Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Of Babas and Black magic

It was Saturday. Since I was all worn-out with the gone week’s work, I was hoping to get some rest or visit some new place. I had heard a lot about the mythical hanuman temple in Connaught place. It is believed that pandavas built this temple in mahabharata period. Thus, I decided to give this much-talked place a visit. It was a sunny day but more or less the shani(lord shani is considered the brutal judge who punishes harshly for wrongdoings in Hindu religion)day. I reached the mandir in afternoon around 2 p.m. I bought ladoos, went inside and worshipped in front of the idol. After performing the necessary rituals, I left the temple. While descending down the stairs, I saw few babas in their colorful robes occupying the corners.
 Suddenly when I turned my back towards the temple, a voice called from behind. I turned back to find an old man dressed in a stark black robe, his head covered in a red cloth looking in my direction. I went up to him only to find him enquiring about my health. I was a little perplexed, but then I replied that I was in pink of health these days. He again asked whether I was ill a few days back. Now Delhi has a very harsh weather, which can affect people with very high immunity also. Besides a week ago I had been a little ill so I replied to the baba in affirmative. I could feel his confidence rising since he had got my answer.
 Then the conversation moved to my family. He started telling me very personal things about the passing away of my grandfather this year, and my parents being in a little trouble at this and that time of the year. I was astonished. He also mentioned about I being the eldest child of my parents. He enquired whether I have a younger brother to which I again replied positively. Now I had gone to the mandir with my brother. I doubt he must have seen him or deduced it in some way. Though I have heard of various people’s encounters with babas, I had never encountered one myself. I did not know how to react and what to say, since I was so flabbergasted with what I was hearing. Now it was my turn to question. I asked him about how he knew all these things. He ignored my question with a stern face and continued with what he had to say. He now began talking about how this Diwali is going to be ill-fated for me and my family. His last prophecy was that on the day of Diwali either my parents or their children are going to die. I was utterly stunned. I then asked him what made him say so and he blamed the planetary stars for such happening. I was speechless and couldn’t ask for more. Sensing my silence he said that there is a chauraha(where roads meet from four directions) near your house where you will find a Peepal tree. Beside it lay a red cloth which somebody from your family has planted. Dig that out and get it removed otherwise the ill-fate will continue to hover over you and your family. He even mentioned the description of a person who could have possibly done this citing that it was a woman of the family. Saying all this he became silent. I turned over to find my brother calling me. I began to leave and found that baba had left too. I did not try to search for him.
Now I have never believed in these things. Since childhood I have been raised in a certain environment where black magic (totkas) and their likes are considered foolish and for people who don’t believe in karma. Of course my parents are religious people, but they have always been driven by logic and reason and have taught us the same. But this encounter with baba was beginning to wash away all the reason my parents had taught us. I told my brother about the incident and he was equally scared. Like two shocked siblings, we hurriedly reached home and told our parents. We were a little unsure to tell them as they might just dismiss it and not pay heed. But ultimately we did. After listening to the whole conversation, they started reprimanding us about meeting that baba. They began with every logic and reason they could give to calm us and dismiss it as stupidity. They quoted various examples and instances to make us understand. It obviously helped us a little but both of us (me and my brother) were still unsure as to what will happen. Few days passed and we forgot the incident.

Finally the doomsday came. Diwali began with everybody wishing each other and exchanging gifts. I was again reminded of that incident. I was eager to find out whether the baba was correct about his prophecies. Nothing happened; we celebrated Diwali, albeit a low-key affair since my grandfather had passed away this year. During night while lighting up diyas, my father said “its diwali and we are all alive” to which we all laughed heartily.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Pandita Ramabai

The concept of feminism is a hot cake in the contemporary world. It appears as if everyone has suddenly realized how imperative it is for women to have equal status as men. The so-called superior men are full of sympathy and remorse over what has happened in the past and are ready to correct their mistakes. So they have taken to various means of communication to create awareness among their fellow homosapiens. Women in large nos. have also been included in this correct-the-wrongful campaign. Amidst all this dreary process, they keep yelling that we are empowering women. But has something changed. Ask anyone and I am indisputably sure that the answer will not be in affirmative. The cataloging of women as ‘the weaker sex’ has been so deeply embedded in our society (when I say society, it is not just Indian society, but the world over) that instead of loosening it keeps on strengthening with each new day. To address this one cause, feminism as an ideology came into being. Feminist ideology basically has two aspects:  1) private is political, 2) the intrinsic traits of women like full of empathy, cooperative, caring etc. have not been eulogized. They make a clear distinction between the characteristics of men and women. However, this is where I disagree with them because generalizing the characteristics is not correct. There are many men who share some of the characteristics which feminists have already reserved for women and vice-versa. Even after many disagreements with them, I am undeniably sensitive to their cause.
It is believed that the concept of feminism like various other concepts has been imported from the west. Everyone only remember the contribution of western feminists or thinkers. Here they often tend to forget the strong headed and determined Indian woman who championed this cause at a time when the females were treated as merely an object for sexual gratification and a machine for producing sons. It needed a lot of courage will power to stand against an extremely conservative society where supremacy of men was considered natural. Pandita ramabai was an ordinary woman who adopted extraordinary ways to awaken the society from its slumber. The renowned nationalist and respected freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak once said “ a man who finds his cow wandering about and puts a rope around her neck and brings her home is not liable to a law suit. The Hindu religion considers a woman to be on par with property and cattle”. There is no doubt in the fact that everyone shared his views. Since the inception of a girl’s life, she was taught that she was inferior vis-à-vis her brothers. Her life was confined to the insides of the house, whereas her brothers were encouraged to go out. When she attained puberty she was married, mostly to men much older to her where she again had to remain meek and gentle and serve her husband with all her strength. She was then widowed at an early age. The life for widow was more painful and suffocating. And this is how her life ended.
Such wide differences between the genders were prevalent and one who did not abide by it (very rare) was ostracized from the society. Here it is required to differentiate between gender and sex which is usually taken to be synonymous. Sex is a biological identity whereas gender is a social identity. Stereotypes and prejudices about gender are created in ignorant societies. Simon de Beauvoir rightly said “one is not born, but becomes woman”. In the 19th century colonized India, this was the condition of half of the population. It may sound strange but the fact was none of the women protested. In fact they considered it their “saubhagya”(good destiny) to cater to everyone’s need and provide selfless service to different people at various stages of her life. The brahmanical system had manipulated shastras and other ancient texts in such a way that women and lower castes were to be controlled by upper castes men throughout their life without uttering a word. However, ramabai was a non-conformist. Her upbringing can be attributed for such an outlook. Her father was keenly interested in teaching Sanskrit texts to women. For this defying act he was boycotted from the society. A major part of Ramabai’s life was spent wandering here and there. After the subsequent death of her parents and siblings, she came to Calcutta. This city was going through its phase of renaissance and had become a hub of intellectuals and reformers. After they got to know that she is educated they welcomed her with open arms because they had found a living embodiment of ‘their’ perception of Indian womanhood whom they could present as an example in the society.
It was in Calcutta that she read the ancient texts and became aware of various obligations put on women. This triggered her to take one of the most audacious and challenging step of marrying a man from shudra caste. This earned extreme criticism. After an early widowhood she came back to Maharashtra, the home of her ancestors. Post-widowhood women were expected to live a secluded life. But, non-conformist as she was, she became more involved in public activities. She began setting up Arya Mahila Sabhas, a forum for women to meet and discuss various issues. During this time she appeared before the Hunter commission debating the issue of women’s education. Perhaps she was the first woman to advocate education for women so fiercely. It is to her credit that British formed a curriculum for both men and women in India. She believed that chief needs of high caste Hindu women were self reliance, education and native women teachers. In 1887 she wrote her most famous work, the high-caste Hindu women where she discussed at length about the plight of Indian women. In her later years she got converted to Christianity as her views could not find solace in Hinduism. This again earned criticism with people questioning her character and calling her anti-national. However very early she had a tiff with church authorities when they tried to dictate certain conditions to her. A woman with her “own strong mind” was rare those days.
She established sharda sadan (widow’s home) and mukti sadan in 1899 and 1897 respectively despite various condemnations. It is sad how liberal reformers like Ranade, Karve and others shared the same perspective as conservative women. Though they supported education for women, they wanted her to be controlled by a father, a husband and a son at various stages of her life. The manusmriti completely dictated the social codes and practices. Gradually she realized that the condition of women was to remain pathetic if they remained subservient to men either British or Indian. She advocated that empowerment of women was very much related to nation-building. She linked colonization of India to subjugation of women which is definitely true.
Nine decades after her death we still seem to be struggling with the same set of issues. D K Karve said at her centenary in 1958 that it is our own fault that this great women like Dr. Ambedkar was lost to the Hindu religion.  Whenever we begin talking about Indian women we start giving age old examples of Gargi and Maitreyi or we start eulogizing Sita and Savitri who are considered the epitome of womanhood. Why is Draupadi absent from this ideal women category? To quote Dr. Lohia, it is draupadi who should be an ideal for Indian women, a woman who could raise her voice against the injustice being done to her. Ramabai joined this female bandwagon much late, but she is not much talked about. Even GOOGLE which has tons of information on any topic in this universe does not include her in the list of Indian feminists or a feminist thinker. Why? Probably because she does not fit into the category of an ideal woman which the patriarchal system approves of and will ever be able to.
India has moved a long distance from her time. There has been a whole lot of new things like widow remarriage, prohibition of child marriage, abolition of sati, right to inheritance of property and most importantly right to education for all. Women now work, go out and are trying to be independent. But the process of oppression has not stopped. Now-a-days women are exploited in the name of empowerment. Evils like dowry which is a blot on our society continues. Educated and civilized strata of the society engage into this without any qualms. The Indian constitution guarantees the right to inheritance of property by women but how many women actually exercise this right. The concept of men as insider and woman as outsider who will go to some other place post-marriage is still considered very much appropriate.

Feminism is not about women hating men. It is about the anti-female psychological setup which needs to be attacked. 33 per cent reservation for women in parliament won’t empower them, giving them equal opportunity since birth will. This fight can only be won psychologically when people break the shackles of their prejudiced mindset.  Referring to western thinkers is not required to shape our ideas. Pandita Ramabai has long ago preached about the pre-requisites of a harmonious and equal society. Even if we are able to accomplish an ounce of what she wanted, it will be a real tribute to what this phenomenal woman stood for. This is what our country needs right NOW.

A comparative view on Justice.

 From commencing of human civilization to the advent of globalization, justice has remained a widely contested concept. Various thinkers have worked their finger to the bone to unravel as to what it really is. The world we dwell in does not possess enough material, physical and social resources to satiate its booming population. This gives rise to various inequalities which ultimately lead to injustice. One is reminded of Mahatma Gandhi here when he said that “this world has enough for everyone’s need but not for one person’s greed”. The multi-dimensional statement speaks volumes about the concept. In the western political thought there have been various thinkers who have theorized on the concept, but hitherto there has not been one supreme concept of justice. Hegel believed that once a concept becomes supreme, it becomes stagnant also which leads to its destruction. So, this process of questioning and requisition each idea is necessary for making it richer and diverse. I try here to compare modern theory of justice to the teacher of father of political studies which speaks volumes about the indispensability of both the theories.
What is inequality is a question which has always been decided by the society. A lion sleeps for 18 hours and is termed the king of the jungle, whereas a donkey works for 20 hours and we all know what donkey is synonymous to. So, this group called society plays a very important role. This is one thing which has completely remained unchanged since ancient times. Plato, first person to officially begin talking about the significance of justice has built a very interesting theory around the concept. He did a simple three-fold division of society on the basis of three characteristics: appetite, courage and wisdom. He then assigned people to these three different categories. So, the person high on appetite became the producing class who was to produce for the state. The one high on courage became the warrior class who was to look after security of the state and lastly the one high on wisdom became the philosopher king who was to rule over the state. Breaking down of this order, Plato believed would lead to injustice. Basically what he meant was that if every person carries out their assigned duty, which is according to her/his capabilities, then justice will be maintained in the society. It is not as easy as it sounds.  Now there is one of the tenets of modern theory of justice, which is called the procedural theory. In simple terms, it does not distinguish between production and distribution. One of the proponents of this theory is Robert Nozick. He believes that state should be a minimal one and all the emphasis should be put on the individual unlike Plato. In his book, anarchy state and utopia he argues that individual property holdings are just if they are a consequence of fair acquisition or even transfer. There is no specific category for Nozick’s individual.
But Plato definitely has a category for this individual. This category is the producing class who has the right to keep property. However, Plato does not allow the warrior class and philosopher king to keep the property. Promoting the capitalist ideology further, Nozick says that procedural theory is based on a close association with the market economy. Any attempt to tamper with the market, would be detrimental. Plato replaced the market in above statement with the state. With changing times Plato’s state has become the market. John Rawls in ‘a theory of justice’ tries to lessen the difference between the modern concepts of procedural and distributive theories of justice. While the former propagated strongly by Nozick, Hayek and Friedman believes that it is necessary to determine a just procedure for allocation of social advantages, the latter believes that the distribution of social advantages in itself should be just. The proponents of latter are Amartya Sen, Martha Nobaussaum and others. Rawls believes that justice should definitely be a benefit to the least advantaged section of society. Plato does not believe so. He definitely allows the third class of society to keep property and family. But it is questionable whether this is an advantage.
In Plato’s theory, forms come to play a major role. He believes that usually people have a distorted form of the concept which is unreal. He explains it with an allegory. He places the individuals inside a cave where they are chained and are sitting with their back towards the wall. There is fire burning at their back which they can’t see but they can see shadows on the front wall. These people he says do not have any knowledge and they consider what they are seeing to be real, which is an illusion. He then frees them and introduces them with fire. Their level of knowledge increases slightly but they are still inside the darkness of the cave. Now, few of them are taken out and for the first time they see the sun which Plato believes is the sign of goodness. These few possess the highest level of knowledge and are called philosopher kings. They are the only ones who realize that justice is in minding your own business, thus making them fit to rule. It is interesting to note that Rawls also uses a hypothetical situation to explain his concept. He places individuals under the ‘veil of ignorance’ which he calls the original position. They are unaware of themselves and their interests but these individuals, he says, possess an elementary knowledge of economics, psychology and sense of justice. Probably these individuals are the same ones who came out of Plato’s cave and understood justice. He says that these people would be self-interested, unlike Plato’s individuals who went back to cave to rescue their fellow beings out of darkness. According to Rawls his individuals will follow the principles of justice which he gives. However, both Plato and Rawls seem to agree on one thing, apart from placing individuals at places, that is individuals should get equal opportunities and chances irrespective of their class.
Plato’s whole sense of justice is based on two ideas: an ideal education system and communism of property and family. His education system is basically to identify philosopher king. It is completely regulated by the state. For him, education is important for realization of justice. It is also a process to assign individuals to their respective classes. Education to modern theorists is not indispensable in their respective theories. Probably because with so much advancement and progress, they consider it for given that education is necessary. Plato gives the concept of communism of property and family. He says that these two institutions give rise to various desires in a person. He identifies desire as the root cause of the larger evil. It leads to corruption and ignorance of state which Plato completely despises. Nozick however justifies owning of property with his excessive focus on individualism. Rawls comes to his rescue and gives a combination of both procedural and distributive theories stating that least advantaged should always be taken care of. In fact desire is at the very root of modern theory. All the modern thinkers on justice want to find out how property which is a narrow term for resources should be judiciously distributed. Plato sound too ideal in his concept. Somewhere, he ignores the basic human nature.
Another more humane and pragmatic modern thinker is Amartya Sen who says that instead of searching for ideal justice, stress should be on removing more visible form of injustices such as subjugation of women, poverty, malnutrition etc. He criticizes Rawls for generalizing the human nature. It is to be noted here that all the political thinkers who have hitherto conceptualized justice have always prescribed how an ideal just state or society is to be. They often forget to prescribe solutions for the existing ills in the society. Even Plato is silent on this. During his time, there was excessive corruption and instability in Athens. Instead of trying to theoretically cure these ills, he altogether gave a theory as to how the state should be. Amartya Sen then stands ahead of them in this respect. To quote him, the Indian philosophy has always made a distinction between institutional justice (niti) and actual realization of justice (nyaya). Plato and other western thinkers do not distinguish between the principle of justice and delivery of justice. Why Plato sounds silent on few issues raised by modern thinkers and vice-versa is definitely debatable. To this context one answer could be that when Plato was writing he was referring to small city-states whose population might be today’s colonies. Modern thinkers whereas had a different world in front of them which was characterized by booming population, large areas and various ills afflicted on the society.

After a comparative study on the afore-mentioned facts, it is clear that the concept of justice is an area of extensive discussion and controversy. Sometimes humans have changed it and sometimes state has manipulated according to its convenience. Plato’s focus on education sounds very relevant in the contemporary world. But his concept is applicable only on the philosopher king who is endowed with all the rights. Modern day’s government has changed from monarchy to democracy where usually there is separation of power between executive, legislature and judiciary. Plato does not speak much on punishment. The modern theory which has restorative and retributive concepts on justice provides extensive details of how a person who commits crime is to be punished. Punishment is obligatory to the concept. Justice provides a base on which other concepts like liberty, equality and others nurture. It is a dynamic, heterogeneous and multi-dimensional concept. The system of justice should be constantly analyzed and interpreted to maintain its significance and authenticity. With changing times, the concept has evolved, expanded and enriched itself. And in its ever-changing form, lies its beauty.