Posts Tagged ‘Mahatma Gandhi’

Mahatma Gandhi’s engagement with Hindu heritage

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on August 21st, 2016 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

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Rajesh Kochhar

 

 

Mahatma Gandhi was not a Gandhian. Gandhism as a political philosophy emerges from an examination of his actions and a study of his writings.  For himself he was a pragmatist and an experimentalist, who fashioned his response to a situation keeping in mind its exigency, proceeded in small steps and improvised by trial and error. M. K. Gandhi and Mahatma Gandhi’s engagement with Hindu heritage, that is with archival Hinduism and living Hinduism, has remained largely unexplored even though it is of historical and contemporaneous significance.

 

Gandhi’s approach towards colonial rulers in South Africa was largely negotiatory. Back in India, in the post-Jalianwala Bagh massacre era, Mahatma Gandhi’s attitude towards the British hardened and became confrontational. But he had to use negotiatory methods to enlist the support of Hindus and then broaden his mass base by inclusion of  Muslims.

 

Gandhi of the late 19th century was a typical product of colonial historiography and a votary of Aryan Race Theory. In a petition to the Premier of the Colony of Natal, followed by  a long open letter to the members of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, Gandhi sharply reacted to the ‘general belief’ that seems to  prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa’ by pointing out on the authority of European scholars that ‘both the Anglo-Saxon and the Indian races belong to the same stock’ so that Indians were not an inferior people but ‘a brother nation’. Gandhi in fact goes overboard in defending all things Indian to the extent of declaring that  The Institutes of Manu have always been noted for their justice and precision’. This is the only time Gandhi refers to Aryanism .

 

In India he invokes imagery from living Hinduism which people would recognize from their upbringing. His first reference to Ramarajya is as early as 1915. Made in the princely state of Mysore with a Hindu ruler, it is in an administrative sense. Post-Jalianwala, Gandhi sets his political goal at  Swarajya, freedom from foreign rule. His first constituency is the Hindus. Therefore he entwines the concept with one which was familiar to all Hindus. From 1920  he begins to develop his thesis on Ramarajya. British colonial rule is called Rakshasa- rajya ( the rule of the devil) or Ravana-rajya and Ramarajya is presented as its antithesis. It is equated with Swarajya , but it is still a Hindu construct, with terms like Kaliyuga, Satyayuga, Dharmarajya, etc.,  mentioned in the same breath and. At the same time Mahatma Gandhi describes himself as a Sanatani and a Vaishnav and quotes Tulsidas and Gita. Through addresses at women’s meeting he repeatedly asked them to identify themselves with Sita.

By 1929, he is ready to give Ramrajya a transcendental meaning. I warn my Mussalman friends against misunderstanding me in my use of the word ‘Ramarajya’. By ‘Ramarajya’ I do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean by ‘Ramarajya’ Divine Raj, the Kigdom of God. For me Rama and Rahim are one and the same deity. I acknowledge no other god but the one god of Truth and righteousness. Significantly this speech was given at Bhopal whose ruler was a Muslim and where Muslims constituted a significant fraction of audience. The point was important enough for subsequent elaboration. ‘As the Muslims and others may misinterpret’ the equating of Swarajya with Ramarajya it, I call it the rule of dharma too’.

While Gandhi’s appeal to Aryanism in the African context remained a dead end, Mahatma Gandhi in India was able to successfully evolve a phrase from a Hindu sacred text into a transcendental national concept. By secularizing a concept that Hindus so far had considered theirs, Mahatma Gandhi is not only trying to achieve Hindu-Muslim unity but also asking the Hindus to be more accommodating.

Mahatma Gandhi places non-violence on a high ideological pedestal. He was no doubt aware of the practical reality that an armed struggle against a mighty enemy would not succeed. Earlier Mohandas Gandhi had been appealing to the Empire’s sense of noblesse oblige. He becomes the Mahatma when he puts it on the defensive on moral and ethical grounds. At the same time, he cautions his supporters not to become what they were resisting. He describes the colonial Empire as sinful, evil and satanic, but cautions its opponents  not to become angry or hateful themselves.

 

What assigns Mahatma Gandhi a place in the world history, and makes him relevant for today and all times to come in not the India-specificity of his goals but the universality of the means adopted to achieve them.

Globalization and the de-nationalization of Indian middle class

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on November 17th, 2010 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

CSIR Emeritus Scientist

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research

Sector 26, Chandigarh 160019, India

rkochhar2000@yahoo.com

Paper presented at the 39th annual conference of Mid-Atlantic Region  Association of Asian studies(MAR/AAS) Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pa, 22 October 2010


The most remarkable feature of the Indian middle class (IMC) today is that it has become extremely self-absorbed. There was a time, before and immediately after independence, when the English knowing people in the country saw themselves as a bridge between their less fortunate brethren on the one hand and scientifically and economically ‑­advanced countries on the other. Not anymore. Globalization has provided the IMC with an opportunity and a pretext to decouple itself from the rest of the country. The decoupling however is not complete. The onus of propelling Upper India into a global orbit still rests on the emaciated shoulders of the Lower India. As the irrepressible American film-maker Sam Goldwyn would have put it, IMC has opted to include itself out.

In the early days of the British rule over India, the number of British officers was small and they had a genuine interest in, and desire to interact with, the natives. However, as the British grew in number and power, their attitude changed to that of contempt and aloofness. Evolution of IMC has proceeded along similar lines. In the years immediately after independence, the middle class was still compact, its cultural distance from the elected representatives was small, and there was idealism in the air. The middle class considered itself to be duty bound to use its privileged position for the common good. Over the decades, as the middle class numbers have swelled, it has become more and more self-centred.

Caste constitutes the single most important factor in all aspects of Indian life.Caste situation is far more complex in North India than in South India. There are three major caste ensembles among the Hindus: Upper or forward Castes; Other Backward Classes (OBCs); and Scheduled Castes (SCs). (Use of terms like Upper and Lower is merely indicative; that is why they are written with the initial capital letter) These groupings are not monolithic. Within them there are structures, hierarchies and rivalries. Authentic break-up data in general is not available. The only complete data comes from the 1931 census. In the post-independence censuses so far only SCs (and Scheduled Tribes, STs) have been enumerated. According to the latest (2001) figures, SCs are 16 % of the total population (and STs 8%). Since the Hindus constitute 80% of total population, this means that 20 % of Hindu population is SC. The percentages of Upper Castes and OBCs are anybody’s guess. Figures of 30% for the Upper Castes and 50% for OBCs have been quoted, but many maintain that OBC numbers are not that high.

The British were able to rule over India for close to two centuries with relative ease because they forged an alliance with the Upper Castes, especially the Brahmins. Consequently, the Upper Castes came to occupy dominant position in education and (modern) employment as well as in public life. The spirit of the times is summed up in a popular award-winning 1954 Hindi film Jagriti (Awakening) where a poor (low-caste?) physically handicapped boy lays down his life to reform a rich spoilt boy who is the son of a zamindar (landlord).There has been steady erosion of the Upper Caste dominance in public life and education since then , though through different trajectories.

Normal electoral dynamics has politically empowered castes which though numerically strong were marginalized earlier. It has now become extremely profitable to have a caste vote bank – based political outfit, led by a caste man. Such outfits are not sensitive to issues of governance the way big parties are and therefore enjoy great bargaining power.

India enjoyed a long spell of political stability because Indian National Congress could forge a coalition of three distinct vote banks: BBC (Brahmin-Bania Combine), SCs and Muslims. It was of course led by the Upper castes.

After many elections, the populous North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh again has a single party government. It is a development of historical significance. The recipe is the old Congress one except that the coalition is now led by a Dalit rather than a Brahmin. Adjusting to new realities, the Brahmins have reluctantly joined in a subordinate position to enjoy fruits of power and to protect the interests of their caste brethren who dominate government service.

Political emergence of the OBCs in North India is a new phenomenon. Loss of political clout by the Upper Castes is made the more unpalatable by the deliberately offensive posturing by the OBCs and SCs. To make the situation more complex, the recently aroused OBCs maintain an uneasy relationship with those above and below them in the traditional hierarchy. The dominant castes among the OBCs have a clash of ego with the Upper Castes and conflict of agro-economic interests with the SCs. In fact it is the historical failure of OBCs and SCs to share political power in North India that even now gives the Upper Castes a role bigger than their actual numbers would suggest.

It is easier to tolerate a kick in the posterior than on the stomach. The Upper Castes would have reconciled to the loss of political power had it not been accompanied by shrinkage of educational and employment space for the benefit of the OBCs. This process is known as Mandalization, after the caste surname of Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal who chaired the Second Backward Class Commission, which submitted its report in 1980. The report was precipitously implemented in 1990.

The Constitution of India (1950) provided for 22.5% reservation for SCs (15%) and STs (7.5%). Now, another 27.5% reservation has been added for OBCs. Thus only half the seats are available in the general quota. What makes the matters worse for the Upper castes is that candidates from the reserved categories are eligible for a general merit seat if they qualify, without eating into the quota which others can use.Thus space available to the Upper Caste youth in the class-room has drastically shrunk. While the Upper Castes in the past were rightly made to feel guilty for the maltreatment of the SCs over the millennia and to atone for it to the extent possible, reservation for OBCs is seen as usurpation. An outcome of the OBC onslaught is that the Upper Castes have clubbed all reserved categories together and desensitised themselves to the needs of first-generation learners from among the hitherto marginalised classes. The government has baulked at excluding the creamy layers from both the OBC and SC categories, even though it is a well established fact that within these groups some castes have prospered at the cost of others.

Coincidentally or otherwise, the socially significant process of Mandalization began about the same time as globalization in India. If globalization had not taken place, it is very likely that Mandalization would have eventually produced a new equilibrium state in which the Upper Castes would have willy nilly accepted a diminished role consistent with their actual numbers. Globalization has disrupted this social process in the sense that the Upper-Caste dominated IMC has opted to effectively distance itself from the new mainstream and attach itself to the West. No wonder then that of all the aspects of globalization the ones that have appealed the most to the IMC are a West-inspired life style and education unencumbered by considerations of social justice.

As long as the students and teachers both were drawn from the same social segment, namely Upper Castes, state education was extremely good value for money. The class room today is more representative of the population in general. As a consequence, the state has retreated from education, leaving no hope for first-generation learners of today except fpor the brightest. More seriously, the state has also abandoned agricultural education which does not attract private funding. The consequences of this are all too obvious. Large numbers have made the education system rejectionist rather than enhancing. Good quality education is now in the private sector meaning , more expensive than before, but still the preserve of Upper Castes. As a first step, students can go abroad. The next stage will be to invite foreign universities to set up campuses in India. You often hear talk of Harvard and MIT’s being brought to India are often mentioned. Nobody talks of the success of American state universities and the need to emulate them.

The number of Indian students abroad has increased significantly. In 1998-99, a total of 37842 students enrolled in US. Five years later, in 2002-03, the number stood at 74603, an increase of 100%. The figure for 2008-09 stood at 103260. As the executive director of US educational foundation explained in the pre-meltdown era, “Students who do not gain admission in India’s premier institutions see the US as an alternative”. Unlike the situation a generation ago when students went abroad for post-graduate and doctoral studies on scholarship, Indians are now enrolling in foreign countries for basic degrees and diplomas and are being financed by their parents back home. The economic melt

down and the consequent small dose of protectionism have arrested the trend to an extent.

The number of Indian students in Australia went up from 30,000 in 2004 to 97,000 in 2009. In UK the number doubled in the ten year period 1999-2009, figure for 2009 being 19,205. These countries however stand apart from US. The main attraction for most students going to UK and Australia is not the degree but the possibility of working. Having cheap labour on student visa, rather than on work permit, suited the host country during boom times.

Today’s Indian economy is intrinsically not strong enough to maintain its ever-expanding ambitious middle class at high consumption levels. This can be done only through the services sector, where the money flows in from abroad, mainly USA. While it is a welcome addition to Indian economy, the fact remains that it benefits only the English-knowing young men and women, mostly drawn from the existing middle class. The service sector does not provide a passport to first generation learners to enter middle class the way manufacturing and government service sectors did or the former can still do.

India TV these days is showing an interesting commercial. A girl from a lower middle class aspires to become a cyclist champion and promises her mother a big house. Her kid brother tells her: There is no money in cycling. If you want money , play tennis. The girl does not give up and fulfils her dream. She starts using a skin-whitening cream. Prettier, she is hired by a big company as a brand ambassador!!

Emergence of a de-nationalised middle class

We are witnessing the emergence of a new young people-dominated class, which we may dub Denationalised Middle Class (DMC). If this class were asked to choose between a national award like Padma Shri and a US visa, there can be no doubt that it will opt for the latter.

DMC is carrying out a multi-stage exercise to establish its identity and acquire legitimacy. First, it is setting itself apart by describing the other, contemptuously referring to the general rural background and poor English language skills.A popular cricketer (Sehwag) is dismissed because his father keeps buffaloes in his backyard. Another (Kaif) is condemned because he could not speak a single sentence of English correctly. Contempt for the “Hindi medium types” is matched only by contempt for the language itself. One wonders if there is any other country where such inelegant and ungrammatical language is spoken as the Hindi on our TV and FM radio channels.

In early years, the brown memsahib, in imitation of the White original, deliberately spoke grammatically incorrect Hindi with the ayas, nannies and domestic servants to preclude the possibility of the common language’s acting as asocial leveller. The DMC has devised a clever stratagem to solve its language problem. It has co-opted the Mumbai street slang with its obviously connection with the romanticized underworld. The borrowing is through the Hindi movies. Sanjay Dutt mouths a tougher screen rendering of this slang, while Shahrukh Khan represents the cuter version.

Bombay slang is one of the elements that go into defining DMC as an entity. Additionally, there are global inputs such as SMS and Internet jokes. Earlier one could depend on Bushisms , but unfortunately no new international butt has emerged yet. There is a flourishing local industry churning out bilingual, Hindi-English, jokes and ditties.

The way a culture tells its jokes can provide valuable insights into its mindset. It has been said and rightly so that the number of original jokes in the world is very small. How the joke’s basic idea is contextualised and embellished tells us a lot about the narrators as well as their audience. We have already mentioned that earlier the IMC acted as a bridge between its compatriots and the outside world. In accordance with this role, whenever it came across a Polish, Irish, Scottish or Jewish joke, it would absorb its essence; apply its mind to think of a local context; and retell the joke in a local setting. But now if there is a joke on the Internet about a Texan and a Mexican at the expense of the latter, it will be narrated as such. Their villains are now our villains.

There is a reassessment of old popular cultural elements. Most are being rejected , such as famed film singers of yesteryears, Kundan Lal Sehgal and Muhammad Rafi. There is ridicule (“You may find it laughable that in earlier times, orchestra comprised only tabla and harmonium”), or condescending acceptance “Sachin Dev Burman is an example [of a film music director] that one could be trendy even in a dhoti”); or mutation as represented by catchy old songs, mostly by Asha Bhosle, literally being sexed up for video.

Identity alone is not sufficient; there must be legitimacy also. When sitting in your own country, you are doing work called off-shore, pretending to be somebody else and putting on a false accent, it is not surprising that the legitimacy comes from the Western connection. Since a whole lot of computer-based jobs are being outsourced to us, as a token of our gratitude we are outsourcing to the US the task of providing national heroes.

An India sports-person does moderately well in international events. A person of Indian origin wins recognition or administrative position in their host country. Honours, genuine and dubious, are bestowed on the Indians by the West (beauty titles, Oscar nominations, film jury membership, mention in the Time/Newsweek magazines). Hindi films find non-NRI audience in the West. An Indian slang word enters an English dictionary. All these call for celebration, because they enhance the De-nationalized Middle Class’ sense of worthiness.

Even the uniquely Indian institutions are being redefined as an exercise in reverse off-shoring. Now the Hindi film industry has been given an imitative name (Bollywood), making Hollywood the reference point, and asked to win Oscars. The dynamic and success-oriented Hindi film, with its hand firmly on the peoples’ pulse, has always lived by its own rules.

A successful Hindi film Masoom, made in 1983, borrowed the idea from Man , Woman and Child by Erich Segal, but not the denouement . In the novel, the family shuts its door on the husband’s love child. But the Hindi version very cleverly shows the married couple with two daughters so that the love child, a boy (a cute one at that), can continue the male line. The 1963 Billy Wilder film Irma La Douce (1963) had a fairly successful run in India. But when it was made into a Hindi film ( Manoranjan, 1974), it flopped. While the Indian viewers could enjoy the frolicking of Parisian prostitutes, they do not want their own to have any sense of job satisfaction. Similarly , when the successful Hollywood film The Indecent Proposal (1993) was faithfully made into Hindi as Sauda (1996), the film flopped because the male-oriented Indian audience was not ready to accept the idea of a husband’s renting out his wife. But when the story line was changed in Judaai (1997) to let a woman rent out her husband, the film did very well.

In the Hindi films of the 1960s and 1970s, the foreign-returned young man wore suits, smoked a pipe, wore a hat, acted like a villain and eventually got thrashed by the hero. Alternatively, he wore half-pants, acted like a buffoon and happily became the hero’s sidekick. A foreign-returned young lady did not plait her hair, wore boots, and screamed “shut-up” at everybody. If she remained like this, she died. Only if she redeemed herself by discovering her Indian-ness did she get the hero. Contrast this with the recent blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) in which the custodians of Indian values are the NRI hero and heroine. India as a setting for the film is quite irrelevant except to showcase the Indian young man as a petty crook who wants the virtuous heroin as a visa for settling abroad and having fun.

Where does Slumdog Millionaire fit into this scheme? There is a delicious irony in its commercial and critical success. Here is a movie with Mumbai-based story, Indian  actors and Hindi dialogues which has won as many as eight Oscar awards. And yet Upper India is not happy. That the present- day subjects of Her Majesty have made a movie about the former subjects has been duly noted. If the interest which the West is taking today in India’s underbelly had been taken two hundred years ago, there probably would have been no underbelly.The issue however   is not so much  the West’s  current interest in Lower India as its perceived  betrayal of its former ally, the Upper India. When the globalization-era  Indian upper crust seeks an Oscar for a Hindi movie  it is to  legitimize its own denationalization. If a British film on Mumbai slums is multiply honoured, it is a subtle indictment of the Indian non-slum. It is noteworthy that  in the movie the slum kid knows  about Benjamin Franklin’s image on a hundred- dollar bill but not  about Mahatma Gandhi’s on a  thousand- rupee note. The quiz master (the Anil Kapoor character)  gives an insider tip to the slum kid. It is remarkable that the boy instinctively recognizes the  deception, and succeeds by acting contrarily.

As an astronomer, I have been particularly struck by recent attempts at creating pseudo-mythology (as distinct from pseudo-science). Traditionally, solar eclipse has been considered to be an ill omen. Consistent with its grandeur, its effect has been taken to be large scale; on armies, kings and kingdoms, etc. In recent times, pseudo-scientific basis has been sought to be provided by postulating that the Sun emits harmful radiation during an eclipse (as if it knows it is being eclipsed). And yet, its effect was still very general ( e g on pregnant women). The recent eclipse saw the emergence of a new mythology, that is relating the ill effect of an eclipse to the birth sign. Somehow the eclipse should affect me differently than you! New jobs are paying well, but there is no job security. Consequently worship of the outermost geocentric planet Saturn (Shani) has increased. Construction of new malls and multiplex cinemas is well known; Shani temples are part of the same boom.

As a tribute to the spending capacity of the DMC and a concession to its thoughtlessness, many erstwhile national newspapers are vying with one another to become DMC house magazines, revelling in trivialization of issues, mindless clichés, stupid bilingual puns, wordplay and prurience. The ever-increasing irrelevance of the IMC has been arrested to an extent by two institutions: higher judiciary and the electronic media. Given the abdication of responsibility by the legislature and executive alike, the Supreme Court and High Courts are increasingly taking on extra-judicial responsibilities. Time is in fact ripe for India to to contribute a new term to the world lexicon, judiciocracy, meaning government by the higher judiciary.

Since the middle class has had hardly any role in the installation of democratically elected governments, the politicians had in the past tended to view the print media with disdain, treating it as a mere pinprick. Mrs Indira Gandhi, for instance, was very contemptuous of India’s English language press, which often criticized her but could not impact voting patterns. The emergence of the electronic media however has changed the situation. Television has anointed the middle class as the commentator and the critic. The political class must now hire the cleverness, wit and sophistry of the middle class for coping with the new media. The middle class’ sensitivity to the Western public opinion has had a positive fall out also. India cannot afford to perpetuate or condone aberrations that would give it an international bad-boy image.

Indo-Europeanism

The philosophical basis for the defection of the middle class to the West was created 200 years ago in the colonial context. The British could build an Empire in India and run it with relative ease because they were able to acquire legitimacy for it at the  very outset, thanks to the discovery of Indo-European linguistic commonality. This is a political correct phrase from today’s self-conscious lexicon. In its time the commonality was interpreted in purely racial terms. Indo-Europeanism provided the British with powerful means of “connexion and reconciliation” not with all Indians, not with all Hindus, but with upper-caste Hindus.

That the Kurds and Pathans spoke languages that were related to Sanskrit, Greek and Latin was not mentioned. That most Indian Muslims were converts was ignored. That there was no clear-cut ethnic division between upper and lower castes was glossed over. The legitimacy thesis went like this: Upper-caste Hindus and Europeans came from the same racial stock. Indo-Aryans had had their period of glory in the remote past; it was now the turn of their European brethren to rule and dominate. Needless to say the thesis was enthusiastically accepted by the upper-castes. Even the 19th century Mohandas Gandhi subscribed to this thesis. He became the Mahatma only when he jettisoned this thesis, stopped appealing to the British good sense and instead chose to put the Western civilization on the defensive on moral and ethical grounds

Colonialism may have ended but the thesis was never laid to rest from the Indian side.

Edward Said’s work, though seminal, is area-specific. The first lab for orientalism was India and not the Middle East. I would like to define orientalism more generally as “ideological and operational paradigm consciously created by the West to define and describe the East in such a manner as to facilitate and justify its control”. Orientalism would be confrontational in the Muslim world but was seductive, persuasive and interactive in India, where it took the form of Indo-Europeanism. Whenever an Indian scholar did well, he was described as having overcome the prejudices off his race. His Upper-Caste status was emphasized, which made him one of us. They were all examples of the success of the Western mission to improve the natives. The natives were proud to have been thus improved and praised.

Recently Prof. Chen Ning Yang who won the 1957 Nobel physics prize jointly with a fellow Chinese observed: “Before 1957, only Hideki Yukawa of the eastern world had won the Nobel prize, if scholars from India were excluded as India and Great Britain had a long history of interactions.” Scholars from India was an exaggeration, because only one Indian C.V. Raman had by then won the prize. It is interesting to note that he does not include Raman in the eastern world. Reference to India’s long history of interaction with England is of course to the racial connection.

Thanks to Indo-Europeanism, Indians do not feel competitive towards the West the way the Chinese do. Indeed, the Indians can rejoice at the Western scientific accomplishments by pretending to sense them in their own ancient texts. As the US-backed services sector (as distinct from the manufacturing) expands and as the West-based NRIs grow in numerical and economic strength, India feels more and more comfortable with a peripheral role in the Indo-European-dominated world. //

Traditional Knowledge and Intellectual Property Rights : A historical perspective

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on January 2nd, 2010 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Presented at Second International Law Conference organized by Indian Society of International Law, New Delhi, 15 Nov. 2004.

Rajesh Kochhar


Indian nationalist leadership of the late 19th century was in a confused state of mind. It could not decide whether it should challenge the colonial empire’s might and incur its wrath or appeal to its sense of noblesse oblige and ask for small favours. Mahatma Gandhi resolved the dilemma by squarely placing the west on the defensive on ethical grounds and for all times to come. (In fact, Mohandas Gandhi became Mahatma Gandhi precisely when he accomplished this.) Third world countries find themselves in a similar pre-Gandhian dilemma on the important question of intellectual property rights associated with traditional knowledge (TK) of which they are the repositories. Should they individually nit pick or should they collectively take a principled stand. The latter option , desirable as it is , is difficult to exercise , the more so because the concept of noblesse oblige seems to have disappeared from international affairs.

The term third world was coined in 1952 by the French demographer Alfred Sauvy (1898-1990) to denote the economically underdeveloped countries. The First and the seond worlds were then described as an afterthought.Capitalist, industrialized countries constituted the first world, whereas the Soviet communist block represented the second world. The coinage was inspired by the expression third estate which denoted the commoners of France before and during the French revolution as opposed to the priests (first estate) and nobles (second estate). With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the second world has disappeared, even though the term third world continues to retain its original meaning.

We would like to define the three worlds in a connected and physically meaningful way, using the industrial revolution as a marker, with the third world retaining its original composition. In this new scheme, the third world comprises countries whose societies have essentially remained untouched by the industrial revolution. The second world consists of (west European and other) countries which have been transformed through industrial revolution, industrialization or by association, but have retained some memories and sensitivities from the pre-industrial times. The first world comprises a solitary country, USA, which is a social product of post-industrialization era, representing a total break from earlier times. The second world has been influenced by intra-European responses and colonialist experience, while the first world has been fashioned entirely by its conscious and subconscious reaction to the Europe it left behind.

When the world was Euro-centric, it was easy to define what was new. If Europe did not know of it, it did not exist before. In 1738 William Champion was granted a patent in his capacity as “the first European to produce metallic zinc”, even though the process was known to have been brought from east Asia (It originated 2000 years age in Aravalli Hills, Rajasthan, India.) However 100 years previously, in 1608, when Hans Lipperhey applied for a patent on telescope, he was turned down “on the ground that it is evident that several others have knowledge of the invention”. By the same logic, in today’s decentralized world if knowledge is available anywhere, it should not be possible to patent it.

Just as the first, physico-chemical, industrial revolution went hand in hand with European colonial expansion, the second, biotechnological, revolution is being attended on by globalization. The industrial revolution was an entirely self-contained European exercise, though it was facilitated by the subjugation of third-world countries. (If zinc metallurgy had not been imported from Asia, it would have been invented afresh.) But the on-going biotechnological revolution needs the third world. It is the third world’s traditional knowledge in civilizationally vital areas of food and health care that is being molecularized for incorporation into the broad-stream of modern science. This would have been a laudable exercise were it not for the retreat of the state and the weakening of internationalism. No body would have minded enrichment of science if some firms were not getting enriched in the process.

Third world countries are inherently incapable of protecting their TK. They have become aware of its value because of the scientific advancement in the west. Most TK of the world is undocumented. Even in countries like India where it was partially committed to paper under colonial auspices, what is now the written word was not self-contained. It was meant as an aid to a living oral tradition. In any case, ancient documents were not prepared to withstand the scrutiny of a modern-day patent attorney. Nations can be expected to plead their case in a court that is above all of them. A country cannot expect to win a case in the domestic court of another country according to the law laid down by the latter. (In the period following the celebrated cancellation of a turmeric patent on India’s objection more than 200 patents have been granted on turmeric, some to Indian organizations themselves. None has been challenged : most are unchallengeable as US laws stand.)

Patent laws in Europe followed by USA were enacted to deal with mechanical contraptions and to protect and further localized interests. Globalization has changed the rules of the game; and molecularization the game itself. Novelty needs a new definition and a new sensitivity. If traditional knowledge provides the initial clue, mere use of sophisticated instrumentation to “unlock” the chemical secrets of plants should not constitute an inventive step. TK should be viewed as a global heritage, to be protected by the world as a whole. The burden of protecting TK should not fall on the emaciated shoulders of its third-world repositories. If any organization exploits it commercially, it should pay a royalty into a global fund meant for the welfare of the world’s poor.

When the Paris Convention on Industrial Property internationalized patent laws in 1883, they had been in existence for 400 years. Today we must frame global IPR laws for situations for which there is no precedent. These laws should not be petty. They should be enshrined in a framework that is universal by being ethical. In 1733 what is now USA was earnestly appealing to England to grant recognition to Thomas Godfrey, the first ever inventor of sextant. Haughtily, London refused. USA has come a long way since. Now that USA has emerged as the solitary world power, its laws should also evolve. It must set an example for rest of the world by amending its own antiquated and parochial patent laws to truly reflect the spirit of a global world.

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