Playing with repression

The rule of law is fundamental to our way of life.  It underlies our views on the constitution, governance, and the rights we have as members of our community.  And fundamental to the rule of law is equality before the law – the equal subjection of all people to the ordinary rules of the land.  No person is above or below the law.

People who accept a principle that people should treated differently – either politically, or as part of a religious creed, or both – because of either their descent or position in the community are acting against at least the spirit of that aspect of the rule of law.

And if you regard adherence to the rule of law as essential to the claim of a community to be civilised, such a belief puts the people who hold it at risk of being seen not to be civilised. 

There is nothing novel in that.  From the moment that the German people adopted by plebiscite the position of Hitler and the Nazi party on Jews, it ceased to be civilised.

What happens when people of faith say that their faith requires them to treat some people better and some worse merely according to the dictates of their faith?

In Ancient Law, Sir Henry Maine said:

Now a barbarous society practising a body of custom, is exposed to some especial dangers which may be absolutely fatal to its progress in civilisation.  The usages which a particular community is found to have adopted in its infancy and in its primitive seats are generally those which are on the whole best suited to promote its physical and moral well-being….  But unhappily there is a law of development which ever threatens to operate upon unwritten usage…A process then commences which may be shortly described by saying that usage which is reasonable generates usage which is unreasonable….  Prohibitions and ordinances, originally confined, for good reasons, to a single description of acts, are made to apply to all acts of the same class, because a man menaced with the anger of the gods for doing one thing, feels a natural terror in doing any other thing which is remotely like it. …So, again, a wise provision for insuring general cleanliness dictates in time long routines of ceremonial ablution; and that division into classes which at a particular crisis of social history is necessary for the maintenance of the national existence degenerates into the most disastrous and blighting of all human institutions – Caste.  

…  Even now, Hindu jurisprudence has a substratum of forethought and sound judgment, but irrational imitation has engrafted in it an immense apparatus of cruel absurdities.  

What is caste?

In Europe in the Middle Ages, they were wont to say that people fell into three categories – those who fought, those who prayed, and those who worked.  (And there were no prizes for guessing who were the suckers.) 

In India, they identified four varnas or kinds of callings, or orders – Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), Vaishyas (trade and money), and Shudras (servile labour).

Additionally, people were divided at birth, jati.  [G1] Some basic ideas for both jati and varna were shared by at least some people before the colonial period.  The premise was then, and still is, that people who called themselves Hindus are born into fixed social units with their own names and titles.  That unit was your caste or community.  Each caste had a tradition of common descent, geographical origin, or occupational ideal.

…the concept of caste has come to imply both boundaries and collective or corporate rank.  In theory at least, civilised ‘caste Hindus’ should regard it as wrong and unnatural to share food or other intimate social contacts with those who are radically unlike them in caste terms…. The implication here is that to be of high or low caste is a matter of innate quality or essence.

So says Susan Bayly of King’s College, Cambridge in Caste, Society and Politics in India. 

Those features are alien to us, and I would be sad if I encountered them in our Indian community. 

But it gets worse.

One especially striking element of Indian life has been the presence of very large subordinated populations who have been identified as culturally, morally and even biologically distinct from other Indians: these are the people to whom such labels as ‘tribals’ and ‘untouchables’ have been applied.

The experience of ‘untouchability’ became a disability for large parts of the lower or working class – a worse disability than that of medieval serfs in Europe or England.  Precautions had to be taken against pollution by the unclean of their divinely mandated superiors – which was everyone except the bottom rung.

Then soil and blood raised their ugly heads.  The Hindu categories became linked to the Hindu nation – India.  The break from Britain naturally showed nationalist fervour which Ghandi and Nehru sought to contain.  But Hindu nationalists were bound to their sacred motherland.  Some saw their Christian and Muslim conquerors as ‘peoples of the book’ whose unity had enabled them to subdue then backward Hindus.  A united Hindu faith could recover their power.  Was the corollary that only Hindus could be true Indians?

At its worst, this became an issue of race.  Some Indians thought that the Aryans were the superior race.  Some pronouncements chill the blood.

Some of the most rational modern countries have perforce infused faith where reason was supreme so as to accelerate the reconstruction of society.  Thus, we see Bolshevism, Fascism and Nazism in their fullest force.

Now, it would be absurd to suggest that Mr Modi was of that ilk.  But we are told that race theory is still there in Indian political polemics, and the problem remains for the gap between the ‘clean’ and ‘untouchables.’  (You need not fret for the cricketers – they are untouchable at the other end.)  And the risk if not the reality is that Muslims are seen to be inferior.

The nation split before birth on religious lines, in the most frightful way.  And outbreaks of mass violence along religious or caste lines still recur.  If you ask whether the rule of law applies in India, a Muslim will almost certainly give a very different answer to a Brahman.  And I expect the same would go in Pakistan.

There are two strands to one question.  If you believe that you have a divine right to look down on others, and that the nation has a divine duty to act pursuant to the faith of the people – who is there to draw the line?  And when and where? And how?

The controversy about the World Cup in Qatar has three sources.  The appointment was corrupt –a corrupt nation and a more corrupt FIFA, enured to playing the slut.  The regime treats people appallingly – as often as not, as an article of faith.  And on so many grounds, it is just the wrong place for this event.

But if professional sports people continue to get choosey about whom they will brush off, they too will have big problems in drawing the line.

And I would not mind asking the U K Prime Minister if he is happy with all aspects of the teaching and practices of his Hindu religion in a unitary state which has its own state religion at the crown of its constitution. 

Politics and sport – Hindus and Muslims – Caste – India and Qatar – hypocrisy.


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