Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Complex Majoritarianism and Majoritarian Complicity?

Recently, I was traveling by the Shatabdi express train from Chennai to Bangalore. During the journey, I observed that the steward serving us food was not very pleasant in his demeanor. Many of the passengers felt the same.  Some of them just ignored and a few others reacted but did not get any response.  And then, one of the passengers mentioned that the stewards were from the northern part of India and that indeed was the problem -  the north Indians coming down to south for work and vitiating the atmosphere.

As a matter of fact, the steward was indeed unpleasant but was not rude at all. The auto-rickshaw drivers in Chennai, on the other hand, are rude to the core. And I reckon, none of them is from the northern part of India. Same is the case with the local auto-rickshaw drivers in Bangalore or in Delhi. But dealing with them, people handle it as an individual aberration. However, when an ‘outsider’ shows a little attitude, the reaction turns parochial and an entire group is branded.

And therein lies the complexity of majoritarianism. The regional, religious, language or the social-class majority seeks a certain degree of primacy in the society, with a sense of entitlement. Be it this train incident; a roadside skirmish in any Indian city; an ostensible denial of a minority right in a majority domain; inside a minority dominated pocket within a majority expanse or even an offbeat thinker who doesn’t align with the majority viewpoint, be at work or in a society – the majoritarianism tends to command everything. Right from a trivial dress-code to a more expansive social practices or even to an organizational strategy.

As long as the smaller group remains submissive or compliant, there are no issues. The larger group doesn’t feel threatened as long as it maintains an upper hand. And precisely for that reason, the migrant businessmen from a specific part of the country are highly successful across the country and still are never at odds with the majority groups.  The psychology of Majoritarianism, howsoever complex it may appear, has also got to do something with the complicity of the Majoritarian. A majority group also consists of some balanced, moderate individuals. In fact, they form the majority within the majority. However, they remain passive on the face of such majoritarianism. And, as a result,  the small majoritarianist group sways passionate sentiments for unjustified and unethical parochial gains.

This passive moderate group has a major role to play if it truly believes in pluralistic principles - be it the roadside, a place of worship or a workplace. Did I err when I did not correct my fellow passenger in the train from branding and hence alienating a whole community. Perhaps yes. We can become a true pluralistic society only when the moderates thwart all attempts at isolating smaller groups in a given environment – the context could be a public place, a work place or a place of worship.  As there is no case for any patronage or appeasement of the smaller groups, there also is no room for any threat or check against the freedom of opinion and movement for anybody, anywhere, as long as the individual or the group is a responsible citizen of this country.

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