Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I read this very interesting article written by Aakar Patel - Why indians don't give back to society? Most of the points made are valid (though linking them to custom or religion is wrong) and before extreme right wing fanatics take a pot shot at me - will ask them to really read this and fault the points made, rather than at me.

However I feel the main point that the author misses is this - the growth of population that has made Indians as opportunists and scrambling for the "goods" or "space". In earlier times, foreign invaders were amazed to see peace, prosperity and wealth in India. Why things have changed ? Ask this - Can a 900% growth of Islamic population create any semblance of peace and prosperity when neither the land mass, nor the productivity of land is increasing? Where 60% of Indian Muslims are against assimilation and are openly hostile? And where the Prime Minister of India states MUSLIMS MUST HAVE FIRST CLAIM ON RESOURCES.

Also the author fails to see similar linkages in a developing economy whether it is in Laos, Pakistan or Bangladesh. Far worse conditions exist in countries worshipping other Gods too and having age old customs. In the end, by writing in a simplistic manner the author contorts some "truths" by giving it as a function of custom and / or religion.. Herein lies the main story which the author misses out. However, read the article for other "home truths".



Why don't we worship Brahma? We know he's part of the Hindu trinity as the creator, but we worship Vishnu, manager of the cosmos, and Shiva, its eventual destroyer. The answer lies not in religion, but in culture. But in what way does our religion shape our culture?

What explains the behaviour of Indians? What explains the anarchy of our cities? To find out, we must ask how our behaviour is different..

Some characteristics unite Indians. The most visible is our opportunism. One good way to judge a society is to see it in motion. On the road, we observe the opportunism in the behaviour of the Indian driver. Where traffic halts on one side of the road in India, motorists will encroach the oncoming side because there is space available there.. If that leads to both sides being blocked, that is fine, as long as we maintain our advantage over people behind us or next to us. This is because the other man cannot be trusted to stay in his place.

The Indian's instinct is to jump the traffic light if he is convinced that the signal is not policed. If he gets flagged down by the police, his instinct is to bolt. In an accident, his instinct is to flee. Fatal motoring cases in India are a grim record of how the driver ran over people and drove away.

We show the pattern of what is called a Hobbesian society: one in which there is low trust between people. This instinct of me-versus-the-world leads to irrational behaviour, demonstrated when Indians board flights. We form a mob at the entrance, and as the flight is announced, scramble for the plane even though all tickets are numbered. Airlines modify their boarding announcements for Indians taking international flights. (And most of you will notice, as soon as the plane touches down - the Indians stand up to collect the bags and stand in a aisle even as the plane is taxiing, and you will notice "other nationalities" cooly sitting down and getting up, only when the door of the plane is opened).

Our opportunism necessarily means that we do not understand collective good. Indians will litter if they are not policed. Someone else will always pick up the rubbish we throw. Thailand's toilets are used by as many people as India's toilets are, but they are likely to be not just clean but spotless. This is because that's how the users leave them, not the cleaners.

The Indian's reluctance to embrace collective good hurts his state. A study of income-tax compliance between 1965 and 1993 in India (Elsevier Science/Das-Gupta, Lahiri and Mookherjee) concluded that "declining assessment intensity had a significant negative effect" on compliance, while "traditional enforcement tools (searches, penalties and prosecution activity) had only a limited effect" on Indians. The authors puzzled over the fact that "India's income tax performance (was) below the average of countries with similar GDP per capita".

We do not think stealing from the state is a bad thing, and our ambiguity extends to corruption, which also we do not view in absolute terms. Political parties in India understand this and corruption is not an issue in Indian politics. Politicians who are demonstrably corrupt, recorded on camera taking a bribe or saying appalling things, or convicted by a court, can hold legitimate hope of a comeback-unthinkable in the West.

The opportunist is necessarily good at adapting, and that explains the success of Indians abroad. We can follow someone else's rules well, even if we can't enforce them at home ourselves. The Indian in the US is peerless at the Spelling Bee because the formula of committing things to memory, which in India passes for knowledge, comes naturally to him. But this talent for adapting and memorizing is not the same as a talent for creation.

The question is: Why are we opportunists?

In his great work Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti observed that the rewards religions promised their faithful were all far off, in the afterlife. This is because a short goal would demand demonstration from god and create sceptics instead of believers. There is an exception to this in Hinduism. Hinduism is not about the other world. There is no afterlife in Hinduism and rebirth is always on earth. The goal is to be released entirely and our death rites and beliefs-funeral in Kashi-seek freedom from rebirth. Christianity and Islam are about how to enter heaven; Hinduism is about how not to return to earth, because it's a rotten place. Naipaul opens his finest novel with the words "The world is what it is", and Wittgenstein ( "The world is all that is the case") opens his Tractatus similarly.

Hinduism recognizes that the world is irredeemable: It is what it is. Perhaps this is where the Hindu gets his world view-which is zero-sum-from. We might say that he takes the pessimistic view of society and of his fellow man. But why?

The Hindu devotee's relationship with god is transactional: I give you this, you give me that. God must be petitioned and placated to swing the universe's blessings towards you. God gives you something not through the miracle, and this is what makes Hinduism different, but by swinging that something away from someone else. This is the primary lesson of the Vedic fire sacrifice. There is no benefit to one without loss to another. Religion is about bending god's influence towards you through
pleas, and appeasement, through offerings.

Society has no role in your advancement and there is no reason to give back to it (in any way, including leaving the toilets clean behind you) because it hasn't given you anything in the first place. That is why Indian industrialists are not philanthropists. Rockefeller always gave a tenth of his earnings to the Church, and then donated hundreds of millions, fighting hookworm and educating black women. Bill Gates gave $25 billion (around Rs1.2 trillion), and his cause is fighting malaria, which does not even affect Americans. Warren Buffett gave away $30 billion, almost his entire fortune. Andrew Carnegie built 2,500 libraries. Dhirubhai Ambani International School has annual fees starting at Rs47,500 (with a Rs24,000 admission fee) and Mukesh Ambani's daughter was made head girl.

An interesting thing to know is this: Has our culture shaped our faith or has our faith shaped our culture? I cannot say. To return to the question we started with: Why is Brahma not worshipped? The answer is obvious: He has nothing to offer us. What he could do for us, create the universe, he already has. There is no gain in petitioning him now.


Charlie said...

I am amazed at the total lack of depth and understanding of the issue at hand in the article written by Aakar Patel. I fail to understand how issues such as poor hygiene, lack of civic sense, using unfair means to get ahead got anything to do with religion or worshipping or not worshipping a particular diety. All the deficiences which the author lay at the door of Hinduism exist in people of other religion also. In fact I have been to some muslims localities and have been appalled at the conditions created by its residents in the colony. The malaise that he points out lies not in any religion but in the stage of development, level of literacy and access to basic infrastructure. Had it been not been the case than Muslim countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh would have been heaven on earth. The author though might argue that example of Pakistan and
Bangladesh does not hold good as Muslims of these countries have still not got over their old Hindu upbringing of living in slothful manner. Final word for Mr. Aakar Patel, his prejudices seems to have blinded his reasoning.


Agree with Charlie's reasoning !

Anonymous said...

I agree with the author Aakar Patel when he says our opportunism necessarily means that we do not understand collective good.

However, trying to simplify the cause by linking it to religion & culture is really trivializing the matter. The real reason and root cause of this malaise is quite obviously our burgeoning population!


Anonymous said...


Agree with Charlie. Bangkok has been heavily influenced by Hinduism throughout a large part. So why are its toilets so clean ? Hinduism spread in SE Asian countries through the South Indian community albeit with its own additions of Ravanas etc. Look at the temples of Angkor Wat etc to understand this phenomenon or even to some SE countries and their Gods. And another version of Hinduism which is Buddhism ( Buddha is supposed to one of ten avatars of Lord Vishnu ) spread through China, Japan etc.. China was dirty ( not so much dirty nowadays ), while Japanese are supposed to spotlessly clean.

Difficult to explain these things so easily through religion.

R C said...

Just For facts (Source Wikipedia and my own Visit to one of Brahma temples)

Although Brahmā is prayed to in almost all Hindu religious rites, there are very few temples dedicated to him in India, the more prominent of which is at Pushkar, close to Ajmer. Once a year, on Kartik Poornima, the full moon night of the Hindu lunar month of Kartik (October - November), a religious festival is held in Brahmā's honour. Thousands of pilgrims come to bathe in the holy Pushkar lake adjacent to the temple.

There are also temples in Thirunavaya in Kerala, in the temple town of Kumbakonam in (Thanjavur District in) Tamil Nadu; in Asotra village in Balotra Taluka of Barmer district in Rajasthan known as Kheteshwar Brahmadham Tirtha, in Goa (in the small, remote village of Carambolim in the Sattari taluka in the northeast region of the state). Regular pujas are held for Lord Brahma at the temple in Thirunavaya, and during Navrathris this temple comes to life with colourful festivities. There is also a shrine for Brahma within the Bramhapureeshwarar temple in Thirupatur, near Trichy and a famous murti of Brahmā at Mangalwedha, 52 km from Solapur district in Maharashtra, the largest of which is in Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In Khedbrahma, Gujarat, there is a statue of Brahma. A six feet tall statue was also discovered at Sopara near Mumbai. There is a temple dedicated to Lord Brahma in the temple town of Sri Kalahasti near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh.

Kannan said...

"Hindus believe Earth is a rotten place" WTF? What about Bhumi Devi and Bharat Mata,Ganga devi etc..
This type of personalities are result of "English" education and elitism. What a moron.
I dont know where to start with Aakar Patel.Total Jack-ASS.

I used to read his articles in theNews.pk(jang). He is sort of apologists like Kuldip Nayar - Arundhadi Roy type. May be masochistic..

There is no foundations of his articles..may be his editor is a bit pushy..or has no intellectual honesty..

godrealized said...

Why Hindus do not worship Brahma (the creative attribute of God Almighty) is apparent from the fact that nothing lay in the hands of Brahma as far as life of human beings is concerned. The control over life of human beings rests with lord Vishnu (the maintainer) or Lord Shiva (the destroyer)... the ultimate maintainer of the cosmic system.

Mankind fears Lord Shiva for the prime reason that it has direct control over death of one. Lord Brahma being the Creator keeps creating based on the doctrine of karma... the prime reason why we have only one temple dedicated to Brahma... that lay in Pushkar region of Rajasthan, India.

Reconciler said...

One should always be cautious about such generalizations, since it is easy to oversee additional or subtracting factors that contribute to the perception of a population.

I do not know, if there is an Indian mentality that can be attributed to the majority. I can only speak for my people, whom I know best. Germans used to place a strong cultural emphasis on communal welfare and concerns. This has slightly changed during recent decades. Although we Germans keep whining about "how bad things have become", our mentality is still largely intact.

The external stranglehold on our society (economic, ideological and political) has taken quite a toll on our sense of community and ethnic identity and it is not going to be better anytime soon.

However, it would be a long stretch to assume, that merely for religious reasons has Germany developed this cultural sense of communal well-being. Christianity in fact enforces these traits but in recent history (the past 200 years or so) Germans also had to fight wars for independence (napoleonic wars) and recognition (german-french war 19th century). This lead to a stronger sense of national identity and kinship between people from Alsace-Lorraine to East Pommerania, which used to have little in common except for the language.

The notion of "one nation, one people" usually paves the way for more social(ist) tendencies in government, as happenend in Germany on many occasions and in many stages.

What I want to express is that there are many triggers and levers to set communal consciousness in motion in a people. Religion may be a factor, but the way religion develops and changes might also be a consequence of the underlying mentality of its worshippers. Religion shapes mentality and is also shaped by mentality.

Raymond Turney said...


It's an interesting idea, but probably false. By citing Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates et al {I think he cites four cases} the author ignores the behavior of most of the US rich, who were and are a pretty self interested lot.

Of course, I'm not even sure that Indian culture is unified in the way the author seems to assume it is. I mean it may be that bathrooms are equally unclean in the Punjab, Andra Pradesh, Karnatake and Tamil Nadhu, but it's not something I'm prepared to assume. Why is the CPI strong in Bengal, but not in Mumbai? India has, what, 32 official languages? Saying India is like X is like saying the all of Europe is like X.

So the author is proposing a sweeping hypothesis based on a pretty small amount of data, without offering much evidence that the data he does have is particularly representative of anything.


Anonymous said...

My friend BuA,

The article by Aakar Patel is a load of shit. I don't think he knows a pittance about Hinduism. All the venting of his frustration is right on mark, about lack of civic sense, indifference etc. But whenever he starts speaking about Hinduism, it is just a load of nonsense.

The god-figures in Hinduism stand for different forces of nature, or equivalently, different emotions of mind. This is because the universe is considered to be a reflection of one's own consciousness : everything in the interior world has a counterpart in the exterior world. There is no supernatural element, no God beyond our own universe.

Ultimately any force or element of nature can be understood as a manifestation of three forms : intelligence (represented by Brahma) life (represented by Vishnu) or energy (represented by Shiva). The spouses of these figures stand for exactly the same concept, but represented in the feminine. All these three forms are supposed to be 3 facets of one and single entity known as universal consciousness or Brahman.

Hindu philosophy says that the universe is created by intelligence (awareness), it is preserved by life and it will be destroyed by energy. This are the functions of the Trimurti, but it doesn't mean they don't have any function beyond that. Life, intelligence or energy are perennial and are essential for the very existence of the universe.

Brahma has 4 faces observing all the four directions , signifying the holistic nature of awareness. Vishnu incarnates regularly on the earth to restore balance to justice, because it is His job (as life). The dance of Shiva is considered to be the very vibrations of the universe.

Understanding either of these 3 forms is essential to comprehend the nature of the all-encompassing Brahman. This realization that one's own consciousness is not different from the universe (Brahman) is the essence of salvation. This realization can be done in 3 methods : knowledge (jnana), love or devotion (bhakti) or selfless activity (karma). The paths of knowledge and activity need no personal God (Ishvar) for fulfilment.

It is only the path of love (Bhakti) that encourages love and worship of God. This can be any form, but the most supreme are the forms of the Trimurti. Brahma (intelligence) should not be worshipped because there is no point. Being infatuated with one's own intelligence doesn't help in one's self-identification with the universe (this has been illustrated by several myths such as that of the Ketaki flower). Thus, this form should only be realized by the path of knowledge (jnana).

However, the other forms of the Trimurti : Vishnu (life) or Shiva (energy) can serve as objects of worship.

(This is Ray Lightning commenting here)

Anonymous said...


Innocent said...

There is no doubt to the fact that Indians are opportunists. But a lot of it should be attributed to poor education system and the inflexible system and environment that is prevalent in India. To attribute all this to a religion will be naive and a gross mis judgment. Hinduism is the only religion which advocates the fulfillment of duty without any desire for the end result. It tells you to work for the society and think like a saint with no desires. It inspires us to do good deeds like one does a religious rite. It cites action as the only path to salvation. All these are direct statements from Bhagvat Gita. So the article is shortsighted and lacks proper research for the reasons cited.

But I do agree that Indians are short sighted and dont give back to society. But I would attribute that to the mass poverty, lack of opportunities, environment in which an Indian is brought up, the family system, poor education system which just kill your individuality and make everyone almost the same.

When fight for bread is the biggest fight no one will care for others. There is cut throat competition in everything and you get no breather for thinking about the society. So attributing all this to religion is an absolute blunder.

The example of bending the traffic rules cited above can be easily refuted. Since childhood no one sees any obeyance of the laws and order around themselves. One sees the law makers as the law breaker. There is simply no order to be observed. So you cannot expect an absolutely law abiding person to grow up in such situations. Inspite of all this I would say that Indians are a passive lot. How many people you see break the law. There are a few but the majority stay on the right side. People always try to follow the right side here but the system makes them so fed up that eventually some break down and twist the law to their advantage. It is more like a chain effect.

So in the end I would say although the statement that Indians are opportunists is absolutely true but the religious reasons attributed are totally wrong and against what actually Hinduism actually is. The author should have spent more time in getting to the appropriate reason.

I would also like to tell my fellow country men that to reform our country we need nothing short of a revolution. We should start thinking about the country else there is no future of India. India has too many problems and majority of them can be easily solved if we reform our attitude and work culture. We are indifferent to our work and are a bit too judgmental which we should change immediately. If we say India is corrupt, it means we the people are corrupt as India is not a person, it is us who make India. So if India is poor, corrupt, lawless, lazy, it is we the people who are so. So be the change for the India not a loophole for this beautiful country.

Jai Hind

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Anonymous said...

This fatuous notion that Brahma the Creator of the Universe should not be worshipped stems from old puranic myths about the appearance of Shiva as linga before Vishnu & Brahma, and Brahma's subsequent deceit, for which he was allegedly cursed by Shiva such that no-one would worship Brahma on earth from then on.Well I guess he didn't count on Brazil where Brahma is the name of a very popular national brand of beer lol

The archetype of Brahma is very powerfully present in the rest of the world, particularly the Western world and the judaeo-christian world as a whole which is founded on cornerstone of reverence and worship of the Heavenly Father/Jehovah/Zeus/Creator, which I would purport accounts for the far greater progress and stability of the West albeit with its own unique set of problems that arise as result of this.

Unfortunately by suppression of the connection with this Father archetype in India I think that Indians may have missed out on a healing the rift with other cultures outside of their inward-looking worldview, and in my view this represents a conflict in the Indian psyche, shared with many western "truthseekers" who turn their eyes towards Indian spiritual systems of meditation and withdrawal from the world as a form of rebellion and understandably righteous disenchantment with life and the prevailing norms of Jehovaic/Hellenic/Christian/Secular society in the West.

I say this based on my observations as an Indian-Pakistani born and raised in the West who has lived there his entire life -- The difference in mindset accounts in my eyes for the inability of both cultures to understand each other on a deeper & more meaningful level level.
For example this was reflected to me by the fact that in my study of Indian philosophy I was always struck by how a seemingly natural correlation for a westerner between the name for the formless Absolute Brahman and God the Creator Brahma was always quickly and often vehemently put aside in most books and sources that I came across. ;-)

Anonymous said...

As an addendum to what I just wrote about Brahma another main reason why his worship is eschewed in Indian is the fact that he lived in incest with his daughter Saraswati and was very licentious in his behaviour..This is a fact well documented in this link:


Anonymous said...

..resulted in the severing of the fifth head by Shiva ;-)

If you think Brahma has nothing to offer you Indians, look at the West as a mirror : He (Brahma/Jehovah) can offer you the possibility of unbridled creativity, expansion and freedom of thought, prosperity consciousness, cultivation of intellect and freethinking aswell as freedom of lifestyle & sexual expression.

Do you as Indians have the courage to open up to this perception and courageously embrace the shadow side of our collective human nature :-)
Up to you as an individual and group do this and to temper this influence with Shiva and Vishnu aspects of the Self and bring balance between these universal & archetypal forces in Nature and the human psyche.

Anonymous said...

Btw in case you're wondering - lots of divinely sanctioned incest in the bible and talmud too !

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Prakash Kumar said...

things are very simple.. but here complicated a lot.
Brahma is the creative principle.. and so is his counter part saraswati.
he is worshipped to get creativity. creativity in arts, science etc.,. to enhance all the creative abilities.

but who wants to stop with creativity..? everyone needs the benefits. everyone needs material rewards. everyone needs to be protected in the society, hence vishnu.. and his counterpart, lakshmi are worshipped.

And then comes the most important principle. that is power.
(shakti).. shiva is the power. one can use the power either to rule the world or for spiritual upliftment.

so it is the individual choice. No wonder most people love money and power.