MAINSTREAM Home page > 2008 > Quest for Justice Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 35, New Delhi
Quest for Justice Monday 18 August 2008, by Avijit Pathak
Book Review Justice: Political, Social, Juridical, by Rajeev Bhargava, Michael Dusche and Helmut Reifeld (eds); Sage Publication, New Delhi; 2008; p. 325; Price Rs 650.
We live in a world that continues to surprise us with its paradoxes. Yes, it is a world that promises justice, human dignity and equality. Yet, we find ourselves amidst structures, institutions and everyday practices that continue to degrade our humanity, and reproduce the ethos of violence, hierarchy and exploitation. There are, however, socio-political movements; there is a quest for justice. No wonder, social scientists—particularly those who seek to contribute to the making of a just society—want to make us sensitive through their analytical and creative interventions. Herein lies the relevance of this volume. It emerged out of a conference, which was held in Jaisalmer in November 2003. Its ten essays—written by eminent scholars—make us reflect on diverse dimensions of justice.
To begin with, its three essays that engage with religion are bound to strike the imagination of the reader. Take, for instance, Kunal Chakrabarti’s penetrating analysis of Brahminical discourses. Chakrabarti is a gifted historian. He argues convincingly how Brahminism—a system based on inscriptive status, purity and pollution, and hierarchical gradation of people—negates justice, privileges forward castes, and legitimates differential punishment to different categories of people for the same offence. Yet, a system of this kind sustains itself through the ‘twin conceptions of karman and transmigration of the soul’.
For example, it is argued that when a Sudra does his duty properly, his suffering comes to an end with his death and he enjoys residence in heaven; or the soul, travelling from one body to another, is born as a brahmana. Not solely that. As Chakrabarti adds, ‘Brahminism had to create at least one platform—the domain of moksha—where, theoretically, all members, irrespective of caste and gender distinctions, are equal.’ But then, as he cautions us, all these theoretical postulates, concessions, or even alternative discourses have not been able to negate the very foundation of Brahminism.
Only the radical bhakti movements of the medieval period fundamentally critiqued the principle of Brahminical social organisation from within, but these were eventually absorbed by the system itself. The concept of social justice in India has undergone endless revisions, but seldom without reference to caste. The principle of natural inequality, devised by the brahmanas, continues to define the system till today. Chakrabarti’s arguments make us confront a pertinent question:
- Is it ever possible for Hinduism to innovate itself, fight the ugliness of Brahminism, and create a new agenda for an egalitarian social order?
- What about Swami Vivekananda’s ‘practical Vedanta’, Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘dialogical Hinduism’, and Sri Aurobindo’s ‘integral yoga’?
- Were these radical interventions or merely illusory remedies in an otherwise oppressive Brahminical system?
Possibly another essay on these issues relating to radicalisation of Hinduism could have completed the discussion which Chakrabarti initiated with such great rigor.