Friday, December 14, 2007

"Our Vanity Is Matched Only By Our Persectuion Complex"

Meera Nanda has a detailed summary and analysis of the most recent Pew Global Attitudes report from the Indian point of view:

The Pew poll asked people in 47 countries if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others.” Indians topped the list, with a whopping 93 per cent agreeing that our culture was superior to others, with 64 per cent agreeing completely, without any reservations.

Now all people have a soft spot for their own culture. But to see how off-the-charts our vanity is, let us compare ourselves with the other “ancient civilisations” in our neighbourhood. Compared to our 64 per cent, only 18 per cent of the Japanese and only 20 per cent Chinese had no doubt at all that their culture was the best. Indeed, close to one quarter of Japanese and Chinese — as compared to our meagre 5 per cent — disagreed that their ways were the best.

The U.S. — a country universally condemned for its cultural imperialism — comes across as suffering from a severe case of inferiority complex when compared with us. Only 18 per cent Americans had no doubts about the superiority of their culture, compared with our 64 per cent. Nearly a quarter of Americans expressed self-doubts, and 16 per cent completely denied their own superiority. The corresponding numbers from India are five and one per cent. (link)

The obvious question to speculate on (and please, speculate away) is where this discrepancy comes from. I personally don't know...

A bit more:

The strange thing is that for a people who think so highly of our own culture, we are terribly insecure. A startling 92 per cent of Indians — almost exactly the same proportion who think we are the best — think that “our way of life needs to be protected against foreign influences.” Here, too, we beat the Japanese, the Chinese, and the Americans by about 25-30 percentage points. When it comes to feeling embattled and needing protection, we are closer to our Islamic neighbours, Pakistan (82 per cent) and Bangladesh (81 per cent). Indeed, we feel so embattled that 84 per cent of us want to restrict entry of people into the country, compared with only 75 per cent of those asked in the U.S., a country where legal and illegal immigration is of a magnitude higher than anywhere in the world.

So, paradoxically, our vanity is matched only by our persecution complex. (link)

It is kind of surprising that more Indians want immigration controls than Americans, especially considering how hot the immigration issue is in the U.S. right now. (Perhaps India is like Iowa; the fewer immigrants you actually have, the more you worry bout immigration?)

Nanda also summarizes the report's findings on Indians' attitudes to the role of government on helping the poor, and the proper role of religion in government (Indians are personally religious, but they also strongly support separation of church and state). The entire report can be found here (PDF) and the Pew Center's brief summary is here.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant... something we've discussed a million times at coffee(read chai) breaks..

I know atleast 15 people I want to forward this to...

3:18 PM  
Blogger Kerim Friedman said...

I wonder if Indian respondents understood these questions in the same way as East Asian ones. In East Asia it is usually fairly clear that the culture one's own is being compared with is Western/US/Hollywood. But in India I wonder if people aren't thinking more about Hindu vs. Muslim culture when they make these comparisons?

7:58 PM  
Anonymous jec said...

I wonder how carefully the translation of the survey into different languages was checked for variation in nuance -- e.g. a question about pride in one's country coming across in another language as a question about the superiority of one's country, due to a hasty translation. But then, I suppose that if the survey was given in several Indian languages, the effects of one poor translation should have been canceled out...

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe most of the survey was carried out in Kolkata. That would explain everything.

1:41 AM  
Anonymous narayan said...

I agree wholeheartedly with anonymous (although I have always felt it a pity that they chose to spell it without a terminal e). It was cruel of Amardeep to post something that one cannot comment on in under a few thousand words. Besides, there is the intrusion of Heisenberg's Principle in a big way, and it is impossible to respond with the slightest objectivity. (Having looked up Heisinger on Wikipedia I found that it was something of a misnomer. But in the process I discovered Schrödinger's Cat, which also applies -- I think.)

2:15 PM  
Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

I followed the discussion on the same post for a while on SM. It didn't take very long for it to morph into an anti-Muslim / anti-Bangladeshi migrant thread. Indian cultural consciousness in my opinion, is hardly a monolithic expression of pride unlike the USA, USA or We Are #1 variety that we witness here during war time and the Olympics. I guess cricket may be one pursuit that unites most Indians. The other may be Bollywood (and anti-Muslim paranoia if you just poll Hindus) unless things have changed very much since I left. Cultural identification runs much more deeply along regional, religious and linguistic groove in India. So, when most Indians worry about the dilution of their culuture, it usually means that south Indians are worrying about the northerners, Punjab is divided between Khalsas and Bhais, Bengalis are shaking their heads about most others and EVERYONE is terrified of Biharis or Bangladeshis.

I wonder why Anon # 2 brought up Kolkata. I can guess. I am Bengali but grew up in the healthy cultural pot-pourri of Delhi. But that doesn't mean that I was blissfully oblivious of regional chauvinism of all varieties. In fact Delhi was a microcosm of entire India. So I caught a whiff of every community's angst.

However Bengali "cliquishness" is something that only those who come up against its impenetrable brick wall can appreciate. :-) If it is any solace, let me assure you that Bengalis themselves are also occasionally the targets.

Having grown up in Delhi in a circle of friends which drew from practically every part of India, it was not wholly surprising that both of my sister and I ended up dating and marrying "boys" from other communities. Our own immediate and extended families were unabashedly delighted with our choice of mates. But many well meaning Bengali friends and neighbors took it upon themselves to warn my mother (they knew well enough to steer clear of my father) of the certain dire consequences that awaited such reckless and ill advised alliances. Occasionally I myself had to listen (my sister being younger, was somewhat inoculated by the precedent set by me) to accusations of betrayal of the "refined" culture of my birth. When the accuser was an older Bengali, I learnt to bite my tongue. But amazingly enough, many were my contemporaries who were born and brought up in Delhi but had never learnt to trust non-Bengalis, especially Punjabis - all potential killers in their eyes (my husband belongs to that dreaded community). With the younger busy bodies, I had perfected a retort that promptly brought all discussions to an abrupt halt. To the average Bengali, Subhash Chandra Bose (Netaji) was the "messiah," who had he lived long enough, would have put Bengal on the top of world. Bengalis continue to rue his untimely death. I used to counter my well wishers with the following lament: "It is too bad that I have let you down by dating a Punjabi. Believe me, it wouldn't have happened if Netaji was alive today!"

My sister and I still break out into hysterical laughter when we recall some of the garbage we had to put up with. But guess what. Our beloved husbands (with more than five decades of happily married lives between them) are not above occasionally suspecting my sister and me of Bengali "cliquishness." Go figure!

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our cultural chauvinism is some thing of a legend. Even Al Barauni, attests quite amusingly about our hospitality and certainty of our believes. My other friends in this forum might say he must have ran into a Bong. But I am sure he could have reached the same conclusion by meeting a Tamil too.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Sunny said...

Hey bro we indians have lost all our culture coz as per our culture we are humble, intellegent , superior peace loveing but nowadays we have lost everything we r just fighting and fighting this the whole world knows that indians r the most intellegent people thats why irrespective of all our fights we r rising hey bro this topic is never ending ......

4:11 PM  
Blogger Sunny said...

Hey bro we indians have lost all our culture at present . we r supposed to be intellegent, humble , supeior , peace loving people but at present we all r fighting and fighting . the whole world knows indian people r very intellegent just because of that we a growing . Well bro this is a never ending topic .

4:16 PM  

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