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The two most outstanding figures of India By Justice Katju

Justice Katju discusses India's history as a nation of immigrants, highlighting its tremendous diversity. He praises Emperors Ashok and Akbar for their policies of religious tolerance and secularism, calling Ashok the grandfather and Akbar the father of the Indian nation for their efforts in uniting the diverse country.


Justice Markandey Katju

7/9/20244 min read

The two most outstanding figures of India

By Justice Katju

Emperor Ashok and Emperor Akbar are to my mind the two most outstanding figures in Indian history. To explain this we must first understand what is India.

(1) India is broadly a country of immigrants, like North America. The difference between North America and India is that North America is a country of new immigrants, where people came mainly from Europe over the last five hundred years or so, India is a country of old immigrants where people have been coming in for thousands of years.

Why have people been coming into India? Very few people left India, except on two occasions namely (i) in the 19th century when under British rule Indian poor peasants were sent to Fiji, Mauritius, West Indies, etc. as plantation labourers and (ii) the Diaspora in the last 50 years or so of highly qualified engineers, scientists, doctors, etc. Apart from this, nobody left India, everybody came into India. Why?

The reason is obvious. People migrate from uncomfortable areas to comfortable areas, obviously, because everybody wants comfort. Before the Industrial Revolution which started in Western Europe from the 18th century and then spread all over the world there were agricultural societies everywhere. Agriculture requires level land, fertile soil, plenty of water for irrigation, etc. All this was in abundance in the Indian sub continent from Rawalpindi to Bangladesh and to the deep South upto Kanyakumari. Why will anybody migrate from India to, say, Afghanistan which is cold, rocky and uncomfortable covered with snow for four to five months in a year. For agricultural society India was really paradise, hence everybody kept rolling into India, mainly from the North West and to a much lesser extent from the North East.

(2) Who were the original inhabitants of India? At one time it was believed that the Dravidians were the original inhabitants, but now that theory has been disproved. Now, it is believed that even the Dravidians came from outside. There are several proofs of that, one of which is that there is a Dravidian language called Brahui which is spoken in Western Pakistan even today by about three million people. The original inhabitants of India, as it is believed now, were the pre-Dravidians tribals, who are called adivasis or Scheduled Tribes in India e.g. the Bhils, the Santhals, the Gonds, the Todas, etc., that is, the speakers of the Austric, pre Dravidian languages e.g. Munda, Gondvi, etc. They are hardly seven or eight percent of the Indian population today. They were pushed into the forests by the immigrants and treated very badly. Except for them, all of us are descendents of immigrants who came mainly from the North West of India.

(3) Because India is a country of immigrants there is tremendous diversity in India, so many religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, etc. Somebody is tall, somebody is short, somebody is fair, somebody is dark, somebody is brown, with all kinds of shades in between, someone has got Mongoloid features, someone has got Caucasian features, someone has got Negroid features, there are differences in food habits, dress, traditional festivals, etc. We may compare India with China. Our population is about 1200 million while China has about 1300 million and they have perhaps 2 ½ times our land area. However, there is broad (though not absolute) homogeneity in China. All Chinese have Mongoloid faces, they have one common written script called Mandarin Chinese (although spoken dialects are different), and 95% Chinese belong to one ethnic group called the Han Chinese. So there is broad homogeneity in China. In India, on the other hand, there is tremendous diversity, because whichever group of immigrants came into India brought in their own culture, their religion, their language etc.

(4) Because of the tremendous diversity in India the only policy which can work and hold our country together is secularism and giving equal respect to all communities, otherwise our country cannot survive for one day.

Emperors Ashok and Akbar intuitively understood this.

Ashok who ruled from 268 to 232 B.C. said in his 12th Major Rock Edict:

'' All religions should be honoured. Whoever praises his own religion due to excessive devotion and condemns others, with the thought ‘Let me glorify my own religion' only, harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others ''.

This is known as the Girnar Rock Edict of Junagadh, the full text of which is given below :

The Girnar Rock Edict of Emperor Ashoka, on Religious Tolerance

( Girnar is near Junagarh in Gujrat, and the Edict is inscribed on a rock on the Sudarshan Lake of the Mauryan Emperors. The probable date of the Edict is around 260 B.C.)

" Thus saith His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King : The King honours all religious sects. His Sacred Majesty does not value gifts and honours as he values the growth of the essential elements of all religious sects. But the root of it is restraint of speech, that is, there should not be honour only of one's own religion and condemnation of other religions. On the other hand, other religions should be honoured too. By doing this, one helps his own religion to grow, and benefits the religion of others too. By doing otherwise, one harms his own religion and injures the other religions too. For whoever honours only his own religion and condemns other religions injures more gravely his own religion. Hence concord alone is commendable, and all should listen, and be willing to listen, to the beliefs professed by others. This is the desire of his Sacred Majesty. "

Similar was the policy of suleh-e-kul ( i.e. giving equal respect to all religions ) of the great Moghul Emperor Akbar, as detailed in the links below :

It is for this reason that I call Emperor Ashok the grandfather of the Indian nation, and Emperor Akbar the father of the Indian nation