KOCHI: Eminent social scientist Ashis Nandy was careful about his sugar intake. At the restaurant of the Le Meridien, he put only half a sachet of the sweetener in his tea. “At 82, I have to be careful,” he says, with a smile. Nandy was in Kochi because he was a featured speaker at the ninth annual conference on Metaphysics and Politics, organised by the Backwaters Collective.
Although he looked calm, he was in the midst of a media storm having been one of the signatories among the 49 eminent citizens who wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 23 expressing their alarm at the lynchings taking place all over India. “Online trolls have been attacking me non-stop,” says Nandy. But what particularly upset him was when veteran directors Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal and Aparna Sen were attacked.
“Adoor is such an eminent film-maker,” he says. “And what about Shyam? He has done so much for the country. Shyam has done a film on the constitution of India and a wonderful series called ‘Discovery of India’. He is not a self-centred Bombay filmwallah. As for Aparna, she has also done fantastic work and comes from a distinguished family. Her family has been associated with the freedom movement for generations.”
Asked whether he was scared, Nandy says, “I am not, but my family is worried.” Interestingly, he says, the brutalisation of society is not an overnight phenomenon. “There was barbaric violence during the Partition of India (1947),” he says. “This violence has continued, in different forms, over the past seven decades. Something has gone wrong.”
Today, nobody reacts if a father molests his daughter, a husband kills his wife, a son hits his mother, or a man is lynched. “These were aberrations earlier, but are now regarded as normal,” says Nandy. There is a siege mentality in the country. “The majority community has the fear of being outnumbered,” says Nandy. “How can 82 per cent of the population be outnumbered? So many people have written saying this is so. It’s unbelievable.”
As for the minorities, there is an erosion of trust. “But still, they continue to believe in the Indian state and the judiciary,” says Nandy. “In their day-to-day life, they can get things done. So, life is going on. If Hindus and Muslims can live together despite the violence during Partition, I am sure they will be able to live together now.”
Asked whether the next generation can make a difference, Nandy is doubtful. “Many youths take to science and technology and tend to go to IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), or IT (Information Technology),” he says. “These are disciplines where you can score very high marks. You can get good jobs. And they also tend to do very well in the civil service exams. So a large number of IAS and IPS officers come from this sector.”
The students are brilliant, but they lack a liberal education. “They are one-dimensional, and have no idea about social values,” says Nandy. “What are the limits of behaviour in the public sphere? They are ignorant of literature, sociology, psychology, arts, history, and philosophy. A study of these subjects would have developed the finer aspects of their self. As a result, today, young administrators have no empathy for the common people. It is only about data and statistics.”