Saturday, December 11, 2010

Are we a Two Notion Nation?

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh returned from Cancun having taken his due part in a relatively successful international climate conference.  Now some of us want to gut him for "compromising" India's position by accepting binding conditions that will force us to pollute less!  Truth is, he did not.  He played his hand professionally, making progress where it matters most in his ministry - at the global level.

Mr. Ramesh is thankfully, intelligent enough to know we as a nation have fought anything binding for a long time, and he therefore presented a "nuanced" stance that allowed for some progress to be made - something a lot many climate summits before this could not claim.  So, what's up with us?  Why these reactions now, going far enough to call his deeds a "U-Turn" in the media?  How do we send a representative to a global summit, to stand up for this "billion strong" mass of humanity that we are so proud of, without knowing exactly what he is going to do there?

Strangely, while we never make any news of preparing anything other than our cricket team before a big event, we are very happy to beat every other piece of information into a controversy, raking up every opportunity for a confrontation.  We must either like something or hate it!  We're angry against Australia for a few Indians getting beaten up in rough neighbourhoods, angry against the USA for them calling us "self appointed front runners" for new permanent seats on the UN Security Council, and yet extremely weak when one of our airliners gets hijacked by terrorists.  We're proud about the silliest achievements like putting a toy on the moon, and get very miserable when we are told we are #147 on the Human Development Index.

Are we as a nation, either arrogant or apologetic, and very little else, in between or beyond?  How about stoic, pragmatic, nuanced, intelligent, innovative, mature, clairvoyant, sophisticated, assertive, visionary, evolved, shrewd, or just plain cool?  Aren't these options available to us as a people?  The danger of subscribing to an over simplistic range of attitudes is that we will not be able to succeed as much as we would like to.  We may just not have the negotiating tools with which to garner advantages in this global world.

Every single one of our institutions, cultural or governmental, administrative or social, are dangerously cloaked in this rather simplistic and archaic construct of right and wrong.  Why do we have to reduce Mr. Jairam Ramesh's stance at Cancun to anything other than his own description of "nuanced"?  Why do we have to enter debates leading to a legislation about gay sex being simply, criminal or not criminal?  Why does the debate not go into our very understanding of the word "criminal"?  Clearly, that is where we should go to understand ourselves!

As long as we have this "right" or "wrong" black and white perspective about everything we do in a complex world, we will desist from understanding anything of even a mildly complex nature.  Opinions we have so many of, but very few world changing perspectives.  This should be very strange for a culture heavily influenced by Hinduism's inclusive fundamentals, for we know that in order to embrace Krishna, I should not have to give up on Christ.  For a culture that has hardly been instructed about anything mutually exclusive, sexual poses in temple carvings included, are we in danger of becoming, in the age of the internet and the information revolution, a rather unsophisticated nation of people not willing to consider anything long enough or leave some things inconclusive in judgement?

Why is it that we have to stoop to define our laws based on "legal" or "illegal" for instance?  It is no secret that policemen frequently gun down extremely hardened criminals, who have not been deterred by the consequences of the judicial system.  If someone is unruly enough to not worry about a jail term, and if he has scant respect for other people's lives, chances are, it will take some stern action to throw him in jail.  If that doesn't work and the threat looms large again, chances are, some policeman or any other individual will take action to neutralize this threat.  Now, we have a Human Rights Commission to investigate these incidences of "encounter deaths", and God bless them for the work they do, and we have armed policemen who actually deal with dangerous criminals - at loggerheads with each other, while both are working towards the same goal - keep society clean!

By putting down a set of laws, do we automatically assume that all situations can be judged by this set of principles we have all sworn to adhere by?  Aren't we limiting ourselves?  Or do we want to avoid complex debates just so life moves along, and hence, we're willing to sacrifice some clarity for some expediency?  Either way, I'd like to see a judge declare someone "guilty according to this trial", but "not guilty" because of some other moral consideration.  Will we be able to handle that?

Something along these lines came up with the Babri Masjid land issue.  The Court decided on a three way split, never going into the verdict of the title at all!  This "extra legal" handling of the matter was a bit of a news for the nation, and as a country, we were appreciated for not losing control.  No riots?  Thank you very much, folks!  But, in hindsight, it was a sophisticated turn of the court system, who did us a favour by not sticking to the book and declaring who the land belongs to.  Clearly, if there was a title dispute, the same land which had never been split before could not have belonged to all three parties in contention?  And yet, this was a sophisticated solution that has gone down rather well.  Perhaps this is the way in the future.

Specific to the environment, Mr. Jairam Ramesh's department, we will eventually have to deal with extremely complicated equations, because we cannot apply our laws to fishermen in Bolivia who will lose a fair bit of their catch if we burn coal to melt iron.  Humanity was never designed to be split into nation states, even though this sort of splitting has ensured we have many different experiments in the way we want to do things collectively.  We will have to ensure, however, that we grow up as a race, that we try and understand and apply ourselves well beyond the limitations of black and white constructs, and slowly make ourselves capable of handling many unique challenges.

As people of India, as a very culturally, socially and intellectually diverse collective, we have a better chance than most people in the world, of training ourselves for multifaceted solution finding, conflict resolution, and visionary, inclusive leadership.  I hope this will not be lost upon us.  Let's give Mr. Jairam Ramesh a fair hearing, and let's not jump to any conclusion.  How about this for a start?


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