Unit 1 Destination Discussion - India

Advance reading: Members of the group should read the Introduction and Chapter One of In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India, by Edward Luce.

For this part of your Learning Circle conversation, listen together as one or several of your members read these two quotes from the Introduction:

[Here Luce is quoting a French resident of an Indian ashram, who he views as typical of those who come to India for its spiritual teachings:  “When you are living in the West, in Europe, you feel completely lost,” said Andre. “…In the West you have to belong to society and follow a certain pattern. You are supposed to get a house, a career, and the whole of life is oriented toward money. India is not like that. India is a unique country. Without India, the world is doomed to the poverty of materialism.”

“Religion as practiced in India has become the old man of the sea for us and it has not only broken our backs but stifled and almost killed all originality of thought or mind….It is said that there are 5.2 million sadhus [wandering ascetics] and beggars in India. Possibly some of them are honest. But there is no doubt that most of them are completely useless people, who wish to dupe others and live on their earnings without working themselves.” -Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of independent India.

Discussion: As a group, consider these questions:

  • What images or expectations of India have most drawn you to consider traveling on this journey — or have fueled your desire to learn more, even if you do not expect to travel? Do you share some of the sense that India has a unique spiritual grounding from which those of us of other cultures can learn and benefit? How does the perspective of Nehru toward the spirituality of his country strike you?
  • As you have read the Introduction and first chapter of the Luce book, what surprised you? What constitutes new insight or learning for you about India — either its history or its present circumstances?
  • Luce believes that India’s greatest strengths lie in directions other than its religious history or spiritual grounding. He names these as its grounding in:
    • A history of radical pluralism (despite continuing eruptions of conflict based on caste, culture and religion)
    • India’s deep well of intellectual capital and technological prowess

Luce also identifies some characteristics that create unique challenges for modern India:

  • Its importance economically and politically has been achieved while India has remained “an intensely religious, spiritual and, in some ways, superstitious society”
  • India’s growing economy has never passed through a broad-based industrial revolution, which means that the economy is largely powered by the service sector
  • The “volatile and sometimes harsh character of its politics”, including severely fragmented coalitions and fissures based on religion and cast”
  • The ways in which India’s growth is supported and promoted by other countries who are rivals for India’s loyalty (such as the US and China)Based on what you have read so far, how do you understand these assets and challenges? What implications can you project or imagine, as you continue to read and learn?

Listen to one or more of your members read the following from p. 47 of Luce’s book:

“Less than 10 percent of India’s dauntingly large labor force is employed in the formal economy, which Indians call the “organized sector”. That means that fewer than 40 million people, out of a total of 470 million workers, have job security in any meaningful sense…The rest, in more senses than one, are in the “unorganized economy.” They are milking the family cow; making up the seasonal armies of mobile casual farmworkers; running small shops or street-side stalls; making incense sticks and bidis; driving rickshaws, working as maids, gardeners, and night watchmen; and bashing metal as mechanics in small town repair shops.”

  • When you think about the 90% of the Indian workforce employed in the informal sector, what implications come to mind — whether positive or negative — for the lives of these people?


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