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