The last word on Ashis Nandy's 'lazy' predilections

Finally, some sense in the debate over sociologist Ashis Nandy, who set the dovecotes aflutter last month by claiming at the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) that “most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the scheduled castes and now, increasingly, scheduled tribes, and as long as this is the case, the Indian republic will survive.” (Read the full text here).

As the media played it, the issue was about Nandy’s right to free speech, and even his negative remarks on the OBCs and SC/STs were sought to be seen in the larger context of his supposed sympathy for the downtrodden.

But the reality is there are two separate issues here, as Ravinder Kaur, who teaches at IIT, Delhi, points out in The Indian Express.

 The last word on Ashis Nandys lazy predilections

Nandy has multiple cases against him for his statement. PTI

The issue of free speech is separate from the validity of Nandy’s “lazy” assumption that it is somehow progressive to talk about corruption in terms of group identities. At JLF, Nandy’s views found echoes in Tarun “Tehelka” Tejpal’s views on corruption.

Nandy’s underlying assumptions are these: that the “lower castes” are empowering themselves by using corruption as a means to get around a discriminatory system; and that they are more visibly corrupt because they are not sophisticated enough to hide their crimes as well as their upper caste compatriots.

This writer has pointed out the flaws in the second argument by showing that corruption, or the ability to hide it, has little to do with caste. When it comes to corruption, there is no backward or forward caste.

Ravinder Kaur takes the argument further and suggests that the debate may really be about class rather than caste. She also takes Nandy and Tejpal to task for condescension towards the less fortunate.

She writes: “This debate, I suggest, is not about caste. It is about class, elitist class. Lower-caste corruption does not have ‘class’ on its side, Nandy seems to be saying. Lower-caste corruption is justified ‘class war’, Tejpal seems to be saying. There is a condescending attitude towards the lower castes in these posturing…… Why do Nandy and Tejpal need to bend over backwards to appear pro-lower caste or defend the corruption of those newly coming into power and pelf? Why do we need to tie corruption to primordial categories of caste, just as we tie violence to religion — Hindu or Muslim?”

As urbanisation, development and progress take root in India, the old caste-religion-ethnic identities are metamorphosing and changing all the time.

The Left missed out on its understanding of caste when it emphasised class in the early years of freedom, says Kaur. Now we are in danger of missing out the impact of class.

Quite. Corruption is corruption. There is no need to justify it on the basis of caste or class.

Updated Date: Feb 06, 2013 13:07:01 IST