Calcutta Notebook


Enough is enough. There must be an end to it. It is up to the people of India to put things right. Nobody else can do it for them.

Slavery is still rampant in India today. It was a prominent feature in the Athenian democracy in the Antiquity (400-500 BC). There were 60-80,000 slaves in the city state of Athens out of a population of 200-300,000 when Plato (427-347 BC) was born in an aristocratic family of the city (Plato: The Republic, Penguin Classics, London, 1988).

Even Aristotle's (384-322 BC) views on slavery is condemned in a modern egalitarian society. Aristotle justified slavery in a dubious way (Aristotle: The Politics, Penguin Classics, London, 1988). In India today, slavery, in some form or other, is still a curse. "Ours is a nation which is still three-quarters slave and only one-quarter free." (Asok Mitra: "Confronting Leviathan", Frontier, Autumn Number, 1997 (Oct 4-25), Vol.30, p.7). It's a serious matter for all Indians to ponder and take note. It must not continue. So far, no further. The famous words of Abraham Lincoln (1809—1865) on the eve of the American Civil War is worth recalling: "A nation cannot endure half-free and half-slave."

This scenario degrades the soul of the nation. Even in developed countries like England, USA, Italy, France, etc., free markets are creating social and economic insecurities. As the economy in India is liberalizing and integrating with the global economy, the weaker section of the society (the majority—Shudras) are more and more marginalized. Social justice is still a far cry. The fruits of development have not yet reached the under-privileged, the deprived and the down-trodden. There were always lots of slogans like "Garibi Hatao" (remove Poverty) and so on. They were simply drum-beating of deception. That has only enriched the crooks of the political dynasties. Common people got nothing. The poor became poorer.

A common British colonial legacy led to the apparently contrasting pattern of political development—secular democracy in India and military dictatorship with a cloak of Islamic fundamentalism and rotten theocracy in Pakistan. It's a melancholy contrast. India is a multilingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious country. It is also politically pluralist. This is the reality. To expect unity in all aspects of life and activity is an illusion—a dream never to be realised. Mutual tolerance, respect and understanding towards each other as equal citizens of India, irrespective of caste, class, language, culture, colour or religion, should be the guiding principle of the nation. There are 15 recognized languages in India today (Eighth Schedule, Articles 344 and 351—Twenty-first Constitutional Amendment Act, 1967) and several hundred dialects. English is the link language. It is the language of communication at the official level. Around 10% or more of the population can communicate in English. It is also India's lingual window to the rest of the world. Every Indian should learn his or her mother-tongue and English very well. It is vital to challenge the hegemony of the West.

Political institutions created by the Indian Constitution in 1950 are basically vibrant, though not perfect. Nothing in this world is a paragon of perfection or a den of fallibilities.

India is, perhaps, one of the few democracies which started with universal adult franchise at its very inception. In the Athenian democracy in antiquity, only property-owning male aristocracy had voting power; women and slaves did not have it. In France, after the glorious French Revolution of 1789, women did not have a voting right. Even in Great Britain, the mother of parliamentary democracy, women got the voting right only in 1928. Contrary to the beliefs of many Western political analysts, including helmsmen of the colonial British Raj, illiteracy, poverty, cultural and linguistic diversity in India could not prevent the development of a successful secular democracy, though bourgeois in its actual nature.

The 5-C's—Casteism, Corruption, Cronyism, Coercion and Criminalisation of politics are the cancers in the body-politic of India today. Their total eradication is vital for India's survival as a nation. Casteism can be won over only by a positive socio-economic ideology aimed at removing exploitation of man by man—economic, religious, cultural, linguistic and political, and not by the pseudo-religious dogma of "Ramrajya". The expanding gap between the haves and the have-nots in both rural and urban India needs to be narrowed quickly and to be totally eliminated. Cradle to grave social welfare is the hallmark of a modern ideal society. Equi-distribution of natural wealth, equal rights of every citizen with equal responsibilities and commitment to society are the means to create an ideal society. 

Vol. 46, No. 5, Aug 11-17, 2013

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