Continuing with the discussion of the type I ended the last post with, the problem with this type has become rather serious of late. This is because of the intolerant majoritarian tendencies that have become highly visible (and politicians are stoking the fire with very short-term goals in mind, blithely unaware that they might be releasing a Frankenstein’s monster) of late in many countries, certainly in India. When I mention majoritarianism, a lot of people will think that I have only religious divides in mind, but that is not so, though I am definitely thinking of that, too. But let me first talk about the Hindu majority community in India, which is the milieu to which I belong, and which I know best.
The problem with India is that it is far from becoming a true nation in the sense that much smaller, far more culturally homogeneous communities became nations centuries ago. ‘Hindu’ is a vast, portmanteau term that denotes nearly a billion diverse people, and these people are sharply divided by looks, language, caste, tradition, and local customs, to the extent that a lot of nominally Hindu folks do not recognize many others as proper Hindus at all (there are brahmins in the south and the Deccan who refuse, for example, to acknowledge any Bengali as a real brahmin, seeing that he eats fish, and even – horror of horrors! – meat, and casteism, unfortunately, still divides one Hindu from another at least as sharply and cruelly as religions do; some, especially educated high-income urban types find it quite okay that a girl has multiple sexual partners before marriage, which anyway has become just an option, while millions still shudder to think that their daughter can know a man before marriage, or that there could be any other goal of a girl’s life). Regardless of the – I believe misguided – efforts of numerous strong-willed individuals and organizations, there has not emerged any monolithic Hindu community, no matter how much we gush that we all have roots in the vedas, epics, puranas and Manusmriti. So what we do in real life is give primacy to local – very, very local – custom and tradition. Wherever you live, you must do as your mummy and neighbours do, or else. It would not be very wrong to say, I think, that, except perhaps in urban condominiums where nobody knows anybody else nor cares what she is doing, India is a vast congeries of little villages under the sway of absolutely local majoritarian tyrannies. In the neighbourhood I live in, despite the fact that most people fear me enough to give me a wide berth, and despite the fact that I don’t socialize, I could not openly declare I am gay if I were and continue in my present profession; a quite decent Hindu middle-aged gentleman confessed to me without a trace of shame a few years ago that in the housing cooperative he lives in, there is an unwritten law that no flat owner can rent it out to a ‘Mohammedan’, and the very smart female who lives it up mini-skirted late nights in Bangalore pubs will be seen in very proper saree-sindoor-bindi during the puja days at her neighbourhood pandal back home – nyaka chondi as she is, she would neither notice the absurdity nor quarrel with it. And I have always had to live with the knowledge that many of the same mummies who desperately shove their kids into my tuition because they are convinced I know some magic to get those kids the all-important marks in examinations also sternly warn them not to pay heed to all the ‘nonsense’ I say in class ‘outside the syllabus’.
What has all this got to do with corruption? Well, if I have to spell it out, I have actually lost you already. Anything that the local Mrs. Grundy says is out stays out, and who cares what the Constitution of India says? Mummies and aunts hold far stronger sway over the minds of the young – and by that I mean even people in their twenties and thirties, beyond which age you, of course, have safely become clones of them! – and the best you can do if you are a young or very old woman living in a tribal village where people have begun to look askance at you because you mumble to yourself and wander about at nights, is to get out and go far away if you don’t want to be burnt alive as a witch one fine evening. The majority has dubbed you corrupt and dangerous, so your dignity, freedom, life itself, is not worth a busted nickel. If anything, the millions of bigoted idiots slogging all sorts of ‘issues’ out on Facebook and twitter are merely strengthening these atavistic tendencies: you call someone a thief and he becomes a thief overnight, no proof needed. Which is why I decided long ago not to make a single friend on Facebook, and never to use twitter. Those who frequent those sites take great care to see that they interact only with ‘people like us’, wasting days, months and years persuading people who are already persuaded beyond the reach of fact and reason! How pathetic some people can get, really. You and I live in a democratic country, so you have every right to agree with me, as long as I myself am comfortably ensconced in the politically correct cocoon; if you don’t, we shall ostracize you or hound you out of the country. Notice anything ‘corrupt’ about all this, or do I have to spell it out further?
Coming to the third category, this is the most pitiable of the lot. I find this type particularly distasteful, so I shall pass lightly over it. Suffice it to say that it is this (very numerous-) category, people who cannot help doing what they have been told is wrong, that ensures that prostitution, legal and otherwise, remains one of the largest and most profitable professions, and pornography rules the roost on the internet. Humans make rules which most humans find it impossible to obey, at least all the time: hence cheating in examinations, and job-shirking, and breaking traffic rules, and shoplifting and marital infidelity, etc etc. Talking pruriently about these things and pretending to be horrified and condemning them serves nothing except fill the gossip columns of our rags and clog our courts; at best we drive them underground, and they find ever new ways of making themselves evident. The only remedy for such ‘corruption’ is to be more understanding and forgiving in making laws, and administering those laws with more fairness and leniency, too. Also, when you accuse someone’s dad of being a serial molester just because you hate him or are jealous of him, remember your dad is just as vulnerable, unless he is just too insignificant for anyone to take note of his existence: when others do that sort of thing to you, you suddenly discover that it is not a good thing to do at all. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
For the rest, we shall always have to live with them, as long as human beings are the way they are; there is no help for it. I believe that some societies are generally more moral and law-abiding than others: how they have managed to become that way without tyranny is something I still haven’t been able to figure out. Maybe education of a certain sort helps; in India, at least, that kind of education has never been available for the masses, rich or poor. All my pupils write essays about how their parents teach them to be ‘good’ people: I have never stopped wondering how, then, this country remains one of the most corrupt in the world (if you think of cheating in exams, breaking traffic rules, taking bribes, job-shirking, shoplifting… maybe our only true moral is that it’s alright when I or my dad does it, but wrong when you or your dad is guilty of the same?).
The long and short of the matter is, after observing and thinking for several decades, I have decided, once and for all, that the issue of ‘corruption’, so popular a talking point in this country, does not arouse my interest any longer. This three-part series of essays was my effort to explain why. Unless we are truly interested in taming the monster, which would require greatly changing ourselves first, we had all better stop talking about it: that by itself would make a considerably cleaner country.