AIPUR Literary Festival, 26 January 2013: Veteran psycho-sociologist Ashis Nandy, in responding to TEHELKA Founding Editor Tarun Tejpal’s remark that corruption in India is a great social equaliser, said that “most of the corrupt come from the OBCs, SCs and STs”. This has generated a furore in the media that is now playing out in the courts of law. FORWARD Press gives highlights from the full original statement and the ensuing debate. You be the judge.
Tarun Tejpal: I’m saying perhaps corruption in a country like India is also a great class equaliser…
Ashis Nandy: Just a response to this part, very briefly, he’s not saying the most important part of the story, which will shock you, and it will be a very undignified and — how should I put it — almost vulgar statement on my part. It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes and as long as this is the case, the Indian republic will survive. And I give an example, one of the states with the least amount of corruption is the state of West Bengal when the CPM was there. And I want to propose to you, draw your attention to the fact that in the last 100 years, nobody from the OBCs, the Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state.
BL Soni, Commissioner of Police, Jaipur, 30 January: “A case [against Nandy] has been registered under SC/ST Act.”
Yogendra Yadav: You may not agree with him; I certainly don’t. The point about corruption serving the end of compensatory justice … [is] factually incorrect and flawed in reasoning. But to say that Nandy’s position is anti-SC/ST/OBC, or worse, that it is a casteist slur on disadvantaged communities, is a dreadful misreading of his position. If anything, his is an overstated defence of the socially disadvantaged communities. (The Indian Express, 28 January)
Prof. Ravinder Kaur, IIT Delhi: This debate, I suggest, is not about caste. It is about class, elitist class. Lower-caste corruption does not have “class” on its side… There is a condescending attitude towards the lower castes in these posturings in the overblown drawing room that is the Jaipur Literature Festival.
(The Indian Express, 6 February)
Prof. N. Sukumar, (Delhi Univesity): One fine day, the mask slips and he is revealed to be an ordinary prejudiced casteist being, with feet of clay. Nandy was unconsciously articulating a deep rooted fear prevalent among the academic elite. They are unable to persecute any more Eklavyas and that being the case, who will talk about Arjuna’s ‘merit’? So, the modus operandi is to tar the entire SC/ST/OBC community as thieves, untrustworthy, burglars etc. (Roundtable India, 30 January)
Vidya Subrahmaniam: If for no other reason than to make the caste debate meaningful, we also need to look at Mr. Nandy’s subsequent clarification … “What I meant was that most of the people getting caught for corruption are people from OBC, SC and ST communities, as they don’t have the means to save themselves unlike people from upper castes who can hide their corruption.” The Nandy episode would have been well served if this statement had become the peg on which to examine the persisting caste prejudices and double standards that allow one kind of corruption to be exposed and the other to be hidden. (The Hindu, 11 February)
S. Anand: The more Nandy tries to explain, the more he sounds rabidly casteist. … According to Nandyian logic, then, whoever is in the majority must necessarily be the most corrupt. What he claims as a ‘fact’… is not a fact at all but a tautology, a case of circular reasoning. Even the elite anti-corruption campaigns of Anna Hazare/Arvind Kejriwal had bigger fish in mind. Nandy’s views on caste and corruption … must be debated and challenged. Nandy is a master at repackaging elite prejudice as counter-intuitive insight and paradoxical wisdom. But the best cure for these intellectual parlour games is simply to expose his ignorance to light of day. (OUTLOOK, 11 February)
Dear Ashis Nandy,
You labelled the SC/ST/OBCs as corrupt to equalise them with upper castes who are not merely corrupt but also exploit. We, therefore, not only need to debate caste and corruption but caste and exploitation, too. The game is not yet being played in a levelled field. … While pretending to be a friend of the new entrants, do not hint to the umpire that the new entrants are likely to win by using deceptive means. No… no, that is being a deceptive friend.
-Yours truly, Kancha Ilaiah (Open letter, 4 February)
Published in the March 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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