REFLECTIONS ON MULTIVERSITY- Post Malaysia
by Pawan K. Gupta
SIDH, Mussoorie, India
There are various ways of categorisation. But for the purpose of this
discussion we can divide our people into three broad categories.
1. The English speaking elite, who are deriving substantial benefits
from the existing systems and are by and large, not uncomfortable in dealing
with and operating the systems and instruments which support, strengthen
and represent the process of globalisation, even though they may have
strong objections/ differences with these systems.
2. The vast majority of our people who speak different languages and
who bear the brunt of the process of globalisation and are increasingly
getting marginalised. They have been continuously fighting for their survival,
sometimes even winning small battles, but often loosing their spaces of
solidarity and initiatives, in all spheres of life. They will continue
to fight - they have no other choice - inspite of us. If circumstances
and systems change, they will perhaps recover lost spaces and regain their
strength dramatically, in a very short span of time, to live a life of
dignity, without any help.
3. But there is a third section of society, comprising mainly of young
people who are aspiring for the material benefits enjoyed by the first
category and are desperate to somehow get into that category. The strength
of the West today is that it has been successful in convincing the second
(and of course the first) category that i) there is only one path to development
- which is to follow in the footsteps of the first category (or the west),
ii) that it is possible to follow this path and iii) that if they are
able to do so then the result would be that they too would be able to
enjoy the material comforts of the west and iv) if they are unsuccessful
in deriving benefit out of the existing system the fault is theirs alone.
This is a complete sham but the illusion perpetuates with increasing vigour.
Under 'Multiversity' we need to be very clear which of these three categories
we are going to address. Because if this is not clarified there may be
a serious danger that inspite of our intentions to the contrary, we may
end up serving the interests of the West, ultimately. This issue is important
even if are not interested in posing a challenge to the west and are only
interested in strengthening our people, because we only have a choice
of emphasis (between challenging the west and strengthening our people).
It is not an either/or choice. The two are intertwined.
I think it is pointless, at least at this stage, to focus our attention
on the elite. Majority in this category are so convinced about the basic
framework of modernity (or westernization) and all that it represents,
especially because this group derives material benefits from the ensuing
systems, that it will be an uphill task to convince them otherwise. Also
if we are able to make an effective impact elsewhere, this group will
follow suit on its own. This group is an opinion maker only when things
are sailing in a particular direction but it hardly changes the course
of the tide. It has a tendency to follow on the path of the powerful and
has tremendous capacity to learn, adapt and imitate. This group is more
in tune with the west, its language and its idiom, though the range is
vast - from aligning and supporting the dominant west to critiques of
modernity emerging from the west. By focusing on this section, we will
be restricting both the discourse of dissent (which will be largely dominated
by dissent emerging in the west, in their idiom and emanating from their
worldview) and the dissenters only to a sub category of dissent. This
kind of effort will ultimately serve the west by strengthening the leadership
of the west which critiques modernity and/or by giving the dominant leadership
of the west new ideas on how to counter our dissent.
Also if our target be this category, then we necessarily get restricted
to the English language and hence the leadership of our effort also gets
limited to the English speaking elite and slowly the movement (if one
may call it that) gets infiltrated by 'well. meaning people from the west'
and before we know the movement takes on a different direction. The distinction
between western and non western starts getting blurred, and we also get
sucked into the process of globalisation in an inverse fashion. To some
there may seem nothing wrong with this or with the English language (nor
for that matter do I have anything against English as a language as distinct
from the politics of English in the context of the colonised countries
) but what I would like to emphasis is that in that case we must forget
about posing a challenge to the west. This way it will end up being, at
best, an internal critique of the present system.
Therefore my proposal is to focus our attention on the third category
through our efforts in Multiversity. This category comprises largely of
young people, both from urban and rural areas. This category may have
a large group who can communicate in some version or the other of the
English language (we have many versions of English now, the world over)
but they are not as fluent in it as the elite group. Even now this group,
however it may pretend, is much more comfortable in their own languages.
This is the category on whose strength the entire edifice of the modern
system is standing. We must try and shake this up by promoting critical
thinking in the minds of the young. If we are to be effective with this
category we must address them also in their own languages. This is not
just for making the communication more powerful but also for other reasons.
We know that apart from other instruments (employed during colonial times)
language has also played a major role in eroding the confidence of our
people, specially the young. If the language of our discourse does not
change then this itself will come in the way of what we intend to do -
build confidence in our own.
Also by not restricting or giving prominence to English, we will be able
to keep our doors open to a large section of dissenters - the non elite
dissenters amongst us who may have totally different grounds and arguments
(emanating from very different worldviews and logic systems) of dissent
and by keeping the doors open to our native languages we will be able
to include this important segment in our efforts. By giving importance
to native languages we will also be able to put a check in the tendency
of all such well intentioned efforts which slowly get 'globalised' or
co-opted by the western dissenters because of their facility in the English
If we are to be effective we must address the third category and through
our efforts try and remove the blinkers of:
* one world,
* a single linear path to and single definition of 'development' and 'progress',
* linear view of history as the only valid view,
* modern science being the only valid knowledge system,
* the tendency to analyse issues in a bipolar fashion, etc.)
from their eyes.
The present system of education serves the dominant paradigm by blurring
the minds and creating confusion which makes it easier to control it.
Hence the need to work in areas which facilitate clarity of thought. For
this we need to work at some of the basic issues of epistemology, ontology
and philosophy. We also need to work on distinctions. We need to challenge
the linearity (in all forms of thought and knowledge systems).
It is also important that we refrain from getting into the trap of finding
alternative models (of economics, development etc.), at least for now.
Once we can shake the lethargy of the mind and are successful in freeing
the mind from the modern captivity, alternatives will emerge on their
own. It should not be the job of multiversity to provide alternative models.
We should work towards exploding the illusion and exposing the limitations
of the present systems. We should be exploring other possibilities of
viewing, understanding and dealing with the universe around us. This could
be also done through some research projects.
We should be looking at other ways of thinking and possibilities of constructing
different realities where we are as much a part of the reality as the
observed. Certain areas where work could start are as follows. These are
only examples to illustrate the point and not a complete or a very well
thought out curriculum.
* Role of assumptions - in thought and knowledge systems and limitations
and necessity thereof.
* How awareness about assumptions is empowering.
* Limitations of an objective worldview.
* Objective vs. subjective-objective worldview.
* Distinctions and how distinctions help in thinking.
* Understanding an issue as distinct from agreeing/ disagreeing on the
* Distinction between words and meaning.
* Distinction between nationalism and patriotism.
* Distinction between means and ends and the dangers of confusion between
* Localism vs. Nationalism and the concept of nation state.
* Freedom or liberation vs. capacity building
* Individual freedom vs. freedom of society.
* Diametrically opposing (bi-polar view) stand points as distinct from
differing points of view.
* Essential ingredients of any knowledge system - assumptions and a unique
* Limitations of any framework, knowledge systems.
* Dangers of a linear worldview and knowledge systems promoting linearity.
* Monoculturism vs. Diversity
* Tradition and modernity.
These are my initial reactions after attending the conference in Penang.
Mussoorie, 13 February 2002
C/o SIDH, Hazelwood, Landour Cantt.,
Mussoorie - 248179. Dist. Dehradun., Uttaranchal. India.
Phone/ Fax: 91-135-631304/ 632904