31/07/2016 4:43 AM IST | Updated 03/08/2016 8:33 AM IST

A Case For Fighting Against Oppression, Not Oppressors

Getty Images/Moment RF

I recently read an article by Noam Chomsky in which he stated that the role of intellectuals is to expose the lies or call the bluffs of the government. A relevant question to ask here would be, is that enough? Are the intellectuals doing enough by merely calling bluffs? There could be two cases:

1. A substantial number of people listen to the intellectual and are convinced by his argument and as a result the government which is manipulating them is made to quit.

2. Everyone ignores the intellectual and the government goes on doing what it did before – manipulating one group or the other.

The replacement loop

The second scenario could also form a loop (let us call it the replacement loop) wherein the leader keeps manipulating the people and the intellectual keeps on calling the bluff without getting many takers. The first scenario, similarly, could again end in a loop where the people do listen to the intellectual and oust the government, a new government emerges and manipulates the people again until the bluff is caught and this too is ousted only to be replaced by another one of its kind. The loops could be endless! Which brings me to the question again: Is calling the bluff enough? Which in turn brings me to the bigger question -- where does the loop break for good and how?

Can there be a leader who says, "Do not discriminate against the communalists, the casteists. Do not fight the exploiter, but the exploitation?"

All governments are made up of individuals working in a system. These individuals are often headed by a supreme leader, followed by a second, third and further lines of leaders, followed by mass supporters. One way to break the previously mentioned loop (the replacement loop) is perhaps by first mentally sorting leaders, or in fact people at large, into two different segments -- the discriminators and the non-discriminators. Discriminators could be defined as those who put labels to group of peoples and discriminate against them; while non-discriminators could be defined as people who essentially do not discriminate against any set of people and are even label-blind in a sense. After finishing this sorting (essentially another form of labelling), the latter (the non-discriminators) could wage a concerted war against the former (the discriminators) to build a society which does not discriminate against anyone on any basis. It is very tough and hardly likely, though, that these two sets of discriminators and non-discriminators would be necessarily exclusive and easily identifiable. A caste-neutral person may not, after all, turn out to be a religion-neutral person. For a person living in South Asia, it would not be a tough scenario to grasp. One can easily find a leader who does not believe in caste discrimination only so that he can strengthen the followers of his own religion or community as a united force against the other.

Another way could be to kill one form of discrimination at a time using the tactics of the opponent -- i.e., creating fervour, let's say, to turn out the colonialists by rousing the spirit of nationalism. However, there could be a time when this nationalism becomes an untamed monster and turns into extreme nationalism, thereby becoming a destructive force in itself. A natural second step -- to curb the tendency of a tool (read idea) used against an opponent becoming so big as to turn into an untamed monster -- could be that the same leader/s who roused this idea may come forth to leash it. However, it is certainly easier said than done because firstly, it would be difficult, except for a human being with exceptional abilities, to change a stance he has stood for all his life and, secondly, even if that happens it would be difficult for that leader to maintain his influence over the people he hitherto led. The people may label such a leader as a traitor.

The see-saw effect

We can call this social phenomenon the see-saw effect -- when a group of oppressed people assert themselves and rather than balancing the power equilibrium of society (the see-saw), they tilt it in the opposite direction and become oppressors themselves. An example would be the Communist idea of the "dictatorship of the proletariat". The assumption that the extreme communists make is that since everyone will be a member of the proletariat (a non-owner of capital/resources) there will be no oppression. If so, then what is the utility of the terminology of "dictatorship"? That is a topic for another debate.

A leader treating the discriminator equal to the discriminated would run the risk of being labelled as a sympathizer of the oppressor...

Coming back to the see-saw effect, one needs to ask, how can a leader possibly stop such an effect? Could there be a leader who does not use "mass support" to make one end of the see-saw heavier? After all, if a leader relies on mass support as a primary tool of social change, he becomes susceptible to the will of the people and is only considered a leader so long as he advocates the interest of that one group. As soon as he becomes non-partisan, his contract with the group that raised him to power expires.

Non-partisan leadership

Then what is a leader supposed to do? Use force? Or use manipulation? Or employ some other strategy? The first two -- force and manipulation -- have dangers of their own. They can and often do tempt the leader to have interests of his own and to play one side against the other, thereby intentionally disturbing the equilibrium. (If Noam Chomsky's intellectuals would be powerful enough, such a leader would be ousted in no time. Yet we have discussed the dependence of mass acceptability for the intellectuals to achieve such an end, which becomes a limitation.)

A third strategy could be to give the oppressed side some benefits. This would again have its problems since one would need to make sure that the benefits are indeed proportional -- are they too little or too much? Are they equally distributed? How long can they be sustained? A good analogy would be to put supports for one side of the see-saw so that it equals the other. However, while these supports may be a good medium-term solution, they may not be tenable in the long run. This is because supports can be very static and absolute in nature and the relative position of two groups may still change. A natural thought would be to regulate both the sides of the seesaw, without allowing any one to become greater than the other. This, however, would herald a new loop of either force or manipulation leading the leader to have interests of his own.

An unconventional solution could be non-partisan leadership. A leader who is against any form of labelling. There have only been rare cases where people have united for something without being against something. The Indian National Movement also had a common enemy in form of the colonialists. Can a leader be so non-partisan so as not to even ask people to unite against discriminators and exploiters? Can there be a leader who says, "Do not discriminate against the communalists, the casteists. Do not fight the exploiter, but the exploitation?" There has been Gandhi for sure, yet such an idea would fail common logic at first. Common logic would say -- those who discriminate toe a hard line and for those who want to end such discrimination, a harder line must be toed. Therefore, common logic would enter the loop of rousing a monster to fight another.

[Leaders'] martyrdom may not necessarily lie in giving up their lives for their cause, but in running the risk that posterity may not look kindly upon them.

At the same time it is difficult for a non-partisan leader to first of all come to power and secondly to maintain his influence over others. A leader treating the discriminator equal to the discriminated would run the risk of being labelled as a sympathizer of the oppressor or, even worse, he could be labelled as ineffective or indecisive. The oppressors may even use such a leader as a shield or an alibi and throw the argument that "if your leader is not against us, why are you?"

There perhaps would lie the answer.

When the people would be able to accept that they need not be against the oppressor but only the oppression. It is indeed easier said than done, but what follows is a twofold cause for the leader -- to evoke trust in both the oppressed and the advantaged that neither will be harmed and secondly to enhance the maturity and tolerance levels of people on both the sides.

Needless to say not all leaders would be completely successful in doing so. Even Mahatma Gandhi wasn't completely successful in doing so. If he were, then the problems of casteism and communalism would have long vanished from India. It is indeed painful that many today take pride in looking down upon Gandhi and his work. Yet the only solution is to have more leaders and martyrs like Gandhi, whose martyrdom may not necessarily lie in giving up their lives for their cause, but in running the risk that posterity may not look kindly upon them. Once such martyrs emerge in large numbers in every stage of a nation's development, it would eventually reflect in the level of maturity and tolerance of the masses. It already has as a matter of fact. Unlike the middle ages, one does not kill another person if he fails to bow or show adequate respect. Which tells us that indeed there have been many unsung leaders and many Gandhis who chose not to hop on any side of the see-saw.

Photo galleryGolden Baba See Gallery