Can’t we just be individuals? No, because our institutions fail
There is a certain coldness that may descend with being human first. There is a certain coldness of non-communalism (oshamprodayikota). Non-communalism, now used as a progressive term, seems to me as a capitalistic individualist idea.
We need some communalism to save this society, I posit. Trying to sever humans from human groups, ie communes, and communal identities is an inhuman endeavour, and it only creates a facade of ideology and does not resolve the social fractures caused by colonialism.
It only gives the liberal elites reason to be happy with their progressiveness, and denote the majority of society as regressive without trying to reconcile.
The trope of non-communalism initially meant transcending communal disharmony and secularism meant equality before the law (let’s get real, the American dollar has “In God We Trust” written above and many liberal democratic constitutions allude to God and have state religions). But the modern progressive secularism, now, often becomes an obliteration of communitarian identities.
But communitarian identities are natural, and need not be sectarian or identitarian. But the trope of modern irreligious secularism in the South Asian context seems to confuse that and identifies all communitarianism as negative, and thereby transcends into cultural capitalism or individualism.
When we say that all injustices are injustices, we must accept that all injustices can hardly be perceived as equal. It is difficult for one to feel the same about the death of a girl they don’t know as they would feel about the death of their daughter, and that seems natural.
Based on communitarian identities, people feel injustices differently, and that is how we function. It is important to understand that that is not necessarily unjust and being human means being communal.
But if you say that all humans are my brothers and sisters, that is fine as a metaphor, but it seems that it cannot be honest. If all humans are your family, then your children are dying every second, violently, unnaturally, and unjustly. If that is the case, how are you not in constant trauma?
How are you not fighting wars around the world? If the children in Yemen were really your brothers, you would not be able to concentrate on anything else but just them. You would not forget about them after posting a status.
The reason I say this is not to shame those who write on social media, it is just to point out that just writing about some things on social media and voicing your support seems plenty. You would, naturally, only act when your community has directly been attacked. Look at how students from the halls in the universities gush out in a warrior stance when their compatriots are attacked. All mobilization works through bloc mobilization, and these blocs are tightly knit communes or communities. If there are no communes/communities, there is no mobilization.
But why do we need mobilizations? Why can we not just be individuals? Because our institutions often fail, if not always. When that happens, we are forced to protest, to mobilize, to blockade, and to resist. And these protests fail without the sense of community among the people.
If you are not my family, you would not fight my fight, unless you stand to directly gain something from it. And in our case, there is very little to be gained by fighting someone else’s fight.
I come from the culture of the Gnati, an idea that those you know, often related by blood, but not necessarily, are your family. I am not romanticizing it. The Gnati is often limited by religious lines. But then there were paras, mahallas, villages, union parishads — which were bound by geographic lines. Not that these communities did not have internal strife, but there was a way of communal resolution (salishi).
Again, I am not romanticizing salishi either, because that can also be unjust. But our post-colonial national structures have barely accommodated these traditional practices and imposed Western liberalism without taking our organic liberal thought into account and created a system of cultural “hodgepodge,” as Aime Cesaire wrote.
Colonization had halted our social evolution and the post-colonial state has done nothing but further perpetuate that injustice.
The point, however, is the bloc mobilization that these communities could stage was remarkable and they still can. Just in the recent times, look at Phulbari and Chunarughat. At times when urban progressives have repeatedly failed to effectively mobilize, the rural conservatives became successful.
But, when we forget our identities and our sole community become our unitary family, it is hard for us to fight for someone else because we see them as individuals. When someone is killed, we think that a human has died, and that is just statistics, a Facebook status.
But if I said, and truly felt, that my brother has died, I would never let it go until I got justice. But even calling the victims of justice by family relations in the progressive language is ruled out. You must call them human, which translates into the breakdown of the mobilization blocs.
But I belong to a tradition where we refer to shop-keepers as “mama” or “khala” (uncle and aunt). A tradition where the extension of family keeps stretching all the time. But the neo-liberal ethos is breaking that down. The new generation would either stop extending the gnati, or they would just call family names but would be unable to relate. And this inability to relate is the source of social stratification and is the boon of cultural capitalism.
But, in my hope, I see a world where we would bridge our families into larger families, and we would be able to create communities or syndicates. We would be free to move out of a syndicate to another without hindrance and there would be a federation of the unions.
But this is not that world. This is the world of states and regimes. And this is where we fight: Together, as a family.
Anupam Debashis Roy is an Editor and Organizer of Muktiforum. He is the author of Not All Springs End Winter.