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like the United States, has welcomed scores of different nationalities,
cultures to its shores over the centuries. So far so good, because that's where the similarity ends.
In America, identities dissolved into the famous melting pot.Whatever may be happening nowadays, throughout much of this country's history one ceased to be German, Polish, or Lebanese and became something new called American. But in India, as usual, things happened differently. You kept your original identity and simply took on an additional one.
It was bit like putting on a winter parka (a western garment) over a sari, or a dinner jacket over a T-shirt. IN some way you had become "Indian",but you were still something else, and you and everyone else still knew you as that.
If America was a melting pot, then India has always been more like a beehive:lots of individual cells, all self-contained yet all sharing a common bond. This makes Indian society infinitely elastic, able to accommodate all sorts of contradictions and opposites. (It's also a factor reducing social cohesion.)
As an individual, you or I can perfectly well tolerate the gods of other religions, because for us society is not homogenous but composed of groups whose primary identity is different. We coexist because we respect this right to be different. We share something in common but we live on another level within our own caste or subcaste, practicing our own religion or variant, speaking our own dialect, wearing our own distinctive dress.
The pressure to conform to some universal or national norm in dress, speech, culture, simply isn't there. Our richness stems from this recognition and acceptance of diversity. That's the essence of the secret of India. If an alien group such as the British come, no problem provided they respect us. They simply become another cell in the infinite honeycomb, living alongside us.
"But that's rubbish!" I can already hear you saying: "Look at how Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs are always killing each other!" Yes, I have to admit, there have also always been tensions. But quantitatively far less over the centuries than the religious wars and intolerance in Europe or the Middle East, for example.
There has never been the Indian equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition or the Holocaust. True, things have gotten worse in the Twentieth century. But the why of this gradual breakdown of tolerance and respect is in itself interesting, because much of the blame has to be laid at the door of the British who deliberately sought to divide Indians for purposes of better ruling them. Once trust and getting along together have been broken it is always difficult to restore. That has been the unintended, unforeseen but tragic legacy of the British rule.
It's in this same spirit that you can most usefully approach the subject matter if this chapter: how were the Aryans, the Muslims, and the British absorbed into Indian civilization? What contributions did they bring? How did they change or enrich India? And how did India change
them? And in this ability to absorb while allowing incoming groups to retain their identities still valid? What are the pressures against?(Hindu nationalism? The nationalisms of Sikhs, Kashmiris, Assamese, based on religious and cultural differences?)
The possible answers are relevant not just for India but for the United States as it in turn is buffeted by increasingly centripetal forces that seek to divide and fragment.