Monday, January 16, 2017

Can we build powerful "Institutions"

The recent developments on Jallikkattu indicate a few items.

Though a majority of Tamils and traditionalists support Jallikkattu, they have been ineffective in pushing their agenda.  We got to this point because of the following reasons.

There are instances, in which the animals were in fact tortured.  Whatever the supporters claim as love and respect to the animal, there is no denying we cannot enforce controls.  If twisting the tail of the bull or spraying chilli powder on its face are considered as fouls, we do not have documented rules anywhere nor do we have officials appointed by a competent authority to enforce it like a qualified / trained football referee.

In the absence of such an authority , an institution like PETA can take it to another institution like the courts and get a ban on it. (I'm not getting into their intentions as it deviates from the subject.)

PETA has enough people think about the course of action, work towards it by appointing spokespersons, lobbying with politicians, appointment of lawyers etc.

On the side of the supporters of Jallikkattu, there is no organized activity towards defending it.  The lawyers arguing the case were unknown till a small group of businessmen brought in Subramanyam Swami.  Other activities like protests, social media frothing and petitions are just jokes.

A few years ago,   Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) created by the government of India fought a legal case against patents issued to the medicinal use of turmeric.  CSIR, with its people working towards the common goal, organizing their work and substantiating their case with proper documentation were critical in the success.  In the absence of such institutions it is difficult to win such cases.

More and more traditional knowledge, activity and structures would come under pressure from institutions that may want to misuse, ban or destroy them.  Well, even individuals can do it as we had seen in the turmeric patent case.  There is nothing patriotic or unpatriotic about it.  In the turmeric case, the patent was obtained by two scientists of Indian origin.  In the Jallikkattu case, a sitting Prime Minister supported the ban along with scores of Indians who had no in-depth knowledge of it.

Without proper institutions we will have uncontrolled response.   A culture of thousands of years of continuous history has enough intellectual property and customs that are vulnerable now.   We don't even know what we need to protect.  Let me attempt to list a few.

  • Temple properties like land, jewelry can be usurped as source of unused wealth
  • Temple structures may be closed for access for lack of safety
  • Worship methods like animal sacrifice may be banned as cruelty  (TN government did try it once and promptly withdrew as popular sentiment was against it.  Nothing like that would control the Supreme Court.)
  • Congregation like Mahamaham or Kumbh Mela may be restricted as unsafe, unhealthy assembly of millions in a small area
  • Teaching of Carnatic or Hindustani music may be patented

Well, I'm stretching it a bit, but you get the idea.

It is clear that we are not prepared for it.  But history also tells us that we haven't built great "institutions" in the modern terminology.  To me, the prototype for a great institution is Christianity.  It has its ideologies, foot soldiers wed to the ideology, a clear organization structure, plan for expansion by time, geography with well defined roles and responsibilities.  It has survived for close to two millenniums.  Every institution from the west worth its salt has borrowed heavily from Christianity.

In India, there are a few organizations like the defense forces that can be considered as well defined institutions.  However, there are business houses that consider themselves as institutions - like the Tatas.  Business houses have profit as the primary motive that can ensure building and strengthening of the institution.  To some extent, Tata exhibit a certain value system - like social responsibility, employee welfare etc that can be treaty as worthy of an institution.

Some of our political parties and organizations like RSS may qualify as institutions.   But they do lack the coherence required for a successful organization in India.  I'd credit it to Gandhi for converting a simple political group called Congress to be a powerful institution across the country.   The current state of the party is a good example of how well we take care of such institutions.  Other political parties aren't in any better shape.

It is high time we create formal, legal institutions with proper structure to protect the traditions.  Sadly, they can't be not-for-profit as an organization can not survive just on contributions.  At the very least, they can be legally recognized firms funded by various self interest groups like the lobbying firms in the US.