Megapolis India| Without Walls | Studio X

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The process of making a city ‘modern’ has brought joy as well as anomie – joy because people are getting exposed to new forms of information and communication technology, integrating sections of society, anomie because modernisation tends to shun the unprivileged even more. The changing dynamics of Mumbai’s infrastructure and economy have resulted in patterns of spatial segregation  – which have denied the poor their right to the city. The homeless, classified as the “other”, are rendered passive in the changing urban landscape. However, in recent times, the plight of the poor has witnessed a certain revival in popular imagination. A co-curated multimedia exhibition by Megapolis India and Studio X, along with inputs from NGO Pehchan, has focused on the plight of the homeless by exposing the everyday struggles faced by them.

Upon entering the exhibition, one sees a series of video interviews displayed on a projection screen, where women, young and old, reveal their daily struggles living on footpaths. For instance, Meera, a woman in her 30s, along with her family has been living on the footpath for years. She says, “This is where we were born and raised, where our children were born and raised.. Where will we go, even if you chase us away?”. This powerful statement gives us a glimpse of the lives of the homeless, making the urban city dweller question whether or not the homeless have a right at all to decide upon what type of urbanism they want. The series of video interviews made me raise certain questions — on whose ideology does the city run on? Is urban planning done taking into consideration the homeless/poor? Has urbanisation completely become a capitalist endeavour? Are the homeless completely left out of the process of globalisation? 

One whole wall of the exhibition is assigned to maps of areas where the homeless dwell, along with photographs which display the areas where the homeless reside. Thus, as a viewer when I began to engage with the map, there seemed to be a sense of loss of identity and belongingness. In my opinion, the larger than life map displayed on the wall seemed to be overwhelming, further making the observer feel displaced. There seems to be a “growing amnesia” towards the poor, making them appear as overlooked elements of society, as political scientist Rajni Kothari recalls. The homeless seem to be perceived as an unchanging, mundane aspect of the urban dweller’s life.

As an observer, I also find it amusing to see how the visual space of the gallery can transform mundane aspects of life to sacred. The homeless are seen as inhabitants of a space, but who do not seem to catch the everyday pedestrian or a car go-er’s gaze. However, when the lives of the homeless are displayed in a gallery, they instantly become noticed and valued. The visual space of a gallery has the power to alter the perception of an object/group of people. Furthermore, the public then starts to pay attention to the plight of the homeless population.

Moreover, as one walks through the exhibition, a certain sense of a nomadic lifestyle seems to prevail in the images. As a viewer, I feel as if Mumbai’s homeless are living as urban nomads. The temporary lifestyle — similar to that of a nomad, lacks privacy, makes a person succumb to loneliness, keeps an individual always thinking of new places to rest and work in. Nevertheless, the exhibition is an eye opener and can be looked at as a tribute to Mumbai’s homeless.

The Complexity of The Monogamous Norm

Humans are dynamic beings, upon whom static norms have been imposed. One such norm is that of monogamy. There have been several debates between evolutionists about humans innately being polygamous or monogamous. Majority of the world functions on the law of monogamy amongst individuals. They claim it ensures ‘order’ in society. By stating this, do these people look at religions like Islam or other communities which rest on polygamous law in a negative way?

Monogamy in simple words is described by “The practice of marrying or state of being married to one person at a time” (Merriam-Webster). Societies have presupposed that humans are innately monogamous, hence they must be placed in an environment where monogamous laws are practiced. However there is absolutely no reason to believe that individuals are monogamous. Instead, historical evidence has revealed that “Ours is arguably the most sexual species on Earth.” as said by author Christopher Ryan. That being said, the argument towards a monogamous lifestyle takes a different turn all together.

Early societies which were characterised by primitiveness were highly polygamous. It was normal to breastfeed the babies of other members of the society, at that stage of evolution, sharing was the norm. There was no sense of individuality or identity developed, as the notion of property was not so strong. As societies progressed, the understanding of property started becoming essential to humans, it became crucial to figure out where the boundaries of ones property was differentiated from that of their rivals or other members of society. The only was this could be done was, through limiting the relationships of women and men that is.. through the law of monogamy.

Many have questioned the transition from polygamous behaviour to social monogamous behaviour in humans. This could be because; in primitive societies females found the need for security of their babies from other males who would kill if they found out that the offsprings were not theirs, in order to promote the multiplicity of their respective genes. This is a form of social behaviour evolved through evolution.

Claude Levis Staruss, the founder of the school of structuralism, stated that humans think in terms of binaries, that is in terms of two. An example of this would be marking people as inferior and superior, pure and impure or male and female. There was only room for extremes or opposites never for the space for the in between or the ‘grey area’. The idea of polygamy thus became unfamiliar to man and the idea of monogamy prevailed.

If we look at the lifestyle of our closest animal relatives, we can say that among primates around 80% have been listed as polygamous. So when we say this, we clearly imply that monogamy is not natural for humans. In fact, what is natural is polygamy and it is       a task for humans to play a monogamous role. Many evolutionists such as Daniel Kruger, have used the term “mildly polygynous” to describe the innate human nature and have opposed humans as being naturally monogamous. Others such as sociologist, Pepper Schwartz has said, ”I don’t think we are a monogamous animal. A really monogamous animal is a goose – which never mates again even if its mate is killed.”

People who have been in relationships over countless years and endless amounts of time, often feel frustrated in being in another’s company. The couple’s therapy counsellor is constantly giving umpteen ways to ‘fix things’, yet relationships remain stagnant. Why is that so? Conceptualising more than one partner is treated as a sin in many religions and other social institutions. The vision that these institutions have is that, it takes two individuals of the opposite sex to maintain stability of the family and splits equal responsibilities towards the development of offsprings. This binary understanding is known as social monogamy or living in pairs for the well being of children.

So when a pair is living under the same roof, sharing salaries and resources to support a family, the probability of the pair being socially monogamous is high. However it is important to note that while the relationship is shared, there are occasional signs of adultery, nevertheless the pair is still very much together. This type of behaviour must NOT be confused with sexually monogamous behaviour where there is only one sexual partner throughout ones life. Many people think of marriage as sexually monogamous, however it is a socially monogamous relationship. Hence the idea of a nuclear family is propagated through institutions because they aim towards social monogamy.

So what is the final take on monogamy? What can be said is that, monogamy is a constructed term which is looked at as an investment and only practiced to achieve a certain ‘balance’ in society. However, the question of humans being naturally monogamous people remains in the minds of many. For all the people out there with such a thought process, the question to ask is, if we are innately monogamous, shouldn’t following monogamy becoming easier? or for that matter why is adultery  still on the rise in many parts of the world? 

Can The Dreams of Secular Education Ever Be Achieved By Indian Society?

As citizens of India, we are citizens of a secular nation. “Secularisation is the process whereby religious institutions and practices become peripheral or almost invisible in a society in which they were perceived to be central and pivotal” (Copley, 2005:7) However, in the case of India the definition of secularisation takes a different turn. India rests on the principle of “dharma nirpekshta” which means indifference to religion to be observed by the State. As Gandhi said, it was vital for India to have respect and tolerance for all the religions in India and that was crucial to govern on bases of common citizen interest, permitting free expression of religious practices.  Having understood this, it is a precondition for a secular nation to promote secular education. Unfortunately, the Indian state is far from promoting secular education.

Education is a social institution which plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of India, through the youth, who are the agents of social change. Education goes beyond the domain of classroom learning and can be inculcated through experience, debates and different modes of conversation. What holds importance in education, is the power relations and the quality of content involved.

Karl Marx, has spoken about the ‘superstucture’ in society that comprises of the people who hold immense power and are capable of moulding nearly all social institutions, the most important being education. In India the educational system is controlled either by the government or by elites. What goes into what we call ‘book knowledge’ is governed by the ideologies of what the people in power follow.

Andre Beteille claims that the Indian education system has suffered from the ‘bad advocacy’ of academics. Hence the educational system becomes defective and encourages the people to think in terms of groups and communities and promoting feelings of ethnocentricism or having the view of being superior against another culture. This practice further encourages feelings of communalism and alienation amongst the citizens of India.

Today in many schools, especially in the rural areas (in the urban as well) of India one can find the textbooks being dominated by pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses and slokas from Hindu scriptures. There is barely any other representation of other religions of the country.  The aim of education is to foster critical thinking and broaden the vision of individuals, this is not being done with the current practices being followed by the educational system of India. Instead the schools are encouraging conservative thinking which is inclined towards going back to barbaric stages of evolution rather than civilised. This also leads to a vicious cycle where the teacher who was once a learner, was placed in an environment which encouraged sectarian thinking, propagates the same ideologies to his or her students. Hence the claims of ‘educated’ people promoting sectarian ideologies does not come across as much of a shock in todays day and age.

Many textbooks till date still promote casteism. There is difference between understanding the ideology of caste and promoting the ideology of caste. Many teachers purposely label the Dalits who belonged to the lower strata of caste, in a more negative light. Their status in many books is linked to that of a crow whose lifestyle thrives on living in garbage. How is it possible to cultivate broad thinking when the malleable minds of young children are getting brainwashed to believe in a particular way? Many have questioned this stand.

India has innumerable tribal population living in its interiors. They constitute 8.61% of the total population of the country, figures go upto 104.28 million and cover about 15% of the country’s area. (2011 Census). Very conveniently textbook authors has ben ignorant about this fact and have labelled them as a part of Hindu tradition. Many tribals have different Gods, rituals, ceremonies and many do not have the concept of caste, but this goes unnoticed. Their tradition has been labelled as an inferior ‘local’ tradition compared to the ‘great’ dominant tradition of Hindus. Hence their have been claims that the tribals have been “sanskiritsed” into the folds of the great Brahminical tradition. The unfortunate part is that the tribes due to their isolated lifestyle are completely unaware of the exploitation done by the people in power.

Education not only revolves around text but is also achieved through various discourses. The religious discourse of Hindutva, has in recent times intensified the struggle to achieve secular education. This ideology glorifies Hinduism and one of the principles which it adheres to is that of “pitra bhumi”, meaning an individual’s forefathers must be born in India for him or her to call it ones land. According to them, Muslims and Christians have their lineage originated from else where and hence are ‘foreign elements’ to India. Thus being ‘foreign’ is given the status of an outcast encouraging feelings of communalism. This ideology is being promoted in various rural areas of India where there are high levels of illiteracy, leading to the moulding of the minds of the villagers.

As every nation envisions itself as being successful, India is no exception. If a modern India has to be built, the government has to have a broader outlook with aims of encouraging healthy thinking and achieving a society which is not based on caste. The panel for framing the syllabus in schools all over the country should themselves have an open mind and not just get elected on the basis of religion. Critical thinking is the key to achieve progress, existing societal structures and epistemological claims to knowledge theories should be questioned by the citizens themselves. With these fundamental changes, India as a country will no longer be far from achieving progress in terms of secular education.