Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Hindu: In the mind field -Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

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In the mind field  Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty
Feb 15, 2013 
Controversy thy middle name: Eminent social thinker Ashis Nandy at his house in New Delhi. Photo: V.V. Krishnan
Controversy thy middle name: 
Eminent social thinker Ashis Nandy at his house in New Delhi. 
Photo: V.V. Krishnan

From cricket to caste, communities to clashes, Ashis Nandy has explored it all. Agree or disagree with him but you can’t ignore this home-grown don, writes Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty 
Allow me to take you a little back in time. To May, 2009. To a critique published in a news magazine on that year’s seemingly unforeseen general election results. It was written by eminent social scientist — and a name mired in controversy these days — Ashis Nandy.

Nandy wrote, “In India, we live in a country where the gods are imperfect and the demons are never fully demonic. I call this an ‘epic culture’ because an epic is not complete without either the gods or the demons. They make the story together. This is a part of our consciousness, and ultimately, I think it influences our public life. People go up to a point with their grievance (but) realise that to go further is a dangerous thing because it destroys the basic algorithm of your life. They say, enough is enough….”Being a psycho-analytical sociologist — and an incredible one at that considering the oeuvre of his work in human psyche – it is Nandy’s job to examine minds that people society, tweak the nuances, document what he deciphers. So coming from someone who can be called a rare home-grown don we have in the country today (he doesn’t have the foreign degrees that usually add leverage to many academics in India), you take this 2009 observation as informed, feel good that beneath the veneer of chaos, there is order in our society. Because the masses know, when to say “enough is enough”.

Then comes 2013 when Nandy himself has been made a “demon” by a clutch of people for a remark plucked out of a greater intellectual idea he was trying to state at this year’s Jaipur Literary Festival.

So I knock at Nandy’s door carrying with me the piece he wrote then, with the aim of checking the veracity of this public stand he took on the majority of the country then. Would he like to reconsider it, do poeple really know, I want to ask him. Did he anywhere spot the thought after the controversy erupted that “to go further is a dangerous thing”? Are we becoming a tribe looking for “issues” to get provoked, vent anger without leaving space for reason, want sacrificial lambs at the altar of media sensationalism and ‘hurt sentiments’, forgetting in the process to remind each other, “enough is enough”?

Flashing a feeble smile, the venerable thinker says he can’t talk about the controversy because the subject is sub-judice. The Supreme Court has stayed his arrest for making the “anti-Dalit” remark, but is yet to take a decision on Nandy’s plea to quash the four FIRs against him.

There is a sub-text to my visit to Nandy’s though. It is also to conclude conversations I have been having with him in snatches for about three-four months now, with the idea of writing his profile in this space. Now that Nandy is not talking, I resort to my notes.

Controversy is nothing new to Nandy. He has magnetised it several times. Be it from feminists on his observations on the tradition of sati, from the Gujarat Government after the carnage — which nearly got him arrested, from the media lately for “supporting” RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remark after the Delhi gang-rape case, among others. If through his work Nandy, 75, has gained admirers in India and outside of it, he has also made some people very angry.

“As a clinical psycho-analyst, I am interested in human subjectivities; it is my job to examine society. I am open to opposition but being angry is not enough. I have provided evidence to state my ideas, you provide yours,” has been his response throughout. In the context of his remarks on Sati, he says, “Nobody has reverted till today.” Nandy’s argument on the subject has been that Sati was never a tradition of the Indian religious life unless there were crises. “You saw it during the Rajput fight against the Mughals, when the Vijaynagar kingdom was collapsing. In eastern India, it was primarily confined to the upwardly mobile upper class in Calcutta and its suburbs. It was not a product of normal Hindu religious life but was used as a pathology, so it tells you something. Even the Christian missionaries, who were anti-Hindu, recognised it. One British viceroy recognised it too,” he says.

And if you follow Nandy’s life trajectory, you find that he can take a good degree of indigence too, if allowed to do the kind of work he likes to do. He started his professional life in social research with a salary of Rs.850 at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), the think tank that he has associated himself with his entire life. A brilliant student who passed his intermediate at 16, he joined medicine initially. Three years later, he quit, his father didn’t speak to him for three years. “Most people in my mother’s family were doctors, I saw their life. I was already bored of my future,” he says laughing.

To study sociology, he had to start at the undergraduate level. “Clinical psychology came later after I got interested in Freudian psychology,” he fills in. Nandy studied and later worked at the Shivrath Centre of Excellence in Clinical Research in Ahmedabad.

What kept him tied to India when he could have taken up plump posts in prestigious foreign universities? “Two-three main considerations,” he says thoughtfully rubbing his fingers through his woolly beard. “India seemed a fascinating country for me, the liveliness of Indian life, the kind of interactions I had by being located here couldn’t have happened if I were outside. It is a complex, chaotic, diverse country, these elements attract me, I recognised it early in life.”

The second consideration was a group of people he met at CSDS “who were genuinely interested in the life of the mind.” This year, CSDS is rounding off half a century of continuation and Nandy, Senior Honorary Fellow after retirement, says he has never rued the time there. “Because my first line of audience has been the people from the Centre. They are the people I have fought the hardest to convince a point.”

In his book, The Tao of Cricket, he has drawn a similar parallel; the first row of audience in the game is not the people but the opposite team. The umpire might not notice a batsman’s fault but the opposition does. “The book was more about political issues. I was stating that certain norms depend on the personal morality of the player, as in cricket, in politics too.” Morality may be difficult, but “it is not impossible even in contemporary times.” He has noticed that “there is no moral tension in our politicians now.”

“Nehru had it. Probably, the last one who had a touch of it was Atal Behari Vajpayee.”

In the “aggressively democratic environment” of CSDS, Nandy went on to make breakthrough studies, also through unconventional tools such as the prism of cricket (he is a big cricket fan himself) and Bollywood yarns.

“The Centre never imposed any restrictions on us, on ideas, on the nature of interpretation.” The third reason why he stayed back in India, and continued to influence critical thinking in the academic circle without being a part of the formal system. Some of his books are part of college syllabus. In between he went abroad for a year to teach though. “That was during the Emergency, I was feeling suffocated,” he replies.

Nandy’s reflection on the Delhi gang-rape is thought-provoking. “I don’t see anything as disjunctive but as a part of a continuity. Murders, the gang-rape, the protests, all are part of a continuity. To me, those youth at the India Gate shouting for death sentence for the rapists, suggesting death by torture, there is a continuity. There is violence in the air in India, even those who were protesting displayed the culture of violence.”

“There are others,” he says, “who are talking about how to tinker the law, bring in more security, etc. to stop such an occurrence but my job is to go for how to rethink our nature of life, the way we treat children who work in garages, street-side hotels, etc. They themselves are brutalised and ultimately, they immerse as insipient monsters. That part of the story is also there.”

He calls his anger a measure of desperation. “People now live in a cocooned life; there is no access to the other side. There is a lot of narcissism too; others are looked at as spectators.” Why? “It is no longer fashionable to study ethics, neither in philosophy nor in social sciences. If someone who is taking an ethical line fails, we are delighted, we want to see him fail for being too moralistic.”

Among the multitudes of issues he has dissected, has there been anything that he has baffled him? “I have seen that all my writings which have become controversial have actually said what people knew in the heart of hearts, they are not something strange and new to them. But I am holding it up, like a mirror, which is discomforting for them.”

Yes, we are in transient times, “moving through dramatic changes which took 200 years in many countries to take place.” Nandy says, “So we are looking for certitudes, feel very uncomfortable when somebody examines these certitudes.”

Time to say “enough is enough”?

“Have you seen any Indian politician apologising ever? Bill Clinton apologised to Black Americans. Manmohan Singh apologised to the Sikhs for the anti-Sikh riots. Whatever one may say about him as a Prime Minister, kudos to him for taking that moral position.”

“My problem is, I can’t write hagiography or pamphlets.”

“Asish has written the foreword of the book of the TV anchor who took umbrage to his recent comment at the Jaipur fest,” says Uma Nandy.

The Hindu: Mrs Uma Nandy Profile by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

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Feb 15, 2013

Like a Shadow Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

Uma Nandy, wife of Ashis Nandy. Photo: V.V. Krishnan
Mrs. Uma Nandy, wife of Ashis Nandy. 
Photo: V.V. Krishnan 
Ashis Nandy met Uma Nandy, his wife of 50 years, at the Shivrath Centre of Excellence in Clinical Research in Ahmedabad. She remembers what he told her after walking into her office for the first time in 1961, “Ms.Trivedi (her maiden surname), I have come here to listen to your music.” Uma now adds with a loud laugh, “Little did he know that he would have to hear it all his life.”

A trained Hindustani vocalist and a clinical psychologist, Uma chose to stay at home when they shifted to Delhi. “Times were different then and I was lazy to do both,” she says.

Nandy has always brought home little money but they “were happy”. “We lived for about 30 years in a two-room set. On one side of the bed, I would do macramé, make pot handlers, sing, and he would read and write on the other side and life would go on.” Those days, they could afford only one chocolate at a time and would share it between Ashis, Uma and their daughter Aditi. “We used to go to Madras hotel in Connaught Place to have dosa, one rupee four annas each,” she fondly recalls.

The house that they live in now was his brother’s, well-known media personality and film producer Pritish Nandy, 10 years younger to Ashis. “He gave it very cheap to us and yet, we didn’t have the money,” she says.

A trait she notices in her husband is, “he is often very forgetful.” At times, he gives appointment to people, forgets. So she has to keep them busy in conversations, often about him, to make waiting for him less dull. “I tell people stories about him, how once, when he was a school boy, he didn’t get off at the tram station near home because he was reading and ended up in the last station. He had no money with him, so he had to walk back home, took him hours.”

Uma knows what her husband loves the most. “Not me, but his freedom. He can do anything to remain free. He is very fond of his daughter but there was not much involvement as a father on a daily basis,” she says. For a man to be in love with his freedom, to think the way he does, it must be a hard time for him in these days. She says little, the tears welling up in her eyes express more.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

IDEAS FOR INDIA: Pranab Bardhan - Casteism and Corruption

Casteism and Corruption: Beyond Political Correctness Pranab Bardhan, Feb 13, 2013

University of California, Berkeley

Sociologist Ashis Nandy’s recent remark that most corrupt people belong to lower castes drew a lot of flak. In this column, Pranab Bardhan shares his views on what he considers to be the two substantive issues coming out of this controversy – Freedom of expression, and the corruptibility of historically disadvantaged groups.

Ashis Nandy has been a friend since my teenage days, so I was intrigued when recently some North Indian political leaders started baying for the arrest of this decent and humane scholar for his allegedly casteist remarks on corruption, until the Supreme Court mercifully intervened quickly to stop such nonsense. I want to discuss two of the substantive issues arising from this controversy. 

But before that let me also state that I have found the remarks reportedly made by Nandy at the Jaipur Literary gathering slightly convoluted in their strenuously contrarian position, and his subsequent ‘clarifications’ did not help. Some of his reported statements, like that about West Bengal, ruled for 100 years by upper-caste leaders, being relatively un-corrupt under CPM, is not merely subject to obvious misinterpretation about the implied honesty of upper-caste leaders, but is also generally false. West Bengal mid-level government functionaries, mostly upper-caste, have been no less corrupt than those in many other states. What is true is that the leaders at the very top in the more than three decades’ rule in West Bengal by the Communist parties have been, with some exceptions, relatively clean (though some of their relatives have not always been so), but that is by and large the case with Communist leaders in other parts of India as well, for reasons having to do with a history of party discipline, not their caste composition. But a careless statement by a public intellectual on the spur of the moment, while not uncommon and sometimes regrettable, is one thing and accusation of violation of an Act meant to prevent atrocities against minorities is absurdly another.

Freedom of expression – Constitution not all that liberal
The first substantive issue is, of course, one of freedom of expression. I believe Nandy should have every right to say what he has reportedly said, even if I were to disagree with him. It is, of course, ironical that such liberal thoughts in his defence are usually associated with ideas flowing out of Western Enlightenment, which Nandy (along with his post-modern followers) had spent a lifetime of scholarship in deprecating.  The liberals in India are, no doubt, aware that our Constitution (in upholding which the Supreme Court in its verdict has reminded Nandy that liberty should not be taken as a licence in public speeches) is not highly liberal on the question of freedom of expression. There are serious restrictions on free speech on grounds related to state security, public order, decency, morality etc.  Any hoodlum belonging to some fanatic fringe can threaten about the potential ‘offence’ caused to his group, and even the faint possibility of the resultant disruption of ‘public order’ can get any book, film or art exhibition banned by the authorities. In recent years such acts of hostage-taking of our cowardly governments (both at the Centre and the states) have become an epidemic. In Indian democracy group tyranny regularly tramples upon individual rights. In the name of preserving inter-community and inter-caste peace we are now used to tolerating such tyranny, and the hoodlums thus win the day.

Corruptibility of historically disadvantaged groups
The other substantive issue is that of corruptibility of our historically disadvantaged low-caste and tribal groups. Even if people belonging to different groups have similar inherent propensities for honesty or dishonesty, different groups face different constraints, opportunities and pressures, and the ‘equilibrium’ outcomes may be different. 

In the United States suppose a white scholar notes the statistical fact that in crimes in metropolitan cities the incidence of involvement by blacks is larger than their demographic proportion in the population. Is he being necessarily racist? There is, of course, the institutional racism as a result of which the police and judicial authorities discriminate against blacks. But there are also socio-economic reasons like lack of opportunities and decent education and employment that drive many blacks to crime. 

Similarly, in India there may be socio-economic reasons why in many cases the social minorities may be found to be involved in or supporting ‘corrupt’ activities, sometimes even more than the upper castes. Let me discuss two such reasons:

(a) One has to do with social networks (a point which I think Nandy was trying to make). The upper castes having been in positions of power and privilege for centuries have well-developed and well-oiled networks which their members can utilise in fixing problems or getting jobs and contracts for their relatives and friends. By and large the lower castes lack such lucrative and powerful networks. Under the circumstances, it is quite possible that an upwardly mobile lower-caste person may try to use money as a substitute for (the missing) network in getting things done. The latter will be called corruption, but the upper-caste use of connections instead of money for similar objectives is often not described as corruption.  Is it ‘casteist’ to point this out? Lack of network may also mean that corrupt low-caste people get caught more often than equally dishonest but more protected upper-caste people.

(b) For social groups long subject to humiliation, it may be quite understandable that dignity politics often trump good governance.  So it is often seen that a low-caste leader widely known as corrupt gets elected by his fellow caste members, election after election, because these leaders in other ways have uplifted the self-esteem and dignity of whole groups of people. The leaders’ corruption may even be looked upon with an indulgent eye: all these years the upper castes have looted public money, maybe it is now ‘our turn’. Such symbolic group self-assertion in politics is quite prevalent in north India, where the rise of the historically subordinate groups is relatively recent. (In south India where self-respect movements are much older, good governance on the part of the low-caste leaders is more often in demand.)

In a survey of politician corruption in 102 legislative jurisdictions in Uttar Pradesh, where caste-based polarisation in voting behaviour increased between 1980 and 1996, Banerjee and Pande1  show a decline in the quality (in terms of competence and honesty) of the politicians who win. They find clear evidence of a trade-off between caste loyalty and quality of politicians. 

Since stating these structural reasons in some way involves going beyond what Nandy has said, am I being even more ‘offensive’? Some of Nandy’s defenders have pleaded for him saying that he cannot be casteist, for after all he supports reservations for lower castes. Since I am not myself an unambiguous supporter of those reservations (I am for more substantial redistribution to the poor, but not necessarily through reservations), I do not have even that fig-leaf.

1.  See A. Banerjee and R. Pande, “Parochial Politics: Ethnic Preferences and Politician Corruption”, Kennedy School Working Paper, Harvard, 2009

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Times of India(Crest Ed): Vinay Lal -The provocations of Ashis Nandy

Thoughtful Provocations

The provocations of Ashis Nandy

India's leading thinker has once again caused a controversy with his radical views. But then, asks Vinay Lal, where is the ethical intellectual life without such thoughtful provocations?

For close to four decades, Ashis Nandy has occupied a liminal presence on the Indian intellectual scene. In nearly every respect, whether from the standpoint of the intellectual positions he has adopted, the trajectory of his professional life, his stance towards religious faith, or the politics that he embraces, Nandy has carved out a worldview that is distinct, even singular. Though he is viewed in the public domain as an academic, he has always kept a distance from university life as such and has spent his entire career as a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi.

There are few scholars who have subjected the very idea of 'development', and the certitude with which experts speak of 'developing societies', to such rigorous scrutiny as has Nandy. For all his immense learning, he has little use for the pedantry that often passes for scholarship - one reason, among others, why some people characterise him as a maverick, gadfly, or contrarian.

Trained as a clinical psychologist, Nandy has disavowed the profession of psychology. Some of his readers grumble at his propensity for psychoanalytical readings of personalities, but his use of Freud is, so to speak, homegrown. There was a time, though this is much less so the case now, when left intellectuals routinely branded Nandy, born into a Christian family, as a Hindu fundamentalist. I doubt very much that he can at all be described as a man of faith, but he has kept faith with the idea that nonbelievers have no higher duty than to defend the right of each person to his or her faith.

One could continue in this vein, almost ad infinitum: thus, to take one last illustration, though one can hardly describe Nandy as a biographer, it is striking that much of his work pivots around individual lives, whether it be Gandhi, Tagore, Rammohan Roy, Jagdish Chandra Bose, the mathematician Ramanujan, the 'first modern Indian environmentalist' Kapilprasad Bhattcharjee, the 'first non-western psychoanalyst' Girindrasekhar Bose, the jurist Radha Binod Pal, and many others. These lives provide the frame around which Nandy has spun complex narratives, though some will call them yarns, about the culture of politics, the politics of culture, and the manner in which knowledge systems insinuate themselves into the praxis of everyday life.

The highly anomalous mould within which his thoughts are wrought lead Nandy to some extraordinary insights, but also make him unusually vulnerable to attack. His writings on communalism and secularism provide a case in point. Though scarcely all the nuances of his position can be enunciated here, one might begin with his firm view that communal riots in India are largely an urban phenomenon. There may be many reasons for this, among them, to use Gandhi's phrase from an interview he gave to the Reverend Mott in the mid-1930 s, 'the hard heartedness of the educated'. This was in response to the query, 'What filled Gandhi with the greatest despair'.

The educated in India are also prone to deploy the idioms of historical thinking, and one cannot begin to understand the conflict over the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmasthan until one has an awareness of how middle-class Hindus, much like nationalists elsewhere, have mobilised history, with consequences that were to be seen in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, in the service of the nation-state. Though myth is one of the ugliest words in the lexicon of Marxists, positivists, liberals, and modernisers alike, Nandy has argued eloquently that myths are a more reliable and humane guide to the past - and link to the future. One of the many hidden transcripts in his recent comments on corruption among OBCs, SCs, and STs, which have enraged some people, is the implicit suggestion that the liberation of the Dalits will be better achieved by their use of creative mythmaking than by attentiveness to the history of their oppression.

In an essay that Nandy penned on 'the alternative cosmopolitanism of Cochin', he demonstrates amply the radical tenor of his thinking. He set out to inquire why Cochin, which has large numbers of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, has been free of communal riots for 500 years. The people he met from these 'communities' do not even remotely describe themselves as secular;indeed, shocking as this might be to the liberal sensibility, which insists upon the 'caring' ethic and the elimination of prejudices, nearly everyone Nandy met admitted to holding rather severe stereotypes about members of the other communities. Nandy concludes that it is, in a manner of speaking, a healthy balance of prejudices that has sustained Cochin's religious pluralism.

Cochin's 'cosmopolitanism' has not been imposed from above, as a diktat of the liberal state, nor does it stem from the Enlightenment's putative idea of the fellowship of liberated rational subjects thinking beyond themselves and invested in the fate of the earth. While the vast bulk of liberal scholarship has been concerned with exposing the pathology of irrationality, Nandy has spent the better part of his life zeroing in on the pathology of rationality and its most characteristic outcomes -- development, the nation-state, vivisectionist science, an (aggrieved) sense of history, to name a few. This has entailed immense risk-taking, even hazardous remarks on more than one occasion, but where is the ethical intellectual life without such provocations?

The writer teaches at the University of California Los Angeles

The Indian Express: Peter Ronald deSouza- The compelling compromize

The compelling compromise Peter Ronald deSouza : Mon Feb 11 2013

The filing of FIRs across the country, the public defence and spirited condemnation, the extensive discussions across all media have, now that the Supreme Court has given its interim ruling on Ashis Nandy's case, come to acquire a secondary status in our universe of concern. The SC's ruling has displaced this everyday politics of word and deed and acquired a primary status because it has a bearing on the foundational issues of our republic, that of freedom of expression and its limits, of hurt and offence, of decency and humiliation. The court's ruling draws attention to the fact that in a world where ends collide, a fair balance must be struck between the goal of protecting liberty and the need to constrain it. The court's interim decision has set the moral standard for free speech in our society today. By both staying his arrest and reprimanding him, the court has effected a compelling compromise.

To the question from Nandy's lawyer on whether the law could penalise an idea, the chief justice responded, "Why not? When an idea is not in the public interest, he can be. Whatever your intent, you can't go on making statements. Tell your client he has no licence to make such comments. Every person has his own idea, but it should not disturb others. Statements are to be made in a responsible manner." With this, the threat of Nandy's imminent arrest passed, leaving many of us visibly relieved. Here, I want to examine the basis of this feeling of relief. Why were we so relieved? Was it because our maverick intellectual was not arrested? Was it because an ugly situation had been averted? Or was it because the SC gave a little bit of victory to both sides?

The three fundamental issues that arise here are: one, the limits of the freedom of expression; two, the constitutional procedures that must be employed to impose such limits; and three, the nature of the compelling compromise. Much has been written on the first issue and the court's comments give us grounds to discuss it further. When we subject the court's own comments ("an idea not in the public interest", "no licence to make such comments", "idea should not disturb others", "made in a responsible manner"), to the standards recommended by it, we discover how difficult it is to determine what is in the "public interest", what will not "disturb others", and what constitutes a "responsible manner". For example, is the public interest defined in terms of what is in the interest of society today or what is in its interest tomorrow, or is it that which is articulated by the dominant classes or by the subaltern classes, as society moves towards greater freedom? Similarly, we would find ourselves troubled by the question, how much "disturbing" is good and how much is pernicious for society? A cursory glance at history would show us that in domains ranging from the creative arts to the anti-colonial struggles, some degree of disturbance has been good for society. We need more dispassionate discussions of these issues. There has been too much thunder so far.

The second issue is similarly complex. Can a statement made by Nandy be read in isolation, or should his statement be judged in terms of the entire corpus of his work? While this, one would expect, would be the proper basis to determine an author's intention, would this still remain the requirement in the case of the atrocities act of 1989? Even if one were to consider it legitimate to read a statement in isolation, in terms of the atrocities act, should it not consider the place where the statement was made, its location of power? Is a statement made at the Jaipur Literature Festival — a horizontal, egalitarian, discursive space — equivalent to a statement, of the same words, made by a landlord in the Indian village that B.R. Ambedkar decried? Surely there is a difference? In the former case, it is a speech act made in a harmless location, whereas in the latter case it is a speech act made to subjugate. Is not the social location of the speech therefore important to determine whether the provisions of the act apply? To then shift the debate and say that while a person's statement may be innocent of prejudice, it can be used by prejudiced persons in other contexts, and therefore must be penalised in the first instance, is to move our society in the dangerous direction of holding an individual responsible for the actions that others do in his name. Surely daughters do not inherit the sins of their fathers?

But it is the third issue, the compelling compromise, that I want to talk about here. In all the bluster it has gone unnoticed. In recent days, because of the increasing frequency with which groups claim to be offended by a word, picture, film, play, article, book, cartoon and now musical band, a lengthening list of offensive acts, our attitude is one of relief when the escalating indignation is diffused by the compromise. We seem to have developed a public culture of compromise, valorising compromise for its consequences. The word "compelling" is used here in two senses, the first as adjective denoting the quality of being persuasive and convincing, and the second as a verb suggesting action, such as to force and coerce. It is this second sense that has begun to determine the shape of our emerging public culture, infiltrated our consciousness without our being aware of its damage to our intellectual life. While the first sense of compelling is attractive, the second is dangerous. Nandy, an intellectual iconoclast, was compelled to accept a compromise in the second sense.

The compromise was endorsed by all because of the new culture of relief that has enveloped us. M.F. Husain's works were taken down from the India Art Summit in 2011. Vishwaroopam was banned after being cleared by the censors. Salman Rushdie was denied an appearance at the Kolkata Book Fair after he was scheduled to speak. Compromise followed by relief. Why do we not see it as the loss of something — irony, dissent, and most of all irreverence — and only see it as the gain of social peace? Does not the jester or the cynic or the wit have a place, my lords? Imagine Akbar's court without Birbal. But the compelling compromise, in the second sense, has come to rule our choices. While such compromise may be valuable in the case of property disputes or service matters or the boundary conflicts of nations, should it be extended to ideas and opinions, even those that are offensive? A world where everyone is only reverential, in addition to being boring, would soon wither away, for there would be no evolution. And since, in any population, the number of persons who are irreverent are minuscule, norm conformity being the default condition, should we not go out of our way to protect the irreverent? The reasons we should protect the irreverent must be spelt out by the SC in its final judgment, giving us the new moral standard, and in the process moving us from one sense of compelling compromise to the other. That would ensure that Nandy's book, Exiled at Home, is classified as fiction.

The writer is director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Views are personal

Saturday, February 9, 2013

HindustanTimes: Karan Thapar - TV: a Mea Culpa

TV: a Mea Culpa Karan Thapar February 09, 2013

Are television discussions guilty of  "controversy-manufacturing … (where) a sentence in a complex argument has been picked up to be thrashed out into a controversy … (where) we turn our back on irony, nuance and complexity and, instead, opt for angry bashing … (where) every night someone must be made to burn in the Fourth Circle of Hell …. (in) a 'grab-the-eyeballs' game", as an article by Harish Khare in The Hindu (February 6) suggests? In many cases, I believe, the answer is an unequivocal yes. And, sadly, that does not exclude my own programmes.
Khare's article raises deeply disturbing questions about how discussions on television handled the Ashis Nandy affair. But it goes further. It also raises concerns about what such discussions, whether on Nandy, cross-LoC killings, politics or anything else, seek to do. And, beyond that, it focuses on the new kind of "fundamentalism" they have created. We need to acknowledge these concerns, debate them and, finally, try and find answers to them.

In the Ashis Nandy case it's undeniable that a couple of, admittedly poorly-phrased, sentences were plucked out of a complex argument, which many, including anchors, did not fully understand but, nonetheless, deemed controversial, and put forward for criticism and attack by studio guests who were ignorant of the context and also unaware of Nandy's deeper arguments. It's hard to doubt this was a conscious attempt to generate anger and then convert it into popular outrage.

This example leads directly to the second issue: what is the sort of television discussion we ought to have and what should its purpose be? Surely the idea is to further understanding through analysis or by providing a platform to different opinions? What it can't be is an attempt to bludgeon one man or one viewpoint, whether understood or misunderstood, into conformity. Yet this is what Khare believes our discussions end up doing. I think he is largely right.

It's no consolation that politicians, anxious to please, or academics, eager to be seen and heard, play along. Khare believes they are "overawed by TV studio warriors". Possibly. But that's not an excuse.
As a result, what we produce each night, to use Khare's phrase, is "a new kind of fundamentalism - that of what is touted as the 'media-enabled middle classes'." We saw this when anchors fumed over the beheading of Indian soldiers allegedly by Pakistani troops on the LoC, omitting to mention we had done the same in the recent past. It happened again with L'affaire Nandy. In fact, it's happened many times in the past.

Frankly, this amounts to television reinforcing prejudice or, even, misleading on the basis of ignorance. If you don't want your comfortable convictions to be disturbed this might be satisfying. But it's not enlightening and it's certainly not journalism.

Yet this will only change when anchors and channel heads accept that current affairs discussions are not mass audience programmes and must not be thought of as entertainment. They are for those who care and want to know. And this group will always be a minority.

Now, if this comes up against the imperatives of commercial survival that is a conundrum our television producers must address and solve. I accept it won't be easy. In fact, it could be expensive, both in terms of money and audience. But if it doesn't happen television discussions will soon cease to matter - except in a negative sense.

The future of television debates could be at stake.

Views expressed by the author are personal

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Economic Times: Editorial - Ideas can be debunked but not outlawed

Ideas can be debunked but not outlawed EDITORIAL, 8 FEB 2013

"Democracy in India," said Ambedkar, "is only a top dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic." Constitutional morality, he added, is to be cultivated, since Indians have yet to learn it. Decades after that statement, it would seem that the process of learning is, at best, still a work in progress or, at worst, an impossible task. And when the highest court in the land, meant to uphold and protect the democratic spirit, censures an academic for his utterances, it only buttresses that pessimistic outlook.

The Supreme Court might have spared Ashis Nandy from being arrested — after an FIR was lodged against him for remarks alleged to be anti-Dalit — but in its admonishing the sociologist for his comments, it seems to have, even by default, veered dangerously close to approving the notion that ideas cannot be expressed freely. "We are not at all happy," the SC bench reportedly said, and also told Mr Nandy's lawyer that his client "has no licence to make such comments". The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, of course, within logically permissible limits.

But it is in drawing the boundaries of those limits that a polity can display whether the democratic spirit is a mere top dressing or a lived reality. A truly democratic society is one where ideas, particularly contentious ones, can be debated — whether accepted, celebrated or debunked — in a free exchange. Short of deliberately and actively promoting hatred or violence, little else by way of words need be censured.

And, unfortunately, even though perhaps unintentionally, the SC might appear to be adding to the unsavoury clamour for restrictions on ideas and expression. That is quite avoidable.

Giving in to various sections claiming offence at the drop of a hat can only make for a republic of hurt sentiments. A statement or an idea, whether obnoxious, nuanced or contentious, is matter for a rational, even if heated, debate. Logically, freedom of speech should imply even a right to offend, given the many holy cows and shibboleths that retard the progressive development of our society. Intolerance needs to be binned.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

ABC Radio Australia - Intolerance growing as India's intellectuals fight for free speech

Intolerance growing as India's intellectuals fight for free speech Updated 6 February 2013, 15:14 AEST

In recent weeks, writers, academics, actors and artists have come under attack from India's political class and fringe parties for criticizing the established order.

Intellectuals feel intolerance is growing in India and freedoms are being curtailed

Reporter: Murali Krishnan
Speakers : Ritu Menon, publisher and writer; Makarand Paranjape, Indian poet and professor; Santosh Desai, social commentator; Kamal Hassan, south Indian actor

KRISHNAN: It has become increasingly easy these days to offend the Indian government, and to incur the wrath of the censor or even the threat of legal action. Actor Kamal Hassan learnt it the hard way and was forced to reach a settlement with Muslim organizations in southern India, agreeing finally to delete seven scenes from his latest spy thriller.

Earlier the actor had threatened to leave his state and was pained by the response of the authorities to his mega production "Vishwaroopam" or The Gigantic Guardian Figure that revolves around an Indian intelligence agent thwarting a "terrorist" attack by fighters from Afghanistan in New York.

KAMAL: I think I will have to seek a secular state for me to stay in. I have lost what I have done. I have nothing to lose, so I might as well choose. And that choice could be a secular state from Kashmir to Kerala excluding Tamil Nadu.

KRISHNAN: Artistic expression is being increasingly given a political and communal color. And over the weeks this has set off protests on the streets, court battles and loud debates on artistic freedom across the country. Ritu Menon, a publisher and writer who has been active in the South Asian women's movement for over 20 years explains this disturbing phenomenon.

MENON: It is actually an indication of two things. One the prevalence of what we call street censorship or laissez faire censorship… which is to say no one can be held responsible …the mob forms and dissolves so no one can actually be criminialized. The second one is that it is happening much more often as we know - the more regressive the state, the more aggressive the mob. The state is simply withdrawing from the public sphere.

KRISHNAN: At the just concluded Jaipur Literature Festival hundreds of people staged a protest demonstration outside the venue demanding the immediate arrest of eminent sociologist Ashis Nandy for his reported remarks against members of the backward classes, scheduled castes and tribes. Though Nandy said he was misunderstood, the clamor for his arrest grew. Makarand Paranjape is a poet and English professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

PARANJAPE: It seems to me the state which is the guarantor of rights which are enshrined in the constitution is extremely amenable to pressure groups, all kinds of minority and fringe elements who have nuisance value And essentially since the state is run by, I mean they are worried about maintaining their power, they kowtow to these interests.

KRISHNAN: The unpleasant events over the last few weeks also saw writer Salman Rushdie being denied entry into Kolkata to promote Deepa Mehta's film Midnight's Children, based on his book by the same name. He was not allowed to enter the city and the reason cited for stopping him was that some Muslims felt the author was anti-Islam.

Last year amid death threats to the organizers and fears of violent riots by Muslim groups, Rushdie was prevented from making an appearance or even addressing the Jaipur Literature Festival through a video link.

Ms Menon again.

MENON: Civil society is becoming much more vocal as a group and individuals are voicing their dissent through the arts. Through cinema, books, film theatre and so on. It is becoming extremely uncomfortable for the state to address this. And in order not to address this, they are allowing a mob which really has nobody's interests at heart to do their dirty work for them. Mr Paranjape agrees.

PARANJAPE: What is actually happening is that the political class is unable to stand up and finds it easier to appease such elements and what they are doing is they are leaving their jobs to other people like the media that will raise a hullabaloo or to the judiciary where people go when they are in trouble. So my point is what is happening is a failure of governance.

KRISHNAN: Social commentator Santosh Desai is a keen watcher of how India faces new threats to artistic freedom.

DESAI: What we are seeing is almost an idealism of earlier times turned out to be a kind of a thin veneer which has worn out and the newer forces that are coming into power are seeing power in more transactional terms as a force to be exercised. And therefore have much less compunction about using the power to restrict basic freedoms.

KRISHNAN: The big question is whether India will be able to be to find the right balance that leans more towards freedom and less towards repression.

Murali Krishnan, Connect Asia, New Delhi.

New York Times OpEd:Suketu Mehta -India’s Speech Impediments

Op-Ed Contributor  
India’s Speech Impediments By Published: February 5, 2013

INDIA is in the throes of what Salman Rushdie rightly calls a “cultural emergency.” Writers and artists of all kinds are being harassed, sued and arrested for what they say or write or create. The government either stands by and does nothing to protect freedom of speech, or it actively abets its suppression.

This year, the world’s largest democracy ranked a miserable 140th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index — falling nine places from last year. Today, Afghanistan and Qatar have a freer press than India. 

In recent years, the government has cast a watchful eye on the Internet, demanding that companies like Google and Facebook prescreen content and remove items that might be deemed “disparaging” or “inflammatory,” according to technology industry executives there. 

In November, police in Mumbai arrested a 21-year-old woman for complaining on Facebook about the shutdown of the city after the death of the nativist politician Bal K. Thackeray; another Facebook user was arrested for “liking” the first woman’s comment. The grounds for the arrests? “Hurting religious sentiments.” 

Mr. Rushdie, who after the 1988 publication of “The Satanic Verses” became, to his chagrin, a human weather vane for the right to free speech, was to travel to Kolkata last week to attend a literary festival. At the last minute, he says, he was informed that the police in West Bengal would block his arrival. Local politicians chimed in to support the ban. “Rushdie never should have been invited,” an official in the party that rules the state told me. “Thirty percent of Bengali voters are Muslims.”

The organizers of the literary festival had held up Kolkata as the “cultural capital of India.” The notion that any cultural capital would try to silence speech — or punish artists who do speak out — is, of course, preposterous. But then, Kolkata is hardly alone. 

At the other end of the country, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, a similar spectacle was unfolding. With 120,000 visitors in 2012, Jaipur’s bookfest is among the world’s largest, living proof of Indians’ hunger for literary voices. Or some voices. This year, local leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which advocates Hindu nationalism, demanded that Pakistani writers be banned from the festival. (To their credit, festival organizers stood their ground, and several Pakistani authors did speak.)

Then, just after the festival leaders navigated this controversy, another sprang up. On a panel titled “Republic of Ideas,” the sociologist Ashis Nandy, perhaps the country’s most prominent public intellectual, offered a nuanced argument about the prevalence of corruption among the lower castes. The remarks, arguably, were no more provocative than an American professor’s saying that some early Irish and Italian immigrants joined corrupt political machines like Tammany Hall to climb the socioeconomic ladder. 

And in any free society, it would be fair to debate the point. But in Jaipur, Mr. Nandy was charged with a crime under the Prevention of Atrocities Act. 

In India today, it seems, free speech is itself an atrocity. 

A film, for example, might pass the Censor Board, but then be summarily banned by a state government. That’s what happened with “Vishwaroopam,” a Tamil spy thriller released worldwide — but not in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where officials prevented its screening, fearing that it might anger Muslims. 

Next door, in Bangalore, the police demanded that an art gallery remove partially nude pictures of Hindu deities lest they hurt Hindu sentiments and cause mob violence. 

Under the modern Indian Constitution, freedom of speech is highly qualified, subject to what the government deems “reasonable” restrictions. The state can silence its citizens for any number of reasons, including “public order,” “decency or morality” and “friendly relations with foreign states.”

India’s courts, meanwhile, do little to rein in government authorities. The country’s Supreme Court, in the end, did stay Mr. Nandy’s arrest, but it also reinforced the state’s position that he had “no license” to make such statements: “An idea can always hurt people,” the chief justice opined. “An idea can certainly be punished under the law.” 

But India cannot hope to be a true cultural capital of the world — let alone a truly free society — until it firmly protects the right to speech. Without an unqualified constitutional amendment that guarantees this freedom, as the American Constitution’s First Amendment does, the country cannot fairly claim to be the “world’s largest democracy.” 

Indians must understand that free speech — the right to think and exchange ideas freely — is at the core of the democracy they cherish. If the former is weak, the latter cannot help but be as well.

Suketu Mehta, an associate professor of journalism at New York University, is the author of “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.”

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Indian Express: Shail Mayaram- Misunderstanding Nandy

Misunderstanding Nandy Shail Mayaram : Feb 04 2013    

His remarks must be read along with his critique of modernity and the middle class

It is troubling that the public debate in the aftermath of the Jaipur Literature Festival is assuming a Dalits versus others dimension. That this is clearly not the case is obvious from the support Ashis Nandy has received from prominent intellectuals, including Chandra Bhan Prasad, Badri Narayan and Kancha Ilaiah. Had D.R. Nagaraj been around, he would have castigated this framing. In the last decade of his life, Nagaraj was one of Nandy's closest friends. As he put it, "Nandy is at his best when he explores the comic, violent, wicked and absurd relationships that come into play in the lives of communities when they try to represent themselves as nation-states".

The question we must ask is if Nandy is anti-Dalit, anti-tribal and anti-backward castes, as has been suggested. I have known Nandy for a quarter-century now, and in various capacities. He was supervisor of my doctoral dissertation and we went on to become colleagues and friends. Over the years, his support has been invaluable for my exploration of what are, in statist terms, the "backward castes", including the Mewatis, Gujjars and Meenas. He has been particularly happy about a film Rahul Roy and I are making on the Mirasis, a Dalit community of largely illiterate bards/ musicians, but whose literary universes intimate linkages with Sanskrit, Farsi and Braj bhasha.

One way of being pro-Dalit is to support affirmative action. But there is a deeper way, which is to take the cultural inheritance of the Dalits and shudras seriously. Much of Nandy's theorising rests upon an argument about history. Historical consciousness was exported from the West and has deeply affected non-Western cultures, he maintains. Hitherto these cultures lived with open-ended conceptions of the past articulated in their myths and epics. Millions still live outside "history" and have been described as ahistorical (read pre-historical, primitive and pre-scientific). History fears subjectivities, Nandy argues. The idea of history has led to new forms of exploitation and violence in our times, and the freezing of civilisational, cultural and national boundaries. Instead of history, he emphasises constructions that are more creative, ambiguous and arise from marginality and self-doubt.

He also argues that Nehruvian India, despite its brahminic patronising socialism along with a democratic polity and statist affirmative action, had released much creative energy at the bottom and peripheries of India. Nandy points out that Dalits have a rich repertoire of cultures and memories manifest in their knowledge systems, technologies, gods and goddesses. "They comprise another set of analytic categories, forms of ingenuity and creativity, a robust imaginary that includes the record of their suffering and humiliation, their constructions of the past, even what might be called the 'algorithms' of their resistance." Unknowingly, these explore a dialogue of cultures within India. Nandy views the mythic as constitutive of personhood, forming a bridge between literature and life, and refers to epic cultures of the global South that have maintained some continuity with their past. He suggests that Southern intellectuals must develop a critique of ideology itself and refers to Nagaraj's politics of acknowledgement that the diverse, rich cultures of Dalit communities possessed both self-esteem and dignity, which centuries of structural violence and humiliation had not deprived them of. But they must move beyond self-pity. Nandy affirms Prithvi Datta, who points out that in these essays, Nagaraj moves from an identity politics to a civilisational politics, and from a politics of rage towards a politics of affirmation. Nagaraj sees Gandhi as a radical descendant of the great radical saints Basava and Allama, while Ambedkar represents the militant, socialist, Western method and the idea of equality.

Personally, I do not agree with Nandy's thesis on corruption as redistributive justice. But his statement must be read in the context of his larger work and his critique of modernity and the middle class. Modernity, in his view, is responsible for a technocide, which has made Indian artisans, most of whom are Dalits, its victims.

The debate on Nandy's remarks post-JLF posits individual rights against community. This distorts the life's work of a theorist who has viewed the subcontinent as comprising communities whose lifeworlds have been marked by creativity and cultures of faith, despite their being imbricated in structures of violence.

The writer is senior fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, DelhiThe Indian Express


The Hindu: A.S. Panneerselvan-Artists' angst

 Opinion » Readers' Editor
Artists’ angst A.S. Panneerselvan

Some readers feel that I jumped the gun and celebrated freedom, and failed to anticipate what happened to academician Ashish Nandy in Jaipur, filmmaker Kamal Haasan in Tamil Nadu and writer Salman Rushdie, who was ‘uninvited’ from visiting Kolkata. We live in difficult times, and, often events overtake written words in forms and manners that cannot be prejudged or even remotely predicted. 

I am not going into the details of what happened to these three fine minds or their plight, but share some vignettes from my personal interactions with all of them, spread over the last two decades, and let readers form their own opinion and decide whether these artists deserve the harsh treatment that has been handed out to them. 

I met Ashis Nandy for the first time in 1988 in the company of Shiv Visvanathan at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi. He spent nearly three hours talking about two outstanding Indian scientists — J.C. Bose and Srinivasa Ramanujan — and multiple trajectories of science. From liberating to being ruthlessly misanthropic, science seemed to straddle multiple horses, and it was Nandy’s eloquence, laced with humour, provocation and sarcasm, that helped me overcome my romantic idea of science and my own unidimensional understanding of its use and its intrinsic value. Since then every meeting was a chance to widen my own positions and to reduce my own certainties about a range of issues that are confronting us. 

At a private festival
The late scriptwriter and an associate of filmmaker K. Balachander, Ananthu, introduced me to Kamal Haasan in the mid-1980s. Since then, I have spent many hours discussing with Kamal Haasan not just films but literature, politics, society and things that ranged from profound to trivia. In the late 1980s, he organised a private film festival at his home to look at the entire work of German avant-garde filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Screenings were always followed by intense discussions. It was during one of those evenings, Kamal read out a poem by Bertolt Brecht titled “The Burning of the Books”.
“When the Regime
commanded the unlawful books to be burned,
teams of dull oxen hauled huge cartloads to the bonfires.
Then a banished writer, one of the best,
scanning the list of excommunicated texts,
became enraged: he’d been excluded!
He rushed to his desk, full of contemptuous wrath,
to write fierce letters to the morons in power —
Burn me! he wrote with his blazing pen —
Haven’t I always reported the truth?
Now here you are, treating me like a liar!
Burn me!”
Ananthu pointed out that also among the books burned were those of the great German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, who in his 1820-1821 play Almansor accurately predicted, “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen. (Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”) 

When artists were defended
My last meeting with Salman Rushdie was at Barnes and Noble in New York. He read out a short story, In the South, set in Chennai, in Besant Nagar to be precise. Line after line, as it rolled off his tongue, made my wife and I look at each other meaningfully as it mirrored this southern metropolis more truthfully, with its best and worst coming out starkly. Post reading, he told us that Chennai is a place where one can be endlessly argumentative without the fear of being lynched.
Let me just recollect one paragraph from his memoir, Joseph Anton, and leave the issue to the readers to introspect: “He was not, after all, the first writer to be endangered or sequestered or anathematised for his art. He thought of mighty Dostoevsky facing the firing squad and then, after the last-minute commutation of his sentence, spending four years in prison camp, and of [Jean] Genet unstoppably writing his violently homoerotic masterpiece Our Lady of the Flowers in jail. The French translator of Les versets sataniques, unwilling to use his own name, had called himself ‘A. Nasier’ in honour of the great Francois Rabelais who had published his first book, Pantagruel, under the anagrammatic nom de plume of ‘Acofribas Nasier’. Rabelais too had been condemned by religious authority; the Catholic Church had been unable to stomach his satirical hyberabundance. But he had been defended by the King, Francois I, on the grounds that his genius could not be suppressed. Those were the days, when artists could be defended by kings, because they were good at what they did. These are lesser times.” 

Can we honestly deny that these are lesser times?

HindustanTimes: Karan Thaper-Shame on us

Shame on us    Karan Thapar, February 02, 2013
The truth is we've become an intolerant people. When we don't like a film we stop its screening. When we disapprove of a book we ban it. When we disagree with someone's speech we censor it. We forget that other people have different views, different tastes, different ways of doing things. Our way, we insist, is the only way.

Yet we call ourselves a democracy and believe we uphold freedom of speech. But free expression is not just for those who we think are right. It's also for those who we believe are wrong. More critically, freedom of speech includes the right to offend. That has to be the critical test.

Sadly, that's where we fail. If Rushdie's interpretation of Islam upsets us, if Hussain's depiction of Hindu goddesses annoys us, if Nandy's analysis of caste and corruption raises troubling questions or if Kamal Haasan's Vishwaroopam disturbs our self-image we turn on them with viciousness and vengeance. 

The answer should be very different. If you disagree with something counter it with fact and argument. If a book upsets you, write another. If a painting annoys you, don't see it. If a film troubles you, criticise it and, if you can, counter its message with one of your own.

None of this do we do. Instead, we seek the easy but wrong solution: ban the work, jail the author, wipe out from existence what you don't like.

Voltaire is supposed to have said, "I disagree with what you're saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it." We've changed that to "I disagree with what you're saying and you will die for it."

Let's examine the Ashis Nandy incident a little closely. I concede that he expressed himself clumsily. I recognise that the point he was making was both complicated and, for many, novel. It wasn't easy to grasp or comprehend. Many got the wrong end of it. Additionally, some television channels and newspapers misrepresented him by editing what he said and omitting the context in which he was speaking. And, yes, those who know him say he has a penchant for speaking in surprising ways, even at times sensationally. So, perhaps, it was easy to misunderstand him.

However, once you realised you had, once it became clear he was making a very different point to what you initially thought, surely our response should have changed? But that didn't happen. We doggedly stuck by our initial impression even after it had been proven wrong.

But suppose for a moment we had been correct in our initial understanding of Nandy. Suppose he was out to offend. Does he not have a right to do so? Did that call for an FIR? Did that warrant the attempt to send him to jail?

Provided he was not inciting violence - and he wasn't, he was only speaking at a seminar in a literary festival - and provided he was not stirring up hatred - which he clearly wasn't - he has a right to say what he wants. Otherwise what is the value of our democracy? And our claim to champion freedom of speech?

The truth is this sorry affair reveals more about us than Nandy. We need to examine our behaviour. We need to question our responses. We need to ask whether we really understand what freedom means.

The Nandy episode and the treatment of Kamal Haasan's film diminishes us. Today we're smaller because of our actions. We've shamed ourselves.

Views expressed by the author are personal

India Today: Ritu Bhatia -Nandy deserves better

Ashis Nandy deserves better
Ritu Bhatia  New Delhi, February 3, 2013

There is a beautiful story, a poignant one by the Swiss writer Frederich Durrenmatt it is about a detective. He is dying and his one dream is to convict a criminal, he has been hunting all his life. They meet each other and the criminal says "you can never convict me for a crime I have committed". To show his contempt for the law, he then pushes a man off a bridge. The policeman is stunned and then has the wits to reply that 'I will convict you for a crime you have not committed". Durrenmatt's novel Judge and the Hangman is a story of how he achieves this.

The Durrenmatt anecdote reminded me of the Nandy controversy. Here was a gadfly that the state and the radicals have never forgiven for the triumphant dissenter he has been. Oddly Nandy has grown in respectability with every controversy. As a friend observed feminists have not forgiven him for his writings on Sati, scientists have not forgotten his comments on the scientific temper document and the official Left has never forgotten that he has always questioned their intellectualist pretensions. When the Jaipur controversy on Dalits and corruption took place, there was a sense of vicarious justice. The Gadfly was going to get his "just" desserts.


The few letters issued in defence of Nandy appeared cautious and sounded more like good conduct certificates with caveats about his unorthodox and provocative style. They exuded a political correctness. Oddly the one Dalit present at the occasion, the usually vociferous Kancha Ilaiah was the most open about Nandy, cautioning against false accusations by observing that Nandy's was a bad statement made with good intentions. Contrast this sense of fairness with a well known TV anchor who seems to be playing both judge and hangman. TV anchors often become Kangaroo courts in pursuit of publicity. One is at least grateful that U.R. Ananthamurthy, the author issued a strong statement in Nandy's defence. Nandy must have missed the presence of his old friend D.R.Nagaraj, a major Dalit voice who might have brought balance and laughter to this dismal event.

The question is what was Nandy trying to do and how well did he do it. Nandy is always impatient with hypocrisy and especially the hypocrisy of the elite. He was critical of what one may call the corruption envy of the elite, which is noisy about the blatant corruption of Khoda and smug about its own welloiled nepotism. Probably reacting to the way scholarships and fellowships are nations. If Scott looked at the moral economy of resistance and even corruption as a form of resistance, Nandy examined the cognitive power of these groups, allowing them a certain ambiguity and paradox. This is not an elitist mindset that the CPM leader Brinda Karat attributes him. This is a creativity which goes beyond Marxist party categories which have been knowledge proof for decades. It is his critics who play the labeling game, freezing margins into stereotypes. Nandy on the other hand plays an enabling game with a full sense of irony. Nandy's writings while playful are clear; his conversation can leapfrog linear arguments. Sometimes it is almost as if he is talking to himself. But Nandy's style requires experimentation, of muddling through. It always remains a sensibility that has fought for the marginal but perpetually questioned the radicalism of middle class representatives. There is a pomposity to a lot of critique. I read one that drove to me tears at its sheer illiteracy.

One author compares Nandy's fall in the current controversy with Martin Heidegger's sinister Nazism, Michel Foucault's enthusiasm for the Iranian revolution or Hannah Arendt's bizarre celebration of the military prowess of the Israeli state. The pomposity and illiteracy of the comparison merits reference. It shows how far some of our academia will go to both misread and malign a leading intellectual. The writer presents it as a fable while the style turns it into a farcical representation of critique today. I was just imagining the process of interrogating Nandy. He has cheerfully admitted that he is ready for jail claiming prisons are great places to write books. In doing so he was claiming a genealogy of distinguished dissent going back to Thoreau, Gandhi, Gramsci and Nehru.


The question we must ask however is that while no one is above the law in a normative sense, can laws become so oppressive that they trigger a form of political correctness that eliminates parody, black humour and irony? Should our lives become a bleak search for uniformity and political correctness which has made intellectuals wary of entering the fray, of carrying on the debate, of going beyond Nandy in understanding the ironies of change? Nandy is one of the few public intellectuals left in India. He is a survivor at a time when public policy and public spaces have become shrinking spaces. Reflecting on the controversies his work generated, he told me impishly, the bureaucrats might hate me, but their children come and talk happily about my ideas. He felt a sense of hope and chuckled quietly about the fate of ideas. Nandy's comments at the Jaipur festival would have been translated into Hindi and then scrutinised by the police.

I believe there are charges against him filed at five separate police stations. I am imagining the questions, the detailed ethnographic examination. At one level it could be routine, at another it could have a touch of Alice and Kafka. I can imagine him arguing in his labored Hindi, trying to capture nuances, injecting humour into a ritual of clerks. It is a pity that he has to be subject to this. One wonders about the fate of public intellectuals when political correctness and intellectual caution rules the day. Nandy and the struggles for intellectual justice deserve more. The writer is a social science nomad awarded in Delhi, Nandy exposed this process by claiming the elite sees nothing wrong in its reciprocities of nepotism while condemning the general decline of honesty among Dalits and OBCs.

Nandy recognised this latter trend as a sociological fact contending corruption is blatant among OBCs, Dalits and increasingly scheduled tribes. He was not attributing essentialism to Dalit corruption. In fact corruption, he claimed, signified agency, a sense of the rules of the game and the ability to manipulate them. What others saw as the noise of Dalit corruption, Nandy would designate ironically as a welcome music. Corruption is seen as a political bureaucratic skill which new elites must learn to survive in the system. What Nandy constructed as agency was read as a genetic or an in born quality. He was implying that electoral democracy is a circulation of corruptions and as a result, becomes an ironic form of distributive justice. The argument is systemic, though in Nandy's presentation, the emphasis is on the performative aspects of corruption. This is the argument that critics like Arvind Kejriwal did not understand or chose not to in their rush to enter the fray.


I must add that text has to be understood within context. Nandy is a truly subaltern writer who focuses on the imagination of marginals. Like James Scott the Yale social scientist, he has understood the voices of the weak and explored them as imagi-nations. If Scott looked at the moral economy of resistance and even corruption as a form of resistance, Nandy examined the cognitive power of these groups, allowing them a certain ambiguity and paradox. This is not an elitist mindset that the CPM leader Brinda Karat attributes him. This is a creativity which goes beyond Marxist party categories which have been knowledge proof for decades

It is his critics who play the labeling game, freezing margins into stereotypes. Nandy on the other hand plays an enabling game with a full sense of irony. Nandy's writings while playful are clear; his conversation can leapfrog linear arguments. Sometimes it is almost as if he is talking to himself. But Nandy's style requires experimentation, of muddling through. It always remains a sensibility that has fought for the marginal but perpetually questioned the radicalism of middle class representatives.

There is a pomposity to a lot of critique. I read one that drove to me tears at its sheer illiteracy. One author compares Nandy's fall in the current controversy with Martin Heidegger's sinister Nazism, Michel Foucault's enthusiasm for the Iranian revolution or Hannah Arendt's bizarre celebration of the military prowess of the Israeli state. The pomposity and illiteracy of the comparison merits reference. It shows how far some of our academia will go to both misread and malign a leading intellectual. The writer presents it as a fable while the style turns it into a farcical representation of critique today.

I was just imagining the process of interrogating Nandy. He has cheerfully admitted that he is ready for jail claiming prisons are great places to write books. In doing so he was claiming a genealogy of distinguished dissent going back to Thoreau, Gandhi, Gramsci and Nehru.

Issue The question we must ask however is that while no one is above the law in a normative sense, can laws become so oppressive that they trigger a form of political correctness that eliminates parody, black humour and irony? Should our lives become a bleak search for uniformity and political correctness which has made intellectuals wary of entering the fray, of carrying on the debate, of going beyond Nandy in understanding the ironies of change?

Nandy is one of the few public intellectuals left in India. He is a survivor at a time when public policy and public spaces have become shrinking spaces. Reflecting on the controversies his work generated, he told me impishly, the bureaucrats might hate me, but their children come and talk happily about my ideas. He felt a sense of hope and chuckled quietly about the fate of ideas.

Nandy's comments at the Jaipur festival would have been translated into Hindi and then scrutinised by the police. I believe there are charges against him filed at five separate police stations. I am imagining the questions, the detailed ethnographic examination. At one level it could be routine, at another it could have a touch of Alice and Kafka. I can imagine him arguing in his labored Hindi, trying to capture nuances, injecting humour into a ritual of clerks. It is a pity that he has to be subject to this. One wonders about the fate of public intellectuals when political correctness and intellectual caution rules the day. Nandy and the struggles for intellectual justice deserve more

- The writer is a social science nomad