societal structure emerged because of India’s democratic ethos symbolised in Ram Rajya, the just rule of the epic monarch, Ram. According to Indian scriptures, every village coordinated by the district should be a self-sustaining tiny republic. The village parliament consisting of all adult men and women, controls all village resources and decision making such as administration of justice, police, education, healthcare, land, water systems and forests. Women were thus franchised in India for four thousand years whereas they got enfranchised in the West only in this century. It elected a council for day to day work, usually for a year, and could remove a councillor any time for misconduct.

The state could demand only one-sixth of local revenues for higher level functions and coordination, but could not interfere in local matters. If a king demanded more, it was the duty (dharma) of every citizen to remove him, if necessary, by force. Thus, the village parliament drew authority from the dharmashastras, not from the ruler. Ram nurtured an empire of such true democracy from Kashmir to Sri Lanka through love, using force against a truant ruler, only if it became necessary.

Over India’s long civilisation, some aberrations crept in its social structures. Castes originally based on profession, similar to the Smiths and Carpenters of the West, got converted into those based on birth, and one got demeaned as untouchable. Some exploitative customs also crept in. The Muslim rule brought in some social conflicts but did not dislodge India’s tiny republics, though it somewhat increased the tax on Hindus. The East India Company too did not dislodge them. One of its Governor Generals, Sir Charles Metcalfe, observed in his minute of 1932 that he dreaded everything that had a tendency to destroy them.

British imperialism brought all village common property such as land, water systems and forests under state control through the district collector thereby depriving local communities of all their authority. On attaining independence, the Indian leadership adopted a Constitution based on exploitative imperial practises. This has led to all round social, environmental, economic and political degeneration.

Today, ours is a decaying culture. All round social and environmental degradation, pervasive corruption and self-seeking politics have become the norm. Our forests are depleted, water systems polluted. Asia’s largest illegal colonies have been built in India. Over half the urban populations lives in slums. They are migrants from rural settlement that are often worse then urban slums. The capacity of the state to deal with recurring draughts and floods is eroded. Starvation deaths have become frequent. Because of pressure on land for human needs, wild life habitats are deeply eroded.

We adopted a faulty model of centralised planning and a controlled economy. Facing bankruptcy, we are now drifting from pseudo socialism to pseudo capitalism that fosters vulgar wealth alongside abject poverty. We are now almost entirely dependent upon foreign loans and direct investments to repay past debts and invest in so called "development". Violence is on the increase. Military expenditure and kickbacks on military purchases are also on the increase. There is darkness at the end of the tunnel. Unless …

Unless we are prepared to accept the truth. Today, very few are willing to speak the truth. Even fewer are willing to listen about it. The truth is that our society is structured on an exploitative political system — centralised, non-transparent, bureaucratised. On top of it, we adopted the fundamentally faulty Westminster system. Gandhi and his true democracy in which power flows upward from the people, were dumped.

We now have two options. We either wait for the deluge — pervasive violence, anarchy and balkanisation. Or, replace the present exploitative system by true democracy.

The day of reckoning is not far. q


Managing Trustees : Ashok Khosla; SK Sharma
B-32 Tara Crescent, Qutab Institutional Area, New Delhi 110 016, India
Tel.: 91 (11) 685-1158, 686-7938, Fax : 686-6031
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