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Bharatiya Chitta Manas and Kala

India is once again at the cross-roads. The people of India, through their precipitate action at Ayodhya, have once again reminded the ruling elite of India that they do not particularly relish the persistent insults to their civilisational sensibilities offered by most of the public spaces and almost all of the organised public activity in India. And, India must pay heed to that reminder.

It is unfortunate that after the successful culmination of the Freedom Struggle, which Mahatma Gandhi had moulded entirely around the Indian ways of thought and action, the leaders of Independent India quickly discarded those ways and went about organising the polity of free India in ways that had nothing to do with Indian civilisational consciousness and its varied expressions. The leaders, in fact, chose to continue with the organisational structures created by the foreign rulers, and retain the status quo in all spheres of public life. They behaved as if nothing had changed, as if the people of India had not won a great war to free themselves of the alien rulers, and as if the successful culmination of the freedom struggle meant nothing except the “transfer” of the levers of the established state apparatus from the British to the newly emerging Indian elite.

Independence of India thus became merely a matter of a change of guard at the British Palaces in Delhi and the Collectorates and Courts in the districts. It was a matter entirely to be settled between the British and their successors among the Indian elite. The people of India, having forced the British out, were to have no further say in the public affairs of India, and their sensibilities and sensitivities were to be of no consequence in framing the polity of free India.

Even the task of drafting a constitution for India was, thus, entrusted to the experts of Western constitutional jurisprudence, most of whom had nothing but contempt for the people of India and their ways, and many of whom had explicitly expressed their contempt during the struggle for Independence. To draft the constitution for free India they searched through the constitutions of the whole world, but they did not care to have even a cursory look at the Indian ways of organising public affairs. In their attempt to garner whatever sounded nice and grandiose in the constitutions of the world, they produced the longest constitution ever written, but their draft could not accommodate even passing references to the most basic of Indian principles of social and political organisation.

Public life and public spaces of India, therefore, remain essentially alien constructs for the people of India. For them every interaction with the public institutions and their functionaries continues to be a matter of insult and compromise of human dignity, and every visit to the public places of India a violation of their aesthetic and historical sensibilities. They have to suffer such violation of their sensibilities not only while visiting the highly regarded sacred places of India, like Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura, but also in their immediate neighbourhood, in the ugly, alien and forbidding structures of the district hospitals, the district courts, and the all prevasive circuit houses, rest houses and police stations, etc., none of which conform to their ideas of appropriate public structures. And, the great metropolises of India, like Delhi, of course, remain littered with innumerable symbols of Indian defeat and of the imposing wastefulness of the imperial victors; that cannot but remind an ordinary Indian of the insignificance of his person and his dignity in the public affairs of India.

In this alien milieu, the people of India generally retain a sullen docility. They participate in the occasional elections and try to somehow extract at least the bare essential services from the public institutions and public functionaries. But, they do not feel themselves to be forming any part of the public arrangements, nor are they ever asked or allowed to participate in these arrangements in any meaningful manner. Occasionally, when their feelings are particulary disturbed by an issue and when they find the opportunity, they do give expression to their sensitivities and sensibilities, as they have done so emphatically at Ayodhya. But even such precipitate actions of theirs seldom lead to any serious reflection on the state of India and on the ways to bring Indian polity in consonance with the aesthetic and ethical sensibilities of the people of India.

There are two possible denouements of the events of Ayodhya. One, and the more likely, possibility is that the elite of India, after having expressed their initial disgust or euphoria, according to their particular political pre-dilections, would soon revert to what they consider to be the state of normalcy. To achieve this normalcy, attempts shall probably be made to put a “Hindu” veneer on the state apparatus, and political parties espousing the so-called Hindu causes may even get a larger share of the state power. But such changes would be so moulded as to ensure that the voice of the people of India finds no larger place in the public affairs of India, and that nothing of consequence is changed in the Indian polity.

There may even be efforts, demands along these lines are already being stridently made, to ‘harden’ the Indian state apparatus to make it impossible for the people of India to give vent to their sensitivities and sensibilities, as they keep doing occasionally and as they did once again in Ayodhya. But such hardening of the State requires great commitment, and a willingness to suffer deprivation and hardship for the larger and long-term interests of the State. It is unlikely that the Indian elite, isolated as it is from the Indian mainstream, would be able to find such commitment and patient perseverence within itself.

The state of affairs shall, therefore, remain unchanged, notwithstanding the cosmetic changes here and there and the brave talk about tightening the state apparatus and hardening the State, etc., if India takes to this road of ‘normalcy’. The people of India then shall probably return to their usual state of sullen docility, until the next great convulsion.

The other possibility is that the events of Ayodhya are taken as a warning that the efforts to run the public affairs and organise the public spaces of India in ways that are contemptuous of the preferences, prejudices and seekings of the Indian people shall not be tolerated any more. We may then begin to realise that more than four decades of living in an independent country would have imbued the people of India with the confidence to assert their sensitivities and preferences, and it would not be possible to retain the facade of normalcy without changing the present arrangements of public functioning. We may then also begin thinking about ways of re-organising the Indian polity to bring it in conformity with the seekings and sensibilities of the Indian people.

Such a reorientation of the Indian polity shall bring the people of India and their ways back into the mainstream of public life. This reorientation shall, of course, lead to some temporary disturbance of the normalcy that we have got used to, and to a great deal of restructuring of the public institutions and public spaces. But the awakening of the people of India from the state of sullen indifference and their arrival into the mainstream of India shall also release unheard of energies for the regeneration of India as a self-confident, strong, prosperous and dignified nation among other nations of the modern world. India shall thus once again experience the great blossoming of the Indian spirit, and the sudden resurgence of courage and skills of her people, that marked the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi in India.

For such a reorientation of Indian polity to happen it shall of course be necessary to explore and arrive at a consensus about what are the specific preferences and seekings of the Indian people, and how these preferences and seekings are expressed in the social and political organisations, and the aesthetic and ethical sensibilities of India. The events of Ayodhya would have served a great historical purpose if they lead us to an intense study of the civilisational consciousness of India and her preferred modes of expression in the physical and social world.

We are publishing this English version of Sri Dharampal’s Hindi booklet on the essentials of the Indian mind and the Indian sense of the flow of time at this stage with the hope that it shall initiate further thought and study along these lines, and thus be of help in our quickly arriving at an understanding of the broad directions of the future Indian polity.

Sri Dharampal is of course well-known for his seminal work on the social, cultural, political, economic and technological arrangements of the eighteenth century India. This work has generated a new awareness of the ways in which the Indian society functioned in its varied dimensions before the coming of the British. Those who have had the good fortune of reading his many books and articles, and of listening to him in person, have invariably been left with a heightened awareness of the Indian self, and have often seen, opening before them, new visions of a resurgent India, regenerated through the varied talents and skills of her people, and leading the world towards an Indian millennium. We in the Centre have been blessed to have shared such visions with him.

For the last about five years, Sri Dharampal has begun to feel that though his historical studies have to some extent helped him understand the ways in which the Indians prefer to organise the physical world around them, yet he has failed to comprehend the mind that provides the anchorage for these typically Indian ways, preferences and seekings. And, to learn about this anchorage, to understand the Indian Chitta and Kala, as he puts it, he began a study of the Indian classical literature. His long essay in Hindi, published last year, and translated into English now, is the first result of this study.

The preliminary picture of the Indian mind presented in this essay is, of course, not meant to be final or exhaustive. The attempt is to emphasise the urgent need to understand the Indian Chitta and Kala if India is to once again find her moorings in the present day world, and to sketch some of the basic aspects of the Indian Chitta and Kala that seem to set the Indians apart from the rest.

It is hoped that this brief essay shall contribute to the reawakening of the Indian spirit that we are blessed to witness happening once again in our times.

Jitendra Bajaj

Centre for Policy Studies, Madras
Vasanta Panchami, Kali Samvat 5094
January 28, 1993