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Individualism versus collectivism: a treath to sustainability in India

  Despite the huge differences in terms of religions,
languages, cultures and wealth the Indian society is relatively peaceful. There
could be several reasons for this (a strict weapon control is one of them for
example) but in my opinion the most important has to do with culture and in
particular to the relation between individualism and collectivism. The history
of western philosophy can be seen as the long journey taken by the individual
to emancipate himself from the collective: the individual has a value and a
reason to exist in himself and it doesn`t need any justification in the state
or from a divinity. The “human rights” are probably the best expression of the importance
of the individual over the rest. This journey has never been linear,
philosophers (Plato the first) or political movements (fascism or communism)
have tried to stop this emancipation process.

In countries like India, this journey is in the initial
phase. The individual exists only inside a community and his destiny and role
is determined by the community. This is not just a consequence of the cast system
which is only the tip of the iceberg. It has more to do with a way of thinking
deeply eradicated in people. In settlements, people have their houses according
to their professions; women are considered as long as they are married or the
husband is alive without forgetting the role and the importance given to the army
in protecting the nation. One thing that I have realised (probably it is a
wrong impression) is that begging take place only in the poor parts of the city
as if beggars feel they cannot go to the richest part of the city to ask for
money as they don`t belong there.


The economic growth following a western blueprint will inevitably
stress the importance of the individual. Marketing and mass communication will
increase the hedonism in order to increase private consumption. Economy doesn`t
grow just with new roads or airports but also increasing mass consumption. This
will inevitably create conflicts as people will try to realise themselves not
accepting anymore the role given by the society. Resentment and jealousy toward
the rich will probably shake the apparent peacefulness of these societies. It
took several bloody centuries for the individual to emerge in Europe. In India
the time is not on the side of this process considering the speed of change and
the fact that people are continuously exposed (one of the consequences of
globalizations) to models so different from theirs unlike what happened in
Europe. The way how India (and Muslim countries as well) will manage this
change will be the most important and dangerous process in the coming years. It
doesn`t mean that the transformation is sure or individualism is inevitably
better but facing the issue is a challenge that nobody has the luxury to avoid
in order to ensure the sustainability of our world.

*I am not expert in eastern philosophy or sociology, so
please take my words not as absolute true but as just as my impressions and
understanding on the base of my limited experience here in Bangalore.

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