08/12/2014 3:52 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

The Idea of India

The current challenges facing Indian society and how Indian society goes about resolving them provides a unique window into how differences can be resolved through peace and democracy.

Adrian Pope via Getty Images

I have always been in love with India. I remember as a child seeing a serial based on the freedom struggle called "Kahan Gaye Woh Log," with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I always knew that the reason why I loved India was more than just the fact that I was born there, but I never quite got an answer, until now.

In the three years since I left my corporate career in the U.S. and returned to India to teach underprivileged children as a Teach for India fellow, my understanding of my love for my own country has grown tremendously. As a teacher, I got a chance to re-read texts reminding me of the history, geography, culture and the basic values on which this nation was formed, which I had somehow forgotten over the years. It also gave me a chance to reconnect with my childhood and see things clearly like a child. As a teacher, I began seeing why I loved my country through the lens of my classrooms.

My love for my country starts with the first page of any history and civics textbook that has the preamble to our constitution declaring India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. The preamble reminds me of the audacity of the dream that is India. A dream our forefathers saw in 1947, of democracy in a largely illiterate country where most of the citizens lived below the poverty line. They dreamt of a country where an untouchable's voice counted for as much as an elite's voice, when untouchability was rampant in Indian society. They dreamt of universal adult franchise when the popular belief was that only the educated and the rich can make the laws governing a country. They dreamt of a united and secular India when the world predicted that India will soon implode post independence as it was not "One" country and the nation had just suffered a bloody partition on the belief that people of different religions cannot live together. In the face of it all, India was created, a beautiful experiment in pluralism, democratic values, tolerance, secularism, peace and above all faith in all that is good and upholds humanity across the world. It is this idea of India that makes me share my views with the world as a humble citizen who believes that the idea of India is not just about India but is relevant to the entire world.

I remember my classroom in Pune, where Sahil, a Hindu boy sat next to Faiyaz, a Muslim boy, arguing vehemently with me on the topic "What is God?" Both of them discussed and came up with common points, never once thinking that their gods could be different! A smile danced on my lips as there could be no better answer to the people who believed that Sahil's God is different from Faiyaz's God.

Another time, as part of a moral science lecture, I was teaching the children about respecting diversity. I asked for an example of diversity. Ritu responded by saying that our Prime Minster was of Sikh faith, our leader of opposition of Hindu faith, our President of Islamic faith and the leader of the ruling party of Christian faith! That example made me truly appreciate the depth of plurality that exists in India.

The incident stayed with me, and that evening for the first time I started reflecting on the uniqueness of the Indian society. While Indian society is plagued by caste system in some parts, it is also a fact that in the most populous state in India, dominated by upper castes, a woman from an untouchable caste could become the chief minister. While the Indian society struggled with internal strife, I was also reminded of the fact that India is probably the only nation which won its freedom not by the barrel of a gun but by sheer human will. While there was a huge gender disparity in the society, the leaders of the ruling party, the opposition party as well as our President, were all women. Indian society for centuries has thrived on these contradictions and converted them into its strength. This has been possible due to its culture of tolerance, forgiveness and non-violence. The current challenges facing Indian society and how Indian society goes about resolving them provides a unique window into how differences can be resolved through peace and democracy.

I am currently a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School where I am studying Public Administration. Post-graduation, as I look forward to teaching in another classroom in rural India, I am filled with joy at the prospect of another opportunity to teach my students the idea of India. An idea not about geographical boundaries, but about the universal ideals of peace, tolerance, justice, equality and pluralism or in other words, the idea of humanism itself.