HUM HINDUSTANI: The class of 2011 —J Sri Raman

9 Sep

In one of the numerous television discussions over the ‘anti-corruption crusade’ of Anna Hazare (discussed in this column before), a participant close to the parivar (the far-right ‘family’) took exception to descriptions of Anna’s devout flock as the “middle class”. He wondered why this should be ‘pejorative’. Here is why.

What Anna’s critics meant, actually, was the new middle class. This constituency, a creation of recent years that have produced so much rhetoric about India as an “emergent superpower”, is not exactly a plausible preacher against ‘corruption’.

This is not only because of the pervasive presence in all sectors of employment, public and private. While the meanest of them man the counters where the commoners come face to face with corruption, many of them rise to occupy rent-bearing office, the strategic positions entitling them to extra-legal perks. It is more because the class gives corruption a social sanction, and makes it part of a way of life.

I know that Anna has not talked about it (and indeed unlikely to do so), but take dowry for example. This is a case of corruption that is conspicuously absent from the many forms of graft that the current ‘movement’ is resolved to combat. Clearly, too, it is a case of pecuniary give-and-take, prohibited by law but very seldom in practice. “Dowry crimes” are a dime a dozen in this deceptively respectable class, at least in parts of the country. Failure of the girl’s family to keep its end of the pre-wedding bargain leads, very often, to what is elegantly euphemised as “bride-burning”.

No one has yet done a survey of areas where Anna has received the utmost response. If it is done, it may reveal these are the same areas where the maximum “dowry deaths” have been reported!

The class that combines its demand for probity in public life with a defence of dowry and similar other practices has no compunction about material or monetary inducements for ‘divine’ favours. Rate lists are displayed at prominent places of worship for boons and benefits ranging from a green card to other goodies of a globalised world. Revelations were made recently about gold and other wealth amassed by a ‘god-man’, but this did not cause a fraction of the outcry that followed Anna’s fasts.

This class could not care less, either, about the kind of corruption involved in village schools, where Dalit (Untouchable) students are made to sit outside the classroom in order not to pollute their peers inside. Does this not amount to a squandering of the taxpayers’ money allocated for rural education and implementation of the recently passed Right to Education Act? The question, probably, never occurred to the adoring acolytes of Anna.

Behind the contempt for parliament, exhibited by Team Anna, lies a thinly disguised casteism and elitism. An eloquent illustration of this came during a rally in support of Anna from noted film actor Om Puri, who described parliamentarians as “anparrh ganwaar” (illiterate rustics). Ask an average member of the class whom the actor might have had in mind. The answer is all too likely to name some backward-caste leaders from the Hindi heartland (with Lalu Prasad, perhaps, leading the list!).

A participant in a TV debate argued that GenNext of the class was taking no moral stand on corruption. These bright, young sparks saw graft only as “an impediment to economic growth”. This indeed is why they could not see a couple of things so conspicuous to the rest of India.

They could not see the point of the people who saw corruption as an impediment to economic survival, to opportunities to education and employment. Secondly, they could not see corporate corruption as something that needed to be curbed by the legislation that they so loudly demanded. They could not see that the corruption in the corridors of power (condemnable as it was) paled into insignificance when compared with that of the corporates that the politicians served like puppets.

A class that holds so dear the cause of social, gender and economic inequalities and injustices cannot credibly campaign against ‘corruption’ and for ‘democracy’.

The writer is a journalist based in Chennai, India. A peace activist, he is also the author of a sheaf of poems titled At Gunpoint


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