Ashis Nandy and his ‘intimate’ enemies

In India the law exists to protect the servile, the wicked and the dishonest, irrespective of the caste they belong to, and not to serve the needs of the poor and the powerless.

I fail to understand the point Ashis Nandy made, when he said at the Jaipur Literary Festival that “Most of the people who are doing corruption are people from OBC, SC and ST communities and as long as it remains Indian republic will survive.” It’s not an intelligent statement to begin with and an untruthful one to say that corruption is a predominant feature of the deprived communities. Corruption, even if it is not caste-neutral, pervades all castes and communities. South Asians in general are a corrupt lot especially given the culture of nepotism that dominates our social context. There’s little doubt about that.

The problem with the intellectual class—mostly an upper caste venture and I call them a class, though I should be calling them a “club”—is that they are busy talking to themselves about themselves while imagining that they are talking to the rest of the world.

In all fairness, I haven’t read Ashis Nandy’s work. I heard him enough times on television though not to be impressed by him or affected by his thoughts in any significant manner. But, he seems to show signs of being a member of the same class I’m referring to. They’ve no clue with respect to the country in which they are living. They’ve no idea where this nation is heading towards and they couldn’t care less what is happening at the bottom of the heap.

If the so-called leaders and intellectuals of the oppressed classes think that they are any different it is just that they are members of a cult rather than a club. They are running a cult which they wish to preserve with as many lies and as much hypocrisy as is possible so that they could loot this country like their upper caste brethren.

Interestingly the upper caste men and women, who claim to be card-carrying members of the social justice cult, are more interested in preserving their own positions and in the process happy to play second fiddle to corrupt people in the name of caste-based justice because it suits their interests to support unethical causes which have no basis in reality. Life at the bottom goes on in the meantime: each one is busy lying to themselves and to the poor while attempting to make the latter believe that important things are happening at the top.

As far as I can see, nothing is happening at the top and thieves of every caste and creed are busy stealing and dividing the resources of this nation amongst themselves. What is left for the person on the street is very simple: you get to choose between the vacuous intellectual clubs or the social justice cults filled with unjust men of every hue and shade.

But, whether Nandy’s statement constitutes an “atrocity” or not is what I’m interested in. Going by the Oxford English Dictionary, an atrocity can be defined in the following ways: “1. Savage enormity, horrible or heinous wickedness. 2. Fierceness, sternness, implacability.” The colloquial meaning of the term does indeed mean a lack of “moral reference” and “A very bad blunder, violation of taste or good manners, etc.” If Ashis Nandy is guilty at all it is only in terms of the last meaning. But, that is certainly not the “atrocity” of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 which is about denial of “civil rights” to the historically downtrodden groups and the fact that members of certain deprived communities are subjected to various offences, indignities, humiliations and harassment.” In expressing the view that corruption is about caste and that people who come from certain communities are prone to corruption, I don’t think he is committing an atrocity. His statement could easily be dismissed as nonsense or refuted on other grounds—but, that’s about that. To go on a witch-hunt as is being done by Dalit leaders, intellectuals and politicians, smacks of the worst kind of meanness and resentful behavior you could possibly imagine. Meanings however are relative and in a sham democracy like ours it is power that decides which is the most acceptable of all meanings.

I personally believe that most upper caste people, whether they say it in public or not, actually subscribe to the view that Dalits and OBCs tend to be corrupt and anti-national. Ashis Nandy was merely expressing a common feeling. Common feelings are not based on facts and, therefore, neither is this particular one.

Having said that, I’ve countless times witnessed Dalits and OBCs cast aspersions against the so-called upper castes in very vocal terms and on public platforms, but, they don’t get accused of committing atrocities to anyone in particular. People can have wrong views and express them in public, too, if they like to do so. Of course they ought to be challenged likewise. In that sense, Ashis Nandy ought to be argued against. There is, however, no reason for someone to be sent to jail for a wrong opinion. This can happen only in a stupid and a cruel country. More and more, the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is beginning to resemble the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan where you have to prove your innocence against all odds—and the simple fact is that you can’t—with those who refuse to take your word against theirs.

Given the power to be so, Dalits can be as fascist as the others, is what I see in the course of this entire debate. In what way would Dalit fascism be different from upper caste fascism is what I would like to know. How would a black fascist be different from a white one once the color of the skin is not an issue? The answer is simple: both are one and the same. This is what Walter Benjamin has to say at the end of his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:”

“Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property.”

In other words nobody is asking questions related to changing property relations and making sure that the poor, irrespective of what caste or religion they belong to ought to, be given the chance for a decent existence. A fascist government gives us the right to expression but does not change the property structure. That’s what democracy in India is all about, but, the poor want the property structure to be changed.

Sinister though it may sound, fascism is kept alive through these meaningless debates about caste, community and creed because then you don’t have to worry about changing anything at all. Instead of making serious efforts to change the situation at the bottom, Dalit leaders and intellectuals along with their upper caste counterparts are happily playing a predetermined role in keeping the status quo intact.

Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently working as an Associate Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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