On behalf of Intellectual Shudras

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I  understand Rajiv Malhotra has coined a term called “Intellectual Kshtriya” presumably to describe himself and to inspire his supporters to fight for certain ideas. The term made me think of applicability of Varnashram categories to the intellectual community. The more I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make. Most of the intellectuals that I have come across seem to fit into three main categories- Brahmins, Kshtriyas and Vaishyas. Each of these groups has its own orientations and predispositions.Needless to say, I am using the Varnashram categories in a symbolic sense and not as social categories of belonging.

There are intellectuals who value knowledge for its own sake, pursue it with complete dedication and are regarded as the final say on what constitutes valid knowledge.We can call these people  Brahmins of the intellectual community. They know their discipline inside-out and focus on maintaining its purity, rigour and quality standards. . They love delving into nuances, finer points and complexities of their area of study and are generally suspicious of simple straight forward formulations.Consequently they become the gate -keepers of “acceptable knowledge” in their respective areas and any new idea or perspective must gain the stamp of their approval before becoming credible. However dialogue with them presupposes a high degree of erudition and familiarity with their language. This in effect means that over a period of time they become an elite club into which only a select few can be admitted.   Application of knowledge to living reality is relatively less important to them and consequently they are some times seen as living in ivory towers which further reinforces their elite-status. Like all elite groups they have their share of internal politicking, but show remarkable degree of solidarity when their collective privileges and entitlements are under attack.

Then there are intellectuals who take up the role of protecting the knowledge system from external attacks and internal chaos. They  provide the necessary muscle power to the intellectual community and can be regarded as its “Kshatriyas”. For them intellect is a resource to be deployed in service of their “ideology”i.e. the set of beliefs that they hold.. They generally have strong convictions and clear positions about what they stand “for” and what they stand “against”. Most of their formulations generate mutually exclusive categories such as true/false, good/bad, right/wrong etc. They recognise that knowledge and intellect are significant factors in power dynamics and hence  spend considerable time and effort in sharpening their intellectual sword. Also they take the trouble of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the other side before taking them on in an intellectual combat. Their unambiguous stances help them to communicate more effectively (as compared to intellectual brahmins) with people at large. They  become extremely active in situations which are emotionally charged and polarised for example (a)when their is a conflict within the Brahmin community or (b) when there is a significant challenge to the prevalent belief systems.  In such situations their role as representatives of the ideological group to which they belong comes to the fore.

Then there are intellectuals who link the knowledge system with the day to day living process of the community. They are the technologists and traders of the intellectual community and can be called the “Vaishyas”.  For them knowledge and intellect are “means” for betterment of life. This “betterment” is generally defined in terms of material conditions and social efficacy. They strive to become the link between Intellectual Brahmins and people at large. They try to take the essence of the “learnings” from the Brahmins and then translate them in a language which can be understood by people and hence becomes usable in day to day living. Consequently they are extremely popular amongst general public and their “self-help” books often  figure in the best-seller lists.They are actively engaged with the day to day living process and make themselves available as problem solvers/consultants.  With the growing influence of the corporate sector, the stock of these intellectuals is at a high and seems to be rising exponentially. Simultaneously, they are often accused of oversimplification, corrupting the essence of the “learnings” which they claim to rely upon and even down right manipulation.

What have been described above are broad prototypes. Each person will be a unique configuration of all three. Also each of these play a crucial role and all  of them have their own down sides. Whether or not they are able to play their respective roles effectively depends upon the hygiene of the eco-system in which they operate. It is in this respect that the fourth category namely the Intellectual “Shudra” becomes important, whose primary concern is with maintaining this hygiene and enabling life to blossom.

If the term intellectual is used only in a limited rational/theoretical sense then it may not seem applicable to this group, as they are not very erudite or learned people. They have no great theories to propound or any quick -fix solutions to offer. Their contribution is essentially of providing necessary service to the context so that healthy and meaningful intellectual endeavour can flourish. Thus they focus more on  the “process” aspect of the intellectual endeavour. In their scheme of things, intellect is not divorced from emotion and/or action. They believe that what one thinks, how one feels and the way one behaves are all inter-related and parts of an integrated “eco-system”. It is the hygiene of this eco-system which is most precious to them. They pay special attention to the fact that their “mind” responds differentially to different ideas. Some ideas find ready acceptance whereas others are strongly resisted. Similarly how they feel towards the “other” has a significant impact on the way they listen and impacts the quality of their dialogue with the other. Much of their effort and energy is spent on creating ground conditions and fostering a healthy ambience for meaningful intellectual endeavour.

The best example of an Intellectual Shudra that I can think of comes from an old story which made a very deep impact on me. The story is of a cobbler Ramdaas who lived in a town with his family and earned a living through repairing the foot-wear of his clients. One day the queen of the town dreamt of a beautiful pair of bracelets. She was so enamoured by them that she insisted upon having them. The king summoned all the reputed jewellers of the town and ordered them to produce the pair of bracelets which the queen desired. The jewellers tried their best to figure out what the queen desired but repeatedly failed in their endeavour. The king was exasperated and ordered that if the jewellers failed to produce the bracelets within a specific time period all of them will be be-headed. As the time given by the king  was coming to the end and the jewellers were not making any head way, they came across a wise man. The wise man told them that such a pair of bracelets can only be obtained from Ganga (one of the most pious rivers in the country) He also told them that the only person who “knew” how to communicate with river Ganga is the cobbler Ramdaas. The jewellers were highly sceptical about it, but since they had no other choice they approached Ramdaas and requested him to accompany them to the banks of the river and convey their request. Ramdaas expressed his inability to do as he was tied up with some work assigned to him by his client. When the jewellers told him about their predicament and the urgency of their need, Ramdaas agreed to help them. However instead of accompanying them, he merely closed his eyes and put his hand into his Katauthi (the earthen pot of water which he used for his work) and took out the pair of bracelets which the jewellers were looking for. The jewellers were overjoyed and wanted to know how Ramdaas managed to get them without going to the river. Ramdaas smiled and replied “Man changa to Katauthi mien Ganga ” ( If you are in sync with your being then the holy river is an integral part of your life)

What strikes me as most significant about this story is that for Ramdaas, his knowledge is neither an end in itself nor an instrument for betterment. In fact his knowledge is so integral to him that one can not segregate them from each other. It resides in his mundane day to day living. One can look down upon him for being too caught up with the mundane aspects of living or one can marvel at his ability to experience the divine in his engagement with the mundane.

Being  a Ramdaas is neither easy nor particularly rewarding and yet it has a strong emotive appeal for me. I think there is part in each one of us which is like Ramdaas who silently works behind the scene to ensure that our feelings, thoughts and action remain integrated and interact with each other in a reasonably healthy manner. It is the efficacy of work done by Ramdaas which determines the hygiene of the eco-system both within ourselves and in our engagement with the external world. It is the health of this eco-system which determines the quality of the intellectual endeavour which can flourish. Thus like in all other spheres of life the Intellectual Brahmins, Kshtriyas and Vaishyas within us  can play their part meaningfully only if the Intellectual Shudra within us provides with the necessary ground conditions to do so.However if we carry the hierarchy associated with Varnashram in our mind then  the Intellectual Shudra within us is  likely to be neglected or oppressed and  we will only see the most negative side of the Brahmin, the Kshtriya and the Vaishya.

Look forward to your sharing of how you see intellectual endeavour within your self and in the world that we live in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Madam Sir”!!

Jai-Gangaajal
Priyanka Chopra in Jai Gangaajal – a poster from the film

 

Saw “Jai Gangajal”,.It is a typical Prakash Jha film and the structure of the plot is almost the same as the earlier film Gangajal- A brave and honest cop in a small town, taking on the combined might of corrupt feudalistic politicians and economic interests with collusion of the law and order machinery.  She moves forward by triggering off forces of vigilante justice and negotiating his/her way through this mess to finally establish that Law must prevail for both the oppressors and the victims. The main difference is that in this case, the protagonist is a woman who is addressed by her subordinates and also many others as “Madam Sir” I do not know whether or not it is a prevalent practice in at least some parts of the country but that is not very important. What stayed with me is the symbolic significance of this oxymoron.

At one level, it is nothing more than a somewhat cute but silly way of the people concerned to come to terms with a situation that they may not be accustomed to. However, it also tells us how strong is the hold of “gender roles” in our psyche and how deep our entrenchments are. The simplest explanation of this oxymoron is that the two words are signifying two completely different things. While ‘Madam’ acknowledges her gender, ‘Sir’ on the other hand is an affirmation of her status and authority. By obvious implication, ‘Sir” is seen as having a strong co-relation with power and authority as compared to “Madam”. If this be so, then it is a strong statement about our difficulty in associating power and authority with the female gender.

There is another factor which makes the issue more complex  – the nature of the profession itself. Had the protagonist been a politician or a bureaucrat or a corporate executive perhaps an expression like “Madam Ji” may have sufficed. Here we are talking of a profession which is largely regarded as masculine. There is a strong link between the picture of an “ideal police officer” that we carry in our mind with qualities that we associate with masculinity. Thus, in many languages, words like courage, valour etc are often used interchangeably with manliness.  At one time people described Indira Gandhi as the only man in the cabinet, and this was meant as a complement and as a sign of her effectiveness. Similarly expressions like “hathon mein choodiyan pehnan” (wearing bangles in ones wrist) are regarded as symbols of cowardice. The term “Namard”(Impotent)  signifies  lack of courage in a man and inability to stand up for what is right. In this context, the term “Madam Sir” can be interpreted as a “Woman who is showing all the qualities associated with masculinity”

The term “Madam- Sir” can also be seen as an integration of the feminine and masculine principles. The portrayal of the protagonist does incorporate the qualities normally associated with the two genders. The soft, gracious and dignified way in which she holds her own ground in relating to her “patron” is indicative of her approach in dealing with both explicit and implicit oppression. However the most interesting element in this context was the contrast with one of the other main characters-  the Circle Inspector (called Circuit Babu) B.N.Singh-the totally masculine but corrupt police officer who had been helping the Bablu/Dablu duo in their political/economic misdeeds. Singh eventually turns the corner and joins the fight against Bablu/Dablu, but the trigger for this change is the betrayal from them and the disrespect shown towards his uniform. In fact “Wardi Par hath nahi lagana chahiye tha” (Don’t show disrespect to the uniform) is a sentiment which he expresses more than once. I think, Jha missed an opportunity by not contrasting the preoccupation with concern for “Wardi Pe Hath” (disrespect from others) with “Wardi Pe Daag” ( sanctity of the uniform).

Nonetheless, the two different ways one can look at “honour” is of significance. The masculine way where the concern is with extra-spective lens (how one is seen and treated by others) and the feminine way where the concern is with the introspective lens (maintaining one’s sanctity in one’s own eyes) Sadly, like in all other spheres of life, it is only the masculine way which is focused upon by most of us including women.

In its own way “Madam-Sir” says a lot about the times we are living in. On one hand, the traditional bifurcation of socio-economic roles associated with the two genders are fast disappearing and we find women who are playing roles associated with men (e.g.police force) and to a lesser extent men playing roles associated with women (e.g. house-keeping, child-care etc.). Simultaneously the gender roles configured in our minds are still determined by the social arrangements of an earlier era. . The expression “Madam-Sir” is only the tip of the ice-berg. Beneath lies a complex world of power inequities, gender roles and relationship between the masculine/feminine principles which are part of every human being irrespective of his/her gender. While to some extent the issues of inequality are being recognised and dealt with , all other issues are either ignored or treated as “problems” to be taken care off.

The issue of the co-holding of the masculine and feminine aspects is almost totally ignored. Hence while the world is becoming a little less patriarchal (with slightly reduced difference between the relative status and power of the two genders) , it is simultaneously becoming more Patri-centric i.e. governed by masculine principles.Femininity is seen as a weakness with which even women do not want to identify. While, many of them may proclaim as how they value their femininity, scratch the surface and you will find that this “valuing” is of “Women with balls” variety.

The issue of frozen gender roles is relatively easier to see, but it is often denied in oneself and projected on others like we do with all such uncomfortable phenomenon. Thus it is not uncommon to find people who claim that while they themselves are free of all such biases and prejudices, most other people are not and hence they are forced to compromise. On the other hand, there are people who believe that these “frozen gender roles” are how things ought to be and in the name of women’s liberation we are playing havoc with the existing social order. There are also people who own up these frozen roles, feel guilty and ashamed about them and work hard towards getting rid of them. Personally, I have not been able to resonate with any of these and have found them counter-productive. The more I deny them or the more I project them on to others or the more I try to fight them, the more virulent they become.

I am a product of a patriarchal heritage. While the family I grew up in was reasonably liberal and progressive for its time, the basic codings that I received about gender roles were essentially based upon patriarchy e.g. associating the role of a provider/protector with male gender and associating the role of an ambience builder with the female gender. Rationally, I know that these codings are no longer relevant in the present day world, but these codings have an emotive force which I can not deny. In fact, the more I repress/suppress this force, the more I push it into my psychic under-belly and the more lethal it becomes. I would like to say a gentle and gracious good bye to these codings but it is not easy. So far I have only been able to convince them that they have already over-stayed and taken them to the threshold. I do not intend to push them out of the door. Instead, I will patiently wait for them to leave of their own accord.

I would like to hear your experiences with gender roles and dynamics between masculine/feminine principles both within your self and the larger context.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mythical Majority

Whenever I hear the term Majority Community, I feel a little lost. I am not sure as to who does it include and who does it exclude? I presume that term is intended for people who are branded as Hindus, and since I am one such person it should include me. While I strongly resonate with the philosophical underpinnings of what are considered Hindu Religion(s) as also the way religiosity is engaged with in our civilisation, I am not a religious person, have very little faith in many of the practices which are followed in the name of Hinduism and most importantly, do not subscribe to the Varnashram- which is an integral part of most Hindu Religion(s). In fact so pervasive is the influence of Varnashram that it has been able to make significant in roads even in religions which are not supposed to be Hindu e.g. Sikhism, Islam, christianity etc. Keeping all this in mind, I do not know whether I should consider myself as a Hindu and whether or not I should consider myself  as part of the so-called majority community. Further, all my sectoral identities(based on caste,language, region etc) make me into a minority with varying degrees of strength. As a hindi-speaking person I am part of a significantly large minority and as a Punjabi Khatri Arya -samaji, a relatively smaller one. However, since I do not have any significant emotive pull towards my sectoral identities (except the linguistic one) I can not consider my self a minority either. Hence I am in this strange place where I can neither consider myself as part of the majority nor a part of the minority.

This see-saw of majority-minority had not been of any great significance for large part of my life. I had assumed rightly or wrongly that most of my other countrymen are in the same situation. I had assumed that we are a collation of minorities who have done a reasonably good job of living together. (please see my post on the principle of limited consensus) This had been made possible partly because of tightly defined codes of behaviour for social engagement(e,g. restrictions on who one can marry) which are neither feasible nor desirable in the present context. Simultaneously there was a philosophy of life and psychological orientation (what I call Indian-ness)  which helped us to live with differences. Unfortunately I see this fast eroding. I feel very sad about this erosion but I am not sure how my fellow countrymen feel about it. Hence here again I do not know whether I am part of the majority or the minority.

What I am most concerned about it is that in absence of the traditional ways of living together, how will these different minority groups relate with each other. In this context, even groups who claim to be the voice of the majority community are in fact only a minority. If they really believed that they represented the majority voice, they would not need to resort to the tactics which they do. What I see happening around me is heightened anxiety bordering on paranoia in every minority group, quick closing of ranks, a complete refusal to listen to others except to the extent of forging alliances. This process has surfaced very prominently in the last few days but it has been going on for a considerable period of time. Thus  strife has come to define the basic relationship between minority groups and all co-operation is for the purpose of fighting a common enemy (the principle of enemy’s enemy being a friend) In today’s newspaper I was horrified to see the expression of “ideological war” being attributed to Sh. Arun Jaitely . I do not know whether he actually used the term, but his statement certainly had a win-lose flavour. If people who are supposed to integrate, synthesise and hold the total picture, talk in terms of a win-lose language, then we are in deep trouble. Let me also point out that Mr. jaitely is no exception in this regard.Most others (including the so-called liberals) have been doing the same thing.Several people who are talking today of the need to protect the right to dissent, have had no problems with crushing dissent when it suited them. This is  an inevitable consequence of forging alliances on the basis of animosity towards a common enemy. Today the minority group which wants religious/cultural hegemony has made a convenient alliance with another minority group which wants to convert India into Singapore,and found a common enemy in the liberal left. . I am sure in time there contra-pulls will surface and a new set of alliances/enemies will emerge. Similarly groups which have come together on the basis of their animosity towards the Sangh Pariwar will also have to deal with their animosity towards each other. The central point I wish to make is that when anxiety/paranoia of being a minority is fuelled then all relatedness gets determined by strife and animosity.

The win-lose paradigm seems to have now gone beyond the main actors and infiltrated among all of us also.Thus I find that it is becoming extremely difficult to talk to anyone on these issues without taking sides. The kind of mails a person reads, forwards, likes ,comments upon has a distinct stamp of which side the individual is on. Most of the writings of intellectuals  have a clear one-sided position. Even those who claim to provide a “balanced view” are only using relatively moderate language and taking extra effort to sound “reasonable”, though their basic position is the same as that of the group that they represent. The comments posted are close-ended and made from frozen positions. Any attempt to explore/raise questions (as I have sometimes tried to do) remains un-responded . I wonder whether anyone is really interested in a dialogue or do we only want to fight-sometimes in tones which sound reasonable and sometimes in loud/shrill and abusive ways.  I am afraid, in absence of dialogue, the anxiety of being a minority will push every group into forging a mythical majority with continual strife and hostility

I would very much like to hear how you have experienced the majority-minority dynamics for yourself and in the larger context

 

Indianness – In Search Of A Narrative

Indianness – In Search Of A Narrative

One fall out of the present crisis linked to the JNU issue is that it has brought to the surface a significant question as to what does it mean to be an Indian? Large part of this discourse is around meaning of Nationalism. However constructs like Nationalism have to be contextualised. Meaning of Nationalism for a country which has a long history of uninterrupted Nationhood and which consists of people who belong to the same race, language, religion etc. can not be the same as in case of a plural society with huge diversity and at best a sporadic history of Nationhood.

 

I am not a student of history and can not comment about the competing accounts regarding constructs like Aaryavrata, Akhaand Bharat etc. All I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence is that in 1947 when we came together as a nation, our primary anchors of belonging were more sectoral (based on province, language, religion etc.) than national. Thus at that time it was not uncommon in Punjabi households to use the term hindustani for people in U.P. The official clarion call was to transcend our sectoral belonging, embrace a national identity and participate in the task of building a fair, progressive, equitable and secular society. However the notion of what this Indian identity was remained abstract and could at best be linked with what we wished to become rather than who we were. The end result was that the Indian identity got split into two parts-one part was what my friend Raghu Ananthnaraynan calls the “ urban, english speaking, featureless, odourless, colorless Indian” who has no link with either his heritage or his context. In many ways this part of ourselves is very much like what Macaulay wanted us to become. The other part remained deeply entrenched in the sectoral identity ( and its associated fears, anxieties and prejudice) and mechanically adhered to all its prescribed ways. This split was inevitable since we had a narrative for our sectoral identity, we had none for our national identity. The only way we can deal with it is by building a meaningful narrative of being an Indian which resonates with us both emotionally and intellectually. A narrative which we feel/think understands who we are and who we wish to become.

Continue reading “Indianness – In Search Of A Narrative”

Principle of Relative Consensus

Principle of Relative Consensus

In India it is almost impossible to have everyone agree on anything. We have our opinions on virtually all matters- whether or not we know anything about the issue is of little consequence. Thus the good old Addas ( an expression used in Kolkata for gathering of friends in street corners, tea shops, verandas etc. where there is endless discussion on local/ national/international affairs, politics, sports, films, literature, religion and spirituality etc. etc. ) are extremely colorful spaces with high decibel levels and heated exchanges of both ideas and feelings. Invariably, these Addas do not lead to any final outcome. Nor do they end with bitter acrimony. They usually end when they reach a point which all parties can “live with” and are willing to give up/postpone their need to establish the supremacy of their view point.

I have come to believe that this is the only viable way of living with differences in the Indian context, if we wish to retain our ethos of diversity and plurality. I have called it the principle of relative consensus i.e. some thing around which there may not be complete consensus but something that every one can live with. This is fundamentally different from the concept of “majority rule”. Majority rule is a quantitative construct whereas the principle of Relative Consensus has a strong qualitative dimension.Let me illustrate the difference with a help of an example. Continue reading “Principle of Relative Consensus”

Feats of Self Destruction

Feats of Self Destruction

I am a compulsive gambler and I have lost a small fortune (by my standards) in this pursuit. One of my significant learning has been that there is a common pattern to all my significant losses. They all begin with a winning streak and my taking winning as my birth right,, followed by a reversal of trend, followed by my intense rage, desperation and recklessness, followed by a state where I “stake it all “ in a spirit of “all or nothing” and eventually getting “cleaned out”

I find a remarkable similarity between this process and what I see happening in the country today. First let us look at the Modi Sarkar. It started with a strong winning streak, not just in terms of electoral results but also with the hope and enthusiasm that got generated on several fronts. Soon the trend began to reverse with gradual disillusionment. The tipping point I think was the defeat in Delhi elections. Ever since the government seems to have been in a state of directionless desperation. The present crisis around JNU captures the entire process very well. It started with what seemed like a victory for the Government against its arch-rival (usually described as liberal, secular left) and more importantly providing it a platform from where the passion could be raised in the name of Bharat Mata rather than only Hindu religion. However it over-stetched itself and through manipulated evidence did a “self side goal”. Ever since, its reactions are becoming increasingly mind –boggling. One would expect that in a situation like this the government will try to diffuse the situation rather than escalate it. Hence inaction of police at Patiala court, Ms. Irani’s histrionics in the parliament, tacit support to people who wish to see the issue in terms of Nationalism and disapproval of those who see it in terms of liberalism and veiled threat of charges of sedition against all and sundry, suggest a state of panic. I will not be surprised if in not too distant a future it reaches a point of no return and where it will find itself compelled to “stake it all” in a mother of all battles. Continue reading “Feats of Self Destruction”