We live in a fools’ paradise, no less. What else can one call a country that patiently nurtures a populace composed overwhelmingly, as Justice Markandey Katju recently pronounced, of “fools”? The venerable former Supreme Court judge and sitting Press Council of India chairman has sentenced Indians to a lifetime of folly with a single statement: “90 per cent of Indians are fools”. No, he didn’t say those words on April 1, and yes, the allegation is no joke.
Social scientist Shiv Visvanathan says, “This is just the kind of elitist arrogance we don’t need. Our people vote in the democratic regime, our people brought down the Emergency. Sometimes there is populism, but overall, don’t you think Indian democracy is quite intelligent?”
Cricketer-turned-MP Kirti Azad agrees, “It bothers me that our country, our Parliament, are becoming regional and caste-based. But people who haven’t had the chance to receive an education, to know their rights can’t be called fools.”
Visvanathan adds, “Indians are the most cosmopolitan people. As tourists or workers, they have had a global sense for centuries.” That global sense, believes Kavitha Kalvakuntla, daughter of trs chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao and founder of the Telangana Jagruthi Foundation, is complemented by our traditional values. “Our philosophical way of life does not make us fools. We still believe in institutions of family and marriage. If we are so foolish, why are westerners coming to study our value system?” she questions.
While that is a truth universally acknowledged, Kavitha contends that the jury judging the masses needs a reality check too: “Here is a statistic to reckon with: in India, 90 per cent of people have faith in the judiciary in spite of its rampant corruption. It is sad that this face of the judiciary has not been exposed.”
Who, then, do the unthinking look to? After all, branding 90 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion as fools imparts a formidable responsibility on the other 10 per cent. “As if it is up to the 10 per cent to reform and lead the majority into the light!” quips social commentator Santosh Desai. “This undemocratic view implies that you allocate all the wisdom to yourself and then measure others against it.”
Sociology, for one, has no such tool of measurement, assures practitioner Bula Bhadra. “In sociology, we do not recognise terms like ‘fools’ and ‘morons’. There are lapses in our system, in our society, but making blanket statements is no way to address them. Such derogatory comments reflect a colonial mindset and a lack of intelligence. There are no statistics to show that one individual is superior to another at birth.”
“Intelligence, after all, is a fundamental human trait,” Desai says, “irrespective of nationality or race.” But what is intelligence, really? Dr Debashis Ray, a Calcutta-based clinical psychiatrist and a member of the American Association for Intellectual Disability, offers a er... foolproof definition: “In psychiatry, intelligence means the global capacity to act purposefully, think rationally and deal effectively with the environment. We do not have the term ‘fool’ in psychiatry, but anyone falling short of the above is deemed to be of less than average intelligence.” Going by his experience, Ray pegs people of below-average intelligence at less than 5 per cent, with Calcutta scoring less than 1 per cent. He says, “It is insulting for such people to be called fools.”
It’s tricky too. As filmmaker Gaurav Pandey explains, “It is nuanced. An academic genius, for instance, could be an emotional fool or a social fool.” Then, there is the political fool—the one hat Indians readily concede to be wearing. “We’ve allowed ourselves to be fooled by our leaders, whom we have voted to power, year after year, decade after decade, knowing that good governance was not their main goal,” Pandey says. Adman Prahlad Kakar agrees: “In this, we are fools: for letting our leaders get away with murder, for electing the most corrupt of politicians, or worse, not voting.”
Adolf D’Souza knows the value of votes. The ex-municipal corporator, the country’s first citizens’ consensus candidate, interprets complacence, not folly, as the real malady. D’Souza explains, “Our culture has made us complacent; it defines how we approach issues and decisions. Every country has a certain culture and in India, religion and spirituality—even its lesser forms—play an integral role.”
He stresses that absurdity, like with beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder, “When he uses the word ‘fools’, who is he comparing us to? The Europeans? The Americans? When you view certain things in our culture from a western perspective, we might look like fools but it makes sense in this country because of our historical and cultural context.”
“In India, almost everyone—right from the affluent businessman to the common man on the street—tends to be superstitious in their own way. Superstitions here are connected with faith and that is extremely personal,” points out Anita Ratnam, dancer, choreographer and activist, vouching for a “deep vein of intelligence in our DNA”. She does concede, however, that we think with our hearts, and have a herd mentality.
That is exactly what alarms Dr Aniruddh Bose, a cosmetic surgeon, whose latest book, The Vision, explores the idea of intelligence as self-knowledge and introspection. Backing Justice Katju’s “unpleasant truth”, Bose says, “We aren’t introspective as a nation and are dangerously oblivious to our surroundings. We need to understand that we’re under threat, politically, economically, environmentally, socially, culturally.” Ergo, be myopic at your own peril. “From our political parties to our press, our thrust is temporary gain. We lack the vision of the future. That makes us fools.” Actress, TV host and producer Khushboo adds that understanding Katju’s context is imperative. “In an Indian context, superstitions are big. It is time we stepped out of it.”
As Dr Sudhakar Krishnamurti, andrologist and director of Andromeda Andrology Centre, Hyderabad, puts it, “People break coconuts, visit churches and temples to seek solutions to their problems! Indians either resort to sloganeering, protests and bandhs or get fatalistic.” The word fool, he insists, is meant figuratively to denote ignorance, apathy, inertia, selfishness, lack of national consciousness and conscience, and gullibility. Justice Katju’s plea, then, is for people to follow logical and rational methods.
Writer and columnist Shobhaa De couldn’t agree more. “I have seen so-called ‘progressive’, educated Indians wearing all sorts of prejudices on their sleeves. Narrow-mindedness is a national characteristic. We are superstitious and casteist, particularly when it comes to marriage. We continue to live in the 19th century—and unapologetically, at that.”
De is a tad more generous though—the dunce cap, she thinks, would befit 85 per cent of us. While you work out where you fit in, I.B. Singh, senior advocate, Allahabad High Court, prefers to do a different headcount: “I would rather keep count of intelligent people, who I am sure are present in very large numbers in Lucknow.” Author Sunil Gangopadhyay, meanwhile, doesn’t mind being counted in the majority. “If Justice Katju’s view is true, then I belong to that 90 per cent,” he says, tongue characteristically in cheek.
But the real question is who’s to judge? Since, as Desai says succintly, “One man’s fool is another’s genius and vice versa.”
Fool Is Paradise?
By Arpita Basu with Dola Mitra, Smita Mitra, Akhila Krishnamurthy, Madhavi Tata, Rohit Mahajan and Sharat Pradhan
Justice Katju gave an erudite lecture on the Sanskrit alphabet in Bangalore recently (Blameless the Happy Vestal, Apr 23). One of the few times I heard him talk sense.
S.S. Nagaraj, Bangalore
Everything in the world comes with an expiry date—so too with Katju’s brain.
R.B., on e-mail
Indians are not fools; they are just incapacitated by a snail-paced judicial system, of which, of course, Katju was a part till recently.
Parth, On E-mail
Justice Katju should have been more specific. He should have said that 90 per cent of educated Indians, who readily succumb to the charms of charlatans and idol worship, are fools.
R.V. Subramanian, Gurgaon
I agree with Katju—the fact that you printed this goes to prove his statement. I’m forced to declare here I’m not a fool in order not to be counted with the writer of that article on a non-question.
Sharat Chandra, Kalpakkam
Ninety per cent of Indians are not fools for the simple reason that they are the same who try to outsmart, outwit, out-talk others.
Madhu Dorairaj, Faridabad
"Fool" (or phool, as in aparail phooool) is too vague of a characterization to assign a percentage.
"Collective social intellect" is too complex and important thing to be left on Justice Karju (cat-zoo sounds proper) to define.
A fundamental human nature.
A cultural thing.
I do think it is growing with time, rather than vanishing.
During those good old, little tv-no internet, days, if it is tuesday, we are at that Hanuman temple, you bet.
Not our fault, somehow all girls of town forced us.
Kids these days too are going there; but for something else I see.
( I still don't know what is with that Hanuman ji and bundi ke laddu )
I will say this growing superstition is a need, rather than falling intellect.
A bit like rise in dowry violence during 70s and 80s.
Aspirations shooting up exponentially, but there is no guide map.
Not the masses, it is that so called 10% of Katju, which is failing us. It is their job to make that guide map.
communalism and casteism and the politics of it:
Nothing more than a longing for the identity, and assertion of it.
Mainly seen in the back drop to two end of the spectrum, American and Chinese.
One too new, other too old.
One is too open and market driven, other too close and communist (not anymore though). But both have one thing in common, a clear definition of identity.
Somehow under Nahru, likes of JNU and borrowed European ideas, Indian never had one defined and refined identity.
I don't blame Nehru for that; I don't mean jingoism either; neither I mean one land, one religion, one culture, one people.
I just mean a philosophical clarity in what being an Indian means, with all its faults and flaws, and what and how to refine.
Again the same 10% at fault, under that awe and complex of white masters.
I know I am talking more than I know, but it is fun.
Katju tum sangharsh karo,
Hum tumhare saath hain.
Yes, the picture of donkey is an affront to ass. A sheep or goat might look more appropriate but then we always have our holy cow to symbolize ourselves. It chews. it moos, it rues. For the rest of time, it ruminates.
In Addition to my Comment 20/D-43 :
A Donkey/Ass can be stupid but one cannot fool around with it!
The picture of a Donkey seems to be inappropriate to depict a fool : a Sheep or Goat would have been my choice to describe the Indian who finds it easier to follow and believe blindly while putting a full stop to his thinking and reasoning power!
In a country where people have to put their very life on line for getting one square meal a day; where he is considered 'not poor' as soon as he manages 20 odd rupees. It is futile to measure their quotient of foolishness. Specially on a scale devised by the learned judge. They are smart in my view . In fact very smart and they prove it everyday by managing to stay alive in the face of such serious odds .
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