Book Review: An intellectuals’ collective

06:36 AM Mar 22, 2020 |
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India is arguably at a crossroads in its history as a sovereign democratic republic. Very much a part of the global economy with a GDP that is among the top five economies, it has even overtaken its former colonizer.

Domestically, at least on paper, its social indices are impressive, whether it is about increasing numbers of children in schools, families with access to proper toilets, those with access to healthcare and medical insurance, banks and loans, food-grains and consumer goods.

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At the same time, never have we witnessed such a social, political and economic upheaval in the country, with people riven by caste, creed and capital.

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In its history as an independent nation held up repeatedly to the rest of the world as the biggest democracy, India has forged a steady path, from backward to developing to developed.

The very contradictions inherent in our situation as sub-continent with three millennia of civilization have only emphasized our unique ability to adapt swiftly to change.

Yet in the last four years (and slightly before that), we have watched the great dismantling of ideas, institutions, philosophies and the policies that set us, as a nation, apart from the rest of Asia.

All this at the altar of a perversely imagined country, where our two greatest principles, self-reflection and a celebratory diversity, have been brutally sacrificed to keep the current dispensation in power. Nor does there seem to be a silver lining to our present horizon.

Yet in these dire times of ugly binaries of caste and creed, widespread suspicion of one’s neighbours and the increasing ease with which the “other’ is demonized in the public discourse, life throws up the right people to provide us with new ideas.

Over two years, there have been calls for the restoration of our Constitution in letter and spirit, creating “new sites for sociopolitical assertion”. India’s foremost academics, activists, policymakers and professionals have been meeting to discuss, debate and reflect upon present and future challenges.

More importantly, they are offering solutions to these challenges, based upon grass-root realities, fact-based research and social experience, and “actionable social-scientific knowledge”.

This is the first of 14 volumes of writings and essays that seek to highlight and focus upon the biggest conundrum of our times. In a country where a singular idea of nationhood is being thrust upon 1.3 billion people, it is imperative that we realise and absorb the fact that there are many such ideas, and only in accepting all these can we preserve the overarching reality of this teeming sub-continent as a place that nurtures the human spirit.

There are ten essays in this volume, preceded by an introduction from the editors. Each should be made mandatory reading in our institutions of learning, for they are ideas that fit the story of what is happening to us.

The line-up includes G D Devy, Kancha Iliah Shepherd, Neera Chanhoke, Sitaram Yechury, Shashi Tharoor, Kalpana Kannabiran, Navtej Singh Johar and Pushparaj Deshpande. We can only imagine the trove of literary treasure that awaits in the others in the series.

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