Friday, August 22, 2014

Nature of Indian Identity

I think "Political Unity of States" and the establishment and sustenance of the "Union of India" is the pinnacle of singularity. Is it possible to achieve such singularity in the identity of Indians. The singular identity being "I am an Indian" rather than "Hindu" or "Muslim" or "Bengali" or "Kannadiga" or "Tamil" etc. Such singular identity will bring Indians together. So why not try achieving that?

This expectation indirectly means that one's self identity is under-recognized. A Naga from the North-East India is a Naga first and then an Indian. There are simply too many things that affects one's identity.

My being an Indian is a subset of my identify of being a Tamilian. I cannot be an Indian without being a Tamilian first. There are simply many factors that inherently define my identity. Language, place of origin, place where I was brought up, parents, friends, schools, etc. etc. etc and on a bigger scale India. Being an Indian for someone living in the border of India and Nepal is merely driven by the border. Identity-wise, not so. It is difficult to differentiate the identify a person living along the border of India-Bangladesh. In fact, they have the same identity - almost! Especially when they share the same language and religion. So, it is not surprising when a Tamilian from Tamil Nadu feels associated in identity to a Tamilian in Tamil Eelam. Or when the PM said India shall provide asylum to all Hindus. Or when a Muslim in India feels threatened when a Muslim is killed in another country.

When  I recognize a Gujarati, and I acknowledge that his roots are from  Gujarat, I tend to understand him better. I tend to feel closer to  him. When I am in Kerala, I have to try and learn and understand Malayalam. That is the way I express my acknowledgement of identity of the Malayalees. And yes, knowing  English will help you professionally. And even to some extent at a personal level. But in order to generate that  feeling of singularity, one has to acknowledge the plural identities of people there, acknowledge it and even go by it.

People of England are identified English and that of France as French, of Germany as Germans, of Holland as Dutch - all based on their language and not just the border. On the other hand, an American's identity is a little complicated like an Indian's because of the inherent diversity of the place. And because of that we have Afro-Americans, European-Americans, Indo-Americans, Americans of Chinese Origin, etc.
It can hence be concluded that identity does not understand borders. It comes from a higher sense of association. It is important that we allow a Muslim to identify  himself as a Muslim first. Let a Naga identify himself as a Naga before identifying him as an Indian. Same applies to every Indian in the country. 

India is already singular and that singularity is a part of a larger plurality.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Culture, Process and Legacy of Hindu Marriage

I wish I could keep out of quoting the name of a caste or creed or any specifics of classification. However, for being factual and not approximate or hypothetical, I have make references to some specifics. My intention is not to accuse anyone. This blog is an objective analysis of the marriage process and intends to address the inconsistencies in the marriage process. After all, marriage is the most important social activity in a society and logically, if any social reform is to happen, it should start from a marriage.

The Hindu marriage process is thousands of years old. It makes references to the oldest of the Vedas, the Rig Veda, and to other scriptures like Yajur Veda, Upanishads, etc. Though the practice has evolved over a period of time, it still is archaic and anachronistic. One cannot however, deny that there is a certain drama in the age old process that makes it both interesting and cherishable.

The marriage practice is well established and it is performed with high precision. Any process that is in practice for so long will be! With smaller regional differences in the proceedings, and few exceptions, the process has remained almost the same through out the entire country through the test of time. To quote an exception, while a Hindu marriage is preceded by a priest (a Brahmin) all through the country, an Iyer (kind of Brahmin) Hindu marriage is itself can happen unpreceded by a priest. So, the evolution of the marriage practises vary grossly across various strata of social classification.

While the Hindu religion strongly discourages inter caste marriages and inter dining, generally, the marriage process itself is not considered to have anything to do with castes. However, this is not true. It implicitly endorses caste system by appointing a priest to precede the marriage cerenomy itself.

The priest who precedes the ceremony is always, without exception, a Brahmin. A non-Brahmin cannot become a priest according to Hinduism. In fact, the long established marriage process revolves around the priest more than the groom and the bride themselves. The priests prescribe the activities to be done in a marriage. The couple like it or not. A marriage without a priest is often considered inauspicious and people take immense care in ensuring that the priest is happy. The process itself, the meaning and rationale concerning the activities are clear to understandable only to the priest. The process is inherently obscure due to the usage of Sanskrit and not the actual mother tongue of the families. And no one but the priest understands Sanskrit. So the superiority of a Brahmin is implicitly acknowledged as a social norm by the Hindu marriage process..

It is very difficult to understand the need for such obscurity and opaqueness. In fact, a marriage process should be very simple and straight forward that it is a common knowledge among the people. After all, marriages are the most important and also the most common of the social processes. But that is not the case. A certain formality is required; but, it seems very unnatural that the process is complex to the degree of obscurity. I am not just referring to the marriage ceremony itself, but also the associated practices like varapoojai, kanyadanam, sapthapadi and the many many ceremonies.

How can this premise be addressed? The logical solution seems simple and obvious. Conduct marriage without a priest – disassociate castes from marriages completely so that the marriage process does not endorse the caste system. The problem however is more complex. The marriage process is preceded and controlled by the priest. The process is unrehearsed and is left to the 'expertise' of the conductor. Orders are given on the stage and are done then and there. As simple as that. There is no understanding as to what goes on and why it is being done. Because, of this priest centred nature of the process, removing the priest also means the need to redefine the process. 

The self-respect marriage, a strong alternative to the traditional marriage, however, does not provide an equivalent strong process that shall create a seamless transformation from a priest centred to a groom-bride centred marriage process. Moreover, the self-respect movement was created for a different purpose. Self-respect movement was the result of a social revolution in Tamil Nadu and it was designed as a tool to display one's disapproval against the caste system and the religion itself. A practice that not only distanced itself from religion and castes, but also from the concept of God itself. So, there is no real alternative form that essentially disapproves castes but remains ideologically agnostic about one's belief in God; which also means, for the theists who simply do not believe in castes and disapprove the divinity and superiority that is given to a Brahmin priest, there is no alternative.

I want to bring in the deliberation that has been missing in defining a generic marriage process that shall bend itself to the whims and fancies of the couple and their families. I want to attempt defining a process that shall redefine the existing Hindu marriage process. The new process shall distant itself from irrelevance (superstitions), caste system, but shall keep the spirit of a traditional marriage. The new process shall acknowledge one's belief in God. This process shall be flexible for people to plug in new sub-processes or alter the process itself to make it more relevant in the future. A process that can be easily reproducible and makes the marriage process easy to implement without violating the Hindu marriage act. I believe that changing the marriage practices in arranged marriages will certainly be a huge step towards social equality in India.
Let me try to redefine the process in my subsequent blogs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Social inequality, casteism and reservations

Social inequality in India is the summation of social problems both generic to the other countries and uniquely India. The generic issues being education or the lack of it, poverty, health, etc. Social inequality also refers to the disparities in income, economic assets and quality of living. It is important to make the qualification that social inequality is different from economic inequality which denotes the gap between rich and poor, economic assets, etc. Casteism, on the other hand, is uniquely India. A long standing parameter for social classification. It can be easily romanticized to be the root cause of all social problems in India. Untouchability  being the most significant among them all. The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes people where legally untouchables for the most part of the Indian history and has legally become touchables only since the mid part of 20th century. And these people contribute to nearly 24.4% of the Indian population based on 2011 census.

In the current times, one can often note that in a society with social inequality, economic inequality shall be a given. This is seen many countries (even developed countries) in the current era like the Unites States of America, India, etc. All these nations have rampent social inequality problems. This proves that the necessary if not the sufficient condition for economic inequality is social inequality. Reason being, when people are socially equal - meaning, they have access to similar healthcare, education, treated equally and fairly at all times, they are given a platform where they can compete equally. On the other hand, in a society where social equality is absent, competition shall not be fair. Few shall have an inherent advantage over the other substantial population, or in a differnt sense, a smaller section of the population is at a disadvantage compared to the others.

In the recent times there has been an increased interest and argument about the strategy of the Indian government with regards to addressing social inequality. It is identified, acknowledged and accepted that education is the primary means of addressing social inequality. Owing to that, there is a reservation system which tries to make quality education accessible to people of the backward social classes; to be explicit, the backward classes BC, most backward classes MBC, scheduled castes SC and scheduled tribes ST. The reason behind choosing castes as the classification parameter is simply because caste was the exisiting norm of classifying people in the society. Caste in most cases still is. Substantial proportion of the Indian population still does not support a inter caste marriages, inter dining, etc. Prove me wrong and I shall amend my argument.

Most often the weapon people choose for establishing that reservation based on caste is hurtful, is the percentile of marks one from the SC/ST has to score to get a seat in IITs/IIMs/Anna Universiy etc. Yes. It seems unfair. A student from the backward classes seems to have an undue advantage in the cut throat competition. He is in a better position to score a seat in one of the prestigious institutions. However, the disparity in the percentile proves the existence of social inequality. If social inequality is indeed non existent, then such disparity will not be there. The large disparity indeed shows that there is a substantial social inequality. When the gap becomes smaller and smaller over a period of time, that is when one can establish that caste based reservation is obsolete.

On that other hand, if one is to argue that such disparity is because of the inherent inabiltiy or laziness of people the backward classes, then he becomes a narcissist by definition. My argument shall simply stop there.

We belong to a society where education, one of the fundamental rights, has been neglected for a huge section of the Indian population for 2 millenniums. And one of the manifestations of that inequality is the percentile disparity. The numbers do not prove that people of the backward classes are lazy or dumb, it only proves that the there is social disparity. Moreover, the data released by the Directorate of Education also shows that the disparity is reducing.

India is designed to be a welfare state - which means, the goverment takes responsibility in ensuring that the subjects get educated. No matter what. They eat. No matter what. The government ensures that the basic needs of a man for his survival is provided by the society. And in achieving that sacred goal, a greater good, it sometimes asks us to sacrifice a little portion of our meal. That is the system. It is the ideologically right thing to do too. People with privilege share theirs with the subjects who done. The system is not perfect. But it certainly helps. The social inequality has been reducing drastically in the past few decades.

India is also a socialist country and the tenet principle of socialism is social equality. And hence, India shall strive to achieve that as well. Caste based reservation should be in effect till the time when social inequality is in effect! I will discuss the alternate solutions that people suggest - i.e. economic classes based reservation and the changes that can be suggested to the existing reservation system