Lies, Damn Lies, and Institutions

If you take a tour with a guide in Rome or Vatican, they will tell you a nifty tale about the source of the worldly power of the papacy in Rome. The first Christian Roman emperor Constantine (bless him!) shifted his capital to Byzantium (later Constantinople) in the 4th century and left Rome to the Pope, they will tell you. It is easy to believe. The first Christian emperor is likely to have the zeal of a newly converted. A donation to the Church was in order, right?

There is one big glitch though. And a few associated “minor” ones! The big one is this. Throughout the middle ages, Roman Catholic Church claimed the same story based on a document called Donation of Constantine, through which the emperor had supposedly donated Rome (and Western Roman Empire!) to the Pope. During the time of Renaissance, though, the document was proved to be a forgery. The forgery was perhaps done in the 8th century when an actual “donation” did come to the Pope from Pepin – the King of Franks (who was a usurper and whose kingship was legitimized by the approval and blessing of two successive Popes!). But not secure in their position, they perhaps felt the need to invoke the “ancient” Constantine to give legitimacy to this new donation. We don’t like to believe in anything unless somebody in past believed in it too, right? I say these Europeans are indeed Indians!

There are a few more reasons to not believe in the story. For example, Constantine wasn’t a Christian at the time he shifted the capital and this donation happened. He had proven himself tolerant towards Christianity with the Edict of Milan, which granted Christians the freedom to practice their religion and put a stop to their persecution. But he continued to patronize paganism and wasn’t baptized until he was on his deathbed (pious reasons have been discovered for this delay, but let’s not get into ecclesiastical debates here).

Constantine also didn’t seem to have any intention of giving away any part of his empire to anyone. A while before Constantine, Roman Empire had been divided into two parts – Eastern and Western – for administrative convenience. Otherwise, the empire had become too big to be managed by one emperor. So they had started having two co-emperors. Constantine had a co-emperor too. Until the partnership soured and he finally fought, defeated and killed his co-emperor to become the sole emperor of the empire. He is credited with unifying the Roman Empire again, not for chipping it off. The emperors that followed him also didn’t want to cede anything. Although ultimately they had to. Western Roman Empire was to collapse.

Finally, Bishop of Rome in the 4th century was not what Pope today is. He wasn’t the sole supreme leader of the Christian world. He was one of the bishops. Even among the important patriarchs, he was one of the five. In time Islam ran over the territory of three of them, Roman and Greek church parted ways, a lot of political, military and religious maneuvering happened before Rome and the papacy became the supreme symbols of Christianity (umm – just Catholicism actually).

Today the Vatican is this cute, little country sitting in the middle of Rome. Technically a theocracy, where visitor’s access is limited to only designated areas and where only Catholics can find work, it doesn’t invite outcries of bigotry or protests against “reservation” or “discrimination”. It is a harmless tourist destination, a nice eccentric piece of toy country to have. But even until the middle of 20th century, the papacy wasn’t this avuncular, harmless-looking institution. It was actively involved in the temporal politics of Italy. The compromise of leaving Vatican to them in return for them not claiming much else was arrived at by Mussolini. I suppose we could call Vatican a Donation of Mussolini.

For several hundred years now, the Rome (now the Vatican) hasn’t invoked the Donation of Constantine. But for almost 1000 years now we have known that they engaged in a forgery like that. Don’t you wonder how an institution with claims on superior spirituality survived such blatant disregard for right and wrong in pursuit of material greed? How did it not crumble under the revelation?

Well, it didn’t. It survived and it flourished. It conquered and it killed. Make what you will of human nature from this. But this is how things are with many more powerful institutions. With many powerful people too.

Time to stop wondering about how political parties, companies, and powerful individuals survive all the scandals and outrageously irresponsible behavior they engage in. There is something natural about their survival.


प्रिविलेज को पहचानो!

एक बड़े नामी अख़बार में एक जनाब ने बड़े पते की बात कही। कि दलित लोगों को भीमा कोरेगांव को लेकर इतना उत्साहित नहीं होना चाहिए। उस लड़ाई को दलितों की सवर्णों पर विजय बताना बेवकूफ़ी है। वह विजय अंग्रज़ों की पेशवाओं पर हुई थी। उस लड़ाई का जश्न मनाकर वे देशभक्त भावनाओं का अपमान कर रहे हैं।

बाकी उनको इससे कोई ऐतराज़ नहीं है कि दलितों का शोषण होता है और उन्हें आवाज़ उठानी चाहिए। लेकिन उस लड़ाई और उस कहानी के साथ नहीं।

क्या लगता है आपको, सही कहा उन्होंने?

मुझे शर्मिंदगी होती है यह कहने में कि कुछ सालों पहले तक ये तर्क मेरे लिए भी इस मुद्दे पर आख़िरी बात होती। इसके आगे कुछ बहस करने के लिए रह ही नहीं जाता। एकदम खरी बात जो है। वह लड़ाई दलितों और सवर्णों की नहीं थी।

लेकिन आज मैं इसपर आगे कुछ कहने को मजबूर हूँ। जो एक चीज़ मुझे तब समझ में नहीं आती थी और आज कम-से-कम थोड़ी-बहुत आती है, वह है प्रिविलेज। आप, हम, कई सवर्ण लोग, और वो जो इन अखबारों में लिख सकते हैं, अक्सर अपने प्रिविलेज को भूल जाते हैं। प्रिविलेज सिर्फ बंगलों में रहने वाले करोड़पति लोगों का ही नहीं होता है। अगर मेरी परवरिश एक धनी घर में नहीं भी हुई थी तब भी मेरा प्रिविलेज ये है कि मुझे कभी नहीं सोचना पड़ा कि किसी सार्वजनिक जगह पर जाने की अनुमति मुझे है कि नहीं। कोई माँ-बाप अपने बच्चे के कानों में नहीं फुसफुसाए कि वे मेरे साथ ना खेलें। मेरे गांव में रहने वाले संबंधियों को कभी गांव के बाहर, गंदे, उपेक्षित टोलों में रहने के लिए मजबूर नहीं होना पड़ा। उन्हें किसी ने नहीं कहा कि वे गांव के स्कूल नहीं जा सकते हैं। मेरी रिश्तेदारों में मेरी उम्र के वे लोग जो किसी काम के नहीं थे, उन्हें भी सड़कों पर रहने की नौबत नहीं आई। अगर मैने भी कुछ नहीं किया होता तो भी भूखी नहीं मर रही होती।  प्रिविलेज सिर्फ सोने की चेनें और दरवाज़े पर खड़ी गाड़ियां नहीं होती हैं। उन लोगों के मुक़ाबले, जो मुख्य समाज से बाहर पैदा हुए और कभी उसके अंदर घुसने का मौका नहीं मिला, हमारी रोज़मर्रा की रोती-झींकती ज़िंदगी बहुत बड़ा प्रिविलेज है।

और प्रिविलेज ये है कि हम अपने घरों और ऑफ़िसों में बैठ कर दलितों को ये भाषण देने में नहीं हिचकते की भीमा कोरेगांव की लड़ाई उनकी नहीं थी। और हम एक बार भी ये नहीं सोचते हैं कि हम कौन हैं उन्हें ये बोलने वाले? अगर 1857, जिसमें छोटे-बड़े राजा-रानी अपनी रियासत वापस पाने के लिए लड़ रहे थे, हमारा “प्रथम स्वतंत्रता संग्राम” हो सकता है, तो 1 जनवरी 1818 दलितों के लिए विजय का दिवस क्यों नहीं हो सकता है? हो सकता है कि हमारे विशिष्ट अख़बारी लेखक 1857 को स्वतंत्रता संग्राम भी ना मानते हों। ऐसा है तो वे कम-से-कम अपने सिंद्धांतों पर हर जगह अडिग हैं। उसके लिए साधुवाद। लेकिन दलितों को भाषण देना फिर भी एक प्रिविलेज है। जिस समाज ने उनका शोषण किया है, उसमें 1857 में पहला स्वतंत्रता संग्राम हुआ था, उसमें पेशवाई बड़े शान की चीज़ है, और उसमें अम्बेडकर से ज़्यादा दलितों के मुद्दों में गांधी को तवज्जो दी जाती है। आप ये सब उनके लिए सही नहीं कर सकते हैं। तो फिर उनकी ये ज़िम्मेदारी क्यों है कि वे सबकुछ आपके मापदंड और आपकी सुविधा से करें? जब बाकी का समाज तार्किक मापदंडों पर खरा नहीं उतरता, तो वे क्यों तब तक इंतज़ार करें अपने प्रेरक-प्रसंग ढूंढ़ने में, जब तक उन्हें कुछ बिलकुल सही तर्कपूर्ण कहानी ना मिल जाए? उन्हें भाषण देना आपका हक़ नहीं है। ये एक प्रिविलेज है जिसका इस्तेमाल आपको नहीं करना चाहिए।

और पता है प्रिविलेज क्या है? कि जिन सवर्णों ने भीमा कोरेगांव के उत्सव में जाकर हिंसा शुरू की, उन्हें कोई नहीं पकड़ रहा है। विरोध करने वाले दलितों पर सब चढ़े जा रहे हैं। और प्रिविलेज सिर्फ़ गुंडों की ही नहीं है। प्रिविलेज ये भी है कि हम दलितों से कह रहे हैं कि हमारी अर्थव्यवस्था, हमारी प्लाइट्स, हमारी ट्रेनें, हमारी रोज़मर्रा की ज़िंदगी तुम्हारी बात सुनने के लिए नहीं रुक सकती। ठीक है तुम्हारा शोषण हो रहा है, लेकिन विरोध ऐसे करो कि हमें कोई परेशानी ना हो।

जी। उनकी परेशानी हमारी परेशानी में ना बदले, ये हमारा हक़ नहीं है। ये हमारा प्रिविलेज है, जिसके इस्तेमाल के लिए हम उतावले हुए जा रहे हैं।

कुछ ऐसा ही है नारीवादी विषयों के साथ भी। लेकिन उसके बारे में फिर कभी।

If you are a liberal, how can you be ‘intolerant’ towards me?

Being a liberal is not being stupid or mindless. Being a liberal does not mean we don’t stand up for anything. We stand up for giving space to ideas, for diversity, for freedom of expression, for the value of human life irrespective of people’s group identities.

Disagreeing is not intolerance. Liberals stand for the right to disagree, to argue their case, to bring change in the society. What is intolerance and what is not accepted by a liberal is bullying, oppressing, silencing and in the worst case killing of people and ideas. Most liberals will be particularly against a powerful entity like State (or a big corporation or a powerful person) indulging in or encouraging such oppression on people. And opposing THAT is not intolerance. It is very much being a liberal and being a human being with a spine.

I disagree with people who think there should be a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. But I don’t believe that they should be bullied, murdered or thrown out of the country for their belief. I will defend their rights to their opinion which is contrary to mine. And their right to express it. But I will not stand for it if they bully, threaten, harm or kill me or anybody else. And yes – I will also defend to the death my own right to disagree with them and express it without having to be fearful of persecution.

This in no way contradicts my liberal position.

Thank you!

Defenders of the regime these days think that they have closed the debate by asking this question to the liberals. “How can you say I am wrong if you are supposed to tolerate different ideologies?” is the question they pose in some variation or the other and think that they have illegitimized the liberals (‘libtards’ in their heads and even their speech all too often now) once and forever.

Above is an answer I wrote to one of them. If you get asked this question, and this answer helps, please feel free to copy-paste it. Just give a link back to this post so that some hate can flow towards me too and I can keep a track of just how f***ed up the world is.


21st Century isn’t What It Meant

IITK001At the turn of the century, I was an undergraduate student at IIT Kanpur. It was a time when I was looking on at the world in wonder. I was experiencing unprecedented freedom and independence. I was discovering new and varied ways of looking at the world and its affairs. I was learning that being judgmental about things you have not been exposed to wasn’t a great idea. That being open to different value systems could enrich your lives. That the right and wrong weren’t the absolutes I had grown up with.

It was a lot to absorb, but it was okay because that’s what 21st century had meant for us before it arrived. We used to worry about certain things. That we would have depleted ozone layer by then, or that population explosion would have ended the world, or that robots would have started ruling us.  But on the bright side, 21st century also stood for progress. We expected it to bring a more rational and liberal world at our doorsteps. A world where equality would be a given. A world that would value individuals for who they are, and not be bigoted about religion, nation, color of skin, caste, creed, gender, and sex.

Unfortunately, while the scary things 21st century meant for us have caught up with us in one form or the other, the good things haven’t. Refrigeration technology changed in time to save the ozone layer, but there are myriad of other environmental disasters that we have brought upon ourselves and continue to. Population explosion transformed into population dividend for a while, but our economics is in no position to really absorb all this ‘dividend’. Poverty and unemployment haven’t gone anywhere, even though you can slice and dice the numbers in different ways to make things looks rosy or its exact opposite, whatever be the flavor of the month. We may not be seeing tiny, humanoid robots as our liege lords, but automated systems, decision and policies based on large-scale number crunching, and data-driven ‘artificial intelligence’ are taking the world to a place where no human will be able to understand the systems that govern our lives.

The good things tell another story. Science and rationality aren’t making great strides into people’s lives. People are returning to religion, and not in a harmless way for personal consolation, or a useful way that could make them kind and considerate to others, but as a way of defining collective identity and practicing bigotry with impunity. The Internet and social media have given more people voices. But the technologies haven’t succeeded in making them listen to voices different or contrarian to theirs and broadening their horizons. The result is not a broad-minded world where different voices are coming together, but a cacophonous, nauseating world where every narrow viewpoint is fighting louder to drown out everything else. Crowdsourcing of wisdom is not bringing the progressive voices to the forefront, but only the most jingoistic and regressive. Liberal values are not an object of aspiration, but that of mockery. Individual’s dignity and freedom are being considered a fair sacrifice at the altar of clan, caste, religion, nation or even just megalomaniac leaders. Not in an apologetic tribute to the past, but in a stubborn claim over the present and the future. The more accessible, widespread and ‘democratic’ channels of communication have become even more of a powerful tool for pushing agendas, falsehoods and FUD than traditional controlled channels were.

And amid all this, I hear distressing news from my alma mater. A place where I had roamed in the nooks and corners with abandon at midnight, poring over whatever grand philosophical questions life throws at you at that age, without anyone ever batting an eyelid, has become such a paranoid place that students are being detained by the security at the flimsiest of the pretext, their movement controlled, their attempts at dialogues and exchange of ideas thwarted and alumni being threatened with police action for trying to be a part of the community.

Like the rest of the world, even at IIT Kanpur, 21st century isn’t what it meant.

Want to Fix Nehru’s Mistakes? Try These Three Suggestions.

Hey there! Do you think Nehru is responsible for all of India’s problems? I have good news for you. You can’t be proved wrong. After all, he was the first prime minister of independent India, a position he held until his death. So yes – most of our problems can be traced back to him in one way or the other. (For the same reason, most of the good things can be traced back to him too, but let’s forget about that for a moment. And let’s also forget that hindsight is 20/20.)

So, what now? Do you want to fix it? Great! But even if Nehru is in some way responsible for Rahul Gandhi’s existence, eliminating Rahul Gandhi from politics is not going to solve any of the real issues. Instead, how about we do the following to fix Nehru’s mistakes?

Repeal Sedition Law

Nehru strongly spoke against the law. It is a reprehensible relic of the colonial era. I don’t know why he did not repeal it. Independent India should have treated its citizen with more respect than the law does. But hey! What stops us from doing it? Let’s fix the mistake and repeal it.

Make it Easy to do Business

License Raj cannot be explained away with our colonial past, right? It is Nehru’s legacy. But even after almost three decades of liberalization, doing business in Indian is incredibly difficult. Why don’t we simplify our laws and make it meaningful as well as easy for businesses to follow them?

Stop Trying to Impose One Language on the Country

I have an explanation for this, but Nehru and his ilk seemed to believe that one language is necessary to keep the country together and it resulted in some unsavory Hindi imposition. Why continue that today? With technology at our service, why shouldn’t the government be focussed on taking governance to the people in whatever language they understand, not just scheduled languages, but everything else to0? Let’s do it. Let’s not resort to language imposition. Let’s instead serve people in their language. Whatever it is.

But I understand. This is too much work. So, let’s get back to bashing Nehru for Rahul Gandhi instead.