By Anand Sinha
Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
According to Antonio Gramsci, a person qualifies to be an intellectual if he can contribute to the society he belongs to through his works and dialogues with the institutions. An intellectual is defined by his function, not by his qualifications. In India, primarily academics, artists, authors and activists constitute the intellectual community. But there is a distance between the intellectuals and the masses in Indialike most of the Third World countries which seems to be ever increasing, with the former being tagged as the ‘intellectual elite’ by the latter.
The intellectual community of India has very rightly been critical of the Hindu right- wing social and political groups whenever they have been involved in targeting the minorities in the country. However, it has, at times, been not vocal enough when it needed to be when the members of the Hindu community have been the victims of communal violence. It is indeed true that the Hindus form the majority of India; and Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and other social groups are the minority communities and have been more vulnerable to discrimination and violence. Similarly, there is a tendency among the intellectuals, especially among those from the Left, to condemn only the Israeli state in the Israel- Palestine- Gaza strip conflict because Israel has the United States by its side, despite the fact that Palestine is also committing war crimes. Though Palestine has always been at the receiving end of the violence but it cannot justify its own actions. Why has the intellectual community of India failed to condemn the war crimes of Palestine as well when both of the sides are involved in it? To the masses, it comes across as the fact that these intellectuals see people only in terms of class, racial or religious identities and not as masses. People are mere subjects of research and books, with no other function for these intellectuals.
This kind of paradox has provided the opportunity to the Hindu fundamentalists to call them pseudo- seculars and tag them as ‘elite intellectuals’ who talk about communal harmony and poverty in their air conditioned clubs and know nothing about ground realities. For most people, the intellectual community is irrelevant and they think of the latter as ‘’bade log hain, bhai. Zyada akal hai”. What happens then is that the politicians can turn a public debate into a personal war (the Amartya Sen- Jagdish Bhagwati controversy) and pass indecent remarks about the actor- daughter of Mr. Sen, and, eventually, afford to get away with it.
It is the shrewd political class which is taking advantage of this gap and keeps working on widening it. Most of the intellectuals have been abused from both the major political parties of India- Indian National Congress and Bhartiya Janta Party. Whether it be Amartya Sen or Arundhati Roy or Ramchandra Guha, they have been accused of taking the side of one party by the other. Political parties want these intellectuals to be their spokespersons in disguise and those, who have chosen to do so, are awarded with high- paying academic posts in return from time to time.
But why is it that the masses have not been able to raise their voice against such actions, despite the fact that the intellectual community has again and again raised its voice against state injustice against the masses? Why is there a gap between the intellectual community and the masses in India that the latter cannot understand the former? Does the former come across as a small elitist, snobbish group with no real concerns for the common people? These are the questions that both the masses and the intellectual community should ask themselves. The process of dialogue must begin at a substantial level so that the intellectuals no longer remain elite for the masses,so that both of them can become partners in progress.
Currently based in Delhi, Anand is an English literature student at the Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, University of Delhi. After working as a content writer and editor for an online firm for a few months, he interned at Youth Ki Awaaz. Sinha defines his political stand as centre-left. His interests include literature, cinema, music, philosophy and world politics.