Response to Transgressions

Debating Transgressions
A cultural strategy or social structural attributes?

I read Peter deSouza's essay on “transgressions” with profit and pleasure.

It is a well-written  piece with an enviable lucidity of prose and arguments. It covers a huge canvass through the playful use of one particular key word, that is, transgression. His illustrations are apt though purists might argue that his shift from person to book to event is some sort of cherry picking. But they do put in sharp relief some of the arguments that the author is making. 

I have one issue though. Is transgression merely a cultural strategy indexed by the mere subjective will of the transgresser? Or is the transgression enabled by social structural attributes of an individual, group or community?

Put differently, transgression could very well be seen as an ability or resource which is dependent upon various forms of capital a la Bourdieu. Peter deSouza may like to reflect on this a bit more carefully even though he alludes to such an understanding in his essay.

Manish Thakur IIM Calcutta
Conspicious absence

I read, in detail and with great interest, Desouza's piece on "Transgressions". He tries to explain Contemporary India's state and the evolution of its development, using various categorisations of transgression. For example, he uses his characterisations of transgression to study contemporary India, in terms of what he calls its six important dimensions: relations, culture, religion, law, culture, economy, and politics. He attaches significance to the ordered sequence. I find the list conspicuous by the absence of science, art, poetry, sports, literature, music and philosophy.

I think, science (divided into pure and applied), literature, art, architecture, poetry, philosophy, music and sport are, at least, also necessary dimensions to explain the complexity of a society (such as the Indian). The applied parts of science, engineering and agriculture, are very important for the successful development of any society, but particularly so in the case of a complex (developed or underdeveloped) society.

Although I found the article stimulating and partly true, I think contemporary India and most successful countries independent of ethnic composition of size (Singapore and the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, some of the countries in the American continent, the countries of the Antipodes, etc.) require many more dimensions than the six he lists as defining transgressions.

I also think his “four factors” - incentives, penalties, meanings and fears - are both irrelevant and insufficient to explain the complexity of any society, particularly of a developing one. Surely, Rabindranath Tagore, C.V. Raman, Srinivasa Ramanujan, B.R. Ambedkar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Subramanyam Chandrasekhar, Sachin Tendulkar, M.S. Subbulaxmi, Jayant Narlikar, Sukhamoy Chakravarty, Ravi Shankar, Viswanathan Anand, Raj Kapoor, Nargis, M. G. Ramachandran, the various Indian industrialists, etc., are as important for 'explaining' the complexity, success and failures of contemporary Indian society? That, for example, Ramanujan, was not influenced at all by any of the four factors of Desouza is more than evident, I think.

Moreover, I think all societies are in transition (which is another word for Desouza's 'transgression'). To what? We answer with our stances on policy, determined by humaneness and sympathy.

So even though I was stimulated by Desouza's article, I am also in profound disagreement with it.

K Vela Velupillai, Solna Sweden
Climate of Religosity

Peter deSouza's article “Transgressions” has missed out that a climate of religiosity has pervaded all parties, except the professedly leftist ones, like a miasma. Whether it is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Shiv Sena, the Congress, or the Trinamool Congress, all leaders profess a profound religiosity. The difference is that whereas the BJP or the Shiv Sena only claim to be the defenders of their version of Hinduism, which is an ahistorical version of Hindutva originally concocted by Savarkar, Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee want to propitiate all religions. The makings of that go back to Bankimchandra's Anandamath and the activities of Dayanand Saraswati. But from the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were founded Hindutva which found its nurturing vessel.

One should not forget that the Congress had within its fold Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Purushottam Das Tandon, and Govind Vallabh Panth who were far from being fully secular in their worldview. One should not judge the ideology of the Congress only by looking at the views of Jawaharlal Nehru or Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Later, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P V Narasimha Rao all peddled soft Hindutva. It was during Rajiv Gandhi's regime that the locks on the Babri Masjid were opened, and Narasimha Rao turned a blind eye when the Babri Masjid was being pulled down.

We must not forget that what one might call “progressive transgressions” were being performed from the 19th century onwards. Jyotiba Phule wrote bitingly against the caste system. Ramabai Pandit and Savitribai Phule struggled for women's equality. Ishwar Chandra Vidysagar was trying to legally permit widow re-marriage among Hindus and prohibit child marriage.

In this century Periyar Ramasamy was an atheist, anti-castiest, and a feminist. B R Ambedkar founded a new movement among Dalits against caste exploitation. Abala Bose in Bengal and the parents of Lakshmi Sahgal spearheaded movements of women's education. The pity is that all these are threatened by Hindutva in alliance with the most degraded version of a neo-liberal, privatised economy, where education, health care, and women's wombs have all become commodified and utter nonsense is propgated as scientific truth, rendering India a laughing stock in the world.

Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Emeritus Professor, Institute of Development Studies Kolkata
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