denotes a complex society with distinct cultural and ideational
features that takes shape in the long, historical process through
the division of labour and a concomitant social hierarchy.
Therefore, civilisations cannot be understood only in
contemporaneous terms; historical antecedents and legacy weigh
heavily in forming the present. On the other hand, civilisations are
also dynamic and change, adjust and transform, while retaining links
with the past.
civilisations is a daunting task. I admire the courage of the
veteran journalist and writer, Reginald Massey, born in Lahore to a
Punjabi Christian family of Sikh Jatt origin, educated at the St.
Anthony's High School in Lahore and later in India, and who now
lives in an idyllic village in Wales. He has taken up the challenge
and acquitted himself admirably.
His book, India:
Definitions and Clarification (Hertford: Hansib, 2007) is a tour de
force of truly encyclopaedic proportions. The book, however, is not
exclusively about the current geographical entity called the
Republic of India; it is about the historical, cultural and
civilisational entity: the Indic civilisation. It includes not only
India but also Pakistan and other states in this region. The Indic
civilisation bears influence of not only Hinduism but also Buddhism,
Jainism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity and indeed the modern period
of secular rationalism and scepticism. It is pluralistic in its
The author makes
the interesting observation that the Aryans called the main river
they confronted when they entered the plains of the subcontinent,
Sindhu, which is known as River Sindh and is the lifeblood of
today's Pakistan. However, in Persian and Greek usage it began to be
pronounced without the "s" at the beginning and over time
the people who lived in the valley of the Indus River and east of it
began to be called Hindus.
The Aryans crossed
into the Indo-Gangetic Plain where they established their
stronghold, but the whole region from Afghanistan to the lower
Ganges was named by them as Aryavarta. That name, however, did not
get established. Rather this region became famous as Hindustan.
The central thesis
Massey sets forth is that the caste system has been the ultimate
organising principle of the social, political and economic life in
the subcontinent. The author condemns it in the strongest terms as
it compartmentalised, society and established strict hierarchy.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, himself a Kashmiri Brahmin and thus
belonging to the highest place in the caste hierarchy, made no
secret of his abhorrence for the caste system.
saw to it that Dr Ambedkar, the leader of the so-called
Untouchables, who prefer to be called Dalits, was made chairperson
of the committee that prepared the Indian Constitution. The
constitution gives equal rights to all citizens, irrespective of
caste. That has been the basis for India becoming a democracy,
though in the wider society prejudices against the Dalits and lower
castes still abound. The author narrates many anecdotes that
highlight the continuing humiliation faced by the Dalits in
He observes that
the caste system continued to fashion social hierarchy even among
the followers of Islam and Christianity. Thus, among Muslims the
distinction between the ashraf (superior) and the ajlaf (low-born)
meant that they existed as two separate communities, while
Christians who converted from Brahmin or other superior castes
avoided contact with low-caste Christians.
The author examines
northern and southern Indian societies over the historical period.
We learn about important dynasties that came to power and what
legacy they have left behind. Some Hindu dynasties were founded by
men of humble origin who had themselves promoted to the second
highest caste of the Kshatriyas through bribery and coercion.
The book compares
the three leading personalities of the freedom struggle -- Mahatma
Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru. Each is treated
with fairness. The author thinks that Jinnah was a brilliant leader,
without whom Pakistan would most probably never have come into
being, and it is Nehruvian secularism which he believes has helped
India remain a democratic polity.
scathing criticism for the ruling classes of both India and
Pakistan. He writes: "The corrupt ruling classes of both India
and Pakistan have done an excellent job in that they have succeeded
in fooling the masses of their respective countries. Their success
in this enterprise was, of course, assured since the majority of the
people on both sides of the border are poor, superstitious,
gullible, illiterate and an easy prey to state propaganda and the
poisonous rantings of religious bigots"
Reginald Massey is
currently writing a follow-up volume, in which he wants to probe the
directions the South Asian region could take in the future. He is
optimistic about the youths of this region, who he believes want to
move on, rather than remain hostage to past conflicts and rivalries.
In this regard, it
would be interesting to examine more closely if the Laws of Manu or
the Constitution of Ambedkar is winning. Also, I hope he visits
Lahore where he was born and about which he is so very proud. It
would be interesting to know what he thinks happened to Jinnah's