Discover more from Learning by Proxy with Vivek Srinivasan
The Dichotomy that is India
Modern India is not modern at all. Also, the India that we are living is not the same for all. Between the north and the south, between the urban and the rural, many India's exist
If you have watched a plane make a turn you would have noticed that the plane never turns at right angles. Velocity is a vector and when you try to change the direction of that vector the consequence is felt in another direction. This is described by the gyroscopic effect.
The wheels of a train are made of solid iron. Because of its construction, the same principle makes the wheels of a train fly out when they rotate. In order to counter the gyroscopic effect, the centre of gravity of the wheel is placed off-centre. As the heavier part of the wheel rotates towards the steel tracks it directs an outward force, this effect is called the Hammer Blow.
Aviation was not big in India in the 1990s. The country could be easily and cheaply traversed by train. Most Indians would have travelled by train to some place or the other in the 90s.
The sound of the hammer blow was very familiar to Indians who had travelled by train.
In the late 1990s after liberalisation India was finding a new identity and there were kids born into the world of consumerism. At this time, a music composer wrote a song that became the new anthem of national identity. Hailing from the south, he had originally written the song in Tamil which was also translated to Hindi. The song used the Hammer Blow as the predominant beat, a sound that was so familiar to every Indian ear. The song was called “Thai Manne Vanakkam” in Tamil and “Maa Tujhe Salaam” in Hindi. A song that was meant to unite the country.
In the 1940s an actor by the name of Mohammed Yusuf Khan changed his name to Dilip Kumar in order to make a break in the industry. The wounds of the partition were fresh and there was little hope for a Muslim actor in India. In a matter of 5 decades, a man born with the name A S Dilip Kumar would change his name to A R Rehman and give us a song that became the rallying cry for unity in India. How far India had travelled in such a short time.
During that time, forces had already been mobilised in the name of Hindutva. 5 years before the release of the song the Babri Masjid had been razed to the ground signalling the rise of Hindutva across the country.
Hindutva is about racial superiority, cultural hegemony, and religious superiority. It is also a very deeply north Indian phenomenon and the seeds of it were sown by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Today, it is also being used to establish linguistic superiority.
And how quickly we went back!
And the current dichotomy
The India we live in today is highly conservative. It ranks lower than Pakistan in terms of the number of people who think Civil Rights are a necessary feature of democracy. The percentage of people who think the government should NOT indulge in censorship is close to 30%. Further, younger people hold pretty much the same beliefs as their elders. Indians are conservative across age lines.
We in the cities think we are über liberal, while our elections keep proving us wrong.
There is a false narrative of the middle class in India. Most of the Indians reading this blog would consider themselves middle class. All without exception are bound to be extremely wealthy. The median income per capita in India comes to about Rs. 8700 ($115) per month. A household of 5 people earning Rs 43500 would be middle class. But our movies and news and television pander to this false narrative where the rich in this country compare themselves to the billionaires and call themselves middle class.
Our movies would have us believe that the middle class in India vacations in Switzerland but the middle class barely travels within the country. Of course, lockdowns announced with a 4 hour's notice tend to spur travel in that segment of society.
Poor people can be easily persuaded if they are given a villain to direct all of their anger. It is not their fault that they are poor, it is the fault of this one group. It was Jews for the Nazis, immigrants for Donald Trump, and Muslims for India.
Convince the majority in a nation that they are the ones being discriminated against by the minority and you will have unlimited power. The ingredient of every right-wing movement.
The powerless Hindu Middle Class is that fiction.
The Indian population today is ageing from the South to the North. The South is much older than the north with the median age in the south being well above 30 already. It is predicted that by 2036, Tamil Nadu will be the oldest state in India with a median age above 40. Further, the southern states have already fallen to or below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per couple. Kerala is already below 2.
The situation is even more grave in the cities. Urban India has a fertility rate of 1.7 which is comparable to the West where such figures are setting off alarm bells.
To make this more complicated, Bihar remains the only state with a fertility rate above 3. Bihar, UP and Rajasthan are contributing to most of the rise in population in India. India has not redistributed the seats in the Lok Sabha, since 1980 when Indira Gandhi stopped the process and pushed it to 2001. It was further delayed and is now expected to take place in 2030. In 2030, it is also expected that Bihar would be the third-largest state by population instead of Maharashtra. This may end up putting more seats in the hands of Bihar in Lok Sabha!
The 5 southern states along with Maharashtra produce more than 40% of the Indian economic output. They are going to want more representation, not less.
Add to this the push that the forces of Hindutva are making around language. Trying to assert and declare the primacy of Hindi.
In Western Europe, there are just two countries that speak multiple languages - Switzerland and Belgium.
Belgium is a country that is smaller than Haryana and they have 6 different governments at the centre. All because they have to accommodate 3 languages.
Each country in Europe has its own language, its own culture and its own identity. India is a British invention which had cobbled together 100s of states by the force of the gun.
Language is important to the identity of most people and historically trying to undermine one’s language has not ended well. It has either resulted in the splintering of states or in the total annihilation of a people.
All these factors taken together create fertile ground for a right-wing movement to emerge in South India that pushes for separation. The murmurs have been heard for a long time.
How long can this tenuous balance persist?
All data sourced from Whole Numbers and Half-Truths by Rukmini S.