Monday, April 24, 2006

Of liberalism and conservatism

It is now cliche to talk at lengths about Information Technology and how it has turned India's image and lifestyle on its head. So, let's cut it short.

Post-recession era - "India Shining" - Lots of money and spending mood with middle class - we are a big global market.

Indirect gainer of this feel-good factor is the entertainment industry. It has capitalized on the sudden inflow of money and seemingly consequent liberal attitude among people, to come up with tons of sexually explicit Hollywood lift-offs in the name of diversifying into relatively bolder subjects like infidelity (ex: Murder) and homosexuality. Thanks to Mahesh Bhatt and few other copy machines, we have nearly a hundred hot girls who are willing to strip and Emran Hashmi who is kind enough to smooch them at least two at time in every movie.

Ten years ago, the same thing would have raised a few eye-brows. Today, be it the curious kid, the restless teen, the cool collegian or the nostalgic middle-aged, all take it in their stride. If they do mind they don't come up with their objection very publicly. So that brings us to the question of interest in the discussion OverTea. Are we a liberal society?

What is liberalism? The idea that has freedom as its core. A liberal living is a life according to ones own freedom, provided it respects others.

What is conservatism? A idea of discipline and convention. A conservative, leads a life that conforms to specific rules, mostly drawn by religion and to a lesser extent, but still significantly drawn by the society.

If we view the Indian society in the light of the above definitions, the truth becomes evident, especially if we ask ourselves certain questions.

- How prevalent and welcome is inter-caste and inter-religious marriage in our society?
- How are a certain sections of our community like homosexuals, AIDS patients treated? Do they feel important in the society?
- How tolerant are we to ways of living that we don't really understand or agree to?
( A good example is the traditional Tamil Nadu Vs Rest of India cold-war)
- How much freedom does the female community enjoy when compared to the male community?
- How many physically challenged people enjoy the same level of independence and mental well-being as a normal person?
- How many adopted children are adopted by potent couples?

None of the above questions evoke a positive answer. In all the above questions, some one's freedom (inter-religious love-birds, women, homosexuals, etc) is over-ridden by some rule (marriage within community, having an opposite sex partner, "all should know Hindi" or "I wont speak in Hindi even if I know it", "Women should be more disciplined than men").

So, my take is that we are far from a liberal society. If we assume ourselves to be a liberal society based on the increasing number of pubs and modern ways of dressing, I am afraid we lack reasoning. Of course, social drinking and liberal dressing are constituent of a liberal society, but such aspects are not substantive to liberalism. In our case, those are just effects of media-driven fashion trends and half-baked knowledge about the western culture. Such aspects are not necessarily wrong, or as conservative extremists may say, destructive to Indian culture. But it is not very progressive either.

The day when it is common for a totally potent couple wants to adopt a child, and is not opposed by the immediate relatives (thus granting them total freedom) is when the society is liberal. The day when a physically challenged person enjoys the freedom to move around with minimal or no help, and evokes a feeling that his impairment is no real impairment is the day a society becomes liberal. In short, a society achieves liberalism only when it matures to recognize and encourage a progressive trend especially when such a trend opposes a convention.


Prakash Gomathinayagam said...

>>In all the above questions, some >>one's freedom (inter-religious >>love-birds, homosexuals, etc) is >>over-ridden by some rule (
>> 1)marriage within community,
>> 2) having an opposite sex partner,
>> 3) "all should know Hindi"
>> 4) "I wont speak in Hindi even if I know it",
>> 5) "Women should be more disciplined than men").

(1) & (2) Does n't seem to be a problem, unless forced.

(4) Looks like odd man out. Actually it is liberisation. "Talking in Tamil, when there is a single non-Tamil in the group" would go well with your list.

Badhri said...

1) & (2) Rule is not a problem. But following it for the sake of following it some time is.

(4) Oh! come on. You won't apply the same arguement to English, would you? You have the right to communicate in your language (say, Tamil). But when you know Hindi, and everybody else understands English, but not comfortable with it, this self-imposed rule namely "I wont speak in Hindi even if I know it" is plain ego mania.

Anonymous said...

Too good. Like the clarity in thought. I think you must take to writing as a profession as well..may be a part time profession.


Prakash Gomathinayagam said...

I agree it is ego mania. But your list is not discussing with Ego mania but "freedom over-ridden by some rule". in other words I assume, you are discussing about others point-of-view or expectation affecting an individual. not other way around (i.e., an individual marrying in different commuinity even though he can marry in the same community).

Jagan said...

It is a individual parameter, which differs from person to person. There can be relatives, who tell not to adopt chidrens, but u have a freedom to do that.. Still, but wat u have be harsh with ur relatives... So the person who thinks he must listen to the relatives will think, there is no freedom, but for a person who thinks, watever he does is correct, he dont mind others... So i think it all depend on INDIVIDUALS.

Badhri said...

In the case of Hindi-Tamil conflit, freedom-over-ridden-by-rule is not the hinderence to progress. It is inability to tolerate an idea one can not understand is(by both the parties).

In the case of adoption, potent couple themsleves are not progresive enough to adopt. The problem of the relatvies come later. Assuming they do, yes, it all depends on individuals. Well said. But such independent individuals are too few in the society to make it liberal (or progressive).

To be fair, one can afford adopt a child after having 2 children of their own in the US (from where I took the comparison). But in India, with a drive to have only one child, one can think of adopting the only child they can have. But 2 children, one procreated and one adopted will be the best thing to do, since it is effectively procreating only one child, but improving the quality of living of another child, and hence the community. Will that happen?

Prakash Gomathinayagam said...

"It is inability to tolerate an idea one can not understand is" - really makes sense ....

"Its all does not depend on Individual" is the problem. Society plays a major role in India on an Individual's choice. (fyi. Society can be your friends circle )

You are saying, Anybody who has money can buy a car. so its all depend on an individual (one who really wants a car, will earn money and buy a car). Badri is saying, In USA, a Janitor can easily buy a car. (I know the analogy is bad, but sorry I could not resist my temptation)

my favourite quote:
Voltaire said, ""I may be totally opposed to what you say, but I would give my life for your right to say it"