Sunday, September 12, 2010

Public verses Personal : issues of ethics in our political life

Ethics and morality in public life: need for cultural revolution in India

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

My last article evoked sharp reactions as some felt that personal matters should remain personal and we should discuss the professional issues of an individual and should not indulge in peeping into the personal affairs of people. I would like to reiterate that by talking about double standards in our life, I am not poking my nose in the personal affairs of individuals. In fact, in a country where privacy is an issue we all love to hate and all of us want to peep into the bed rooms of people, the article written by me had in no way any connotation to that. My only meaning was that the principals which we talk in public must be the same at home. It does not mean that we can not educate our children and can not send them to better schools. It does not mean that if our children work contrary to our beliefs then our ‘upbringing’ to them was wrong. The choice of individuals and freedom to dissent is an important point of modern democratic value system and not historical traditional culture values which we romanticize. It means that those supporting primitive values of traditional hierarchies, parents are responsible for their children. For them, our karmas are responsible for our present being. Hence, if we believe in that principal of Karma, then it is difficult for us to rationalize our argument. Hence, there is no issue whether our children go to foreign universities or not. It only means that when we send our wards to private schools and English medium schools then in our public opinion we can also feel that every one wants to do that and that learning English is the desire of our students. It means that all of us want best educational institutions whether by government or foreigners. It means that any foreign link up is not that bad in practice. It only means that we all know what is good and bad for us and our society and that society also knows who is doing good or bad for them. So let the people decide. We can not be guide to everything. We can only put issues in front of them and seek their support.

A friend wrote to me, ‘What will happen if our children go US and UK for study? Should we stop criticizing them? Actually, that is the dilemma of many as problem is not with their children going to UK and US. Problem is when you feel that every foreign connection is bad. Problem is when we demean all those who raise the issue at international level or national level. Problem is when we speak on behalf of communities and tell them not to speak to some one since he or she had ‘foreign links’. I do not know what those links are and can any one do anything against communities. Why we do not tell people to judge the people on the basis of their work and not on the basis of their birth, their linkages, their being civil society or this ism or that ism. How will our children go there when their parents spit venom in the ground against ‘foreign power’? Enjoying Europe and America means, you enjoy their democracy. You enjoy their freedom and the diversity and independence they provide to you. I am not here to go and mop every individual Marxist or Maoist who claims the US, UK civilization as imperialist one and then send their children to these countries. Better they can send their children to former Soviet countries, to Venezuela or Bolivia and learn a few things about ‘communist’ democracy in these countries.

Also, why do we send our children to Europe and America? Certainly, we all go there for better education and greater future prospectus. That means, somewhere we want them to earn better than others. Then why we cry so much against their societies. Of course, we can always speak against human rights violation there and their government interfering in the internal affair of other countries. But to condemn everything there and then trying to be part of it is dishonesty. If earning good and trying to get a good life is better for your child, how can that be bad for a tribal or Dalits? When you can negotiate with your enemies what is wrong if the local tribal try to negotiate with powerful at local level to get his things done. Who are we to tell them that everything is bad? So, those followers of ‘revolutionaries’ must first understand that for a healthy society we need healthy dissent and accept diverse view point.

We are not discussing here the personal lives of people. We know every individual has a right to life and live. I took the debate to a different level where Ambedkar started with cultural change. I say, we need Cultural Revolution. When I speak of it, it does not mean, we are deciding about every individual. In fact, we support rights of every individual to decide about her self.

In his response, Vikas Mogha mentioned about Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s marriage to Mrs Savita Ambedkar. I again said that it was their personal decision and we must respect that. Both of them are not alive here to answer our questions but I have heard utterly negative comments about Dr Savita Ambedkar. These comments do not do justice to the personality of Dr Ambedkar. We must leave it to him whether it was good or bad, it was not our concern. Lots of things were written against her but at the end of the day being a woman she had to face double the calumny.

We must target all those, national or international corporate or individuals and their bid to control our resources and destroy our water, forest and environment. But in that case it is the issue of environment which is more important and if that is hurt even by a domestic company then too we must speak loudly and vociferously. Our criticism must be based on facts and not on rhetoric. Long back, I wrote we all need international cooperation and linkages with people, individuals. In this era, can we live in isolation? So, when we talk about imperialism, it has different meaning. But our leaders will speak differently. On everything they will start international conspiracy. I want to know what kind of ‘international conspiracy’ has kept Mushahars, Kols, Balmikis, Mehtars, and other dalits and tribal communities subjugated for centuries. They all are victim of our Hindu civilization. Most of the conspiracy theorists rarely speak against the internal colonization. Yes, when we speak so loudly against the international imperialism then we must speak at the same length against internal imperialism. That is what we call Hindu Imperialism in India. But right from Marxists, to Maoists to Gandhians, none talked about it. Except for the fact that Ambedkar, Phule, Periyar etc talked about it but they are not our mainstream leaders. They are termed as leaders of ‘subalterns’.

Ambedkar realized the change in the life style when he went to US. There he could meet any one and could shake hand with all which was not possible in India. He realized the meaning of democracy and equality there while Gandhi was finding greatness in our village and primitive cultural value system.

When 74 policemen were killed in Chhatishgarh many sympathizers rejoiced. When the four policemen were abducted in Bihar, the sympathizers wanted Bihar government to release the leaders. Some said the other day that politics is difficult thing today and hence we need friends like Maoists to fight against caste and communal forces. So, you club together caste forces with the Hindutva gangs and rejoice your own failures. Did any one of them ever launch anti caste movement. If yes, then what was the result? And why was it stopped?

Now, see the background of the policemen killed in killed in ambush in Chhatishgarh. Most of them belonged to Dalits, tribal and backward communities, basically sons of our farmers and workers. Who were the people abducted in Bihar. Again the same communities including Muslims were targeted. So, what is the benefit of killing them? No, they are state agents, say our sympathizers. They are fighting on being paid by government and they are paid handsomely when they die, remarks some of them shamelessly.

And who are the sympathizers? Well, they too get much bigger salaries than the poor policemen fighting with the age old 303 rifles. Most of them can be an ideologue inside the campus of JNU, Delhi University or other universities. Some might be living in the accommodation provided by the government in posh central or New Delhi regions, condemning the state yet being part of it. Nothing happen. If a policemen revolt in Chhatishgarh against the operation green hunt, he would lose his job but our respected elderly intellectuals have both the tags at their whims and fancies. They can be intellectuals, revolutionaries and can cry against any one at free of cost. After all, the universities do not even ask them as how many days they were absent or what is the courses they finished. Universities have become political battle ground and safer locations for the revolutionaries. In handsome salaries you are everything. You do not need to go out. You will be invited. You are tagged as intellectual and if you are a public person, then you are a ‘leader’ also. And most importantly you can shout loudly that you do not get any funds. You are not saleable. You can shout you are not NGO. You do not get funds for your revolution. Yes, you get much more than an ordinary NGO gets in all. Yes, you do not get for revolution but your salaries are for your students and your teachings. That is where we have double standards. We misuse our offices and become the champions. It is the politics of powerful of those who have money and resources to control our social movements in the guise of being independent.

This trend was started many years ago in Bengal where developing a civil society outside the CPM’s domain was difficult. To demonize the civil society you needed some ‘intellectuals’ who can cry ‘international’ ‘conspiracy’ as if NGOs are that powerful which can dislodge the CPM. After all, a government will be dislodged by the political parties only. Soon, this ‘progressive’ terminology started every where when the Dalits and other marginalized sections of society also started building up their organizations. ‘You get funds from abroad’, they would charge them. Yes, they do not get billions of dollars for building up a University or High way. One need to see their conditions in which a social activist survive life long yet when those living in glass houses throw stones at him it pains. This has become fashionable now. Rather than speaking to a person about his work, his perceptions and his actions, we are more interested in what he or she is earning and where from.

In India, you can speak against the state and be a star as nothing will happen as bigger than the state we have a brahmanical domination in each walk of our life from Gandhian brand to Maoism to socialism that speaking against state is easier. The extra powerful element of the state is Brahmanism and it is safe with the Swamis and Sanyasis of our time. None of them is ready to wage a war against the brahmanical system. Yes, all of them want to join hand to curtail the ‘caste’ forces. So, Naxal will help them curtail the rise of caste forces. Perhaps that is the reason why our ‘nationalists’ upper caste lead social movements have so much concern for their brothers in the forest. So what is common between RSS and Naxals. It is the caste assertion of the down trodden that hurt both of them and their supporters.

They say that Naxals are revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh who got nothing. How do you club them with Bhagat Singh whose vision for a casteless society has rarely got the attentions of these so-called revolutionaries? Do they know that Bhagat Singh never believed in such criminal violence which our friends are indulging? Even in the Lahore bomb case in which he got death sentence, Bhagat Singh and his friends could have killed an entire leadership but that was never their intention. I am sure; Bhagat Singh today would have fought a bigger battle against both the Indian imperialism as well as global imperialism. And most importantly, Bhagat Singh had the guts to challenge the religious practice at home. So he believed that to fight against orthodoxy and conservatism one has to be clean in his personal self and then fight. Legendary M.N.Roy analyzed in his book ‘Our Task in India’ about the inability of Indians to bring revolution. He said that since the proletariats in India are unable to liberate ourselves from reactionary social outlook and somewhere we are influenced by ‘religion, spiritualism and Gandhism’.

By calling for a cultural revolution, one is not seeking any religious morality to curtail individual freedom but strengthen that. In fact, we want India to change for better and that change is not possible with out a cultural change which can replace the tainted Brahmanical value system that never consider human being as equal and which believe in two many facets of life, thus destroying the lives of millions through cultural subjugation and deep rooted caste and gender prejudices.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Double Standards of life hamper the growth of social movements

Double Standards of Life hurt our social movements more than anything else

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

At a public meeting in Uttar-Pradesh recently where I was one of the speakers, I found that speakers after speakers loudly and radically talking about the Gods and Goddesses and how they had suffocated us, deprived us and killed our spirit. Songs were played and people clapped whenever any reference to any particular god was being made. I was quite disgusted at all this as those of us who have been in the Ambedkarite movement for long know that somewhere we have developed this infatuation for Manusmriti and various gods and simply have lost new ideas and agendas.

I know it is not unusual for hitting on gods and goddesses and then escaping from the bigger problem of how we have to change personally. We can fight a lot with others and abuse others but is not there a need to change our self internally. Crying against the Hindu gods means that we are still interested in negotiating with them in being part of that fraternity which denied people justice and dignity. Dr Ambedkar tried his best in the 1930s when he led various protest movements only to realize it later that there is no benefit in crying loudly as it will only hamper our energy. It is better to chart your own path which he clearly felt Buddhism would provide to all of us. And afterwards, he did not take much interest in what the Hindus were doing and preaching. His bigger concern was how can Dalits be liberated and what could be the right path for the community. And he started thinking on it. He made a clarion call that though ‘ I was a born Hindu, which was not in my hands but I would not die as a Hindu’. The clear meaning of this sentence was that he decided to do what he could do.

Ambedkar, Phule, Periyar and all others who we consider our icons actually led from their personal examples. That is why despite all differences, people used to respect them for their high level of integrity. When Periyar married to Maniamma at the fag end of his life, many of his colleagues were not happy but given his radical views he did not care for those who thought he was a pervert. His decision was entirely his own even at the cost of a possible negative public opinion yet that did not change him. He did not hide anything in public life and never felt apologetic about his wedding.

What makes the difference between the current political class and the great icons of yesteryears? What keep them apart from others and people still love and revere them. If we analyze each one of them we will find that the biggest aspect in their life was their personal integrity. What they preached they practiced. Today, a number of our leaders whether they are politicians or belong to another generations of ‘social activists’ have different faces at different places. At home they are following the same pattern to keep their family alive while outside the home challenging those very facets. How is it possible? Is not that practicing a double standard?

Well, one of my dear friends always argues with me not to bring personal matters into public life. My argument was about our political class which preaches one ideology at the gate and other inside their homes must be exposed and it has resulted in failures of our movements. Our families have become biggest scandals to stop liberation of people. She rightly says that parents should not be blamed for the fault of their children. I agree to that point. When I say about personal integrity, that does not mean that every parent should decide everything about their children or do away with it. If we are ideologically clear, that ideological practice should be reflected in our family also. That is the root of our argument. At least, till 18 years of age, your children will follow your dictates. This article does not mean that our children should be hold responsible for our deeds or parents should face punishment for their children’s misdeeds. It is about ethics in public and private behavior and I am trying to explore where we fail.

Two great leaders from Uttar-Pradesh, late Chaudhury Charan Singh and now Mulayam Singh Yadav have a great fan following among the farmers. Both of them claimed to be secular and supported the cause of poor and farmers. And both were against modern technology. Charan Singh’s party’s manifesto condemned the technological advances in agriculture. Charan Singh’s son Ajit Singh got his education in an American University and learnt computer that time when the very usage of IT was never known. Now Charan Singh who preached people against English education and technology send his own son to US. Ajit Singh could not have done without his father’s support? Ofcouse, Charan Singh could easily say that what Ajit Singh does is his own concern, but can any one deny the fact that what will be Ajit Singh minus Charan Singh. If he were not Charan’s son, would any body vote for him? Though we respect our leaders yet we normally never question their double standards in life.

Similar is the case of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, who claimed to be following Dr Ram Manohar Lohia’s path. Mulayam officially abhorred English and warned that all the signboards of English languages will be blackened in Uttar-Pradesh. He responded to mails in Hindi only. But look the irony, Yadav’s son Akhilesh went to best educational institutions in the world. Can it be called personal matter of Mr Yadav. If he can think that English education is good for his son then why he preach it is bad for farmers and poor. If English could help his son why and how would it be detrimental for others. It is ‘thankfully’ to Mulayam’s education policy that the students of Uttar-Pradesh remain far behind than their counter parts in other parts of the country.

This double standard is every where particularly those who claiming to represent the ‘poor’. We know Jyoti Ba Phule, who practiced first and then preached. Educating his wife before going to others was a revolutionary work. They did not care what other would say about it. Bhagat Singh wrote of atheism and had courage to shorten his hair against the wishes of his father; Baba Saheb embraced Buddhism before preaching to embrace it. But the double standards are many in today’s life as I have personally seen those preaching Marxism, Maoism to the poor tribal, enjoying the best corporate life. Those abuse the west; enjoy the Western drink and courtesy. How can we say that personal life is different than your ideological life?

The point I am referring is that the right wing extremism or left wing extremism have no love for differences of opinion. That is why, when they pretend to lead from the front, the best example should from their personal lives. If a multinational is bad for tribal then it should be bad for the family members also. That is why we see the contrast in the personal lives of those who leads these social movements. Their children enjoy the best of the west while their ‘client’ the poor of India are fed on hot argument of ‘nationalism’ and ‘culture’. When, I points out the corporate background, the religious back ground of some of the sympathizers, we are told that ‘they are greater than those who started with poverty and have become rich’ at the cost of the people. Some of them are simply targeting the Dalit leadership which has some how come up and can claim to be equally corrupt like others. My problem is not whether they have declassed themselves or not the fact is that most of them have only been in the movement to ‘lead’ and not to sit and guide.

The problem is not what one earns how much or not. Despite all differences with ‘spiritual Gandhi’, one can not ignore the integrity of Gandhi as he publicly disowned his son Hari Das Gandhi when he felt that he was violating basic principles of his life which he believed in. Baba Saheb Ambedkar was a man of complete dedication and probity in personal life and hence none could even blame him today that he had double standards in life. It is not that he preached something different to people and practiced differently.

Many Ambedkarite today speak loudly in public and start with thrashing the Gods and Goddesses that never existed. I just tell them please stop this and start at home. The best way to get rid of this menace of God is what Baba Saheb Ambedkar preached you. If you have got a new way of life then do not worry why others are in that dirty pool. Your duty is to inform people and the best practice to get rid of them is from our very personal life. That is why in his personal life too Baba Saheb Ambedkar was perhaps the cleanest person who could defend anything and any action that he did in his life. He had valid arguments for his actions and based on those principals of life he grew. He was not a politician who could justify things for his personal gains. There was rarely anything personal for him. The amount of money that he invested to educate people, the educational institutions that he started are visible in the form a wider movement among the masses in various parts of the country. The cultural changes are also visible in our life that he strived was lead by him in his personal life. He did not preach us what he did not practice.

That is why he succeeded. The silent revolution in India that we have seen in Maharastra and elsewhere in India is actually brought by those who believed in Ambedkar’s vision of life. And the result is that more than anything that the Maoists and Marxists could bring, the Ambedkarite vision was of changing yourself and adopting the new vision of life, which is more democratic, more egalitarian and more respectful towards dissent. Today, the neo Buddhists are in all walks of life. In private sector, in sports, in industries, in entrepreneurship, at the music concerts, as the cultural change is visible among them. Others have not come up because they are still fighting the very battle of dignity with in those paradigms where things will not change. A cultural renaissance is needed to Change our self rather than wasting our energy on something that is fictitious and job of a perverse mind. That is where I appealed to all the right thinking persons to take care of their own home first and then preach the others. But some of our friends took it in a different way. They say, ‘It is absolutely wrong to bring personal matter into public’. I said there is nothing personal here but if you call yourself an Ambedkarite or Marxist or even a Maoist or an atheist then God should always be fearful of you rather than you fearing of ‘him’. You can not celebrate your godly traits, dine with them and say it is the freedom of your wife. These are not the issues of freedom but issues of our cultural subjugation. You can not keep it under the wrap that I am an Ambedkarite but I defend my wife’s right to wear a Mangalsutra and sport a sindoor over her head. You can not be a Marxist or an atheist at the same time playing an obedient husband of your wife on a ‘Karwachowth day’ and celebrating all those festivals that actually deny women a right to equality.

We can respect divergent view points. As I said at home our children may be different but we take care of them. At least some of the basic ideas they take from us. We do not say that they should do everything what we tell them. But definitely they should know what we do and they should have their view. Can our children disown us if they disagree our view points? Can we disown our children if our views are quite contrary to them? For example some Ambedkarite fathers actually disliked their children’s marriage to the upper caste girls. But that is an individual choice and must be respected. But what happened if the girl or the boy does not agree to father’s choice and start propagating the ideology of hatred just opposed to what we have believed. What should be the response? Should it just be two differences of opinion or should it be openly discarded and disowned? Moral questions are basically on these lines. You can always have differences of opinions as long as that believe in basic human liberty and democratic values, does not spread racial hatred and filth.

Two years back, I was in Tirupathi for a seminar on Ambedkarism being organized by a University there. In the evening, I got two veteran Ambedkarites from Delhi. One came along with his wife and wanted to find whether I was interested to visit Tirupathi Devasthanam in the morning as his wife came because of it. I flatly refused saying that I would rather sleep in the morning than going to a place which is epicenter of discrimination based on caste, gender and pocket. These things happen in our life. Number of friends married outside their castes. Not just with in the Dalits but mostly among the Brahmins and upper castes yet they face dilemma of revealing the facts. Question is one is not asking whether they should reveal who they married or not. Question is if you believe that inter caste marriage could be good for you then why you say it is bad for others. I speak against those who say that it is not good for others.

Unlike their western counterparts, Indian society is still patriarchical and completely male dominated. Here parents influence on children is always visible. Well, writing this article does not mean every child should become a Xerox copy of his parents and should not have the freedom. It also does not mean, every parent should kill their child if they marry outside their clan and community. As a humanist, I believe in that freedom, what I am writing about those who do not want to give this freedom to people who they treat as ‘subject’, and give them different prescription. My belief is that as a human being what I promote in the public should hold true to my family and personal matters. Social movements will only grow positively and effectively otherwise they will remain instant protest for some needs being exploited by the powerful ‘nationalist’ elite claiming to ‘represent’ the marginalized and giving all those prescription to Dalits and tribals which had become redundant for their own personal lives. Once the leadership has a feel of the pulse of the people, they will not take their fight to endless struggle till the ‘whole’ world changes, while living in their comfortable air conditioned halls. It is time to wake up for every individual to think well and not to surrender their right to any one else. The biggest change in the world comes through changing oneself. Ambedkar did it. We need to follow his words of advice and complete the revolution.