Pranav Jeevan P
“If a larger country oppresses a smaller country, I’ll stand with the smaller country. If the smaller country has majoritarian religion that oppresses minority religions, I’ll stand with minority religions. If the minority religion has caste and one caste oppresses another caste, I’ll stand with the caste being oppressed. In the oppressed caste, if an employer oppresses his employee, I’ll stand with the employee If the employee goes home and oppresses his wife, I’ll stand with that woman. Overall, Oppression is my enemy” – Periyar E. V. Ramasamy
Every single social interaction we have in our day-to-day life mostly involves adhering to one hierarchy or another. We are programmed to respect these coercive hierarchies of gender, caste, class, sexuality, culture, language, religion and tastes. These hierarchies are reinforced in our family, educational institutions, workplaces, public spaces and government. A critical analysis of these hierarchies is essential to understand who holds power over us and to delegitimize that power, which they use to coerce us into submission. Democracy is about dismantling these power hierarchies and redistributing power equally among the people so that they are not coerced and exploited.
A recent article which analyzed the settler colonial nature of the Indian state with regard to abrogation of Article 370, through a feminist lens showed the similarities of this domination to that of the patriarchal silencing of the subjugated. It also showed how every such act of aggression and brutal takeover of liberty and autonomy is legitimized in the name of “their development with or without their consent” as “people don’t know what is good for them”.
Denial of consent, paternalism, violence, enforced silencing, lack of accountability, arbitrariness, divide and rule, humiliation and a specious idea of development were the prominent features of Indian coloniality that was observed in this takeover. It is interesting to note that these features are common to almost all systems of coercive power hierarchies which try to control people and take away their liberty and autonomy. They use these tactics and methods to create legitimacy in the minds of the people so that no resistance to their authority is generated.
These hierarchies create multiple narratives of legitimacy to demand our submission unquestioningly. There are common elements which are visible in all these oppressive structures which obliterate the functioning of a democratic society. We can observe them even in our heteronormative patriarchal families. Most of the decisions about our families are taken by the male figures completely disregarding the opinions and aspirations of the women and children. The fundamental idea of democracy is that an individual should be consulted or included in any decision which affects them.
Women’s opinion and rights are completely disregarded, their consent is not considered important, and their opinions are silenced. Consent is not deemed necessary because it is the men who are “caretakers/owners” of women, thereby making the women subordinate to them through the coercive idea of legitimacy. Women are forbidden to earn and accumulate wealth, so that they would always be dependent on the male relatives, thereby the men can legitimize their power status. Kids are brought up in an environment where they are made to blindly trust the authority of ‘elders’ and believe that whatever an elder does is out of ‘love’ and ‘they know what is best’ for the kids and women.
The power enjoyed by cis-hetero-masculinity depends on controlling the liberty of women, other genders and sexualities, hence, their idea of ‘honour’ always relates to the bodies of women. They use this notion of ‘honour’ associated with female ‘purity’ to control their liberty and keep them chained and dependent. Kids are subjected to moulding of behaviour where they are taught to conform to authority. It is not just that kids’ opinions are disregarded, they are not even supported when cases of child abuse and harassment by elders is brought up. Most kids who suffer sexual abuse face it from persons who are known to them; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles, or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances, such as “friends” of the family, babysitters, or neighbors; strangers are the offenders in only about 10% of child sexual abuse cases.
This blatant violation of safety and agency of children stems from the unquestioning authority that adults create, whereby kids lose their voice to raise objections to the actions of elders, as the kids will be punished if they do so. Questioning the authority is considered an attack on respect and tradition while uncritical obedience is hailed as ideal behaviour. Violence and abuse are routinely used to punish and instill respect through fear whenever there is a threat to the authority of the patriarch. Hence, from family, there is a systematic erasure of the natural instinct of personal autonomy, liberty and democracy from their minds.
The behaviour of being subservient to a higher authority is further reinforced through schooling where blind obedience to the teacher is regarded as sacred and any questioning or “talking back” is considered a sin. The story of Ekalavya is celebrated, who obeys the unjust, casteist and discriminatory demands of his teacher Dronacharya, and such behaviour is glorified as ideal. The whole system of schooling is built to destroy any semblance of democracy and make obedient workhorses.
Kids are forced to submit to arbitrary rules of authority, punished of deviating from the norm, stay in places assigned and accept work without questioning. This continues even in college where every aspect of the student’s life is under the control of their teachers. A bad reference or refusal to pass the degree by the professors can ruin the entire career of students, and this power is used as a leash to control and police the student, and abuse them according to their whims and fancies. This glorification and uncritical legitimization of power is the root cause of the exploitation that people face when living in these institutions.
Whenever an allegation of abuse and discrimination comes up, the entire faculty and administration join together to support the perpetrator and blame the student. The ones in power always show their allegiance to their peers in such matters, as any threat to the authority of one of them is a threat to the authority of all of them.
Similar legitimization of power and authority is also manufactured by savarnas through the scriptures of Vedic texts and smritis which makes them more “meritorious” and simultaneously deem the Bahujans as incapable of intellectual growth. This is also quite visible in multitudes of other religions which legitimize patriarchal rituals, caste and class divisions, and racism. Rationality and critical scrutiny are considered as blasphemy in such spaces as these “canonical” texts with conservative and orthodox dogmas would not survive any rational analysis. Mass media also plays a huge role in constructing narratives that legitimize the established hierarchies of power in the society.
The legitimacy of “experts” and bureaucrats who ‘know better than the people themselves’ about their daily issues and the solutions for it, is established by gatekeeping information and restricting education of the masses. The media conveniently hides the information that would help us make rational decisions and diverts us by bombarding us with fake news and propaganda so that the status quo remains unquestioned. Our minds are so indoctrinated with capitalistic ideals that we are not only willingly subjecting ourselves to exploitation by capitalists, but we feel we are lucky for having the opportunity to do so.
For our entire lifetime, we work hard to get an education which is tailored not for the development of our minds and intellectual growth, but to suit the demands of capitalists for their expansion. Then we use our labour and productive life for the growth of their wealth, and in return, we are just offered the chance to not suffer poverty and hunger. With a median family income of less than 20k per month and an average family size of 5 people, more than half of India is barely surviving in this system of exploitation. When the entirety of our wages is spent on food, shelter and basic necessities, a job is no longer an opportunity for socio-economic mobility, rather, it is just an act of self-preservation.
We are slaving our lives away for them to exploit, and they give the bare minimum so that we are stay alive to serve them and inflate their greed. Capitalism creates artificial scarcity where empty houses are surrounded by the homeless, tons of food wasted when people are hungry, and unused medicines getting expired when people are dying.
When people claim that the fulfillment of basic needs for all would destroy the incentive to work, they are admitting the entire capitalist system is based on coercion; that is a form of slavery (‘work for us or starve”). Labour can never be voluntary in such a system. – Hampton Institute
The whole myth of capitalistic innovation is designed to legitimize this system of exploitation.
Capitalism only favors ideas which can be exploited without any regard to the collective good of mankind. Most of the innovations that help humanity grow come from research funded using tax-payers money which is then expropriated by capitalists for their profits. Most of the research for Covid vaccines was funded by public money, but the pharmaceutical companies hold monopoly in production and distribution through outrageous patents, systematically denying billions in the global south of these life-saving vaccines.
It is actually the big corporates which prevent research on public welfare and sabotage research that diminishes their profits. Big pharmaceutical companies deliberately delaying research for cheaper medicines so that they can sell their costlier ones, oil companies restricting research on climate impact to evade regulations, cigarette industry funding media campaigns to diminish the impact of smoking on cancer etc., — are some of these instances.
Now, even in public universities like IITs, corporates get to decide the direction of research, where public resources can be used for private motives. Most of the big corporates are financed by money from public sector banks. The top 100 willful defaulters owe more than 85k crore rupees to public sector banks, which is about 25% of all Non-Performing Assets in these banks.
Thousands of crores of public money is loaned to corporates like Adani, Ambani and Patanjali over and over again to support their growth in India and overseas. Their defaults are also written off, while poor farmers are not even provided their lawful crop insurance and MSP. This shows how public money which should have been spent on public welfare is siphoned off into the pockets of billionaires to fund their business empires while billions toil for everyday needs.
Capitalism can only survive if people are always kept in control through fear of poverty and homelessness, so that they know how they would suffer if they don’t obey their masters who employ them. The mask of philanthropy and nationalism is often used to create a favorable narrative about these MNCs which are exploiting the workers, ruining the environment and displacing people. They sugarcoat this oppression through the narratives that are controlled by the media, government and educational institutions.
The common portrayal of corporates gifting jobs to workers needs to be rewritten, because in reality, it is the workers who give their labor, time, blood and sweat to the companies and the companies in return give them the bare minimum that they can get away with. It is theft, extortion and blatant exploitation of workers which is getting culturally justified.
So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. – Martin Luther King Jr.
The media creates narratives to glorify billionaires through fake self-made success stories of rags to riches and hard work, when in reality, 44% of all billionaires became rich through millions of inherited wealth. This is done to cement their privilege and justify the rampant wealth inequality in society. It also puts the blame of poverty and suffering on on the poor, attributing it their individual lack of hard work and innovation. This shifting of blame from systemic socio-economic causes, capitalistic exploitation and caste supremacy, to individual responsibility is the most effective way in which media legitimizes this system as just and natural.
The savarnas’ conversion of caste privilege into other forms of social, economic and cultural capital as educational qualifications, top level jobs, caste contacts and networks, and economic wealth, enables them to claim to be “casteless” and justify their success as due to their own “merit”. This narrative shifts the blame on Bahujans and their lack of talent in securing access to educational institutions and workplaces, which are actually the result of generations of historic injustices and caste hierarchies still in existence.
What is worse is that systems of coercion that exploit us are being built by our own labour and funded by our taxes. The tools of violence that the state uses to force people to corporate will, be it corporate friendly tax and labour laws, stealing forest land from tribals, anti-farmer legislations, police brutality, judicial neglect and military excesses are all funded by the people. It is due to lack of economic democratic decision-making that our taxes are directed to fulfill corporate greed and not for bettering our infrastructure, education, healthcare, roads, transport, justice systems or services.
For example, the Afghan war which lasted for 20 years ended where it started, with Taliban regaining control of the country. It did not help defeat the terrorists, could not secure democracy, nor could it improve the condition of women in Afghanistan. But what it did was to funnel 2.2 trillion dollars of American taxpayer money to private defense companies and contractors, such as, Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman. A democratic society would not allow a privileged community to claim exclusive control on all institutions and resources, and coerce the working population to remain subservient to them.
Kids are taught from a young age the rules of this rat race, where everyone of their peers should be considered only as competitors and life itself as a competition. Winning is confused with excellence and is encouraged instead of collaborating with others. They are not taught the importance of consensus or how to make democratic decisions taking everyone’s opinion into account. Instead, they are always rewarded for taking over the whole decision making on themselves and denying others their opportunities. We cannot create a democratic society without instilling a practice of democracy in our children’s minds and countering the capitalistic, casteist and patriarchal values that are being shoved down their throat by the media and culture.
We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So, we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living. – Buckminister Fuller
We live in a world that has the technological means necessary to support and care for the global population, with less labour and cost. The problem is that this technology is only being utilized to let the capitalists consolidate and expand their wealth, while millions are dying and more are deprived of their basic necessities. Any system or institution which tries to legitimize this inequality and power hierarchies must be criticized using rationality and their myths of justification should be dismantled.
Understanding these systems of manufacturing legitimacy of power and their systematic delegitimization is essential for creating a path to a successful democracy. We must begin to question the necessity and validity of all authority that is forced into our lives–by family, religion, workplaces, institutions, culture and the government. The only way to destroy the power of these coercive hierarchies that is accessed by individuals and communities who oppress, is to create a culture of democratic decision making in our family, workplaces, industry, public policymaking, government institutions, education and healthcare.
Well-being for all is not a dream – Pyotr Kropotkin.
 N. Kaul, “coloniality and/as development in Kashmir: econonationalism,” Feminist Review, no. 128, pp. 14-131, 2021.
 “Raising Awareness About Sexual Abuse: Facts and Statistics,” NSOPW.
 A. Ray, “Top 100 wilful defaulters owe lenders Rs 84,632 crore,” The Economic Times, 9 February 2021. [Online]. Available: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/banking/finance/banking/top-100-wilful-defaulters-owe-lenders-rs-84632-crore/articleshow/80753675.cms?from=mdr.
Pranav Jeevan P is currently a PhD candidate in Artificial Intelligence at IIT Bombay. He has earlier studied quantum computing in IIT Madras and Robotics at IIT Kanpur.