Burden of citizenship: A socioeconomic reading

the burden of Indian citizenship
The amount of effort going into arousing the collective conscience will determine the extent to which all humans claim their rightful citizenship.

Indians find themselves filled with a psychedelic pride every time a large western corporate hires a former Indian citizen for a key position. Shortly thereafter, a vague sense of loss is projected — that the country has failed to hold on to its high achievers. However, the claim that a human can exist in the vacuum of global citizenship, supplemented by arguments of technological universality that seek to negate the citizenship of innovators is laid bare by vaccine colonialism.

What is the fundamental driver of the renunciation of Indian citizenship? For a vast majority, it is the opportunity cost analysis. Upwardly mobile Indians look to grab better returns offered for their skills and are attracted by the better human development indicators. Most importantly, they do not face the threat of disenfranchisement unlike many citizens who stay back.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak says, “I am a citizen of India, and in the one-person one-vote situation. I am their equal but not the same… My humble, unsuccessful and persistent effort can be called restoring the spirit of citizenship to the subaltern” (Kyoto Prize Commemorative Lecture), thereby bringing clarity to the core question of citizenship that dichotomises citizens into two groups — higher humans and lesser humans. Mutual interaction between the two produces a multitude of expressions of citizenship.

In the recently concluded Bihar Panchayat elections, the spirit of indifference was fully exploited in the setting up of counting centres in district centres located far away from polled villages. But the optimism of lesser humans also was evident. One word would naturally strike the witness of this torment. Chaos! Which higher humans would avoid at all costs. What is visible to the eyes is undoubtedly chaotic but what it silently reveals is the microcosm of a dream: the inconspicuous sweat exuding a fragrance of fields, a swarm of aspirations. This is liveliest.

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No backers for mainstreaming of village republics

The post-colonial era saw the liberation — not to be confused with Marcusean psychic liberation — of higher humans. While they secured quasi-democratic gateways, the idea of constitutional self-government of lesser humans was ridiculed for decades.

Anti-caste Ambedkarite pragmatism is understandable to higher humans, but they believe that the Gandhian idea of mainstreaming village republics could push Indian politics into a living nightmare. The insinuation that election exercises at this level would burden an already strained economy also reeks of higher-humanship. It is because of this reason that they refuse to acknowledge the fact that the most critical frontline responders of pandemic-hit India are the product of the local self-government.

There is a perceived sense of burdensomeness. This, to extrapolate from the Critical Theory, has become so dominant that it no longer requires an external agent to maim individual consciousness.

What was previously restricted to a few now covers large swathes of Gen Z; the nouveau riche’s insight into higher-humanship has outmanoeuvred its older crudity. But their parading of humanitarian values is a sight to behold, which is stripped naked when short video makers are awarded with dehumanising labels of caste, ethnicity, class and gender.

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Burden of citizenship for lesser humans

No wonder that the strategic reasoning behind the TikTok ban found few takers. The actual fulfilment was found in the purge of the lesser-humanship of so-called trauma dumpers. The optimism of Douglas Kellner’s exploration of emancipatory potential of techno-capitalism faded quickly. For it didn’t matter that these vertical videos, with Beckettian escapades, have been trying to make sense of this absurd age, instead of lamenting over the bestiality of Jim Crow in their everyday life.

The anatomy of the ignorance of higher-humanship is fascinating. Standing at the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, Modern School perhaps boasts the best of it. At the outset of academic session 2021-22, a meritorious class XI student from the economically weaker section was denied access to a Teams ID to attend online classes. “The facility of free education cannot be extended anymore,” the administration announced.

It was only after she was sent legal notice reminding the applicability of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE) to schools situated on government-allotted land that the school realised backtracking was a safe way out of bad press. The memory of Modern School v. Union of India (2004) in which the Supreme Court came down hard on boisterous profiteering in education served sufficiently.

Wildlife conservation laws, as Madhav Gadgil points out, criminalise lesser humans for pursuing traditional livelihood practices in their homeland. What is sacred to them — who cares about Maliparbat and Hasdeo Aranya — is violated, and their belief system is sacrificed at this altar to redirect the wealth extracted from plundering of their souls towards renovating the collective conscience of higher humans.

With paper tigers such as the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) tamed, the state always seems to okay massacres of lesser humans — in Kalinga Nagar and Mon — in addition to poisoning with a dystopian buffet consisting of red mud, sulphur dioxide, cadmium, selenium, styrene and methyl isocyanate.

Savagery is always followed by hyperreal saviourism. Higher humans felt the need to conceal Veblenian consumption with the drape of philanthropy, the ornate armour of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) regime: E-Kaksha in Rajasthan, Eklavya Schools in Odisha, to name a few.

A decade ago, Arundhati Roy single-handedly alerted the world to the assault on the sacredness of Niyamgiri. But the state, the guild of higher humans, didn’t heed her warning. Thirteen lesser humans were killed in Thoothukudi. Perhaps, it was planned to sate the incubus-like hunger of the very same assailant of Niyamgiri.

Roys, Tokarczuks, Ressas and Alhathlouls of the world are courageously fighting the higher-humanship decree, but will this allyship win? Perhaps, this is a never-ending struggle. The amount of effort going into arousing the collective conscience will determine the extent to which all humans claim their rightful citizenship.

(Ujjawal Krishnam reports on human rights issues. The views are personal.)