From Midnight to Millennium and Beyond?

I recently read a brilliant book by Mr Shashi Tharoor. Apart from the fact that the book has been written with the characteristic flair for the language by Mr Tharoor, I was very to relate the theme of the book with some of the principles of Sociology.

In the last two years of my High School, I have taken Sociology as one of the elective subjects. An introduction to this new subject has allowed me to see things around me with a new perspective.

The review of the book was a part of an assignment that i did in the class. I hope it makes a good reading for others.

5 main Sociological concepts have been highlighted in this book. Point wise listing appears below:

  1. The sociological concept proposed by Max Webber according to which he highlighted how people’s economic activities are influenced by their values and religion. He highlighted the concept of protestant ethic according to which Protestantism encourages its followers to spend as well as invest and save. This shows how economic activities are influenced by religions and values.

In the book, Shashi Tharoor speaks about the prominent Indian festivals of Ganesh Chaturthi. He describes the opulence and fan-fare that accompanies the festival. He talks about how people spend large amounts of money to purchase idols of Ganesh, decorate those idols etc. He also speaks about how this is a time when economic activity is high due to the practice of buying new clothes, household items etc. during festivities. It is also due to incurred spending on Puja items such as sweets and different gifts that are exchanged during this time. This highlights the concept proposed by Webber.

2) Another sociological concept which is highlighted on multiple occasions in the book is that of religion and blind faith along with the concept of secularism.

The author speaks about how India claiming to be a secular nation at its heart is unsecular. He stresses how in the meant past, events have occurred that serve as a testament to the fact that we are truly unsecular.

He talks about the Babri Masjid incident of 1992 in which Hindu mobs destroyed a Masjid claiming that it was the birth place of Hindu God – Ram. The incident highlights the communal violence as well as lack of rational thinking when it comes to religion. We see that people as so consumed by their religion that they are willing to blindly accept any and all theories that further their belief or give them an opportunity to tear down other’s beliefs. He later gives another example of blind faith talking about how in the 1890’s Ganesh devotees took their belief to another extreme. In Western India, they allowed the bubonic plague to take many lives rather than co-operative with the British campaign since they believed that rats were sacred as they were Ganesh’s mounts.

3) Another highly important aspect spoken about in this book is that of the caste system and reservations that accompany it.

The author speaks of the Mandal Commission which was accepted by V.P. Singh Government according to which 27% of government jobs would be reserved for backward castes. This was in addition to the 22.5% that was already reserved.

This decision passed mass unrest amongst citizens who greatly feared their future prospects as almost 50% of total government jobs were now reserved for backward castes.

This led to another important aspect of sociology – large scale conflict in the form of riots. Students in the northern parts of the country started protesting by immolating themselves. Eventually the bill was withdrawn; however, twelve were literally burnt to death because of this.

4) Another sociological concept spoken about in the book is globalization with specific reference to Kerala.

The author who belongs to Kerala enumerates how Kerala has been influenced by a multitude of beliefs from the very beginning. He talks of how even today the influence of early globalization can be seen through varied people ranging from British, Islamist, Marxist, Christian, Arabic, Roman etc. who still reside in Kerala.

Moreover, Shashi Tharoor speaks of how over the years through globalization many advancement took place in Kerala. He stresses specifically on the social changes that occurred in the treatment of untouchables in Kerala. He gives the example of charity, a young harijan boy who lived in their village. Through this example he depicts how, gradually over the years, he was allowed to get closer and closer to the ‘normal’ people. He speaks about the effect of universalizing of education. The practice of how untouchables were not allowed to enter into houses. Gradually with time and with exposure to global ideas as well as government reforms brought drastic changes to people’s attitude towards the untouchables. He concludes this example by describing how Charlis was finally allowed to play with other children and also eat with them.

5) The last concept described in this book is that of personal law i.e. the Indian term for ‘family law’. This includes laws governing marriage, divorce, inheritance and worship in India. It speaks of how minority communities, specifically Muslims, are allowed by legislation to follow their own personal law.

The specific example spoken about in this book is totally of ‘Shah Bano’. It speaks of how the Shah Bano case in India which was a “personal law’ controversy was handled in a purely politically opportunistic way so as to please Muslims conservatives.

The case spoken about is referring to the practice of Triple Talaq – a way of obtaining a divorce which is permitted by Muslim personal law. By saying the words “Talaq” thrice a man can divorce his wife.

Shah Bano filed a case asking for this to the abolished as her long time husband had divorced her for his new younger wife and refused to support Bano.

Hence, we see that the book “From Midnight to Millennium and beyond” gives us an account of many sociological concepts as seen in our country.

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