PQR and XYZ, a married couple, being lecturers at a reputed government-run degree college in Delhi, are even more educated than ABC, and for that reason perhaps I found it even more bizarre that they should be so blinded by their prejudices as to not see what doesn’t stand to reason or facts in the world. Oh, and before I forget and risk being accused of distancing myself (although unreason, irrationality and prejudice are good grounds), one of the two is my distant relative and the other a distant relative by marriage to her. But they hardly stand alone in the kind of prejudice and presupposition we are about to talk about, when it comes to my extended family, which is worrisome enough, but what’s even more worrisome is that they are neither bad, nor stupid; they are just failing to see what unmistakably stares right in their faces, and that makes me wonder how did we end up this way. What went wrong?
I was visiting them, and as it generally happens, that the conversation turned to the general state of the nation, and we all agreed pretty quickly that things were not going all that well and for reasons of unwise decisions by the political leadership at the center. But in a sudden and unexpected swerve, XYZ, the wife, said something to the effect that despite all things bad, the “Muslim thing/issue” was “under control”, which surprised me because the expression was vague and yet the tone was such as though she expected ready understanding, as though not only the “problem” and the “effective steps” were as as plain as day, but also the need and desirability of the “measures”.
Of course, the ready agreement she expected did not come. Since it was the first time I was meeting the couple, they had perhaps assumed agreement on these elementary Hindu-Muslim issues. The conversation rolled on, and she said, “Main to kehti hoon, ye eighty percent kya, hundred percent aise hi hote hain.” She meant “fundamentalist/orthodox/ultra-religious” by “aise hi”, she clarified after I asked her to, and quickly added, “Ab ye Shahrukh, Salman, Irrfan, Aamir wagairah ki baat nahin kar rahi, ye alag log hai.”
I explained (tried to, rather) that the principal reason for orthodoxy and radicalism was poverty and lack of education, and even among Hindus, the uneducated and poor were more orthodox and way more prone to being misled by the religious radicalism preached and promoted by the religious and political leaders. XYZ and her husband, PQR, were quick to cite the example of a well-educated colleague of theirs on the teaching staff of their college, who, they said, went back to his town a while back and returned all religious; made a group of Muslims friends, started wearing the skull cap and began bad-mouthing the Hindus. Evidently, someone back home had gotten through the rational walls of the man’s educated mind to ignite the latent communal passions, which also happens, sadly. But what also happens was that an uneducated, poor woman from my past (the mother of a childhood friend) was astonishingly liberal (a longish, impressive story to be told some another time), I told the couple.
XYZ insisted that the instance of their educated, Hindu-hater colleague contradicted my theory that educated Muslims were better, which was when I realized why in most of such conversations, the story of some orthodox, educated Muslim was told. Quite stupidly, I had thought they were relating their experience of an exception until XYZ pointed out that she thought she had won the argument by presenting an exception. To her and such others, the evidence of exception was evidence of contradiction and thus a disproof. I looked at her, surprised. “So you don’t see the distinction between a statement about a general fact in the world and an absolute statement?” I asked. But something happened (perhaps my niece entered with tea, or called for XYZ from the kitchen because she could not find something for the tea she was making), and the conversation broke off. Clearly, XYZ did not see the distinction because else, she could not have talked of a hundred percent and then drag out an exception, for a statement about a hundred percent of something is an absolute statement and allows no exceptions whereas a general statement does admit of exceptions and is not refuted by them. For instance, to say that educated people are well-mannered is not say that no educated person lacks manners, for to say the latter you have to say it like that, or make an absolute statement beginning with “every educated person” or “hundred percent educated people” or the like.
Also, here were two educated Hindus bad-mouthing educated Muslims for bad-mouthing the Hindus, and they didn’t see the irony. Besides, I have had such conversations mostly with very well-educated Hindus. So Education is neither necessary nor sufficient condition for reason to prevail, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t help because education is primarily meant to cultivate reason and not just to secure better jobs even though it often does the latter way better than the former, it seems.
The other interesting thing XYZ pointed out was that people like me, who “supported Muslims”, did a disservice to the Hindus and endangered the future of the Hindus in the India, and she is not alone in holding that view. I couldn’t help smiling at the naivety of that remark. But let’s talk about it some other time.
Originally published as part of my monthly column Street Lawyer in the June 2022 Issue of Lawyers Update (Vol XXVIII, Part 6).