I was recently informed of a Twitter handle, @IndianInterest, attacking the disciplines of social sciences and humanities and wondering why people like me (and others who work on issues of caste, religion and gender) were employed at universities or IITs at all.
The owner of the handle was angry with IIT Delhi professor Divya Dwivedi’s recent comment on NDTV that Hinduism was a colonial invention. Incensed, he looked up the list of all departments which research on gender, caste and religion to order their closure!
I have my reservations about Divya Dwivedi’s ideas and doubt if the British in any way invented caste or Hinduism. These are very much part of our (great) Indian tradition which got reconfigured through medieval and colonial India.
And when Left scholars talk about Annihilation of Caste, we can afford to be doubtful as our experience of Left politics tells us otherwise. Not surprising that the CPI will soon start holding seminars on the Vedas and Upanishads to avoid their ‘misuse’.
Out of curiosity, I rejoined Twitter. The twitter handle @IndianInterest is owned by someone who says he is a physicist. He has some 64k followers and is in search of Aryavrat. Like our lived ghettoes, this is a small ghetto that celebrates almost everything about India as Hindu and therefore Great.
As a sociologist, I see value in such closed groups. They provide solidarity and hope for individuals, even if they are detached from real life situations. @IndianInterest is, however, slightly sophisticated; he does quick internet searches and provides convincing conclusions on Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS):
1) Atrocity research in snake pits such as JNU and TISS.
2) In the IITs today, you’ll find: million-dollar, state-of-the-art washrooms and conference halls – flourishing, well-funded humanities departments – obsolete, two-decade-old equipment in the science/tech labs We’re sacrificing science at the altar of anti-India humanities.
3) India’s education system needs radical reforms. It needs to:
i) serve and empower the true stakeholders – the students.
ii) cut out the entrenched rent-seekers.
iii) focus on science and research. Humanities research must be science-based and evidence-based, not opinion-based.
What our champion of the Aryavrat misses is that snakes are worshipped in our culture and so their pits may not seem as dangerous. He is also misinformed that the humanities and social sciences are loaded with funds and facilities at the cost of science and tech labs.
HSS departments are both under-represented and under-funded in the IITs, as compared to, say, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and these departments are very much seen as rent-seekers both in India and abroad.
The state of research and education in the social sciences and humanities in India is surely not something to gloat about but the celebration of every aspect of Hindu culture cannot be termed as social science or humanities either.
‘Atrocity research’, or what we call the sociology of violence or conflict, is not ‘anti-national’. Besides producing peace and cooperation, caste also produces hierarchy and violence. For instance, there have been a few studies on the violence that followed after Gandhi’s assassination.
Brahmans irrespective of their affiliation to the RSS, were attacked in western India, their property destroyed and a few even murdered. I am presently exploring the social meanings of such violence, the state response and the memory of zaal pol [referred locally] amongst Brahmans and non-Brahmans in Belgaum district.
Can this project be called atrocity research? And I wonder whether this project is in India’s interest for our social media ‘nationalists’. Good sociologists are not radical nationalists or religious bigots in any case, and their trade requires them to be cosmopolitans.
One could get lost in trying to figure out the actual meanings of lived Hinduism between the intellectual ghettoes of right and radical left, and sociology could come to our rescue. Hinduism is neither monolithic nor a colonial invention. Hindu is neither vegetarian nor non-beef eating.
Caste continues to be central to Hinduism despite Mohan Bhagwat’s call for ending casteism. The separation of castes constitutes Hinduism and constructs our peculiar form of Hindu cosmopolitanism. My own research with Hindutva groups makes me realise that that their zeal and efforts for Hindu unity and nationalism are far more progressive than actual lived Hinduism, which is deeply divided and hierarchical. In sociology, therefore, we call for cautious celebration of the past and a critical reading of social changes, solidarity and inequalities.
Both Islam and Hinduism, despite their greatness, are caste and bigotry-ridden in India. Just as the social sciences cannot teach the Quran as social theory, nor can we use Manusmirti or the Kamasutra as social theories, in sociology, we can only observe and analyse beliefs to understand lived transgressions, departures and continuity in social forms and solidarity. And may be those social changes that offer more possibilities of equality and justice could be celebrated.
Humanities and social science education is actually important for engineering and the pure sciences or else we will end up producing more ghettoised English speaking Aryavrat groups.
They will look for gold in cow’s urine or propose the use of cow dung for defence against nuclear attack. And sadhgurus will provide philosophical foundations for the caring nature of the cow and the secondary nature of women for the privileged English speaking Aryavrat cosmopolitans.
We may run the risk of being a great culture and society in perpetual perceptual hallucination. It is to avoid this, perhaps, that the likes of me are employed in the departments of humanities and social sciences.
Suryakant Waghmore is associate professor of sociology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT-B, a Commonwealth Scholar and author of Civility against Caste (Sage 2013), co-editor of Institutionalising Minorities (Sage 2017). He recently co-edited a special issue of South Asia on Democracy and Civility in India.