India, in a way, is like Phaon, a boatman in Greek mythology, the most handsome man. The story goes like this: When Phaon was loosening his boat one day in order to set forth from the island of Lesbos to Chios; Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, came in the guise of an old, ugly and poor woman, requesting him to ferry her to the other side, free of charge as she had no money. He obliged her willingly and happily. Impressed by his gesture, the goddess revealed herself and transformed him into the loveliest youth of all, for eternity.
Though years and decades passed by, he remained young because of Aphrodite’s boon. Many lasses of Lesbos, including the famed poetess Sappho, were drawn to him but he ignored them all since he already grew old in thoughts and feelings with no romantic tinge. While making Phaon’s face and body beautiful and young, the goddess left his mind and heart untouched.
Beautiful but Orthodox
Similarly, India is a youthful nation in the sense that no other country in the world has so much youth population as it has. It is also one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with its astounding geographical features, vibrant mix of diversified cultures and people and a long, remarkable history. But Phaon’s unfortunate episode reminds us of the fact that India, like him, still got bogged down by orthodox mindset with which a major chunk of its population has been backsliding to the fate of yore without modern outlook.
A survey of 2016 — jointly conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Lokniti about Indian youth’s attitudes, anxieties and aspirations — pointed out that the young people are certainly becoming more modern in their appearance and consumption habits but their thoughts and views seem to reflect an inclination towards traditional ideas.
Trinity of Regress
Usually, any civilisation is characterised by two features, namely continuity and change. As science and logic go on widening the horizons of human faculties; irrational customs and unfounded beliefs are normally replaced with rational procedures. But it is not the case with Indian context, since certain age-old illogical, ancient practices and observances like caste-based prejudices, ignorance-ridden superstitions and fear-driven social inequalities — referred to under an umbrella term as ‘the trinity of regress’ — continue till date, holding considerable influence over the routine affairs of society, howsoever trivial they might be.
Dr Ambedkar said, ‘To idealise the real, which more often than not is full of inequities, is a very selfish thing to do. Only when a person finds a personal advantage in things as they are that he tries to idealise the real. To proceed to make such an ideal real is nothing short of criminal. It means perpetuating inequity on the ground that whatever once settled is settled for all times. Such a view is opposed to all morality.’
Therefore, it is due to this very reason that national progress is also being hampered and the result is a bundle of ever-recurring crises such as socioeconomic uncertainties, disappointing productivity, illiteracy and unemployment, poverty and ill-health out of which social regression and economic downslide stand out as the worst consequences. In spite of hard efforts and serious strategies employed by the planners to boost the state of economy, nothing seems to be on the brighter side because of the fact that the policies enunciated or being implemented don’t appear to entail at the time of planning the elements of the trinity of regress, which consequently interfere to thwart economic reforms.
These three elements; prejudice, superstition and fear, can reinforce each other and be transformed into one another. For instance, prejudice as an unfavourable evaluation of the lowly people reinforces superstitions to that effect and instils fear of punishment in them for resistance. Superstition through irrational beliefs makes the elite to hold on to superiority feelings over others (prejudice) and creates a sense anxiety in the minds of the lowly (fear). And fear tends to trick the lowly to suffer maltreatment at the hands of the elite (prejudice) and to accept the situation as the karma of previous birth (superstition). Highlighting the pivotal role of fear in life, Desh Subba, a renowned Nepali thinker, advocated that life is conducted, directed and controlled by fear.
Some studies show that a prejudicial society is almost akin to the mythical ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail to destroy itself. Paul Donovan, a British economist, inferred in his research that prejudices based on race, religion, etc, are firmly linked to the issues of a country’s economic development. Prejudice damages an economy by restricting career opportunities and thus full productive potential of the individual is lost. Superstition-driven behaviour of the people runs counter to rational economic endeavours in matters such as what to purchase or what not, when to start business or when not and whom to employ or whom not. Fear will act as a strong psychological deterrent and kill the initiatives and efforts so as to render socioeconomic and political opportunities useless.
This cyclical riddle can be cracked by resorting to the first tenet of Dr Ambedkar’s doctrine, ie, ‘to educate’. Famous Canadian philosopher Michael Fisher observed that fear management/education is the solution to the deepest core problems of India. The government must ensure that education does not merely mean 3Rs but there should be, as clarified by Alvin Toffler, continual learning, unlearning and relearning on the part of the people, especially with regard to the trends of new age, juxtaposed to the good and bad of persisting traditions and usages. The victims of historical wrongs and circumstances need to metamorphose themselves into a mental state of being confident and competent despite socioeconomic and political disabilities as had earlier been aptly reasoned by the anti-apartheid black consciousness martyred leader Steve Biko in his stirring quote, ‘the most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.’
Once rational consciousness is achieved, the triumph of modern progressive outlook over the old regressive mindset will not only enable the concerned to realise the desired outcome from the efforts intended for but also make India youthsome and handsome in true sense.
(The author is former DG Cyber Crimes, Bhopal)