One of the reasons India appealed to me was because of the colorful culture. India, a nation of 1.2 billion people in 28 different states and 7 union territories, is unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s largely a peaceful place, where people are bound together by their different traditions, beliefs, languages, religions and customs – not by their national identity. Largely confined to their villages, natives have historically depended on their families and community for support and often lack a sense of civic duty.
After living here, however, I’m beginning to wonder if India’s biggest strength is also it’s biggest weakness. While I’m certainly not an economist nor an expert on India, I think this lack of national identity may present economic challenges for the country. For every economic report and newspaper article that speaks of India’s emerging economy, there are easily 20 more that talk about electrical grid failures, train delays, environmental issues and public health problems (not to mention a long history of patriarchy and oppression of women).
Before India can emerge as a true powerhouse in this world, it needs to fix the problems within their own borders – infrastructure, bureaucracy, corruption, oppression – as one country, not 35 different states and territories.
Further complicating matters is urbanization. As people flock to the cities in search of a better life, they’re less likely to interact with, depend upon and trust their neighbors, thereby breaking those strong social bonds. Which leads me to wonder: If that is what kept India ‘together’ for so long, what happens if those bonds cease to exist?
Until this journey, I really didn’t understand – and to be perfectly honest, didn’t really care – what it meant to be an American. It certainly wasn’t something I earned, and I definitely took it for granted. Living in India, however, has taught me that, despite our shortcomings, being an American is something to be proud of, something to cherish and something to fight for. For as much as we talk about the individual liberties in our society, we often don’t recognize that those ideals are held together by one, nationalistic view. In other words, E pluribus unum.
Much like the founding fathers of America, Indians are searching for a better life. But for India to succeed, it needs to not only move forward in improving health, education and infrastructure, but it also needs to come together as a society and tackle these problems as a whole. Because if she doesn’t, India will not be defined by her individual success, rather, she will be known for its public failures.