Godaan: Genesis of a Responsibility Based Culture


by Kiran Bhatia

Religion-based cultures have long been delegitimized and ineffective for the public sphere, and right-based cultures are immensely committed to corporatism. The former needs supplementation for entry into the democratic reflexes just as the latter needs supplementation for entry into ethical and moral framework of the society. Supplementation can be provided by interplay of moral and rational grounds which in turn will help to eradicate practices that feed on economical and social class apartheid.

Godaan[i] (Premchand, 1936 (Tr. 1996)), a text written in the early twentieth century, commissioned the human minds to process the petitions about protection of civil-political rights as the priority consideration for the new mandate entitled to be brought into force after 1947. The rural peasants who had, or still have, no social or political consciousness as a group were susceptible to the ruling ideas, cultures and leadership of the dominant few. The oppression of the rural peasantry witnessed in the pre-independence period has found a diluted continuation in the post-independence Indian society that garnered the much awaited political sovereignty without the corresponding social revolution in the class system it had originally hoped for. Thus the Indian society clearly failed to change the subaltern’s economic and social circumstances.

The paper attempts to investigate the transformation witnessed in rural India, the role of ethics and morals in sensitization of human minds towards the conditions of existence and the uncoercive rearrangement of desires[ii] through education.

In India the urgency of the political calculus obliges us to reduce the intensity of debate between justice and law, between natural and civil rights to merely a ‘difference’. All the civil rights of a man are dependent on his natural rights. An individual’s power, however, may not be competent to enjoy these. The political upheavals have divided the national polity into effective class apartheid. Consequently, the groups that are the dispensers of human rights must realize that the operative function and power of rights is contingent upon the national cultural and intellectual re-structuring and empowering of the individuals in the wake of dissolution of political manipulations. Contemporary politics must be supplemented with an ethical calculus and a rational justification in order to recognize human rights within an interested crossing of binary oppositions, i.e. politics and ethics, high and low, weak and strong, etc.

A slow mind changing process can be used to open the definition of ‘lost imperatives’[iii] to responsibility which the capital oriented social productivity was obliged to destroy. Godaan throws light on the defective institution of public sphere, which ideally teaches democratic co-existence and at the same time advocates the enslavement of weak people.

When Hori says, “God has made them Masters and we are their Slaves. We can hardly afford to be stiff- necked” (Premchand, 1996) the idea of the subaltern finds voice in his words. They are removed from the lines of social mobility by brutal economic exploitation and political oppression. The rigorous insertion of the rural India into the national intellectual development can be defined as a transition from imposition to liberation. ‘Freedom’ in its most abstract sense means the absence of external obstacles to the realization of desires attained either by maximizing power or minimizing wants. When Rai Saheb, a wealthy landlord, says, “Animalism and not Humanism is on the rise now” (Premchand, 1996), he tries to put a stamp of acceptance on the cruel and self-centered attitude towards which the society was steering. On one hand there are people like Hori who work even when their bodies are enveloped with exhaustion only to earn a meal for their families and on the other hand there are people who revel in wealth and comforts. I don’t intend to undo the legacy of existing differences in the society. I hope to begin with an emphasis on the need of a long term investment with grassroots.

To agree to Rai Saheb’s statement, “Despite my best intentions, I cannot voluntarily renounce my comforts. None of us is an ascetic or a monk. We are all out to make our kill” (Premchand, 1996), would be a wrong and irresponsible attitude because we would then be turning a blind eye towards the principles of ethics related to human existence. Ethics and morality[iv] help us understand the reasons to draw limits on materialistic obsessions. If one enters a sustained give-and-take with the subordinate cultures, in order to address the defective structural questions of power and responsibility, one feels that to rationalize the question of ethics fully is to transgress the belief that ethics are an amalgam of ideals; instead ethics is a task of implementation of justice through knowledge and education.

To say, “Democracy is only a farce. Under the thin guise of its high ideals, the manoeuvering of monopolists is witnessed”, is also a folly because freedom is not to be increased by a mere diminution of government. One man’s desires are apt to be incompatible with another man’s needs, so that anarchy means freedom for the strong and slavery for the weak. The problem we have to consider is not how to do without government but how to create space in the existing governmental structure for the articulation of the concerns of the disempowered individuals and groups.

The lack of adequate attention to conditions in rural communities results in a narrow range of choice—few opportunities for personal and community development and living conditions and levels of income which lag behind those in urban areas. This perpetuates poverty and often leads to poor standards of housing. If an adequate food supply is to be available to all and people are to live in rural communities, land use and systems of land tenure require immediate attention.

Godaan reflects the socio-cultural and economic conditions of the pre-independence countryside. However, even after the effective implementation of the economic reforms, one can still draw ‘some’ parallels between the two phases. The era of utter poverty, ignorance and exploitation of the illiterate peasants at the hands of rich landlords, mill owners and their agents operating in villages as well as cities has found an extension into the modern times. Let us cite two examples, one from each time phase, i.e. pre-independence and post-independence:

“The worry of repayments of debts surrounded him. The borrower had to pay the stamp fee and the customary gratification and one year’s interest was deducted in advance even before the amount was paid to the borrower. All the loans were gathering for interest and money was needed for the marriage of Sona. For months together he had remained poorly fed. Though he willed himself to work vigorously, yet, his hands failed to give the right response. His body was burning with heat but his hands and feet were cold. Hori lay as if lifeless.” (Premchand, 1996, p. xx)

“A young farmer committed suicide in a village of Lalpur taluka, fearing crop failure due to delayed monsoon… Ramolia had completed sowing after initial rains and had borrowed a lot of money for manure, fertilizers and some personal expenses. He is the only brother of his three sisters and his death has burdened his family with a worry about the marriage of the girls.” (TOI, 2012)

We need to acknowledge that the situation has not changed as greatly as it had been expected. The subaltern cultures cannot be changed completely. Thus there is a need for supplementation of ethical responsibility while consolidating already existing perspectives, exporting gender struggle and reducing the greed for economic fulfilment. What I mean by ethical responsibility is the responsibility of developing a system of existence in which productivism no longer rules.

Here are some of Giddens’ (000) practical suggestions: ‘traditions should be understood in a non-traditional manner’, ‘a pact between the affluent and the poor’ is now needed and ‘a pact between the sexes is to be achieved’. The only way to make these sweeping changes is to construct a collectivity among the dispensers of bounty as well the victims of oppression. This ‘collectivity’ does not in any dimension strive to foster an equal distribution of wealth. When Mr. Mehta says, “I believe that the gap between the rich and the poor will and should remain because there will be chaos if we force equality. Equitable distribution of wealth is not everything. It is intellect that matters and reigns supreme”, he appears to me as an agent of ‘collectivity’[v] which means an attempt to redistribute the capital through education and training. Reactivating the rural structures into principles of integrated development can create faith in the rural communities about their role and importance in the social fabric. This will instill in them a consciousness of superiority lodged in the self. ‘To claim rights is your duty’ is a well known lesson which could be imparted through the efforts which give institutional acknowledgement and dignity to these cultures. To accept unreasonable support from leaders will then be replaced by the development of a sense of responsibility about one’s cultural production and an understanding of the anatomy of true reforms.

Very recently, a political leader speaking to a small aboriginal community in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills claimed credit for the Environment Ministry’s refusal to permit bauxite mining in the area (TOI, 2012). The issue is how does one view that event in the framework of reforms? True reform, in spite of its difficulty as a commentator (Bedi, 2012) on the Times of India news report above warned, would find a way to keep the dignity and the traditions of community as well as extract bauxite from those hills for a common good. True reform would tell all stake-holders of the limits of how far they can go, but facilitate a move towards industrialization.My problem here is not with the idea of extending extra protection towards the aboriginal communities but to let them exist under this veneer of protection indefinitely rather than providing them with the stage to assert their individuality and powers. ‘I will be your savior’ is an age old phrase that the powerful imparts to the weak. The organization of national institutions to represent collective subaltern will is the only solution for a step towards the initiation of a right based system.

When the Panches, headed by Nokhey Ram, decide to extract a fine of five rupees from Hori for having accepted a cowherd’s daughter as his daughter-in-law, Ria Saheb took Hori’s side, being his protector. However, Nokhey Ram understood very well that Ria Saheb wanted his pound of flesh. He tells Rai Saheb, “I do not want to oppress the poor. Scores of people like you have an eye on my pockets. My friend, live and let live because we cannot afford to serve the cause of justice and truth.” (Premchand, 1996)

Here both Nokhey Ram and Rai Saheb are trying to accumulate superfluities in an objectionable way because they are depriving another man of the necessaries. Such self-centered and irresponsible people are ready to condemn thousands of people to death in order that they themselves may continue to enjoy good dinners and motor cars. When Kanha, the sugarcane mill owner, is faced with a strike of workers in his mill owing to his decision to reduce wages in order to recover a loss, he decides to seek Mr. Mehta’s advice.

“Mr. Mehta:Why should the workers suffer due to the increase in levy? You want to snatch their bread for the sake of share-holders?

Mr. Kanha: But all the share holders are not so rich!

Mr. Mehta: Maybe, but they don’t depend solely on the profits in shares!” (Premchand, 1996)

All that I am concerned to say is that these actions cannot be defined on grounds of freedom i.e. a right to maximize one’s benefits regardless of knowing whether they are at the cost of other’s needs and existence.

“A desire to redistribute is not the unproblematic consequence of a well fed society. In order to get that desire moving by the cultural imperative of education you have to fix the possibility of putting not ‘wrong’ over against ‘right’ but also to suggest that another antonym of ‘right’ is responsibility.” (Spivak, 2004, p. 534)

Education advocates the empowerment of all the lowest levels for the production of the largest sector of the future electorate that would go beyond literacy and numeracy. Education is the best antidote for violence, intolerance and inequality. What I mean by education is not only the grinding of young minds in order to acquire a professional degree certificate (which would certify that the individual has qualified in written examination in a particular course). Such learning may not inaugurate a building of faith in the principles of humanity. Instead, education to me is the expansion of human minds, the subordination of philistine attitude to a humane approach towards fellow beings and a terminal end of ignorance which in turn will pave way for self-realization and enlightenment.

“Some more women soon joined them and took Malti inside. She started talking to them on hygiene and child welfare. She explained to them how they could improve their living conditions with a little more care and practical common sense.” (Premchand, 1996)

Here Malti attempts to educate the village women about a way to lead a healthy and a happy life. This has no implications with literacy or ‘formal’ learning and training.

The term education is generally confused with the word literacy. Now-a-days ‘education’ is merely a way of having the power to say, “I belong to your world. I am carrying the same degree as you are, so don’t shoot. Instead let us gang up on the weaklings as a way of surviving.” The question that strikes us then is what principles are involved in the genesis of our education system? Isn’t it high time that we developed a responsible attitude towards understanding the reason of our existence? Education is complete only when your intellectual beliefs and ethics correspond with truth. Although beliefs and ethics are not directly responsible for more than a small part of our actions, the actions for which they are responsible are among the most important and largely determine the general structure of our lives.

I am not a moralist but I do believe that if humans became extremely rational, social existence would become impossible. The process of reinventing the method of ‘rationalization’ through the prism of good conscience will prove to be beneficial to human happiness and growth. There is in each of us a certain energy which must find vent in actions not inspired by reason. Education should provide us with appropriate opportunities to realize our austere moralistic self and not curb this inner voice with a seal of rationality, regularity and routine. Human mind should be engraved with the understanding that other humans can be a help to the realization of a full life, attainable through the pursuit of one’s own happiness rather than the misery of others.

“When Malti interacted with the villagers and tried to understand their plight and pity, she was ashamed of her make-up, her rich fashionable dress and her golden wrist watch.” (Premchand, 1996)

In this case, correct education will never expect a person to give up self-indulgence and live the life of a monk. It will only sensitize him towards the sufferings of other human being, which, if education is complete would encourage him to extend a helping hand according to his own capacity. The great trick is to call for consent and not obedience, because ideas that are instilled through discussion and acceptance can have long term effects but the ideas that are imposed are sure to invite criticism. Principles of rationality can be taught but what about the ideals of co-operation and peace? They cannot be taught because they are not acquired through formal training. A man must be educated to make him receptive towards the needs of others. His mind must be trained to realize that to keep yourself healthy, you must keep your surroundings clean. This again has two implications, one at the individual and the collective (national) level each: First, to keep your soul clean your actions must be devoid of any trace of malice. Second, for a nation to progress its citizens must progress.

Thus ‘generative education’[vi] does not necessarily imply equality but it is not compatible with the differences arising from traditional forms of status. However, misuse of educative tools can be rendered for the teaching of poor in the name of God and religion.

Hori was dead. His last desire was to own a cow. ‘Bhabhi, perform the Godaan ceremony now or else his soul will not rest in peace’, said Heera. Dhania had sold the only spun yarn she owed for twenty annas to feed her family. She offered it to Datadin saying, ‘Maharaj, there is neither a cow nor a calf. This is the only Godaan I can offer.’ (Premchand, 1996)

If religion and the name of God is used as a means to claim ‘licensed lunacy’[vii] as a tool to complicate an individual’s life I believe I am an atheist. Religion should help understand oneself better and the power of God must be yielded to purify oneself rather that to destroy the comforts of others.

I leave this essay with a conclusion that the true jewels of a nation are its children, that the true veins of wealth are not in rocks but in flesh. The final aim of every wealth, therefore, should be to produce as many as possible full-breathed, bright-eyed and happy hearted human creatures.

As parting words I quote John Ruskin

“Raise the veil of ignorance boldly, face the light, and if, as yet, the light of eye can only be through tears…go thou forth weeping, until the time come and the kingdom, when Christ’s gift of bread and bequest of peace shall be ‘Unto this last as Unto thee’; and when, for earth’s severed multitudes of the wicked and the weary, there shall be holier reconciliation then that of the narrow home, and calm economy, where the wicked cease-not from trouble, but from troubling-and the weary are at rest.” (Ruskin)


Notes:

[i] Godaan (published in 1936) is the greatest Hindi-Urdu novel themed around the socio-economic deprivations as well as the exploitation of the village poor.

[ii] “Intormation transmission” would not necessarily lead to a tutoring of preferences. The process of ‘consciousness raising’ can alone be a basis for social change.

[iii] There is an urgency to re-define the idea of national progress as including the well being of people from all the levels of the society, the need to understand our responsibility towards emphasizingthe expansion of franchised society and also an ethical impulse that can make social justice flourish.

[iv] The systematization and recommendation of concepts of right and wrong conducts is an inevitable ingredient in the genesis of a responsibility-based society. Normative ethics form the center of my discussion as my focus is on the introduction of practical means of determining a moral course of action among the people of a society.

[v] This term signifies a process by which the gap between the different sections of the society can be brought to a level where healthy competition can be fostered, and where people, though from diverse backgrounds, share the same sense social responsibility and ethics.

[vi] Generative education is by no means restricted to the formal educational sphere but involves the genesis of critical questions which must be answered. Active trust must be created which depends not on pre-given alignments.

[vii] This phrase, used first by Orlando Patterson, means to develop the sort of ruthless commitment that can undermine the sense that the ability to manage a complicated life support system is the same as being civilized.

Works Cited:

Bedi, P. (2012, November 7). In order to make a real difference the Congress should take reforms to their logical conclusion. The Times of India .

Farmer suicide reported near Jamnagar. (2012, August 2). The Times Of India .

Gidden… (xxx). xxx.

In order to make a real difference the Congress should take reforms to their logical conclusion. (2012, November 7). The Times of India .

Premchand, M. (1996). Godaan. (D. Kumar, & A. Madan, Trans.)

Ruskin, J. Unto this Last.

Spivak, G. C. (2004). At Both Ends of the Spectrum. The South Atlantic Quarterly , 103 (2/3, Spring/Summer), 523-581.

Pushap, P. (2007). “Agriculture–India’s backbone Industry and its Plight in the wake of Globalization”,

The Journal of World Intellectual Property Rights, 3(1-2): 159-183.

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3 thoughts on “Godaan: Genesis of a Responsibility Based Culture

  1. excellent article. it gave a whole new dimension to my understanding of godaan. great piece of analysis by the author. i shall look forward to more of such nivel observations in future.

  2. Dear author, you should be a reformist and an activist. Feels immense pleasure to have read such an essay. Changing the attitude of the unsympathetic upper class, putting a limit on endless materialism by cultivating values and ethics, and the education of the poor is the need of the hour.

    “The uncoercive rearrangement of desires through education.”
    Reminds of a quote “Do not educate your child to be rich, instead educate him to be happy, so that when he/she grows up, he/she will know the value of things, not the price.”

    “The rigorous insertion of the rural India into the national intellectual development can be defined as a transition from imposition to liberation– Exactly. Education is the answer.

    “On one hand there are people like Hori who work even when their bodies are enveloped with exhaustion only to earn a meal for their families and on the other hand there are people who revel in wealth and comforts. I don’t intend to undo the legacy of existing differences in the society. I hope to begin with an emphasis on the need of a long term investment with grassroots”– Perfectly describes the class disparity and its long term solution, which is, education.

    “I will be your savior is an age old phrase that the powerful imparts to the weak”– How true is that!

    “Correct education will never expect a person to give up self-indulgence and live the life of a monk. It will only sensitize him towards the sufferings of other human being, which, if education is complete would encourage him to extend a helping hand according to his own capacity.”

    I was all goosebumps as I went on to read the quote of John Ruskin.
    “Where the wicked cease-not from trouble, but from troubling-and the weary are at rest.”

    Keep writing. Promotes change.

  3. thank you so much for such an encouraging response…I will try to live up to your expectations in future as well…heart felt thanks once again..

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