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

 

27 thoughts on “The Mythical Majority

  1. I resonate with this piece. As someone who feels like a minority in several ways (as an atheist, a Marxist, a pacifist), I feel threatened by those who want to impose their majoritarian ideas on me. I am depressed by this breakdown of dialogue and empathy and the increasing normalisation of ramcour. I strongly feel that the only way to break out of this increasing polarization and sense of being attacked is to open up conversation and not to shut it down.I would personally like to build connections and seek to understand rather than dismiss alternative points of view.
    I would like to make attempts to build conversations rather than talking down or dismissing the other’s opinion. I am aware that when it comes to ideas I find to be ethically abhorrent, I find it difficult to be empathetic. However I need to try harder; perhaps we all need to be quiet for a while and think about where we are now. I am saddened by the lack of empathy and the remorseless sadism I see around me. But I also see shining examples of ethical solidarities being forged, of creative leaps of hope. I wish to be a part of a collective that dignifies the other rather than demeans, that dialogues rather than silences, that make hope possible rather than despair convincing.

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    1. Thank you for your response. I also find it difficult to empathise with ideas/behaviours which I find ethically abhorrent I try and remind myself that while the idea/behaviour may be manifested in a certain person/group, it belongs to the entire collective. Hence waging a war against it is de-facto waging war against oneself (not in the sense of an autonomous separate individual, but as a part of the larger whole) To best of my understanding waging a war against oneself helps no bodyThus no matter how ethically abhorrent a phenomenon may be, it is important to understand it in the context in which it is happening.
      I think your proposal that we all need to be quiet for a while is a brilliant one and I plan to follow it. While I will continue to express myself on larger themes of humanness/Indianness, I will stay clear of the recent events.

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  2. Very well written in your inimitable style. However, what touched me and resonated with me the most is the anguish and sadness expressed in your post. I feel very similarly – like you, apart from the linguistic identification I have very little identification with the majority Hindu population. Having married a Roman Catholic and having remained a practicing Hindu, I created even more confusion for people who don’t know intimately as my married surname easily brings up questions like whether I am from Goa or from Kerala? Hence I too don’t feel like belonging neither to the majority nor the minority of any kind.

    Having been brought up in a Brahmo school and being influenced by the Brahmo religiosity and philosophy, some of the Hindu customs and rituals do not appeal to me (while I am quite sure and I do appreciate that they have very significant meanings for scores of others).

    Moreover, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa’s influence and Swami Vivekananda’s influence also compel me to have my spirituality through my relatedness with human beings, of rejecting casteism in my belief system and the final seal has been put by Rabindranath Tagore, whose writing taught me to go beyond nationalism and learn universalism.

    While in many of my dialogue with you, you have talked about how entrenchment in any one side (nationalism versus universalism for example) can provoke the ghost of paranoia in the other, I still believe that I would rather be on this side.

    In today’s Indian sociopolitical scenario when I watch aged and experienced politicians taking on relatively inexperienced, young and idealistic young students and calling them “anti national” for some mere slogans and letting go of hooligans and thugs, I feel enraged and sad and depressed for being part of a majority that voted for them. I also feel enraged and sad that there are no other political party worth its salt in India today, who can stand up for any moral or ideological stance or superiority.
    So, if I look at how I feel, I too feel like a neither here nor there kind of a person who can neither be a fully Bengali, nor a fully endorsing “in your face” Hindu who claims that India should be called a Hindu Rashtra, nor can I be a leftist as I have seen the atrocities and ideological emptiness that they bring today, nor can I side with the right wing as I abhor the monolith idea of one state of rule proposition that they propagate.
    So yes, very much with you.
    As to why no one dialogues with you and or on this? I don’t know but I can guess. One of my guesses are that for far too long the moderate in this country have withheld themselves either for fear or for indignation and by doing this, they have dug their own grave. For there will be a day, when there will be no one to speak on behalf of the moderate as everyone will turn into minority of one kind or the other and the voice of reason and voice of humanity will be gone for ever.

    I sound like a sad, bitter, histrionic person right now and that is exactly how I feel.

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    1. Felt very touched by your response-not just the content but also its feeling tone and empathetic touch. I am also feeling sad and bitter but what gives me hope is the bunch of youngsters whom you call idealistic and relatively inexperienced. While opinions formed on the basis of “media exposure” are not very reliable, I like what I have seen of Kanhiya Kumar-not just his idealism and oratory skills but more importantly the maturity with which he has conducted himself. My fear is that we will make him into a symbol of a crusader-who will fight against all oppressive forces and lead us into the promised land of a fair, just and equitable society. We are very good at making “heroes” every dawn and then killing them every dusk when they fall short of “our” expectations

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  3. Hi Ashok,

    Loved reading this article. I often feel, these days, that today – I have fewer ‘positions and stances’ than I did twenty years ago. I used to define myself a feminist, a liberal and so on, and would find it easy to take positions on any issue, align myself with political positions. I would even question others about their stances and positions, and gauge their ‘politics’ from their stances, and quickly decided whether I liked them or not, whether we shared ideologies or not, etc. I suspect that taking a stance seemed easy than remaining in ambiguity, having a position seemed more confident as if one knows one’s mind, one is one’s own person.

    I agree with you than none of the current discussions on nationalism, patriotism or intolerance lead anywhere. For one, these discussions begin with fixated stances and positions, have no questions or dilemmas within them. For example: in a recent debate, I heard Barkha Dutt declare than she is a liberal, a capitalist, a nationalist (she reinforced her love for the army) and a free thinker. Needless to say, she did not deconstruct any of these, or help us understand what is the world of a person who is a mix of all of these. It seemed each of these labels defined a stance – as a liberal, she believes in that students in JNU had a right to express themselves in whatever manner they chose to, and that right to expression must be respected at all costs (even if not agreed with). While speaking of her nationalism, she talked about her love for the army and how she has consistently covered stories and spoken of heroism and bravery of the jawaans. And so on. In the same debate. Anupam Kher spewed his anger about how all this controversy about intolerance was a conspiracy by the Congress and against Modi – and he insisted from time to time that he was not there to defend the BJP or attack the Congress. Throughout the debate, each one seemed to say ‘I know what you are, who you are, and there is nothing I trust about you, and if I had it in my power, I would have you vanquished’. This rage sounded person and vindictive.

    When I find myself fixated in any position and experience distaste of ‘the other’, it usually means than I am in a state of misplaced rage. Or I am defending something that I feel I must protect at any cost, and losing it will mean loss of face, loss of faith, betrayal to who I am or believe myself to be. I feel fragile and in order to cover that up, I wear armours of ‘conviction’. I wonder if Mr. Arnab Goswami feels the same way when he hollers his opinions over other people’s voices.

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    1. Thank you Roop for your response. What you have touched upon is what I regard as the core of Indian Identity namely, non-polarisation of ambivalence. It has been our greatest gift and biggest burden. On one hand it allows as to remain fluid, become inclusive and live with contrary forces without too much strife, on the other hand it leads to indiscriminate swallowing, difficulty in acting decisively and reluctance to discard that which has become toxic. Thus self-reflexivity and self-renewal are extremely important for us. I am not a student of history and hence can not say with absolute certainty, but I understand that at some time there were institutional structures and processes designed specifically for this person- a periodic review of social structures and systems and a dialogue around what needs to be retained and what needs to be discarded. Unfortunately most of them have become defunct today.

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  4. I guess minorities are also defined in my mind as ..do I feel understood by most or not…do I feel similar to or different from most or not in the way that I think, behave etc..in the way that I wish to engage …and so on. I believe I always have a choice of whether I wish to dialogue or rant or shout. Eventually it all comes down to intent no? Is my intent to become like you or make you like me..or is it to learn to understand and co-exist.

    In my own space, I have rebelled, become quiet, been tentative and yes tried to sound reasonable…but for now I feel the need to really take a pause..the paradoxes of today’s living make it more and more agonising to make meaningful choices and spaces. Frankly I don’t even know if I am making sense anymore..

    Am I willing to dialogue..yes I am

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    1. I believe that being a minority is an integral part of being human. While being a part of the majority provides safety, it also erodes distinctiveness. Human beings don’t need only safety, they also wish to be understood and accepted as distinctive both as individuals and as members of specific groups/communities. The difficulty arises when the collectivity is unable to provide the sense of safety and fair-play to its different “minority groups”. In such an event need for safety becomes the major platform for formation of minority groups and the interface between them is determined by mutual mistrust and shifting alliances. In such a scenario any understanding is impossible not merely because no one is willing to listen but also because there is fear of “revealing too much of oneself” To that extent,the fear of being understood outweighs the need to be understood. Also, shouting/ranting/dialoguing are only partly individual choices- in many ways they are also determined by the collective ethos. Needless to say, these processes operate not just at macro-societal level but also at micro levels in families, organisations etc. Do let me know, if any of this makes sense.

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  5. Hi, I liked reading your piece, Ashok. And I am afraid that these discussions will remain among minorities. I do feel like a helpless minority in many peer groups. On engaging with the other – believe me, I have tried in the past few weeks. I have tried to discuss, to argue, communicate in a non-violent way, despite my quite infamous temper and acid tongue, with people who were completely enchanted by the HRD Minister’s speech in Parliament. But I am tired – at the assumptions made. Do I make assumptions as well? Perhaps I do, but I hope I do try to understand my assumptions as well. I do not think one can avoid taking a stand when there is a crisis. And a stand is necessarily informed by some theoretical frameworks and some core beliefs and values. The problem is – stands are not nuanced enough for a dialogue. Yesterday a friend of mine, one of the best brains I have seen in my life, said that he was an ‘atheist’, and while he denounces fundamentalism, he thinks it is double standards to put up with intolerance of other religions and denounce intolerance by Hindus. I know for a fact that he is not a religious practitioner. And then he said that Modi was the best Prime Minister India ever had. And of course, it is foolish to idolize losers like Kejriwal and Kanhayyia (I also think it is unhelpful and rather stupid to idolize, but not because anyone is a loser). And somehow, his stand and that of my inadequately informed colleague fuming at Durga’s humiliation in JNU, did not sound so very different. But I know there is a difference. But I couldn’t dialogue on it. And they were quite united in spewing venom on me – though I knew one of them almost all my life, and the other for a few years in professional capacity only (they do not know each other). I refuse to think that this is THE END. But I do not know how to proceed. On my part I marshal support, and praised Sugata Bose’s speech even though I knew that he took a particular position in history, on nationalism, which I did not agree with.

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    1. Thank you Bulbul. I completely agree with you that one needs to take stances and also ensure that these stances don’t become rigid dogmas. I also see a difference between stances which are required for choice making/action and stances which are essentially a protective device against potential chaos and instability. I believe multiplicity is integral to being human and hence living with contrary feelings/ ideas/stances is an inevitability. But since it is rather difficult to live with this fluidity, we end up over-identifying with some parts of ourselves while disowning others. I am sure you know this better than I do. What I am suggesting is that the same dynamics plays out at interpersonal/collective level. Life becomes easier when we look at Kanhaiya &co as only free-loaders who are causing unnecessary disharmony and destruction. Equally, if one can look at Sangh Parivar as only a bunch of Khaki-wearing, Danda holding, regressive hooligans, then one does not need to look beyond one’s fixed meanings. While I can not insist that others should move out of their comfort zones, I can certainly try and revisit some of my own fixed meanings.

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  6. Hi Ashok,

    loved your piece. both discerning and personal.

    I identify strongly with being a tamilian. To the extent at home i deliberately speak only in tamil with my daughter and i insist that my wife does so too. I have a nagging fear that the richness of the tamil language is losing ground to the more than needed practical embracing of english. Recently there was a news footage i saw of one of the tamil MLAs floating in the water in a temple pond, holding his breadth, with his palms joined together prayerfully, looking up at the sun. The news clip said this act was the MLAs prayer and show of loyalty towards the CM. I cringed in shame at the extent of sycophancy this person has stooped to. In that moment, i felt embarassed to belong to the same community as this person. Looking back with some difficulty, i can acknowledge his right to express his loyalty for his leader and whatever other needs that might have driven his behavior, though i disagree with his expression that belied self respect.

    My reflection of this makes me wonder multiple things :

    a. How do i remain curious despite holding strong views
    b. how do i retain individuality while belonging to a group that has a certain leaning, and necessity to guard itself and compete against other groups (e.g. political parties).
    d. Lastly in the above what is the role of individual (me) vs the context

    On b, The day i see a politician come out and say and i disapprove of what my colleague said, did and yet stands by whatever binds him with his party / that day i will see integrity , my trust in that politician will go up

    Natesh.

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    1. Thank you Nateh, for your sharing. My link with all belonging systems be it my family, any community, organisation or country is full of ambivalence. I have come to accept that as me. I often wonder about the ease with which people say “I love my country”. I only have mixed feelings-of love, pride, respect, care, shame, guilt, anger and several others. I do not know whether or not it is true for others but for me ambivalence is inherent in belonging. Also since I am a big simultaneity freak, what ever you see as conflicting, I see as complementing e.g. how can one have strong views without being curious? Yes one can indiscriminately swallow but such swallowing can not be termed as strong views. Also if the views are really strong then what is the need to stop being curious . It is only when I believe that my views are fragile, that I will need to protect them against any potential instability that my curiosity may cause. Finally is Vs. chosen between Individual and context deliberate or unintended. It may be worthwhile looking at the implied nature of relatedness between Self and Context

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      1. Thanks ashok. The distinctions you made -ambivalence, simultaneity is helping to make sense of some experiences

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  7. Hi Ashok, I am writing this response again …

    Your proposition of the mythical majority is interesting – it corresponds to my firm, and maybe frozen belief, that the construction of the term minority cannot be looked in isolation without the power dynamics within the system. To me, a lot of power inequity and dysfunctional dynamics owe to the shadowy nature and flow of power itself within any system. Thus a location of minority and thereby insinuating a powerful mythical majority is fraught with over simplification if not seen in this context.

    Let me give you an example – oligarchy creates a ‘minority’ rich, a collusive middle class and a majority section of the proletariat. However oligarchy maintains its minority through constructing a dubious and mythical symbols including geo-political nationhood (read as real estate) or religious practices, and attacking anything and everything that stands in its way.

    Liberal thinking, dialoguing spaces, reflective practices are the key enemies – and the institutions that embellish these are being dismantled – however the real enemy is not the religious bodies – but what is shielded behind these – the oligarchy itself.

    At heart, all of us are minorities if we value our uniqueness and humanness – however we also encounter huge anxieties around dependency, isolation, and alienation when we look at our minority-hood. Mythical majorities are constructed by us to deal with these anxieties – these become containers for our displaced rage, disowned fears and other projections.

    I think each of us is losing our reflective and reflexive abilities to encounter our own fears and anxieties – the term minority is being used with a broad brush to cover our atomized, fragmented selves within, and not engage with the consequences of such alienation – especially our own power – we only bemoan our powerlessness and impotence.

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    1. Thank you, Gagan, for bringing in the all important issue of power. After all, the feeling of being a minority is intimately connected with the feeling of powerlessness. A central question for me is the lens through which the issues of power are looked at. I find most of the time our frame is of coercive power. Perhaps I am being romantic, but I believe that in Indian tradition( and hopefully in other traditions as well) there is also the notion of Dharmic power. This is not to say that we do not have experience of strife and coercive power but since our basic orientation has been to see the individual as part of the collective, and not as an atomised entity, there has been some space for Dharmic power as well. Consequently it is not surprising that pre-colonisation the gap between the living standards of the rich and the poor was not very high. I am saying this on the basis of Dharampal’s research. It was a matter of great concern to our colonial masters that the rich folk of this country “squandered” their money on meaningless pursuits of religion and social service, rather than “enjoying” their wealth. Even if you see the immediate history, the gap between the rich and the poor has significantly increased post liberalisation. I see an intimate link between looking at power through the coercive lens and heightened fear and anxiety in all minority groups( including the most privileged ones) Thus while the privileges and power are distributed in a highly inequitable manner across the various groups, what they all share is the feeling of being a minority and as you say, the consequent sense of powerlessness and impotence.Hopefully, this puts in perspective my sadness at the gradual erosion of Indianness.

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  8. Yes, Ashok, I resonate even if my perspective may be different – but that is what we are all about. My worry is – we keep talking among ‘us’ who resonate, and get very little opportunity to talk to ‘others’ who may be resonating with some parts, but choose to disown it at the moment. At the moment, I keep hunting for some signs. My friend who fumed and spewed venom the other day ‘liked’ a post questioning deployment of army for Ravishankar’s event. It just made my day – but I do not seem to have to have the energy to take it any further with him. I know I should.

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    1. Good to know that your friend is not a uni-dimensional bigot. I believe it is this multiplicity in ourselves and in the other which makes dialogue a possibility. Perhaps, it is more comfortable for a large number of people to “fix” themselves and others in a frozen frame, but I do not wish to create a Us and Them split. Does it really matter as to whether a dialogue is restricted to a handful of people or engaged in by a larger group. Yes, if the intent is to influence and impact then it is important otherwise, so long as I can share, listen, understand and explore, it is enough for me. So long as there are people like you who are willing to share their struggles and dilemmas and also listen to mine, I do not much care whether they are a minority or a majority

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      1. I am trying like hell to influence – by listening and responding. Influencing is not turning them around to my way of thinking – but bring the discourse to a space where people actually think and respond. I do see and resonate with people’s impatience with partisan policies – the pretense of generosity which ultimately serves fundamentalist interests. But people with more than a fair share of intelligence, and rationality, are using the same regressive logic – if them, why not us. And I do think that the mad frenzy should be replaced by a discourse – among many.

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  9. I think the core of indianess i see is holding the idea of caste (other sectoral identities) and vedantic vision simultaneously. Seemingly contradictory ideas but we seem to hold it. At one level the god i worship is a local deity who belongs only to me and my community, but i see and pray him as a universal god and call him a brahman. The sense of minority and the majority is also in the continuum of this scale. Who is a hindu ? we can see everybody including the traditionalist rejecting some or other “Hinduism” . Feeling that i don’t belong to certain “Hinduism” is common among most if not all. But what holds us in this continuum are some thoughts and people we find with which we can identify. This scale is long,wide and colourful, because of its sheer longevity it has space for every thought and people. Nobody holds only one position in the scale. So everybody is a minority at one level and majority at another.

    What we are losing is the vision of this continuum. We are seeing the scale and the people as two different things. Scale looks colourful, long and wide, but we lose the sight of the people who are holding on to this. When we see the people we lose the vision of the scale. And then there are others who see the scale and the people as one.

    I am reading an autobiography of a famous Tamil scholar, who single-handedly retrieved treasure of Tamil Literature especially Jaina. Saivaite Tamil Scholar in search of Jaina literature. What inspires him is Tamil, what unites him with the jain is Tamil. The some of the places where he finds the literature is also form the traditional Saivaite houses, who have preserved it for ages. And he was not alone in this journey. There were many who helped and many who tried.
    This was 140 years ago.
    In this nobody compromised his/her belief or anushtanam.

    The challenge today is, we have only commentators. we neither see the people nor their belief. We are afraid of the stickiness of the scale. and worry about our image. But we are afraid to get rooted in any image.

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  10. Thank you Prasanna for providing your perspective. I agree with you that co-holding of sectoral with universal is central to Indian identity. This co-holding also necessarily creates tensions between the various sectoral identities.While some of the traditional arrangements of dealing with these tensions are collapsing, we are yet to evolve ways which would be more meaningful for present day needs. I also agree with your point about the commentator location-in fact my latest post is on very similar lines.

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  11. I also see why i have become more a commentator. I actually dont have any depth in any knowledge or systems.

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    1. I am surprised by your comment Prasanna- one because I value your comments and do not see them as superficial. And second because I do not see a link between inadequate knowledge and commentator-hood. In my understanding, commentator-hood is more a reflection of difficulty with emotional cathexis than in-depth knowledge.

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