While the terminology that I have used may sound sarcastic, it would be an attempt for introspection as the one who has written and those who read all belong to this category! While the population of our country itself is huge the large group of people who can be said to constitute the middle class- that is who do not fall into the category of 1 per cent of the super rich or that of the ultra poor who may constitute 40 per cent, those who fall in the middle of the either or we the middle class who are the most vocal, cantankerous, argumentative and probably the most superstitious too! Well,
Amartya Sen’s term the argumentative Indian must have been coined with us in mind! Let me also add that we have also been at the forefront of many of the struggles for justice and movements for change. On one hand we snigger at the economically backward people who are struggling for their livelihood with their own ‘low’ class superstitions like going to the local witch doctor for treatment to sacrificing the occasional poultry or a goat for the blood thirsty local goddess to the gurus of the rich, our own ones are conveniently ignored or rationalized. This is an attempt at change- which is very much needed if we are to become a humanistic society based on respect for human rights. While the term human rights may sound like the latest fetish of the West, an egalitarian society needs human rights for all and the greatest violators of these are the superstitions.
The top superstition of the middle class is that their beliefs are the most rational ones with the capacity to change everything. The foremost among them is the ‘faith’ in a messiah who is idolized to the point of hero worship or even formation of a cult- it could be any one from a man with a muffler who promises to solve problems of all to a bearded contortionist who promises solutions to the problems of the middle aged! This class has the superstitious belief that one such would come, wave a magic wand and solve the problems. They idolize such, carry them to dizzying heights and then drop them when the problems look like they will not be solved! One would not like to organise a movement or develop a system to solve these problems in a systematic organized accountable manner but look upto a single person to do that and as it is wont to, the individual fails to be dropped like the proverbial hot potato. It has happened many times in the past and is likely to happen again in the future unless this superstition can be overcome. We need a systematic change and not something which is expected to come from the top like dropping from an individual. This could also apply to those movements against superstitions which should also come from the grass roots and only when this happens a change in the system as such can happen.
The glory of the past is another superstition to which the middle class is addicted. While the inferiority complex brought on by the rule of the so called decadent West has made us go back to the glorious past in which rivers of milk and honey flowed while gems were being sold by the fistful on road sides! This is conveniently forgetting the history that all ‘golden ages’ of history were eras where human rights were trampled upon to the most. In the absence of technology and machinery, the construction of all the surviving monuments of such ages were built by the forced labour of a vast section of the population who had to sacrifice their human rights or rather were made to do that by rulers who wallowed in luxury. This apart, the fascination would be for the golden eras of science and technology of a bygone age when there were aero planes capable of moving in all directions and distances including interplanetary travel. Medical technology was advanced to a stage that heads of elephants could be transplanted on to humans, test tube babies grown to maturity in pots of ghee and so on. There is no evidence for this and none is sought either- that it is mentioned in mythology is more than sufficient! Well all this wondrous scientific advancement became extinct as miraculously it had existed and today we have Prime ministers out to revive these with papers being presented in Indian Science Congress about such of course without any practical demonstrations! Well if that is demanded one can say that it is for the future generations to rebuild the past and restore the glory.
Another convenient approach is the justification of some of the irrational practices of the older generations with pseudo science. Well marriage is to be banned in the same gotras- because of DNA! Yes genetics -though marriages can happen between first cousins who are not of the same gotra and then genetics does not matter! A cousin on the paternal side to a degree of which may be more than a hundred cannot be a spouse while a first cousin on the matrimonial side or even a brother of the mother can be a spouse in some communities of the south! Yes caste system can also be justified it was based on occupation if it were to be so then some Brahmins who are supposed to be now working for Sulabh shouchalayas could be now classified as dalits and hence untouchable! Or some dalits be employed as priests and called Brahmins afterwards? Well that is for the middle class to decide.
Women and children are always the worst victims of superstitions and the middle class has to be conforming to that. We have numerous mal nourished women keeping ‘fasts’ for the well being of the men while you will never find it the other way- a man keeping it for the well being of a woman! They are also held to be incapable of handling finances, taking decisions about whom to marry, what to wear and so on. While the income from women is welcome, the right to take independent decisions is not. The thrusting of superstitions down the throats of children is not a prerogative of the middle class it is their privilege. While some of them may be religion linked there are a lot which may not be- we have brain improvement courses, high protein- vitamin enriched foods, things like yoga and pranayama etc. Many a time the practices are forced upon the children. Here we have to also mention the enforcement of the religious beliefs of the parents on the children.
The uncertainties of the future are always weighing heavy on the minds of the middle class so, resort to astrologers, palmists, sooth sayers and people of their ilk is inevitable. Again, the belief in their particular godman or whoever it is not a superstition, those of the others is! Theirs is infallible and once he/she turns out to be not so, they go to the next telling all concerned that the present one is the best. This cycle goes on some times for generations.
We could take a look at the health related superstitions too. While for acute diseases they would not resort to quackery for chronic diseases, superstitions will play a heavy role. We are always in search for cures for the life style related diseases- while hypertension, diabetes, obesity are common, those who promise ready cures for these are at hand to exploit the superstitious mind sets. There are promises of ready cures without involving any rigorous exercises or dieting- a few magical asanas, a panacea to be drunk, a powder to be eaten, a mantra to be uttered which prey on the middle class making use of their superstitions. There are so called ‘therapies’ without a shred of evidence and superstitions like homeopathy, various therapies like music, color, Reiki, pranic healing thrive making use of the gullibility of the middle class.
Superstitions do change too! For example at one those who crossed the seas were considered as excommunicated from religions but are now welcomed everywhere! Perhaps what they bring when they come might have caused this change or may be the presence of such in every family. So, this shows that if really needed we can get over the superstitions! Though the individual superstitions do change the mind set does not. The tragedy of our nation is that we are a society in which a twenty first century technology is superimposed on a sixteenth century mind set. Unless we change this we cannot become a modern nation. Even the so called external signs of modernity break down when a strong enough challenge comes. When that comes the whole set up collapses and we go back to our primitive practices.
So, the message is simple -start thinking rationally and reject all these superstitions. All you will lose are your chains of irrational bondage that prevent you from progress-social, economic and make you a better person in your relationships.