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The Unargumentative Indian . . .
|by Ananya S Guha|
I have often been thinking about the Indian concept of 'Unity In Diversity' which is touted as one of the highlights of the Indian Union. While I am personally enamoured of it, since as a child, fuelled also by reading Nehru's classic, 'Discovery of India' I am not sure if it is the mindset of every Indian.
The first impediment I think is the notion of mainland, or what, in my opinion is disputatiously known as the mainstream India. Let me gently point out that if there is a mainstream, there are many sub streams which flow into oceans or rivers of the mainstream. Their sources may be various, but they flow into a continuous and contiguous whole, if we are going to be pertinacious about our notions of 'Unity In Diversity'. So why mainland, and what or where is the hinterland?
Why is the 'problem' of North East India always seen in such dichotomous terms? This creates separatism, and 'ethnic' feelings which in turn leads to sharp divisions and complex issues. The same is perhaps true of Jammu and Kashmir. Again and again these two regions of the country are seen in separatist and paradoxical terms. But what is happening to the Maoisists in Central and South India? Why are they also being viewed in terms of separatism, and a threat to the much vaunted unity of the country? Why are they presented in diabolical terms as posing a threat to the unity of the country?
Any failure in governance or any livelihood issue will automatically pose the question of disintegration. Poverty can lead to separatist feelings. The issues of Maoists are: livelihood and bad governance. There is already a talk of them joining hands with some of the North East recalcitrant groups. That is because they have a common underling, but in many cases the issues are the same for both the groups.
When militancy began in Punjab in the 80s, many did not comprehend the reason for this, as Punjab had always been on thresholds of economic upswing and prosperity? Then why did this happen, people asked? We forgot the question of sentiments, an alienated culture (for whatever reason) and then the behemoth created shocked us into retaliatory violence, so much so that a pogrom virtually was launched against a particular community in the wake of the brutal assassination of one of our Prime Ministers. The same retaliation took place in North East India beginning with the Mizos, where the common man was torn asunder between forces of militarism and militancy, and still is. The common man is the worst sufferer in both the regions of North East and Jammu and Kashmir.
Then there is religious fanaticism seen in the light of the Hindu Muslim divide. Godhra came and Gujarat followed, in abysmal ways, but there have been instances of the true sufferers being the poor or the common person especially in Gujarat.
The Hindu Muslim divide in India has to be understood against the backdrop of the country, clearly wedged in between feelings of separatism, fanned by political leaders and a machinating British Govt. which was loth to leave the country, and wanted to sound a final death knell. One forgot Islamic contributions to the country in the form of architecture, art, language etc. The argumentative Indian in Amartya Sen's words was undoubtedly Akbar who in the sixteenth century with his prescient eyes saw an undivided and unified India. He was 'argumentative' as Sen states like Asoka and Tagore, because in early times even before independence they intuitively saw a unified cosmic culture in the best Indian traditions. Tagore also was a visionary as he saw a composite world order.
The' argument' has stopped now, there are skirmishes between politicians and fractious elements.
What is the 'argument'?
To extend Sen's exegesis, it is one of sublimated order, tolerance, religious and cultural, a pan Indian culture and vision, equalitarian rights, religious tolerance, inter and intra cultural connections etc. Akbar, Asoka and Tagore saw this beautiful assimilated India, or tried to forge ahead with eclectic and rational thinking.
The next question is that of language. Linguistic chauvinism still continues, whether in the form of ethnic intolerance, or a misplaced superiority, as in the case of Bengalis. Then, of course casteism which surreptitiously is present among some communities and blatantly among others. I won't like to go into anarchic acts like dowry and sati here. Both are too primeval to be given any consideration, in the context of what I am trying to say.
The fractious elements of discord in the Indian discourse are: language, religion, caste, plutocracy, bad governance, bad politicians with of course notable exceptions, issues of livelihood, hunger and poverty. All are contributing to make the country decrpit, to the extent that our blissful notion of 'Unity In Diversity' is an absolutely and perhaps a vacuous 'truth'.
The argumentative Indian today are the pressure groups, the activists, the crusaders for rights, the human rights activists, the child rights activists, the social workers, the heretics such as Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy etc. They are the voices of dissent, while the ones mentioned in the earlier parts of the article were voices of assent. Then, we have extreme recalcitrant groups termed variously as terrorists, extremists and militants.
I marvel at our resilience for coining journalese. The fact is that they work towards what they feel are definite goals, and they could be having tacit and explicit supporters. The Maoists are one such group having antecedents in the infamous Naxalite movement in the 70s. Contrary to what people thought, that it died down, it was not crushed as it left its base in West Bengal and spread gradually to Orissa and South India. Today it is riding a tiger in the form of its new Avatar - Maoism.
The point that I am trying to make out is that within the broad secular framework of the country there is dissent and uprising. The state will call it sedition and anarchic but the voices speaking out promote a cause, call it ideology or unjust practices. There are wheels within wheels a metaphor, however cliched it maybe which I use mainly to explain away the situation in North East India, problematic no doubt, but a region endowed with enormous natural resources, flora and fauna, aesthetic and literary talent, charming people, colourful communities and exotic natural scenery. This category of the present argumentative Indian lies not so much in visionary ideals, but in the unrest of present times, class divisions, the haves and have nots, exploitations and the overarching presence of an insensitive middle class who could be in a position to fight for causes, but who are status hungry, caught in the echelons of hierarchy and knotty (as well as naughty) class divisions.
So what do we do?
If we empathize deeply like Binayak Sen we face proscription or jail. If we mingle with the grass roots we face similar bewitchment like Kobal Ghandhi. If we are the Medha Patkars, then also we face some kind of ire, so also people like Akhil Gogoi of Assam fighting for farmers and other social issues, who was once impugned for having Maoist connections.Then there was the Uranium unrest in Meghalaya, the Nandigram and Singur conflagrations supported by activists, pressure groups and even intellectuals. The base of all this rests on the state to find out-Why? It is easier to ask questions, than to answer them, but the onus is on the representatives of the people, forgetting for once the euphoria of winning elections!
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