It is Buddha Purnima today and I was wondering what drags India and its economic growth. It is its tyranny of hierarchy that is so obvious to an outsider, but equally oblivious to many Indians. We look at the multiple master-servant relationships in our lives and its associated culture of servitude and sycophancy, and we do not realize how unlike it is to any other major economy. We condone it without realizing how urgent it is to dismantle this tyranny.
Many of us are not willing to act, because it hits at some of the core foundations of Indian society. Dismantling tyranny of hierarchy means your maids will sit on your couch and share a snack with you and their kids may marry or be friends with yours. It will mean that your daughters in law will debate with you, and not obey you when they think you are not correct. It will mean politicians will act like public servants and not local overlords, and farmers and workers won’t stand in front of them with folded hands prostrating for a hearing. Instead they will shake hands, share a drink together, as equals, not as masters and servants, not as prophets and devotees.
Tyranny of hierarchy has perpetrated in India a culture of servitude, where we want those below us to act as servants to us, while we act as servants to our superiors. Sycophancy has become a guiding principle, and I guess if we have to think where it all began, it must have begun with colonization, but then caste is one of the greatest institution of oppression ever built and its origins are beyond colonial. This tyranny is like cancer that is eating India from within. We have to embrace a radical form of equality, where all adults are equals and nobody is deserving of prostrations under any conditions. It is a tough medicine to gulp.
Many misunderstand respect as servitude. Your parents deserve respect, your boss deserves respect, so do your juniors, and your children. Respect has nothing to do with hierarchy, nor is gratitude associated with it. You can be grateful to your family, society and nation without being their servants, and without erasing your individuality and freedoms, and expecting others to do so as well. The tyranny of hierarchy crushes the individual and that is its greatest sin.
Personally in my life, I attempt to challenge the tyranny of hierarchy whenever I can. There are acts of small rebellions against the traditional order of what is considered proper between two people at different status positions. When I travel and see different countries, I am reminded of the richness of Indian culture, especially its diversity and culture of tolerance. Yet it also reminds me how uniquely entrenched this tyranny of hierarchy is in Indian life, how comfortable we are with it, and how many endless rebellions shall be needed before this tyranny is totally dismantled.