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‘Rise of Global Distrust’

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
18 Sep 2023

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, expressed his deep anxiety at the “rise of global mistrust”, growing destructive power in different parts of the world. There are 13,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled against each other. He called it the “recipe for annihilation. In the immediate context, he was referring to the Ukraine conflict that had developed more aggressive dimensions. If Russian tanks had moved deep into Ukraine at the first stage, Ukrainian drones have begun penetrating deep into Russian territory today. Russia making a nuclear option is no more unthinkable. Balanced thinking evades humanity today.

It is armed forces, not democratically elected leaders, that decide issues in many parts of the world. In Africa, soldiers took over Niger, Mali or Gabon, as in Asia a military junta did in Myanmar. In Pakistan, the army has the last word; blasphemy laws are absolute. In Afghanistan, Taliban’s religious fervour has silenced every form of progressive thinking and blurred a human vision of realities. Their decision on banning education to women is final, like Hindutva decision to ban beef -- choice for malnourished Dalits, Muslims and tribals in India. Religion is made to serve politics. There is a total absence of human sensitivity.

Lack of Cultural Sensitivity

Look at secular responses. Equally humiliating. People have not learnt a lesson from the violent reactions against Danish cartoons ridiculing Prophet Mohammed. Danish government admits that Quran burning has threatened Danes at home and abroad. They have promised to pass a law that will forbid the mistreating of objects with religious significance. But they have not done so. Quran burning continues, this time in Sweden by a certain Salwan Momika. Violent riots broke out in reaction. A Swedish embassy worker was shot in Turkey. 

Even highly enlightened persons in secularised societies seem slow to understand the meaning of ‘religious sensibilities’ in communities. Cultures call for respect. Cultural sensitivity is a must in multi-cultural societies. There have been 170 demonstrations in Sweden in front of embassies of Muslim majority countries.  Burning the Quran for those activists is “freedom of expression”. They little realize how they are hurting religious sentiments of fellow citizens. So, tragedies continue. Cultural perception and social sensitivity are sorely needed today.

Weaponized Society

After their first visit to Manipur, representatives of Karwan e Mohabbat called it a “war zone”.  Lt. Gen. P.C. Nair describes the situation in Manipur as “unprecedented”. Both communities in conflict have advanced weapons. Society itself has been weaponised, he says. 

Manipur Chief Minsiter Biren Singh contends that the tension is not along communal lines, but due to anxiety caused by demographic imbalance created by migrants. There is some incoherence here. Biren Singh himself has put the possible number of Chin refugees from Myanmar around 3000 in Manipur. If 45,000 refugees are not a threat in Mizoram, it sounds ridiculous that three thousand refugees could be a demographic threat in Manipur of three million people. Classifying Kukis who are long settled in Manipur as infiltrators and immigrants is the height of injustice, insensitivity. 

This happens just when first and second generation Indian settlers in the UK and the US are occupying or aspiring to occupy the highest posts in those countries -- Rishi Sunak PM of the UK; Kamala Harris Vice-President of the US; Niki Haley, Hirsh Vardhan and Vivek Ramaswamy presidential aspirants in America. Likewise, Claire Coutinho of Goan origin is Secretary of State for Energy Security in the UK. Are they to be dubbed ‘infiltrators’? Aliens?

Insensitivity is Cultivated

In our days, mutual alienation is artificially constructed. When partisan groups run the show, cases are cooked up, e.g. against Rahul over a joke about the Modis, against Kejriwal over a tease about Modi’s degrees. Baseless allegations multiply, emotions are led to new heights. Jignesh Mevani, an MLA from Gujarat, was forced to appear in court at Barpeta, Assam, on a false accusation. Court declared the case completely manufactured.

A teacher in UP asks children to beat up a Muslim companion of theirs. Manjula Devi, 45, a teacher in Karnataka, asks her non-cooperative students, “Go to Pakistan”. These are not accidents. These are the result of lessons methodically taught by opinion-shapers in the country, culture-formators, value-transformers, and attitude-molders among our political leaders.

How did a religious invocation like ‘Jai Shri Ram’ become a war-cry?  It was made so. Uddhav Thackeray says, it is not shouting Jai Shri Ram that makes you a Hindu.  What matters is attending to human welfare. “Where are jobs for Hindus?”, he asks. The Prime Minister promised ‘Sab ka Vikas’. How does  he limit himself to ‘mitrom ka vikas’? Crony capitalism? It is no use speaking against dynasty, when you are sponsoring a ‘select few money-makers’, mitra parivar. How does Gandhi Peace Prize go to Gita Press whose ideology differed totally from Mahatma’s. Value-system is torn to pieces in diverse ways.

“Terminator”

BJP uploaded a poster of the Prime Minister as the “Terminator”. They borrowed the image from a film of Schwarzenegger. Modiji is presented as a leader ready to terminate the designs of the entire network of Opposition allies. The fear that ordinary people have is not about that. People fear, if Modi is re-elected, whether he will terminate the Indian Constitution, disband the Parliament, wipe out minorities, throw the entire social fabric into chaos?  The ongoing civil war in Manipur is the image people have in mind. Will that be our lot?

Sanjay Raut says, we need to be ready for any sort of tragic surprises. Will it be another Godhra drama and post-Godhra genocide, before the elections? Will it be another surgical strike and a Pakistan adventure as the campaigns warm up?  Despite the general BJP view that foreign evaluation of Indian affairs is biased, they certainly value Pew Research Centre’s finding that 80% of Indians have a favourable view of Modi today, that Indian influence in the world is growing under his guardianship. But, international view remains cold: 34% have very unfavourable views about India. 

And yet, the ‘Terminator’ may return. People today are mightily happy with leaders even of questionable character as long as they serve their own sectarian interests: e.g. the interests of the White Americans in the US, Hindu dominant groups’ interests in India. Despite any number of cases against Trump, he may return.  Victor Orban of Hungary calls for his re-election to save the West. Over 63% in the Conservative Party support him still.

Vivek Ramaswamy, his possible running mate, calls him the “best President of the 21st century”. White American middle class is solidly with him.  Take note, it is not the fringe element that supports provocative Trump, but average citizens, enlightened liberals, pro-life politicians, pro-economy planners. Compare that with the support that Modiji receives from the Hindu Middle Class today.  Fill our purse, and do what else you like!

Double Standards

Indian economy grew at the rate of 7.8% during the first quarter. The Middle Classes are greatly encouraged. Modiji is a performer. They do not question who the beneficiaries are. According to best statistics we have, 21.7% of national income went to 1% of the population in 2021, and a humble 13% to 50% of the population. During the last five years, the cost of meals went up by 65% , wages by 37%. State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, UN has found that 74% in India cannot afford a healthy diet.  

Pavan Varma in his “The Great Indian Middle Class” (Viking, New Delhi, 1998) asks whether India can prosper if the privileged sections go solely by their own interests? What he notices in them is the absence of altruism, total inability to look beyond their immediate interests (Varma xii). During the colonial rule, the educated elite were at home with the British; they just wanted to preserve the advantageous position they had earned through flattery and subservience (Varma 7-8). Today they support the BJP with equal fervour, but may shift loyalty to any party that will capture power.

They were comfortable with Indira’s Garibi Hatao call in 1971, but an unbridgeable gap remained between rhetoric and reality (Varma 81). The poor always remained an abstraction for the Middle Class, an unavoidable hindrance (Varma 82). “Such double standards were consistent with its strident condemnation of corruption in high places and the acceptance of its unavoidability where its own interests concerned” (Varma 99). Shifting parties too was done with ease.

Humiliatingly, the OBCs who benefitted from Mandal reservations and have risen to be the New Middle Class have even less concern for social justice (Varma119). Communities that were left behind have remained doomed. What the upwardly mobile backward castes want to do is to keep their hegemony, and are hard upon the Dalits (Varma 120). With newly won prosperity, their loyalty moved to caste concerns from concerns about poverty, illiteracy, and disease (Varma 122). They need to show zeal for rituals, temple-building, and cow protection to win a status.

Lack of Social Sensitivity

The trouble, of course, is not with individual members of the elite but the cultural world to which Indian society belongs. Pavan Varma is categorical when he says, Hinduism has no concept of ‘sin’ in real life. He puts it this way, “Indeed, there is no concept of sin in its operational lexicon”; hence the prevailing a-moralism and ethical relativism (Varma 126).  It is to this he attributes the absence social sense in our society. I would be very reluctant to make such statements. Not Pavan Varma. He sees the indifference of the Indian Middle Class to the common good as too evident. “For, the truth is that the social insensitivity of the educated and privileged Indian is writ large on the face of India” (Varma 185).

Varma keeps insisting “The middle class was always inclined to be motivated only by its own interests” (Varma 130). So, they easily take to bribes and quick solutions. They remain blind when filth accumulates in cities and ‘garbage mounds grow higher’ (Varma 133-34); they are indifferent to slums that rot and bodies that float down the Ganga. This insensitivity can be shocking to an outsider.  Journalist A. M. Rosenthal was struck dumb by Indian ‘callousness’ to a fellow being’s suffering (Varma 124). The liberalization of the 1990s has made matters worse and has produced a morally rudderless society and obsessively materialistic people (Varma 174).

Eric Hobsbawm finds that the exclusivist BJP party is largely composed of the new business and Middle Class we have described above (Varma 141). Though a quarter of a century has passed since Pavan Varma expressed these views, matters have only aggravated with the strengthening of Middle Class-Hindutva alliance.

Middle Path is Possible

With the above remarks, Pavan Varma is not opposing liberalization or creative entrepreneurship. What he is suggesting is a “middle ground” between the absolute idealism of Mahatma Gandhi and total insensitivity of the Middle Class today (Varma xiii).

The Gandhi-Nehru tradition had left us a “powerful ethical and intellectual legacy” which stood for probity in public life, rejection of obscurantisms; intelligent use of science, technology, industries; commitment to the poor, moderate lifestyle; communal tolerance (Varma 29-31), rejection of caste-system (Varma 44); acceptance of modernity, fidelity to parliamentary democracy, and Emperor Ashoka’s peace ideals (Varma 34-35).

Varma does not intend to rule out self-interest, but it should be enlightened self-interest, with the long-term benefit of society in view.

Arun Kattyayan traces the name “India” to the Magadhi word Hinda which meant a ‘recluse’, a title given to monks like Jaina and Buddha. Persians and Greeks fumbled with pronunciation, making Hinda  ‘Indo, Indica and India’. Thus, “India” has more ancient indigenous roots than “Bharata” the name of a contentious Aryan clan that was pressing hard on India’s indigenous communities.

Most, however, link “India’ with Sindhu, Indus, Indo, from the 5th cent BC, according to historian Irfan Habib. For the Persians, Indians were a people who lived by the Indus river. However, Kattyayan’s suggestion about an indigenous Magadhi root to the name need not be outright rejected.

In any case, today’s over-zeal for the name “Bharata” has reference merely to a casual choice that the Opposition parties made of calling themselves ‘India’. It is puerile (Shashi Tharoor calls it ‘foolish’) to change the name of an ancient nation overnight, a decision that calls for weighty considerations, mature reflection, and lengthy discussions. It is the self-trivialization of a great people prompted by the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat. Rejection of ‘India’ stands for the rejection of the name Hindu as well… Hindutva, Hindustan, Hindu-rashtra, since the word has the same origin. Thoughtless people are calling for the self-annihilation of an entire community.

What ‘Bharat’-supporters wish to do is to proclaim the Aryan domination over the nation, their Nazi control of affairs, marginalization of all non-Sanskrit cultures and outlooks, silencing of the Dalit and tribal thoughts and heritages, bringing “Global Distrust” to our doors. 

No! It cannot happen in Indian India that has been perpetually in search of ‘Dhamma’

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