ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church


An ancient land undergoes the challenge of transition.

The Indian subcontinent, bounded on the north by the Himalayas and on three sides by the ocean, gave birth to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. This creative and urbane civilization, called the Indus Culture or the Indus Valley Civilization, flourished some thirty centuries before the birth of Christ. Resplendent and complex, it rivaled the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The diversity of a country such as India, with its numerous languages (about 200 including dialects), differing customs, taboos, castes and creeds, makes India a complex and composite entity which cannot be simply categorized. It is a country undergoing the painful throes of transition, prevented from moving ahead by enormous forces of inertia working both from within and without the framework of Indian society. In a word, India is engaged in the task of modernizing. Westerners who watch her at this process grumble crossly that the process is not fast enough to justify the financial help pipelined to her from the West.

Be that as it may, the country struggles on under mounting problems: rising population, food and fuel shortages, lack of employment, lack of the kinds of raw materials and resources that generate savings and capital which could support her immense population of 600 million. Disease, ignorance and the vicious caste system add to India’s problems. The list is endless. A cartoon which appeared in a leading Indian daily outlined the situation aptly – an elephant floundering in a quagmire. Everywhere the old wars with the new. As in most traditional societies, leadership usually lies with the older, and supposedly wiser members of society, but rarely with the youthful and energetic. The old, thus distinguished for their leadership capabilities, have a vested interest in maintaining their privilege. They cling to the past. Because of this, a great deal of innovation and experimentation that youthful blood might bring to the scene are doomed from the outset.

Similar tensions exist in India’s social and educational life. The impact of the West, through British colonization of India, created an educated elite who believed in western ideas of law, democratic government and economy, as well as in western symbols of speculative thought. This elite, however, was a meager 20% of Indian society. The remaining 80% was largely unaffected. This majority segment is primarily made up of the rural poor who follow traditional modes of agriculture and scratch a subsistence out of the overworked soil. Thus we have a society divided into two currents – one swift-flowing and narrow, the other broad and sluggish. It is this narrow, swift-moving stream of Indian life which must channel the enormous stagnant waters of the rest of the society.

The difficulty is to recruit the young, the educated into the giant task of nation building, and of drawing out the enormous potential latent in India’s peasants.

These are mammoth problems and no individual acts of charity, whether by people, institutions or agencies, will do more than scratch the surface. It was British money earned on Indian raw material that built India’s railways, canals and docks, and Britain’s scrupulous supervision kept this infrastructure functioning smoothly until her departure from India. But the fact that the British have left the scene does not mean that the need for large inputs of capital have ceased. The modern substitutes for British money are the various agencies of international aid whose help is so desperately needed at the same time that it is deeply resented. It is not help, as such, that is unpopular, so much as the misery caused when people realize their helplessness.

Despite these problems, India is a land full of color and variety, rich in traditions of art, literature and religion. It is the home of two of the world’s major religions – Hinduism and Buddhism. Religious works dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization (2500–1500 B.C.) support the complex Hindu religion.

Indian art runs the range from massive and magnificent temple architecture to beautiful handicraft work in wood, metal, cloth and leather, down to the fresh, vigorous village folk art done in rude, locally available materials.

The Moghul emperors of India, patrons of the arts and letters, left India a legacy in architecture and sculpture. A proud, fierce, noble dynasty, they left buildings all over the northern part of India symbolizing a consummate love of beauty. The Taj Mahal, Emperor Shah Jehan’s monument to his beloved wife, continues to draw the world to stand in awe and wonder before its perfection.

Those were grand beginnings. What is needed now is a bridge to close the gap between the ancient days of splendor and present blunderings. Development is one answer. With its colonial system, the West shook loose the old moorings of many societies, including India. Hence it would be easy to say that the West now has a responsibility to see such enterprises through to the end. But that would be too easy. Neither India nor any other developing nations should take their models of development from the West. Technology, know-how and modes of research can legitimately be received from the West, if they do not weaken the Indian way of life. Models of development should – in essence – uphold the character and experience of the nation as it defines itself in terms of its own history.

Today, the Indian subcontinent is largely synonymous with starvation, disease and death-stark tragedies that stalk the lives of millions who wait dumbly for an equitable global distribution of wealth. The task is gargantuan, and any remedies or solutions must combine strength and effectiveness which can operate within the democratic Indian framework. Until then, progress towards a life of dignity with enough of this world’s goods to ensure a healthy, creative existence will be delayed unduly for millions of Indians.

Gladys Nirmala Koppole was born in India where she taught at Bangalore University. She now works for Catholic Relief Services, an international aid and development agency.

Get to know us and stay informed about the impact your support makes.

Nous constatons que votre préférence linguistique est le français.
Voudriez-vous être redirigé sur notre site de langue française?

Oui! Je veux y accéder.

Hemos notado que su idioma preferido es español. ¿Le gustaría ver la página de Asociación Católica para el Bienestar del Cercano Oriente en español?

Vee página en español