Rabble-Rousing: How Effective, How Moral?

There was almost a spectacular turnout when Arundhati Roy spoke in Chennai recently.  People from far away towns and cities had arranged special buses to make it.  Roy is certainly attracting similar crowds elsewhere too.

As an admirer, I am also heartened that in these days of crass self-indulgence, those like her should be attracting such large audiences. But her increasing zealotry leaves one disturbed.

 Yes, reasoned arguments alone can’t lead to a revolution perhaps. Taking some liberty with facts and glossing over inconvenient areas are all par for the course, especially when it comes to leaders mobilizing people.  Even then there are limits, one would imagine. Any unrestrained hype could lead to total loss of credibility.

 So what do you make of someone like Roy who would not say anything about the all too obvious excesses of those who are fighting the state in the name of the people.  Or is it all collateral damage?

 Will such a line sell among the middle classes – whom she is addressing after all?

 Indeed, should those looking for social change bother too very much about the self-absorbed  middle classes? Anyhow they have shown themselves to be counterrevolutionary time and again.  What we are doing is only telling them, ‘Get lost, we know you. We’re telling you all this only to make you understand that we know your game. Without you, despite you, we will….”

 We’re trying to somehow reach out to the large masses who might get to hear. And they are the people to depend upon for any meaningful action. Once they know there are many outside their class standing by them, they would feel emboldened.

 If such indeed is the case, credibility shouldn’t matter one bit.  Fire, brimstone, the more strident the better. So long as you are speaking up for the oppressed, that’s fine.

 Nearly two decades ago, there was this colloquium on Periyar. Speaker after speaker waxed eloquent on the greatness of the man, how he had answers for any and every problem we were encountering, his disciples might have gone astray, still… you see, the blunders of communist parties did not necessarily invalidate Marxism and so on.

 It was becoming quite suffocating, it was uncritical adulation, I thought. I intervened to say, “It’s one thing to say Periyar had thought of this, this and this, his position was quite radical, whether caste or women. But I don’t think we should cover up his commissions and omissions. Leave alone the various contradictions in him, right before his eyes his own cadres were treating their womenfolk as chattel, did he really pull up anyone, did he check out how his followers were implementing his commandments? For all his glib talk of the situation of the Scheduled Castes, did he intervene to see that Dalits  got a fair deal? His stance on Keezhavenmani was outrageous. And, worse,  Karunanidhi was running amok, but he didn’t say a word against him till the very end…My point is if we don’t admit such problem areas even while holding up his example on various counts, we’ll lose credibility…”

 Promptly a passionate Periyarist there interjected, “Who’s this we?.” There were sniggers all round. The man went on, “No, thank. We don’t need your counsel. Periyar’s thoughts are a great weapon which will help us demolish the wretched Brahminical social order…..”

 The man subsequently retreated to Middle East, looking for some inspiration there, perhaps. Some among the more vociferous that day drifted to less thundering vocations, yet others still persist with strident denunciations of anything Brahmin, Hindu, Indian. They are all interchangeable terms anyway for them. Where has it all got them? They remain on the margins of the margins of the margins of the ….

 My argument is whether it is Periyar or Communism, there are greater chances of carrying conviction if we acknowledge the failings and stress that the philosophy has a much brighter side to it for various reasons and hence should be pursued.

 There was such a groundswell of support for Marxism in the 1920’s. If George Orwell or Arthur Koestler subsequently fell out or Bertrand Russell became skeptical, it was not just because of Stalin and what was happening in the USSR alone. Communist party leaders around the world went on foolishly mouthing the Soviet propaganda, losing credibility, and thus virtually destroying all chances of gaining some acceptance at a broader level, more so in the West.

 In India where the conditions should have been far more conducive, even if not according to Marxist cannons, thanks to their contortions during the freedom struggle, readiness to fall in line with diktats from abroad and also by adopting the most opportunist policies, Communist leaders have become a laughing stock.

 A few days ago my heart sank on seeing that veteran Nallakannu by the side of M. Natarajan, the supposedly estranged husband of Jayalalithaa’s confidante Sasikala, on a Tamil nationalist platform.  How far could one allow oneself to be brought down in the name of ‘front’ compulsions.  But when the CPI has chosen to fervently support the Prabhakaranites, everyone has to fall in line.

 Not just Marxism, any kind of altruistic ideal, has few takers these days. The middle classes have different concerns. Even the oppressed are trapped in a kind of ‘Sanskiritization’ of process. What is the way out?

Material conditions apart, it is the intellectual vanguards who have a crucial role to play in any attempt at social change. And they cannot succeed if they content themselves with the role of a rabble-rouser.

 It is not as if Ramadosses alone are confronted with alliance dilemmas! Anyone seeking to forge a united front for a larger cause has to grapple with them. Time Arundhati Roys did.

Patriarchy Too is Terrorism !

An article on Lahore blasts I came across recently said how Pakis train their students right from their infancy on religious hatred.

But such seems to be the bane, not just of  Pakistan, but of every civilisation. Take for instance the great country called India. Where women are worshipped as goddesses, put on pedestals, adorned with gold and flowers and bowed to. WOW, what a sight. Back at home, the flesh-and-blood counterparts of the feminine clay models are thrashed and abused. The more modest men would take it on as their duty to make their women (especially wives; the men are kinder to their mothers, sisters and daughters) guilty of being themselves. The educated, ‘well-bred’ among the men would clip their women’s wings to fit the ‘cultured, educated yet traditional’ mould leaving them panting for a breath of fresh air.

Fortunately or not, there is a group being groomed who understand the hypocrisy. Aravind Adiga seems to be one such. His booker-winner, ‘The White Tiger’ is a sweeping take on real India. Not the incredible one, begging for tourists and outsourcing work but the rusty, ragged and fiercely devoid of the ‘values’ that it otherwise flaunts. It talks of that India where a square meal a day is a luxury for say, at least 50 per cent of its inmates. And that, is a very low estimate. For it to be the India that exists in Bangalore and other cities flaunting the wealth of malls, the real India has to traverse light years. Well, almost. An entrepreneur is the protagonist here, the average illiterate, rustic Indian, who begins his life as a ne’er-do-well, a tea-stall worker, a son-of-an Indian bitch, who dies in the dignity that she was denied when alive. The part where the woman’s death is described is touching and reflects the state of Indian women–the rustic, the illiterate, the bred-to-be firewoods. As I said before, their clay counterparts are worshipped during festivals and prayed to for wealth, faith, fertility and even liberation. Afterall, isn’t India the land of the goddesses and as Adiga says of thirty five million asses of Gods.

Adiga also writes to the Chinese premier who,  in his land, unleashes the same terror, especially among women in Tibet. There are many Tibetan women who fled the land of their birth fearing torture from the Chinese forces. One such is a woman, now living in Auroville, who was transported to India when 9 months old. Her mother was shot dead, when alone at home by the forces. And this is one mild a story. China is also the region where women were treated since days of yore, though not of India’s magnitude, like horse dung.

Adiga’s book has much more on India, its class and creed differences. The women part, however, is the most interesting and hence taken in this article to illustrate more on the subject. And it is also to show that women’s issues in India cannot be rounded off in stupid numbers. It is far beyond, and exists more at the psychological realm. And thats why when men (and also women) in India hear the word ‘Gender’, they say, “Oh, isn’t it a western word. Does Gender exist here?”

Women are traiditonally, psychologically and socially expected to play a slave, for otherwise she wouldn’t be a woman. It is natural that a woman is confined to home and the kitchen, for without her home wouldn’t be complete. And it is also natural that she is shouted at, asked to compromise and sacrifice herself and her dreams for then she could expect a place alongside the goddesses, who were blood-sucking warriors or rebels in their own right. She is expected to study and get good grades, but after an age, she shouldn’t dream of a career or an independent spirit, for then she would be a slut. She could watch TV but when it came to representing her on public space, she got just 14 per cent of news space on TV, of which only 7 per cent was hard news (UN estimates as per a 1994 survey). Even those women who were shown taking on the world of men in terms of education and work space were portrayed as ambitious, with weepy personal life and children thoroughly wayward. The nice ones were the mute, fully clad, religious and submissive, who are waiting to hear the gunshot to jump into the pyre of their existence. And sad part is, majority of women in India, too, are bred in this way. They feel they deserve to be abused, illtreated (whatever magnitude that is of) and deprived of human dignity just because they are born a woman.

I would think it is more of a psychological disorder, and hence gender issues are tougher to deal with in India, much like religious fanaticism is in Pakistan.  And this is where the article from the Pak blog told a familiar story. The difference is the terror-hit can shout out their troubles, whereas women in India dare not open their mouth –  for then, they would be social outcasts, or worse, criminals.

— Aparna