Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Fascism in India

Posted by Jerry on May 25, 2007

Martha Nussbaum—a well-known professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago—recently wrote a critical article on the current state of cultural and political affairs in India. Particularly, by analyzing the violence surrounding religious and ethnic conflicts in places like Gujurat, Nussbaum indicates the disturbing rise of fascism and the weakening of democratic institutions in India.

Her thesis is that the threat to democracies is arising from within cultures and civilizations rather that from an outside culture or civilization. As I have personally noted in several instances before, the rise of fascism in India is certainly becoming apparent—indeed increasingly so over recent years since the country’s crawl towards globalization and the free exchange of ideas.

However, unlike Nussbaum, I do not call for the rescue of currently existing democratic institutions and legal structures in India from fascist ideologies; in fact, in my opinion, the institutions as they currently exist are instrumentally causing the decline of liberty and the move toward the fascism of a vocal collective. These legal and democratic structures need to either be dissolved entirely or reformed radically. A new legal structure needs to be introduced—one that is based on the recognition and guarantee of fundamental human rights, not on the guarantee of a majoritarian democracy, a thuggish minority, or one that is based on the expediency of the moment.

One effective and immediate way to achieve this would be to introduce a constitutional amendment declaring certain laws based on objective, fundamental principles as off-limits to a democratic vote. For example, laws such as the guaranteeing of freedom of speech, separation of religion and state, and the repeal of institutionalized discrimination based on caste, religion, or race should be taken off the voting table regardless of popular opinion.

Another key area of influence in curbing the rise of fascism is—as Nussbaum points out—the culture of education. Currently, Indians are either ignorant of or actively deny the influence of ideas and philosophy in the matter of man’s survival. The Indian education system continues to produce “docile engineers” and rote learners from the IITs and IIMs who are utterly inept at critically thinking in principles outside their area of specialization. Indian parents actively cultivate a culture of “contempt for the humanities and the arts” and prefer to have their children as mindless cogs in the machine of marketability. I share Nussbaum’s fear that the Indian democracy will be increasingly administered by such mentally tame bureaucrats, leaders, and politicians who are unable to grasp implications beyond the perceptual reality of the moment.

India urgently needs to introduce critical thinking and respect for disciplines in the arts and the humanities in its educational system. However, this introduction should not be carried out by the inept bureaucracy of the government education department—for they are the cause of this current mental stagnation—but by privatizing school and college syllabi and simply withdrawing from the arena of educational administration altogether.

Private schools and colleges will be forced to compete for survival by improving their services, ensuring the superior quality of their teachers and students, offering a variety of courses to beat competitors, and securing the reputation of their degrees.

On one hand, as India crawls towards the ideals of freedom in its economic sphere, the conflict between its past and its desired future is being starkly highlighted; on the other hand, the fascist forces are tightening their noose around the necks of the people in their attempt to rein in the march towards progress by cloaking their actions and rhetoric in moral and patriotic terms. The recent attacks on the freedom of artists in universities, the moral policing of the internet—including Orkut, blogs, and Google searches—the criminal indictment of celebrities for a public kiss, the monitoring and arbitrary blockage of airwaves, and the general arbitrary nature of laws across the country are alarming signs of a country being engulfed by pockets of fascist forces intent upon usurping the entire nation. It might perhaps not be too long before India comes to be referred to as the fascist country that once was the largest democracy in the world.

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9 Responses to “Fascism in India”

  1. Sanjay said

    Nussbaum has been thoroughly & superbly deconstructed here. India cannot be adequately analyzed by outsiders who do not understand her philosophy, culture and sociology from an insider perspective.

  2. Ergo said

    Sanjay, I barely started reading the article you linked and had to pause to laugh out loud! THe writer of that article either cannot be serious or has to be rather ignorant of who Dr. Martha Nussbaum is. The author writes: “This makes me query her credentials as a lawyer-academic. Nussbaum lacks the rigor one would have expected of a senior academic.”
    Dr. Nussbaum is one of the most well-known and respected philosophers in the United States, and is an expert at classical philosophy. One can certainly disagree with her opinions and tackle her arguments, but one cannot simply “query her credentials”! And that too by some unknown author named “Jaffna”. Dr. Nussbaum’s credentials are solid and extensive.
    Anyway, I’ll try to get past this bit of absurdity and read the entire article when I can.

  3. Ergo said

    I just finished reading the article you linked. There are many points in there with which I do not agree–just as I did not agree with much of Dr. Nussbaum’s article. One point in particular I would like state is that Dr. Nussbaum’s generalizations are indeed valid and legitimate. Generalizations are precisely that–an extrapolation of the common factor, a principle that runs across variations. Man’s mind requires the use of generalizations to make sense of many things in this world… and often, macro historical and cultural trends do require distillation to general principles in order to be understood and analyzed.
    Anyway, those are my immediate thoughts at the moment.

  4. Anindo said

    “in fact, in my opinion, the institutions as they currently exist are instrumentally causing the decline of liberty and the move toward the fascism of a vocal collective”

    Although, you have qualified the above statement as your opinion (which you have claimed to be fact, nonetheless) would you please elaborate how these institutions are causing what you have claimed ?

    “For example, laws such as the guaranteeing of freedom of speech, separation of religion and state, and the repeal of institutionalized discrimination based on caste, religion, or race should be taken off the voting table regardless of popular opinion.”

    Would you give instances when the first two have been put on the “voting table”?

    “Currently, Indians are either ignorant of or actively deny the influence of ideas and philosophy in the matter of man’s survival. The Indian education system continues to produce “docile engineers” and rote learners from the IITs and IIMs who are utterly inept at critically thinking in principles outside their area of specialization ”

    a) Are you saying that philosophers are more important than engineers and managers for building and running factories and businesses ? If not, then is what happening irrational?

    b) Engineers and managers are incapable of thinking like philosophers and artists but philosophers and artists can easily solve technical problems and manage companies ?

    “Indian parents actively cultivate a culture of “contempt for the humanities and the arts” and prefer to have their children as mindless cogs in the machine of marketability”

    a) There are far more jobs for engineers than philosophers. In such a scenario, what is the rational choice for an individual?

    b) People who write software, design cars, manage corporations are “mindless” ?

    c) It seems you are suggesting that we should refrain from creating a product for which there is a strong demand in the market and a hefty premium can also be obtained. Enlightening no doubt, but not exactly the stuff of free market economics.

    d) Is there any other way to interpret the kind of language you have used than a contempt for engineering and management?

    Sorry for the long reply. There are various other debatable points -mostly in the form of sweeping generalizations and unfounded opinions- but I’ll raise those some other time.

    Its been a long time since I’ve read “Atlas Shrugged” but I remember someone (Dagny Taggart, if I remember correctly)saying there that “words have an exact meaning”. Not in this post, at least.

  5. Ergo said

    “in fact, in my opinion, the institutions as they currently exist are instrumentally causing the decline of liberty and the move toward the fascism of a vocal collective”
    Although, you have qualified the above statement as your opinion (which you have claimed to be fact, nonetheless) would you please elaborate how these institutions are causing what you have claimed?

    Examples: The current idolization of democracy as the divine “voice of the people,” a long-winded constitution that seeks to enumerate the application of law in every concrete situation rather than adhering to a parsimonious moral framework based on objective, fundamental principles, the judiciary system that more often acquiesces to laws created by so-called “representatives of the people” rather than examining the constitutionality of the laws, which brings us back to the point about the Indian Constitution. The prevailing notion that expanded government roles are necessary in–and indeed a crucial application of–democracy. The official recognition of the Indian Republic as a Socialist democracy. The tacit acceptance of socialism by all levels of the government and the judiciary, as well as the populace. The idea that the government is the political as well as the moral arbiter of an individual’s life, that the government is well within its bounds to be be paternalistic and deny individual’s self-autonomy. The currently existing Constitutional ban on ownership of private property. That certain sectors of the economy, such as the media, utilities, postal services, railways, road transport, airlines, etc., require the constant intervention, engagement, and participation–via licenses, bureaucratic entanglements, etc–of the government in order to keep a check on the greedy private sector businesses.


    “For example, laws such as the guaranteeing of freedom of speech, separation of religion and state, and the repeal of institutionalized discrimination based on caste, religion, or race should be taken off the voting table regardless of popular opinion.”
    Would you give instances when the first two have been put on the “voting table”?

    Examples: Recent voting in the legislature based on caste, religion, and origin of birth–including all the issues surrounding the disgustingly institutionalized terms such as “muslim quotas,” “backward classes,” “other backward classes,” “scheduled castes,” etc. These are not matters to be put to vote–neither in the legislature nor in the general elections. Every general election cycle across India includes political parties campaigning on explicitly identified *religious* grounds, with campaign promises that are explicitly religious (like building this or that temple).
    Recent judiciary and legislative orders–allegedly based on public interest and on the authority of public mandate–monitoring public expression, free speech, artistic license, etc., such as the criminal indictment by Indian courts of celebrities kissing, the High court ban on certain subscriber-paid cable channels, the violent censorship of art and the incompetence and helplessness of the law and order machinery in the face of such violence, the official stance and involvement of the national government on national language, secular ideology (albeit superficial), national anthem, and national symbols.
    More examples of free speech violations carried out by the government and aided by the current institutional nature of the Indian democracy include legislative and bureaucratic decisions on education, government mandated education syllabus and examinations, government monitored, censored, and published textbooks, government sanctioned and approved degrees, etc.

    “Currently, Indians are either ignorant of or actively deny the influence of ideas and philosophy in the matter of man’s survival. The Indian education system continues to produce “docile engineers” and rote learners from the IITs and IIMs who are utterly inept at critically thinking in principles outside their area of specialization”
    a) Are you saying that philosophers are more important than engineers and managers for building and running factories and businesses ? If not, then is what happening irrational?

    You are not following the logic of my argument. To be cognizant and generally aware of philosophical principles is not to suddenly become a philosopher. I have no professional or academic training in economics and very minimal undergraduate training in philosophy, yet–as an educated and enlightened individual, indeed as a rational human qua human–I consider it my responsibility to be informed of matters crucially affecting my living conditions. And beyond that point, I can engage in an educated discussion with someone on–for example–quantum mechanics, relativity theory, homeopathy, incompleteness theorem, scarcity theory, logical positivism, and the principle of the excluded middle. You succumb–and propagate–a false dichotomy between the physical sciences and the Humanities. Since you quoted Dagny from Atlas Shrugged, let me also remind you that John Galt, Ragnar, and Francisco all majored in Physics and Philosophy. None of the main characters in Atlas are philosophers–and yet a philosopher like Ayn Rand chose barons of heavy industries as mouthpieces of her philosophy of Objectivism, which goes to show her rejection of the ivory tower conception of philosophy you hold and the dichotomy you propagate.


    b) Engineers and managers are incapable of thinking like philosophers and artists but philosophers and artists can easily solve technical problems and manage companies ?

    This is the illogic of your mind. Indeed, your statement acts as proof of my comments regarding the kind of “educated” Indians our schools and colleges produce.


    “Indian parents actively cultivate a culture of “contempt for the humanities and the arts” and prefer to have their children as mindless cogs in the machine of marketability”
    a) There are far more jobs for engineers than philosophers. In such a scenario, what is the rational choice for an individual?

    Showing respect for the humanities and acknowledging the undeniable power and influence of ideas and premises in human survival does not require that we all become philosophers and find jobs in philosophy. Again, your statement persuasively corroborates my argument.


    b) People who write software, design cars, manage corporations are “mindless”?

    People who are only capable of being adept at their narrow field of specialization with utter incompetence in any other field are indeed like assembly line machines. Typically, “docile engineers” do not get into career positions that require the independent exercise of their minds–if they did, they would fail miserably at it. Walk into a Mumbai railway car shed; you may find an adept engineer who can screw a cog expertly, but ask him about the efficiency of the trains’ design vis-a-vis aerodynamics, and they will most likely have nothing intelligible to say.


    c) It seems you are suggesting that we should refrain from creating a product for which there is a strong demand in the market and a hefty premium can also be obtained. Enlightening no doubt, but not exactly the stuff of free market economics.

    Don’t attribute the junk of your mind to mine. And exactly how is what you suggest “enlightening”?


    d) Is there any other way to interpret the kind of language you have used than a contempt for engineering and management?

    Yes there is. Re-read everything I have said above.

    Sorry for the long reply. There are various other debatable points -mostly in the form of sweeping generalizations and unfounded opinions- but I’ll raise those some other time.
    Its been a long time since I’ve read “Atlas Shrugged” but I remember someone (Dagny Taggart, if I remember correctly)saying there that “words have an exact meaning”. Not in this post, at least.

    What you have revealed here is not my sloppy or imprecise use of words and ideas in this post but your own sloppy thinking abilities. Next time, before posting a comment like this, I require that you think out all the implications of your ideas carefully.

  6. Anindo said

    Since you have asked me to re-read everything you have said, I should urge you to do the same i.e. read what I have said.

    At no point have I mentioned what I think about any of these issues and ,instead I have merely asked for clarification where the logic is lost in the maze of language.

    You, however, chose to attack me and my thinking,in not very civil language,where ever possible even though the only thoughts that were being discussed were yours.

    Thats all I’ve time for now. I’ll elaborate on the “junk of my mind” tomorrow.

  7. Ergo said

    I don’t see how you can say that your comments were not an attack on my post and the logic of my thoughts. Perhaps, I misconstrued your tone, but then I don’t understand why you said the following:

    “words have an exact meaning”. Not in this post, at least.”

    Further, your entire comment carries a rather apparent tone of sarcasm–as if to imply that my arguments not only came across to you as muddled (and therefore required clarification) but also ludicrous, for which reason you had to provide some rather bizarre interpretations of my statements as if they were very legitimate implications of what I said–for example, you said “Is there any other way to interpret the kind of language you have used than a contempt for engineering and management?
    “you are suggesting that we should refrain from creating a product for which there is a strong demand in the market and a hefty premium can also be obtained. Enlightening no doubt, but not exactly the stuff of free market economics,” and “People who write software, design cars, manage corporations are “mindless”?”

    None of the statements you made above follow logically or legitimately from anything I said. In fact, I found them so bizarre and far off from my views that I was compelled to assume that you made them out of deliberate malice.

    For a comment that apparently seeks clarification and eliminate imprecision, it was in itself very poorly written–for if I believe you in that your comment was not meant in sarcasm, malice, or derision–it surely came across to me that way.

    However, in the interest of giving you the benefit of a doubt, I apologize for my response being explicitly harsh. I was merely being precise with my words in conveying my view of the situation.

    Actually, upon re-reading your comment, I am now convinced that your comment was not honestly seeking clarification. I can’t think of any reasonably sane adult who will ask me to clarify whether or not I advocate the view that “philosophers and artists can easily solve technical problems and manage companies.” Now, will you try to defend your statement by saying you really suspected that perhaps I was saying philosophers can easily solve technical problems and manage companies?? Did you really find this to be a legitimate implication of my post?

  8. Anindo said

    The “malice” in my post was to bring out the fact that logic can get lost or be misinterpreted in the maze of language as I said before.

    To clarify, lets take your statements “Currently, Indians are either ignorant of or actively deny the influence of ideas and philosophy in the matter of man’s survival. The Indian education system continues to produce “docile engineers” and rote learners from the IITs and IIMs who are utterly inept at critically thinking in principles outside their area of specialization”

    Ignoring the fact that both statements are gross generalisations, one of the possible conclusions one may draw,if one were inclined to, from the two statements taken together is that we need less of engineers and managers and more of philosophers. The false dichotomy which you have blamed me to propagate is a valid conclusion that could be drawn from this.

    Moreover, by singling out IITs and IIMs and engineers, you could very well imply (I’m not saying that you did) that the rest of the education system does not produce rote learners and people incapable of thinking outside their areas. This led to question b)

    “Indian parents actively cultivate a culture of “contempt for the humanities and the arts” and prefer to have their children as mindless cogs in the machine of marketability”

    Since this directly follows from the slant on engineers and IITs I assume the “mindless cogs” refer to the army of engineers that India produces. My question “People who write software, design cars, manage corporations are “mindless” ?” was to point out that a significant number, if not a significant proportion, of these people engage in these activities. Your assertion makes them mindless as well.

    Moreover, you denounce the production of the army of engineers while at the same time accepting that they are marketable. This leads to my comment on the “free market stuff”

    Finally, my question “Is there any other way to interpret the kind of language you have used than a contempt for engineering and management? ” is only to point out that while you are blaming others for showing contempt to humanities and arts you could also be held guilty of the same offence but against engineering and management.

    This is it. You could very well find these “ludicrous” and “bizarre” and that is your prerogative. I found the language imprecise and vulnerable to multiple interpretations and that was the purpose of my post. As an aside, I agree with most of the issues you have raised with a few differences, if I think I know what you mean to say.

    I apologise for any tone of sarcasm that may have inadvertetntly crept in my post. I would not reply to any more of your messages so you can have the last word.

  9. Ergo said

    Perhaps this is serendipity or divine praxis, but it’s strange that–as I sit here in Barista Cafe–I just happened to read this editorial in the Hindustan Times; I excerpt it as below:

    “an education system that encourages learning by rote rather than by inspiring students, so that they prefer to ‘parrot’ answers instead of ‘doing’ science.”

    The author of the editorial expresses dismay at that impractical nature of student’s knowledge of science, claiming that the knowledge is acquired merely to be regurgitated during an exam at the end of the year. Thereafter, the author goes into sadly misguided areas like calling for a public reform of the curriculum, etc. I wish he would realize simply that all that needs to be done is get the government out of the educational system–the curriculum will be handled by private schools and colleges based on what the market demands or what niches the entreprenuers would like to create.

    I thought this was apt in the context of this post and the discussions above.

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