My experiences of India

This series of posts reflects my personal observations and experiences in India over the last fifteen years that I have visited and lived here.

India, a World leader in 20 years – in what exactly?

An evocative title for an article, but a fair question.

India’s politicians and leaders make no bones about their ambition to become a leading world power and even forecast that this will happen in the next ten to twenty years.

India is a conglomerate of hundreds, if not thousands of tribes, with their own customs, beliefs and prejudices, working in a chaotic and often argumentative cooperative that is called Indian society. That it works at all is something of a miracle, but in reality it is simple self-interest that keeps things moving and at the same time is the source of chronic inertia.

At its heart, India is a feudal tyranny pretending to be a democracy. Responsible Rajas have been replaced by irresponsible politicians and bureaucrats, whose purpose appears to be rooted in satisfying their thirst for power and everything that follows. To ensure that they succeed in their aims, the whole of the government machine has been compromised to such an extent that in my opinion it is impossible to rectify without total collapse or revolution. Western nations got rid of their feudal systems centuries ago, but somehow it still thrives in its most extreme form in India.

The caste system which has been the basis of Indian society for countless thousands of years, has also been corrupted, but this time by the prejudicial attitudes of each caste towards the others. Mutual respect has been replaced by assumed superiority, which in fact does not exist. The truth is that each caste is dependent upon the others for its survival and everyone benefits when mutual respect and cooperation are the norm.

The whole world works on some version of a caste/class system and always has. Any effort to equalise everyone only results in failure and conflict as history has shown only too well and Communism in any of its forms is a perfect example of this failure.

Though laudable, the communist ideal of equality is actually impossible to implement, because elements within any structure will always try to ensure that the system favours the few over others. As the world moves away from communism, the systems that replace it are often so badly flawed that chaos reigns instead of the desired order. China’s movement towards controlled capitalism, whilst retaining the firm grip of its communist structure is perhaps the best way forward for a former totalitarian state. We have only to look at the total collapse of the USSR and the ascent of criminal elements to see what happens when the leash is let loose too soon.

India suffered the same fate as the USSR after the British were forced to leave in a hurry. This was perhaps Gandhi’s greatest error, one that has condemned India to a backwater from which it is struggling to break free.

Had post-independence India taken full advantage of the markets and manufacturing techniques made available at the time of independence then it would no doubt have advanced rapidly. Instead the divisive elements within Indian society started to undermine any hope of progress by their efforts to gain ascendancy. Markets were stifled through protectionism and corruption flourished as criminals took over the seats of influence and power. In the meantime, progressive Asian countries raced forward as India raced to a standstill.

That India has a unique heritage is beyond question; it is the home of great sages and sacred places, the very heart of Vedanta, yet for some inexplicable reason the profound teachings and guidance available from these sources is ignored and superstition is favoured over truth. The following extract from the Srimad Bhagavatam written over 5,000 years ago, perhaps best sums up what is happening in Indian society today in this age of Kali …


Kali Makes Its Bow

King Parikshit asks the Sage whose dynasty ruled the earth after Lord Krishna left it. Sri Suka answers that Puranjaya, King of Maghada, who is yet to come, will be assassinated by his minister, who will place his own son on the throne, and will thus start a new dynasty which will rule for one hundred and thirty years. Then a new line of ten kings – the Shishunagas – will succeed and will last three hundred and sixty years. The last king of the latter will marry a Sudra woman who will give birth to Nanda, who will destroy the Kshatriya race and will establish a new line of rulers, mostly consisting of unrighteous Sudra kings. After one hundred years of their rule Vatsyayana, a Brahmin, will found the Maurya dynasty by installing Chandragupta on the throne to reign for one hundred and thirty seven years. Then one line of kings will follow another until Sudras and fallen Brahmins, who are no better than Mletchas (barbarians), will seize power and will kill women, children, cows, and Brahmins. They will rape women and property, stop rituals and worship, and suck the blood of the people. Although some of them will be Kshatriyas, they will behave like outcasts. The people will adopt their ways and will completely degenerate.

The evil forces of the age will henceforth gather strength until the Kali spirit will be in its full stride, when righteousness, truthfulness, purity, benevolence, physical and mental vigour will reach their lowest watermarks. Wealth alone will then count against lineage, morality and personal merits; and might will replace right. Marital ties will be formed solely on the expectation of the maximum sexual delight, in disregard of personal virtues.

Cheating will be the mainspring of business, and the Brahmins’ only qualification will be the wearing of the sacred thread. Justice will be perverted and administered according to the size of the bribe received. Poverty will be adjudged as the test of impiety, and hypocrisy of goodness. Good deeds will be done for the sake of publicity and the materially strongest among the castes will rule the others.

This is the darkest age which will torment the people with endless worries and a short span of life; thirty years will be the maximum age men can reach: thirty years of thirst and hunger, of stunted growth in mind and body, of heresy, loss of caste and of memory. Men will worship their wives and their wives’ relatives, abandoning father, mother, sister and brother. Clouds will carry thunder and lightning but no rain.

When the age will pass its nadir and its worst forces will have well-nigh spent themselves, the Lord will appear among the mortals in His sattvic form as Kalki in the house of Vishnuvasha, a noble Brahmin, in Shambala village. Riding His celestial horse Devadutta, He will exterminate robbers who bear royal names by the million, and will restore moral sense in the people till town and countryside will again enjoy peace and security. Then a new cycle of yugas will begin with Satya (the golden age) at its head, whose human generations will be imbued with great intellectual, moral and physical strength, possessing all sattvic qualities. When the moon, the sun and the mighty planet (Jupiter) will rise together in one house, and the constellation Pushya will be ascending, the wise will know that the golden age has commenced, whereas the age of Kali commenced when the seven major stars entered the zodiacal sign Magha. Learned historians affirm that it started on the very day, nay, the very moment, Lord Krishna left the earth for Vaikuntha. As humanity as a whole passes through many ups and downs, the four castes, likewise, rise and fall, once one and once another gains the upper hand.

All the great figures, Sri Suka continues, who have played a role in this history have passed away and left nothing but names behind them. Two little-known men of all the living beings of this period alone remained: Devapi, brother of Santanu, and Maru of Ikswaku’s line: they will continue to live in Kalapa village (Badrinath) till Lord Kalki appears when they will again spread virtues and resuscitate the varnas and ashramas in the following cycle of yugas.

All the kings, who in their days boasted of world ownership, had to leave everything behind and vanish like bubbles. Those of them who were guilty of cruelty for the sake of their bodies, which had eventually to turn into worms, dirt, and ashes, were short-sighted and damned themselves, their violence having paved their way to hell. Even the sound of their names Time will be bound to obliterate.

How to Escape the Kali Spirit

The sage Suka stresses the senseless lures of fame to which many kings succumb, and which they endeavour to gain through oppression, conquests, taxation and extortion, and concludes with:

“I have narrated to you the stories of famous kings, O Parikshit, to show you the futility of all worldly gains, so that you may develop a dislike for them. Moreover the stories themselves are mere sound, shedding no light on the highest truth, unlike those of the Lord which purify the mind and bless it with peace and which should thus be heard every day.”

Parikshit wants to know how seekers can overcome the blighting influence of Kali, also the characteristic dharma of every one of the four yugas. Sri Suka answers that in satyayuga dharma is fully observed : “It then moves on all its four feet,” which are truthfulness, compassion, mutual help and asceticism. People then are friendly, contented, serene, forbearing, self-controlled, seek the Self, and treat all equally.

In the tretayuga one of the four feet of dharma is rendered impotent by the beginning of adharma (unrighteousness) : untruth, injury to others, discontent, and discord – its four feet. Yet the people continue to worship and perform penance. The majority of them are Brahmins by caste, not given to much violence and lust.

In the dwaparayuga two feet of dharma are rendered inactive by the greater encroachment of adharma. This means that the four virtues of dharma (mentioned before) lose half of their force by the greater activisation of their contraries. Then the Kshatriyas and the Brahmins predominate in number, take to the performance of very big sacrifices to obtain fame, learning, big wealth, large families and worldly happiness.

In the kali age dharma shrinks to only one quarter of its original force, then fades away as adharma gains full supremacy at its darkest point. Then people grow greedy, immoral, cruel, quarrelsome and extremely envious. The Sudras, fishermen, and their tribe lead the other castes and tamoguna predominates over the other gunas. Men then are lustful and women profligate. The Brahmins look only to the gratification of their sexual desires and their palates. Hermits abandon the forests and live in towns to accumulate wealth. Students no longer observe purity. Sudras put on the hermit garb to make their living by false pretence. Heavy taxation, famine (droughts) and fear take away all joy from the hearts of the people and keep them in mental and physical destitution. Afflicted by heretical teachings men do not generally worship Lord Vishnu.

As for attaining the Supreme in the Kali age, Sage Suka asserts that the method is easier than in the other three yugas because of the strong opposition offered to the efforts for it by the evil forces of the age. While in Satyayuga, Emancipation is attainable through intense concentration on Lord Vishnu, in Treta through sacrifice, in Dwapara through rituals, in Kali merely chanting His Name and singing His praise bring about detachment and Liberation.

Srimad Bhagavatam translated by S.S. Cohen
Available from Sri Ramanasramam


Is this also relevant for other nations?

The answer is of course ‘yes’, but according to my experience, the Indian people appear to be more susceptible to the blighting forces of Kali than other races. A fact that has always puzzled me, because those living in the land of great Sages and the home of Vedanta should ‘be less’ and ‘not more’ susceptible, yet the opposite appears to be true.

Can India make up for lost time and wasted opportunity in the next few years? The answer I suspect is a very clear ‘no’, it cannot make any progress whilst the machinery of government is so corrupt. People are clearly unhappy with the situation as it is, but there seems to be little impetus for change other than a few small gatherings and some critical press. People are not out on the streets demonstrating against corruption and cronyism, they actually cooperate with it and thereby encourage it.

People who are continuously abused, mentally or physically, acquire a numbness or even immunity to the pain and suffering to which they are subject and if it goes on for long enough it becomes normality, to such an extent that it is even defended by its victims; it is a well-known phenomena that kidnap victims and abused spouses identify with their torturers and even support them. This appears to be the situation for the whole of India, the people are so used to being lied to, abused and cheated that they regard it as normal and therefore do nothing about it other than shake their heads.

The basis of any progressive society is social cohesion and cooperation, effective government and fair law enforcement. I suspect that India would have to start from scratch with its political eligibility system, police and civil service, in order to achieve any of these aims. It also requires a complete change in people’s attitude towards society as a whole and towards each other in particular.

When lies are preferred over the truth and no-one believes anything anyway, there appears to be no point in telling the truth, because everyone will assume it is a lie – so has India become just one big lie? Sometimes I despair and feel that it has become just that.

There are of course many millions of honest people in India, no society can be totally corrupt and survive, but even the honest ones are forced into some level of dishonesty in order to function within the corrupt structure.

Perhaps India’s problem lays in the acceptance of corruption in the first place, because when something ceases to offend it becomes the norm, even part of the culture, and that is the greatest danger of all.

Is it already too late?