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Kosmopolis Institute Publications Day 15: The Ram Effect!

Day 15: The Ram Effect!

His fullname is Sitharamam Kakarala but he prefers that we just call him Ram without Prof. or Sir. Before I met him, I imagined him as a stern professor like Viru Sahasrabuddhe in a famous Indian movie. But after our first meeting in Bengaluru Airport and half a month of my involvement in the Monsoon School, it turns out that my image about Ram is misleading. Apart from his own confession as an “ambiguous rationalist,” I found him as unambiguously kind and egalitarian person. I learned many things from him except forecasting.


Ram is terrible in forecasting. When we went to Byatha Village, he was forecasted that rain will not pour and you know what happen (after all we understand that this is monsoon time). And today, in such an extraordinary sunny monsoon day, he opened the class by a forecast that tsunami is coming!


But this time he is right. Not long after the class begun, I can feel the tsunami hit my head. It is the big puzzles of ‘pluralism effect’ which Ram deliver that causes the tsunami. He invites us to reflect on ideas, values and practices of pluralism. It is not easy for me because many things that are usually taken for granted now have to be shaken.


In morning session, Ram invites us to reflect on four narratives. The first is related to Madiga Dandora, a (lowest) sub-caste movement that demand Indian government to provide separate reservation for them. The second is Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, an Indian Muslim feminist movement that attempts to address patriarchy issues in Muslim-specific context. The third is related to debate over Uniform Civil Code of India, that is the tension between demand of religious community to personal law and demand of national integration (that constituted by the majority). And finally, the making of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, regarding its legitimacy and possibility in viewing and assessing cultures (that defined by few figures).


All participants express their own reflection on the four cases from various points of view. By the four cases above, it seems that Ram want us to rethink about ‘the universal,’ whether it is a universal category, notion, idea, law, or values. In the end of the session, Ram shared his reflections which I will highlight here the two of them.


First, those cases show that ‘the universal’ is always inadequate. The struggle, tension and debates in above cases show that ‘the universal’ is “necessary but not sufficient.” That is why we should keep suspect ‘the universal.’ By being suspicious, it does not mean that we must reject ‘the universal,’ but rather engaged and exert it gradually. Now when we think about big things such a “caste,” “feminism,” “nationalism,” or “human rights,” we should keep questioning ourselves: What is lying behind it? How does it defined? Who defined it? Who is left behind!?


Second, ‘the universal’ often forced us to take side between two extreme positions. It is either you are an outcaste or upper caste, feminist or Islamist, communitarian or nationalist, absolutist or relativist. It reminds us of Foucault’s ‘blackmail of the enlightenment,’ either you support it or not. The above cases show us that things are not as simple as a binary opposition. In above cases, you can still found some kind of hierarchy, synthesis, diversity, or complexity within and between ‘the universal.’ Instead of caught in such a binary trap, we should try our best to avoid it and then exceed it.


After all of those complexities, the question would be so what? What should we do? That question brings us to practical discussion in the afternoon session. Like the morning session, here Ram delineate three issues to reflect on: (1) The tension between religion and freedom of expression; (2) The controversy over public manifestation of faith, and; (3) state intervention in religious minority rights. He then invites us to think what is the nature of the issue and how to engage with that?


We had a tense debate and although the session is extended, we are only finish at first issue at the end of the class. But for the good of my head, I will not describe the debates here at once. I would rather continue the story in my next blog post as soon as I recovered (assuming you are interested). For the time being, it is enough for me to say gratitude for having survived from the tsunami; the tsunami that awakened me to be a critical as well as humble man; Ram effect!

Irsyad Rafsadi is a researcher in Paramadina Foundation. He can be found at the back bench of the monsoon bus or classroom.