Thursday, 26 April 2018

Essay on Conflict between Tradition and Modernity in India

Essay on Conflict between Tradition and Modernity in India

Essay on Conflict between Tradition and ModernitY

Modernity in the Indian sense is, in any case, a command from the West. India did not get enough time to develop an indigenous idea of modernity because of the intervention of colonialism. At the time of Independence, urban India had inherited a rather basic problem: this was a contradiction between imposed modernity and age-old traditional values. There were, as a consequence, three options for the average Indian urban man: whether to embrace the Western model of modernity; or to go back, if possible, to her traditional roots; or to try to create a synthesis between the two. It was colonial education that brought to us a historical understanding of our culture. Western education gained currency which taught us to value our past and it became fashionable to talk about our heritage— Jyotindra Jain, Former Director of Crafts Museum, New Delhi.

Jean Baudrillard, a major theoretician of the European present, characterizes the present state of affairs, at least in the Western context, as “after the orgy”: the “orgy”, according to him, was the moment when modernity exploded upon us, the moment of liberation in every sphere—political liberation, sexual liberation, liberation of the forces of production, liberation of the forces of destruction, women’s liberation, liberation of unconscious drives, liberation of art. It was an orgy of the real, the rational, of criticism and of anti-criticism, of development and of the crisis of development. There has been an over-production now of objects, signs, messages, ideologies and satisfactions. When everything has been liberated, one can only simulate (reproduce) liberation, simulate the orgy, pretending to carry on in the same direction; accelerating without knowing we are accelerating in a void.

The impact of technology is fast changing our everyday too: the major difference may be that we are not in the age “after the orgy”, for, our revolutions have not succeeded, but have aborted, got stopped midway, our utopia has taken an atavistic (reappearance of characteristic or quality not seen for many generations) turn, our Janus now has both its faces turned towards the past. Our struggles for emancipation—social, sexual, aesthetic—seem to have left us half-way, having failed to bring about a transformation that embraces all the layers of society.

Nevertheless, tradition gives a sense of identity. There is an element of security in it; yet innovation is necessary to prevent stagnation and rot. Society must and will continue to innovate. Cultural exchange is the stuff out of which social processes are made. Traditional medicine, for example, was humane and modern medicine is merciless; traditional science had built in correctives, but modern science and technology is aggressively domineering; in tradition there was respect for plurality, but modern societies are self-consciously homogenising. Modern societies may breed fascists, but traditional ones had their share of Changez Khans too.

True, modernity has got many emancipatory possibilities. But then, modernity is not free from its discontent—dislocation of the individual from the protective context of family-kinship ties, alienation from the communitarian ideal and loss of collective memory.



Perhaps, in matters of faith and fashions, it is neither the hard stands taken by both, nor the rigidity of their arguments that brings them nearer to each other. Just as all that meets the eye may not be the only reality, in the same vein, to assert with authority that tradition and modernity are incompatible is to rush in where even the angels would pause and ponder to tread. Seemingly, both tradition and modernisation look to be at loggerheads with each other, but on deeper analysis, one finds that even the most traditional/orthodox societies have prepared themselves, though reluctantly, to accept new realities which modernity has unfolded with an unprecedented speed. It is almost hypocritical to disown the advantages of modernisation in our daily perceptions and practices.

Since no age or generation is fully static in thought and action, there are always some prudent persons who take on the untenable and anachronistic spell of traditions and prefer new ideas and concepts (that) are born out of the existing realities. For analytical/inquisitive minds, tradition is stagnant in nature and nuance and modernisation is consistent with change and challenge of times. If some knowledgeable persons opine that tradition and modernity are not friends, they are not much off the mark. To them tradition is a morass of beliefs and customs that refuse to liberate human minds from its stranglehold. On the contrary, modernisation is a process that tries to update men, minds and machines. Since the trio holds key to all material progress and prosperity, it is not unnatural that both tradition and modernity should live in a ‘love-hate’ relationship with each other.


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