The question is a rather complex one – what is an Indian value?
After all, most families and cultures have their own set of values and are often in conflict with the values of others. How, then, can one decide what is valued by all of India, a country that is so diverse and so demographically complex?
I think what would qualify as a ‘universal value’ is a belief or behavior pattern that the majority of people identify with and respect, even if they don’t act on it.
For instance, most people in the world respect honesty and courage. All cultures have legends of heroism, where someone gives up his/her wealth and risks his/her life for the sake of truth. Similarly, independence is highly valued. All countries have their national heroes, who have fought for independence from foreign domination – right from George Washington to Mahatma Gandhi to Laxmibai, Rani of Jhansi.
What would classify as Indian values would be something that people in India attach significance to, irrespective of whether the rest of the world does or not.
Traditionally, Indians have laid high stress on values like peaceful co-existence, spirituality, deference to elders, recourse to nature, artistic ex-pression, seeking prosperity, strong family ties, respecting even the tools of your trade, joyousness and hospitality.
Look at any community or region in this subcontinent. You will see that almost all of them have been holding such values close, in some form or the other. Yoga and meditation are age-old practices, which have also found renewed favour with this generation. Prayer is almost a daily ritual. Most businessmen will say a short prayer before opening their shops or offices; someone in the family will pray in the morning or evening.
The old have always been taken care of, at home, and it is generally the eldest who makes important decisions for the family, be it a financial matter or a relationship. Dance and music are an integral part of all our cultures and religions. Most celebrations and happy occasions are bright and colourful. Most Indians are very close to aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents; holidays are usually spent together and there is little formality in such relationships.
Even today, we see people worshipping the source of their livelihood. A dancer will bow to the stage. A farmer will bow to his yoke. A vegetable-seller will bow to his hand-cart. A rickshaw-wala will bow to his rickshaw.
Individualism is more of a western value. Indian society has always focused more on paying your debt to society and being responsible for one’s family and rather than breaking away to pursue your own individual desires. With increasing western influences, the conflict between individualism and fulfilling social obligations is great, especially for the younger generation.
Also, ‘Indian values’ are often misunderstood, or misrepresented.
For instance, I have come across websites that include ‘dowry’ as one of the values that Indians hold dear. There is no doubt that dowry is a common practice in India. However, it has been banned by law and also been reviled as a social evil, over the last few decades. Those who demand dowry are Indian, and those who banned it are also Indian. In fact, the same practice has been in evidence across several cultures in several countries.
Of course, values change over time. They have to, else society would degenerate and stagnate.
But before defying traditional values and norms, it is wise to question the need for change and to specify what part of society needs to change. Is our value system outdated, or do we need to change some common practices that are no longer relevant, or even evil, in their current form?