Sunday, May 21, 2006

Minority as moral majority (May 21, 2006)

By Swapan Dasgupta

In his compelling critique of majoritarianism and the impending “clash of civilisations”, Amartya Sen has argued that each individual embraces a multiplicity of identities and not merely a religious one. In short, we are all, in some way or other, a minority.

Sen’s argument has been enthusiastically endorsed by India’s politically correct community. The mere invocation of the term “minority” is enough to make them mushy and infuriatingly sanctimonious. Minority rights, we are repeatedly told, must be preserved at all costs, even if it involves making hideous compromises with the principles of equity and modernity. Last week, we had a grotesque assertion of minorityism when Information and Broadcasting Minister P.R. Das Munshi chose to obliterate the crucial distinction between accuser and judge. A clutch of people, said to be the custodians of Roman Catholicism in India, were called upon to judge the universal suitability of the celluloid version of The Da Vinci Code. It does not matter that the collective wisdom of the group was limited to issuing a faith warning. What is significant is that the Government deemed it necessary to consult and respect “minority” sentiments.

I am not going to address the issue of whether or not the Minister would have displayed similar interest had the offence been caused to people who call themselves Hindus. A privileged status for minorities has become the Great Indian Consensus. There is no outrage when a minister in the Uttar Pradesh Government sets a handsome reward for the murder of some Danish cartoonist. Nor do we turn collectively incandescent when Pope Benedict XVI presumes to lecture us on domestic legislation. When it comes to minority interests, democracy and sovereignty are deemed to be negotiable.

It has taken India’s most recent Nobel Prize winner to point out that identity should not be circumscribed by religion only. It must, he insists, be secularised. Minority rights in terms of gender, sexual preferences, aesthetics, food and dress preferences and quirky flights of whimsy must be institutionally accommodated if we are rise above mobocracy.

This is why it is odd that the widespread protests by medical and other students in professional courses against Arjun Singh’s infamous quotas hasn’t propelled politicians into defending minority rights. Let’s be quite clear, the affected students and those likely to be affected are in a woeful minority. They are the best and brightest of our youth, those who can hold their own in any internationally competitive environment. They have precious little need for either affirmative action or grace marks. They are India’s undisputed crème de la crème.

For this precise reason those who marched on the streets of Delhi on Saturday are in a miniscule minority. In theory, that should lead to a clamour among politicians to be photographed with them. Yet, for the past seven days, not one politician of consequence from any of the mainstream parties has dared to be associated with this minority movement. Manmohan Singh had breakfast on Friday with a bearded friend of the Taliban, Das Munshi hobnobbed with the Catholic clergy on Thursday and Comrade Sitaram Yechuri, after spiritedly giving the bear cartel on Dalal Street a generous leg up, rubbished all flirtations with knowledge at a Sahmat meeting on Friday. No one, not even BJP leaders who are privately in sympathy with everything the students stand for, dared to either show solidarity or at least lend them a sympathetic ear. Remember that only two MPs, and none from the Lok Sabha, mustered the courage to oppose the infamous 104th Amendment Bill.

I don’t believe this strategic abstention is occasioned by the alleged upper cabecause the students are allegedly upper caste composition of the protestors. To equate merit with genetics is grotesque and an assertion worthy of race supremacists. The real reason is a little more complex.

At the very heart of the protests against the new quotas is a frighteningly modern demand. The students are asserting their right to be treated first and foremost as Indians—overriding all class, caste and creed. That’s a majoritarian argument no respecting minority-ist will ever countenance.

(Published in Sunday Pioneer, May 21, 2006)

No comments: