Current Events · Mother India · Personal reflections

Enough with the Collective Shaming

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A new post in the series: Current Events

Disclaimer:

In the heat of ideological posturing often we are quick to see a view opposite to ours as something that it is not. Hence the need for this disclaimer.
This is not, I repeat, NOT a defense of a much-reported and much-analysed barbaric and horrendous hate crime recently committed by a violent mob in an Indian city. Though the exact details of the crime are still coming out, it must be emphasised that no one in his/her right mind would or could morally or socially defend such a ghastly act. This post is merely an attempt to bring out something that often goes unmentioned in the frenzy of sentimentalism and sensationalism constantly thrown at us via the loud-mouth mass media.
Since it is easy to get sucked in by these loud noises and even join the chorus, we often forget to see that there may be an opportunity to learn something here. For example, why do these horrific hate crimes happen in the first place? This post is an attempt to point out one possible way to start a process of learning if we can silence some of the noises.

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“Indians are such racists, Indians should be ashamed.”
“Indians are such casteists, Indians should be ashamed.”
“Indians are such bigots, Indians should be ashamed.”

Sounds familiar? Such extreme expressions of self-flagellation and self-righteous wrath and disgust by some well-meaning Indians are commonly witnessed whenever a horrendous crime is committed against a foreigner in any part of India.

And quite naturally any such “Indians are racists” line of generalisation must go to the next ‘logical’ step of further collective self-indignation by adding the customary line -“and what about the horrific caste system.” (Never mind that only some caste-related crimes bring about such rounds of self-flagellation and collective shaming, only those that can be effectively milked for political or sensationalist purposes. Many others can simply be ignored by the same group of self-righteous politicians, armchair activists and celebrity panelists.)

Have you ever wondered why are some Indians so quick at making such extreme statements about ALL Indians? A person living in a small remote village in India’s hinterland may not be even aware of what hate crime was committed in another far corner of the country, but somehow our “social experts” colour him also with the same brush of being racist and casteist! Does it even make sense?  

Have you ever wondered what is actually being said here when such generalised statements are being made about ALL Indians? Imagine yourself as saying this. 

If you are saying it without thinking and just in a random mood of self-disgust, then there is hardly any point in saying it other than giving an outer expression to your momentary mood. But if you are saying it to mean something, then you must think what is being said and why. 

So think carefully. But first keep aside all your mental and moralistic notions of good, virtue, pity, sympathy etc. Let it be a completely logical exercise for a few minutes.

Are YOU, personally, ashamed of being a racist, a casteist or a bigot? If so, then it is likely that you might have done something or said something or thought something that you consider as racist, casteist or bigoted. Otherwise why would you be ashamed? Only you will know the answer to that, since you are bringing up this whole shame business.

Or are you simply saying that THOSE ‘other’ Indians are racist, casteist or bigoted but YOU are not one of THEM? Then why are you ashamed? Why should you share the burden of shame?

But think again. If you are not one of THEM, then you are already assuming a morally superior, self-righteous position from where you can point a judgmental finger at THOSE racist, casteist, bigoted Indians while at the same time aligning yourself with those ‘liberal, progressive, anti-racist, egalitarian, modern, all-good-things’ Indians who are several notches above the average roadside desi. I don’t know about you, but to me this does sound quite prejudiced and bigoted. Am I wrong?

Or perhaps you mean to imply that “Indians in general,” Indians as a people, are racist, casteist and bigots. And that we, again as Indians in general, should be ashamed of this negative trait we have in us, as a people, as a society.

Maybe what you mean is that YOU are ashamed because you too share the same Indian identity with “Indians in general” who have this negative trait. Is that so?

But then sharing a national or cultural identity doesn’t mean that we all, by default, carry the same prejudices or same biases. Prejudices are learned, biases are acquired. What made you acquire a certain bias? Learn a certain prejudice?

Or better yet, what made YOU give up a certain bias or a certain prejudice, especially if you are not the average roadside desi who is racist, casteist and bigot? Won’t that line of inquiry serve greater purpose rather than this self-righteous wrath and collective self-indignation? Have you wondered that your self-indignant posturing may actually end up becoming a sick justification for such criminal behaviour because it is somehow part of a ‘national shame’ anyway? 

Or perhaps what is being said is that WE, as a people, as a nation, must somehow share the burden of those few Indians who carry out the most barbaric or horrendous crimes against people who are different from them. By that token, ALL Syrian refugees all over Europe must be held responsible and must be shamed for the horrible crime committed by one gang of criminal refugees in Cologne, Germany on the New Year’s Eve. Will that be a fair comparison?

Extending this argument further, all white* Americans should be ashamed of the centuries of genocide, slavery, brutality and racial oppression done toward generations of Native Americans and people of African ancestry. Forget history. Come to the present. All white Americans should be ashamed of every incident of racial discrimination that happens in the present-day US. Every American should be ashamed of every act of gun-violence that happens anywhere in America. 

Similarly, all present-day Europeans should be ashamed of the unimaginable horrors their ancestors unleashed in many parts of Asia and Africa in the name of imperialism. Again, forget history. Come to the present. Should German people today, as a collective, be ashamed of the rise of the blatantly racist neo-Nazi groups there?

Taken to an extreme, this could even mean that all men, ALL, should be ashamed because of the horrific actions of men who have raped, abused, molested any woman anywhere!

Sounds strange, doesn’t it? It is meant to.

Logic is the worst enemy of Truth, as self-righteousness is the worst enemy of virtue; for the one cannot see its own errors nor the other its own imperfections.

(Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 12, p. 428)

The truth is that shame should not be a collective burden. It is not a healthy emotion for a collective to have. Healthy self-assessment, on individual and collective level, is good and helpful for our progress. But it shouldn’t become this illogical self-hating tendency which is quick to tarnish and shame a whole people.

Discrimination against the ‘other,’ distrust of the ‘different’ are universal human failings. In some cases, these failings reach extreme levels and lead to criminal behaviour. Add to that a mob-mentality and inactive or ineffective law-enforcement system, you have the making of a horrendous crime such as the recent incident in an Indian city.

Sri Aurobindo: “But this sort of dislike exists among other nations also e.g. the English do not like the Scots, because the Scottish have beaten the English in commercial affairs. There was a famous story in the Punch: two people asking themselves. “Bill, who is that man?”, and Bill answered, “Let us strike at him, he is a stranger.” And then in Bengal the West Bengal people used to call East Bengal people “Bangale” and composed a satire “Bangale Manush nohe oe ekta jantu” At one time I used to wear socks at all times of the year. West Bengalis used to sneer at that saying, “I am a Bangale”; they thought that they were the most civilized people on earth. It is a legacy from the animal world. Just as dogs of one street do not like dogs of another.

Disciple: But things will improve, I hope?

Sri Aurobindo: If this goes, you may be sure that the Golden Age is coming!

(Evening talks with Sri Aurobindo, recorded by A. B. Purani, 27.12.1938, emphasis added)

Perpetrators of hate-crimes must be given appropriate punishment. As conscientious citizens we must strongly condemn such action, openly and frankly. If we are a witness to such an action, we must do what is in our power to prevent that from happening. We must demand speedy justice. We must criticise the law-enforcement personnel for failing to do their job. We must criticise the justice system for failing to do justice. We must criticise the political establishment if they use any such incident for selfish political agenda. 

But as much as we condemn a horrendous crime, we need not participate in a meaningless act of collective self-flagellation that doesn’t help us figure out why such hate crimes happen. We need not participate in this self-righteous, morally superior display of collective shame. Why? Because such behaviour actually hinders the possibility of making any real progress, it only makes us artificially satisfied in our self-righteous wrath and disgust. 

It must be re-emphasised that not participating in this display of collective shame does not amount, by any logical stretch, to any defense or denial or justification or a tacit approval of a horrendous hate crime. It is, in fact, a strong reiteration of the truth that a crime is a crime and it must be dealt with under appropriate laws of the society. It should not become yet another opportunity to put a whole culture or nation or people to shame.

But we should not stop at condemning and criticising. As concerned Indian citizens, we should try to understand a few basic things about this serious disease of identity politics –

  • Why are we seeing more of mob-led crimes against people who are marginalised because of their national or ethnic origin, gender, differently-abled status or any other identity?
  • Why do these racially or ethnically motivated crimes happen more frequently in fast-growing urban areas which attract people from many different backgrounds?
  • Why are our law-enforcement system and justice system so incapable of preventing and prosecuting such hate crimes?

But a more fundamental question will still remain – What is the origin of socio-cultural prejudices against people who are different from us? For this, we will need serious study into socio-historical questions such as –

  • What does ‘race’ really mean? What does it have to do with India? Historically and in present?
  • What does ‘caste’ really mean? What does it have to do with India? Historically and in present?
  • What is the connection (if there is one) between the constructs of ‘race’ and ‘caste’?
  • What is the connection (if there is one) between the constructs of ‘caste’, ‘jati’, and ‘varna’?
  • How do caste, jati, and varna play out in the Indian social-political context? Historically and in present?

If we are interested in understanding the psychological root of prejudiced or racist behaviour, we may also ask an even more difficult question –

  • In what part of human nature does the seed of such prejudice exist? And is it possible to purify that part?

And finally, if we are interested in a serious self-study, we should also ask –

  • Am I capable of purifying that part in myself? How do I begin that process?

If we aren’t committed to such a serious study – of the play of various forces in the society around us and within us, maybe we shouldn’t be speaking of ‘shame’ at all. Because, very frankly, there is no bigger shame than that of wanting to remain ignorant.

 

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(*Ignoring the questionable use of this term for the moment).

For more posts inspired by Current Events, click HERE.


Linking with Blog-A-Rhythm, Wordy Wednesday 1, Feb 2016, E: E for Enough

Linking with ABC Wednesday, E: E for Enough.


This post was picked by Blogadda as their Tangy Tuesday pick for Feb 9, 2016 edition.

tangytuesday

 

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33 thoughts on “Enough with the Collective Shaming

  1. Like you said, I don’t believe anyone in the right frame of mind would indulge in such barbaric behaviour. Also, it is not Indians, Pakistanis or Americans or others. It’s people with vested motives who brainwash and train the minds that finally execute these crimes. We only get to see such news flashed all over the media irresponsibly which ensures this collective hatred. It is not that such incidents are not happening in other parts of the world. It’s just that their law and order prosecutions are faster and stringent. This is exactly why I have reduced my television time and am now listening more of radio where they do highlight the extraordinary people who go out of their way to bring positivity. Just the other day I learnt about a man who started an organisation that pays for the cremation of bodies whose families cannot afford it. They do it according to the rituals of the religion the person belongs to. It touched me. Such a noble cause. Who amongst us has the time or willingness to think like this for the dead? Those are the stories that need to be highlighted.

    1. I agree completely. The media generally carries such horrific and negative news because it can be easily sensationalised. I don’t watch TV news either, in fact haven’t watched it for years now. Don’t even have a cable connection at home for years. Rely on a variety of online sources, magazines etc for news. And that’s enough to know what’s happening. Stories like this Bengaluru incident are twisted and turned in so many ways that it is hard to figure out what might have really happened.
      And your other point about the problem with our law and order system is also right on the mark. I sometimes think that so many of our social problems can be addressed much more simply and effectively if our law-enforcement and justice systems are completely overhauled to make them more accountable to public. At present they are designed to ‘control’ and ‘regulate’ the public behaviour – a straight carry-on from the colonial days when British police and legal system were meant to keep the ‘natives’ under check. But I am not waiting for that to happen in the next several decades. Too big a problem for any leader to undertake, even with full majority in both parliament houses! Too many interest-groups and stakeholders in the way to rethink any of this.
      It would be nice if our media can start focusing on more positive news stories, to create a more positive and socially healthy environment.

  2. I began reading your post a little doubtfully because I did feel ashamed that my countrymen were capable of such barbarism. I see your point though when you say “such behaviour actually hinders the possibility of making any real progress, it only makes us artificially satisfied in our self-righteous wrath and disgust.” We feel we’ve done our bit by talking about it and shaking our heads and saying ‘How bad is that’. This is where action should begin rather than end.

    1. Hi Tulika, I am happy you read through the whole post despite your initial doubt and hesitation 🙂 Thank you! This means a lot to me, as a writer on social issues.
      I think this whole collective shaming business is also very targeted. As I mentioned to my response on another comment on this thread, the moment I say – ‘all muslims are terrorists’, many of the same people who don’t think twice about saying ‘all Indians are racists’ will object seriously to the former statement. And they should. Because no generalisation of a whole people can ever be fair and honest.
      What bothers me the most is why are we Indians, or some of us at least, so quick to take up this burden of collective self-shame. This tendency of self-flagellation at the drop of a hat has deep psychological roots in our collective inferiority complex, a colonised mindset. We have been, for centuries, made to feel less, feel ashamed of who are, of our civilisation. And the impact of this brainwashing will take centuries to go. I wish more of us begin to delve into this phenomenon – at least in our own little individual capacity – and learn how to get away from this complex. I want to stay hopeful it will happen. India and Indians are waking up, but sleeping elephants take their own time to be fully awake 🙂

      Thanks again for reading and for sharing your honest perspective.

  3. I have always been against blaming the whole for the misdemeanors of the one. If you begin to subscribe to that mind-set, you’re going to be up the creek without a paddle. Because then:

    …. I’ll have to call all men rapists
    …. I’ll have to call all women manipulative, lazy and catty.
    …. I’ll have to label all kids cruel and mean
    …. and all seniors senile
    … or…

    And that wouldn’t be fair at all. Most unfair, in fact.
    But yes, unfortunately, a majority of us do have an unreasonable awe for the fair skin and a fastidious abhorrence for the dark skin. That’s a fact. We can’t bear our own dark skins (hence no bananas with ‘fairness treatments’… leave alone that of others.

    Loved this.

    1. Someday I may also write something specific about this fair skin fascination! Maybe even linking it with another super-fabrication of our cultural history – the infamous Aryan-Dravidian divide. Or maybe I will just keep it limited to my gripe with film actors who endorse such fairness products! Let’s see.

  4. It’s unfortunate that the mass is tagged by the actions of minorities. Agree that the justice system needs to act more speedily and the education system needs to include some dharmic principles. Like Rekha I have stopped watching the TV news and stopped reading the newspaper. Until the shift comes where media highlight the positive that will remain. Collective consciousness is powerful and right now the balance is tipping towards the negative. A very thought provoking post. Love the quotes by Sri Aurobindo. Thanks for sharing these. I learn so much about him from your posts.

    1. Thanks Suzy for your thoughtful comment. Glad you enjoy the quotes I share from Sri Aurobindo in most of my posts. This is my humble way to discover, first for my own understanding the ‘eternal and living nature’ of the truth in his words. I am happy that it can also speak to some of my readers 🙂

      About the media – you are absolutely right. The sad truth is that it will be a long time before the media changes its agendas and begin highlighting the good and the positive. But in the meanwhile we as concerned citizens can start our own ‘un-learning’ and ‘re-learning’ process, can’t we? I think that is the need of the hour. We can’t blindly trust all that the media is throwing at us, so much of it is mere propaganda.

      I am happy to see you bring up the point of including dharmic principles in our education. It is so essential today, not only for India but for the whole world. But again, it could be a long time before any such thing happens! The key first step is that first our policymakers, so-called intellectuals and those in charge of such discussions should first learn what is dharma in its essence.

      Thanks again!

  5. Logic is the worst enemy of Truth – this best suits me today. I was so logical to miss the truth. But can not help it. For me only LOVE can erase all differences like caste, race or religion.

    1. Thanks Vasantha. Glad to know that this aphorism from Sri Aurobindo spoke to you today. And you are right, in the final analysis it is Love that can erase all differences. But unfortunately because of our ever-present ego and its incessant demands, love gets covered up under so much other stuff and it begins to lose its shine, its light. It happens to the love between two individuals, two nations, everywhere! We have to do serious tapasya to rediscover, in ourselves to begin with, the real love within.

  6. Very hard hitting and so well written. It made me realise the number of times I have indulged in this kind of ‘collective shaming’ and how pompous I must have sounded! The purpose of good writing is to make the reader look inward to find the flaws and rectify them. To that effect, this post including the quotes, Rajiv Malhotra’s talk at JNU, all helped. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much, Zephyr. I am so glad to hear that this post has the potential to make the reader look inward. That’s what I was hoping 🙂 So I really, really value this feedback from an accomplished writer like yourself. Thank you! Trust me, it was not an easy thing for me to write. I wanted to say sincerely and unhesitatingly what I felt/thought and yet didn’t want my words to alienate anyone or make anyone feel belittled in any way. Because that would have been against the very spirit of the point I wanted to make, no?

      Happy that you also spent time listening to Rajiv Malhotra’s talk. Most of his videos are so long, so I was happy to find this short one in which he makes an important point. I just started reading his Breaking India book. I had read some of his other articles and listened to some of his talks earlier which dealt with some of the points he makes in the book. An important book for our times, I believe.

  7. THe first thing that was trained and instilled into us in our 28 weeks training was NOT to let anything interfere in OUR own analysis.. and definitely dont assume..

    if we start to look at who did what and when then it is nothing more than mudslinging a few spoil it for everyone, this theory is with everything ..

    Media is very biased the people they once targetted have suddenly become hero’s and for money it seems they will do anything too.. it is hard to find some that will stick to their ways .. the way change everyday.

    Race cast etc etc are a big evil.. it is so Sad that even a Religion like Sikhism which is one of the youngest religions only 350 years old is falling into the trap I mean Guru Nanak started the way with ONE GOD, and making everyone sit on floor irrespective of cast creed religion, to eat food.. but look at it now we the sikhs have put so many divides ourself.

  8. Bikram, I think your point about Sikhism is a very valid one. Perhaps it is because of our imperfect human nature that every good ideal almost always falls short of actual application in the real, physical world. We tend to distort or corrupt every truth. Every teaching of the Higher Truth has been twisted and corrupted so much in the hands and minds of human beings that the original masters who ‘saw’ and ‘realised’ those Truths will hardly recognise what humanity has done to their teachings. This has happened in the past, everywhere, this will continue for times to come. Any permanent solution? May be none other than to constantly work at our own limitations, our own failings, our own flaws, prejudices, shortcomings.

    Thank you for reading this and for adding your perspective.

  9. Of late, some social media experts are often very quick to draw a conclusion to any event happening anywhere. The trend of generalizing a race, a tribe or even the whole nation is the collective outcome, often accompanied with a vitriolic ire. They fail to understand, that, the mass can’t be tagged as a whole for any incident. It’s like saying, “all Muslims are terrorists!”
    Collective shaming is not the solution, it only gives rise to more intolerance, hatred and confusion.

    Very powerful post, Beloo, and so much truth in it. Loved the quotes from Sri Aurobindo… 🙂

    1. Yes, this “all Muslims are terrorists” thing is important. I have a feeling that the same people who are so quick to tarnish whole of India, all Indians with this or that label will be the first to speak up against this “all Muslims are terrorists” statement! Why? Because I think most of them are not even aware of their double standards, their biases. Or are not interested in questioning their own prejudices.
      You are absolutely right, such collective shaming only leads to more intolerance and hatred. I wish more people would see this important fact.

      Maniparna, I am happy you found the post powerful! And that the quotes from Sri Aurobindo also spoke to you, in fact it is his words which give me the courage to speak my mind. Thanks for your encouraging comment. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

      1. Absolutely agree with the point “that the same people who are so quick to tarnish whole of India, all Indians with this or that label will be the first to speak up against this “all Muslims are terrorists” statement!:”- I have first hand experience with this!

    1. Thanks Inderpreet. I am happy you think the post has the potential to make readers introspect. And you are right, we all can so easily fall prey to such tendency to generalise and label those ‘others’, those who think differently from us, those who are different from us in any way. But thankfully we also have the ability to look within and change our mental tendencies, bit by bit. Isn’t it so? 🙂 Thanks for reading and for appreciating/sharing.

  10. how well written this post is!!

    Although i think its human behaviour to judge the other person… i myself try to never judge another person nor his actions… i may not agree ofcourse but i always try to leave the responsibility for something with the person who acts. There are lots and lots of things we can be ashamed about, but things in the past can’t be changed the only thing we can do is try to learn from it to prevent it from happening again…

    Its hard sometimes, very hard even, but… beeing aware of ones own actions and responsibilities can make a difference.

    have a nice abc-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)

    1. I am happy you enjoyed this post. I agree, that’s really the key – to be aware of our own biases, actions and responsibilities! Thank you for reading and for bringing up this important point.

  11. Excellent analysis and some wonderful comments. You have made a very insightful analysis.

    I would like to add a few more dimensions which are peculiar to India and the Indic way of life and which is some way may (or may not) complement your theme.
    – Indian’s are mentally still colonized – hence we still continue to feel that Hinduism is inherently bad and evil, and everything in Hinduism is a myth (Ramayana, Mahabharata etc) without having critically examined them
    – We do not have a “Grand Narrative” like almost ALL other nations – one starting from Indus-Saraswati civilization, encompassing Ramayana, Mahabharata, Chandraupta Maurya, Guptas, Palas, Vijayanagar down to present day. FYI, Vijaynagar kingdom which existed for 300 years was significantly larger than Akbar’s domain.
    – We do not have a “National Identity” – almost every nation has one, those which don’t collapse sooner than later For example, America is a “white Protestant Christian nation with liberal values”, China is built on “Confucius belief and religion”. India, being the only Hindu majority nation, cannot call itself a “5000 year old Hindu civilization”
    – The history that we are taught in school is the “losers history” – it is the history of Mughals, history of British and history of Nehru, with every Hindu achievement either summarized in one paragraph or completely dismissed as myth. That’s why young children lose interest in history, because we intuitively know it is all wrong.
    – International bodies like Ford Foundation, Greenpeace, evangelical Baptist Groups, the likes of Joshua Project, and even CIA are pumping huge amounts of money into India to create conflicting discourses/ narratives and split India. This is in fact very well documented with well established monetary trails.
    – A media which is FIRMLY controlled by Left/ Marxists who orchestrate a decidedly anti-India and anti-Hindu narrative with financial/ ideological backing of groups mentioned above. This is also very well documented but not publicized.

    All these factors create an environment which is very amenable to peddling “atrocity literature” and collective shaming.

    1. Thank you Subhodeep for bringing up these excellent points. All of them definitely add great value to the analysis I was trying to make in this post. In fact, all that you have said is in a way, the real basis for why we are seeing so much of the nonsense that we see around us. And not only that, these larger factors – the ones you speak of – have had such disastrous impact on so much of our thinking about ourselves, our country – past and present.
      And the saddest part is that we aren’t even aware of how deeply this kind of stuff has impacted our lives and our minds. It is so easy for some people to keep denying all these factors, because it is very difficult to accept that we are indeed still mental slaves!
      I am so glad you brought out all this, thank you so much! It is always a pleasure to have you on this space.
      Thanks once again!

    1. Thanks Roger for adding this important point. In India, unfortunately, we have a double problem – both of corporate control as well as big-time ideological prejudice in most of our mainstream English language media. Not to mention the still prevalent and very strong colonial bias of the huge sections of English language media as well as intelligentsia that is always looking to the West for validation. This generally removes from the local/national context – intellectually, emotionally, psychologically. Regional language media is often better because they are more in touch with the local context. (Just FYI, some of the positions of the Indian Left will hardly qualify as “liberal” by anyone in the West, that’s how bad things can be here with some sections of our media!)

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