Punam Khosla

Punam imageTo say India has become a big player on the world stage is cliché but it is true. A year ago, it overtook the United Kingdom as the 5th largest economy in the world. Today its military ranks 4th in the world. The influence of its soft power as embodied in Bollywood is global. It is not pointless to pose the question: what constitute Indian values? But the question is inherently a complex one. No clear-cut answers are possible. 

Just like the realities of India's vast divergences, there is no singularity to the answer in cultural, linguistic, social, and economic terms. There are large differentials amongst Indians based on: geography, economic class, urban vs. rural life, caste, race/shade, gender, sexual orientation.

For those of us Indians in the Diaspora, our understanding, practices, rites, and religiosity and how they are created/re-created are widely varied. India has one of the largest and the most widespread number of dispersed people in the world. Both the social location and the specific diasporic contexts we find ourselves in, structure and determine our outlook. In the Caribbean as compared to Fiji, Mauritius, Indonesia, East or South Africa, things look different.

The simultaneous need for the migrants to make our lives anew; and at the same time the compulsion to grasp at a very static notion of "values" to sustain our identities have created a paradox between extreme conservatism and the hybridization and loosening of old narrow identities as we live together as Indians in our varied new localities, across boundaries of language, religion, sect, caste, etc.

Many of us are now doubly diasporic - having started as either first, second or third generation migrants to East Africa, and now as first or second or third generation migrants/refugees in the Global North. Colonization, racism and white supremacy in India, Africa, and its afterlives in the UK, Europe, the Antipodes, or North America shaped our lives before and after our numerous travels and migrations.

Whether we want to face it or not we Indians are subject to the same colonial pressures in the present day. In India, the rise of the Hindutva neoliberal state is openly allied with US hegemonic world power as well as a dangerous global right-wing nationalist populism in Brazil, Israel, the UK. In Africa, independence freed us from being the class that created and sustained an economic infrastructure that depends on Black exploitation while continuing to be disposable within the white supremacist afterlife of colonialism. In the global north we are stuck in a new version of the old diasporic contradiction.

Many South Asian entrepreneurs, religious leaders, family patriarchs and political players are greasing the wheels of conservative movements in the name of defending a mythical, historically frozen notion of the "Indian values" that only serve to preserve their power, position and wealth. This authoritarian impulse, whether bare-fisted or cloaked in the language of identity, mirrors the empty, violent promises of belonging offered by Hindu nationalism. The pro-Trump crowd in the US, pro-conservative pro-Harper in Canada, pro-Boris Johnson in the UK, South Asian community power brokers are illustrative of this.

On the other hand, progressive South Asians, are taking up their diasporic circumstance as an opportunity to re-think, re-make our values, practices, relationship to our collective history as a dynamic project that melds the unique insights gained through anti-colonial struggles around the world. We are working to develop a self-reflective understanding of how we, South Asians, continue to be positioned as a self-effacing, self-interested buffer between white supremacy and blackness (e.g. the black lives matter movement). This new wave of South Diasporic politics seeks to undo the violence, exploitation, occupation and extractions of the imperialist, white hegemony, caste hierarchy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity of the post-colonial era.

Fanon warned about the pitfalls of national consciousness and he has been proven right in the decades after the national liberation struggles of the twentieth century.

History and culture and values are not fixed commodities to be traded by minorities who control the reins of social, economic, political, cultural, state power. They are constantly being contested and determined by the choices we make; the agency we exercise. In the end history will either judge or absolve us for what we decide to support.