Raja Arsalan Khan
During the late 80s and 90s up to the earlier years of the 21st century, there was a lot of clamour about an imminent social change in the country, as many among the commoners were thinking bringing a change in their fortunes, while intellectuals took refuge in ‘drawing rooms’ to escape reality and predicted a new era based upon some grandeur principles. But unfortunately, what we have witnessed is quite opposite - a society paralysed by the inherent inertia.
It seems that all the debate about the socio-political change is missing something important because no one is able to either suggest a way out or, at least, formulate a strategy which provides a lead to move ahead.
If we have a close look at the debates, it seems that some topics are being ignored ‘intentionally’ and two mutually-related issues, social mobility and digital divide, are some of them.
Why do we not bother to make a serious attempt to study and understand social mobility as a phenomenon?
It has multiple dimensions, making it difficult to address all in a limited available space; therefore, I overlook some. Please apologise for this unavoidable omission.
Perhaps, we have, as a whole, rejected the very idea and accepted the destiny, albeit for one reason or the other. Given the nature of our society, an unhindered mobility within the society is a prerequisite to any meaningful progress, as an overwhelming majority is living in rural areas under the direct influence of tribal and feudal structures while majority of the urbanised lot is also hesitant and unable to bin the past.
This attitude has very serious consequences given the fact that various layers within the society and the state have even attached political leanings with the social status.
Hence, men and women have very limited options and they are at the mercy of jargons, making them difficult for them even to dream of a bright future. And those able to rebel are bullied both by the state and numerous other actors with deep horizontal and vertical penetration in the society. It also provides room to the advocates of redundant values to argue their case with impunity. Therefore, people are made hostage and they are unable adapt to the forces determining the market forces. Resultantly, unjustified division of resources coupled with their underdeveloped skills ensures that they experience exploitation, as something ordained by God.
There is no denying the fact that the class-based formal and informal education system is the most powerful tool to inculcate self-defeatism among the young minds. How and when? Details are obvious for the minds that do not reject the very word of science.
On one hand, the semi-clergy are unleashing a holy war to protect the indigenous in the name of religion while the well-funded progressive intellectuals are also doing the same albeit in the name of preservation of culture and ‘anti-imperialism’. In this way, the individual has succumbed to an identity crisis and mental slavery and lost the will for a struggle at economic and societal levels.
The ‘state’ is the main culprit of the present mode of thinking because it is not in a mood to relieve the society from the ‘unseen but mandatory burden’ while capitalising on the available resources to occupy the space, more than what its requirements are. Hence, the state since 1947 is using every tool to generate fear among the masses that they would lose everything if they opt for a modern and progressive society. Therefore, even if someone is able to get into the next tier, he is mentally stuck in the past and carries and transmits the same mindset despite the ‘monetary gains’. The result is that our ill-defined and quasi-middle class and the ‘upper middle gentry’ have aligned themselves with the state mantra.
There is a continuous effort on the part of the state and auxiliary actors to keep the redundant social relations intact. In fact, the room has been cramped for those desiring social mobility. The biggest example is of the futile and destructive ‘development strategies’ which have been adopted by the state with the help of non-state actors (NGOs). The strategies keep the majority unproductive and out of the race going on for the resources generated by the latest productive mechanism in the cities and towns. It also helps fortifying the primitive social structures, thus strengthening both the traditional and the recent additions to the elite.
Another problem is of the sentiments against modernity and change cultivated through a well-orchestrated manner.
The Japanese experience is a great example, as they decided in 1870 not to resist the ultimate and become a prey to paranoia, which proves the fact that social mobility also makes it near impossible for the existing structures to persist and forces the benefactors to modify, thus paving the way for a new set of socio-economic and political realities.
The only choice we have is to discuss and ensure mobility for ‘all and sundry’. It requires economic interventions, which provides opportunities to individuals for personal advancement and minimises technological gap among various segments of society. The goal can be achieved through reducing the digital divide and resultant information segregation. Unless we are ready to do it, the power echelons will grow stronger while forcing the people to adhere to sermons and lectures, which are designed on Machiavelli’s principles.
n The writer is a political analyst.