Monday, June 7, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 7h

 The world excessively and misguidedly respects leaders who are loud and aggressive. We make them our bosses and our political leaders. We foolishly admire their self-help books, such as How to Win Friends and Influence People. Previously people extolled character. Nowadays it's personality. We tend to think that aggressive leaders are self-assured, but in fact they're comparatively narcissistic and unthoughtful and we're committing a grave error structuring our society around their pompous claims. Give me calm good sense over showy lecturing any day.

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain tells of a famous study by the influential management theorist Jim Collins. He found that many of the best-performing companies of the late twentieth century were run by  CEOs who were known not for their flash or charisma but for extreme humility coupled with intense professional will. When he analyzed what the highest-performing companies had in common, he found that every single one of them was led by an unassuming man who was described by his colleagues with the following words: quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated. The lesson, says Collins, is clear. We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run. 

I came across an interesting statistic. Countries with female leaders like Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan etc. have managed the coronavirus crisis better than their male counterparts. Resilience, pragmatism, benevolence, trust in collective common sense, mutual aid and humility – regarded as feminine characteristics that are not suited for statecraft - are mentioned as common features of the success of these women leaders. These are distinct from the characteristics associated with the exercise of traditional managerial, supervisory and controlling power.  Studies suggest that men are likely to lead in a “task-oriented” style and women in an “interpersonally-oriented” manner. Women, therefore, tend to adopt a more democratic and participative style and tend to have better communications skills. 

Violent masculinity exacerbates social conflict and is incompatible with democracy. Democracies are meant to encourage the not-so-masculine values of consultation, negotiation, discussion, compromise; to accept that we might not get all that we want. The strength, firmness, and courage required in such a situation is very different from self-obsession, obstinacy and bullying. The main feature of hyper-masculinity is domination which is incompatible with a peaceful, well-functioning democracy. But  as a species, we seem to be predisposed towards believing that the most confident are also the most knowledgeable. 

Decisive, aggressive, confident, assertive, strong, etc are adjectives to be viewed with caution when used to describe political leaders but they are adjectives that increase a leader’s popularity. The masculine qualities of a ‘real’ man like aggression, hyper-competitiveness, ambition and ruthlessness when combined with political power inevitably lead to violence in society. The instinct of violence has tremendous appeal to the average person’s consciousness. This can be called the 'Age of Anger' when anger keeps erupting in the home, on the street, in schools, at work, during games, between races and religions. 

Films are filled with angry characters and violent behaviors. If you spend any time on social media, you might have a sense that we are locked in a state of perpetual outrage where echo chambers accuse each other of being in an echo chamber. The values that Gandhi had used as basic elements of his vision of India’s future faced relentless conflicts during his lifetime and they have continued up to now. Many Hindu males nurture a sense of humiliated masculinity. They think that for centuries they were subordinated by a sequence of conquerors due to  their tolerant, accommodating nature. 

They turn to history to revive memories of Hindu leaders who are known for the masculine virtue of violence against their oppressors. They are determined to take back the country from 'foreigners' and Make Hindu India Great Again. They identify the sexual playfulness and sensuousness of the Hindu traditions, scorned by the masters of the Raj, with their own weakness and subjection. So a repudiation of the sensuous and the cultivation of the masculine came to seem the best way out of subjection.  Gandhi strongly resisted this Protestentization of Hinduism. 

The valorization of the masculine is seen in the promotion of the more war-like Krishna of the Mahabharata (Gandhi's interpretation was very different) and repudiation of the more playful Krishna of the Bhagavata Purana. One reason why the RSS attracts such a following is the widespread sense of masculine failure. This “Hindu rage” is likely to persist for the foreseeable future and is far from being irrational; rather, it is a manifestation of the pathology of (instrumental) rationality. For this category of people, Gandhi was the villain, Godse the hero. Lewis Mumford says in Technics and Civilization:

As for the sense of self-esteem the soldier achieves through his willingness to face death, one cannot deny that it has a perverse life-enhancing quality, but it is common to the gunman and the bandit, as well as to the hero: and there is no ground for the soldier’s belief that the battlefield is the only breeder of it. 

The mine, the ship, the blast furnace, the iron skeleton of bridge or skyscraper, the hospital ward, the childbed bring out the same gallant response: indeed, it is a far more common affair here than it is in the life of a soldier, who may spend his best years in empty drill, having faced no more serious threat of death than that from boredom. 

An imperviousness to life-values other than those clustered around the soldier’s underlying death-wish, is one of the most sinister effects of the military discipline. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 7g

Many Indians today have the belief that anger and retribution are the keys to achieving justice, political change and power. But a show of bravado and flippant insults, such as we see today, does not really accomplish much. Gandhi repudiated anger and showed the world that non-anger was a posture not of weakness and servility but of strength and dignity. But conquering anger is hard work and it is easier to pursue the politics of revenge. If there is a political issue, it is one of a hysterical nationalism, which confronts the injustices of the past rather than the responsibilities of the future.

Gandhi recognized the instinct for violence to settle disputes that most humans possess. He deliberately focused attention on sexuality as an arena in which domination plays itself out with pernicious effect, and he consciously cultivated an androgynous maternal persona. He showed his followers that being a "real man" is not a matter of being aggressive and bashing others; it is a matter of controlling one's own instincts to aggression. He was concerned to stress the complexity of the moral life rather than its simplicity. He was suspicious of formal and mechanical consistency which is the bureaucratic ideal. Consistency was less important to him than moral earnestness. ‘So long as we act like machines, there can be no question of morality.’

Violence uses brute force using bloodshed to force one’s will on enemies who resist change. Gandhi’s strategies were not inflexible enforcements of assertive ideology but were responsive, based on specific situations and are not intended to be a “one-size-fits-all” scheme to be replicated everywhere on earth . He didn’t say what would please his audience; he often said the contrary. His fight was against colonialism, poverty, ignorance, evil practices, discrimination, social inequality, dictatorship etc. The British were not his enemies; their colonial rule was his enemy. 

The idea of Swaraj propagated by Gandhi was not just a claim for the native rule but a much more radical idea claiming the complete control of one’s life – the rule over oneself. The "clash within" is not so much a clash between two groups in a nation that are different from birth; it is, at bottom, a clash within each person, in which the ability to live with others on terms of mutual respect and equality contends anxiously against the sense of being humiliated. Gandhi understood that. As Alexis de Tocqueville says in Democracy in America:

It would seem as if the rulers of our time sought only to use men in order to make things great; I wish that they would try a little more to make great men; that they would set less value on the work, and more upon the workman; that they would never forget that a nation cannot long remain strong when every man belonging to it is individually weak, and that no form or combination of social polity has yet been devised, to make an energetic people out of a community of pusillanimous and enfeebled citizens. 

Gandhi rejected the principles of British imperialist masculinity such as 'Might is Right' and 'Survival  of the Fittest’, as immoral. He knew what a person with conscience could be like. “A conscientious man hesitates to assert himself, he is always humble, never boisterous, always compromising, always ready to listen, ever willing, even anxious to admit mistakes.” The public figures of today are expected to have the opposite characteristics. There is disregard by public men for his brand of moral politics. 

He  knew that people are fallible beings but many don’t acknowledge this and their pride makes them attempt to be superhuman. They  think they know the good and think this gives them the license to impose it on others without bothering about their views or the cost it imposes on them. Gandhi said, ‘Few men are wantonly wicked. The most heinous and most cruel crimes of which history has record have been committed under the cover of religion or other equally noble motive.’ 

I was shocked by a report that there is brisk sales of Mein Kampf in Delhi with some management students seeing it as "a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it". Young people seem to crave success (whatever it means) without bothering about the means employed to achieve it. When there is promotion of aggressive, masculine characteristics in various social settings - in families, politics, films etc. - such sentiments are to be expected. 

The two biggest causes of evil are two that we think are good, and that we try to encourage in our children: high self esteem, and moral idealism. Having high self-esteem doesn’t directly cause violence, but when someone’s high esteem is unrealistic or narcissistic it is then easily threatened by reality, and in reaction to those threats, people often lash out violently. Idealism easily becomes dangerous because it brings with it, almost inevitably, the belief that the ends justify the means. It just takes the right kind of leader to push the appropriate buttons for the angel or demon side of people to come out. Tocqueville says in Democracy in America

A nation which asks nothing of its government but the maintenance of order is already a slave at heart — the slave of its own well-being, awaiting but the hand that will bind it. By such a nation the despotism of faction is not less to be dreaded than the despotism of an individual. When the bulk of the community is engrossed by private concerns, the smallest parties need not despair of getting the upper hand in public affairs. 

At such times it is not rare to see upon the great stage of the world, as we see at our theatres, a multitude represented by a few players, who alone speak in the name of an absent or inattentive crowd: they alone are in action whilst all are stationary; they regulate everything by their own caprice; they change the laws, and tyrannize at will over the manners of the country; and then men wonder to see into how small a number of weak and worthless hands a great people may fall. 


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 7f

Gandhi challenges our assumption: why can’t you be quiet and strong? We live with a value system that can be called the Masculine Ideal — the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight, preferring  action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. According to this ideal, a strong leader favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. It is a style that values quick and assertive answers over quiet, slow decision-making. The master-of-the-universe types are promoted over the gracious and soft-spoken types. The Feminine personality type displaying sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness is now a second-class personality trait.

But Gandhi showed the effectiveness of this leadership style. He did not, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it of Abraham Lincoln, “offend by superiority.” He tended to listen more than talk, to think before speaking, to dislike conflict. Raising his voice and pounding the table was unnecessary. He was tough and the same time never lost his decorum. Being mild-mannered, he could take strong, even aggressive, positions while coming across as perfectly reasonable. We tend to overestimate how outgoing leaders need to be. He once said, ‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world.‘

He was more interested in listening and gathering information than in asserting his opinion or dominating a conversation. He wasn’t concerned with getting credit or even with being in charge; he simply assigned work to those who could perform it best. This meant delegating some of his most interesting, meaningful, and important tasks — work that other leaders would have kept for themselves. The leaders under the masculine ideal, on the other hand, can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others’ good ideas along the way. Gandhi said:

I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. A thoughtless word hardly ever escaped my tongue or pen. . . We find so many people impatient to talk. All this talking can hardly be said to be of any benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. 

Susan Cain says in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, 'From a Western perspective, it can be hard to see what’s so attractive about submitting to the will of others. But what looks to a Westerner like subordination can seem like basic politeness to many Asians.’ Don’t mistake  assertiveness or eloquence for good ideas. Appearance is not reality. Gandhi was, according to his autobiography, a constitutionally shy and quiet man. He learned over time to manage his shyness, but he never really overcame it. He couldn’t speak extemporaneously; he avoided making speeches whenever possible. 

A friend of Gandhi said that in  Johannesburg itself, there were 'several of his countrymen whose elocution, natural and unaffected, is far superior to his', that he spoke in a monotonous voice, he 'never waves his arms' and 'seldom moves a finger'. A student who listened to him when he shared a stage with Savarkar in London in 1909 said that he seemed shy and diffident; the students had to 'bend their heads forward to hear the great Mr. Gandhi speak'. His voice and speech were of a piece with his manner - 'calm, unemotional, simple, and devoid of rhetoric'.

While launching an agitation, he believed in systematically preparing himself and his colleagues rather than spontaneously  (or, as he would have it, haphazardly) 'rushing into confrontation.' Another friend says that while a student in London, Gandhi learnt that 'by quiet persistence he could do far more to change men's minds than by any oratory or loud trumpeting'. He was one of those rare individuals who was reflective as well as firm when he finally took a decision. 

But this passivity did not mean that he could be pushed around. An illustration of this point happened early in his life. As a young man he decided to travel to England to study law, against the wishes of the leaders of his Modh Bania subcaste. But he disregarded the order saying “I think the caste should not interfere in the matter.” He was excommunicated — a judgment that remained in force even when he returned from England. The community was divided over how to handle him. One camp embraced him; the other cast him out. Another man would protest for readmission. But he couldn’t see the point. He knew that fighting would only generate retaliation. 

The result of this compliance was that the subcaste not only stopped bothering him, but its members — including those who had excommunicated him — helped in his later political work, without expecting anything in return. Gandhi wrote later, “that all these good things are due to my non-resistance. Had I agitated for being admitted to the caste, had I attempted to divide it into more camps, had I provoked the castemen, they would surely have retaliated, and instead of steering clear of the storm, I should, on arrival from England, have found myself in a whirlpool of agitation.” 

This pattern — the decision to accept what another man would challenge — occurred again and again in Gandhi’s life.  His friends and well-wishers would be upset saying that he was weak, that he should have stood up for his beliefs. But Gandhi felt that he had learned “to appreciate the beauty of compromise.” Gandhi’s passivity was not weakness at all. It meant focusing on an ultimate goal and refusing to divert energy to unnecessary skirmishes along the way. Restraint, Gandhi believed, was one of his greatest assets. But as Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in The Black Swan:

Alas, one cannot assert authority by accepting one's own fallibility. Simply, people need to be blinded by knowledge - we are made to follow leaders who can gather people together because the advantages of being in groups  trump the disadvantages of being alone.  

It has been more profitable for us to bind together in the wrong direction than to be alone in the right one.  Those who have followed the assertive idiot rather than the introspective wise person have passed us some of their genes.  This is apparent from a social pathology: psychopaths rally followers.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 7e

It is telling that, at his trial for the murder of Gandhi, Nathuram Godse complained bitterly about how the bania (merchant-class) Gandhi had shipwrecked Indian politics with his quaint and enfeebling idea of nonviolence. Gandhi understood well the homology between colonial dominance and masculinity, and he sought to bring to the body politic a conception of politics that valorized the feminine and the non-Brahminical. 

Nathuram Godse thus divined what many others did not, namely that Gandhi represented a threat to the idea of India as a masculine, modern nation-state, indeed to the very idea of “normal politics’. India had emerged as a new nation-state from two centuries of colonial rule, and India’s elites, among them some who were Gandhi’s associates, were keen that the country should take its place in the world as a strong nation-state resolutely committed to modernization, industrialization, and the kind of central planning that characterized the policies of the Soviet Union. 

Yet Gandhi had initiated a far-reaching critique of industrial civilization and the very precepts of modernity in his tract of 1909, Hind Swaraj. His critics worried that his pervasive influence would be detrimental to the development of India as an economic and political power. Gandhi was, though this could scarcely be admitted, a nuisance, even a hindrance; and when Godse pulled the trigger, there were certainly others who thought that the man had died not a moment too soon. 

India’s desire to be read as a nation on the make, a nation that wants to be taken seriously in contemporary world politics has roots in the inferiority complex brought about by colonialism which forever marked Indian civilization with a lack of manliness. Part of the ethos of manliness consists simply in gaining recognition, in being acknowledged. One long-lasting effect of colonialism has been that the Indian continues to look up to the white European male, who confers recognition upon inferiors, and who has established the standard that the Indian (like other formerly colonized people) must meet. 

The modernizing Indian middle-classes have been pressing for India’s admission into the Security Council, arguing that India’s might and importance as a nation ought to be recognized. It is the political and economic elite in India who keep saying that India stands third in the strength of its scientific manpower, that it is a member of the ‘Nuclear Club’, that its software engineers are feted in Silicon Valley, and that it is the only Third World nation to join a few of the post-industrial countries as an exporter of satellite and rocket technology. 

Ideas like ‘competitive spirit’ are used to develop pride in the nation, refurbish the ever fragile masculinity of man, and promote a cultural ethos that thrives on such notions as individualism and self-improvement. It is this ‘spirit’ of competition that causes heated discussions every four years about why India has less medals in the olympics than some country that nobody has heard of. 

The Indian political class has accepted the argument about Indian civilization’s effeminacy and the nuclear explosion was an assertion of its masculinity, and thus a second assassination of Gandhi. India is no longer a soft state, it will not present itself to the world with any ambiguity about its manliness. Thus the obsession with personal security of politicians — the Z security, the commandos — that actually terrorizes the ordinary citizen; this contrasts with the 'effeminate' Gandhi’s mingling freely with the crowds disdaining personal security. 

Gandhi was ‘a naked fakir’ not only for Churchill but also to many modern Indians who found his supposed glorification of poverty distasteful and thought that he would hold back India’s future generations. He is symbolically assassinated every year through the empty obeisance at his samadhi and converting him into a saint which is probably the most effective means of removing his influence on Indian politics. His ghost was finally exorcised with the nuclear explosions. Displaying astonishing chutzpah, the first explosion was carried out on Buddha Purnima and was codenamed 'Smiling Buddha'.

What is called “Hindutva” today represents Godse’s legacy, playing out his deep anxieties about the loss of Hindu potency. Gandhi was assassinated. Godse was hanged. But Gandhi vs Godse is a battle that goes on today.  We see, for instance, that the feminine (typically signifying vulnerability, passivity, emotion, and so on) is deployed against the  masculine (typically signifying impenetrability, control, rationality), and both become attributes of not just individuals, but of institutions, systems, communities, and even nations. 

The colonial denigration of the Krishna lore as vulgar made Hindu elites attempt to sanitize their religion. (One British Judge of the Bombay High court even pronounced Krishna 'guilty' of lewd sensuality.) For them a proper God should be like the Semitic Gods - perfect, all-knowing and awe-inspiring. How could a God sing, dance, play with women and steal butter? So the image of Krishna wielding a discus on the index finger of his right hand is promoted. But temples depict the cowherd Krishna rather than the bad omen of the more war-like Krishna of the Mahabharata and popular culture still celebrates the butter thief God.

A crucial characteristic of Hinduism for centuries has been that, unlike other religions, the Gods and Goddesses are neither remote nor frightening. They are not entities outside everyday life but constitute a significant part of it. They are not only part of one’s transcendental life but also of one’s most comic and naughty moments. You pray to them but you can also disown them or joke about them.  They not only maintain lofty principles but also show some of our failings. Ever since the promotion of a masculine culture by the colonial rulers, Hindu reformers have tried to make Hinduism more like the Semitic religions. Educated, city-dwellers are more likely to harbor such sentiments. 

Whenever we see images of violence we notice that typically, only males are present among the perpetrators. It is not that women never indulge in violence: they can be aggressive and brutal, particularly to other women. But the culture that encourages such violence takes pride in its aggressive masculinity and it plays a key role in its recurrence, justification, and glorification. Women are constantly exhorted to be more like men to climb the ladder of success. The most successful women role models have typically masculine hawkish personality traits ; eg. Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton. Thatcher was once described as ‘the only man in her cabinet’. 

Such a conception of manhood assumes that aggression is natural and desirable in men. A ‘real’ man is eager to pick up a fight, must be muscular and unemotional. Crying is construed as a sign of weakness as it is to show empathy and understanding, gentleness and compassion. Part of what it means to be tough is to suppress empathy towards others, to be embarrassed by fear or any other vulnerability. To be counted as ‘real’ men, they must be ambitious and ruthless in trying to attain their goals regardless of consequences to others. They should approach their activities with a zero-sum, 'I win-you lose' kind of mindset. ‘Real’ men are supposed to take independent decisions that brook no questioning. 

All these must be contrasted to features that are perceived to be inherent in women: being irrational, bereft of self-restraint, crying easily, emotional, empathetic but lacking judgment and impartiality. Women are physically and mentally weak, and therefore must be dependent on and protected by their male superiors. It follows that when men display such traits, they become weak, soft, wimpish. Acting like a woman is a betrayal of manhood. Cold-blooded violence shows the opposite: that manliness is fully alive and kicking! In the world of violent masculinities, Gandhian virtues of patience, empathy, understanding etc.  are seen as unmanly attributes fit only for women and the weak.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 7d

Godse thought he represented the Hindus. In his eyes, what he did was to avenge the humiliation of the Hindus. For Godse, Hindus were feminine, being constantly violated by outsiders. He saw Gandhi as the effeminate Father of the Nation who was unable to protect Mother India. Like Savarkar, Godse looked up to the European ideal of a centralized, uniform nation-state. Gandhi wanted decentered power and accommodation of differences. One of the main reasons that Godse gave for killing Gandhi was the latter’s refusal to conform to the principles of realpolitik. 

In his final speech, Godse said that Gandhian politics was dominated ‘by old superstitious beliefs such as the power of the soul, the inner voice, the fast, the prayer, and the purity of the mind.’ He also said, ‘Gandhiji's inner voice, his spiritual power and his doctrine of non-violence, of which so much is made of, all crumbled before Mr Jinnah's iron will and proved to be powerless.” Gandhi wanted to see his version of Hinduism as a generous ideal where there is no place for ill-will towards other communities. He interpreted the Bhagawad Gita in his own way, and saw it as an allegory for every person's constant fight against the evil inside him. 

Godse’s ideas were checkmated by Gandhi's popularity, and this frustration drove him to murder, for which he was convicted and hanged. If he had waited awhile, Godse would have probably seen Gandhi lose some of his popularity - as the near complete abandonment of Gandhi's ideals in modern India attests. In fact, all those who now use Gandhi as a stick to beat the Sangh parivar with have actually murdered him in spirit by their own venal corruption, hypocrisy and general abandonment of the idea of non-violence.

One of Godse’s main intensions in assassinating Gandhi was to remove his brakes on the Government of India so they could conduct statecraft on the basis of ruthless realpolitik. He was worried that Gandhians would prevail on the government to pardon him. He thought that the government’s mercilessness towards him was a good beginning for the kind of politics that he wanted to see from them. He thought that there was plenty of latent support in the country for his line of thinking and that posterity would vindicate him. 

The Government suppressed Godse’s speech fearing that it would evoke a lot of support for him, since it knew that there were a lot of people, especially in the educated middle class, who held views similar to those held by Godse. The latter thought that since state power was now in the hands of India, Gandhi was a back number who would be an obstacle for normal statecraft. Godse just reflected that unexpressed desire. 

When Godse made his final statement before the judge who heard his assassination case, the entire audience was with him emotionally. That is what GD Khosla, former Chief Justice of Punjab, who heard Godse’s appeal and sent him to the gallows, believed. In his book, The Murder of the Mahatma, Khosla notes that after Godse’s last statement to the court

“the audience was visibly and audibly moved. There was a deep silence when he ceased speaking. Many women were in tears and men were coughing and searching for their handkerchiefs. The silence was accentuated and made deeper by the sound of an occasional subdued sniff or a muffled cough. It seemed to me that I was taking part in some kind of melodrama or in a scene out of a Hollywood feature film. 

Once or twice I had interrupted Godse and pointed out the irrelevance of what he was saying, but my colleagues seemed inclined to hear him and the audience most certainly thought that Godse's performance was the only worthwhile part of the lengthy proceedings.”

In Khosla’s view, if the verdict had been left to the audience, Godse would have gone scot-free for his murder of Gandhi. “I have, however, no doubt that had the audience of that day been constituted into a jury and entrusted with the task of deciding Godse's appeal, they would have brought in a verdict of 'not guilty' by an overwhelming majority,” Khosla wrote.

There is a peculiar kind of heroism even in Godse. He knew he would be reviled and abused for what he did. To do something when you know you are only going to be hated for it also requires a weird kind of courage. It is easier to do something for which you will be applauded. Nehru had said that a madman had killed Gandhi. Godse was no madman. He saw more clearly than most people what he had done. In Ashis Nandy's essay, The Final Encounter: The politics of the Assassination of Gandhi (included in the essay collection Debating Gandhi), there is a quote by T. K. Mahadevan:

Godse was to Gandhi what Kamsa was to Krishna. Indivisible, even if incompatible. Arjuna never understood Krishna the way Kamsa did… Hate is infinitely more symbiotic than love. Love dulls one’s vision, hate sharpens it.

As a slight digression, there is  an interesting story (probably apocryphal) that Ashis Nandy tells about the depth of devotion to Ram of the politically vocal Rambhakths. During his only visit to an RSS shakha, Gandhi saw the portraits of some of the famous martial heroes of Hindutva like Shivaji and Rana Pratap on the walls. Being a devotee of Ram, Gandhi asked why no portrait of Ram had been put up as well. The  RSS leader who was accompanying him around said, ‘No, that we cannot do. Ram is too effeminate to serve our purpose.’

 


Friday, April 9, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 7c

It is significant that Gandhi’s thoughts on gender politics was opposite to that of reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who sought to empower women by bringing them closer in capacities and opportunities to men. Gandhi sought to render men closer to women by exhorting them to adopt feminine characteristics like empathy and non-violence. It served to present the masculinities of British imperialist rule as crude, rapaciously materialist, violent, hypocritical, and profoundly lacking in self-control and discipline, in contrast to the spiritually stronger, scrupulously nonviolent, disciplined Indian resistance that Gandhi sought to forge. 

Gandhi knew that he faced a struggle to pass off the idea of nonviolence as the central core of Hinduism. After all, he himself said that he had borrowed his idea of nonviolence from the Sermon on the Mount. Before Gandhi, nobody had tried to give centrality to non-violence as a major Hindu or Indian virtue. Swami Vivekananda had sarcastically said that the British had, following the 'real' injunctions of the classical Indian texts, excelled in their this-worldly, hedonic, manly pursuits, while the Indians, foolishly following the 'true' injunctions of Christianity, had become their passive, life-denying, feminine subjects. Vivekananda had once said that the salvation of the Hindus lay in three Bs: beef, biceps and Bhagvadgita. Ashis Nandy writes in The Intimate Enemy

The current belief is that the Hindus are a peace-loving and nonviolent people, and this belief has been fortified by Gandhism. In reality few communities have been more warlike and fond of bloodshed. . . . About twenty-five words in an inscription of Asoka have succeeded in almost wholly suppressing the thousands in the rest of the epigraphy and the whole of Sanskrit literature which bear testimony to the incorrigible militarism of the Hindus. 

Their political history is made up of bloodstained pages. . . . Between this unnecessary proclamation of non-violence in the third century B.C. and its reassertion, largely futile, in the twentieth century by Mahatma Gandhi, there is not one word of non-violence in the theory and practice of statecraft by the Hindus.

  Gandhi’s own active feminization of himself is epitomized in the image of him at the spinning wheel, where both posture and activity are distinctly feminine. He also actively courted an image of motherliness through his intense, even obsessive involvement in nursing. On several occasions, he observed and then maintained that women were moral beings of a higher order than men and were exceptionally well-suited to such labor-intensive, painstaking, and sacrificial tasks. In Bapu – My Mother, Manubehn Gandhi (who was  a grandniece who he had brought up) says that he had constituted himself her 'Mother' and took interest in the minutest details of her life, even whether she thoroughly washed her hair every week. 

Responding to colonial criticisms, Gandhi reworked Hindu ascetic practices.  He argued that the practice of world renunciation in classical sannyasa is an escape into self-centeredness; renunciation is futile unless it manifests itself in selfless service and social reform: "In this age, only political sannyasis can fulfil and adorn the ideal of sannyasa, others will more than likely disgrace the sannyasi's saffron garb ... one who aspires to a truly religious life cannot fail to undertake public service as his mission, and we are today so much caught up in the political machine that service of the people is impossible without taking part in politics". 

When young, Gandhi had accepted dominant colonial attribution of Hindu cowardice to a vegetarian diet. So he began to eat meat, which he understands as a nationalist "duty." But the experiment did not last long. He came across Henry Salt's Plea for Vegetarianism and this changes his understanding of vegetarianism. He now came to consider vegetarianism as a moral virtue and became a vegetarian by choice. He also changed his earlier belief that meat-eating increased masculine strength: eating a sparse meal devoid of meat was a requirement, if one wanted to reside in his ashrams as a disciple. 

The nonviolent refusal to cooperate with injustice required that "feeble physiques" reflecting modern forms of indulgence to be replaced with bodies "as strong as steel" . He conceived his ashrams as centers to produce disciplined minds and bodies that can endure the hardships of satyagraha. Gandhi argued that aggression was the path to mastery of those without self-control, nonviolent resistance the path of those with self-control. (He became puritanical in his restrictions but it must be remembered that it was in the context of resisting the dominant narrative of the superiority of masculinity.) 

Gandhi's model of masculinity found expression in his economic thought also. He said: "I must confess that I do not draw a sharp distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral, and therefore sinful. Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral. . . .” The Western world had been proud of science and technology and the industrial revolution. They used to criticize the Eastern world for its backwardness in this field. But Gandhi criticized the overdependence of men on machinery in the West. 

He believed that the people of the West had become slaves of machines and neglected use of their bodily strength. In Gandhi's model of masculinity, importance was given to manual labour and minimum use of machinery. He believed that it was manly to be self-reliant and independent. He thought that the modern methods of production and distribution had made people indulgent and deteriorated the moral qualities of the people. 

Gandhi, through his actions, suggested that resistance could be other than in the mode of masculinity and violence. His encouragement of women's participation in the political realm and attempts to feminize the anti-colonial struggle offered a resounding challenge to British colonial ideologies and institutional practices. He offered nonviolent resistance or satyagraha and reworked "feminine" practices, such as spinning, weaving, suffering hunger, and enduring assaults on the body, as the primary mode of political resistance. 

Gandhi wished to develop an Indian kind of nationalism which would be far more accommodative and more rooted in Indian traditions and cultures rather than being influenced by the West. He hoped that by inculcating feminine virtues in his followers he would develop a nationalism that would avoid the dangers of an aggressive tilt in nationalism  which removed from it of all its humanity and tolerant character, thereby generating jingoism. More than any other nationalist movement, the one Gandhi forged was largely devoid of hatred. 

What particularly incensed the Hindu right about Gandhi’s politics was what they perceived as his emasculation and even explicit feminization of “the Hindu community,” in relation to “the Muslim community,” which they saw as a betrayal of Hindus in general. They saw (and continue to see) politics like the colonial rulers did – as a rational, zero-sum game in which the losses on the opponent must be continually maximized. Nathuram Godse wanted Hinduism to attain the masculinity that the colonial rule represented. Gandhi wanted the opposite.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 7b

The culture under colonialism symbolized the dominance of men and masculinity over women and femininity. The colonial rulers identified masculinity with rulership and identified femininity with submissiveness. Femininity-in-masculinity was now perceived as the least desirable, a pathology more dangerous than femininity itself. Many pre-Gandhian protest movements reflected this cultural change. The dominant culture of the colony had become the ultimate definition of manliness: aggression, achievement, control, competition and power.

In The  Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism, Ashis  Nandy says that probably the person who most dramatically sought to redefine popular mythology to fit the changing values under colonialism was Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73) whose Bengali epic Meghnadvadh Kavya was hailed, in his lifetime, as one of the greatest literary efforts of all time in Bengali. Meghnadvadh retells the Ramayana, turning the traditionally sacred figures of Rama and Lakshmana into weak-kneed, feminine villains and the demons Ravana and his son Meghnad into majestic, masculine, modern heroes. 

For Dutt, Meghnadvadh was a tragedy in which evil, represented by Rama finally triumphs. The culture of colonialism had influenced him so much that he endorsed the demonic masculinity embodied by the rakshasas. Nandy writes, ‘Indian culture rejected most forms of  competitive individual achievement, frequently underplayed sex-role differences, gave low status to high technology, granted equal status to myth and history, and rejected hedonism, including possessive individualism and consumerism. Madhusudan now freed Ravana from these traditional constraints to give him a new stature as a scientific, learned, modern Ksatriya king, fighting the non-secular politics and anti-technologism of a banished pastoral prince.’

By writing Meghnadvadh as a tragedy, Madhusudan Dutt was agreeing wholeheartedly with the hypermasculine self represented by Ravana that had previously been looked down upon in Indian culture. The image of a just king that Rama projected and had been worshipped for generations was now represented as a non-masculine, immature, effete godhead not worth emulating. It held that the softer side of human nature was irrelevant to the public sphere. It openly sanctified new forms of institutionalized violence. Ashis  Nandy writes in The  Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism

It interprets the encounter between Rama and Ravana as a political battle, with morality on the side of the demons. The epic ends with the venal gods defeating and killing the courageous, proud, achievement-oriented, competitive, efficient, technologically superior, 'sporting' demons symbolized by Meghnad. Simultaneously, Madhusudan's criterion for reversing the roles of Rama and Ravana, as expressed in their characters, was a direct response to the colonial situation. 

He admired Ravana for his masculine vigour, accomplished warriorhood, and his sense of realpolitik and history; he accepted Ravana's 'adult' and 'normal' commitments to secular, possessive this-worldliness and his consumer's lust for life. On the other hand, he despised 'Rama and his rabble' — the expression was his — because they were effeminate, ineffective pseudo-ascetics, who were austere not by choice but because they were weak.

The opposite side of this psychological tussle is the colonial power’s search for the ‘worthy’ opponent among the oppressed. Thus they came up with the concept of ‘martial races’. According to the concept, certain ethnic, religious, caste or social groups were regarded as possessing a more masculine character, as being loyal and therefore especially suited for military service. Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims, Hindu Jats, Dogras, Gurkhas, Garhwals, Pathans and Afridis were among the groups regarded as “martial”.  

Gandhi was fully aware of this psychological tussle between Indians and the British and his response was anything but a passive acceptance of the status quo. He formulated his own unique model of masculinity which found expression in his political, social and economic thought. Gandhi knew that it was difficult to compete British imperialist masculinity with physical power; so he gave emphasis on moral superiority. By presenting this new model of masculinity, Gandhi wanted to remove the inferiority complex from the minds of Indian men. 

He seemed to act with the belief that people fighting an oppressive system may internalize the norms of that system because they start believing that the opponent is not just economically but also culturally superior. He refused to grant cultural superiority to the British and resolutely defied the temptation to regain self-esteem by equaling the oppressor in violence. He refused to accept that it was the Indians who were inferior and had to copy the Europeans in order to become more advanced. In Gandhi in the 21st Century, Prof. Bhikhu Parekh describes the problem faced by the colonialists that Gandhi sensed:

Colonialism did promote their material interests, but only at the expense of their larger and infinitely more important moral and spiritual interests. For Gandhi material interests had only an instrumental significance, and were positively harmful when they hampered moral and spiritual development.

Gandhi challenged first the colonial culture's ordering of sexual identities which considered manliness as superior to womanliness, and womanliness as superior to femininity in man. The initial Indian response to this was to accept the ordering, look back at their tradition and decide that Ksatriyahood was true Indianness. Gandhi's solution was different. His post-1916 reformulation of courage as equally a feminine attribute with unique connotations of its own, led him to recommend the incorporation of femininity into the masculine. Ashis Nandy writes that he used two orderings, each of which could be invoked according to the needs of the situation:

  • The first ordering was that manliness and womanliness are equal, but the ability for a man to show feminine characteristics is superior to both i.e. the best  situation is when a man possesses the gentler side of human nature like love, kindness, forgiveness, empathy, etc. 
  • The second ordering was that  the essence of femininity is superior to that of masculinity, which in turn is better than cowardice. Cowardice, for him, was worse than the violence signified by masculinity.  A man cannot practice ahimsa and at the same time be a coward. Gandhi feels that possession of arms is due to lack of courage. In the face of violence and injustice, Gandhi considers violent resistance preferable to cowardly submission. There is hope that a violent man may someday be nonviolent, but there is no room for a coward to develop nonviolence.