Disintegration of Social Contract

When the adhesive agent doesn’t hold

Continued from “The Burden of Past on Our Backs”

The Languishing Republic – III

(If) you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don't even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that's the job of dressmakers.” – Saadat Hasan Manto


Subahe Azadi 1947

Ye Daag Daag Ujala, ye Shab Gazeeda Seher
Wu Intizar tha Jiska, Yeh wu Seher tu Nahin
Ye Wo Seher tu Nahin Jiski Arzoo lay Kar
Chale They Yaar Kay mil Jaigi Kahin Na kahin
Falak Kay Dasht Men Taron Ki Akhri Manzil
Kahin to Hoga Shabe Sust Mowj ka Sahil
Kahin To Jake Rukega Safinae Ghume Dil

August 1947: Dawn of Freedom

This tattered raiment of darkness
This sputtering of dawn.
This is not the dawn that we had looked forward to.
This is not the dawn we had set our hearts on.
Through the darkness,
Towards the last station of the night stars;
Hoping to find the end of our journey,
Somewhere far away on the distant shore

- Faiz Ahamad Faiz


Who Cares for the Country?

“I don’t think many Indians care about the country,” he (George Fernandes) said. “By Indians I mean those in the highest places. If they cared they wouldn’t have been looting the treasuries as they are and they wouldn’t be allowing the crooks of the world to treat this country as a grazing ground. Some day we will sink and this is not anything to do with China or with Pakistan. It is because this country is cursed to put up with a leadership that has chosen to sell it for their own personal aggrandizement.”

I was struck by the note of despair in his voice. It was hard to believe that this was the country’s Defence Minister speaking, a politician who had reached the pinnacle of his career.  Amitav Ghosh Countdown (1999)


A System Gone Awry!

“What’s wrong with the system?” Supreme Court Justices R.M. Lodha and Madan B. Lokur said in a statement last week, while hearing a petition from the father of a 15-year-old girl gang-raped by three men in 2012, according to Indian media. The girl, who is a Dalit, member of the outcast community once known as untouchables, has since been barred from her school in north India, and her mother was killed for refusing to withdraw a police complaint about the crime, according to Press Trust of India.

The court lambasted India’s poor record of conviction in rape cases, saying “Why are 90 percent of rape cases ending in acquittals? The situation is going from bad to worse.”


The above four statements aren’t a random collage of observations that chalk up to cynicism of those who’re disillusioned with the goings-on around them. Instead, they are the outpourings of perceptive observers from the dawn of Independence till yesterday, who, sad at heart, haven’t yet written the polity off. Undiminished are their hopes of rejuvenation after a depressing spell of decline and degradation, which is unique to Indian civilization whose spiritual fountain heads never run dry.

All the countries of South Asia became independent almost at the same time: India and Pakistan in 1947 and both Sri Lanka (Ceylon till 1972) and Burma (now Myanmar) a year later, in 1948. Bangladesh came into being in 1971 after it chose to break away from Pakistan. Today, the whole South Asian region is in the vice grip of a raging siege. The most worrisome symptoms are the recurrent civil strife and crises of governance, characterized by an unrelenting breakdown of law and order. Rising ethnicity, casteism, sectarianism, regionalism and religious fundamentalism threaten to rip apart the secular, democratic, post-colonial state structures bequeathed by the founding fathers of the countries in the region.

Disintegration of Social Contract

Actually, these are all the symptoms of ominous disintegration of the social contract between the rulers and the ruled, the state and society. Such a contract between the State and the society defines the basis of political association and public authority in modern times. It involves the citizen’s voluntary submission to the authority of the state in return for certain guarantees of life, liberty and the common good. Over time, it is expected to mature into a host of participatory institutions and social policies designed to ensure the welfare of the individual.

In countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, the State has all but abandoned its citizens. Bouts of martial law, prohibitive defence expenditures, crumbling social infrastructures and the corruption and political opportunism of ruling elites have consciously sabotaged the social contract. Citizens have been forced to retreat into ideologies, sub-nationalisms and religious sects in order to fend for themselves. The state is unable or unwilling to provide employment, education, health, housing and public transportation. As a consequence, the social psychology of the people of South Asia is characterized by insecurity, uncertainty and aggression which find expression in frequent mass protests.

Whenever in history a society entered its phase of decline, the basic reason was almost always the same, namely, the lack of character on the part of its leaders and those who constituted the elite, charged with the responsibility of its sustenance and growth. Whenever and wherever the self-interest of those who constituted the leadership of that society triumphed over the larger good of others, the result, inevitably, was degradation.

Role of Leadership

There’s a great verse in the Gita – Chapter 3:21 which explains how the conduct of our leadership immediately after Independence set rolling the fall of public standards. The verse says

yad yad acarati sresthas
tat tad evetaro janah
sa yat pramanam kurute
lokas tad anuvartate

(Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all others pursue it.)

One of the very first public acts of our first Prime Minister was to grab the best accommodation in the Lutyens’ Delhi  unfortunately, it turned out to be the second best because the erstwhile ‘Viceroy’s House’ (now called Rashtrapati Bhavan) was reserved for the head of State. And that second best was the present Teen Murti Bhavan where Jawaharlal Nehru lived for 16 years until his death on May 27, 1964. Now it is under the First Family’s control in a different garb. It had been designed by Robert Tor Russell, the British architect of Connaught Place and of the Eastern and Western Courts on Janpath during the British Raj. Teen Murti Bhavan was built in 1930 as part of the new imperial capital of India, New Delhi as the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army. That was some prize for Gandhi’s followers who once had preached simple living and high thinking!

Is it surprising how others followed suit with great alacrity? And once in, they and their descendants did everything possible to stay on and on. The family of Babu Jagjivan Ram, the great neta of Harijans (as backwards were then called) still continue to occupy it. So, won’t you trace the land-grab culture of New Delhi’s elite to the great example set by our great leaders immediately after Independence?

The rapists on the road and the pickpocket in the backstreet derives comfort from the fact that if A. Raja, Kanimozhi and P K Bansal can escape from law enforcement why cannot he.

Al-Biruni on India

The failure of the Hindu society to withstand the onslaughts of hordes of Muslim invaders before and after the turn of the last millennium was precisely due to the cussed unconcern of its leaders. The military conquests of Mahmud of Ghazni between 1000 AD and 1025 AD (he launched as many as seventeen campaigns capturing one area after another) can’t be explained away by the invader’s military superiority alone. There is a deeper reason for the vulnerability of the Indian States to Mahmud’s attacks. And this has been brought out brilliantly by Al-Biruni (regarded as the founder of Indology) in his encyclopedic work on India entitled Tarikh Al-Hind. Al-Biruni was in Mahmud’s court and knew India well and admired many an attribute of Indian civilization as it obtained then. In the very first chapter of his treatise on India he made the following perceptive comment on the national character of the Indians:

The Hindus believe that there is no nation like theirs, no king like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from man of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course, from any foreigner. Their haughtiness is such that if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khurasan or Persia, they will think you both an ignoramus and a liar. If they travelled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind, for their ancestors were not as narrow-minded as the present generation is. (Italics added)

Some worrisome attributes of our ancestors stand out starkly in Al-Biruni’s account of India. At least three of them deserve mention.

First, the extreme unwillingness of the so-called upper castes to share their knowledge with others. Almost a thousand years later Vivekananda too commented on this. The sections of society that had in their hands levers of economic and social power, stubbornly refused to share knowledge with those below them. Obviously, it was with a view to ensuring that the lower sections of society weren’t ever empowered. Knowledge was treated as a source of power and hence, was very carefully guarded.

This proclivity that cost the Indian society dear, is exemplified by two otherwise unrelated areas of knowledge. Take the Ayurvedic system of medicine which is much older than modern medicine called Allopathy. Those who knew something kept their knowledge a closely guarded secret. Hence, it could make no progress. (Knowledge grows exponentially when widely disseminated).

Something similar happened in the field of classical music. The great ustads of various gharanas offered two types of talim (knowledge-based teaching). The khas talim (the very special teaching) was exclusively reserved for the son of the Ustad, not even his son-in-law so that the real knowledge stayed with the family and didn’t travel out. All others whom the Ustad condescended to take on as his disciples were imparted aam talim (the ordinary teaching) which was a considerably watered down version of the khas talim, the real tricks of the trade having been held back. The ultimate sufferer was music and its wider dissemination and appreciation. This trend continues till today Ravi Shankar developing Anoushika to take over from him and Amjad Ali training Aman and Ayan as the designated torch-bearers of the great Hafiz Ali sarod tradition.

Supreme Unconcern

Secondly, the upper sections of the society were supremely indifferent to what happened to those below. That perpetuated economic and social stagnation. The trend still continues. The upper ten per cent of the Indian population in terms of their share of GDP consume anything up to eighty per cent if not more of the national output. This section of society seems to be self-convinced that the national economy just exists for them and things must go as per their wishes and fancies. (If you want corroborative evidence, visit one of the so-called farmhouses dotting the southern outskirts of New Delhi).

The third attribute, as highlighted by Al-Biruni, is the indifference of Indians to learn from what others do and what happens around them to develop and sustain a proactive culture. Take a few examples. Till Alexander’s invasion, Indians rode their horses without saddlery. (Those who used it had a more effective use of their cavalry). Mastery of fighting on the horseback made Central Asian tribes great conquerors. Having mastered this technique they were, for centuries, conquering vast areas of the world. Their empires in the East extended to China and in the West, to Eastern Europe. The devastating effectiveness of their cavalry charges was countered only after the arrival of the gunpowder and thereafter the development of the handgun and cannon. Babar, for instance, scored his victory in the First Battle of Panipat over the Lodhi forces in 1526 because he had superior firing power of cannons which later proved to be the undoing of the Rajput kingdoms too in their battles against the Mughals. In fact, the rise of gunpowder-powered weapons launched the Europeans as conquerors on the world stage, eclipsing the Mongols, the Turks and the Moors who ruled with their then superior armory. It was the dismal failure of Indian rulers to learn from what had been happening around them that cost them dear. How applicable to us is the Hebrew saying: “if you hit me once it is your fault, but if I let you hit me again the fault is entirely mine”. And we allowed ourselves to be hit again and again.

China Wall

The Chinese in their history too had, like India, a similar experience of a series of invasions from the Northern nomadic tribes. The response of the Chinese rulers was a 2400 km winding fortification extending from Gansu province to the Yellow Sea. This amalgamation of many walls was first united in the 3rd century BCE during the Ch’in dynasty. The Wall, however, was of little military utility. But the fact it was built, shows how seriously did the Chinese rulers take the military threat from the North.

In our case, for instance, after Mahmud’s death, there was almost for a century no fresh invasion of India till the next wave of marauders descended on the plains of India from Afghanistan. This respite lulled once again the Hindu rulers in North India into a false sense of complacency. All said, their most unforgivable lapse was not to join hands to forge a common alliance against the invaders when the Shahi dynasty ruling the Hindukush region was threatened. The result was their being overrun over and over again.

Two factors, in particular, were responsible for the defeat of Hindu kingdoms at the hands of Islamic invaders: immobile Hindu society and hereditary rulers. Social immobility didn’t allow the emergence of a well-trained army which, invariably, consisted of men constituting an army on the basis of hereditary rank. On the contrary, Muslim armies were led by those most of them slaves who had proved their military worth. For instance, the Ghaznavid Sultans of Delhi were slaves from Central Asia who usurped power through superior military skills, often by killing their owners. It was a type of military Darwinism that gave Muslim armies their superior fighting power. Above all, the Muslim invaders were charged by an ideological cause, namely, to subjugate the infidels. Seldom in Indian history did the rulers get together to fight to defend their collective ‘dharma’.

The cumulative impact of these repeated humiliations on Hindus was irreparable erosion of self-confidence. The result was what the Gita pointedly describes as klaibyam i.e., impotence born out of the feeling of helplessness. ( II:3 ) Its victims lose that precious human attribute called self-respect. Under no circumstances can we ever afford to be lulled into complacency in the matter of defense of our frontiers. The Chinese taught us a lesson in 1962. It was, all said, a far-sighted decision of the BJP Government to dare go nuclear. In today’s geo-political world, atomic weaponry is the only global currency of national self-esteem in a nuclear neighborhood. Developing adequate wherewithal to defend our borders has to be one of our top priorities. Hence, the need to acquire the new icon of empowerment.

Continued to “Are We Our Brothers’ Keepers?”


More by :  H.N. Bali

Top | Analysis

Views: 3490      Comments: 5

Comment The third inconvenient feature of Indian culture listed as being responsible for the inability to compete with other cultures --the reluctance to learn from others-- is also on the list that Japanologist Edwin O. Reischauer gave to explain the reasons for China having fallen behind as compared with Japan in the days of the last dynasty. Proud, haughty China was the Middle Kingdom, the center of the Universe, and consequently it needed to learn nothing from anybody else. Eventually it realized its mistake and imitated the systematic borrowing from the West that had allowed Japan to win the Russo-Japanese War at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Daniel Rey M.
19-Sep-2013 14:23 PM

Comment Mr Sachitanand is right in his assertion that the decision to go nuclear had been taken much earlier than BJP's ascension to power. The question was who takes the decision to go public after detonating the bomb. Narasimha Rao almost decided to do so but backed off at the last minute. He knew the Americans will clamp economic sanctions and he wasn't prepared for that, Vajpayee showed the courage to do and face the consequences of American retaliatory measures. So, he deserves the credit for showing political courage.

H N Bali
19-Sep-2013 13:23 PM

Comment It was not the BJP which initiated the acquisition of nuclear weapons
by India . It was Indira Gandhi in 1974. The BJP effort came in 1998.

19-Sep-2013 08:30 AM

Comment It was St Paul, if you pardon the biblical analogy, who saw the Christian community as members of one body whose head was Christ. Similarly, you see India as one body whose head is its ruling class; and as the head thinks and decides, so the body is identified in the head. When you say: 'Under no circumstances can we ever afford to be lulled into complacency in the matter of defense of our frontiers.' you are referring to the members of current leadership, but, as the head of the body of Indians to 'we' Indians. The failures of the head reflect as failures of the body: This very interesting phenomenon reduces the mass of the people in any country to its ruling head; which, in logistic terms, is a tiny group of people that the vast population, especially the case in India, are identified with. Typically, the decisions of the rulers are those of the country named, as 'Russia or China or India' acting. The impression is of everyone in the country acting. It was no different in the days of monarchy, when a king acted in the name of the country; and when Spain was at war with England, say, it was between two kings, their respective countries their bodies. From this, there is a tendency to judge a country's people by its rulers, and attribute to them the characteristics of the rulers, say, the 'feelings of inferiority' in the vast numbers of the Indian people as a direct consequence of the failures of its diminutive band of leaders, However, I put it to you that the feelings of shame and inferiority are mainly if not solely in the head, extended to members of the upper class, and imputed to be those of the body, most of whom are too pre-occupied with their daily struggle to really care.

18-Sep-2013 21:36 PM

Comment Very nice compilation of quotes. I could not understand the Hindi or Urdu one but, could feel the gist of the same. As it is pointed out this generation has the liberty to express themselves on the present values of mankind. First aspect in this created crisis is the deteriorated moral and cultural values.

Vasan KSS
15-Sep-2013 13:08 PM

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