This is everything on the table: I grew up in the ’90s in a middle class, urban, educated family in Bangalore. This is not to say that my parents were rich. My father had lost both his parents by the age of 26, and he worked hard to stay standing on his two feet. I think it’s safe to say that my family leans Centre-Right and even though parts of my family are very politically active (one of my uncle’s was even arrested and put in jail for over 40 days at the age of 16 for protesting against the Emergency), the terms Left-leaning/Right-leaning didn’t really show up in my vocabulary growing up. The political milieu in India (and abroad) in the ’70s and ’80s forced my parents to think, question, and debate about what was going on around the world and to be flexible about where they stood on the spectrum. Or maybe I’m just one of those people who gives the previous generation too much credit as I get more frustrated watching the world discuss Kim Kardashian’s butt. Anyway, that’s the background I come from. Even as I decided to study the social sciences in the 11th grade, and participated in a couple of protests, I was quite apolitical as a high school student. Right, Left, Right.
At the age of 18, I moved to Delhi to study Political Science. It was the first time I was surrounded by such a diverse group of women from across India, and everything I had believed to be true came crashing down. Delhi University, and most of my professors, is Left leaning (and quite on the nose about it). Pretty much everything we read was from the perspective of the Left, history came to be understood differently, and most of us were soon converts. For someone who had come to live on the other side of the country, and with my impressionable mind looking to counter everything my parents had taught me to be true, this was heaven. Terms like ‘feminism’ and ‘othering’ became part of my daily vocabulary. The downside of this, which I only noticed later, was that I got so caught up in this new world of information (it felt like a conspiracy for it to have been hidden for so many years!), that I didn’t realise the thing I was fighting was also what I was defending. To put it differently, the curriculum in college was Left-leaning to the extent that it became this propaganda that everyone subscribed to; our very own filter bubble. It also became difficult to negotiate between the contradictions posed by theory and reality. I once attended an international multi-stakeholder conference on ecology and sustainable development at a lavish five-star hotel where, during the conference, the attendees became extremely upset because there was a power-cut and it took a couple of minutes for the generator to come on. In the classroom, majority of our reading list was from the Economic and Political Weekly. We weren’t exposed to diverse views because what they were saying was the ‘Truth’ (with the capital T, yes). I was told in my Political Theory class that while my lecturer encouraged open debate (and she really did), Delhi University would grade me a zero if I attempted to support capital punishment, irrespective of the strength of my argument. This is not to say that I didn’t have some professors who inspired or pushed us to think. But those were the exceptions to the rule, in a very skewed system. In general, we started asking each other which way we leaned and there was only one right answer, Left. Left, Right, Left.
It’s only after the charm wore off that I started to notice this. Ideology always took precedence over facts, and if you leaned in one direction on a particular issue, you had to lean that way on all issues. And this was and is the story with the Left and the Right, something most of us were guilty of. But I got lucky; I had friends who leaned both ways and, even today, I can always find someone who will counter my argument, no matter which side I take. However, I think the issue with the mainstream so-called intelligentsia stands. I think there’s a dearth of a smart alternative (or, ideally, alternatives) to the Left intelligentsia. Yes, I know Modi is in power (with a clear majority) so it sounds ludicrous for me to be saying this, but politics is different from governance and academia. What I am asking for is an engaging, lucid alternative that is visible and coherent. The Right in India is invariably defined based on where they stand on religion, rather than economics and politics, especially in public forums. Militant Hindutva has become synonymous with the mainstream Right and so, thanks to the lack of an alternative, you get automatically categorised with the Left if you disagree with that ideology. Right, Left, Right.
Diversity of views is important for the growth of a democracy. Shouting matches hosted by 1 man who presumes he knows what 1 billion people “want to know” is not. Social sciences should be taken seriously because the study of peoples is fundamental to our existence and the direction we take in the future. Where we stand on one issue shouldn’t determine where we stand on all issues, and our ability to entertain more than one thought at any given time should be acknowledged; God forbid you see the validity in a sound argument made by the other side. When evidence is provided and facts change, we should be able to change our conclusion without being termed a hypocrite. Finally, our opinions shouldn’t be held like a knife over our heads, just waiting for the moment when we slip up to go “Aha! You were wrong about this ONE thing, and so, by extension, are stupid about everything”. At ease, Soldier.
Article by Roshini Suparna Diwakar