I was reading Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals for the second time. It’s a highly readable series of essays on the role of intellectuals in Europe and the United States. The writings of some of them like Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Leo Tolstoy, Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell had a profound and lasting effect on generations of Europeans and Americans. India also produced intellects like Rammohun Roy, Sri Aurobindo and M.N. Roy. It has also some highly educated and perceptive thinkers today. But their impact on Indian society has been, and is, marginal. Why ?
I can assign two reasons for the failure of our intellectuals to change society. One is that all of them wrote in English that barely 10 per cent of educated Indians can read and comprehend. The masses never get to know about them. The second, and the more important factor in isolating intellectuals was, and is, the fact that the vast majority of our countrymen look up to their gurus or godmen for guidance because they speak their language.
It is oral and not written communication. Gurus have massive following but their learning is limited to churning out accepted religious concepts unaffected by occidental learning. Most of their pravachans (lectures) are accompanied by hymn singing and at times dancing in ecstasy. Their congregations return to their homes contented and at peace with themselves because they do not have to wrestle with new ideas. That is why caste distinctions persist, foeticide is widely practised and we continue to breed at a suicidal rate. Our gurus never deal with such social problems.
I am not sure if my reading of the ineffectiveness of Indian intellectuals in changing social attitudes is correct. I hope to have readers’ reactions.