13th May 2012, Just a Day In The Life of India
I sit this morning with my back to a hot and scorching sun pouring into my balcony. I am inside my room with just a khadi curtain between me and the sun rays and it feels like being in an oven. The shades of the balcony are down. The workmen are here fixing a grill beyond the banisters so that in the hot summer nights I can keep the door to the balcony open sleep peacefully without the fear of intruders tickling at the back of my deep subconscious.
I have just glanced through the newspapers and picked up pieces of news here and there. Suddenly I wondered why was it that I never thought of putting all the news together and see what kind of a pattern emerges out of it.
I first read the Dalit Panther’ attack on the NCERT office in Pune because they oppose a cartoon that was drawn before Independence. The cartoon shows Ambedkar sitting on a giant snail, called the Constitution, desperately trying to make it move through a long tether while Nehru tries to whip it from behind in a bid to hasten it forward. This was perhaps the time when Pandit Nehru was getting impatient with Ambedkar on why he was sitting on the Constitution instead of finalizing the text. Ambedkar being a legalist was deliberate and ruminative took a long time to arrive at decisions avoiding finalities and certainties, while Panditji was performance driven, result oriented, not too sensitive always to uncertainties and contingencies and on the whole cared less for details. For me the picture is common place, I have seen this millions of times, my way to my mother’s village, in the outlying village roads off Santiniketan, on the Delhi-Haryana highways, where poor people carry cart loads of wares pulled by bullocks where one sits on the head of the cart and a helper cracks the whip from behind. The whip cracked behind the animal gives it a forward motion while the stick on the head guides the animal to keep on the desired track. The Dalit Panther taking offence to this simple imagery of everyday life beyond the city limits, shows how little these city bred young Indians are ignorant of such common everyday realities. Every Bengali knows this little rhyme by Tagore by heart; gaari chalaye bonshi bodon, shonge je jaaye bhaagne modon. But more than being ignorant of simple realities, these young Dalits do not wish to be associated in any way with India, its history, its past. They wish to imagine the Dalit as a distinct ethnie, a specific community, and wish to deny any kind of connections they may have had with India and Indians. The desire to deny the common life is so great that it seems fine for them also to have the contributions of their own intellectuals denied and decried. This is the typical Partition politics; a politics that the Dalits seem now to be geared up for. No wonder then Salman Khurshid raised issues for Muslims that seemed to have been settled after the Partition, and there was such a landslide voting in favour of the Samajwadi Party, a Party that alone could keep the Dalit power at bay. Now Mayawati says that she fears for her life. The Dalit politics today is the politics of Partition; it is a politics which only tries to hurt the mainstream Hindus without actually having an agenda to benefit its own members.
There was another story of groups within the army fighting amongst themselves in Ladakh. Only a few days ago, the army chief asserted his ego over the State, something which has never been seen before in India. Various reports of militancy being promoted in the areas where the military is posted are not new; the army personnel make enormous money by selling arms and ammunition to militant groups. With such interests of the army growing in local affairs, the outfit develops into a constituency of its own and once this happens we are straight on the path to a situation like Pakistan and Bangladesh where the military runs the State. This could be the only reason why the army must be immediately withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir and other insurgent areas.
There is a story of a gang of pickpockets who commit this crime as acts of artistry and refinement; the money they collect out of picking bags and pockets are spent on alcohol and kebabs !! They never operate near their homes where they say that they have impeccable records. Such crime is neither a reaction to poverty, nor revenge against deprivation but artistic command over technology that gives ample scope for power, a kind of a secret and unsaid power over the other, a satisfaction at having thoroughly beaten the system, its laws, its vigilance. It is the same power that film makers unleash on their viewers; an ability to use technology creatively, create technology out of creativity and surprise the viewer into sheer wonderment; no wonder the pristine always seem to connect cinema and the underworld together, or debunk films as instigators of the unsocial and illegitimate activities.
I also read that divorces in Mumbai are going up especially those over petty matters. A man wants to divorce his wife because she never seems to put the latch properly, in another case the man wants his wife to cook meat over slow flame and not in a cooker and in a third a wife wants to get rid of her husband because he would never allow their child to have a fancy water bottle. While the news reporter says that these are trivial affairs, I see in them serious and irresolvable problems. Why does a wife in the first case not latch the door they way her husband wants it, why does the wife in the second not want to cook meat the way her mother-in-law does and why the husbands in either case not to the tasks themselves and why in the last instance, does the wife not buy that desired water bottle for the child out of her own money? In each of these cases there is a refusal to accept the other as a person in her or his own right, a certain defiance of the other, a certain impulse to defy, deny and decry the existence of the other; in each case mountains have been made out of molehills and that’s the seriousness of the business of divorce. These stories show that stress levels are now cracking down human beings, searing through character consistencies, cracking up normalcy and throwing up anomie. The human personality is under severe threat; it is unable to carry on the simplest of social functions, to marry, have a family and raise children. The stress of neoliberal living has oppressed the basic existence of the homo social, individuating her in such a way that she breaks up in the face of minimum social role playing. If this is not a sign of social collapse then what is?
The Indian system is under collapse; its sovereignty threatened by military mutinies, its politics threatened by yet another kind of Dalit minorityism leading into undertones of Partition; its economy threatened by criminal artistry, its society threatened by the anomie of alienation. Will the success of India still be counted in terms of the growth of its GDP and the growing number of billionaires and individuals of high net worth?