Divided we stand, United we fall?

When I travel from India to the US to stay with my children and meet my extended family; I get to spend time with them and also observe life in the US. I see that they have the opportunity to meet and interact with people of different cultures, ethnicities and countries because the US is a melting pot and encourages forming relationships with different communities.

People hailing from neighbouring countries under constant conflict are friendly neighbours in the US. Their passion for work, sense of healthy competition and the promise of a better life through education and opportunity brings them together. While the busy work schedule may not allow as much socializing during the week as in India, weekends are usually spent with family and friends. Surprise parties, hiking retreats or exploring a new city are planned with friends much in advance. Festivals are celebrated with extended family coming in to visit over the weekend.

The sharing of responsibilities and the sense of community helps them provide emotional support to each other. While my children look to establish themselves in the brave new world that represents the union of individualism and teamwork, and a harmony of cultures, ethnicities and diverse beliefs in the US, I wonder if they miss life back in India. It sometimes seems like they do; because the friends they used to meet often while in India are no longer there with them in the US. But I feel they are better off here although emotionally I would like to have them back in India.

We come from Hyderabad, a city that also appreciates diversity and represents a confluence of cultures, faiths, languages and cuisines – a microcosm of diversity in India. The city has also evolved into a major center in the technology space and is a part of India’s phenomenal growth story. Don’t these opportunities exist back there, the place they called home for more than twenty years of their life?

Opportunities for business? Yes there are, but it’s quite different there. Nothing is regularized and one could spend a lot of time just figuring out rules and regulations. Then there is also corruption and discrimination on the basis of caste, religion and so on. Nothing is transparent there. It seems to me that in the US things are easy for a common citizen. It’s just easy to go through normal life here, of course there aren’t maids to do house work, but still it seems hassle-free.

Laws seem to be very strong here and are also well-implemented. India also has strong laws but implementation seems poor. Somehow after the separation of the state of Andhra Pradesh, things have become more divisive.

When we were growing up, there was caste system, there were religious differences but it was sublime, not overt like today. We were aware that these differences were politically motivated, but today a lot of it is personal. It is very difficult to have opposing opinions while we are in conversation with friends, and not get into a heated argument.

India has always been celebrated across the world for its unity in diversity. But unlike the US, where diversity of thoughts, beliefs and ideas come together to create something new and help move society forward, the people in India seem to be becoming more intolerant of each other. Instead of using this to our strength we have made this into a weakness.

It is unfortunate that there is a need now to carve out a separate identity based on communal factors, which seem to be getting pettier with every new political establishment. Instead of celebrating the diversity, there seems to be an ever-widening rift in people’s perceptions toward each other and a narrowing of their perspectives.

I always wonder how Shri Rabindranath Tagore would feel when he sees today’s India. He aspired for Universalism – the main tenet of which “opposes narrow identification within a group and strengthening of hierarchies, which eventually lead to exclusion.” He believed that Universalism can be achieved with empathy.

Respect for differing faiths, beliefs and dignity of labour – or the lack thereof – has not united the people in India as Tagore would have hoped for. I feel strange when I say they are better off here in the US, but I am sad, because I want my country to be what it stands for – Unity in Diversity. I only hope that when my grandchildren come to India, they get to see a meritocratic society that’s less judgmental and more accepting of each other.