No country in the world is more diverse than India. Twenty languages are recognized as official, with Hindi as the national language and English a widely used language. Most Indians speak three languages: their mother tongue, Hindi and English. Many educated Indians speak four or five Indian languages. When Hindi is their native language, some children typically learn another language at school, e.g. German, French, Spanish or Russian. All children have the right for ten years of schooling – but not the duty – and so many retire to work or because they cannot afford or cope with it. India has the second-largest education system in the world after China, with 1.4 million state-recognized schools, approximately37,000 colleges and 789 universities .
In India, there are countless traditions and religions and very different climatic zones and regions. And there is the Indian miracle: India is a democracy – the largest democracy in the world, as the Indians self-confidently call themselves – soon also the country with the most inhabitants and already a country with a high proportion of children and adolescents. About 65% of the Indian population is under 35 years of age. Incidentally, there are voices in India saying that Pakistan and Bangladesh should actually be – and they actually could have become – part of India after World War II, if it was not successfully prevented by the British for power-sharing reasons. This is worth a thought. By the way, India together with these two countries, would have more inhabitants than China.
Not only when it comes to being a democracy are the Indians achieving unity – they also have just one time zone for the whole country. Compared to the USA, India with 3.3 million km² has only about one third of the surface area, but with a population of 1.3 billion four times as many inhabitants. The USA, with 326 million inhabitants and 9.9 million km², is divided into 11 (9 legal and 2 other commonly used) time zones. A comparison with Russia looks even more interesting: 145 million inhabitants on 17 million km ², and also 11 time zones.
Democracy in India survives and thrives because today most Indians cannot relate themselves to any other form of political existence. India gained independence on August 15, 1947, and democracy was officially embraced in India on 26th January 1950 with the adoption of the constitution and the declaration as a Republic . Between 1947 and 1950, Indian citizens experienced a great deal of uncertainty about their very diversified existence. The union of India with one single constitution and one time zone was possible when 85 different provinces / principalities agreed to come together and jointly support the Indian constitution!!
Democracy in India today is lively and self-confident. The citizens as well as the media are criticizing day and night. Demonstrations are part of everyday life – social, environmental protection and other non-profit organizations are everywhere in action and reflect the diversity of the lifestyles in the 28 federal states, in which all conceivable religions are practiced and which are also different in their religious dominations. Religion plays a secondary role in India, although it is repeatedly assumed that politicians think and act mainly based on this topic. In India, the main focus is on democracy.
India has recently passed legislation called the Right to Information Law that allows all citizens to view every official document and stipulates that there are information officers in all agencies who are official contacts for staff and citizens to ensure this. The media reflects this diversity in life: controversial discussions on television are popular, criticism of and scandals about politicians in the newspapers are normal, and dispute is also evident in the numerous actions of nonprofit associations everywhere – denouncing, but also changing or preventing a great deal.
Now the question arises how such a large country manages without major problems to successfully unite so many people with so many different traditions, cultures and opinions. Here an important feature of Indian people comes in: their optimism. You could also call it courage, and it happens every day in India. Only looking at the traffic, a good German motorist would usually fall from one shock to the next. Everybody drives tightly in India and joins into the running traffic flow from all and any sides. Drivers are taking over even if they do not see anything – honking instead – not to forget the many different means of transportation, even on the highways – and definitely including cows, pigs, and chickens using the roads. Nonetheless, I didn’t experience one single accident during my at least seven trips in India, and I often traveled in cars. With the millions of cars I have seen, with thousands of people and animals and other unusual companions on the road, the low accident rate is very impressive. Indians also stand on the highest mountain slopes without a railing, stand close to steep banks, walk in the middle of the road where traffic is dense – that is more than courage. It is trust. The Indians trust that nothing bad will happen to them and they trust each other. Probably that is the right way to live with the population density in this country.
But what impresses me most about the Indian people is their tolerance, their patience and their modesty. These basic characteristics of many Indian people, together with the millennia-old spiritual tradition and orthodoxy in a positive sense – every Indian has his or her own religion or belief system – create a reliable social basis.
Of course, there are areas of difficulty in such a large country, and there is the influence of industrialization, digitization and Western culture on the youth. Yet many Indians still marry through their parents’ mediation, most children still consult their parents on important decisions, even if they do not live with them anymore. The extended families spend a lot of time with one another and often go on holidays together. The family is India’s most valuable asset of stability.
Meanwhile, India also has a mature, self-confident middle class that cherishes innovation and prosperity. It is integrating itself organically into the Indian way of life. This has much to do with the socialist traditions of the last century. The landlords and established families were expropriated after India’s independence from the English in 1947 and had to keep themselves alive by their own achievements and ideas. To this day, it is inappropriate to show off wealth or to celebrate it in closed social circles. This is reserved for Bollywood, where a party lifestyle is celebrated for all. Modesty, charity and political commitment is the usual attitude among the elites. This tradition is strengthening politics and peaceful coexistence and allowing for national pride.
Apart from that, the country is held together by its large army – the third largest in the world. It is a professional army. Those family members joining the army have a solid position that is socially acknowledged. The families of army members are supported, their children receive a good education, and their pensions are good. The army is generally invisible, has no role in normal day-to-day life in the country and remains completely non-political.
What is more, the government has set up a new institution: NITI AYOG (translated: policy forum). Highly qualified young people are keen to work there, as this is a proof of excellence in their careers, and although they earn much less than working for business consultants like McKinsey. There, innovation proposals are developed for the government based on the best knowledge of the younger generation.
We should not think that India is badly organized – quite the contrary. The socialist past brought forth a strong state that is demanding more and more from its citizens. The increasing digital connectedness of rural areas will increase transparency and accomplish a complete registration of citizens. This strengthens the central government which, however, is limited by the powerful federal states. Compromises are always necessary. From communist to Muslim states, depending on the majorities, everything is included. Certainly, this constant need for compromise and the diversity in the ways of life are essential cornerstones for the remarkable compassion and tolerance which prevail in this country. Stand next to a cow in the shop window in Jaipur. She has the same rights as you. Or travel across the country to see extreme poverty and trash. Many people live directly in the garbage – and yet visibly in dignity. A phenomenon that can challenge many well-established ways of thinking – not, of course, that the Indians, who are used to it. Take a luxury car to a luxury hotel such as the 5-star Ananda In the Himalayas driving through potholes, rubbish and poverty to then arrive in paradise. This tolerance, which is lived out consciously due to necessity and tradition, is in many cases even more – it is acceptanceof these differences without moral judgment. This high human state of consciousness can be more easily achieved in and through India. Indeed, India lives in many centuries!!
Often I have seen veiled and unveiled girls or women standing together in the streets or walking in groups. The Muslim headscarf does not stand out among the traditional saris, as they have aligned without looking the same. It should also be borne in mind that about 40% of the population live in a vegetarian environment, especially in regions dominated by Hinduism, and to kill a cow is seen as a murderous act. Vegetarian life makes people more peaceful. When killing is not a part of everyday life, it seems incomprehensible.
The current knowledge and experience of the people of India that everything is getting better and better is strengthening the pride and the identity of its citizens. This empathy together with the experience of a lively democracy has constituted a country that is contributing to the stability of the world. Hopefully, the current government will have the knowledge and vision to maintain and develop India’s independence and internal stability. India is worth a journey.