The news that three students of a private engineering college in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu brutally hacked and killed their principal who merely enforced discipline on them has stunned the country. Such deviant behaviour would have been unthinkable decades ago when India was more traditional, less modern.
Modernity arrogantly claims to contract men and women out of traditions and civilise them. But such brutal deviance occurs in modern societies, the US included. The critical players in modern polity are the state, law, media and the all-important individual, with the traditional society delegitimised and the traditional family marginalised. Why do these powerful modern institutions not prevent or correct deviance?
Take the media. It thinks that it can correct deviance by exposing it. If correcting deviance is that easy, the powerful Western media should have, for instance, stopped or greatly reduced the heinous crime of rape –given the equal gender rights, higher quality law enforcement and quicker justice in the West. But the rape data in the West shocks. After the Delhi gangrape last winter, the Western media asked how could India, a nation of rapists and killers, claim to be spiritual. Not an Indian, but an English (female) journalist, Emer O’toole, responded in The Guardian (January 1, 2013) that if Delhi records 625 rapes a year, rapes in the UK (with just 3.5 times Delhi’s population) exceed 9,500 a year. Days after Emer’s article, The Independent (January 10, 2013) reported that annually “1,00,000 rapes” occur in the UK, but “only 1,000 rapists are sentenced” – lamenting the “shockingly low conviction rates”.
The US fares no better. According to the US Department of Justice, three lakh women were raped in the US in 2006. In the modern US, women too rape – women raped some 92,000 men in 2006 – making rape gender-equal! Some 17.7 million women and 2.8 million men were raped at least once in their life [www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij]. In India, at least women do not rape men!
Rated to national populations, on the scale of the UK, rapes in India should be over 24 lakh a year and, on the scale of the US, at least 16 lakh. But the India’s Central Statistics Office reports that total rapes in India in 2008 were 20,771. The conclusions are self-evident. The powerful media in the West is unable to correct the brutal deviance - rape. Modern laws have failed to prevent it. The modern state could not punish it effectively. In sum, modernity has betrayed its loyalists.
Many Indians think that modernity means fashionable clothes and western manners, urban habits and the English language. But it means far more. It is the intrusive ideology of the West. It even calls upon the Rest to give up its traditions as a precondition for economic growth.
The UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs told the underdeveloped countries in 1951 that “as the price for rapid economic development” “ancient philosophies have to be scrapped”; “old social institutions have to disintegrate”; “bonds of caste, creed and race have to burst” and “those unwilling for this price” should “remain underdeveloped”.
This theory, better known as ‘Western anthropological modernity’, mandated the Rest to become a carbon copy of the West. But things have drastically changed after 2008 and the West has now conceded that its model may not be as good for the Rest. But the psychological damage done to the Rest over hundred years cannot be easily undone. Modernity, which was marketed as a must for growth, has by now become a habit and fashion.
The modern West is constructed on the principle of methodological (read unbridled) individualism propounded by Max Weber who, along with Karl Marx, exerted the greatest influence on Indian academia. They reject the view that the individual is an integral part of the traditional family and society.
Modernity asserts individuals’ rights over their duties to family and society. The superstructure of the modern economic theory – the rational man and efficient market – rests on this foundation. Karl Popper, a celebrated theoretician of this logic, found that there was nothing such as society. And Margaret Thatcher endorsed him. QED:modernity celebrates the individual, trivialises family and delegitimises society.
Here is its output in under a century. Some 55 percent of the first marriages, 67 percent of the second and 74 percent of the third end in divorce in the US; more than half the families are without father and mother living together; and the state has to step in to take over the care of elders, infirm and unemployed. The state, which has thus effectively nationalised family, is itself becoming bankrupt.
Traditional society and families founded on sacredness of relations prevented deviant behaviour by fostering reverence for parents, elders, teachers and also women. Ancient Indian literature in all Indian languages reveres parents, teachers and women as the divine in human form. But reverence, on which tradition rests, is anathema to modernity. In his book Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue Paul Woodruff, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas in Austin, says what is missing in modernity is “reverence”, adding that life without reverence is brutish and selfish.
Reverence is relational. It cannot be contracted. Modern society, bereft of traditional relations, turns human life into a bundle of contractual obligations mediated by the state, law and courts. It makes parents and children unrelated rights-conscious individuals, bereft of a sense of duty to family. In sum, modernity has torpedoed traditional families which socialise and discipline the young and prevent their deviance.
Reverence for teachers, and teaching and learning with reverence, are the bases of traditional education. But students in the modern US address teachers by their first names.
Submission of children to parental authority is the foundation of reverence for parents. If teachers are punished for administering corporal punishments in schools and parents are admonished for punishing deviant children, schools and families become toothless to prevent deviance. Indian traditions fostered reverence for the girl children. Girls – not boys – were revered in Indian tradition. Kanya Puja held during Navarathri is an example. The gender ratio in India was 972 to 1,000 in 1901 when there was more traditional reverence for girls. It came down to 927 in 2001 after modernity intervened. In modern urban areas where there is less reverence for girls, the gender ratio is poorer than in rural areas where reverence for girls still exists. Not that the gender rights are wrong but celebrating it as substitute for reverence is unpardonable.
Reverence for elders and teachers coupled with their power to punish the deviant had helped to prevent deviance. But the modern state doesn’t trust parents or teachers to punish the deviant. Fostering reverence helps to prevent deviance. Deviance cannot be corrected by law. It can only be prevented and corrected by family and society. They need to be strengthened. But modernity weakens both.
Post Script: The US, at the dead end, now seems to be reviving the study of anthropology of law which traces traditional rules preventing deviance as an alternative to modern law which punishes deviance.
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.