Monday, November 13, 2006

Measuring our Humanity

Sukanta Chaudhuri, who is is professor of English at Jadavpur University in Calcutta, has written in today's The Telegraph. He expresses his anguish and rage at all that he sees around him in in his city and society, and emphasises that its in the interests of India's privileged classes to preserve such inhumanity.

Thank you Prof Chaudhuri. I am reminded of Emile Zola's "J'Accuse" in the context of the Dreyfus affair ...

The new order does hold out appalling new threats, including moral disownment of a quarter of our population. ... To sustain this lucrative inhumanity, the population must be so tamed as to expect nothing better. No citizen must be allowed the luxury of self-respect, even to think of himself as a citizen. Public services must be unaccountable and incompetent, while corporate services make up in the former attribute their occasional shortfall in the latter. Hospitals — possible sites of humane care — must be so run that they debase the humanity of both patients and staff. Primary schools for the poor must be so derelict that a child who attends one will learn not to demand anything better in life. Basic services like transport and public hygiene must be so dispensed that we accept stress, humiliation, danger and even death as routine facts of life.

The resultant harm we attribute not to the authorities but to god, if we believe in god. Whether our leaders do so has engaged more debate of late than their material offences against the citizenry.

People like ‘us’ enjoy the luxury of such debates: we are creatures of relative affluence, privilege and leisure. Our abjectness appears when we confront the public services, or entities (like corporate firms) supposedly under public control. It appears blatantly in the contempt of the state of West Bengal towards the Right to Information Act — also, by implication, towards the people denied that right. Again our rulers know that they need not fear: our intelligentsia, which preens itself on its political awareness, is oblivious of the matter.

For the truly humble Indian, the deprivation extends beyond information to education. That is the best way to keep him where he belongs. It would be rather a nuisance to treat him as a fully human being. India’s greatest disgrace, its failure over elementary education, is more than a failure: it is virtually a policy pursued by governments of all hues and sanctioned by the educated public to preserve its hegemony.

Non-performance can be a political strategy, a weapon of power. Our rulers have always known this ... We stand perpetually beholden to an order that will not grant anything as of right, but toss us scraps of favour or bounty if we abase ourselves to it. To imbue an administration with this unlovely image is a political masterstroke but a disaster for democracy. It reduces us as citizens and human beings. It also demeans our masters, but why should they mind?

Graham Greene wrote that no policeman can beat a man up unless, somewhere deep down, that man accepts his victimhood. Masochism can protect the weak and the disheartened from many moral challenges. We are unprepared for the human demands of our situation: like natty Neanderthals, we drive down shiny flyovers to the latest shopping mall. Lost to human self-respect, no wonder we are unhappy.

1 comment:

Hiren said...

One can understand the disenchenment but cynicism does not lead anywhere. One has to find the short and long term solutions to all problems.