Middle In equality? Poverty? Or, denial of freedoms?

You can’t have everything in life, can you? Life doesn’t offer you too many choices, does it? Have you ever thought of these questions, do you? Yes, there is too much poverty in the world, in India! There is too much inequality, in the world, in India! There is too much denial of our freedoms, without most of us knowing, do you know? In India we don’t ask too many questions! Have you noticed this Indian trait?

Yes, India had a peculiar history, not all that so honourable, do you know? India had never been a nation of conquerors, were we ever? Like other countries. Just now I read a book review on Turkish history, the title being “Sons of the conquerors: The rise of the Turkish world”. Turkish language is one of the 10 main linguistic families, its members scattered across a score of states from the Balkans to the Great Wall of China! Turkic people dominated the central Eurasian landmass for a millennium that ended only with the fall of the Ottoman empire a century ago. The last of its imperial manifestions. So, Turkic memory is long, as a people of conquerors from 2nd BC. Modern Turkey was built as a Republic, says the reviewer, by refugees such as Ataturk, they were scattered across so many countries of the modern world. So, the current Turkic national psyche is embedded with this trauma of a loss of a glorified imperial past.

Western countries are torn asunder to Ottoman empire and so the current attempts to bring in Turkey into the Western embrace is creating a reflex in the Turkic psyche as an untrustworthy western intentions! One reason why I turned to Turkey is that I had a Turkish friend at Oxford, Biltin Toker, we shared rooms with the same landlady and so I became so close to this friend who was a brilliant architect, he won prizes and his name used to be flashed in the local Oxford Times! We were in correspondence for long and I promised him a visit to Istanbul one day and may be I would keep up that promise one day! But why I dwelt on the Turkic past was to point out to fellow Indians how we remember our past or how we like to remember our history? I feel terribly embarrassed sometimes whenever I talk of India’s past. We had been repeatedly conquered many times and in the process I find the Indian psyche peculiarly conditioned by a meekness ,a subservient behavior.

In our relationships with our fellow citizens we seem to maintain an aloofness, a fear of exposing ourselves, we keep our opinions on many things to ourselves for fear of getting exposed! In our relations with our foreign friends and associates, in business and politics and in other fields, we don’t express firm opinions on many topics, more so on political and cultural topics. We are master imitators in ways of life, we were once blind worshippers of the British’s culture, now more and more Yankeeism can be noticed, more so after the our own lower middle class engineers and other professionals took to more and more to the Yankee shores and we have brought back this culture to our own homes.

The result, in my opinion, is one of low culture, more mass culture, more consumerists culture that excludes other high culture traits like enjoy reading humanities cultures. Now, I find even some of our best brains, writers and high profile academics who write mostly for a Western audience, because their books are getting published there and for a Western audience, we find there is no serious questioning of our own Indian past, its strengths and weaknesses.

Take even such a currently favourite topic like our own identity. Writers from Sunil Khilani (the author of “The Idea of India”) to Amartya Sen (his latest book, “Argumentative India” examines the idea of identity) don’t give us a satisfactory idea of what it is to be an Indian today, or in today’s world. Indian is to be defined in what identity? Our nationality or geography or history or languages or local cultures or ethnic chauvinism of one sort or other? There is no clear articulation by our intellectuals and the elite class.

Yes, we Indians seem to be not suffering from any of the pangs that we notice in most of the troubled spots of the world, in the Middle East we see an unending ferment. In Russia and China too we see some ferment. In the West there is the sense of bewilderment. US is finding isolated. UK, its “dizzying descent and psychological realities the British have not yet emerged or perhaps, recovered “(A.C.Grayling in a review of the book “The Decline of Britain in the World”). In India we see a sense of complacency in the way we are going through life ,individually and as a nation. Our Prime Minister goes to Oxford and confesses that India learnt good governance from the Empire experience! He didn’t dare to mention Mutiny or Amritsar! So, we are okay, after all? No, we are not okay! We have a burden of living, fine! But we also have the burden of knowing our past and drawing lessons for whatever they are worth! Yes, that is the burden of our whole education, the burden of our education philosophy and ideology. Yes, I see our education’s burden to relieve this generation with some light and, perhaps, some wisdom too!

As people with a multi-lingual and multiple identities representing the various shades of ethnic divides and divided mindsets aspiring towards a shared Utopia. Where all the aspirations of mankind for a more equal, less poverty weighted and a more freedom-centred democratic polity. In this we needn’t and we cant imitate any other countries. US/UK are no models. Their leaders are demonstrably uncaring for the poor and the disadvantaged, uncaring for a shared world vision. This shouldn’t distract us from pursuing a world vision. And Indian vision that would take note of our present strengths and also our deficiencies. US President stands exposed in the post-Katrina failures of the civil society. UK has become a metaphor for lost past. India has to forget what cant be changed in our past but we can surely become vision-driven for what can be done to shape India in our own aspirations. A peaceful country from down the ages to our present perceptions of the same.
For this we require bundle of nerves and also certain moral courage to stand up and speak and act in truth and transparency. We have political leaders sharing the powers and perks of a coalition government at the Centre and yet in their hearts and beliefs entertain, of course secretively, separatist identities! These separatist political cultures had claimed so many innocent lives, sometimes to political assassinations. From Mahatama Gandhi to India Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi and many others. There is a common belief that Indians are peace loving. I do not know. The subject needs a historic and psychological, even psycho-analytical study. Political survival can’t be a core belief of a nation like India. So, too the Opposition party or parties. BJP had to shed its single religion as the only Indian identity.

We live in a globalized world and we Indians have to have a clearly spelt-out national identity. Now, various inequities. Inequality, first. The poor today have so many benefits their grandparents didn’t. TVs, mobile phones, even social securities of one kind or other. Even in rich countries so many inequalities are tolerated. Greece has longer life expectancy than the USA more unequal, inequitable society than US cant be imagined, if you closely examine! As for India, the question of inequality can be kept in cold storage! For sometime till India becomes more a stronger economy, let our Software Superpower status get established more firmly. In education, we are still far away from some basic goals. So, equality in education opportunities is a long way off.

As for poverty, it is a long story. In brief, we see the history of ending poverty is also a long one. It starts with Bible “the poor have always be with us”. Tom Paine and Condorcet gave us utopia of an equal access world. Education was long thought as a way to combat poverty. But the relationship is not so direct or so simple, as shown by Amartya Sen’s long advocacy. Let us be clear. The freedoms we have to talk in India are explicitly political freedoms and also freedoms as we can go about expressing ourselves fully in the Indian society. I notice in India there is widely a sense of fear of the government. So, we as citizens don’t assert our rights and freedoms in most situations. That is one reason why we find there is so much of inequality, unjust social order, social justice is still a long way off. Corruption by the privileged, by the rich and powerful, from powerful politicians and industrialists goes unchallenged in our democracy. Freedom must give a fearless society and a fearless environment. This is not obtaining today.

So, in spite of Constitutional rights and protection individual freedoms are curtailed mercilessly by the state. Even our press is free but not bold enough to expose the government misdeeds. Unlike in Britain where the press has the last laugh. As it did recently when in the Annual Labour Conference, an 82-year old Labour party veteran was physically thrown out of the hall for having uttered the word: “That’s a lie”! UK’s entry into Iraqi war without the party endorsing it. The press played it up. One wonders whether the Indian press can expose so many of the illegalities and in appropriate acts of the government. Our education must give us a dream, an Utopia as constructed ,long ago by Tom Paine and Condercet. Their Utopias, Rights of Man (1792, it sold 250,000 copies in a year and his effigy was burnt in 300 odd towns!). Condorcet wrote his Sketch for a Historical Picture of Progress of Human Mind in 1973 and the Revolutionary France adopted to eliminate poverty. Unfortunately, even to this day, poverty remains, inequality very much lauded (by US President and UK Premier) and freedoms, yes progressed.

Given Indian mindset, we have to create a far more ideal situation that what prevails to give our citizens as sense of belonging and a sense of freedom to realize the best in themselves. It is education’s realized agenda.

Image Source : rawa.org

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