How Indian culture influenced an inclusive Indonesian identity  


Impact of Indian culture and cinema is tremendous in Indonesia. It also shows how inclusion can build an extremely cordial society which is beneficial for all. Years ago, I was informed in an indigenous people’s area that Islam as well as Hinduism came to Indonesia from India. Every time I go there and feel proud of the heritage they maintain. Respect for India’s pluralism and history is great. The cab drivers at the airport will ask you so many questions about IT, Benguluru and Delhi. The Indian cinema is quite popular and so is Shahrukh Khan and his ‘Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai‘. I am amazed to hear these lines from a large number of Indonesians on my different visits to this island nation. One driver who took me to several places actually talked to me his love for song ‘kabhi kabhi mere dil me khayal aata hai‘.

The driver who took me to the airport yesterday was knowledgeable. He knew about a few Hindustani words such as shukriya etc and said to me that he is fond of old Hindi music particularly the songs of Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. “I love them”, he said, the man who was in his sixties. “Sir, you are fortunate that you had a great prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. What a man he was,”he said. “Indians are great people as all religion coexists there. Sir, I love Taj Mahal,” he said and I told him we have the wonderful words because of our combined cultural heritage. We have Mughals, we had Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and everybody lived in this country, fought together and lived together as well as created a cultural mosaic which remain unparalleled in the world.

And Indonesian Islam was inclusive and provided a new model even for the Islamic nations where religion could embrace the cultural diversity of the region. It is the common feature in Indonesia for men and women have Hindu sounding names even when they are Muslims. Dewi is commonly used with women like the Hindu women use Devi in India. Ramayana, Rama, Bali and other features of Hinduism are quite popular here. It is a country where all varieties of food is available whether beef or pork and it does not become an issue of hatred. Most of the Batik, the traditional art of Indonesia has symbolism of Hindu Gods and goddesses and people enjoy reading and knowing about them.

On an evening, sitting with friend from diverse Asian countries, a friend active in the peasant struggle of Yogyakarta actually surprised me when he spoke about Bhagat Singh and his idealism. I was amazed that this man knew so much about Indian movements and culture. He even raised the slogan Inquilaab Jindabad and Laal Salam.

Politically as well as Economically, both Indonesia and Malaysia have shown how inclusion help and strengthen the local economy. The Hindus and other communities are closely established in these countries. In fact, the big businesses are also in the hands of Hindus. In Bali, we saw, how Indonesia preserved its Hinduness as it is the only state in Indonesia which has Hindu majority.

While we do not like to give any one access to our country, feeling as if every one is dying to ‘settle’ here, Indonesia has opened its doors. How great it makes you feel when at the airport, you are not even required to produce a visa and you can get through the immigration easily. And it is not merely for India, we found people from various other countries including Nepal and Bangladesh. It helps to open up your regime and not to look down upon every one. Appreciation of your culture does not mean they are inferior but we have to remember how and why people respected India. Yes, the respect for India is because of the values that our founding fathers gave to us of secularism, of scientific temperament,of social justice, inclusion and respect for diversity. We are being respected because of a solid foundation of our republic was laid down by the man who is despised most by the Sangh Parivar, namely Jawahar Lal Nehru.

Today, whenever we are outside India, people speak about Narendra Modi and his government and about people of India in a very disturbing way. We have to inform them that these are the democratic system and a phase which will pass out. Can you imagine what would have been our position if Hindutva had emerged powerful during the freedom movement, a counter to Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s call for a separate Islamic state. Our institutions would have collapsed long back and our standing in front of the world community would have become the same as the Pakistanis face it today because of the obsession of the leaders to include religion everywhere. Today, Pakistani state is trying to look secular yet it is inherently communal and the damage is done because of its past. Today, attempt to improve country’s image does not wash the sins of past flirtation with religion and maltreatment of minorities.

India must learn this. India is respected in the world because of our secular constitution and politics of inclusion and Hindutva has already damaged our image as a country believing in democratic values and inclusion. The street masters must understand that the governance is not a street game of one-upmanship but there are international dimensions also. The world saw the Delhi’s planned violence against Muslims whether you call it pogrom or not but there is not even an iota of doubt that this was well planned and the world watched the horror and unspeakable brutalities on our own citizens through their TV channels. So ‘bhakts’ may rejoice the fake news factories of India but world watch through their own analysis.

The goodwill of the past will not remain the same for long and therefore it is best for the government to control its foul mouths and focus on inclusive governance. We know this is asking too much but it is important for people at least to not to heed the rumours and stand with citizens of the country irrespective of their caste, religion and regional identities. The protection of idea of an inclusive secular humanist republican democratic India is now at the hands of its people and we hope and I hope, I am not hopelessly hopeful that this hope will bring us together and return our good old days. Koi lauta de mere beete hue din…



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