By Swami Agnivesh

Perhaps we got it wrong all along that unity and harmony are novelties that we need to invent, rather than the given foundations of life, which we have been systematically violating. Unity is basic to life, and nature is a sphere of harmony. But it is possible to see both in terms of conflict, as Darwin recommended, and we have been doing for far too long.Take the Rigvedic account of the creation of the human species. The gods created the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya and the Shudra from the head, arms, thigh and feet respectively of the cosmic being (purusha). As is well known, this has been interpreted all along as the basis for perpetuating caste distinctions in India. The mytho-poetic insight in the scripture has been misconstrued, in other words, with disunity as the shaping principle.

But it is equally possible, and perhaps more valid, to interpret this account within a framework of unity. The emphasis should be on the fact that all the four castes had the same origin, namely purusha. Surely, all that had the same origin should also have the same worth, even if they all do not seem carbon copies of each other. Had the four castes been ascribed generically different sources by the Vedas, they could have claimed different worths. That is simply not the case. The Vedic account of the creation of the human species is a profound statement on unity within diversity in the logic of creation. This is true of creation as a whole.

From a superficial point of view, however, diversity may seem contrary to unity. This is mainly a Western prejudice that betrays the philosophical shallowness of the age of science and technology. For all its impressive achievements in the field of human welfare and the mastery of the world around us, the secular-scientific outlook is out of its depth when it comes to grappling with the paradoxical nature of life and reality. It has a tendency to reduce everything to monolithic principles. So it is either 'unity' or 'diversity'. This has never been the case with the Indian philosophical traditions. Especially with respect to the dynamic of life and nature, it is not "either, or", but "both". Life is not based either on unity or on diversity, but on both. The denial of this eternal truth has yielded enormous social violence and disruption in our context.

It is in this light that we need to see religious fundamentalism of all kinds. What characterizes the fundamentalist advocacy is the need to reduce everything to a simplistic interpretation. What dictates this preference is the fact that religious fundamentalism is, essentially, a quest for power rather than the deepening of one's religiosity. Power is allergic to complexity; for simplicity is the pre-condition for the exercise of power over others. This is also why power contains the seed of its own corruption. All religious traditions, especially of Indian origin, are informed by the insight that creation at all levels involves a dynamic balance between unity and diversity. As a matter of fact, unity is meaningful only within diversity. But for diversity, unity will cease to mean anything at all. It is a pity that in the Indian context the best of our philosophical and spiritual insights have been frustrated in the practical sphere by the caste system. Caste is essentially a mechanism of disunity and alienation. It sees society as a sphere of exclusion with a religious sanction. The caste outlook recognizes diversity, but rejects the value of diversity and so becomes allergic to comprehensive unity. But unity is the lifeline of society. So the caste formula for unity is the absolute hegemony of a single caste over the rest. Unity is thus secured through domination and suppression, similar to the Roman approach to global peace known as Pax Romana which is also the current American paradigm for peace.

But this is a mockery of unity. It is a mechanical approach to unity that destroys the foundation for unity. It is a model of unity from which harmony is utterly excluded. The recognition of the diverse functions on the basis of the equal worth of all parts is the bottom-line of harmony. While the Brahmins, Kshatriyas etc may have different functions, they all have the same value in the sight of God. All are equally the children of the Eternal Spirit. As long as unequal worth is ascribed to different castes and classes, social cohesion and political unity are impossible in India, or anywhere in the world.

This is a serious matter. Harmony is basic to efficiency. An engine in which the constituent parts either do not relate to each other smoothly, or are in a state of mutual friction cannot deliver the goods. A social and metaphysical outlook based on inequality and alienation has been the foremost cause of our political and social disability for centuries. In contrast, the egalitarian societies of the world have been showing commendable dynamism and forward-looking enthusiasm in the modern age. They have done well not because they had better natural resources than we have, but because they had a social capital which we have failed to develop.

No body in the Indian context disputes the value of unity and harmony. But hardly anybody is willing to address the true cause of disunity in our midst. It is as though we want to stand on the foundation of disunity and create mansions of unity. This just cannot be. Ironically, all such 'unity projects' serve only to intensify alienation within our society. This is the truth that stares us in the face vis--vis the Sangh Parivar initiative. Their ostensible goal may not be dishonourable. But their motive and their approach are both patently divisive. They seek to unite sections of the Hindu society so as to oppress and exclude the non-Hindus. But they see the Hindu society itself in terms of caste alienation and exclusion! So, ultimately, it is to protect disunity based on caste hegemony that they preach unity.

It is time we faced the truth. The quest for unity and harmony in the Indian context cannot make any headway unless we base it on a commitment to social reform. Justice is the inalienable foundation for unity. As long as we operate in terms of class and caste interests and are allergic to the basic needs and rights of our fellow human beings, untrammeled distinctions of religion and region, there is no likelihood of our becoming united and dynamic.

But, in global terms, we are already in a situation wherein our very survival depends on our national unity. It is not only that evident disunity, as in the case of the Balkans or West Asia, will invite the infiltration of the sub-continent by the invasive forces of the West. More importantly, a disunited nation cannot cope with the merciless forces at play in the global arena. Such a realization underlies the formation of the European Economic Union and Euro as the common currency. If Europe needs to unite to engage the forces of globalism to their advantage, it should be obvious that we cannot afford to dissipate our national energies by internal discord and alienation.

Diversity is our blessing and our wealth. But if the basis of unity is missing, our blessing will turn into our curse. And we shall be weakened by our God-given strength. Let it not be so with us.



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