- The political hypothesis
- The moral hypothesis
The Political Hypothesis
An acceptable hypothesis is that Ram Sena and its leaders (and those opposing Ram Sena) and doing these acts to get political mileage and are misusing religion. The implication here is that if they did not have political reasons, they would not have done those acts. As regular human beings, they might have even condemned the attacks if it were not for the political context. So why would they do this in the political context? They would like to gain power and money through politics and the price to be paid in terms of beating up a few women is very small to them personally -- someone else might suffer but the price to them is negligible. One can relate this to the exploitation of natural resources by mankind. We would like to use tissue papers and plastic bags, but the price to be paid in terms of cutting down forests is very small to us -- someone else (maybe in some other part of the world or future generations) may suffer, but it is very small to us. Since the benefits outweigh the costs for the concerned individual, he or she does it.
So, it seems logical why someone would use attacks on women for political gains. It is not enough to stop at it. The main question to ask is why someone can feel there are political gains to be made by targeting the freedom of women. From the turn of events after the attack, it seems that Ram Sena and its leaders have indeed made political gains. Given that India is a democracy, it is the vote bank that drives most of our politics. So there must be a sizeable chunk of population that agrees with limiting the freedom of women and the broader philosophies implied (e.g. against the westernization of Indian culture, promotion of Hindutva) and they are going to vote the Ram Sena leaders to power. This is the worrying factor -- a sizable population supports Ram Sena. There, I've revealed which side I am on.
What about the folks who are against Ram Sena? In a democracy, they need to demonstrate that they are a much bigger size of the population by conducting rallies, media coverage, sending pink chaddis to Mutalik etc. If the perception that emerges after all this, is that the size of the population that supports freedom of women is larger than the size of the population against freedom of women, then the political strategies will change accordingly and the leaders of Ram Sena will not be able to make any political gains. However, like the strategies of giving free electricity to farmers or having reservations based on caste, if there is a sizeable chunk of the population that can vote people to power, politicians will experiment with it and if it works, they will use it without considering whether it is really a good thing for India long term.
So, the political dimension is fairly straightforward. In a democracy, if you can demonstrate that your views form the views of a sizeable chunk of the population, then those views will survive.
The Moral Hypothesis
The hypothesis here is that Ram Sena leaders and their opponents are doing these acts for moral reasons and not political ones. In this hypothesis, they feel that it is morally wrong for women to dress in certain manner and it is their moral duty to uphold the Dharma (according to Ram Sena's interpretation of what Dharma is).
In the moral hypothesis, the anti Ram Sena folks would feel that it is immoral to limit the freedom of women and it is the moral duty to oppose Ram Sena. They compare this to Taliban and are hence making references to Talibanization of India. If I were on the Ram Sena side, I would like to compare myself to the protagonists of Rang De Basanti -- in a corrupt world where all the morals are decaying, the only recourse left is to take the law in your hands. This is a deadlock. If both parties feel they are morally correct, there is no easy way out.
Morality is a very vague concept, very individual centric and usually based on faith. The person who feels that it is immoral for women to drink need not explain or convince anyone why it is immoral. By calling something immoral, people can absolve themselves of providing any explanation -- examples: immoral to have pre-marital sex, immoral to do stem cell research, immoral to beat up women. Even if questions are asked about why it is moral or immoral, very often the basis is religion/culture. According to this particular book, it follows that phenomenon X is immoral. According to our culture, phenomenon Y is moral. The danger of using a moral basis is that it gives 'immense sense of being right' and makes it possible to justify to ourself any action we take, like the protagonists of Rang De Basanti or the Jehadis of Taliban. Another danger of morality is that there might not be any common ground between both the parties -- complete obliteration of the other party might be acceptable under one party's morality.
Given the vagueness of morality, maybe we should not even consider morality as legitimate ground for taking a stand. Taking stands should be based on some tangible things like benefits and losses. They should be based on theories that can be defined and challenged and modified. For example, the theory of maximizing aggregated happiness. Democracy is somewhat akin to maximizing aggregate happiness. Now, Democracy as a concept can be challenged and modified and we can acknowledge that it has faults and come up with alternate theories. Morality does not have this feature -- morality is not amenable to be challenged nor does it allow for accepting that it is flawed.
'Minimizing Violence/harm to life' can be another way of looking at things based on which we can take stands. For example, even if a sizeable population thinks that it is ok to kill animals for food, people can hold take a stand based on this principle. Also, they cannot go and beat up people who eat meat, because it will be a violation of the 'minimizing violence' principle.
Currently, it appears to me that 'Might is right' is the working principle. Maybe, there are better ones. For example, the founding fathers of US chose 'Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness as unalienable rights of every individual' as the working principles, which seems better than 'maximizing aggregate happiness'.
By removing morality from the equation, we can focus on different models and principles and evolve better ones.