India, then and now

Perhaps one of the most significant fundamental changes between Vedic India and the modern era is the change in the social structure. The Aryan social structure was a meritocracy, with people able to change their status in an upward or downward direction based on their accomplishments or lack thereof. Someone who had no job, had no status and was therefore worthless. If they get a job, they become a member of the relevant caste and now they have worth. Somehow over the years, this system became rigid: caste was foreordained by birth and, once set, was almost impossible to change. Marrying outside one's class became a social disgrace - at least for the one "stepping down" unless he (almost always the male) had the power and status to withstand the social disgrace. In today's India, the caste system has been legally banned. Only the outlying, less modernised regions still follow it although remnants of social attitudes still echo even in the most cosmopolitan cities.

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Another fundamental change is the status of women. During the Vedic period, women were very much more respected than they are today. Although modern attitudes are quickly catching up, gender-based crimes such as dowry murder, honour killing, and the ostracisation of widows still continue in the name of "preserving culture". Bharata himself would be shocked at the way women are often treated - in his day, they were not chattel to be shunted about at the husband's pleasure nor were they cast aside as useless upon the death of a husband. They had standing, they had rights, and they were respected. One only has to look at the stories of Draupadi and Sita to know this is true.

The Aryans loved story-telling and entertainment: how they would have loved Bollywood! It's likely they would have recognised it completely, with its family dynasties such as the Kapoors, and kings such as Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. There is even a caste system in miniature, where "item girls" perform necessary functions that no one wants to acknowledge and "decent" female actors are either young, unmarried, and virginal (the "maiden" archetype) or older, matronly, and wise (the "mother" archetype) although in an Aryan-run Bollywood, the item girls would have every opportunity to improve their social standing by moving up through the ranks to become a leading actress. This does not happen except in a few very exceptional cases, although it is common enough for leading actors and actresses to perform in item numbers. Typically, they are modestly clothed, if we overlook SRK in Om Shanti Om's "Dard-e-Disco", John Abraham in Dostana's "Shut Up and Bounce", and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Bunty aur Babli's "Kajra Re".

When it comes to politics, Aryan women were not front and centre in the committee - going by the stories in the Veda, their work was done behind the scenes, acting rather as a campaign manager to consolidate and increase their husband's power and authority. In the story of Draupadi, she had five husbands who more than once turned out to be completely incompetent leaving it incumbent upon her to save the day by being wise, virtuous, and solid with Lord Krishna. Only recently has India recaptured the idea that women have intrinsic value and are not merely chattel belonging to a husband.

Hopefully, by revisiting Bharata's world with a fresh eye, India will adopt the best of the old world and the new to create a fusion that gives the best life possible for all its citizens, regardless of gender or social standing.

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