New Delhi, March. 4 (PTI): Indians are perhaps the world's most undemocratic people, living in the world's largest and most plural democracy where a person's self-worth is almost exclusively determined by the rank he occupies, says a new book. A profoundly hierarchical society, in India the determination of relative rank (Is this person superior or inferior to me?) remains very near the top of subconscious questions evoked in an interpersonal encounter, says the book The Indians, Portrait of a People by psychoanalyst and culture commentator Sudhir Kakkar and anthropologist Katherina Kakkar.
The gratification of the 300 million middle-class consumers, does not lie in their being consumers in a global marketplace but in being somebody in a profoundly hierarchical society, the authors say. You must be somebody to survive with dignity, since rank is the only substitute for money. Thus retired judges, ex-ambassadors and other sundry officials who are no longer in service are never caught without calling cards prominently displaying who they once were, authors say.
Irrespective of his educational status and more than in any other culture in the world, an Indian is a homo hierarchicus, the book says.
Although at first glance the notion of Indian-ness among the one billion population speaking 14 major languages with pronounced regional differences may seem far-fetched, yet from ancient times European, Chinese and Arab travellers have identified common features among India's peoples, it says.
Some of the values that govern Indian institutional and work life empirically demonstrated by the GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness) revealed that South Asia has the greatest power distance – that is, the degree to which people are separated by power, authority and prestige. In other words, the difference in status between the chief executive and the office peon, the raja and the runk is at its maximum in this region and in India, the book says.
Second only to the family as a pervasive social dimension of Indian identity is the institution of caste, the authors say. The ancient divisions of Hindu society into the priest (Brahmin), warrior (Kshatriya), tradesman (Vaishya) and servant (Shudra) classes, in that order of ranking is still used to locate a person in the wider social space, the book says and quotes an example political commentators speaking of mobilising the Brahmin, Vaishya or the backward classes (as the Shudras are called now) during elections.
The authors also say that although the cliched relationship between an overpowering mother-in-law and a silently suffering daughter-in-law is a bitter reality for many young women, the changes that are taking place in the power structure of the educated middle class have made many a mother-in-law views herself as a loser across the board. She feels bitter and shortchanged that although she suffered under the whims and moods of older family members when she was young bride, now, when it is her turn to reap the fruits of being the family matriarch, she can neither take the respect of her better educated daughter-in-law or the loyalty of her son for granted.
The Indians: Portrait of a People by Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar
Published by Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 395.00