Globalization is hardly a new force affecting India. To think so is to ignore a diverse and pluralistic long-standing civilization that was shaped by a long list of “invading” (globalizing) cultures that became what we now know as India. The previous globalizers of India include the Aryans, Hindus, Dravidians, Greeks, Buddhists, Turks, Afghans, Scythians, Muslims and most recently, the Europeans, Portuguese, French, Dutch and finally the English. One has to understand that as India has been globalized it has also been a globalizer too, with millennia of colonialism across South East Asia, with temples like Angkor Wat left behind as a reminders of India’s one time presence. Long viewed by the West, as “poor and impoverished,” to its neighbors such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, India is wealthy and powerful. To these smaller neighbors, India is a great power, a globalizer of its own, which expects deference from them and is sometimes angered when those nations downplay their Indian lineage.
Less violent but equally powerful globalizers have increasingly replaced the former globalizers that came with invading armies. Television is arguably the most dominant gateway of globalization affecting India today. According to reports, traditional dress is increasingly displaced by Western dress seen on TV. In the southern state of Kerala, a study showed that teenage abortions rose by 20 per cent in a year, as teenagers feel pressure to have sex, purportedly due to the explosion of sexually explicit imagery from sources like MTV and the Indian equivalent channels.
Likewise, Westerners and NRIs have rediscovered classical Indian music, which went global a generation ago at the time of the Beatles, with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan.Today it has become big business as some classical musicians devote a third of their time to overseas concerts. With globalization’s economic and communications revolution, Indians abroad (and increasingly their Western friends and neighbors) feel closer to India than ever before with a growing appetite for things Indian. The explosion of interest in Indian cinema, known as Bollywood film, is prominent particularly in the U.S. and the U.K. The thousands who similarly come to India to study Yoga, Buddhism and other important under appreciated aspects of Indian culture highlight the fact globalization is more of a two way street than most people realize.
Though even this is changing as NRIs, in some ways the ultimate globalizers, who alter India when they return with western goods, values and spouses, are returning to India to run for election there, starting on local levels, promising to apply the expertise they learned in the West. The prominence of NRIs in America and the West is growing rapidly as seen when Pulitzer prizes, Nobel prizes and other important awards are increasingly bestowed upon Indians, in India, the US and across the world.
In classical social theory, modernity increases the credence given to status of education or other merit based achievements while it reduces the credence given to birth status. The psychological concept of intersubjectivity, the ability to empathize with and share in another’s plight and fate, is at the heart of modernity and lacking it, many argue modernity in a society degenerates to crass commercialism. Likewise, if consumer items remain in the hands of the few rather than being disseminated among the many, such a society has the visible signs of modernism but not the ideological underpinnings. Some ask if the caste system, which came to India through previous invaders, the Aryans, will continue to keep the different classes divided or will modernism’s system of meritocracy finally tear caste’s walls down? Only time will tell if India’s gateways of globalization will spread ideology and not just consumption throughout the Indian subcontinent.
This project was funded by a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation, which enabled me to photograph globalization’s effects on India over an 18-month period.