“Quid rides? Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur”, says Horace in his ‘Satires’ (1.1.69): “Why do you laugh? Change but the name, and it is of you the story is told.” Karl Marx quotes the Roman poet in his Preface to the First German Edition of ‘Capital’ (1867), to warn Germans they could not avoid the capitalist path forged by Britain. “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.”
But sometimes it is unclear which is the more and which the less developed country.
I thought of Horace and Marx when I read an article in the Times of India: “Muslim groups see red over journo’s tweet”. These groups have filed complaints with the Mumbai police about a tweet by journalist Rohit Sardhana on a controversial movie - “Sexy Durga” - that has riled up both Hindu and Muslim activists.
The complaints against Sardhana are under several “hate crime” sections of the Indian Penal Code, including Section 153A, which states:
“Whoever (a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or (b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity, . . . shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”
Mind you, this is not a recent hate crime law, emulating, perhaps, that of some progressive European country. Section 153A was enacted by the British in their Indian Penal Code of 1860 and carried over into independent democratic India. It empowers the state to suppress any speech or act that might offend any of India’s innumerable identity groups. Yet, perhaps we should not be too hasty to condemn the Indian state for its illiberality. It too is a creature of difficult social conditions. Isn’t liberty likely to suffer at the expense of the need for public order in a country where it has not been easy to build a common national identity, where the population has only a limited sense of “we-ness”, of trust and willingness to make sacrifices for each other; where, instead, loyalties are fragmented among many religious, ethnic, caste, clan and other identities, which too often view each other with suspicion and resentment?
If Americans think of India at all, it is mostly along linear Marxian or modernization theory lines, as an underdeveloped country that, if it is lucky, will develop in the image of the United States. But what if it is India that is holding up an image of its future to America – the illiberal terminus of the identitarian, intersectional, ideologically multiculturalist, “race realist” road down which forces of both left and right appear to be pushing the United States? Underdeveloped? De te fabula narratur, dear Americans.