Our corruption and theirs

There is an interesting commentary here on the "us and them" binary. First, does this binary stand up to scrutiny? At most times, liberals argue that intelligence, skill, talent and merit are equally distributed among any population, irrespective of caste, gender or race. The only difference is that some people have the opportunity to take advantage of their talents while others do not. They demand a level playing field are they demanding the same for corruption? Should we not simply be saying that corruption has no caste?

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 posturings in the overblown drawing room that is the Jaipur Literature Festival. 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?

For a long stretch of our post-Independence history, the left turned a blind eye to the realities of caste in India. Today, we need to open our eyes to the ways in which class operates. We need to redefine how we look at the Indian social world around us. It is no longer a world of primordial or fundamental unchanging identities of caste or religion that allowed us to read our reality with near approximate accuracy in the past (that is, caste and class overlapped neatly). As Nandy hypothesises, large and important spheres of our lives today are arguably caste-free politics, spectator sport, entertainment and crime. It is a world full of turmoil and change, of changing meanings and equations. As social scientists, it is our duty to bring an understanding of this world to the public. Nandy has little faith in modernity or its virtues but he mistakenly thinks that the world can be read accurately as the world of the vernacular, the category, the identitarian relationship that would have remained stable and harmonious were it not for the poison of modernity. Neither can Tejpal get away with wishing for a retaliatory or equalising class war and proclaim it just. The real world out there is far more fuzzy, as Max Weber was apt to remind Karl Marx.

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