Himalayan tragedy

What India can learn from Nepal

There's a thing or two big brother India could learn from Nepal.

With large parts of a small country flattened by an earthquake, Nepal again comes across in Indian eyes as a small country that can get by only with a little help from friends. Nepal is this conflict-ridden poor country that hasn’t been able to frame a new Constitution for eight years now, has ego issues with India, plays the China card before New Delhi, and so on. Nepal’s image as a country that can’t manage itself is reinforced by the constant political instability in Kathmandu, because the politics is too bitter.

Such an image of Nepal is reinforced by how Kathmandu has been found wanting in its response to the earthquake. Yet, our big brother arrogance does not let Indians see Nepal beyond this image. If we could, we’d be surprised that there are ways in which Nepal’s polity is more progressive than India’s. We could learn a thing or two from them.

In his book Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal, published last year, Prashant Jha argues that Nepal has gone from war to peace, monarchy to republic, theocratic to secular state, a monolithic hill-centric nationalism to inclusive citizenship, and is slowly moving from unitary to federal state. These are processes, Jha argues, that countries and societies have taken decades to achieve. Nepal is leap-frogging in no time – and when you see it this way, you’d be slightly less contemptuous of Kathmandu’s acrimonious polity. These processes began after the royal massacre of 2001, 14 years ago.

Points of conflict

Consider, in contrast, how India’s various conflicts, in Kashmir, the North East and the tribal belt, have been dragging on for decades, with New Delhi "managing" rather than seeking to resolve them.

The Nepali war years from 1996 to 2006 left 16,000 dead, 1,300 disappeared and thousands displaced. In a world full of conflict, these numbers appear small. Yet a world full of conflict also needs to learn from the Nepali example of sorting out the changing nature of its society and politics through constitution-making, slowly but steadily. Bringing the Maoists to the table was no mean achievement, one that India came around to supporting.

As Nepal debates what kind of a society and country it wants to be, the churning has been throwing up some progressive trends. It is curious, for instance, why Nepal has almost no internet censorship, a claim no other South Asian country can make. Internet censorship, more than even press censorship, is a sign of how free a society is. It is curious why Nepal’s politicians don’t seek to muzzle online voices even though their politics is bitter to the point of being internecine. Blood is shed before every election.

This is not an isolated case of being comfortable with free speech and dissent. Nepal is also the only country in South Asia with no restrictions on community radio. Anybody can set up a local community radio station. News and politics are allowed. There were 263 operational community radio stations when the earthquake struck; 20 of them have been destroyed. Community radio is a powerful tool for bridging the information divide in poor societies like ours. Unfortunately, India is too afraid of radio, and does not give community radio licenses to anyone other than small NGOs and universities. India doesn’t even allow news on FM radio.

Minority freedoms

Nepal is the only country in South Asia where homosexuality is not criminalised. The Nepali Supreme Court did decriminalised it in 2008 and even asked the government to legislate in favour of equal rights to sexual minorities, which the constituent assembly is deliberating upon. When Nepal gets a new constitution, it may even legalise gay marriage. In 2008, Sunil Babu Pant became a member of the first constituent assembly (2008-2012), thus becoming the only openly gay politician in South Asia.

The first constituent assembly was described by the United Nations as having set a “gold standard on inclusion of minorities”. A third of its 601 members were women, Dalit representation was up from 0 to 49 in just a decade. The second constituent assembly, too, has such diversity that it has thirty political parties and two independents. The earthquake will perhaps bring some urgency to the constituent assembly, making its members find a middle ground between their differences.

The Indian Constitution and the formative years of the Indian state were helped by Nehru, who had few political challengers. In Nepal’s case, the polity is bitterly fractured between a declining feudal order and an assertive subaltern politics. To this churning, the earthquake has come as a major setback. India and the world can only help Nepal. It is ultimately Nepal that will have to rebuild itself. While it does so, India would do well to learn a few lessons from Nepal. The most important of those, of course, is how to prepare for an earthquake.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.