Understanding India using Europe

It is too difficult for a European to see India as one country when they understand it’s diversity is more at the scale of a continent – their continent. Every state in India is equivalent to a country in Europe, not only in terms of size but also cultural diversity, language, customs and identity. And every state within a European country would be equivalent in a similar way to a district of an Indian state.

We have so many languages, religions, regional practices (that the rest of the country has no clue about), types of clothing, regional food specialties and even ecosystems (mountains, tropical forests, semideciduous and deciduous forests, deserts, scrub forests, alluvial plains etc.) and it is all too much to squash into a description of one country.

The variety of dance, music and natural surroundings that is found within Portugal or Germany is similar to the variety found in Kerala (one of the Southern states). Kerala has the Western Ghats- a dense tropical forest in the hills and due to the Orographic effect, this region receives a lot of rainfall during the monsoon. It also has the backwaters close to the coast, which is a lot like Venice except warmer, with coconut trees and Chinese fishing nets. Within Kerala, There is an equal split in the population between Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. And of all the states, it has the highest literacy rate in India. These stats are completely unlike those of any other state in India. Keralites or Malayalis (because they speak Malayalam) have a very unique accent and have their own ways of wearing the Sari. They have their own martial arts and dance styles and, of all the film industries in India, rank as more tasteful than Bollywood. I could go on like this about a few more states and any European will begin to see how this country to continent comparison makes sense.

In terms of identity, just as a German would definitely feel more German than European and a person from Tamil Nadu would feel more Tamilian than Indian (provided, in both cases that they have been born and brought up within that country/state.) And a Tamilian would have a lot more in common in terms of language and culture with a Sri Lankan than a Rajasthani purely due to geographical closeness. Just like violet is closer to ultra-violet than red even though red and violet are both visible colours.

This is not to say we don’t really have a national identity. We do and it is stronger than the feeling a European would have about being European (despite the formation of the EU). But if it weren’t for the British ruling us all under one administration, we may honestly never have come together as a country (under the leadership and philosophy of Gandhi) to kick them out. That is how India was formed from several smaller kingdoms of a more realistic size, comparable to the sizes of countries in Europe. And that how the identity of being ‘Indian’ was born. This identity (as well as the benefits that comes from being a big united country) keeps us together. It has been reinforced since Independence (August 15th 1947) by Indian patriotic songs, movies about the freedom struggle, our flag, our common military (thank you) and our dear cricket team. Tolerance and common identity is taught in school. With the growth of cities and modern Indians moving around for jobs and opportunities, we get to know people from far away states, people with mixed heritage and those who were of one state but brought up in another. All this leads to the strengthening of the Indian identity. By accepting so many different kinds of people as part of our national identity, we have become far more open-minded as people and more capable of pluralistic thinking than say, countries with just one primary language and religion. The fact that we have stayed together shows that on the whole, we have become proud of the diversity of cultures and traditions we cherish.

I hope this comparison of Indian diversity to European diversity is one which helps people of the Euro-centric world view to understand the sheer vastness of India better.

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