There is nothing new in the social scientist, Ashis Nandy’s formulation that “most of the corrupt” people in India “come from the OBCs (Other Backward Classes) and the Scheduled Castes (SC), and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes (ST)”.
Those defending Nandy as an original thinker and so-called public intellectual may be reminded of a similar statement made by another learned professor, while delivering a guest lecture at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie in 1990, during the height of the anti-Mandal Commission agitation.
At that time, this Delhi University professor told the 300-odd probationers that “all SC and ST officers who got in through reservation in the civil services were corrupt”. Moreover, “since the reserved category officers came from poor economic backgrounds, they couldn't resist the temptation of money”.
As for Nandy, what can one say about somebody who, in the past, even projected ‘Sati’ as an act of courage reaffirming efflorescent Indian traditions against the onslaught of modernity and a market-oriented political economy?
The same crude modern-versus-traditional dichotomy was employed by him more recently to justify the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, Mohan Bhagwat’s claims of rape largely being an urban phenomenon and alien to rural India, a.k.a. Bharat.
Rapes, according to Nandy, happened more in “highly individualised, personally thin cultures”. Cities, by virtue of producing “anonymous societies (where) kinship dies and community ties weaken and become superficial”, are hence natural breeding grounds for rapists.
Well, clearly, neither Bhagwat nor Nandy know — or deliberately choose not to — of the thousands of Dalit and Adivasis women in villages, who are victims of daily sexual violence by upper-caste men. And the perpetrators here are hardly anomic or socially disoriented individuals. Their acts are, indeed, as deep-rooted in tradition as Sati!
But coming back to corruption, let there be no illusion on what Nandy was trying to convey. Not only did he stop with saying that SCs, STs and OBCs accounted for “most of the corrupt”, but also sought to illuminate this “fact” by citing the example of West Bengal, which is “one of the States with the least amount of corruption”.
And that was only because, “in the last 100 years, nobody from the OBCs, SCs and STs has come anywhere near power in West Bengal”. So, “it is an absolutely clean State”.
The qualification of being a public intellectual, perhaps, gives Nandy immunity from having to furnish any statistics showing Dalits and Adivasis to make up for “most of the corrupt”, leave alone proof of West Bengal being corruption-free.
But his statements definitely qualify as hate speech, especially when directed against communities that have suffered centuries-old oppression sanctioned by the very traditions our esteemed professor and Bhagwat choose to glorify.
If Akbaruddin Owaisi’s inflammatory anti-Hindu address at Nirmal in Andhra Pradesh’s Adilabad district qualifies as hate speech, what makes Nandy’s gems at the Jaipur Literature Festival any less despicable?
How can entire communities — that too, Dalits or Adivasis — be branded as corrupt? How different is it from considering Muslims inherently unpatriotic? And what is unfortunate is how the academic community has come together to defend Nandy’s intellectual freedom, while portraying his critics as intolerant, humourless and displaying a Holy Cow mentality.
Passive is passé
There is a pattern to all this, starting with the Ambedkar cartoon introduced in a Class XI textbook. Till date, no intellectual has explained how this cartoon could in any way enriching the knowledge of history or the Indian Constitution among school-going students.
When many sensible voices warned against the wrong message it might send — of Pandit Nehru holding a whip alongside Babasaheb driving a snail — they were instantly dismissed as enemies of academic freedom.
Interestingly, this is happening even while Dalits are coming under parallel attacks on the ground in States like Tamil Nadu and Haryana.
Unlike in the past, the underlying motives for these have more to do with the relative upward mobility that Dalits have experienced in recent times from access to education and government jobs.
The fact that they are no longer keen to work in farms or do menial jobs obviously rankles the upholders of tradition in rural India, provoking their violent responses.
Whether it is the beleaguered Tamil Nadu politicians or the Delhi academia, a common chord uniting them is their inability to come to terms with the new Dalit, who is more aware, self-conscious and assertive than his/her forefathers. No one had problems so long as the Dalits were unorganised, meek and submissive.
But today, their symbols are under attack and there is even a clamour for sub-dividing SC/STs and identifying a ‘creamy layer’ within them in order to deny reservation benefits.
All these are mere diversionary tactics to obfuscate or sidetrack the real issues of communities that are still struggling to claim their place in the sun.
(The author is the founder of Centre for Dalit Studies, Hyderabad.)