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Policymakers wake up! O.P. Jindal University (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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Questioner (Q): As a researcher in public policy, I spend a lot of my time trying to understand the marginalized sections of the society. By marginalized, I mean slum dwellers, tribal populations, and the rural sectors in India. They are marginalized in many ways, because although our government’s policies have been trying to look at their welfare, they have not yet been able to implement its goals. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that these people are almost voiceless, and their needs and problems are not heard. What I am keen to understand is, do you think an understanding of spirituality could help to alleviate these gaps and help in implementing these policy processes better?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, where do these inequities, dissimilarities and exploitations come from? They are not mandated by the heavens. And there have always been inequities, and man has always been exploitative. The reason lies in our fundamental biological constitution.

When you go to the jungle, how much compassion do you see? You do see some kind of cooperation there, right? And that too is for the sake of survival, food, and sex. Compassion is very hard to find in nature. Exploitation you can find very easily; opportunism you will find at every step. Every organism is caring just for itself. It’s just that in the jungle, the animals do not have sharp intellects, so they cannot carry on with their exploitativeness and opportunism for too long.

Man is an animal at his core, but a very gifted animal—gifted with intellect. The result is that mankind suffers from problems that no other species does. We not only exploit other species, we exploit members of our own as well, and we do that at every pretext possible. In the last four decades, we have lost more than sixty percent of our wildlife. Now, just let that sink in—four decades and sixty percent of wildlife is gone. Some of the most abundant animals on this planet are just the ones that we slaughter for meat; only they have been allowed to proliferate. And they are not being allowed to proliferate, they are forcibly bred and cultivated. All others have been wiped out.

Now, that exploitative tendency we take to our own brothers and sisters as well. So, there is the division between black and white, between man and woman, between rich and poor, between one caste and another caste, one religion and another religion, one nation and another nation, even one age and another age. The reason is not ideological; the reason is existential. This ought to be understood. Had the reason been ideological, one better ideology could have taken care of the situation. We could have replaced the old and rotten ideologies with something new, enlightened, fascinating, liberal, and that new ideology would have delivered the goods. No. The problem is that all ideologies come from the same conditioned and animalistic mind; therefore, they can be only marginally better than the preceding ones.

What we require is an understanding of our existential condition. Who are we? Who is the one who talks? Who is the one who says, “I am, and therefore I want”? These are the two small things we never go into: ‘I am’ and ‘I want’. Of these two, ‘I am’ comes first. As long as I am, I will want just the selective welfare of who I am. If I do not know who I am, if I continue to be ignorant about who I am, I will only want the selective welfare of who I think I am, but that which I really am not.

So, our desires are all products of our delusion, and therefore our desires are also very violent. It’s not just that the marginalized sections of the society are victims of oppression. Don’t you see how kids are exploited within the family? Don’t you see how the husband is violent towards the wife and how the wife is violent towards the husband? Violence is ingrained in our DNA. And unless our consciousness is liberated of our DNA, there is no hope.

Do you see what I am saying? We need a consciousness that is liberated, that is free of the bodily compulsions. Otherwise, we will just do what we are currently doing, and that too at an increased speed. And that is happening all around us. Don’t you see that? Not only is destruction happening—destruction is happening at an accelerated pace. And when we see that there is misery, there is suffering, that there are certain people who have been victimized, then we sink deeper into our delusion. We start blaming others, a particular section, as the root cause of the problem. We do not realize that the root cause is within us.

And unless you have an environment, an education system, social stimuli that take people away from their animalistic tendencies, the same thing will continue to happen. One animal wants to grab the territory of another animal, especially if the former is a bigger animal; one big country wants to grab the territory of a smaller country. But this we take as something a bit sophisticated. We discuss this in the United Nations. We talk of this as something at least half serious and half intellectual.

We sit in our formal clothes and discuss the occupation of territory on high fora. But when one dog encroaches into the territory of another dog, we look at it as something very ordinary, very lowly indeed. We do not see that the same thing is happening. And unless we come to that sharp, quick, conclusive realization, we will keep giving respect to all the wrong things and we will sink deeper into misery, and we will not realize why we are suffering in the first place.

Q: So, let’s say someone is poor and oppressed and does not have access to the resources that they would need for their upliftment, and at the same time they would be aware of the fact that they do not have access to safe education or the understanding of what they could do to come out of the trap that they are in. In this situation, do you think there is any solution that can lead to any kind of upliftment at all? Or would you say that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is just moving further and further?

AP: The question is, what do the haves have? Do they really have something worth coveting? Indeed people need something, but what is it that we all do need? No point running the same race. The haves have something, and if all the have-nots aspire to have the same thing that the haves have, then all we will have is disaster. Think of what will happen if the entire population of India is able to have the same per capita consumption as the population of the US. Will we survive? Will the Earth last even six months? Is consumption, first of all, the goal of human life? And when I say consumption, that includes education as well, because our education is very much consumption-centric.

So, you talked of the solution. The superficial solution, obviously, is to bridge the gap, and that you could do by various means. You could do that by subsidies; you could do that by affirmative action; you could do that by social schemes, by reservations. There is so much that you can do. And if you do that, there would be some positive impact and you are entitled to feel good about it, but so far and no more; that takes you no further than this.

If you really want wholesome change, then you need a social system, an educational system to begin with—that will be the first thing—that encourages the right values. And the moment I use the word ‘values’, it starts sounding clichéd, even trite, because the word ‘values’ has been abused so much and slighted so much that it has lost its meaning, it has become insignificant. Maybe we need another word to suit our minds.

We need to understand what is it that is, first of all, valuable in life, and that is what each human being must have. Each kid that is born is entitled to have something in life. The question is, what is that something? Disneyland? A trip to Mars? Ivy League MBA? Wonderful kind of clothing? What? What is it that we ought to have? Obviously, there are the basic physical needs; we require good food, we require shelter. But, being a human being, there is something more that we need, something that animals do not need, but we do. And that’s the central thing; that, I dare say, is even more important than food and shelter. I am not discounting the importance of food and shelter.

So, figure that out, and ensure that everybody gets to have that. Otherwise, you can give a car to every single person in the population of India and feel that you have created an equitable society. You can give the right to vote to every single person, and then see the kind of leaders they elect.

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