Guest Post by RAVI SINHA
Far away from Peshawar five men and a woman sat in a physician’s waiting room in Lucknow. The television screen that ordinarily shows some Bollywood film or a cricket match had a news channel on. It was day after the slaughter of children. The assistant who maintains the waiting list of patients and collects the doctor’s fee said something very predictable, even if heart-felt, expressing his horror and revulsion. The matter would have passed as unremarkably as most things do most of the times, except for what an elderly gentleman waiting to see the doctor had to say in response.
In a feeble yet firm voice whose conviction and sincerity was unmistakable, he said – dhaarmikata ko badhaava doge to kattarta badhegi; kattarta badhegi to aatank upajega, haivaaniyat saamne aayegi. (If you will promote religiosity, fundamentalism will grow, and from that will emerge terror and barbarism.) After a pause he added – hamaare desh mein bhee yahee ho rahaa hai, haalaan ki abhee hum pehle daur mein hain, dhaarmikata badhaane ke daur mein. (Same thing is happening in our country too, although we are in the first phase so far – that of promoting religiosity.) Continue reading Impossible Lessons: Ravi Sinha
I am grateful to Ravi Sinha for his post responding to the question of religion and politics that arises out of the brief exchange between Subhash Gatade and myself on Subhash’s post some time ago. Much has happened since the first draft of this response was written and with the advent of Narendra Modi as prime minister, ‘secularism’ too is back in public debate with renewed vigour.
Meanwhile, with Shiv Visvanathan entering the debate, flogging the long dead secularist horse, sections of the liberal and left intelligentsia seem to have gone into a tizzy. Shiv’s argument merely restates in 2014 what political analysts like Ashis Nandy had been saying at least since the mid-1980s and it does so without its nuance. The long and short of this argument is that secularism is the creed of a deracinated English-speaking, West-oriented elite which cares little about the beliefs and ways of thinking and being of the majority of their compatriots. (See also Visvanathan’s piece in Economic and Political Weekly, May 31, 2014, on ‘Narendra Modi’s Symbolic War’)
Somewhere between the two poles of the fast-dwindling tribe of the Leftist gung-ho secularist and the breast-beating liberal, the possibility of a serious debate dies a quiet death. The 1980s-1990s debate on secularism had raised all the important questions about secularism and its problematic practice that Shiv Visvanathan’s piece raises but which, it seems bypassed a whole generation of Leftists who either still seem to find it scandalous to relate to religion or are suddenly discovering their alienation or worse, the virtues of religiosity. Needless to say, such a rediscovery, in the face of political adversity is not likely to be anything more than instrumental use of religion.
The issues in 2014 invite us to revisit and indeed, go beyond what the earlier debate allowed for. Continue reading Religion, Modernity and Politics – Some Reflections on ‘Secularism’
Our modernity is incomplete, our secularism impure, our democracy immature, our development arrested and our capitalism retarded: ask anyone trained in the social sciences, economics in particular, about what ails India today and you can be sure of getting one or all of these answers. And you can go on adding to the list of more and more things ‘we’ lack. We did not have ‘history’, we do not have social sciences – and of course, we do not have theory/ philosophy.
Everything, in other words, is about our ‘backwardness’ and our need to catch up with the West. And seen through the lens of social science, most of the world looks like this – living ‘inauthentic’ lives, always ever in the ‘waiting room of history’, to steal historian Dipesh Chakrabarty’s suggestive phrase.
In the world view of our state elites, this is actually a form of what one could call, paraphrasing Sigmund Freud, ‘Capital-Envy’. The ‘realization’ that ‘we do not have it’ can be a source of serious anxieties. That is what lies behind the current frenzied desire to ‘catch up’ with the West. And generations of feminist scholarship has challenged this unquestioned Freudian assumption that the penis is the norm and not to have it, is Lack. Perhaps women do not want it? Freud never conceived of this as possible. Indeed in today’s world, there are many men who claim that they feel they are women trapped inside male bodies. Generations of scholarship has made us realize that the aura of that grand universal theory actually rested on the fact that it did not just describe the sexes; it produced the sexual norm itself.
The vision that propels our political elites and their parallel numbers who write in the media today, is something like that fantasy of Freud. The anxiety produced by this awareness of the ‘primordial Lack’, is what drives them today towards what has been the most violent phase of development in our entire history. Violent uprooting of populations from their land, often at gunpoint, coupled with the most ruthless plunder of our common resources by unscrupulous corporations – all this and more has been going on with the state elites looking on ‘benignly’. For they seem to know something ordinary mortals do not – that all this is but the necessary price to pay for becoming ‘modern’ like them. Continue reading Decolonization of the Mind
Guest post by RAVI SINHA
Science and modernity are widely considered among the most celebrated features of contemporary human civilization. Increasingly they are taken as the defining elements that distinguish our times from the times gone by. At such a sweeping level, there can be many other ways to characterize the contemporary. One can, for example, refer to capitalism, market, globalization, democracy or nation-states. One can also include various critiques of capitalism and the widespread resistance to its hegemonic and imperialistic avatars among the characteristic features of our times. Such characterizations, however, belong to a layer of historical reality that is more systemic than civilizational. Science and modernity, especially when taken as a correlated pair, characterize our times at a deeper level. They have, so to speak, seeped into the subterranean layers of contemporary historical reality.
On the face of it, such an assertion would appear to be far removed from the actual state of affairs in the real world. It would be rare, for example, to find a person whose beliefs and practices are fully consistent with established precepts of science. Such a search would be a fruitless endeavour, more or less, in any society on the planet. A similar anomaly is apparent in the case of modernity too. One can safely say that an overwhelming majority of humans in the contemporary world does not live by the canons or conventions of modernity. While few may be completely untouched by the laws and institutions of a modern polity or by the processes and pressures of a modern economy, most live by traditions and practices that do not sit well with basic attributes of modernity. Continue reading Science and Modernity : Ravi Sinha
Guest post by Ravi Sinha
Modernity and socialism can be daunting subjects. Both have had a long history and both have impacted on humanity in ways few other ideas, systems or forms of life have. In a famous incident, perhaps not entirely apocryphal, Chou En Lai, when asked about the impact of the French Revolution on the western civilization by Richard Nixon, is supposed to have answered, “It is too soon to tell.” It seems to me that Chou’s riposte would hold well, and with a far greater force, if the same question were to be asked a few hundred years from now about the impact of modernity or of socialism on the entire human civilization.
One asks for trouble on other counts too when proposing to deal with these topics. They have both been explored and debated endlessly and both remain enormously controversial. In the domain of ideas and theories, they generate intense, sometimes fierce, intellectual passion. In the domain of real life, they give rise to monumental conflicts and struggles even as their influences continue to seep imperceptibly into ever deeper layers of societies and forms of life through pathways that are hard to track. One must have a good reason for raking up, as many might say, a subject where ashes of time find it difficult in any case to settle on an exasperatingly burning fire. Those too, who would like to continue stoking the fire of historical and emancipatory transformations promised by these words, would need a good reason for re-entering the subject. Whether I have one or not should best be left to be judged at the end of the hour, but one must hope to add something useful and meaningful to the debate. Continue reading Mutant Modernities, Socialist Futures: Ravi Sinha
Politics, ‘Political Society’ and ‘the Everyday’
Lineages of Political Society, by Partha Chatterjee, Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2011. Pages: 278, hardcover, Rs 750.
Over a decade ago, political theorist Partha Chatterjee embarked on what was a novel journey in the history of political thought in India and perhaps, in the postcolonial, non-Western world. Bringing together the results of decades of his own intellectual engagement with Indian politics and the question of subalternity in particular, Chatterjee began articulating a concept that has now acquired wide currency: his concept of ‘political society’. ‘Political society’, in Chatterjee’s hands, was a way of recuperating a sphere of politics that had been a permanent source of anxiety for theorists of Indian (and postcolonial) modernity and democracy – the vast domain that existed outside the designated spheres of modern politics, where the untutored masses made claims on the state and formed their own associations and organizations, unmindful of the formal grammar of rights and citizenship. A crucial part of what defines activities in this domain is ‘illegality’, or, at any rate, non-legality, where the state itself places the law in suspension in order to recognize the claims of the governed. Thus for instance, squatting by the poor on government land that is strictly speaking, encroachment in legal terms and can never acquire the status of a ‘right’, is nevertheless allowed by governments to continue through the recognition of some kind of moral claim of the poor on governments and society at large.
Continue reading Politics, ‘Political Society’ and ‘the Everyday’
Guest post by SUBHASH CHANDRA AGRAWAL
Even after half-a-century of introduction of metric measure in India, certain commodities like cloth, paper, furniture, land, time etc are being traditionally manufactured/measures in old units or their metric-converts. For example, cloth is usually manufactured in widths like 36” (91 cms), 48” (122 cms), 50” (127 cms), 54” (137 cms), 120” (305 cms) etc which should now be woven in metric-measures in multiples of 10 cms. It is time that measuring tapes may be available only in metric units after some specified date.
Continue reading Let’s march faster towards the metric system: Subhash Chandra Agrawal
[Following my previous post, ‘We are Proud Hindus’, there has been an expected barrage of comments – all along very predictable lines. Most of them, characteristically, turn every critique of reprehensible caste practices of Hindu society into an expression of ‘casteism’ and immediately displace the criticism to their favourite enemy, Islam. For the benefit of readers who might be interested in a more reasoned debate, I post here an essay, which was written some years ago and a version of which published in South Asian Journal. This is just by way of making my own position clear. – AN ]
Politics in contemporary India is marked by the ‘resurgence’ of ‘caste politics’. In a sense, this is true. The past two decades have seen a dramatic collapse of the old political formations and parties, which had dominated the politics of the Nehruvian era. Even the movements of that period, right up to the mid-1970s, were largely movements on economic issues and questions of corruption, black-marketing, hoarding and food shortages. Through the decade of the 1980s, there was a gradual erosion of the Nehruvian secular-nationalist imagination, and one of the factors responsible for it was the ‘re-emergence’ of caste in public discourse.
The watershed in this respect of course, was the famous ‘Mandal Commission’ agitation – which has become something of a metaphor in contemporary Indian politics. The Commission, which was instituted in 1978, during the Janata Party government, under the stewardship of B.P. Mandal, a socialist leader from a ‘backward caste’, was given the task of looking into the question of ‘backwardness’ of certain castes and suggest remedies for its redressal. For about a decade after it submitted its recommendations in 1980, it lay in cold storage after the Congress under the leadership of Mrs Indira Gandhi (subsequently taken charge of by her son Rajiv) returned to power. It was implemented under extremely contentious circumstances in 1990 under the Prime Ministership of V.P. Singh. As is well-known, its main recommendations included 27 percent reservations in public employment for these castes (known in India as the ‘Other Backward Classes’ or OBCs).
Continue reading The Many Lives of Caste in Modern India