Humiliation and rejecting rejection

In Economic and Political Weekly, Sanjay Palshikar looks at the phenomenon of humiliation.

Besides these two ways of talking about one’s humiliation, there is a third possibility in which one claims to be humiliated, or gives an account of it, on the unreflected basis of an order of values, but later comes to reject that order, and reconstitutes the grounds of the claim. This is famously exemplified in Gandhi. He began by thinking of the British rule in India as a challenge to our manhood, and considered various ways of overcoming the lack of manly vigour in himself, to start with; over time, he came to see the empire as ill-treating its loyal subjects, and later went beyond even this basis of criticism. Here, we see notions of fairness and justice replacing the culture of masculinity and reformulating the account of humiliation on a new basis.

There is a similar thing happening with Ambedkar’s turning to Buddhism. Soon after declaring in 1935 his resolve to leave the Hindufold, Ambedkar made a speech in the Mahar Conference. Conversion is not for the slaves, he said. It is part of the struggle against the caste Hindus. The oppressed needed three kinds of strength to win this struggle: manpower, finance, and mental strength. Regarding the last, he said the oppressed had come to accept without any complaint all manner of insults. There was neither “retort nor revolt”. “Confidence, vigour and ambition” had vanished, and the oppressed had become “helpless, unenergetic and pale”. There was an “atmosphere of defeatism and pessimism”. He ended the speech by saying that one of the reasons he was asking his followers to convert was to gain strength: “convert to become strong”. Even two decades later, he remained preoccupied with these ideas and the themes of strength and spiritedness surfaced even in his historic speech at Nagpur, the day after he finally converted to Buddhism. He spoke appreciatively of the combativeness of the Muslims, and he also quoted Sant Ramdas to the effect that the lack of enthusiasm or spiritedness leads to the disease of mind and body. But there was something else he wanted to tell his followers: “lead such a life that you will command respect”.

(If you’re interested in the phenomenon, I highly recommend Avishai Margalit’s The Decent Society.)