Jimmy Bellam: Moral navigation in the different world of India

When we have experiences we try to understand them by forming a view or judgement. Indeed, I have just done exactly that. But in India there is a Jain concept of anekantavada (not being one sided) which has presented itself to me simply by being here. It is a powerful ideal for all people to try to live up to. Immersing myself in India hasn’t just been about experiences and seeing the sights, but also challenging my world view and approach to life. That is how powerful this place is.

When people ask me what I think of India, it’s difficult to answer. Personally, I’m fairly used to making judgments about a place and feeling comfortable by understanding my surroundings. Doing so helps to comprehend and rationalise. But for India that is a difficult task and can feel confronting. All 28 States and 9 Union Territories, the latter essentially being governed from Delhi, offer something distinct. Contradiction is everywhere if you open your eyes to it. Slums, themselves with new corrugated iron, situated right next to international hotel chains hosting those from the top 1% of the world’s population. Horses and carts being overtaken by BMW’s. Workers wearing western clothing walking past those in Kurta Pyjamas, saris or burqas. Nick from Indogenius puts it well; whatever you say about India, it’s true but so is the opposite. This is a land of contradiction, complexity and intensity.

There are no clear binary opposites, but rather a series of supposedly coexisting bubbles in which people live and work. This contrast was particularly notable when we visited the architecturally grandiose Infosys campus in Mysore, with Infosys making $18.7 Billion of revenue this year. The campus seemed like a surreal blend of Disneyland and various western architecture. It made me feel uneasy, yet I realised Infosys has helped improved the quality of life in India and employs 228,000 people. So where is the moral limit for a company that started from nothing and has improved living standards? When a select few have this much wealth, how much power do they have and are they a new emperor class? Amidst much needed growth, these are questions which few seem willing to engage in.

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The extent of India’s contrasts, and the separated existences which this has brought about, serve as a compelling reminder of the bubbles of Aotearoa. We think of ourselves as open, yet we are sheltered. Because of political, economic, cultural, geographic, environmental or ethnic separation, our lives seem to go on largely oblivious to those who aren’t in similar positions to ourselves. From this stems ignorance. It seems ironic that in an interconnected world we are in many ways disconnected from each other. The facade of there being one New Zealand must be dropped if we are to acknowledge our inequalities and rigid perspectives. If we want to know more of what it means to be human, we ought to welcome different cultures into an inclusive Aotearoa. There is much to be challenged and grow from in India, the question is whether we face that.

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