A Rational Approach to Understanding the Irrational Behavior of Indians
As a practicing psychiatrist in the U. S. A., it is my job to get to the root of my patients’ ‘irrational behavior.’ There is always an explanation, rooted in the patient’s past, why a patient behaves the way he does. But the patient is not aware of it. Making the patient aware of the reason behind his current irrational behavior often changes his behavior, provided he is an open-minded person capable of developing a trusting relationship with the doctor. For example, a woman does not know why she breaks up with men who become seriously interested in her. Once she realizes that this has to do with her irrational fear of rejection, rooted in her childhood rejection by her father, she could learn to trust men once again.
Delusions are beyond reason
Some irrational behaviors are based on delusions, and are not amenable to reason. For example, one cannot reason with a man who believes that for the past three years Mafia has been trying to kill him, by telling him, “If the Mafia really wanted to kill you, it would take only three minutes to do so.” This person has a fixed irrational belief, which serves him a specific purpose. Likewise, you can’t reason with a deluded Jihadist that the seventy-two women he hopes to meet in heaven after achieving martyrdom cannot be virgins in view of the fact that several thousands of brainless Jihadists like him have preceded him there.
Like individuals, every society on earth has its own set of irrational beliefs and behaviors. Some of these behaviors are universal, namely, they are shared by all societies on earth. A common example is religion. Most people on earth swear allegiance to one religion or another, one god or another. The degree of irrationality in religious beliefs varies from religion to religion. In one religion, people meet for prayer once a week, sing together, socialize and go home. On the other extreme, in another religion, people dance in trance-like state, holding poisonous snakes in their hands. Sometimes they die from snakebites.
Irrational thinking is culture-specific
Very often, irrational thinking is culture-specific. For example, insisting that the guest eat and drink something at the host’s house before leaving, is a type of irrational behavior widespread in India, but not in America. In India, a guest refusing food or drink would certainly make the host very angry. Almost all Indian hosts are beyond any reasoning in this matter. Even if the guest says that he is so full that if he ate even one piece of sweetmeat he would vomit, would make no difference in the behavior of Indian hosts. Few Indians know how this irrational behavior started. Here is the true reason: For thousands of years, there was always food shortage in India. The guests did not want to strain the host’s food supply and the hosts did not want the guests to go hungry. So, both of them played this little mind-game: guests pretended to refuse food and hosts insisted they eat. Now, in the twenty first century, food is aplenty. Besides, everybody has weight problem. Yet, the mindless forcing of the guests to eat continues unabated. The host neither listens to nor believes what the guest says. His own agenda is to prove what a wonderful host he is. He is least bothered if the guest drops dead after eating at his house.
Customs are nothing but dead habits
In India as well as in America, even the most educated and accomplished Indians behave in irrational manner like this. I can give you thousands of examples of mindless behaviors in Indians, all of which had a very good reason in the beginning. The only problem is that that reason has no relevance to the current reality. Let me give you a few examples:
- It is a custom in a certain family to put a cat under a basket during the Ashtami Pooja ceremony. Just before the Pooja, the family would borrow a cat from a neighbor for the purpose. When asked about this irrational behavior, the head of the house said that it was a custom the family had followed from as far back as he could remember. An elder in the family knew how this custom started. Some fifty years ago the family had a cat, which ate the sweetmeat meant for the idol. So they had to put the cat under a basket till the Pooja ceremony was over. Now, the brainless householder felt compelled to continue this irrational tradition even if it meant borrowing a neighbor’s cat for the purpose.
- After the death of the eldest brother in the family, the surviving brothers and their children met to decide in whose house the annual Ganesha Pooja ceremony should be held. None of them wanted to take the responsibility for the ceremony, but all of them expressed great concern for their own welfare if one of them did not perform the annual ritual. All the people involved were highly educated people, but were belaboring under the irrational fear that something terrible would befall them if they did not perform the Pooja as per the family tradition. In other words, they thought that Ganesha would be angry with them for failing to continue this mindless tradition. Their befuddled mind, under the weight of irrational fear, did not understand that performing this ceremony without the mental commitment, merely to protect themselves from Ganesha’s wrath, was worse than not performing it at all. These people had no idea whatsoever about the fundamental idea of god. Obviously, they thought that god would be pleased even if they performed the Pooja without their heart in it and out of fear of punishment!
- A man goes to the local temple, circles the idol seven times and falls on the ground before the stone idol. When asked, where is his god, he shouts, “God is here, there and everywhere!” If you asked him, “If he is everywhere, why do you go to the temple? Can you not pray at home?” he would reply, “My father did this before me. I have done this for fifty years. I don’t feel good if I didn’t do it now.” Obviously, this man is a creature of his habit. Even though he said that God is everywhere, he did not mean it at all as evidenced by his behavior.
In all these and thousands of other examples, the following factors become evident:
- All current irrational behaviors are based on a good reason sometimes in the remote past.
- Both these were reinforced by an authority figure such as a parent, a priest, a Swami or a Guru. These authority figures had vested interest in perpetuating these behaviors even though these behaviors were irrelevant now.
- The person indulging in the irrational behavior does not have a clue as to why he is behaving in this way. In fact, he does not think of his behavior as irrational at all even though he cannot explain the rationale for it.
- He has now become a mindless creature of dead habit, incapable of independent thinking and rational behavior.
Trapped in the ancient mindset
Let us now see how these observations can be applied to Hindu fundamentalists who are attacking women in the restaurants, Christians in the churches and Muslims women in schools:
- These people are acting on their irrational belief that Hindu religion is under attack and so they need to protect it. This irrational fear is rooted in the history of India. Over the past two thousand five hundred years, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity continually threatened Brahmanism, the decadent Dharma that pervades every atom of present day Hinduism.
- During the post-Vedic period of 500 B. C. E to 600 A. D., most major kingdoms of India ignored Brahmanism and promoted Buddhism. During the medieval period, Islamic kingdoms attacked Brahmanism and supported Islam. And during the last three centuries, European colonial governments ignored Brahmanism and supported Christianity. So now they do not trust the Indian Constitution to support or promote Brahmanism.
So, they think, they need to attack those who are violating the values of their Dharma, attack those of other Dharmas, and attack anyone seen as supporting the people of other Dharma. Here let the reader remember that right-wing Hindu fanatics assassinated Gandhi for “siding with Muslims.”
Obviously, these religious fanatics are living in India of the past two thousand five hundred years. They do not realize that the Dharma they should protect now is the Constitution of India. The ancient term, “Dharmo Rakshathi Rashathah” means “The Law protects him who protects Law.” These fanatics have no idea that in the modern world this means, “The Constitution protects him who protects the Constitution.” To them, whose allegiance is to Brahmanism, it is impossible to conform their behavior to India’s Constitution. If we tell them that the Indian Constitution, the Dharma of modern India, considers their behavior as anti-social and treasonous, they would not believe us. They all consider themselves as pukka patriots.
To make matters even worse, these ignoramuses have no knowledge of either the origins of Brahmanism three thousand five hundred years ago or its fundamental tenets. So they depend on what their equally ignorant religious leaders and political supporters tell them what Brahmanic Dharma is. And based on their faulty knowledge and irrational belief, they act in a manner detrimental to the nation.
(To be continued)
Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind.