Sunday, August 3, 2008

India After Gandhi - Axes Of Conflict

In his book, India After Gandhi , Ramachandra Guha broadly speaks about four axes of conflicts which are pre-eminent in India.
He further says,his book is nothing but "a story,above all, of social conflicts, of how these arise, how they are expressed, and how their resolution is sought." .

First up, there is the issue of caste - whom we fight,whom we fight against,whom we vote for and a whole array of other decisions are often taken based on caste in our society. Caste conflates into two Indian words: jati, the endogamous group one is born into, and varna, the place that group occupies in the system of social stratification mandated by Hindu scripture. There are four original varnas, with the former 'Untouchables' constituting the fifth and the lowest strata. Into these varnas fit the 3,000 and more jatis, each challenging those in the same region,that are ranked above it, and being in turn challenged by those below.

Second comes language. The Constitution of India recognizes twenty-two languages as 'official'. The most important of these is Hindi, which in one form or another is spoken by upwards of 400 million people.Naturally, national unity and linguistic diversity have not always been seen to be compatible. Indians speaking one tongue have often fought with Indians who speak another and the practice continues to exist.

Then there is religion. Though the vast majority is Hindus, India also has the second largest population of Muslims in the world(about 140 million; only Indonesia has more). Substantial communities of Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains exist too and it should hardly be a surprise that Indians of one religion have many a times quarreled with Indians worshipping another God.

The fourth and final major axis of conflict is class. India is a land of massive economic polarization.While a sizable number of the world's billionaires are Indians, fully 26 per cent of our population, about 300 million individuals, are said to live below the official poverty line. While the disparity is in the form of landholding in the countryside, huge gaps between incomes is a common sight in the cities.And of course, these asymmetries have fuelled many a movement of opposition.

P.S. A minor axis of conflict to be noted, I feel, is sex. With growing protests on gender equality and any expression of male domination coming under national scrutiny, sex might turn out to become the fifth major axis of conflict someday.

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