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India In History - Affluence, Decay And Rejuvenation - Part I

Bijoy Misra

India in History - Affluence, Decay and Rejuvenation - Part I

It is not easy for a person like me who left India being scared of the political wrath to imagine that his own people a hundred years ago were more scared that he was in 1973.  While he could sneak out to a different shore, his own kinsmen had nowhere to go.  Some died out of starvation or cholera, and many did whatever they could to appease the "officers" to get a bowl of rice.  Most would have become fatalists looking blank to the sky. Some could be showing off that they can write the English alphabet to gain attention.  Their Mother India had changed.

The decay of liberal India is not easy to understand. It has not been researched.  There was a time where India was the land of plenty and the land of the free.  It was not only the political freedom, it was social freedom, intellectual freedom and more importantly freedom of existence through plentiful supply of food.  Though the latter was a blessing from the land, a nature-based conservation culture helped sustain the land and nurture the people.

Indian social philosophy through the local empiricism did discover that all individuals are controlled by their psyche and the latter does help create an aptitude.  Like the tastes in nature, all aptitudes have a purpose and they are important components of sustaining the nature.  We would need aptitude to climb a tree to pluck the fruit and a different aptitude to preserve the seed and sow it in the ground to breed a tree. The former needs strength, the latter needs perseverance.  The society works best when they operate in harmony.

In a society operating on aptitudes, it runs on negotiation and mutual appreciation.  India became the most opulent nation on the earth through the process.  Each person knew his/her role in the society and each person was respected.  There was no disparity.  Aptitude ruled the land,  anyone could be productive.  Everybody had food, everybody had freedom.  Anybody could be a poet or a philosopher or a king or become a tradesman and a jeweler.  Mothers could be cared for to create healthy babies. Each excelled in his/her own work, there was space for all.

In the work with aptitude, the skill is internal and the training is personal.   One does not climb a tree by reading a book.  The book reference did invade India through the external influence of codes.  Codes are prescriptive, skills are innovative.  Codes did help create civil engineering structures like temples and palaces, but individual artistry still retained its value and esteem.  Managers and sponsors did exist, but the artist and the worker retained his/her freedom.

The codes, documentation and regimentation had made the Chinese the greatest economic powerhouse in the world.  In following a code, one needs to sacrifice the personal freedom.  The latter was hard in India.  A code is repressive, it tries to enforce generalization, a hierarchy.  No formula code could work in India, the codes became multi-fold.  There was space for all codes, various denominations.  Unlike China, there was freedom of expression.

The Mongols and the Islamic people arrived to plunder.  The theft was local.  The land had enormous resources to sustain the loot.  However Babur, the Turk, entered India in sixteenth century in search of a home.  India sheltered him, but was too fragmented with its multiple competing thoughts and regions.  Babur and the Moghuls tried to establish a new code which was alien to the land.  The new code allowed execution if one disagreed.  The enforcement was brutal.  The "free thinkers" had not prepared defense against the sword and the gun!

The Moghuls usurped all land in the country to curtail people access to food security.  However they continued to expand the cultivable areas and created "factories" to produce textile and silk.  Indian artisan showed his mantle and India competed with China as the economic powerhouse, both maintaining a 25% of the world GDP in 1700AD.  China had a dynastic rule by the native rulers, India had a clan rule by the foreign rulers.

The massive bureaucracy of the government laced with bribery, flattery and distrust killed the Mughal empire in two hundred years.  Some local Marathas rose up.  They were good warriors but rather poor administrators.  India got into sad disarray. The most ominous period in India was lurking with the arrival of the pirates from the west, who pretended entry as traders.       

I will continue in the part II of this article.  

(Bijoy Misra is President of India Discovery Center, Lincoln, MA. Research Associate/Faculty at Harvard University. Formerly Principal Scientist, General Dynamics Corporation at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. )

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