On Nandy debate, let’s tip the scale in everyone’s favour

Let’s just see the other side's reaction, the ones protesting Ashis Nandy’s remark ‘against’ SC/ST/OBCs in its entirety, as well. Or is it too much to ask?

shivangi-narayan

Shivangi Narayan | January 28, 2013



So much has been said about Ashis Nandy’s remark about people from the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe (SC/ST) communities being the most “corrupt” that let me take a minute to recapitulate all of it. Most of those arguing for Nandy lament the loss of debate in the Indian republic. Debate, they say, is dead. Some say we are living in an illiterate society where no one can talk without being his/her neck throttled.

People are being too itchy; the media has created a furore out of nothing... these and a lot more are also the regular refrain.

Let’s just look at what Nandy said at the Jaipur Literature Festival. There were two things to be looked at, the second of which has been conveniently overlooked by those who want to develop the “republic has no room for debate” argument.

    "Most people who are doing corruption are people from OBC, SC and ST communities and as long as it remains, Indian republic will survive."
    “I will give an example. One of the states with the least amount of corruption is West Bengal when the CPI(M) was there (in power). And I must draw attention to the fact that in the last 100 years, nobody from OBC, SC and ST has come anywhere near to power (in Bengal). It is an absolutely clean state."

I understand the irony in the first statement. I understand the difference between “real” and “perceived”, as elucidated by Nandy. As a sociologist, he has perfectly demarcated between “what it is” and “what it looks out to be”. He seems to be making the point correctly that most people who are corrupt come from the above communities, as they are the ones who indulge in irregularities easily, as is noticeable by other people.

Perhaps this was why the ‘lokpal bill’ was called ‘anti-dalit’ and ‘anti backward caste’ by many.

However, it is the second statement, which leaves me perplexed. And more perplexing is that no one seems to be talking about it. What it translates for me is that the CPI(M) did not have any OBC/SC/ST leader in the party in the last 100 years, which is the reason why West Bengal is an “absolutely clean state”.
I am sorry but I don’t get the irony in this or any ‘black sense of humour’.

What strengthens my belief that this statement is a deal breaker for both Nandy and the free-speech brigade is that no one seems to be talking about it in their articles. No one seems to be dwelling on it. No one seems to be explaining the irony in it, or debating the larger context. If someone can, I will be happy to hear.

I, for one, cannot understand if there is something to be understood from a simple statement of facts which linearly connects the lack of participation from a certain community in the government to it being clean and non-corrupt. The larger debate, I beg to point out, falls flat here.

We complain today about the increasing cases of protests from different sections — about books, movies, artistic expression — and that freedom of ‘speech’ is in danger. True: too many protests, too many requests to ban. However, instead of twitching our elite noses about how people in India “just don’t get it”, we need to understand why and how these requests for bans originate.

Why do some people ask to ban a certain something? Or demand an apology for something they had said? Why did we hound several politicians and gurus for apology for the ‘innocuous’ statements following the December 16 Delhi gangrape? Why did we not dismiss them as mad/old/senile, or simply out of sync with the changing society?

We did not look for an irony there, did we? Or, perhaps, a larger debate or context.

I am not comparing these issues. I am just saying if those demanding the arrest of Nandy are not open to an argument/debate so are those arguing against them. They rubbish it summarily that may be, just may be, a call for protest and arrest was justified. That may be there was a need for an extreme reaction because no one took notice of the mild reaction. One could have imagined a different society if the Dalits had long ago protested being projected as “dirty, drunkard, devoid of any merit and beasts of burden” — their ‘image’ that is largely accepted till date.

It is a logical fallacy to say that just because we have become too itchy let’s not scratch when we really need to.

People protest because words, books, cinema, poetry, prose and other forms of art form public discourse, and this public discourse metamorphoses into general understanding, which becomes fixed and travels through generations together. Communities which have been historically projected in a certain manner are bound to become hysterical when they finally get the power to dissent. It is an era of identity politics, so accept it or not, identities will be fiercely protected.

Also, it is funny to see debates about equality, rational arguments, fairness etc surface only when the voice is from the other side. To those who ask to understand Nandy’s comments in its entirety, I politely ask them to do the same.

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