Tag Archives: Michael Walzer

To Gain a View of the Elephant – India, History, Modernity, and Marx : Ravi Sinha

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

(Marx Bicentennial lecture – Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur, March 16, 2018)

etaddhastidarshana iva jatyandhah

That is like people blind by birth viewing an elephant.

  • (Shankaracharya’s bhasya on Chandogya-Upanisad 18.1)[1]

 

It was six blind men of Indostan,

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

  • John Godfrey Saxe[2]

The ancient Indian parable of blind men and the elephant, popularized in modern times by John Godfrey Saxe’s nineteenth century poem, has often been deployed in philosophical discourses about the nature of reality and its relationship to sense perception. It has served as a useful metaphor in many an argument about empiricist epistemology, moral relativism, cultural plurality, even religious tolerance. No such usage is intended here. My purpose in starting out with the parable is mostly methodological – how does one put together a vision of the beast based on necessarily partial observations of it. Continue reading To Gain a View of the Elephant – India, History, Modernity, and Marx : Ravi Sinha

The Indian Unconscious : Ravi Sinha

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

There is yet another head on the political platter of the world’s largest democracy. This head is not metaphorical. It does not signify a disgraced leader or a government that has fallen. It is a literal head dripping with literal blood – battered with bricks that supported a leg-less bed. The bed belonged to one Muhammad Akhlaq who lived in a village called Basehara in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, not too far from the national capital of India. The head too belonged to him.

It has been only a few days but this latest episode in the long-running Indian serial is already well-known to the world. On a late September night it was announced over the loudspeakers of the village temple that there was going to be beef on Akhlaq’s dinner plate. A mob hundreds-strong – some say thousands – gathered within no time. It attacked the family killing Akhlaq on the spot and badly injuring his son, Danish.

In the meantime, meat-loafs confiscated from the family fridge have been sent for forensic examination. The system of justice must check whether it actually was beef, although, as one commentator points out, “…mere possession of beef isn’t illegal in Uttar Pradesh.”[1] Shedding helpful light on feebly lit corners of the Hindu moral universe, a prominent Hindutva ideologue wrote in a national daily, “Lynching a person merely on suspicion is absolutely wrong, the antithesis of all that India stands for and all that Hinduism preaches.”[2] The lynch-mob should have waited till the forensic reports came.

A few suspects have been apprehended for the murder. This has made the village livid with anger. There are protestations that those arrested are innocent. Journalists have been attacked for making such a big thing out of a small matter and bringing a bad name to the village. Cameras have been broken and OB vans damaged. There is a pertinacious wall of angry women guarding the village against any further intrusion by outsiders who can neither understand the village mind nor the Indian culture.

It is not easy to understand the collective mind of an Indian village. Even learned anthropologists are of little help. Their ethnographic techniques of studying a form of life from its internal standpoint are particularly susceptible to the rationalizations of a complex cultural species. If anyone has a chance, it would, perhaps, be a villager who has stepped out – an Archimedean Point created out of the same cultural universe. Ravish Kumar, by now a near iconic journalist and anchor of a prominent Hindi news channel, stood out for this very reason.[3] His eyes could see the natural rhythm and the instinctual response of an Indian village in the immediate aftermath of a collective crime. Nearly everyone had disappeared from the village. Whoever could be found claimed that he was miles away at the time of the incident. The lynch-mob had materialized instantaneously out of thin air. It had as quickly melted away after the job was done. Everyone has now returned to defend the honor of the village and strategize about how to deal with the unwarranted intrusions of modernity including that of the law. Continue reading The Indian Unconscious : Ravi Sinha