Indian sociology, if there is one

Last week was spent in listening to some of the best Indian minds in sociology during NIAS’s annual seminar on nation, community and citizenship in contemporary India. It was also a fitting tribute to M N Srinivas in whose honour a panel discussion was organized. The discussions seemed in-line with his own way – stress-testing concepts and original. There were differing opinions on the relevance of concepts, ethnographic method etc. One of Srinivas’ contemporaries present at the occasion was Prof. N. Jayram who had known M N Srinivas for a substantial part of his later academic career.

I have been interested in Srinivas’ work and the development of sociology in India for a while now. The seminar at NIAS brought together a rather large section of Indian sociologists who, undoubtedly, have driven teaching and research in sociology in Indian universities. Over the last three years, I have used excerpts of Srinivas’ The Remembered Village as an preliminary exposure to sociology for students of O and A level studies. I find it a useful sample of classical sociological writing which comes up as a result of long term observations driven by a structured inquiry. I have been interested in knowing what has been the legacy of Srinivas’ work in India and how has it changed the study of Indian society. While I did manage to have some insights into it at the seminar, the more interesting part was Prof. Jayram’s reminiscence of Srinivas. A rich description of sociology in early years of independent India can be found in Srinivas’ interview with Chris Fuller here.

Jayram suggests that there are two things worth noting when we discuss Srinivas today – that he came in at a time when social philosophy transitioned to sociology and that his career spanned colonialism, Indian independence, Nehruvian socialism and nationalism (he passed away in 1999). In terms of the discipline, he  privileged field view and participants , which methodologically many know as participant observation. His approach was of being in the field and getting us “earthworm perspective “(for Jayram the importance of this approach kicked in during his work in diaspora studies in Trinidad). The terms he coined – dominant caste, vertical and horizontal solidarity etc are widely used in analysis of Indian society now. Srinivas emphasized on caste as interest group over caste as a system. This analytical lens becomes immediately useful when one finds that systemic analysis of caste not being helpful in offering any logical analysis of caste dynamics.
Jayram added that Srinivas was strongly influenced by structural functionalism. It was his eclecticism that made his sociology more appealing. When one thinks of it, it is hard to list names of eminently readable sociologists in India. The likes of Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Ashish Nandy, Shiv Visvanathan etc who appear often in the newspaper columns can hardly be understood by common people (and require re-readings for social science graduates themselves). One could argue that these are not sociologists, but the larger point remains – that Indian academicians don’t quite have the ability to write in an engaging manner. The only exception to this, in my opinion, is Andre Beteille. Whereas, Srinivas did not restrain from communicating his ideas to a general audience. Jayram remarks that Srinivas’ language carried both – the novelist’s imagination and sociologist’s thinking. That is a enviable ability to write! It is said that Srinivas was also influenced by Graham Greene’s prose style.

Another sociologist on the panel and whose papers I have read through MA was Surinder Jodhka. His remarkably sharp, analytical mind is rather unusual in the discipline. Jodhka’s criticism on “Rampura” (village where Srinivas does his field work) as a problem – that it is the idea of a Hinduised India, is reverent yet sharp in pointing out the contention. Jodhka says, the village of Srinivas’ imagination isn’t quite a village reflecting the realities of a village in contemporary India. Jodhka urges that rural is not just one – there are many rurals. Rural India encompases a whole range of possiblities and configurations which get flattened out in the dichotomous references of rural and urban. A more reasonable category, Jodhka insists would be settlement. The last bit of Jodhka’s critique was about the conceptin of an ideal society which in some sense has been about a casteless society. He asserts that  a casteless society is not an answer – a democratic society is! In a way, it is futile to imagine that caste would cease to matter in the future. Evidence suggests that irrespective of material status, caste consciousness has deepened in India. If anything, it matters all the more. Caste based coalitions are now a major determinant of political outcomes as well as in businesses. In such a scenario, imagining a casteless society is delusional. The task of sociology is to acknowledge the realities of the society and then offer a way forward, not by negating them.

In most MA programs, courses in sociology are dominated by published papers from British and US institutions. Most students are at  a loss to even recall two Indian sociologists and their works. Indian sociology with its own approaches and unique knowledge production could certainly be identified in the 1970s and perhaps until late 1990s. After this, I do not quite find works as situated – in method and content, in India, as earlier. This can be a hasty remark, until I find published works on Indian society, which deviate from the methodological and conceptual traditions of the British and US institutions.

 

 

Explorations in Marxist social theory & a book review

thinkerwall_blog1

 

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia (for all)

 

This one will be a longer post than usual, but delights me especially because I could manage to get a somewhat minimal sense of the range of thoughts and ideas in the Marxist lineage, which has been a long going effort. The post includes a discussion of a clutch of the thinkers in a rather cursory form. This is guided along a fantastic anthology of essays titled Against Orthodoxy: Social Theory and Its Discontents by Stanley Aronowitz, that I happened to read as a part of a course on Development and Law. What made me pick this book is that Aronowitz has been a career trade unionist. With over three decades of work as a union member, I felt his commentaries merits a closer read. 

The development paradigm in the twenty-first century is characterized as predominantly capitalist. The processes that will achieve higher incomes, better living conditions and great prosperity for the people are believed to be those that operate in and through capitalism. Developing and less developed countries, it is seen are orienting their economies in a manner that they stand to gain from these processes of capitalism. For instance, export led growth is one such process which has gained widespread currency and for which there are rather strong success stories to learn from in Asia. If capitalism as a paradigm is believed to have occupied the center stage and is likely to stay, what then can be said of the tremendous destruction of environment, countries (as this is being written the failed states of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan continue to contribute headlines of humanitarian crisis every week.) as well as of human lives? How is it that despite the historic devastation of populations (World Wars) as well as planet’s natural resources which happened in twentieth century alone, capitalism still survived and in fact appears to be thriving in the twenty-first century, whereas socialism faded into memory, and in some cases, disgrace?

The above are the kind of questions that Aronowitz’s book Against Orthodoxy grapples with, by the way of his writings over a span of thirty five years from 1972 to 2015. The essays in the book are critiques of social theories and ideas of some of the leading writers of dissident Marxist social theory. The central theme that binds this long running rumination is to understand ‘the system that has produced such devastation as world wars and environmental crisis’ and how does it continue to march on. The essays are united in their problem of subjectivity.

The questions posed by the author emerge from the realm of social theory and in the process of their discussion happen to throw light on major global events and patterns. For instance, he begins by asking if capitalism’s hold on underlying populations is due to its promise, and occasionally fulfillment, of a better life signified by rising levels of consumption? And is the technological revolution of our time manifested in electronically driven communications, entertainments, and fantastic productivity increases so mesmerizing that a few can resist its blandishments? This is where critical social theories from thinkers like Marcuse, Lefebvre, Luckacs, Horkheimer, Gramsci and others are examined to understand how might their ideas assist in understanding these questions better or to even frame the question as the way it was, to begin with.

This collection of essays makes an enriching read to readers with particular interest in Marxist theory and critical social theory. Another burning question that appears to simmer throughout the book is – Is the prospect of fundamental social change so fearful that even when individuals and groups recognize the system’s limitations to fulfill good life, let alone its failures, people hold on to their hopes within the prevailing setup rather than seek alternatives? Or is the radical imagination dried up so that the available past solutions are so discredited that people are forced to live entirely in the present?

It may perhaps be noted that the book does not offer solutions but on how the thinkers included here analyze the problems. The book focuses on major social thinkers within the tradition of historical materialism and dialectical materialism. This is the orthodoxy the book talks of. They agree on the problems but differ among themselves about what is their nature and what is to be done. On the methodological front the book fixes itself intently on historical and dialectical materialism.

The following section offers a snapshot of the thinkers and aspects of their ideas that are discussed in the essays. Marcuse was a critical theorist who saw theory and action as a continuum. He speaks of “technological rationality” in capitalism, while believing that theory must specify material conditions for realization of human liberation.

A fascinating thought that shines through in reading Marcuse is the idea that labour movement’s fate is a barometer of political prospects. This is of tremendous relevance to the contemporary reading of labour movements in developing countries especially. Further, technology is constructed in conceptual sense as a form of social domination. Marcuse points out that individuality no longer mean self- development but instead the relentless pursuit of personal interests. He argues that Marx’s view that as soon as conditions are present, the workers knowledge of their own interests is sufficient for revolutionary action is not true because monopoly capital has found the means to level the proletariat and deprive it of the collective knowledge by which to lead itself.

From a brilliant commentary on Marcuse, Aaronotiwz trains his gaze on sociologists Raymond Williams and Likacs as well as on aspects of methodology. Raymonds, as a pioneer in cultural studies believed in labour movement. He believed it to be “the fundamental cultural institution of the working class and that workers remained “the key to any possible emancipatory social transformation.” On a somewhat parallel note the author notes that one needed a method that was sensitive to history and allowed for the interpretations involved in understanding to evolve.  And in the process, returning to the key question on understating the process of development he proposes that “knowledge about the object of study as well as a broad, deep comprehension of the world” is necessary for the development of understanding.

In another essay Aronowitz explains that Lukacs’ was an attempt to craft a theory in which the subject as much as the object played a formative role in forging history. His argument that the commodity form itself – a category of political economy – transformed relations among people into relations between things. This “thingification” of everday life thereby reified and appeared to make eternal capitalist system itself (this is in some ways derived from Marx’s “fetishism of commodities”). For Lukacs concept of alienation becomes a structural feature of the capitalist system of production and especially of social and political reproduction – here he departs from conventional Marxist theory of ideology.

The everyday life along this exploration of critical social theory enters the inquiry in this book with Lefebvre. The idea of “urbanism” is also credited to Lefebvre. His investigations were directed to the key question of why and how global capitalism, despite a century of unrelieved wars, revolutions, economic crises, and political turmoil in the both “advanced” and developing world, managed to survive. He notes that “whatever happens, alterations in daily life will remain the criterion of change” wherein daily life cannot be defined as a “sub-system” within a larger system. This too appears to be a departure from Marx’s conception of society and its processes.  Daily life is the site of and the crucial condition for the “reproduction of the relations of production”. Its colonization by the state and by economic relations provides the answer to the question of the survival of survival of capitalism in the wake of its horrendous 20th century history. The right to difference is for him a fundamental principle, especially for the effectiveness of the Left’s struggle for democracy.

In the series of essays, everyday life as an inquiry gives way to theory of political organization with which Gramsci’s ideas are explored. This makes a brilliant read for those who are looking forward to an introduction to Gramsci and neo-Marxist political thought.  Gramsci examines the concrete processes of social transformation and particularly how revolutionary forces out to proceed from the present conditions of economic, political and ideological hegemony to a moment when the “historic bloc” of excluded classes and other social formations may contest and win power. In India, one could think of the political party AAP and its electoral win in New Delhi at this juncture. In AAP one can see the observation that “every party is the expression of a social group” fitting well.

Perhaps for the reader of critical social theory and with interests in later thinkers like Horkheimer and Friere the last two essays would make for a high point of this brilliant collection by Aaronowitz.

Horkheimer is quoted by the author which at one level magnificently captures the state of the current state of political Left in India and at another level is a masterstroke in social theory in its prophetic nature –

“the revolution won’t happen with guns, rather it will happen incrementally, year by year, generation by generation. We will gradually infiltrate their educational institutions and their political offices, transforming hem into Marxist entities as we move towards universal egalitarianism”

With Friere the author deals with his ideas in power relationships as well as humanism, which are as rewarding a read as the rest of the book.

In summary, Against Orthodoxy is a book that maps the trend from from Revolution to Radical Democracy and grapples with the question of how capitalism still finds such a widespread acceptance. The book takes on the enterprise of revising and re-contextualizing Marxist theory. Along the course of the essays it points to battle fronts in which Left must venture if it has to combat capitalism arguing that the solutions would emerge if this fine interlinked web of social reality and self-consciousness is examined in enriched forms. The book in its writing style is dense and makes a difficult read but merits effort if one ones to get closer to the heart of Marxist social theory and critical social theory. And finally, it is a treat for readers interested in philosophical enquiry.

Motorcycle, Touring & Things In-Between – 1

TB_500_sideprofile_kurnool.JPG

Last evening while reading a book on social theory, I drifted away when a chapter in it opened with a mention of the maverick sociologist C. Wright Mills (dude wrote the legendary essay on Sociological Imagination). What made me remember him is not his ideas or contribution to social theory but the fact that he used to ride a motorcycle. The man on his BMW motorcycle was  ‘the Leftist seer on motorcycle‘ and unapologetic for his controversial ideas.  I think his roadie and rider spirit has something to do with the way his professional life was!

Drifting further, I was reminded of the homegrown rider who chooses to attend the 1950 International Ornithological Congress at Uppsala in Sweden on bike. Salim Ali ships his Sunbeam motorcycle (which I suspect was the legendary  500cc S7 model) to Europe and then bikes around the continent to reach just in time for the conference at Uppsala. I wrote about his memoir The Fall of a Sparrow in an earlier post.

Motorcycle and riders, get my attention immediately! Through these years as a rider now, I do find that there is a characteristic attitude or say a certain outlook to life and situations that is unique to riders. This is impressionistic at best, but essentially experiential.

Back in my extended family, I notice that uncles and fathers who rode bikes stand apart in their ways from those who didn’t. Their children, likewise. In 1980s, an uncle used to ride the popular 150cc Lambretta scooter from Nagpur to Pune which meant 800 km of average double carriageway highway. Later, with proven high mileage of Bajaj’s 100cc Boxer motorcycle, he’d do the same only this time in style with an FM radio installed by the headlight assembly for uninterrupted All India Radio broadcast all along his highway ride. His spirit remains the same. Let him know that you are riding or driving long and he should join, he’d be by the side of the vehicle in 15 minutes with his backpack. THAT spirit! The new age bikers of the pretentious biking clubs that I know of wouldn’t even venture out to the other corner of the city on a 15 minutes decision.

My father in his early days rode a 175 cc Rajdoot motorcycle and which was my first exposure to bikes and the unique exposed feel that it came with. Adding to this were the Royal Enfield riding Dispatch Riders (DRs) in Indian army whom I would spot scores of times all through the day. That was another inspiring form – olive green 350cc bikes with metal case panniers and men in olive green uniforms or camouflage fatigues riding around cantonments and the thump of the bikes echoing through the treeline.

A car came years later and by that time I had come too far along to appreciate the closed, bubbled confines of a car. I preferred to lean-in into the curves than lean away from them as in a car. The sense of being exposed and being out-there became an non-negotiable condition to travel and touring. There was this pleasure in being exposed and giving yourself up to the whims of nature. You’d get baked by the blazing tropical Indian sun or battered by wind or soaked to the balls by the same tropical Indian monsoon for hundreds of kilometers. The thrill is beyond what a hundred years in an automobile can offer.

I have been curious about motorcycles, riders and their place in public imagination. There certainly existed, I thought, more categories beyond the ‘outlaw motorcycle riders’ that have somewhat unjustifiably occupied people’s perception. That is when I did a quick search on JSTOR for published articles. A search for “motorcycle” yielded 400 results! With this post I begin pouring over these articles and will keep posting interesting stuff that I find. This is almost like hitting on a treasure for a motorcycle enthusiast. There are stories on motorcycle to anthropologist writing on motorcycle to women on motorcycle.

An interesting piece I found is – Death & the Motorcycle by Becky Ohlsen (gated link) who races vintage motorcycles. The piece is a reflection on her riding experiences and musing over death, which she ends with Stoic philosopher Seneca’s words.

Nobody rides a motorcycle in spite of the danger; they ride because of the danger. They ride directly into the danger. They may indeed be mad, but it’s a madness rooted in a peculiar rationality.

What is also amusing to read is the opening, which clearly is motorcycle in its European context, because in Asia motorcycles are pretty much used for the said purposes and much more –

Motorcycle is not, in other words, the most practical way to fetch a loaf of bread and a carton of milk. Motorcycles are loud, obnoxious, aggressive by nature. They cannot be ridden tentatively. They are not comfortable or convenient.  They make easy things difficult.

Difficulty, obnoxiousness, aggression – as any nice girl can tell you, these things are seductive.

However, a stunningly romantic and endearing piece on motorcycle appeared in the Transatlantic Review in 1968 – Motorcycle Appassionata by Jeffrey Jones (gated link). This is nothing less than what can be dubbed as an ode to the motorcycle and the rider. This article was meant to be a song, and I can’t help quoting the opening paragraphs from it –

highway highway highway.

Downward down a sweep, upward coming out of the valley, rising a hill, over, away, around the bend, leaning, out and straight, away again.
Presto rides.
He kicks down a gear for another corner, springs the clutch as he leans into it. The motor drags and slows, popping. Whips the accelerator around, shooting up and twisting his heard, listens down like a piano tuner for the right pitch. Hums with it and taps up with boot toe into third. The bike settles on its back shocks and jumps. Tone moans and whirs quickly, higher, washing away on the soft California night.

Road lays out ahead and behind in long coaxing curves and floating stretched grades. Twin lamps, chest high on the lifted vampire bars, lick out in front over new black road. Moon light powders blue and lush summer country around. Subaqua, pine tips sway languid as a current brushes across.

Presto is the rider. More lyrical prose follows until Presto rides into a town and enters a bar. Then this –

He turns his back to them so they can easily read DRIFTERS-S.F. stitched on his jacket back over a large white iron cross. He trades the old lady a quarter for his glass of beer and watches one of the girls walk to the juke box. She stands in front of it with a hip thrust out to the side and sweeps her long red hair back over her shoulder. Reading the selection she lifts a foot and rubs the toes over the back of her other leg. the old lady shouts to her.

“Here’s them hamburgers.”

Girl turns and comes to the bar next to Presto. He reads the look of curiosity around her eyes. When she picks up the plastic baskets with the burgersin them he looks down the top of her summer dress and notices a love bite above her breast. When she turns, he’s smiling and she sniffs before speaking.

“You’re one of those Angels aren’t ya?”
“Huh-uh. Drifter.”
“Same sorta thing ennit?”
“Sorta”
“you from L.A.?”
“No. Frisco.”

This for me speaks of how the motorcycles and bikers found expression in literature of the times. Many of these seem to end on a tragic note with ruined lives, dead bikers etc. However, they are all uniformly high on the spirit of the road, biker attitudes, details on motorcycle and the precarious lives that the riders lived.

As I write this and try to find a finish to this trip into literature on motorcycles, I am reminded of Lawrence of Arabia or T E Lawrence, another of my favorite biker from yore. He rode a 1100cc Brough Superior motorcycle. He died riding this British motorcycle in a crash. The 1937 speed record was made on this motorcycle. Not just this, every motorcycle came with a certificate guaranteeing that it could hit a ton (100 mph) within a quarter mile!

 

Subject knowledge of teachers

A government run primary school in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh.  Pic: Arun Sivaramakrishnan

A class in progress in  a government run primary school in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh. To understand this town better, a few of us at the university spent time at various institutions in the town. Pic: Arun Sivaramakrishnan

There is a rare corner in the Indian media (print and broadcast) where concerns about various aspects of education system in India are being pursued. This space, I am glad to see, has  a significant presence of researchers and academicians from the university I attended. Over the past year, these articles have aided my work as senior secondary teacher. Besides, reading views on classroom teaching, learning outcomes, teaching-learning process etc have helped me make sense of my experience in the past year.

This morning, in his regular column Other Sphere, Anurag Behar (CEO of APF and former VC of APU) speaks of the lack of subject knowledge among teachers in India (Read: Making Teachers Specialists). This problem he notes, is systemic – that the required qualification for a teacher to teach Grades 1 to 8 is a Diploma in Education (D.Ed) degree alone. This D.Ed degree can he had after Grade 12, in India.

He observes –

To be a teacher for Grades 1 to 8 in India, a diploma in education (DEd) is the basic qualification. These norms on qualifications and all other aspects of teacher education are governed by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE). The entry to a DEd programme is after passing Grade 12. It is a two-year programme, and doesn’t have anything to do with subject knowledge of the future teacher. Its curriculum is designed for other educational aspects, e.g. child development, sociological issues of education, pedagogy.

The educational attainment that is required for teaching Grades 1 to 8 in India is simply inadequate. Some years back I spent some time with a bunch of senior secondary graduates who were pursuing D.Ed degree in a small teacher training institute in a district town in Maharashtra. This district is infamous for malnutrition in children in India and for agrarian distress. These boys I met were doing this 2 year D.Ed program with the intent of being appointed “para-teachers” in the state government run schools in distant villages of the state. Para-teachers was an interesting idea that Maharashtra government came up with, to improve teacher presence in its schools across the state and perhaps someone in the government also thought that this will improve teaching quality in the schools.

These boys were too young to be teachers, was my first thought. They were too inexperienced to be made responsible for education of children. Though the intent was to create a cadre of teaching assistants to help regular government teachers in their work in school, in practice, most would end up handling classes themselves as teacher absenteeism was rampant at the time. They were clearly seeing this as a job opportunity. They’d be paid between INR 3500 to 5000 per month for the work. And in the interior districts which also suffer from long running agrarian distress, this is a very decent job opportunity. Not surprisingly, several teacher training institutes were cropping up and D.Ed program was a run away hit. The fate of children in government run schools of Maharashtra’s districts was not partly or wholly in the hands of these young, inexperienced boys and girls who have inadequate knowledge. Poor training which is also a problem, doesn’t even matter.

With Anurag’s piece, I am reminded of those boys. And now, as a teacher, I am able to clearly see the kind of debilitating effects it might have had on learning of children in the schools they joined. Simple in proposition, Anurag’s observations on a teacher’s subject knowledge requirement in India being hopelessly low is single-most important factor in poor educational outcomes in schools in India.

Elsewhere, in Deccan Herald newspaper Rohit Dhankar (heads the School of Education at APU) writes on the myth of Private Schools for the Poor (PSPs) in his piece School as a Mint.  He is looking at a completely different front of the school education dynamics in India. His analysis of two categories of schools (that he sees in India) – schools for rich and schools for poor, builds a plausible case that these schools are not concerned with quality of education and contribute to the poor-elite divide in the society.

He points to a space which is not being questioned by any quarter of the society –

In spite of irreconcilable difference in their appearances, both of these schools have exactly the same notion of quality: that which gives the maximum return for the investment is good quality education. This is the market-friendly definition which is almost unquestionably accepted by the parents, the governments and the economics centric researchers in education.

This drive for profit he argues is ruining education.

Neither is concerned with the quality that helps in developing a harmonious authentic self or a concerned citizen with critical rationality. Profit motive, therefore, creates its own saleable illusion of quality and thrives on it; and, in the process, turning humans into self-seekers and deepening the chasm between haves and have nots.

Again, a rare piece of commentary on the state of schools.

Sexual Harassment & Appropriate Sexual Behaviour: An alternative view (Part 2/2)

Continuing from Sexual Harassment: An alternative view, the following post traces the trajectory of the movement against sexual harassment in India.

The first major event that drew attention to this issue was FOWA’s action in the 1980s. A 1991 report from the same organization describes it as –

(…) militant action by the Forum Against Oppression of Women (Mumbai) against the sexual harassment of nurses in public and private hospitals by patients and their male relatives, ward-boys and other hospital staff; of air-hostesses by their colleagues and passengers; of teachers by their colleagues, principals and management representatives; of PhD students by their guides and so on and so forth received a lukewarm response from the trade unions and adverse publicity in the media (FAOW, 1991).[1]

A slew of cases involving prominent people in India before 1997 brought attention to harassment of women at work place. Noteworthy among these are the case against a high ranking officer of the elite Indian Police Service, another against the Environmental Minister in Dehra Dun and against a state Minister in Kerala, by their women colleagues. These in effect, brought to public attention the incidents of harassment of women at work places in India.

In terms of law, the process was to lodge a complaint under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with the ‘criminal assault of women to outrage women’s modesty’, and Section 509 that punishes an individual/individuals for using a ‘word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman’. These sections left the interpretation of ‘outraging women’s modesty’ to the discretion of the police officer.[2]

The single most important shift in conception and legal stand on sexual harassment however, happens as a consequence of the case Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan [1997(7) SCC.323] in the Supreme Court of India (SCI). The SCI effect the now widely held and known definition of sexual harassment in India. It stated that sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as:

  • Physical contact
  • A demand or request for sexual favours
  • Sexually coloured remarks
  • Showing pornography
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature, for example, leering, telling dirty jokes, making sexual remarks about a person’s body, etc

Further, Vishakha Guidelines regarded it as a duty of the employer to prevent sexual harassment and to provide mechanism for resolution of complaints.

Reconfiguration of perception of appropriate sexual behaviour

What began as a genuine and reasonable concern about safety, culminating in introduction of strict laws against crime against women in India, the action in seeking safe working environment and by extension equal rights for women (often framed as oppressed sex) has lost its way. It only seems appropriate to label the current behaviour in men and women regarding appropriate sexual behaviour between them as an acute case of paranoia.  An almost militant imposition of rules of personal and sexual behaviour combined with a predilection to minutely read into every act of men in terms of an act of harassment or as an act of oppression, which is noticeable in several codes of behaviour for employees in organizations and businesses is evident in India. While it is acknowledged that women’s movements has certainly created a safe working environment for women, but it has in the process has left a free form, mutually determined relationship between individuals (same sex or opposite) into shambles.

Then, the credit that women’s rights group takes in having seeded and brought to fruition is not entirely true. Long before the term “sexual harassment” was coined men like Hillary Putnam, John Rawls and Bernard Williams were encouraging women to protest when men of the faculty (in academic institutions) harassed them.[3] In work places now, people feel significant pressure in minding their conversations and behaviour with the opposite sex, with the consequences that social interaction often is laced with anxiety and pressure to sound and appear correct. Such an environment at work place can be labeled adverse at best.

In the understandably passionate and defensive call for action by several women’s rights groups, one also notices that relationships have turned into a turf war with deviations from the determined ideal, hauled up the legal alley with dire consequences. In fact, there are concerns emerging from women’s groups themselves that the feminists have ventured out too far that now any reasonable and enjoyable conversations have become increasingly difficult to handle. Marx spoke of the “alienation” of self as a consequence in an industrial society. Extending that, one can imagine a similar alienation that is likely to befall men, women and other sex, if such an extreme form of perception and ideological bias of men being the oppressor, women the oppressed and that women are objectified, as a default position, is pursued.

Looking ahead, it would be necessary that the state of women and gender based violence as problems are not framed in women versus men binary; nor should it be seen as a male hegemony in the society. The debate and the quest to understand inequality among the sexes as well as gender based violence need to get much more nuanced than this. Factoring the role of media, projection of sexes in media as well “perfomed” roles[4] of various genders would make an appropriate starting point.

[1] Patel, Vibhuti. A brief history of the battle against sexual harassment at the workplace. Source: http://infochangeindia.org/women/analysis/a-brief-history-of-the-battle-against-sexual-harassment-at-the-workplace.html. Date Accessed – 3 July 2015.

[2] ibid

[3] Martha Nussbaum  in a conversation in UC Berkeley. Transcript: http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people6/Nussbaum/nussbaum-con1.html

[4] “Performativity” as an  idea in gender was proposed by Judith Butler

Sexual Harassment & Appropriate Sexual Behaviour: An alternative view (Part 1/2)

sex_harrassment_comic_1

This post is inspired from a paranoia-laced militant behaviour that I witnessed last week, of a Professor (in a law school) as she spoke about the law school’s sexual harassment code, repeatedly emphasizing how robust the school’s code is. And that it goes “beyond” the Supreme Court of India’s Vishaka Guidelines on safety of women at work place in India. It was tiring and mildly discomforting as I imagined implications of such a paranoid behaviour regarding sexual harassment (and by implication “appropriate sexual behaviour” in the society). It read polemical at some places, but helped me in gathering my thoughts on this issue. 

The intellectual and practical space that the three terms – sex, gender and sexual harassment occupy in the contemporary society is marked with confusion and a collective paranoia about safety of women, in particular. The point about paranoia is made with caution here. It is an impressionistic remark based on the reading of newspapers and other media in the span of last two years. Any discussion on sexual harassment inevitably reduces down to the actions, behaviour and treatment meted out to women, by men. Sexual harassment is steeped into the notion of “men are treating women” in unwelcome, undignified and oppressive ways. The implication of such a default and often combative position is very likely to be against the interest of creating a safe working environment for everyone (men, women and LGBT individuals). Such a bias – that men are the perpetrators and that the burden of change of perception and behaviour lies upon the men, to effect a safe and equal environment for all to live and work in. This article questions this notion.

It is in order, then, that one begins with identifying the trajectories of connotation and meaning that these terms – sex, gender and sexual harassment have taken to arrive their use and meaning in the contemporary society.  Then, legal articulation of sexual harassment is discussed from the perspective of Indian society. And finally, we examine if the current landscape of legal, social and cultural movements in creating a safe working environment must be accepted in its current form or are there spaces that need reorganization and perhaps a rethink.

Trajectories of use and meaning

Sex – the noun form “sex” is first used in late 14th century to mean “males or females collectively” from the latin word “sexus”[1]. Its meaning “quality of being male or female” is first recorded in 1520s, though the source remains uncertain. In the later centuries (19th and 20th) “sex” is used as a signifier of biological and apparent differences between the two occurring forms of human beings – male and female. The physical and morphological features that differentiate between the two types of human form were the basis for the two categories of male and female. By the late 20th century we see many works in human behaviour, anthropology and sociology emerging which speak of the behavioural aspects of a males and females.

Gender – With its proximal meaning with Latin “sexus”, “gender” in noun form derives from Old French in the 14th century to mean “kind, sort or class”[2]. With sex acquiring an erotic connotation, gender came in effective use to signify “sex of a human being”. This is where the interchangeable use of gender and sex begins (as seen in English language), though in feminist writings later on, sex and gender are used with clear distinction – of meaning biological attributes and social attributes respectively. By the 21st century, mainstream sociology, psychology and anthropology makes the meaning of sex and gender (as biological attributes and social, acquired, performed attributes, respectively) commonplace.

Sexual harassment – This term is of the most recent origin among the three. And perhaps the most variedly construed as well as interpreted. It must be acknowledged that sexual harassment is often of subjective nature wherein the individual who has been subjected to such treatment decides the nature of it.  This presents obvious challenges for the law to determine or establish harassment and violation of an individual’s self.

The emergence of “sexual harassment” as a term lies in work of women activists in the US in 1970s when they began speaking of the harassment and unfair treatment, of sexual nature, at their workplaces. It is instructive to read this passage about the origin of the term –

“Eight of us were sitting in an office … brainstorming about what we were going to write on posters for our speak-out. We were referring to it as ‘sexual intimidation,’ ‘sexual coercion,’ ‘sexual exploitation on the job.’ None of those names seemed quite right. We wanted something that embraced a whole range of subtle and un-subtle persistent behaviors. Somebody came up with ‘harassment.’ ‘Sexual harassment!’ Instantly we agreed. That’s what it was.[3]

Prominent activists and academicians along with women’s rights organizations brought sexual harassment to public attention in the successive years and rallied for changes in work place environment as well as demanded a process of redressal.

In later works, particularly of Catherine MacKinnon, sexual harassment is interpreted as a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act, 1964. MacKinnon’s paper “Sexual Harassment of Working Women” becomes a seminal work in understanding of sexual harassment and its interpretation as a form of sex discrimination. MacKinnon notes that that men’s victimization of women “is sufficiently pervasive in American society as to be nearly invisible.[4]

Further, by the time of trial of the case Alexander vs. Yale, MacKinnon’s arguments on sexual harassment and the existing law on civil rights had taken shape of a legal theory. This has been a turning point in the US law as well as the Indian law relating to protection of women against sexual harassment at work place.

It is remarkable that MacKinnon’s work embraces “a philosophy of lawyering that proceeds from individual narratives to legal principle. To advance her conception of equality, she has made women’s experience speak to legal theory.” [5] This approach, as is seen in later years until present, has been at the heart of effecting a regime of strict and perhaps stricter laws against sexual harassment and protection of women at work place.

[1] Online Etymology Disctionary

[2] ibid

[3] Brownmiller, Susan. In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution.

[4] Uggen, Christopher and Blackstone, Amy. Sexual Harassment as a Gendered Expression of Power. American Sociological Review, Vol 69. N0. 1 (Feb, 2004), pp. 64-92

[5] Dinner, Deborah. A Firebrand Flickers. Legal Affairs Magazine. March-April, 2006

Education in pre-colonial India: Dharampal’s The Beautiful Tree

gurukul_kamat

Image Courtesy: K.L. Kamat (Illustration by B.K. Mitra for Kalyan Magazine shows students and animals in harmony with nature)

In the school where I teach, the teachers hold a very diverse range of views about the role of a school in a child’s life. What must school stand for and what areas of the child’ s life must the school be concerned with. Those who run the school – the management folks, stand at one end of the spectrum of beliefs about “education” and the manner in which a child’s time in the school must be structured. The rest dot the entire spectrum with some of them occupying the far opposite end of the spectrum which means that they are of the opinion that democratic means of taking decisions in school must be the overriding criteria. Above that, the school should let children be – in a sense that let them decide when they want to take up written exams if exams are a necessity. However, they’d prefer that there are no exams and that children should be assessed in some other non-structural, preset format. Exams, in short, are tyrannical. This has been an ongoing discussion for several weeks now and likely to reach no easy consensus.

Meanwhile, there is another discussion on role of a school in children’s lives. It began with this article on children’s emotional and psychological needs. It gives a roundup of the ways in which schools in Indian metros are catering to such needs:

Children in Indian metros are reaching out to school counsellors to make sense of their increasingly complicated, increasingly lonely lives. A nine-year-old is no longer too young to have a problem — or even know what a problem is.

This led to someone remarking that probably Indian schools will soon be back to the “gurukula” system of ancient India – where schools will “again” begin to cater to all the aspects of a child’s education – academic, social, emotional and spiritual. The remark led me to think of the sources from where one can draw inferences that ancient schools or “gurukulas” were indeed catering to all of those needs of a child.

As it looks, there is no historical evidence to say this conclusively. Even as a possibility, this is hard to imagine because launching off from the point of believing that India’s “ancient” system was the best arrangement which developed well-groomed, well-grounded and learnt individuals one is already given to believe that there was something extraordinary that the “gurukulas” did. They sure were a very different institutions from the modern day schools. But saying anything further – about how they approached education and helped children will require more evidence, in the absence of which, I feel compelled to tell that teacher that her argument is a mere conjecture.

Thinking of existing works on history of pre-colonial education system in India, I can think of only one very well written and comprehensive work – The Beautiful Tree, by Dharampal. The discussion in school reminded me of this book which I had read a few years back. Re-reading it this week, I find it remarkable in scope and review.

Dharampal refers to the lack of historical records in the introduction:

Very little, however has been written on the history, or state of education during this period, starting with the thirteenth century and up until the early nineteenth century.

Further, he reviews the records for nineteenth century and describes the sources:

Most of the discussion on the state of indigenous Indian  education in the early nineteenth century, and the differing viewpoints which give rise to it, use as their source material (a) the much talked about reports by William Adam, a former Christian missionary, on indigenous education in some of the districts of Bengal and Bihar 1835-38 (b) published extracts of a survey made by the British authorities regarding indigenous education
in the Bombay Presidency during the 1820s, and (c) published extracts from another wider survey of indigenous education made in the Madras Presidency (from Ganjam in the north to Tinnevelly in the south, and Malabar in the west) during 1822- 25. A much later work on the subject, but more or less of asimilar nature is that of G.W. Leitner pertaining to indigenous education in the Punjab.

Even these later works, leave alone the earlier ones, do not say anything about what was the approach of a “gurukula” in imparting education nor are any ethnographic works dealing with what went on inside them. It leads to the argument that all the glorious claims about the traditional Indian “gurukula” system lack evidence. However, we do have sufficeint account of the fact that the macro role it played in the society and pre-colonial, “indigenous” system was remarkably effective in addressing needs to the society at that time. It is this “beautiful tree” of indigenous education system that Gandhi said was destroyed by the British in India. Dharampal adds that:

It is important to emphasize that indigenous education was carried out through pathshalas, madrassahs and gurukulas. Education in these traditional institutions – which were actually kept alive by revenue contributions by the community including illiterate peasants – was called shiksha (and included the ideas of prajna, shil and samadhi). These institutions were, in fact, the watering holes of the culture of traditional communities. Therefore, the term ‘school’ is a weak translation of the roles these institutions really played in Indian society.

What he highlights in the following lines is the trap that educationists are walking into again:

The idea of a school existing in every village, dramatic and picturesque in itself, attracted great notice and eclipsed the equally important details. The more detailed and hard facts have received hardly any notice or analysis. This is both natural and unfortunate. For these latter facts provide an insight into the nature of Indian society at that time.

The proverbial ancient “gurukula” system needs to be looked into with a more critical lens and the first step would be to find records from the history of what went on within these ancient schools. Without this we will continue to have these vacuous conversations about the ancient glories and continue to push the current school system towards a vision which no one knows what it looks like.

First Learnings – Reading Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead, 1901-1978 (Image courtesy HiloBrow blog)

Margaret Mead, 1901-1978 (Image courtesy HiloBrow blog)

Anthropology from late 1940s to 1960s serves a useful starting point to understand how the growing breed of sociologists and anthropologists encountered experiences, people and cultures strikingly different from those which they came from. This could be true in any century, rather more so when the first Portuguese sailors arrived at the western coast of India or when the Dutch merchants disembarked on the eastern coast of India. But the post WW II period is particularly interesting and perhaps the phase when anthropology as a discipline began rising up the ladder of scientific importance and recognition.

The language used to put these cultural encounters into words, methods of observation, analytical understanding, which was largely comparative (us vs. them) – of the studies during this period reveal an exercise in building social understanding in a simple, progressive and incremental. This should be of interest now several decades later, because the current works in social sciences have left such approaches far behind discarding them as too simple.  A critique of methods in anthropology is a longer discussion. The intent here is to share the stunning clarity and analytical knife with which Mead works up her observations and experiences while studying the Pacific communities.  When in doubt about your sense of purpose in doing something, give Margaret Mead a chance to reignite the flickering flame of excitement and writing. One of her works I have immensely enjoyed reading is “Male and Female”. In First Learnings and the entire book she draws from the seven Pacific peoples she lived and worked with – the Samoans, Manus, Arapesh, Mundugumor, Tchambuli, Iatmul and Balinese. These folks in the pacific live by a completely different set of values, norms and practices. The contrast can be so strong that it can potentially throw your mental order and cognition so off balance that one may not find himself any different from those we sent to the mental asylums.

Here is an instance of her clarity as she begins to make sense of practices of the Pacific communities with that of her own – American society in 1950s. She writes,

Civilization depends on an orderly transformation of the primary experiences of childhood into the disciplined symbolism of adult life, in which walking-sticks are decorations of class or individuality, umbrellas keep the rain off, hand-bags contain everything one needs for the day, and the distinctions between food and not food are clear enough to make sword-swallowing an amusing vaudeville turn. Those who have not succeeded in making such transformations go mad, and fill our insane asylums.

She goes on to pen a masterful stroke of explanation of just what these artists, creative types, authoritarian leaders and similar types might be.

Those who keep an easy access to their own early memories but who have also talent and skill become our artists and our actors; those who can combine these early basically human experiences with vision and love of mankind become prophets; those who combine this ready access to early images with hate become dangerous demagogues – Hitlers and Mussolinis.

Mead concerns herself with the transformations that societies force upon themselves – a transformation of primary body experience into culturally approved elaborations. In less elegant words, this blog contest realities is an attempt to think and discuss such realities which seem to be conflicting yet in their own relative orders seem to be just the way the people who devised them want their social, cultural and perceptional order to be.

The paucity of ideas in the current practice in anthropology appears very confined to a few stock methods and approaches to studying society. A delightful passage in her book, looks like a fairly cool imagination of academic research in anthropology today:

Long ago in a New England village one of the villagers received a revelation from God that every one was to do exactly as he wished. Sadly, with exemplary rambunctiousness, the villagers took of their clothes and ran around on all fours like animals, making animal sounds. No one had a better idea.

The other front, on which Mead’s works score very high is the merit of her ideas about social transformation and civilizational trajectories with respect to the interaction between men and women. The problem graduate students today face is that the professors of social sciences and others which have an intersection with anthropology (like legal studies) seem to lack an appreciation for simple, logical and analytically limited methods of study. Papers not too loud on their methods get nothing better than a C or at best a B grade. This rather curious behaviour is making me read these early works with a closer eye. And I find that I can understand as well as appreciate the weight of their findings. Isn’t that an achievement of the author herself? By this I do not mean to cast early works as beyond doubt or criticism. Mead’s observations have been questioned a good deal and greater criticism was made of her inferences. While that goes on, one can at least learn from her style of writing, approach in studying Pacific communities and her extensive recording of field work.

 

 

Theorizing Rape and Potential Rapists

Sculptor Giambologna's "Rape of Sabine Women". Just as he delighted in solving the complex spatial problems of three intertwined figures in this famous sculpting, detached from the nature and act, the theoretical exercise too appears the same. (Image: Wikipedia)

Sculptor Giambologna’s “Rape of Sabine Women”. Just as he delighted in solving the complex spatial problems of three intertwined figures in this famous sculpting, detached from the nature and act, the theoretical exercise too appears the same. (Image: Wikipedia)

I have often felt that the urge to theorize does more disservice to the disciplines apart from the waste of time and resources that happens anyway. The discontent is about the sort of scholarship prevails that has no link to practice. Then that begets the question if one should even care for such scholarship. It is not meant to be a tirade against theory.

At the university, someone proposed a seminar on rape and specifically on the thought – if all men are potential rapists. Fantastic timing to have a faculty seminar on such a topic in India, where the frequency of rapes being reported in the newspapers as well as the number of high profile cases coming to light is at an all time high. The intention and personal motivations of the researcher are not suspected. Considering that they are well meaning beyond doubt, the method and arguments are reflected upon. To attempt a framework about how to understand a phenomenon in the society – particularly of extreme forms of sexual violence towards women is understandable.It is not just this particular case of presenting theory on rape that I am referring to. It is about a variety of opportunistic research that is pursued in the academia which sort of gets into a discipline because the ‘time is right’. No problem with this as long as the reasons reflect integrity and coherence. For instance, the historical background of rape and how women have been raped in every recorded century is irrelevant to a question of contemporary sexual violence against women in India. Theorizing rape in the following way is at best an opportunistic move and lacks practical sense or relevance. Here are the assumptions which drove the thought on rape in the seminar and why they are contentious –

  1.  Taking an ‘immanent’ position in theory – While the intellectual honesty in proposing a position where the researcher himself is located within the world which he is examining is appreciated, this doesn’t explain why this position should be the most ethical of other positions in theoretical exercises. The danger that is often talked about is that researcher cannot occupy a moral high ground when he speaks of subjects like desire and violence. The propensity to commit to these acts in him is as much present as in the ‘others’ that he is directing his enquiry on. And therefore, instead of being located somewhere outside the system and examining the ‘others’ he must be located within this system. This is the immanent position. However, does this automatically incorporate high and desirable ethical standards in the theory? The presenter seemed to think so. The point I am making is that it is not enough to indicate a position in a theory. The work must also reflect this at every assertion that it makes. Being located in the same system as the observed (in the binary of observer and observed) and yet not being able to grasp that rapes are not only an ‘opportunistic’ behaviour among men but are also driven by motivations – like ‘teaching the woman a lesson’ by outraging her modesty. Such a phrase is not unheard of in India. How does it escape a consideration here is not quite clear.
  2. That ‘desire’ is the only driver of rape: This is a psycho-analytical hangover that keeps manifesting itself in studies which are better of without such a lens. This can get tiring besides being frustrating – the idea that there is violence in all of us, subdued within and that this finds expression when one gets an ‘opportunity’. If ever there was a depressing take on the human condition it is this. It is baffling that one can label all men as desirous of raping women, restraining themselves because they have not got the opportunity to do so.
  3. Use of history in this analysis – This is by far the most contentious aspect of theorizing rape in the current times, for me. How does one use historical evidences and to what effect is worth reflecting on. If one cites the rape of Sabine women in ancient Rome as an evidence to prevalence of the tendency of rape in men then it is either a serious error of judgement on the researcher’s part or that historical information is being distorted to the effect of making one’s point forcibly. How is the rape of Sabine women committed by roman men in 750 BC suggestive of anything related to propensity to rape by men today? Besides this, the implied meaning of “rape” in the form that it was recorded in history may not have been of ‘sexual violation’ but that it meant ‘abduction’ (i.e. Latin form of ‘rape’ and not the modern English usage).  Not stating this doubt about the intended meaning and ambiguity in the use of word ‘rape’ is a serious issue. On this basis alone, one can call off the entire exercise to be of dubious nature. 

At our company, while conducting field research for clients we have often observed the big disconnect between theories in a discipline such as social sciences and the real action on ground. Out of maybe 10 theories in sociology only about 2 or 3 theories are likely to have any bearing on the patterns observed in real world. But this is just our experience. Many of these theories as our friend proposed right in the beginning remain at an ‘immanent’ level – i.e. a mental act performed entirely within the mind.

Narratives, Ranajit Guha & Microcredit

I have been on an overdose of Ranajit Guha’s writings and papers from the Subaltern Studies over the past few weeks. Guha’s reasoning on the project of colonial historiography in Chandra’s death is something I, perhaps prematurely, feel overrated. Moreover, its increasing currency is suspect as far as the merit of the argument is concerned. The language of the text is highly imaginative and I like the way it is presented. The point that the colonial project asserted itself in ways like this trial of a deceased woman’s death is overdrawn. Guha’s big draw has been his highly imaginative language and the force with which the thoughts pound a reader’s mind – for instance, his claim of “reclaim the document for history”.

The paper has a certain dramatic force –

This essay begins with a transgression-a title that is designed to violate the intentions for which the material reproduced below has already served with two authorities-the authority of the law which
recorded the event in its present form and that of the editor who separated it from other items in an archive and gave it a place in another order-a book of documents collected for their sociological
interest. The movement between these two intentions-the law’s and the scholar’s-suggests the interposition of other wills and purposes.

He goes on further to state that “we know nothing of them (historical events) except that they must have occurred”. Having said this, the exercise situates itself in an imaginary domain where the scholar’s guess is as good as any other person thinking about it. But for Guha –

 the very fact that they occurred, in whatever unspecified ways, would justify yet another intervention– a return·to the terminal points of the shift, the only visible sites of legal and editorial intentionality, in order to desecrate them by naming the material once again and textualizing it for a new purpose.

This obsession of social scientists as Guha is beyond me. It is hard to understand why should this view of colonial historiography prevail over the other narratives.

However, I realized while talking to a friend that distinct dissections as these of an action could be useful and may be a simple way of looking at the microcredit debate between Grameen and SKS as it unfolded last year. We began enquiring if SKS followed the same approach as that of Grameen and where did the difference lay. I have keenly followed several sharp dissections of the issue and long drawn analyses on these two organizations, particularly at CGDEV’s blog. But what we discussed here was at a larger, ‘approach’ front.

Grameen and SKS have not followed the same model. In fact in a long drawn and public debate Prof. Yunus has criticized Akula’s SKS way of microcredit. He was alluding to the fact that SKS variety is essentially “commercial microcredit” whereas Grameen’s origin and current mode of work as well, is significantly different and in not-for-profit mode. (A quick “Yunus vs Akula” search should yield relevant links to the spat that happened between them last year.)

Prof. Yunus called SKS and similar companies as “profit minded loan sharks” at some point. So now one can estimate how different these two are. SKS is clever financial engineering to extend credit to low income groups and earn returns. This when done at a larger scale will create windfall profits. And this made the company valuable the day it went public and offered its IPO.

And why is Grameen seen as successful by a vast majority? Hazarding a reason – because the capital mobilized as credit was not expected to yield “returns” for its investors. Another paper (presented at WEAI’s 86th Conference) Crisis in Indian Microfinance: A Tale of Growth and (No) Regulation explains the shift from a social model of capital helping poor avail credit and increase their income vs. capital which was brought in by large institutional investors with an expectation that it should make more profits. And SKS took institutional investors’ capital to scale and expand. And therefore had to push for returns and profits.

In another paper, Grameen and Microcredit: A Tale of Corporate Success, Anu Muhammad does an empirical study of Grameen’s claims and performance. What this paper does is that it puts Grameen to a very hard test on numbers and claims that the organization has made over the past. It is an assessment exercise. The numbers might tell a different story and lay bare the mismatch between claims and results on the ground, as well as the measures adopted by Grameen in later years.

The other part of the story is that the world understands Grameen NOT by its means and ways, but by the values and the intention with which it began. It generally happens that the intention along with the early simpler ways of disbursing credit is what remains in the public memory when they talk or hear about Grameen. As the organization grew, changing scale of operation, geographic reach and people at Grameen led to a divergent way of doing things which had hardly any similarity with the early formula. This is where these empirical works are situated and help in unveiling the larger, long term effects of the organization.

The method in the paper is rigorous. This is what an economist is likely to do. At the same time, this is the kind of research with which a social scientist has issues with. It is rendering dead the narrative and lived experiences of several people who might have benefited from microcredit. Instead the analysis disconnects the narrative and takes only the numbers. Depends on the reader what he would like to prioritize – the social/narrative or the hard numbers.

Or as Guha would do – read an event either in its present form or look at the way its editor archived it when it occurred. The views on microcredit are bifurcated in quite a similar fashion – one can consider only the intentions as a considerations while the rest would settle for no less than examining it on how it unfolds on the ground and impacts lives. On this front, reading Guha’s complex arguments and sociological analysis sure helps!