What else did you expect from Sehwag?

Source: http://www.india.com (http://bit.ly/2mKuaHh)

Cricketers are highly skilled people. Doesn’t make them eligible to be discerning about the nuances of politics and policy. From a young age they lose touch with education in an effort to hone skills and spend most of their lives on the ground.When they get selected at the age of 18-23 usually at the highest level; from then to 40 they live in a bubble of luxury and glamour in the highest echelons of society.

They enjoy prestige as representatives of the nation in a Cricket obsessed country. Of course, they would like everything to be looked at from the point of view of Nation and Nationalism because that sustains their identity, privilege and relevance! As a result they buy into toxic jingoism. I’d be surprised if some Cricketer takes up issues of the marginalised! It is foolish to expect this!

No doubt they are highly skilled but sample this: Kohli thinks Demonetization is the best move in the history of Politics. Obviously he does ‘t know Mahad Satyagraha or the devastation caused in the informal sector by demonetization. He spent Lakhs on International Wifi to watch an episode of Comedy Nights with Kapil to bide his time on an Airport; and can afford to joke about it! Ravindra Jadeja said he always dreamt of marrying within his caste! Imagine his idea about the society. He wouldn’t know what happened in Khairlanji or Godhra or that it was due to sticking to caste identities. Sehwag thinks trolling a 20 year old peace activist is cool because he gets popularity on social media and increases avenues for future employment. These people always bow down to authority because these people are dependent on power for making money – especially post-retirement – which is obviously what they want to do and there’s nothing wrong in that.

Leave aside speaking on morally difficult and complicated issues like women’s rights or war and peace; they don’t even have the gumption of criticising the Indian team and the BCCI and speaking their minds in the commentary box! Harsha Bhogle was kicked out because he rightly once said that Bangladesh deserved to win a contest against India and didn’t and was critical of the BCCI! That happens in Sport! These cricketers if they have to keep their jobs; can’t criticize selection or comment on the corruption of the BCCI. Outside India, Moeen Ali was barred for wearing an arm band in solidarity with Palestine and he fell in line. If you expect them to have the right opinion on politics; you are wrong. These people have been reduced to highly paid entertainers.

No doubt their skill gives a lot of joy to billions of fans like me and that’s fine. If you love the game you can appreciate their prowess. But they do not have opinions very different from what their elite masters and friends feed them. Of course, some of them might have an understanding; but by and large, what Sehwag did was expected.

Just because they come on TV for 365 days doesn’t mean they should be taken seriously on important matters. But because in this era, celebrity status translates into acumen somehow – Donald Trump being a shining example – these people are taken seriously. It is also indicative of Right Wing hegemony which scorns upon intellectual rigour and pursuits in the garb of democracy. Their logic is, my stupidity is equal to your informed and well thought out position; or moral blandness like my hate is equal to your arguments for inclusion. That’s a huge malaise of our times. And so we must respectfully disagree with them. If and when power equation changes; these people will change sides. So enjoy their Cricket and support them on the field. Don’t take them seriously on other issues. Or think of it like this: Would you have taken an outstanding banker’s opinion in your local branch on Gurmehar as seriously? I think not.


Religion and Left Politics: Why celebrating festivals by Leftists is alright

The criticism of the CPI(M) for celebrating Janmashtami raises an interesting question. In a country like India; is it feasible, and more importantly possible, to follow the classical Marxist dictum of complete separation of religion from politics?

The biggest mass leader of modern India, Gandhi, said that “Those who argue for separation of religion from politics do not understand what religion is.” And his most powerful progressive critic, Babasaheb Ambedkar who viciously fought the Hindu social order and its dehumanising and oppressive practices finally converted from Hinduism to a reinterpreted Buddhism – a religion – as a means of emancipation.

In annihilation of caste, he said, he wanted a religion based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. But he did want a “religion”. Why is it that he did not call upon Dalits to embrace Atheism?

In my opinion, it is because he believed that humans are moral beings and need a moral anchor and community to lead meaningful lives which atheism would not provide for the majority of the people. It cannot be imposed on the majority of the people anyway. History teaches us this much. The great humanist revolution of 1917 in USSR led to the official proclamation of atheism and closing down of churches. Today almost a century later, the Orthodox Church is flourishing and the Communist Party is gone. This huge leap towards embracing godlessness as a normal human condition cannot be state imposed.

In fact, Black Churches in the segregated south of USA have played an important role in their struggle towards humanism by overturning segregation and apartheid. Similarly, in Latin America “liberation theology” played a very big role in providing the “ethical basis” for the movement for “human dignity” – the final goal of the socialist project – which engulfed the continent. Hugo Chavez, the biggest leader of the Left in recent times was a practising Christian and even staunchly socialist Cuba has opted for secularism over atheism.

While it is beyond doubt that organised religion is the source of obscurantism, misogyny, bigotry and domination; it continues to play an immensely important role in ordinary people’s lives and state imposed atheism hasn’t borne any results in erstwhile socialist countries like USSR where, for example, conservatism and homophobia are commonsense today. Moreover, in countries where religion has not been swept under the carpet, there exists a progressive critique of religion; which have provided moral resources for progressive movements like USA and India.

The Peculiarity of the Indian Case:

The Indian case is much more difficult in this regard. In India, the Hindu social order has arranged society in unequal power relations between castes; which under the modern, democratic state have become competing communities, albeit still unequally powerful. In fact, over the last 150 years, Hinduism has been subjected to intense public political critique under the gradual process of modern state formation; as a result two things have happened: Hinduism has become a highly contested category and secondly, a nebulous Hinduism has become much more semitized. It can be said that it was only in the post – colonial India that religion and politics were sought to be detached; while in the pre-independence period it was one of the constant poles of public critique and therefore, reform.

One of the accepted critiques of the Left has been its inability to address the oppression faced by Dalits under Hinduism. This in effect, is a criticism of the position of separating religion from politics; of foregrounding exploitation of labour at the base and religion as a superstructural manifestation. In India, in the past century, there have been profound political changes from communitarian contestation within the Hindu social order as much as from the contradiction between capital and labour.

However, being a religion of graded inequality, choosing which rituals to observe and which to critique become difficult choices. In JNU, for example, where publicly acknowledging Hindu affiliation is very rare for Left activists, the entire Left celebrates the Hindu festival of Holi without being judged. So would celebrating Buddhist rituals be alright for a Communist, given that it is in line with the Dalit vision? Is it that only festivals popular among the upper castes would be objected to? While Dalit ideologues call upon people for complete rejection of the Hindu order, a significant number of Dalits continue being Hindus. So while it is a contested category it is not a discarded category, at least in the consciousness of the people. There has, in fact, been a trend of increasing Hinduization in the northern and western belts of the country where the erstwhile individuals from oppressed castes and tribes are reclaiming the Hindu identity.

This popularization of the Hindu identity has been the result of half a century of revivalist politics of the Hindu Right. Hinduism has been left uncontested; by the Congress, for preserving the status quo and by the Left because apparently good communists have to strictly separate politics from religion. So they shall only raise redistributive demands and not recongnitional demands. This understanding meant that they tailed Dalit and Bahujan Parties and lost out on mobilizing the biggest part of the organic proletariat in the post independence period. As a result of Hinduism remaining uncontested – except by the Dalit Movement – for the last half a century; the Brahminical forces have had an open field for shaping this order and consolidating power.

The issue becomes more complicated when under the onslaught of Hindutva on the minorities, the Left forces rightly uphold secularism, but in effect, end up arguing for upholding their religious rights and thereby its inherent anti-humanist orthodoxies. When in state power, this is perceived by adherents of Hinduism, as a selective assault on their ways of worship and religion. This is justified by the argument that reform cannot be imposed from the outside but must proceed from a critique from within. In the absence of such an internal critique, the case becomes, and is portrayed anyway by the Hindu Right, as one of the secular parties using the State to target and tinker with the Hindu social order while leaving the minority religions and their orthodoxies untouched. For example, Article 14 of the constitution makes untouchability a crime; similarly there are SC/ST atrocity acts. These are cases of the State intervening and outlawing a religious tenet or using socio-religious categories to frame laws. However, certain practices like Triple Talaaq among Muslims remain untouched owing to the lack of internal critique.

Of course, it is no one’s case that there should be no intervention in to religious orthodoxy. However, this imbalance becomes fodder for Hindu Right to play victim. Moreover, it is because Hinduism has essentially been a politically contested category; shaped by the political discourse and in effect shaping the political discourse, that this position of separation of religion from politics is untenable in India. On the contrary, by this abstention from acknowledging Political Hinduism and negotiating with it, the Left has ceded historically one of the most important fields of politics in India.

However, the tricky question is what position should the Communist Party take on Hinduism and religion, in general in a profoundly religious country? A democratic, progressive position would entail, firstly, that this position of separating religion from politics is untenable and counterproductive. Sweeping religions under the carpet does not serve the purpose of advancing the humanist cause. Religion needs to be acknowledged and negotiated and critiqued in the public sphere. Hinduism has had a history of being publicly critiqued which forced it to reform. Secondly, religious and social categories cannot be wished away. But they gain or lose their content through constant political critique; they wither away, if you will. For example, being a Brahmin man in an urban space is not the same as it was, in the 17th century. This is how the meaning and power of social categories changes over time. The Left must fight for establishing the legitimacy of the individual’s ruthless critique of religion rather than imposing atheism on the people or their members.

If Communist Politics is conceived as a fight for hegemony; a process rather than a moment in the march towards a humane society, the political category of Hinduism needs to be made a site of contestation, deliberation and public critique again; to mould it towards principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, which might mean renunciation of Hinduism and embrace of Buddhism as well.

The Left must fight for agnosticism rather than atheism. A Communist Party mass organization or members can celebrate festivals as long as they remain engaged in a process of collective critique and deliberation of their religion. Religion will remain an existentially important part of the lives of even Communist activists and masses at large. These calls for the strict separation of religion and politics and outright condemnation of Left members who undertake religious rituals are superficial and counterproductive.

The Importance of Being Irreverent

Culture continuously evolves over a period of time; it does not remain static and at any given time in the polity there are multiple cultures competing to become norms. Twenty five years of market reforms in an open society have created a huge middle class and unleashed its own cultural forces which have hastened the hitherto stunted process of individuation leading to the rise of the category of the citizen, predominantly in urban India. This huge individuated population – citizens or consumers – refuse to let others speak on their behalf and be easily offended by a bunch of profane comics. However, most of the Indian society is dominated by conservative communitarian values. This is what lies at the heart of the recent controversy with the huge outrage caused by the AIB roast.

Am I Charlie?

The Indian people and the establishment rightly joined the rest of the world in condemning the political murders of cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in France. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons were often racist and portrayed Islam and the Prophet in a bad light. A bunch of fanatics were so offended that they decided to silence the cartoonists by murdering them. At that time, our Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister tweeted in support of France and #IAmCharlie trended on twitter in India.

It turns out that what the government and a big section of the people in this country really condemned was not the violent act of silencing freedom of expression but merely the act of murder. We are all too happy to be Charlie when we are not being hurt. But when the tables are turned, we too are intolerant and only too ready to drown out that freedom in a display of self righteous outrage. The recent episode in Mumbai where a comic collective was forced to take down their show uploaded on YouTube even before a judicial enquiry had held them guilty of violating any laws, brings out the culture of intolerance and the politics of fear, which is pervasive in our society. (http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/aib-official-statement-on-why-it-took-down-the-roast-full-text-736966) Yes, the content of jokes was sexually explicit and many would have found them tasteless. However, the event was ticketed and adequate warnings were provided on the website about the content. Those who still watched it knew what they were getting into. You can always choose not to watch it; in fact, that is the most effective form of censorship.

Cultures of Intolerance: A Contradiction of Modernity in India

One of the reasons for this culture of getting easily outraged and hurt at the behest of the community is the unique process of modernization within India. It is well known and often celebrated that the old and the new co-exist in India, in constant tension, without that tension being ever conclusively resolved. So we can have the most highly paid professionals with the best of education look for brides within their own castes in a matrimonial advertisement.

We as a society are incredibly resistant to change. The changes that inevitably occur are the result of a tortuous process. This is also the case with the tension between the community and the individual or the citizen. The process of individuation and the emergence of the citizen has been stunted and marked by ascriptive identities of caste, language, religion etc.

This incomplete individuation in society has forced the individual into an often suffocating embrace of the community, compromising the development of individual reason and freedom in society at large. This overbearing embrace of the community has also been used by political parties for nurturing constituencies to meet electoral ends, in the process further undermining individuation and reasserting the hold of the community over individual reason. Being a spokesperson for any group – religious, linguistic, cultural, caste-based or the entire “society”- and standing up against its supposed humiliation are the easiest ways of getting a political following.

The importance of iconoclasts

This is of course not to argue against the acknowledgement of differences in society. The attempt is to assert the importance of the development of individuality, reason and the citizen for the healthy functioning of democracy.
In fact, it is through this irreverent and uncompromising struggle for individual personality against the suffocating embrace of tradition and community that Ambedkar and Periyar reformed our society during the course of its freedom struggle. Both these iconoclasts spoke out against existing dominant norms regarding brahminical religion and sexuality. It was considered even more blasphemous at the time to argue for sexual autonomy of women or the abolition of the caste system. Today we thank them for their irreverence.
The point is not to equate these acts with the AIB roast, but to point out that tolerance for irreverence is important for a democratic society to evolve. Silencing an opinion does not delegitimize it. It only delays a debate.

The Battle Against Conservatism

That there should be limits to free speech and that this must be checked through law should be a settled matter. However, what constitutes acceptable free speech is in itself defined by the existing power relations within society. That the group found it pragmatic to withdraw the video shows that the mob decides these limits, not the courts. This is a worrying trend. But this is in line with increasing intolerance in our society; we have seen a string of incidents of the politics of outrage against movies and books (which were watched and read anyway) and politics of hate – vandalizing churches; we have also witnessed politicians employ hate speech with impunity– recently and in the past. The dominant sections of society have always wanted to intimidate and silence the individual. A society where an individual is afraid to voice an opinion – even offensive in nature – is on a perilous path.

A democratic society must learn to have a debate among its members; not to intimidate and silence those we disagree with. Let us have this debate; those who watched the video (it got 8 million views) are also part of your society. And the conservative establishment does not speak on their behalf.