28th May 2016
Mohandas Pai , previous head of HR at Infosys and current chairman of Aarin Capital Partners recently wrote an article for NDTV[i] addressing the protesting students of JNU. Admirers of his way of thinking have jumped into all bandwagons, arguing on his behalf and vehemently validating his point of view. Mohandas Pai, in reality, represents an entire philosophy (or the lack of it) of thinking. Those who slam Mohandas Pai as being problematic for India’s progress are faced with an onslaught or barrage of insults from his defenders and the defenders of his model of being a ‘good’ Indian.
So what then is a ‘good’ Indian? Is it a savarna Hindu who has ‘worked hard’ to be ‘successful’, who has a good business that generates a lot of income (and jobs) while he or she parallelly running a charity that feeds or clothes the ‘less’ privileged?
He states in his letter to the protesting students, that “we need universities where faculty are hired on merit and not ideology and where there is a healthy interaction of ideas and views”. He says ‘there should be no single ideology or view which will dominate very much the principle on which our civilisation is based.” How do his statements sit with Rohith Vemula’s dying statement that his birth is his fatal accident? Why does a dying man talk about his birth being a fatal accident? What about Rohith’s birth has been instrumental for his death? Is it because his birth into a certain caste has led him to head lock with the kind of system that Mohandas Pai is defending?
Most universities in India are places where there is no healthy interaction of ideas and views. There is only one dominant discourse in most universities in India and that is premised on the privileged existence of the savarna classes and closure of these doors to diversity of any kind. What is healthy about it? Can a group of students who share similar caste and class backgrounds sitting in an university that has closed its doors to other communities have a ‘healthy interaction of ideas and views’? Students who give alternate points of view other than the mainstream savarna narrative, will always be punished, humiliated, rejected, taunted and kept out by savarna led and nurtured structures.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is the chairperson of Indian Institute of Management. She makes a public statement on twitter that having reservations in the private sector will reduce the quality. In an unequal society, the fittest will always be on top and their survival is guaranteed. How is fitness determined? Are savarna students more fit than non-savarna students? Does that automatically point to merit?
There are many privileges that many of us ride on to reach places and positions. These privileges come with our birth and with who our parents are – their financial, social and psychological locations. It comes with our caste status and where we are forcibly made to locate ourselves. As children, are we made to participate as leaders at the forefront or are we constantly abused and insulted? Are we made to feel inferior or superior? Do we have a place to study? Are we allowed to study and given a supportive environment? Do we have access to tuition facilities? Do our parents have the time or educational requirements to help us through difficult subjects or to even monitor our progress? Do our parents have regular incomes to provide us with the cushions of life?
At this point, many savarnas and non savarnas would argue that they themselves went through difficult times. Mohandas Pai said in an interview that although they had a house, they did not have a car and that it was difficult growing up. Examples are always quoted of savarnas who have come up the hard way or non savarnas who have come up the easy way. These kinds of arguments go back and forth.
Savarnas claim to be logical and in possession of a scientific mind. It is therefore surprising that they are completely incapable of understanding and comprehending a simple scientific logic – that exceptions do not disprove the majoritarian truth.
If a hundred savarnas are practicing casteism, you cannot showcase one savarna who doesn’t seem to.
If one non savarna is successful, you cannot deny the struggles and barriers to success that thousands of non savarnas face.
What is the meaning of systemic casteism? There may be a theoretical and large framework of defining this, but sometimes a simple explanation would suffice.
Systemic casteism is when individuals face obstruction to their growth and well being from systems that function on caste prerogatives. Expecting individuals to fight these systems shows some intrinsic lack of understanding, even pig-headedness. In the case of many children from marginalised communities, while their families struggle with their day to day existence, unable (not unwilling) to provide their children’s needs, the schools become places of psychological violence. Children are not treated as equals. For those of us who have faced sibling rivalry or professional rivalry often from people who may do it unknowingly, it shouldn’t be hard to understand the magnitude of psychological and social violence that is inflicted on children when this unequality is deliberately propagated. Children being made to sit separately, children’s head’s being shaved or other markers being placed on the child to separate them as ‘them’, children not being allowed to eat with others, children who eat non-vegetarian, particularly beef, being told that they are therefore polluted and inferior. Can an educated, logical, thinking savarna not understand how demoralising and damaging these practices are? These same practices are carried on to colleges and universities.
So really savarnas have to either say that they support these unequal system and do not believe in equality or say that they believe in equality and therefore do not support these unequal systems. In reality, it is a very straightforward position. The problem comes with savarna deviousness, where they say they believe in equality but will continue to support unequal systems using some roundabout logic such as merit. There is enough evidence to show that, given suitable opportunities and support, all children have the phenomenal ability to do well – irrespective of their color, religion, language, or caste. When these so called support systems are itself such that they exclude certain types of children and break their sense of self worth, how does the argument of merit come in?
Mohandas Pai also asks the students of JNU not misuse taxpayer funds. Why does he not say the same to his buddies in the Bangalore ‘Vision’ group and the Karnataka Knowledge Commission??
Devi Shetty, owner of Narayana Hrudayalaya is amassing crores in public tax-payers money through all the health insurance schemes of which he is the implementer, board member and now ombudsman too.[ii] Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is a business tycoon, who wants to bypass regulations and conduct clinical trials on vulnerable communities, dumps toxic wastes into water bodies[iii] gets a loan sanctioned for a 1000 crore pharma company[iv] and also sits on the committee to ‘provide affordable medicines’!!. She manufactures and pushes, through the government, the use of spirulina for poor malnourished children. Have these ‘supplements’ that she claims are essential, been tested for side effects? How do they hope to monitor and manage the liver and kidney side effects of spirulina?[v]Will they all be referred to Devi Shetty under the government health insurance scheme so that a fair share of profits go to him as well? Swati Ramanathan has bypassed all tendering processes, bypassed government bodies and bagged a contract worth 200 crores for four roads in Bangalore and also refusing to answer RTI’s or questions from the very same taxpayers that Mohandas Pai is so valiantly speaking on behalf of[vi]. Why the double standards?? Isn’t this savarna double speak, where you will bring in some nationalistic logic of tax payers money against students who criticise a discriminatory and casteist system while turning a blind eye and even vociferously supporting and benefiting from a corporate group that maliciously destroys democratic processes and criminally profits from taxpayers money?
Mohandas Pai is symbolic of the larger malaise in India. Role models are easy to come by when they feed the very same aspirations that people anyway have. Those who support him should engage logic to understand issues. To question these role models, their positions, to understand one’s one locations, to look at larger structures, to question inequality, not from one’s own comfort zones but from one’s sense of fairness and justice – these require breaking away from stereotypical role models such as Mohandas Pai. It requires change. It requires giving up some of one’s own comfortable spaces. It requires standing the risk of losing a job, or being denied a PhD or being denied hostel rooms. These are the real heros and heroines – the ones who fight for equality and justice, inspite of untold hardships to themselves and their dependents.