Growing up, Pt. Nehru was one in a long list of people about whom you had to cram up information to be able to write essays in exams. He was a man who featured in the books about general knowledge and in those about great men of India. I think you were supposed to feel some sort of fondness for him, because this great man was after all “Chacha Nehru” and he supposedly loved children. But so did many other adults around you, and they were far more accessible than this long-dead man. He was a man whose photos patriotic characters in old Hindi movies kept in their houses. He was the first prime minister of India. His birthday resulted in a holiday. And yes – he was the man after whom my school was named (Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya). Great man, like I said.
Somewhere during my early adult life, this greatness of Nehru faded from my consciousness. I did read his books. Like I read so many others. But it took much more adulting to start appreciating the man.
It took a lot of reading and traveling to realize how badly many other countries decolonized in the 20th century had done. It took looking at Vietnam, at Cambodia, and at African countries in the grip of autocrats to realize how far-sighted a man we had in our first prime minister, who focused on strengthening democracy, and not on trying to turn his immense popularity into autocratic power. Something he could have done. It took a prolonged stay away from home, exposure to language chauvinism in my country, and the hopeless language policies of some other countries to appreciate the open-mindedness of a man who got Urdu added to the 8th schedule of constitutionally recognized languages after retorting to a Hindi chauvinist friend of his that Urdu “is my language, the language of my ancestors.” It took shedding of a lot of simplistic notions about life, politics, and society to admire the vision of a leader who wasn’t bogged down by the immediate challenges of a newly independent nation and invested in building the institutes of science and technology. It took confronting the cringe-worthy behavior of petty politicians, who rise to power far too often, to admire the statesmanship of the prime minister of a country who power, and even survival, was doubted by all, but who could garner international respect and attention despite that. It took dismay at the utter lack of vision our current leaders display to appreciate the vision of a man who thought of Non-alignment movement back in those days. It took being face to face with the apathy of many regimes towards persecuted refugees to understand the heart of a man who offered refuge to Tibetans, even if he wasn’t in a position to fight China over them (and many Tibetans hate him for that!).
It also took time to understand that the man sold in the books as an infallible great man was after all human. That even if he recognized thirteen languages, including Urdu, in our constitution, he did make a strong case against recognizing every “dialect” of Hindi as a separate language, an idea that reflected in the “Hindi belt” language policy and has done irreversible damage to many languages by subverting them to “standardized” Hindi. That he could have done things differently in Kashmir. That despite his generous and inclusive idea of India, a lot of people were left out of its ambit – you can start by thinking of everyone displaced and ill-compensated for the large projects he championed and of people who continue to suffer for the sake of such state-backed projects even today. That there are a lot of problems our country has that can be traced back to him.
However, with every realization of all the things that were wrong with him, I also realized that so many things that are right with our country can also be traced back to the same man.
It took extensive vilification of this great man by our current regime for me to appreciate him as a visionary leader. It took a certain dear leader and his puerile pettiness for me to discover my fondness for Nehru.
This year is a big one. I know, I know. Too much pressure already. You don’t need me to remind you of that. You know it from your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and teachers. Oh – and from all the coaching classes you have been attending for years while keeping your (and your parents’) lives on hold. JEE in all its complications and variations, which I can no longer keep track of, is staring you in your face.
But I am here to tell you that JEE isn’t the reason that this year is a big one. The real reason is what happens after that, whatever be the result. It is the adulthood and all the freedom and responsibilities, all the euphoria and heartbreaks it brings. But first, let’s get JEE and its results out of the way.
Here is the real shocker. It doesn’t matter which way the results go, life is not going to be easier after that. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Even if you do well and get into an institute and course of your choice, life is going to be far more hectic and competitive than it has ever been. There will be many more exams – of the academic kind and of life itself – many more scary possibilities of failures. On the other hand, if you don’t do well then you would think that you are starting your career from a position of disadvantage. But that’s not the actual problem because there is a silver lining. It’s a pretty thick lining too. And it is something like this: there isn’t just one way to success and happiness in the world. There isn’t even just one definition of success. You can have your own definition of success and you can follow your own path towards it. You can even decide that success doesn’t matter in the first place. The real tough part is that you will have to figure it out for yourself. And this you will have to do even if you start with a great JEE rank.
So, all the best. Do well by all means. It’s never going to hurt. But let’s talk about what happens after that.
A disclaimer here. It is tempting to want to tell you all; to pour all my experiences of the extra eighteen years I have over you into your heads at once, so that you have a head start in life. But what this experience has also taught me is that it is impossible. Nobody lives somebody else’s life. So, I must remind myself (and perhaps your parents too) that you will live life at your own pace, you will have your own existential questions and you will answer them in your own ways. Everything I say here is just one of the many possibilities. Treat every advice I give you as a part of a toolkit. You may decide to use or not use a tool from that kit based on your judgment of its suitability. With that being clear, now I can proceed to the crux of this letter.
The best and the worst thing about adulthood is that your decisions will have to, increasingly, be your own. There are, perhaps, only a limited number of career, personal, spiritual and moral options available to all of us. But by combining them in our own ways, and most importantly by infusing our own selves into it, each of us creates a unique life for ourselves. This life is not independent of the rest of the world. So the life you have known till now, the lessons you have learnt till now, your parents and your family will continue affecting, shaping and supporting your decisions. But the other influences will be larger as will your own conscious role. It will no longer be enough to listen to those who are supposed to know better. The world changes fast these days. Soon enough, you will find yourself in territories your parents have never chartered, nor others whom you have grown up looking up to. Their experiences and choices may not be suitable for you. You will find yourself facing questions you can’t bring back home to be answered. Your life will have aspects that your loved ones will not understand. You will have to find new people to look up to and new people to solve your problems with, and the ways you have learnt till now may or may not be helpful.
The world from here on will be as narrow or as wide as you have stomach for. When you meet people who are different from you, you may dismiss them as irrelevant. You may be awed by them and try to emulate them. Or you may find the differences unbearable, even contemptible. I suggest not to adopt any of these attitudes blindly. I suggest openness. I also suggest caution and patience. Not everyone who is different from you is worthy of awe or contempt. True to the old wisdom, not everything that glitters is gold. At other times, something that challenges your existing ideas of right and wrong, of good and bad, and changes those ideas may be the best thing to happen to you in your life. At yet other times, there are simply different ways of being – without any of them necessarily being better or worse than the other. Don’t feel the need to assign positions for every way of life based on some kind of prestige hierarchy. Learn to live with the differences. Learn to enjoy them, cherish them, even. Change your opinions, reject the stereotypes you have in your heads. You don’t have to feel guilty about changing. Just know why you are doing so. You will have opportunities to break down your older biases and expand your horizons. You will also have access to temptations that are best avoided. When you encounter something different and don’t know at first how to react to it, start by respecting it, not by rejecting or condemning it. Then take your time to understand, then decide.
When you are struggling with decision-making and when you don’t know whether doing something means being open to experiences or succumbing to temptations, remember this golden rule about taking decisions. The right decision for you is the one whose consequences you are willing to live with. Most of the time, the consequences not worthy of being lived with are not difficult to know if you apply your cool mind to the question.
If I have made it sound too complicated and tough by now, don’t worry. It’s not like there isn’t any help available. Reach out for help. There is no shame in asking for help. If friends, seniors, counselors, family members don’t work, reach out to me.
Now some specifics.
Wherever you land, but especially if you land in a good place after school, you will hear this new golden truth (and it may come as a surprise in the beginning). That grades and academic performance don’t matter in life. Like a lot of things you will hear from now on, it is simultaneously right and wrong. Good grades are never going to hurt you. At the same time, closing yourself to every other life experience while trying to chase that perfect 10/10 can close too many doors for you. The right decision, as I said earlier, is the one whose consequences you are willing to live with. One rule of thumb is this. If you are not putting in your time and effort in academics, be very clear about what exactly you are doing with the time and effort saved. Is it something productive? Is it something that is teaching you important life skills? If so, pursue it by all means. If, on the other hand, that time is being spent in just being cool, perhaps you will not be happy with the consequences. Bad grades with nothing else to recommend you are not a good thing in life.
The question of what to do with your life may haunt you more often than you like. The answers may not be obvious, easy or immediately available. When that happens, remember not to descend into nothingness. Remember to hold on to something that advances your learning. Attend classes regularly, if you can think of nothing else. Or do something else. Just keep learning. Always work on polishing at least one life skill that can sustain you in the worst of the times. Then you will do well in the best of the times. Life skills can be unconventional. Even spending time on video games can help you learn some, especially if you are also figuring out game design and development in the process (great career!) or finding your way into professional circles (unconventional, but great career if it works for you!).
It will be easy to succumb to the hectic activities around you. But make time for things that are important. Make time for reading, for traveling, for trying out new experiences, for keeping in touch with your family. Make time for whatever is important to you. Because remember this. When something is on priority, you make time for it. Not having time means it was not your priority. So don’t fool yourself with the excuse of not having time.
And do you still need some more academic advice? I will give you some before it starts sounding uncool. Unless you find yourself falling into the category of those geniuses who know everything already, the easiest way to get through the academic system, even in the toughest and the most competitive of places, is to attend classes. After that you can use all the time you have for whatever else you want.
And now, I will rein in the temptation I had referred to earlier. I will not try to tell you all. Rabindranath Tagore had said in his book Gora:
To offer instruction on any question before it has really arisen in the mind is like giving food before one is hungry – it spoils the appetite and leads to indigestion.
So, I will stop now. Reach out when you are hungry. Reach out when you have questions.
ट्विटर पर #MeToo ने कहर मचाया हुआ है। कुछ लोग खुश हैं कि आख़िरकार हमारे समाज का भयावह चेहरा सामने आ गया है और आगे कुछ बेहतर होगा। कुछ लोग बहुत ही परेशान हैं और इन सब आरोपों के सबूत ढूँढ़ते फिर रहे हैं। कुछ लोग #MeToo में भाग लेने वाली महिलाओं को ग़लत साबित करने में, उन्हें गालियाँ और तरह-तरह की धमकियाँ देने में व्यस्त हैं। लेकिन थोड़े लोग ऐसे भी हैं जो कि बड़े आत्मसंतुष्ट हैं। ये संस्कारी लोग हैं। नहीं, नहीं, मैं आलोक नाथ का बिलकुल भी मज़ाक़ नहीं उड़ा रही! ये वे लोग हैं जिन्हें भरोसा है कि दुनिया में जो भी समस्याएं हैं, वे इसलिए हैं कि हम भारतीय संस्कृति से दूर होते जा रहे हैं। इसलिए उनका मानना है कि जो ये यौन शोषण और उत्पीड़न की घटनाएँ सामने आ रही हैं, वह भी इसलिए हैं कि हम अपने संस्कारों से दूर होते जा रहे हैं।
तो इसलिए मैंने सोचना शुरु किया कि क्या भारतीय संस्कृति के पास वाक़ई #MeToo का जवाब है?
(दरअसल मैंने अभी सोचना नहीं शुरु किया है, काफ़ी समय से सोचा हुआ है। लेकिन कुछ लोगों को शायद अच्छा लगे कि उन्होंने किसी को भारतीय संस्कृति के बारे में सोचने पर मजबूर कर दिया। इसलिए ऊपर ऐसा लिख दिया मैने।)
तो क्या भारतीय संस्कृति #MeToo का जवाब हो सकती है? कई पहलू हैं। एक-एक करके विचार करते हैं।
यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः
ऐसे कुछ-एक श्लोकों के साथ हमारा दावा यह होता है कि भारतीय संस्कृति नारियों की पूजा करती है, वह उनका अपमान नहीं कर सकती। अब इसपर शास्त्रीय बहस हो सकती है कि जो लिखा गया उसका क्या मतलब है? और क्या-क्या लिखा गया? उन सबको मिलाकर उस ज़माने के समाज की क्या तस्वीर बनती है। लेकिन मैं इस शास्त्रीय बहस में नहीं जाना चाहती। बस एक तुर्रा छोड़ देती हूँ कि जरा यह सोचिए कि नारियों के लिए खास कर के ऐसे श्लोक लिखने की आवश्यकता ही क्यों पड़ी? कई अन्य श्लोक भी हैं जिनमें नारियों को खुश रखने की गुज़ारिश की गई है। क्यों करनी पड़ी ये ख़ास गुज़ारिश? शायद इसलिए कि नारियों की हालत उस समाज में भी अच्छी नहीं थी।
लेकिन अगर मेरे तुर्रे से आप सहमत नहीं भी है तो कोई बात नहीं। क्योंकि तब क्या था इससे मुझे फ़र्क़ नहीं पड़ता है। आज श्लोक सुनकर किसका पेट भरता है? और पूजा किसे करवानी है? ढोंगी बाबाओं को अपनी पूजा करवाने का शौक होगा। एक आम इंसान को, स्त्रियों को भी, आम जीवन में सुख, शांति, खुशियाँ, स्वतंत्रता, सम्मान और जीने का हक़ चाहिए होता है। किसी जीते -जागते इंसान को देवी-देवता बनाना और पूजा के कमरे में बंद कर देना उसके साथ नाइंसाफ़ी ही होगी। भ्रूण-हत्या करने के बाद, ज़िंदा रहने दिया तो क़दम-क़दम पर उन्हें पीछे खींचने के बाद, उनके आने-जाने पर रोक-टोक लगाने के बाद, बाहर निकली तो उन्हें शर्मिन्दा करने के बाद, श्लोकों में नारियों की पूजा कर के हम कौन सा धमाल मचा देंगे?
नारियों की पूजा करने से नारियों का कोई भला नहीं होता है।
संस्कारी भारतीय पुरुष नारियों की रक्षा करते हैं।
क्यों करनी पड़ती है रक्षा? आप कहेंगे कि आज-कल ग़ैर-संस्कारी लोगों से करनी पड़ती है। लेकिन संस्कृति तो पुरानी है ना? और जिन जगहों पर सब पुराने संस्कारों वाले लोग रहते हैं, वहाँ ये बात और भी ज़ोर-शोर से कही जाती है। क्या दर्शाता है यह हमारे समाज की स्थिति के बारे में। पहली तो यह कि स्त्रियाँ सुरक्षित नहीं है। दूसरी यह कि उन्हें अपनी सुरक्षा करना सिखाया नहीं जाता।
इस विचारधारा का परिणाम ये होता है कि अगर कोई पुरुष नहीं है उसकी रक्षा करने के लिए तो ये मान लिया जाता है कि नारी खतरे में पड़ेगी ही। तो ये नारी की गलती हो जाती है कि बिना पुरुष की सुरक्षा के उसने कुछ किया या कहीं गई। नारी को सब शर्मिन्दा करते हैं। उसपर हमला करने वाले को कोई शर्मिन्दा नहीं करता।
यह कैसा समाज है? क्यों नारियों को इस विशेष सुरक्षा की ज़रूरत है। कितने भारतीय पुरुष आज की तारीख में प्रशिक्षित योद्धा हैं? आम पुरुष तो नहीं है। तो जहाँ इन पुरुषों को अंगरक्षक लेकर चलने की ज़रूरत नहीं पड़ती, वहाँ नारियों को इसकी ज़रूरत क्यों पड़ती है? आज के ज़माने में ज़्यादातर पुरुष युद्ध कर के अपनी रक्षा नहीं करते। उन्हें भरोसा होता है कि इसकी ज़रूरत नहीं है। समाज के नियम और देश का क़ानून उनकी रक्षा करते हैं। देश का, समाज का जो क़ानून इन पुरुषों की रक्षा कर सकता है, वह स्त्रियों के लिए काफ़ी क्यों नहीं है? और अग़र नहीं ही है तो बनाओ उसे और मजबूत।
भारतीय संस्कृति नारियों को सुरक्षा नहीं देती। पुरुषों को उनका रक्षक बनाकर वह इन सवालों से अपने हाथ धो लेती हैं। और जो पुरुष उन्हीं नारियों का शोषण करते हैं, उनके साथ हिंसा करते हैं, उन्हें भी अपनी ज़िम्मेदारियों से मुक्त कर देती है। बल्कि उन्हें अप्रत्यक्ष रूप से ही सही, बढ़ावा देती है, कि करो नारियों पर हमला। एक नारी ने बिना किसी पुरुष का सहारा लिए कुछ करने की कोशिश की है। तो उसे सबक सिखाओ और अपनी जगह दिखाओ।
और ऐसा नहीं है कि जिन पुरुषों को रक्षा की ज़िम्मा दिया गया है, वे ही भक्षक नहीं बन जाते। मुझसे बहस करते समय आप उन्हें ग़ैर-संस्कारी बता कर उनसे पल्ला झाड़ लेंगे। लेकिन तब भी असल जीवन में उन पुरुषों को भी कोई सज़ा नहीं देता। स्त्री को सब चुप करा देते हैं।
तो माफ़ कीजिए। पुरुषों को नारी की सुरक्षा का ज़िम्मा देकर भारतीय संस्कृति नारियों की रक्षा नहीं करती। बल्कि वह यह मान लेती है कि समाज नारियों के लिए सुरक्षित नहीं हो सकता। वह उनकी सुरक्षा की ज़िम्मेदारी लेने से इंकार करती है।
संस्कारी भारतीय नारियाँ ख़ुद को खतरे में नहीं डालती।
वे आधुनिक, कामकाज़ी नारियों की तरह पुरुषों से अकेले मिलने नहीं जाती, शराब नहीं पीती, इत्यादि इत्यादि।
कुछ समस्याएँ हैं इस तर्क में। एक ये कि जो नारियाँ ना बाहर काम करने जाती हैं, ना शराब पीती हैं, वे भी सुरक्षित नहीं हैं। अगर आप संस्कारी वातावरण में रहते हैं तो अपने आस-पास की घटनाओं पर भी थोड़ी गहरी नज़र डालें। ना ही आधुनिक समाज में सारे हमले शराब पी हुई स्त्रियों पर होते हैं। और शराब हो भी तो अगर एक शराब पिए हुए पुरुष के साथ कोई बदतमीज़ी नहीं करता, तो स्त्रियों के साथ करने की भी कोई वजह नहीं है। इस तरह के तर्कों को विक्टिम-ब्लेमिंग कहते हैं। यानि कि अपराध की ज़िम्मेदारी पीड़ित इंसान पर डाल दी जाती है, बजाय अपराधी के ऊपर डालने के। ऐसे तर्कों का एक आधुनिक, सभ्य समाज में कोई स्थान नहीं है। जो संस्कृति नारियों के हर काम में, हर बात में ऐब ढूँढ़ना चाहती है, उन्हें खुल कर जीने देने की बजाय उनके पैरों में संस्कारों के नाम की बेड़ियाँ बाँध देना चाहती है, वह #MeToo का कारण है, उसका समाधान नहीं। जेल में बंद होकर सुरक्षित रहना किसी का सपना नहीं होता। हमें घर में, सड़कों पर, ऑफ़िस में, बाज़ार में, बस, रेल या मेट्रो में, पार्टियों में, यहाँ तक की शराब वाली पार्टियों में, कहीं भी स्त्री-मात्र होने की वजह से असुरक्षित महसूस करना स्वीकार्य नहीं है।
जिस संस्कृति के पास इसका समाधान हो, वह अपना डंका पीटे। अन्यथा #MeToo को स्वीकार करे।
When they are not paid trolls or a potential accused themselves, I pity the men earnestly and innocently asking after every #MeToo reveal, “But where is the proof?” and “What happened to innocent until proven guilty?”
They are struggling to understand what is happening. And in some cases, being too arrogant about it.
What is happening is a revolution. And revolution, by definition, doesn’t respect existing norms – social, moral or legal. It redefines norms. You can’t comprehend the new norms by using the old vocabulary.
Another thing about revolutions is that they are messy. Don’t let neat paragraphs about all the revolutions in the History textbooks fool you. Once you get into the nitty-gritty, which those who are living the revolution have to compulsorily face, you wouldn’t be surprised if many people want to just crawl back to the predictable, old days, even if it was more oppressive. So many people, women included, are dealing with the loss of their heroes right now. I don’t even know what family members of the accused are doing to cope with it. Well, revolution doesn’t neatly skirt you to care for your cherished, little comforts.
An impactful revolution does not come out of nowhere. The dissidence builds over time. A few failed attempts usually precede the successful ones. Many martyrs are made before a successful person ascends the throne. As is resurfacing, it isn’t the first time that women have spoken out about the harassments. But they have been unsuccessful in getting redressal in past. Many have had to sacrifice their careers for their audacity. Other attempts at making it public and large-scale also didn’t take off. But now, the moment is there.
Why does a particular attempt succeed? Again, leave it to History textbooks to list down neat, lucid reasons. For those living it, it may not have succeeded, just like the earlier attempts. But somehow, this one time it did. Somebody made another attempt, and this time it caught on. You can be happy, you can be sad, you can be jubilant, you can be confused, you can feel whatever you want to, but the only actionable choice you have is to live it.
What happens now? Pretty unpredictable. Revolutions go in all kinds of directions. They almost never neatly lead to the world envisaged by the original revolutionaries. The almost never fully destroy existing power structures and horrors. They almost always bring new kinds of horrors. They often also result in splintering within the revolution.
The impact of #MeToo has been unprecedented because a significant number of people have stopped defending and started accepting the horrors of the situation and the current system’s inability to fix them. Almost for the first time abusers have been sacked or had to step aside. But here is the thing. One year down the line, many of them are likely to creep back. The power structure is still there, and it is still owned by men. I would like to see, however, that after creeping back, do they keep away from repeating their offenses? That would be something. And do others not yet outed learn their lessons and desist from now on? Does the definition of “cool” and “just a joke” and “just harmless flirting” change in workplaces?
One totally unintended and depressing outcome would be even more bias against hiring women. Because people don’t change that easily. All the existing biases against women will continue working, and now men in power would “fear” being “outed” for “even smiling at women”. So, no wonder if such people come up with the solution of not hiring women in the first place. If that happens, there is another fight to be fought.
A new kind of horror will, of course, be if too many innocent people are consumed by the fire that is spreading. There are a very small number of cases that look like it, but the attempts of high jacking the revolution by vested, conservative interests are obvious. I won’t worry too much about individuals trying to get personal vendetta out of it – I think those die down easily. But institutional bad faith can totally destroy it.
But even if that happens, a new norm has taken root and there will forever now be a tool to fight with. For those asking “What will come of it?” as persistently as the men mentioned at the beginning of this article asking “Where is the proof?”, it’s not going to become a gender-egalitarian world right away. So, don’t bother declaring it a failure because “x hasn’t changed” and don’t pretend to be wisely annoyed when another fight is started. Most of what has come out in #MeToo is the most horrible kind of outright sexual harassment and assault. If even those go down or are punished by the system, it will be a big success. But we haven’t even started on everyday sexism – the multitudes of ways in which women are denigrated and humiliated, the deliberate or unacknowledged biases that harm their careers and sense of self-worth, the thousands of ‘don’t’s and ‘can’t’s and ‘daren’t’s meted out every day! If we start calling those out at scale, nobody knows who will be left with any face to show at all. We have material enough for several more messy revolutions.
If you aren’t an abuser, congrats! Sit back, relax and make sure you don’t look the other way the next time an episode of harassment is going on around you. It might have been uncool, unsporting, puritan to protest it in past. Now you have the excuse of a revolution. And yes – stop being sexist in every other way too.
Note: If while reading this you start wondering what is the point of my anger, please read this.
An IIT Kanpur alumnus was disgusted with the rotten language folks from his alma mater were using during a political discussion on social media. They had stooped down to the level of calling each other the most unsavory names. He posted about it on Facebook with screenshots from which, very wisely, he had redacted the names of the people involved.
Another alumnus thought it must be “ladies” in that conversation because “they forget everything once they get wild”. And he decided that his thought was sincere and important enough that he must give voice to it as a comment on a publicly shared post on Facebook. And he did. The question here is not whether the people using the unparliamentary language were women or men. My question is what if they were indeed women? Would it mean that this gentleman was justified in carrying this gender stereotype in his head? Okay, that was too gentle. Without resorting to swear words, this is the real question: Would it have made his outright misogyny correct?
I hope I don’t have to sweat it out to get a ‘no’ as the answer there. There would be individual women who lose it when they get wild. It doesn’t mean that it is a characteristic of the entire sex. Even if those foul-mouthed people were women, this guy in insanely misogynist and not at all aware of how rotten and dangerous his mind is.
Why dangerous? Because in a professional setting he would be in a position of power over many people (an IITK alumnus!). What happens when he is in a situation at work where there is a conflict among his subordinates and one of the persons in the conflict is a woman? Who would he automatically assume to be on the wrong, irrational side? Who would be assumed to have “forgotten everything” because “they have gotten wild”? What does it mean to the career prospects of women in the world where men like him are in power?
Reminder: If you are wondering why am I getting angry, please read this.
Are you dying to know whether the culprits in the original discussion were women or not? Well, what do you think? If it was a discussion among IITK alumni, which sex does the theory of probability favor for this honor? If in the face of such obvious clue as to the gender of the people involved, this person expressed an opinion like that on women, what would happen when he is in a position to pass judgment where women actually have a higher probability of being involved?
Anyway, after putting in a comment which was exemplary for its restrained rage (hey – nobody even preached me to be calm after that comment, nobody realized that I was snarky and angry!), I was trying to put all this behind me. But Rashtrakavi Dinkar intervened.
I am reading books on Indian history these days and picked up Sanskriti Ke Chaar Adhyaya by Dinkar. It is an interesting book and I was enjoying it. Then I came across these gems.
For those who don’t read Hindi, I am sorry. My rage is not sufficiently controlled right now to delve into translation. I will, perhaps, do it at some other time.
But there is a translation needed even for those who do read Hindi. Here is what the Rashtrakavi is saying: Women stepping out of home is the root of all evils. Men molest women because women step out. Men can’t get their work done because women step out. Whatever be the philosophy of life mankind holds, the place of women is inside the house.
And here is what is even more infuriating than his views. He was writing a book on History. He was basing it on already existing literature. He could have stuck to his analysis of what is known about our History. Yes, Buddhist traditions and texts hold that Buddha didn’t want to induct women in the Sangha. Yes, other historians he had read and quoted would have seen this as a reason behind the downfall of Buddhism. He could have stayed analytical and neutral, and just stated all that. But no! Read the judgmental language he adopts. He just HAD to let the world know what HE thought. He decided that it was important to announce to the world through a book on the history of Indian culture that women stepping out is a problem.
This was 1950. We were writing a constitution which gave women voting rights. It gave them the same personal liberty as men. It gave them the right to be wherever they wanted to be.
Obviously, our Rashtrakavi didn’t approve.
Finally, if you just can’t fathom what is the point of all this bitterness, read this.
Oh, one more thing. If you think this isn’t your fight, because you aren’t affected, maybe I should quote Dinkar for you:
समर शेष है, नहीं पाप का भागी केवल व्याध।
जो तटस्थ हैं समय लिखेगा उनके भी अपराध।
For translation, I need to get my rage under control!
P. S. We can’t go back in time and change the people of the past. Whether it was Buddha or Dinkar. Even if we were to invent some sort of a time machine, the laws of physics are likely to come in the way of changing the past in any meaningful way. But people today can choose to work on recognizing their misogyny and consciously and actively fixing it. Saying the wrong things is pretty bad. Justifying them as ‘just jokes’ is even worse. Justifying them because your wife doesn’t object to them is insanity. But even saying the right things is by no means enough. Right action – now that is the real deal and the difficult one. Don’t trust me on this. Ask Lord Buddha!
It has happened more often than I like. I start getting passionate or agitated while talking about something and people interrupt with “Why are you angry?” Or “Why are you getting so agitated?” And worst of all “What is the point of being so unhappy?”
That usually succeeds in thwarting me. And I am left wondering: What is wrong in being angry, agitated or unhappy when there is something worth being angry, agitated or unhappy about?
What can I say, I am guilty of talking about happiness repeatedly in my talks on entrepreneurship. The gist of those has been that you don’t take your career decisions based on what the society tells you is the right thing to do. You do what makes you happy.
But I would like to believe that I wasn’t advocating this strange fetish with happiness which delegitimizes any emotions that are considered negative. This isn’t a pursuit of happiness through your choices and actions. This is advocating closing your eyes to anything that can cause distress. Sometimes it is couched in a language that makes it seem more profound than that, but it is essentially asking you to look the other way. This is delusional. And worse, there is a peer pressure to embrace this delusion.
Anger, agitation, unhappiness are perfectly legitimate emotions. If we didn’t feel them, we wouldn’t be human. And feeling them might be the only way to becoming humane. When the world is unjust, unfair, unequal, exploitative – and smug in all of these – we should feel angry. And then, perhaps by speaking out against it and doing something big or small to counter it, we may be able to find our bit of happiness. It may never be perfect. The happiness and peace we seek may never come. Still, being delusional is not more legitimate than being angry or agitated or unhappy.
So, now, I want to put my foot down. Why am I angry? Because of what I was trying to tell you about as I got angry. What is the point of this unhappiness? That it is for a legitimate reason and I am not closing my eyes to it. Happiness can go to hell if a delusion is the only way to achieve it. Be angry, dear world. Be angry, because you should be. Too much is wrong with you. And then perhaps you can try doing something about it.
I don’t give entrepreneurship related talks these days. But if I have to, I will update it. Yes – don’t pick up a career because of peer pressure or rat race. And don’t force yourself to be happy because of peer pressure or rat race either.
Note 1: I hope it is clear but in case not – this article is not about wallowing in self-pity or self-loathing or being paralyzed by a sense of victimhood.
Note 2: It is also not about a situation where you may have a clinical problem like depression. If that is likely to be the case, I strongly advise seeking professional help. There is nothing wrong with that.
Note: I am talking of political and social liberal ideas, not economic liberalism.
We should all be tired of being outraged every time liberal values are trampled upon. Outrage is meant for the exceptions. It is tiring for what is no longer an exception. Liberalism is defeated in India (and elsewhere, one could argue, but let’s limit the scope to India for the purpose of this article). The state is coming down hard on its citizens and the privileged majority is cheering on. Individual’s rights, liberty, freedom of expression, right to dissent are being frighteningly delegitimized.
No, let’s not fool ourselves that it’s a minor setback. Let’s not pretend that there is one screw gone loose in the system and once it is tightened we will again start marching down the liberal road. That’s not how it is. It’s a fundamental shift away from liberalism. It is one kind of a thing when the disadvantage of poverty is pitted against the disadvantage of being a Dalit. It is one kind of thing when the unemployed youth get taken in by nasty propaganda. It’s not right, but it is understandable. It has nuances which a poor and unemployed person, who is struggling to find a toehold, may not be willing to indulge in. It is one thing for all of this to happen. But it’s quite another what is happening now.
A middle-class person, who hasn’t suffered hunger, who has a decent roof over his head, who has no contacts with Dalits or Adivasis, who hasn’t been affected by communal riots (not in many years, at least), whose children are well-settled and hold good jobs, whose grandchildren are being brought up in relative prosperity and aren’t exactly lusting after the government jobs of the future, that person is convinced that he is a victim. He is not grateful for or proud of all he has. He is a victim. A victim of reservations, a victim of Muslim appeasement, a victim of Maoists (he has never encountered a Maoist). And while we humans always tend to find someone else to blame for the slightest of our miseries, it wouldn’t have been acceptable to turn that blame into this appalling sense of victimhood a few years ago. But now it is. And that thought is so comfortable, that it is well-nigh impossible to eradicate it. It. Just. Works. What is more, it works for those children and grandchildren too.
No wonder, liberalism is defeated.
This means a fundamental shift in how an average liberal person navigates the world around them. We knew that liberal values were not always practiced, but in certain spaces, nobody could have opposed them in principle. So, when the practice differed from principles, you could scoff, outrage, point out the divergence and hope that over time, as you point out and fight against more and more such hypocrisies, they will be fixed. Hence the world will become more liberal, even in practice, as the time passes.
That assumption of the theoretical acceptance even in the face of practical divergence is no longer valid. So, the task has moved fifty or hundred years back. The theory itself needs justification now. The ideas need to be sold all over again. The principles that we had assumed were well-accepted, need to be argued for all over again. Scoffing at diversions would be meaningless. Imagine the reformers of the early 20th century who would have had to argue even with the most educated of the upper-caste people that untouchability was bad. And they would have had to argue that from a position of weakness. Well, we are back to that situation in the 21st century. Depressingly, in some cases, the issues may exactly be the same as they were 100 years back. In some cases, they may take a different form. But we have to start from a position of weakness, in even getting the principles to be accepted. We better eat that humble pie.
What it also means is that its a long journey all over again. The victory was never complete. But all the gains have been reversed as well. Even if the political power equation changes in the short-term, this beast of social conservatism has been legitimized and unleashed. Political overlords of any denomination are not going to challenge it. They will only seek to utilize it. The only hope from electoral politics is that some balance of power is maintained with changing governments so that no one group can continue to inflict damages unchecked. The social fight is going to be long and repetitive. And also thankless. Let’s brace for that. Somebody may yet live to see the tides turn.