Delhi gang-rape: Some answers – 1

Read my last post for context.


Numbers are hard to come by but it appears that the number of reported cases has doubled in the last two decades.


To determine why the number of rapes as against other crimes is increasing, it might be useful to distinguish between rapes that are perpetrated by ordinary criminals who cannot control their sexual desires and those that are perpetrated by seemingly normal men. The former category probably correlates with crime in general, it is a law and order issue. The latter category is the one that explains the rise and it is the one that is particularly worrying. This kind of rape has little or nothing to do with sexual desire. It is a reaction to women who dare to assert themselves. Recall that in the Delhi case, one of the accused admitted that he went berserk when the girl tried to resist the men and defend her friend who was being attacked. A woman asserting herself is unimaginable to those who still live by a traditional value system. What is this system? In this system:
A woman does not marry a man. She marries into the man’s family.
A woman does not marry by choice. She is given to another family (Think of Kanyadaan).
A woman is the property of her family.
The honor and status of the family is derived from the property it possesses.
A woman is honorable as long as she is untouched (unused) by anyone outside the family. (Think of Sita in Ramayan)
Sex is taboo unless it is between husband and wife.

To a man who who is steeped in these values, what is the worst he can do to a woman? Destroy her honor by using her sexually, rendering her unfit for use by anyone else. Hence rape.

Rapes of this kind are nothing new. They have been perpetrated by soldiers after winning a war and by rioters wanting to teach a lesson to members of a community they hate. What is frightening is that they are now being perpetrated by ordinary men against women who dare to challenge traditional values.

The typical profile of such a rapist is a man steeped in traditional values who resents the social changes that challenge his values in general and is angry enough by some act of resistance to forget common decency in a moment of madness.

The typical profile of a rape victim is simply any woman who dares to reject the traditional value system by choosing to marry against the rules of her village, wearing western clothes, going out with a boy friend, refusing to accept harassment, rejecting someone’s advances etc.

To be continued…

Macaulay’s speech in the House of Commons in 1833

I came upon this speech delivered by Thomas Macaulay in the House of Commons in 1833 via this post on Sanjeev Sabhlok’s blog. I have only read the extract in Sabhlok’s blog so far. It is interesting enough that I will read the whole thing and more about the history of the British Empire when I find time. Some excerpts follow:

“We come then to the great question. Is it desirable to retain the Company as an organ of government for India?

“In India you cannot have representative institutions. Of all the innumerable speculators who have offered their suggestions on Indian politics, not a single one, as far as I know, however democratical his opinions may be, has ever maintained the possibility of giving, at the present time, such institutions to India. One gentleman, extremely well acquainted with the affairs of our Eastern Empire … was examined on this point. That gentleman … a very bold and uncompromising politician … has written strongly, far too strongly I think, in favour of pure democracy. He has gone so far as to maintain that no nation which has not a representative legislature, chosen by universal suffrage, enjoys security against oppression. But when he was asked before the Committee of last year, whether he thought representative government practicable in India, his answer was, “utterly out of the question.”

 “This, then, is the state in which we are. We have to frame a good government for a country into which, by universal acknowledgment, we cannot introduce those institutions which all our habits, which all the reasonings of European philosophers, which all the history of our own part of the world would lead us to consider as the one great security for good government. We have to engraft on despotism those blessings which are the natural fruits of liberty. In these circumstances, Sir, it behoves us to be cautious, even to the verge of timidity. The light of political science and of history are withdrawn: we are walking in darkness: we do not distinctly see whither we are going. It is the wisdom of a man, so situated, to feel his way, and not to plant his foot till he is well assured that the ground before him is firm.”

Do I call the government of India a perfect government? Very far from it. No nation can be perfectly well governed till it is competent to govern itself. I compare the Indian government with other governments of the same class, with despotisms, with military despotisms, with foreign military despotisms; and I find none that approaches it in excellence. I compare it with the government of the Roman provinces, with the government of the Spanish colonies; and I am proud of my country and my age.

“It is scarcely possible to calculate the benefits which we might derive from the diffusion of European civilisation among the vast population of the East. It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.

“It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history. To have found a great people sunk in the lowest depths of slavery and superstition, to have so ruled them as to have made them desirous and capable of all the privileges of citizens, would indeed be a title to glory all our own.

“The sceptre may pass away from us. But there are triumphs which are followed by no reverse. There is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. Those triumphs are the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism; that empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws.

It was only as I read this that I realized that in all the history taught in school, this period of the empire was never covered – atleast as far as I can remember. Hastings and Clive – whom Macaulay condemns as corrupt – were covered in school history but Elphinstone and Munro – whom Macaulay calls spotless – were not. School history as it was taught jumps from Clive and Hastings in the 1770s to Dalhousie and the “First war of Independence” in the 1850s to the 1920s and beyond. And of course it is completely silent on what happened after 1947.

Secularism, Enlightenment and India

A colleague sent me this link to an article in The Hindu and asked for my thoughts. From the article

For a long time it was held that a close link existed between the modernisation of society and the secularisation of the population. Consequently, it was argued that the influence of religion declined in post-enlightenment society. This assumption, Professor Habermas suggests, was based on three considerations. First, the progress in science and technology made causal explanation possible and more importantly, for a scientifically enlightened mind it was difficult to reconcile with theocentric and metaphysical worldviews. Secondly, the churches and other religious organisations lost their control over law, politics, public welfare, education and science. Finally, the economic transformation led to higher levels of welfare and greater social security. The impact of these developments, it is argued, has led to the decline of the relevance and influence of religion.
…the view that “the secularist certainty that religion will disappear worldwide in the course of modernisation is losing ground.” It is not only that this expectation has not been realised, religion has emerged as a powerful influence in the public sphere all over the world. This is particularly so in India.

The existence of the public sphere [in Europe] was contingent upon the access of all citizens to, and protection of individual rights by, the rule of law. In essence, the character of the public sphere as it evolved in Europe in the 18th century was secular and democratic.

Unlike in Europe the public sphere in India was not the product of a free bourgeois society; it took shape within the political, social and economic parameters set by the colonial government.
(Emphasis mine)

The article concludes with

Retrieving the secular character of the public sphere is therefore imperative; otherwise its religious character is likely to impinge upon the functions of the state.

The article with its implied positive evaluation of enlightenment ideas and recognition of their relevance to the issue of secularism is very much welcome in an age where enlightenment ideas have almost been forgotten. But it itself suffers from an incomplete understanding of all the implications of these ideas. Protection of individual rights by the rule of law is not compatible with democracy (atleast as we might understand it from concrete examples today). Democracy is about placing the control of human affairs in the public sphere. Individual rights are about limiting the control of human affairs to the actual individuals involved, primarily by the recognition of private property. (This might seem unrelated to the issue of secularism and the influence of religion, but bear with me for a while.) This uneasy relationship between democracy and individual rights (note the difference in character between the French revolution which was essentially democratic and the American revolution which instituted a government for the purpose of protecting individual rights) persists to this day and has been the apparant cause of the failure of enlightenment ideas to have as large and lasting an influence as might have been expected. But that is not all. It is worth noting that pre-enlightenment Europe was neither democratic nor did it have any conception of individual rights. How did both ideas emerge out of the same intellectual change?

I am no historian – or even a good student of history – but it seems to me that the enlightenment thinkers never really rejected religion in all its implications. Religion offers more than an explanation of the world. It offers moral principles. The progress in science that made causal explanations possible led people to abandon the role of religion in understanding the world. Note that this progress has been lasting. Even the church today accepts that religion is not a guide to understanding the world. But there was no equivalent progress in moral theory that would lead people to abandon the role of religion in evaluating the world and guiding human action. The enlightenment brought about political, scientific and industrial revolutions. It did not result in any moral revolution. The moral base of religion – altruism – was not challenged at all. On the contrary, it led some intellectuals to believe that morality is mostly irrelevant to progress. For example, the character of Enjolras in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables – the leader of an uprising, and in my reading, a mirror to Hugo’s own ideas – believed (if memory serves me right) that progress would be automatic and inevitable provided that people had access to (scientific) education. This was naive. Morality is indispensable to human existence.

It seems to me that enlightenment ideas split into two distinct streams. One stream could be characterized by the French revolution, militantly anti-religious and with an emphasis on democracy, equality and social justice. This stream secularized altruism without changing any of its fundamentals. It substituted God by society and the church and the king by the state. The other stream could be characterized by the American revolution, ambivalent to religion and with an emphasis on liberty and self-evident inalienable individual rights endowed by a creator. But a complex concept like individual rights cannot be self-evident. By not grounding individual rights in reason, this stream was left without a moral foundation independent of religion. The overtly-secular, altruist, democratic stream failed. It took Europe through several dictatorships, wars and misery. The liberal, pro individual rights but more religious stream succeeded. It allowed America to enjoy more than a century of uinterrupted peace and prosperity (except for the civil war that abolished slavery). But, over time, through lack of an explicit moral foundation, the American stream itself split into the modern secular Europe inspired liberals (an insult to the original classical sense of the term) and the religious conservatives seeking to conserve the political system of liberty with an incompatible base of altruist Christianity.

Note that no stream ever rejected altruism and it was the secular democratic, left-leaning intellectuals who upheld it most consistently. Now the case of India. Indian political leaders educated in Europe brought back the European ideas and attempted to foist them upon a servile, religious people. Worse, in attempting to fight colonialism, they absorbed Marxist ideas from Russia. Needless to say, they failed miserably, discrediting secularism in the process. As Gurcharan Das’s wrote in the article that I criticized in my last post, “Part of the reason that the sensible idea of secularism is having so much difficulty finding a home in India is that the most vocal and intellectual advocates of secularism were once Marxists”. Marxism – the most consistent political implication of altruism, is only for educated idiots. The uneducated “masses” – that Marx had such a disdain for – never have and never will accept it. But the association of secularism with Marxism does indeed make the spread of secularism difficult.

Anyone concerned with the increasing role of religion in public affairs in general and political affairs in particular should be looking to discover/establish a morality based on reason. Until such a morality becomes culturally dominant, it will be impossible to eliminate the role of religion. But that is not something the secularists in India understand. For a concrete example, consider the expose of the Khap Panchayat system in Today’s Times. Read it here, here, here and here. From the last link,

Daryal Singh, one of Tikait’s retainers, adds that “shameless people (lovers) deserve to die.’’ He gives graphic accounts of lovers being “hanged, tortured or nailed to death”. But Singh stands alone in providing the only real explanation for what sustains this medieval system: bad governance. “The government has failed to provide basic necessities. It’s impossible for people to survive without the samaj. They can’t challenge it,’’ he says.

It would be difficult to mis-diagnose the problem worse. Even the villagers are more intelligent than that. They know that they are following a moral code. Providing basic necessities is not going to change their moral code. And what basic necessities anyway? From another article in the links

There are pucca houses, cobbled streets, wellfed cattle, neat schools and sprawling green fields. It’s easy to be impressed by the colleges and professional institutes that dot the area. But Sanghi, like most villages in this prosperous belt, has dark secrets to keep. Here, rape is casual, murder-by-pesticide of teenage daughters acceptable and it is routine to dispose of their bodies by burning them in cattlecarts.

Defeat the morality and religion – with all its mindless rituals and superstitions – will go away. But without challenging the morality and in the lack of any alternative (socialist ideology is not an alternative), religion will continue to grow in influence.

Book Review: The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga’s “The White Tiger” is a story of a man, Balram Halwai, born in some village in north India who goes on to become a driver in Dhanbad, robs and murders his employer and establishes a cab business in Bangalore. The story is narrated in the form of a letter written by Balram to the premier of China (Weird literary device, that). The only noteworthy thing about the novel is the utter ugliness of the story, the characters and the life it portrays. The language is crude and vulgar, well suited to the tale. There is not much of a story.

<Spoiler warning>

 Balram born in a poor family in a feudal village wants to make something of his life. He goes to Dhanbad, takes driving lessons from some taxi driver and is able to find a job as a driver (actually an all-purpose servant) in the household of a landlord from his own village. He is expected to behave like a feudal servant. The landlord’s son, Mr Ashok, who has recently returned from America is the only person to treat him with any sort of respect. There is another driver in the household, Ram Persad. Balram resents his seniority, and upon discovering that Ram Persad is actually a Muslim pretending to be a Hindu for the sake of his job, threatens to expose him. Ram Persad escapes and Balram becomes the senior servant. Mr Ashok goes to Delhi to bribe some minister and takes Balram with him. Mr Ashok’s wife, Pinky madam, wants to return to America and is angry with Mr Ashok for having lied to him about his intentions to stay in India. One day, after Mr Ashok and Pinky madam have got drunk, Pinky madam runs over a child on the streets of Delhi. Mr Ashok and his brother get a signed statement from Balram stating that he is the only one responsible. The matter, however is never investigated by the police as there are no witnesses. This is the last straw for Pinky madam and she leaves her husband and returns to America. Before leaving, she gives some money to Balram, who spends it on a prostitute. Mr Ashok sinks into a depression and starts drinking. Balram who has until then worked honestly, starts drinking and stealing. One day, as Mr Ashok is going to some minister’s place to bribe him, Balram murders him and runs away with the bribe to Bangalore, where he establishes a cab business, catering to call-centers.

</Spoiler warning>

The story serves as a prop for Aravind Adiga to describe the feudal village life, rigging of elections, corruption among the socialist leaders, the brutal repression of the poor by the landlords, superstitions, family burdens, treatment of servants, abysmal living conditions in the city slums, etc. By making Balram the narrator, Adiga seeks to present a poor man’s perspective of modern India. For Balram, human life is and always has been all about class conflict – a struggle between the rich and poor, each class seeking to defeat the other. At several places, there is a mention of the cliched idea of two Indias – a modern, Western, rich India and a feudal, poor one.

There can be no doubt that most of Adiga’s descriptions are accurate. This should be no surprise to anyone who has looked at a slum in any Indian city. The motives and ideas that he gives to his characters are questionable. He describes the poor (in the cities) as living in anticipation of an insurrection. Really? There is a naxal threat in several places in rural India, but insurrection in the cities?

Finally, the book seems quite pointless. Why describe that which everyone knows and sees if you have nothing new to say? The wikipedia entry on Aravind Adiga says “At a time when India is going through great changes and, with China, is likely to inherit the world from the West, it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of society (Indian). That’s what I’m trying to do – it is not an attack on the country, it’s about the greater process of self-examination.” First, the great changes seem to be over. After a decade of some much needed economic reforms (in the 90s), India seems to be settling back into a slumber. The political situation has already hit rock-bottom and there are no signs of any improvement. Yes, there are brutal injustices and everyone knows it. With Adiga having nothing new to say, “The White Tiger” comes across as poverty porn (a phrase coined after the release of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, which I haven’t yet watched).

Aspiring for a developed India

A commentator (call him X since he did not disclose his identity) wrote:

Consider India, which is a developing nation with majority of its population still below the poverty line. If we aspire for a developed India, every Indian must be educated . It is only by (good quality and free) Government schools one can achieve complete literacy, as the poor cant afford education. I feel that government must actively be a part and ensure that quality education is available for free of cost (till 10th standard).

The short answer would be that government already plays a very active part and that has ensured that the quality of education (irrespective of cost) is quite pathetic. I could write an arguement about why this state of affairs is inevitable and why government subsidized education cannot meet its intended goals. But I am not going to do that. Instead I am going to write about the premises underlying this argument. These premises are completely incompatible with my own premises. So it is difficult to find a point to start. Nor is it going to be possible to reach an arguement in one post that could convince anyone. So my goal in this post is simply to identify the premises and point out the incompatibility. If you are actually interested in a conclusive arguement, you will have to stay around for several more posts.

Read the arguement again. What is the vision? A developed India. I suppose that means things like a certain percentage of literacy, a certain percentage of child mortality, a certain kind of roads, a certain percentage of people below the poverty line, a certain stability in growth, etc, etc… What is the timeframe for this vision? No timeframe is mentioned. This suggests that a timeframe is not essential. The lack of a timeframe is one clue (among others) that this vision is not linked to X’s life. In fact, the vision is not linked to any specific individual’s life. It is statistical, collective.

Now consider my vision. I want to live in a world where I am free to act on my thoughts and take responsibility for wherever those actions may lead. Underlying this vision is the premise that life is worth living and that my enjoyment (material, spiritual, whatever…) or happiness achieved through my thoughts and actions is the sole purpose of my life. My vision is not linked to any specific collective.

The achievement of my vision involves a society that respects life and the values required for life such as freedom and individual rights (political), goodwill and cooperation (social), rationality and purpose (moral). Such a society will have the sort of statistical properties that X implies. But the two visions are very different. To repeat, X’s vision is not linked to any specific individual’s life; my vision is not linked to any specific collective. X wants India to become a developed country irrespective of the course of his life. I want to live in or bring about a free society irrespective of what happens to India.

What are the premises underlying X’s vision. As I see it, it is the idea that man’s life must have some ‘greater’ purpose, beyond his own life. The mystic seeks a purpose in another, more important world. The collectivist seeks a purpose in other men. Both seek a purpose that is external. But purpose, vision, thought are all inseparably linked to an individuals life. My vision is based on this simple fact. To quote Ayn Rand from Anthem, (emphasis mine)

I am. I think. I will.
My hands . . . My spirit . . . My sky . . . My forest . . . This earth of mine. . . . What must I say besides? These are the words. This is the answer.
I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction.
It is my eyes which see, and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth. It is my ears which hear, and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world. It is my mind which thinks, and the judgement of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth. It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect.
Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: “I will it!”
Whatever road I take, the guiding star is within me; the guiding star and the loadstone which point the way. They point in but one direction. They point to me.
I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.

And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.
This god, this one word:

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