As I begin writing this note, I am aware that I am addressing one small facet of a complex social phenomenon and that there is an inherent risk of over-simplification and stereotyping while I write this.
All around us, there are signs and signals of a critical shift happening in Indian society and polity – this shift has its resonances and echoes across the layers of the society, and more importantly in systems, institutions, organizations, and bodies that have significant power and legitimacy. I would like to begin by describing some of these signs and signals that you and I get to see everyday, and then offer a set of hypotheses generated by this data.
The first intriguing signal that beckons you and me are increasing number of large colorful hoardings depicting local political organizations as a cluttered collage of innumerable anonymous mug shots – these stare blankly back at us as we walk on streets or drive around. These hoardings are continually shifting and changing – but the basic design tenet remains the same. So whether the hoarding depicts an onset of a festival, or an important event or a visit of a leader – the design remains the same – that of a jumble of anonymous faces. There is no messaging, not much of a text, no presentation of principles or goals, and no communication of a difficult stance or principle that demands courage and conviction.
On a different note – an unnerving trend that I see in mainstream commercial cinema is the use of anonymous large groups to engage, to express, and to present even fundamental themes of ‘falling in love’. Most scenes today feature a design or a formula where the narration of love and intimacy (a dyadic relatedness), of celebrating, initiating, and sustaining relationships et al is portrayed through a number of protagonists surrounded by a large cohort of sycophants, mono-dimensional characters, or a bevy of gyrating beautiful bodies in a dance number. Sex is used to ‘dumb’ down the intensity and the complexity of relatedness and relationships by de-personalizing the encounter to a primal feeling.
One reads about a recurring number of events – of angry mobs and reactive yet anonymous groups attacking individuals, and engaging in acts of violence and deployment of power – for example, the blackening of an individual’s face is an attack or an act of obliteration – on his or her identity, his or her perspectives and views, his or her uniqueness and salience, his or her stances and his or her individualism. None of these encounters have any space for dialogue or explorations. The rising number of reported gang rapes across India bears another testimony of the power of the group – here power is expressed and deployed through a group – through a violent and dehumanized encounter.
In the large modern corporation in India, membership in a clique or a clan is seen as perhaps the only viable source of having an identity and experience of power beyond being a mere ‘employee number’, beyond a disempowered alienated employee, beyond an impotent supervisor or a report, and much beyond having to courageously live up to subjective truths that are career-damaging.
Across the society is a rising trend of ‘emasculation’ of the solitary seeker or philosopher, of the courageous singleton and the autonomous individual – and this is happening through shadowy dark groups – where individual identity, masculinity and femininity, ideology, and values are denied and sacrificed to experience of power of numbers and safety of anonymity through groups.
The ritual of gaining membership in groups with the objectives of experiencing power and belonging is today seen as requiring the obliteration of one’s own masculinity and femininity and trading it for anonymity and expediency. This trend is in contrast to the traditional underpinnings of the Indian identity – that of being half-man and half-woman – a legacy of having an innate balance of masculinity and femininity.
A consequence of this process is not just an attack on femininity and masculinity within self but continual attacks on the Man and the Woman outside.
I have only referred to male groups in this note for a reason.
I think and believe that valuing the femininity within and gracing the feminine outside self can only happen if the opposite pole of masculinity is given its due – ownership and expression. As a dear teacher and colleague, Ashok Malhotra once put it, that the Indian Man today is neither able to access nor deploy his masculinity. Yet all power, status, and dominance of the Indian man, historically has happened through patriarchy.
However with industrialization and modernity, an alternative to patriarchy that bestows power to men, is the genesis and sustenance of the shadowy ‘group/ gang/ cohort/ mob’.
One of the consequences of this shift or alternative is that the solitary seeker and the courageous singleton is attacked and denied any legitimacy today. Thus it is no wonder, whether we look at governments, or organizations, or schools, or management campuses, there is a breed of courageous men that is dying.
The other consequence is that groups do not become productive or collaborative today – rather the dark side and the shadows within the group determine the energy and sustenance of groups today. This dark shadow demands huge sacrifices on part of the individual member including giving up on one’s own identity, masculinity, and authority.
These consequences are being witnessed by me in most organizations today … I wonder what is your experience?