Capital’s Surge, Custom’s Dike



Old orders do indeed change, but  “good customs” continue to corrupt  and bloody India.


Think of it this way:  those young Indians who seek to  overthrow Capitalism bear the full brunt of  the State and social stake-holders in  the culture of accumulation and acquisition, down to the  least of the kulak farmer in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Western Uttar Pradesh where “honour” killings have recently spurted like so many ruptured aortas.


Those other young men and women who merely wish to express a stake in their own private lives (aspirations inseparable from Capitalist social development, you would think)   equally bear the brunt of the  practitioners of Capitalism, but this time  inorder  to keep in place  the “good customs” of patriarchy, paternalism, and property control, even as  such  practitioners embrace the newest of technologies to maximize output and profit.


This, in nutshell, is what segments of   “modern” India  are  witness to today.


There are killings that draw instant elite revulsion (like those that the Maoists or the terrorists commit), and there are killings which draw instant social approval (like those committed by the  votaries of  family and community “honour.”)


Remarkably, where one set of killings  is ostensibly directed at undermining Capitalist political economy (the Maoists), the other set of resistors who are now being butchered in the name of “honour” seek merely to assert the social logic of Capitalism, namely the will to affined person-to-person relations and unfettered sexual consent and freedom.


Thus, the lords of custom  wish the state to bloodthirstily kill the Maoists, since economically they are one with the state  in  wishing to further Capitalist modes of production and the new forces of production that enhance that mode, and they affect the other sets of killings with conviction inorder that Capitalism does not extend to the subversion of traditional forms of social control, even  as the state and the political apparatus that runs it dither and demur, shaking their heads at the  feudal backlash but too chary and complicit to give it battle.


With respect to the Maoists, therefore, the “honour” killers express vociferous adherence to the Constitution of India as by law established.  But with respect to the killings they order, encourage, or bolster with open approbation, they call the same Constitution an ass.  And,  remarkably, many party-political stalwarts who get elected, thanks in part to bulk sectional votes, and then swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws  nod  assent to the wisdom of the ages and to community customs that keep women and male mavericks in place.



So much of the post-Independent life of Republican India  has had this contradiction at its infected and schitzoid heart. 



Thus, look around and you will find among the managers of Capitalist democracy and the Constitutional state more than a few who still think of  the custom of  child marriage as a “good custom,” or who empathise inwardly with those outspoken custodians of the “moral” health of the nation who assert, often with fearless violence, that widows ought  not to remarry, and are best stashed away in Vrindavan with their heads shaven clean.  Not to speak of  placing adverts in national dailies to seek brides or grooms for their wards within the same caste and religion.  Or enjoining dress codes for women in colleges and in the life of the nation generally, or designating places (the offshoots of a market economy, like pubs etc.,) where they had best not be seen.  Not to speak of gay rights and so on, perish the thought.


Remember that the BJP, always in close embrace with market-fundamentalism, and tipped as the “legitimate” political alternative to the Congress, thinks nothing of  asserting that the Constitution and the laws do not apply to the disputed Ayodhya imbroglio; only the customary emotion and will of the Hindus (read the Brahminical classes) does.


In all cases,  “morality” in India has had but one single  reference, from the most ancient of times: sexual morality, and  that of women only. Men have always had fun, indeed, none more than many gods and deities in the official Hindu pantheon.  None of   those other matters to which the evolved Capitalist world attaches moral significance have ever mattered here—such as lying, cheating, corruption in office, inhuman disregard of other Indians who may be poor, low-caste, victimized on one count or another, especially if  they happen to be Muslim.  No Indian of any standing ever apologises for such misdemeanours.  For crimes they never are.




There exists much scholarship that   bemoans the historical fact that in India, unlike in Britain and Europe,  “modernity” did not evolve from prolonged social contestations, although prior to the colonial period, such contestations were not unknown, if ultimately unsuccessful in bringing about any major, country-wide, or long-lasting social transformation.  Never an easy prospect when one keeps in mind the  quite unparalleled diversity of social, linguistic, ethnic and religious identities in India  and local histories barely assimilated into any unifying, “nationalist” narratives till the last decades of the fight against colonialism.


The proto-bourgeois challenge to British and other colonialisms chose largely to evade fighting on two fronts.  Far from  subverting feudal forms of life, in social practices and belief systems, indeed even in land relations, the “national” vanguard opted to incorporate  feudal  leaderships into the fight against colonialism.  Notable exceptions to this pattern  belonged not to the north of India from where  largely the leadership of the Congress party was drawn, but in the southern states and in Maharashtra.  Reason perhaps why no “honour” killings have been reported from those parts of India.


Interestingly, in recent decades a new school of social thought has emerged in Indian academe, and in some think- tank organizations (such as the Centre for Developing Societies, thought to be closely allied to some American social science research organizations and funding institutions) which have sought to offer challenge to the  sort of  liberal/positivist critique of feudalisms as stated in the previous paragraph.


Clinical sociologists and ethnographers such as Ashish Nandy, for example, and several of his acolytes have sought to underscore the  positive features of traditions, worthy of being integrated into a humane Capitalism as guarantors of social depth and stability against the atomist individualism that Capitalism spawns.


Some have argued for amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act so as to incorporate the  demand of the  “honour” killers that marriages within the same gotra (village clan descended from some common mythological ancestor) be proscribed, regardless of the absence of any biological nearness of the parties in question.


The question of course must be as to where one draws the line on traditional forms of social living.  And whether Capitalist “development,” can either ever be “humane” or permit some designated forms of the old ways of community living to sustain themselves.


It is within this matrix of historical debate that “honour” killings in India’s badlands take place.  Remarkably, the state of Haryana, one ot the worst affected, ranks number two in terms of per capita income, and somewhere near the bottom in terms of gender ratio, with not more than some 700 or so women for every  1000  men.


Capitalism, thus, seems only to reinforce social atrophy in regions where no progressive social movements of any kind have been to the fore. Indeed, high growth rates and individual incomes seem, if anything, to reinforce patriarchy in ways more brutal than before. Even among village Panchayats where women have been accorded close to 50% representation, men have found ways to subjugate to surrogate control  women Sarpanches (Heads of Panchayats) either simply through brute domestication, or some “authorized” traditional appeal to  male  prerogatives in running public affairs.  It is not surprising, thus, that female foeticide is most rampant precisely in those parts of India where incomes and enterprises have tended to record  highs.





It can then be seen that unregulated liasons between young men and women in disregard of the customary order of things (caste affiliation, parental authority, family property holdings) are seen as boding fatal threats of disintegration. 



Yet, in my view, the brutalities and murders vented on these young Indians are the less significant part of contemporary history in these regions.



Greater significance ought to attach to the scale and spread of the resistance on offer. 



Having been sent to school, and often to college, and then allowed to engage in gainful employment, often beyond the reach of the patriarchs, it is as though these young people now wish to say that they understand their own interests best.  And to say that as  “citizens” rather than members of this gotra or that, this caste or that, they  are in accord with provisions of the Constitution of the Republic which furnishes to them  the right to life with dignity and free choice.



Given the frequency with which cases of such resistance now pour into the public view, it is to be much doubted that the dykes of custom will hold back for much longer the surge of  Capitalist individualism, since Indian Capitalism seems only set to go forward rather than usher in some radical reconstruction. 



This seems particularly so now that the Indian judicial system has come forward to demand of the state knowledge of what it is doing to stop and punish actions that have no sanction in the laws or in the Constitution.  The Khap Panchayat boast that come what may they will remain the operative law in matters of marital or sexual choice between consenting adults may soon run out  ot steam, since no politician, however he may share the social predilections of the lords of custom, can overtly accept the view that custom is above the law and the Constitution so long as he chooses to remain in authorized politics where the money is.


Increasingly also, the sternness of the courts finds reflection in the exertions of civil society organizations, chiefly of women but supported by liberal sections among men, to stand upto the wild-western diktats of the Khap overlords.  Without question also, investigative  agencies whose members are often drawn from the same whoof and warf as the  Khap communities, will not but find themselves obliged increasingly to implement the laws in proportion to the determination that the state and civil society  show in meeting the brigandry of the  Khap outlaws.


It is for that reason that the young men and women who have thus far been murdered, even in the capital city of Delhi, may go down as martyrs who precipitated one of the most far-reaching and progressive transformations in the social life of  India’s north and north-west.


As the days go by, we may see  more numbers of India’s  Bazarovs to transgress beyond intellectual combat with the older generation of men, and take the sphere of active revolt fast forward.


We say, however rotten Capitalism be, better its libertarian preferences than what Marx once eloquently captioned the “muck of ages.”


Better that India have more numbers of “citizens,’ however isolated and deracinated, than mere appendages of  ruthless old identities.

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