Opinions Column: Poor Social Capital Militates Against Broad-based Indian Prosperity

By Annavajhula J.C. Bose, PhD; Department of Economics, SRCC (University of Delhi)

The concept of ‘social capital’ in social sciences refers to the “potential of individuals to secure benefits and invent solutions to problems through membership in social networks. Social capital revolves around three dimensions: interconnected networks of relationships between individuals and groups (social ties or social participation), levels of trust that characterize these ties, and resources or benefits that are both gained and transferred by virtue of social ties and social participation”. Poor levels of social capital are related to poor levels of employment in communities, academic performance, individual physical health, economic growth, human wellbeing and immigrant and ethnic enterprise; and to higher inequality and crime rates in community. These are two-way relationships–sluggish growth and soaring inequality cause poor social capital which in turn militates against growth with equity.

India’s failure to achieve broadbased prosperity is much to do with extremely poor levels of social capital. In this posting, I relate social capital in India to serious problems within Hinduism practiced by 80 percent of Indian population, one way or the other. In the process, there are inferences for the non-Hindu people as well.

Let me make myself clear as follows.

Like Pink Floyd is progressive rock and Joe Satriani liberating space rock, Swami Agnivesh and Sri Sri represent, to me, progressive and liberating Hinduism, or better put, Sanatana Dharma as a secular way of life. I soaked myself in tears when I knew rather late the recent demise of Agnivesh, and I could only reconcile myself to this sadness by enrolling myself into Sri Sri’s Happiness Course based on secular ancient wisdom over three days. Uttam Sengupta’s obiturary note on Swami Agnivesh in National Herald too has given me some solace.

I had read a lot about the social justice activism of Agnivesh but first met him some years ago in Sri Sri’s Bengaluru ashram when he arrived there to take rejuvenating ayurveda treatment. And just a month ago I was supposed to interview him after his liver transplant was over. I wanted to probe him on Hindutva’s regressive regulatory capture of the Indian plural society and whether like the Western societies have only very patchily accepted the Radical Enlightenment ideas of democracy and egalitarianism, the oriental Hindu society’s doors are also closed to such ideas to guide day to day living and interactions among people. But this could not happen as he succumbed to the damages inflicted on his body by the reported BJP-RSS sponsored goon attack on him about two years ago.

That ‘the world is one family’ is the cosmopolitan melting pot that Sri Sri and many others of Sanatana Dharma spirit have created. “From regional to national and then to universal consciousness, this is the growth that the human race is looking for. We have gathered here from different countries, we speak many different languages, and follow different faiths with the intention of bringing love and harmony in the world. When there is tension between communities and conflict between religions, man becomes disturbed and is lost. In such an environment, people try this and that and wander here and there to no avail. When millions of people around the world are stressed and disturbed, a single cry arises from the hearts of everyone: Sarve jana sukhino bhavantu—let everyone be happy. This intention is already there in every heart, it only needs to unfold a little.” Thus spake Sri Sri at the World Cultural Festival in July 2011, which is so important to build up the social capital of India and the world.

The Arya Samaj as a social and religious reform movement from within Hinduism, especially in northern India, is well known for upholding the Vedas and the Vedic society as a natural society free from social evils like the caste system and untouchability and where the status of women was one of honour, privilege and freedom. In contemporary society the Arya Samaj has dedicated itself to the physical, social and spiritual welfare and renaissance of all people in India and elsewhere. Swami Agnivesh has walked the talk in this regard as a daredevil against the dark Hindu forces perpetuating and worsening India’s socio-economic progress.

The inclusiveness and progressiveness of Sanatana Dharma on the above lines, which will build up India’s social capital, is well distinguished by many writers from the worsening of social capital due to Hindutva as a sectarian political ideology of upper caste Hindus represented by the right-wing political party Bharatiya Janata Party, or Indian People’s Party (BJP). It is also the cultural ideology of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Core (RSS), which was founded in 1925 and with which the BJP has strong links. It is well said thus: “The exploration of the relationship between Hinduism as a religion and Hindutva as a political philosophy has become a virtual academic cottage industry that shows no signs of slowing down. In popular writings on the subject, Hindutva has been variously described as “Hinduism on steroids,” as “Hinduism which resists,” or as “an illegitimate child of Hinduism.” A preliminary way of understanding the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva would be to recognise that Hinduism is a religion (however defined) while Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, is a political ideology, whose relation to the religion of Hinduism could be considered analogous to the relationship between Christianity and Christian fundamentalism or Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. There is, however, one key difference. Hinduism is a plural tradition, as compared to Christianity and Islam which possess well defined universal creedal formulations that are largely absent in Hinduism according to most observers. Therefore, Hindu “fundamentalism” is remarkably thin in terms of religious content as compared to Christianity and Islam. Unlike explicitly stated here that Hinduism is a religion, I prefer, though, to take it as a secular way of living “oneness” on planet earth, which is also otherwise conveyed by Vandana Shiva and Charles Eisenstein as Gaia philosophy and practices.

This is not all. There are more problems with Hindutva. For example, the history of Hindus is threatened by Hindutva: “Hindutva history makes the history of Hindus fragile—people whose temples were destroyed by Muslims and who need Hindutva politicians to help them recover. It gives power to Hindutva politicians but strips Hindus of power—makes them weak, gullible victims. It ignores Hindu resilience—how Hinduism thrived, despite different kinds of attacks over centuries”.

The bane of Hindus is surely the exploitative and bloody onslaught of upper caste Hindus on lower caste Hindus, which signifies the unwillingness of the upper castes to accept good society in terms of ideas of democracy and egalitarianism. I was born in a ‘brahmin’ family and yet raised without any rabid hatred towards low caste Hindus or non-Hindus. The everyday brutal attacks on the Dalits I come to know make me empathise with the Sujata Gidla story of the hardships faced even by the educated Dalits in the first three-quarters of the 20th century, and how the horror of caste is all-pervasive militating against social development in India.

The central point of this posting is that hatred, divisiveness and destructiveness of Hindutva politics is antithetical to the inclusive and progressive origins of Sanatana Dharma conducive for building India’s broadbased prosperity by building strong and cohesive social capital.

For modern India not to be destroyed by authoritarian populism, corporate statism and crony capitalism, and Hindutva nationalism, and for it to rise at least on liberal democratic-competitive economy lines, it is high time intelligent Hindus stood with Hindus for Human Rights advocating “a Hindu perspective for shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and the manavtha (human rights) of all communities. Our Vision is lokasangraha (universal common good) – a world where there is peace among all people, and our planet is honored and protected”, and with at least the liberal economics and politics as professed by Lindsey and Telles, which applies to India as well. Also, the legacy of Swami Agnivesh and the tireless work of the living master Sri Sri must be the beacon of light against the surge of internecine Satanic forces in India.

The political parties opposing the ruling parties and the religions opposing the religion supported by the ruling parties have the responsibility of contributing to social capital building. The best of Swami Agnivesh’s legacy in this regard is conveyed thus in his own words:

“Religions have become a hindrance, rather than a help, to our shared pursuit of peace and progress. They tend to make us meaner rather than better human beings, less sensitive to the demands of justice, compassion and fellow humanity in our times.

…all human beings have a right, and duty, to be joyful. Anything that thwarts this spiritual human right goes against the very purpose of human being. Spirituality mandates us to wage a relentless war to eradicate these forces of oppression and disempowerment.

First, we must liberate people from religion, as religion is understood and practiced today. Second, we must effect a paradigm shift from religiosity to shared spirituality.

Peace among religions is a precondition for world peace. But religions, as religions, can never be at peace with each other. To enable religions to be instruments for peace we need to enable, first, religious communities to progress from religion to spirituality. For the world order to be one of peace and justice, for the global village to be a theater of right livelihood, it is imperative that a new and proactive spiritual vision commensurate to the challenges of the emerging world order be enunciated without delay. The challenge is to make “right livelihood” a universal goal…We must not rest until right livelihood is within reach of every human being upon this earth we love and cherish. We all have a role to play in achieving this goal.”

According to the Right Livelihood Foundation “The idea of ‘right livelihood’ is an ancient one. It embodies the principle that each person should follow an honest occupation, which fully respects other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions and taking only a fair share of the earth’s resources.”

Only policies and practices in favour of right livelihood and strong social capital can ensure broadbased Indian prosperity.

Sources:

Brink Lindsey and Steven M. Teles.2017. The Captured Economy. OUP.

https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/obituary/swami-agnivesh-1939-2020-the-misunderstood-maverick.

https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691152608/a-revolution-of-the-mind

https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/others/sunday-read/who-is-a-hindu-how-hindutva-threatens-the-history-of hindus/articleshow/76792153.cms#:~:text=Hindutva%20history%20makes%20the%20history,makes%20them%20weak%2C%20gullible%20victims

https://www.amazon.in/Ants-Among-Elephants-Untouchable-Family/dp/0865478112)/

https://www.hindusforhumanrights.org/

https://www.doonething.org/heroes/pages-a/agnivesh-quotes.htm

Managing Committee. Central Hindu College. Benares. 1916. Sanatana Dharma: An Elementary Textbook of Hindu Religion and Ethics.

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