Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The wonder that is India

Amid all the hoopla of India shining, which is not something to be ashamed of as an Indian, we need writers like Pankaj Mishra who provide us with much-needed reality checks.

His review of The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future
by Martha C. Nussbaum is more than a review. It provides great insights into the communal problem in India. It is definitely a must read for all those who are concerned about India's future and understand how peace and communal harmony is significant for the country's uninterrupted progress.

Her interviews with prominent right-wing Hindus yield some shrewd psychological insights, particularly into Arun Shourie, an economist and investigative journalist who, famous initially for his intrepid exposés of corruption, became a cabinet minister and close adviser to BJP prime minister Vajpayee. She suggests that the anti-Muslim views of Shourie, who is otherwise capable of intelligent commentary, may owe to "something volatile and emotionally violent in his character...something that lashes out at a perceived threat and refuses to take seriously the evidence that it might not be a threat."

In a chapter that forms the core of the book, she examines the ideas and legacies of Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Rabindranath Tagore, founding fathers of India's democracy. Her admiration for Tagore and Gandhi is deep. However, she offers only qualified praise for Nehru, India's resolutely rationalist first prime minister. Nussbaum laments that Nehru neglected "the cultivation of liberal religion and the emotional bases of a respectful pluralistic society"—a failure that she thinks left the opportunity wide open for the BJP's "public culture of exclusion and hate."

I find this point about the (failure of) "cultivation of liberal religion" pertinent. In fact, even if it is partly true, one of the factors for growing communalisation, I feel, is the failure of the public education system (read India's sarkari schools). You go to any town in India, big or small, the sarkari schools are the worst in terms of teaching quality and infrastructure--and these were the institutions that were supposed to shape the hearts and minds of India's generations. Instead, there are more mercenary style private schools that attract the better pupils (who can afford to pay the fees) where the emphasis is on getting good grades and hardly any concern is shown to develop "emotional bases of a respectful pluralistic society."

India's middle class, which is enjoying the economic boom today, is mainly a product of such private schools (I'm not saying all of them are bad) and they have no understanding of religions other than their own--so misunderstandings and misconceptions about "others" abound which are later on systematically exploited by the politicians.


Obiter Dictum said...

Oh Boy!

That is a subject I would like to write to book about and dread at the same time.

Must get that book.

Zafar Anjum said...

And I would love to see what do you have to say on this subject):

Obiter Dictum said...

India is so damn intriguing. It is equally frustrating and charming, it the one side the loftiest of of the loftiest. It produced Gandhi, didn't it? And Lallu too.

Came across this bit here:

Nothing he says is totally untrue, but...

It is so damn difficult to express India.

Yes I have been writing one article that seems to be taking the lengthy proportions of a novella.

if it turns out right, maybe, then it would better suite your Kitaab.

Will keep you apprised.

Zafar Anjum said...

Thanks OD. Your article might be taking long but I guess it will turn out to be honest and interesting. Look forward to reading it. If you want to share it on Kitaab, you are most welcome.

I also followed the India story throught the blog link that you provided. One of the commentators who travelled to India mentioned how the rich lived with BMWs and bodyguards and just opposite their houses poor people lived in shanties in filthy conditions.

I have wondered about slums coexisting with higrise neighbourhoods in India's metros. It is so oppressive and shameful. But you know what, the rich want all these people as cheap hands in their kitchens and bedrooms, doing all their menial jobs for them. That's why they have no motivation to remove poverty from India. If there were no poor people in India, where would they get servants from?

And these poor sods have no choice either. Uprooted from their villages, these once marginal farmers or farm hands or illiterate or semi-literatre mill workers have no choice but to do menial jobs or work as drivers and servants for the metro rich at meagre salaries.

And the India's rich, including many NRIs, take pride in the fact that life is relatively cheap in India. One factor in this equation is the cheap servants.

But perhaps that is part of the current Indian mentality--get head at any cost. Values look good in books only. Poor human lives have no value. Exploit whatever can be exploited. Exploit your way to the top.

And the funny thing is, when they get a chance, the poor also exploit those who are slightly better off than themselves. Just think of the autowallah who will fleece you given a change. He also wants a color Tv for his kids. He will do anything to afford what is beyond his means.

The same goes for the office clerk and the babu. They all want to live beyond their salaries. Consumerist culture is driving it more and more. Expensive weddings. Foreign vacations. Lifestyle. The works. Many from poor and middle class backgrounds want to join politics or civil services to get rich quick, and collect riches for a lifetime and for generations to come. All this is happening, and happening in the name of oh, darling, this is India. If this India and you don't like it, then get out, they say. We will be like this only, they say.

The biggest failure is the failure of law and order. And money does all the talking there. So sad for a great country like India.

I wish Indians will change their ways soon--at least recognize the right from the wrong. A beginning can be made there. I have some hope but will it happen in my life time? I frankly don't know.