The Kulturkampf In The Indian Subcontinent
Both India and Pakistan are in turmoil. Apart from the physical turbulence generated by religious, caste, and racial hatred, both countries are facing similar problems of massive poverty, record unemployment, appalling levels of child malnourishment and women’s anaemia, almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, skyrocketing prices of foodstuffs and fuel, floundering economies, etc.
For resolving these huge problems correct scientific ideas are required, for which a powerful, long and relentless struggle has to be waged by patriotic modern minded intellectuals against backward feudal ideas.
History proves that the war of ideas is the fiercest struggle of all, which can destroy people or elevate them into heroes, which can turn men into beasts, or into outstanding deliverers and liberators of the people.
To redeem our woes, we have to turn our subcontinent into a modern industrial giant — like the countries of North America, Europe, Japan or China. Unless we do that, we will never be able to get rid of poverty and the other huge evils plaguing us today.
But for doing so we have to change the backward mindsets of our people, which is riddled with casteism, communalism and superstitions for centuries. And for this we have to wage a powerful struggle of ideas.
Now it is easy to change the physical environment. It is easy to construct buildings, roads, bridges, etc. But it is ten or twenty times more difficult to change the mindsets of people, and make them modern and scientific. We may argue as much as possible with people and try to persuade them to give up casteism or religious bigotry and animosity, but it will be a long, hard struggle. Upper caste people will keep on regarding low castes as inferiors, most Hindus will keep on venerating cows, and religious bigotry will continue for long. It will be like striking our heads against a wall. Mindsets are extremely difficult to change.
A cultural revolution, that is, a change in mindsets, is many times more difficult than an actual revolution. One may recall the struggles of Voltaire, who for decades combated religious bigotry in France, Rousseau who challenged the entire feudal system, and the French Encyclopedists who implacably fought for enlightenment in Europe in the 18th century. Only after decades of struggle in the field of ideas could there be the French Revolution of 1789 which abolished feudalism in France.
Patriotic intellectuals will therefore have to wage a long relentless ideological struggle, which will be hazardous, as they will be confronted by people with feudal mindsets, who are in the vast majority, and who do not want the status quo to change, and often regard persons who do so as enemies and trouble makers. New ideas usually are met with strong hostliity, as most people are conservative by nature. Great men like the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad, Rousseau, Nelson Mandela, Lenin, etc had to initially face a lot of adversities, ordeals and travails.
A transitional period is a very painful period in history. Apart from the actual events, it witnesses a fierce clash of ideas. Shakespeare in Macbeth says ” Fair is foul and foul is fair “. In other words, what is regarded good earlier, is often regarded bad later, and vice versa. For instance, the caste system in India was regarded good earlier, but modern minded people regard it as evil and a curse today.
The status of women in society, is another example. In feudal society women were regarded as inferior to men. They were not given education and confined to household work. They were married at a young age according to the choice of their parents, and within their own caste and religion. Women had no choice in the matter. But today things are gradually changing, and women demand equality.
Many women are educated, and some have become doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, etc. A few marry according to their choice, and sometimes even outside their caste or religion. But those who do so are in the minority, and often have to face strong hostility, and some are even murdered by their relatives or members of their caste or religion in what is known as ‘honour killing’.
Similarly, astrology is pure humbug and unscientific, and yet most Indians believe in it, even many of the so called educated class. Ministers, Judges, etc in India often consult their astrologers before taking oath of office. When I went to take oath as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court I was advised by the Registrar General of the Court not to take oath at ‘rahukaalam’ ( inauspicious ) time.
Thus, a fierce Kulturkampf or cultural struggle in the field of ideas has to be waged in our subcontinent by the modern minded enlightened sections of our society, which will be long, and often perilous, before our people get real emancipation from their distress and tribulations.
Intellectuals are the eyes of society, for they alone can supply correct ideas, and without them the masses are blind. So the modern minded intellectuals must do their patriotic duty, for which they must be prepared for a long, bitter and often perilous struggle, for which they will often be castigated, in the days ahead in our subcontinent.
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.