Saturday, 25 June 2011

Why I am an Atheist

Bhagat Singh

[Bhagat Singh wrote Why I am an Atheist while he was spending days in a condemned cell in 1931. In this pamphlet he discusses and advocates the philosophy of atheism. This pamphlet was a result of some criticism by fellow revolutionaries on his failure to acknowledge religion and God while in a condemned cell, the accusation of vanity was also dealt with in this pamphlet. He supported his own beliefs and claimed that he used to be a firm believer in The Almighty, but could not bring himself to believe the myths and beliefs that others held close to their hearts. In this pamphlet, he acknowledged the fact that religion made death easier, but also said that unproved philosophy is a sign of human weakness.

At a time when Hindu right wing groups ranging from RSS and ABVP to Ramdev (Bhagat Singh's  photograph was shown prominently on some of the posters prepared by Ramdev's followers during his recent anti-corruption drama} are trying to appropriate this revolutionary's name, it is our duty to thwart their nefarious attempts.]

A new question has cropped up. Is it due to vanity that I do not believe in the existence of an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God? I had never imagined that I would ever have to confront such a question. But conversation with some friends has given me, a hint that certain of my friends, if I am not claiming too much in thinking them to be so-are inclined to conclude from the brief contact they have had with me, that it was too much on my part to deny the existence of God and that there was a certain amount of vanity that actuated my disbelief. Well, the problem is a serious one. I do not boast to be quite above these human traits. I am a man and nothing more. None can claim to be more. I also have this weakness in me. Vanity does form a part of my nature. Amongst my comrades I was called an autocrat. Even my friend Mr. B.K. Dutt sometimes called me so. On certain occasions I was decried as a despot. Some friends do complain and very seriously too that I involuntarily thrust my opinions upon others and get my proposals accepted. That this is true up to a certain extent, I do not deny. This may amount to egotism. There is vanity in me in as much as our cult as opposed to other popular creeds is concerned. But that is not personal. It may be, it is only legitimate pride in our cult and does not amount to vanity. Vanity or to be more precise "Ahankar" is the excess of undue pride in one's self. Whether it is such an undue pride that has led me to atheism or whether it is after very careful study of the subject and after much consideration that I have come to disbelieve in God, is a question that I, intend to discuss here. Let me first make it clear that egotism and vanity are two different things.

In the first place, I have altogether failed to comprehend as to how undue pride or vaingloriousness could ever stand in the way of a man in believing in God. I can refuse to recognize the greatness of a really great man provided I have also achieved a certain amount of popularity without deserving it or without having possessed the qualities really essential or indispensible for the same purpose. That much is conceivable. But in what way can a man believing in God cease believing due to his personal vanity? There are only two Ways. The man should either begin to think himself a rival of God or he may begin to believe himself to be God. In neither case can he become a genuine atheist. In the first case he does not even deny the existence of his rival. In the second case as well he admits the existence of a conscious being behind the screen guiding all the movements of nature. It is of no importance to us whether he thinks himself to be that Supreme Being or whether he thinks the supreme conscious being to be somebody apart from himself. The fundamental is there. His belief is there. He is by no means an atheist. Well, here I am I neither belong to the first category nor to the second. I deny the very existence of that Almighty Supreme Being. Why I deny it shall be dealt with later on. Here I want to clear one thing, that it is not vanity that has actuated me to adopt the doctrines of atheism. I am neither a rival nor an incarnation nor the Supreme Being Himself. One point is decided, that it is not vanity that has led me to this mode of thinking. Let me examine the facts to disprove this allegation. According to these friends of mine I have grown vainglorious perhaps due to the undue popularity gained during the trials-both Delhi Bomb and Lahore conspiracy cases. Well, let us see if their premises are correct. My atheism is not of so recent origin. I had stopped believing in God when I was an obscure young man, of whose existence my above mentioned friends were not even aware. At least a college student cannot cherish any short of undue pride which may lead him to atheism. Though a favourite with some professors and disliked by certain others, I was never an industrious or a studious boy. I could not get any chance of indulging in such feelings as vanity. I was rather a boy with a very shy nature, who had certain pessimistic dispositions about the future career' And in those days, I was not a perfect atheist. My grand-father under whose influence I was brought up is an orthodox Arya Samajist. An Arya Samajist is anything but an atheist. After finishing my primary education I joined the D.A.V. School of Lahore and stayed in its Boarding House for full one year. There, apart from morning and evening prayers, I used to recite "Gayatri Mantra" for hours and hours. I was a perfect devotee in those days. Later on I began to live with my father. He is a liberal in as much as the orthodoxy of religions is concerned. It was through his teachings that I aspired to devote my life to the cause of freedom. But he is not an atheist. He is a firm believer. He used to encourage me for offering prayers daily. So, this is how I was brought up. In the Non-Co-operation days I joined the National College. it was there that I began to think liberally and discuss and criticise all the religious problems, even about God. But still I was a devout believer. By that time I had begun to preserve the unshorn and unclipped long hair but I could never believe in the mythology and doctrines of Sikhism or, any other religion. But I had a firm faith in God's existence.

Later on I joined the revolutionary party. The first leader with whom I came in contact, though not convinced, could not dare to deny the existence of God. On my persistent inquiries about God, he used to say, "Pray whenever you want to". Now this is atheism less courage required for the adoption of that creed. The second leader with whom I came in contact was a firm believer. Let me mention his name-respected comrade Sachindra Nath Sanyal, now undergoing life transportation in connexion with the Karachi conspiracy case. From the every first page of his famous and only book, "Bandi Jivan" (or Incarcerated Life), the Glory of God is sung vehemently. In the last page of the second part of that beautiful book his mystic-because of vedantism - praises showered upon God form a very conspicuous part of his thoughts. "The Revolutionary leaflet" distributed- throughout India on January 28th 1925, was according to the prosecution story the result of his intellectual labour, Now, as is inevitable in the secret work the prominent leader expresses his own views-which are very dear to his person and the rest of the workers have to acquiesce in them-in spite of differences, which they might have. In that leaflet one full paragraph was devoted to praise the Almighty and His rejoicings and doing. That is all mysticism. What I wanted to point out was that the idea of disbelief had not even germinated in the revolutionary party. The famous Kakori martyrs-all four of them-passed their last day in prayers. Ram Prasad Bismil was an orthodox Arya Samajist. Despite his wide studies in the field of Socialism and Communism, Rajen Labiri could not suppress his desire, of reciting hymns of the Upanishads and the Gita. I saw only one man amongst them, who never prayed and used to say, "Philosophy is the outcome of human weakness or limitation of knowledge". He is also undergoing a sentence of transportation for life. But he also never dared to deny the existence of God.

UP to that period I was only a romantic idealist revolutionary. Uptil then we were to follow. Now came the time to shoulder the whole responsibility. Due to the inevitable reaction for some time the very existence of the Party seemed impossible. Enthusiastic comrades-nay leaders-began to jeer at us. For some time I was afraid that some day I also might not be convinced of the futility of our own programme. That was a turning point in my revolutionary career. "Study" was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind. Study to enable yourself to face the arguments advanced by opposition. Study to arm yourself with arguments in favour of your cult. I began to study. My previous faith and convictions underwent a remarkable modification. The Romance of the violent methods alone which was so prominent amongst our predecessors, was replaced by serious ideas. No more mysticism, no more blind faith. Realism became our cult. Use of force justifiable when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity: non-violence as policy indispensable for all mass movements. So much about methods. The most important thing was the clear conception of the ideal for which we were to fight, As there were no important activities in the field of action I got ample opportunity to study various ideals of the world revolution. I studied Bakunin, the Anarchist leader, something of Marx the father of Communism and much of Lenin, Trotsky and others the men who had successfully carried out a revolution in their country. They were all atheists. Bakunin's "God and State", though only fragmentary, is an interesting study of the subject. Later still I came across a book entitled 'Common Sense' by Nirlamba Swami. It was only a sort of mystic atheism. This subject became of utmost interest to me. By the end of 1926 I had been convinced as to the baselessness of the theory of existence of an almighty Supreme Being who created, guided and controlled the universe. I had given out this disbelief of mine. I began discussion on the subjects with my friends. I had become a pronounced atheist. But, what it meant will presently be discussed.

In May 1927 I was arrested at Lahore. The arrest was a surprise. I was quite unaware of (he fact that the police wanted me. All of a sudden while passing through a garden I found myself surrounded by police. To my own surprise, I was very calm at that time. I did not feel any sensation, neither did I experience any excitement. I was taken into police custody. Next day I was taken to the Railway Police lock-up where I was to pass full one month. After many days’ conversation with the Police officials I guessed that they had some information regarding my connection with the Kakori Party and my other activities in connection with the revolutionary movement. They told me that I had been to Lucknow while the trial was going on there, that I had negotiated a certain scheme about their rescue, that after obtaining their approval, we had procured some bombs, that by way of test one of the bombs was thrown in the crowd on the occasion of Dussehra 1926. They further informed me, in my interest, that if I could give any statement throwing some light on the activities of the revolutionary party, I was not to be imprisoned but on the contrary set free and rewarded even without being produced as an approver in the Court. I laughed at the proposal. It was all humbug. People holding ideas like ours do not throw bombs on their own innocent people. One fine morning Mr. New man, the then Senior Superintendent of C.I.D., came to me. And after much sympathetic talk with me imparted-to him-the extremely sad news that if I did not give any statement as demanded by them, they would be forced to send me up for trial for conspiracy to wage war in connection with Kakori Case and for brutal murders in connection with Dussehra Bomb outrage. And he further informed me that they had evidence enough to get me convicted and hanged. In those days I believed-though I was quite innocent-the police could do it if they desired. That very day certain police officials began to persuade me to offer my prayers to God regularly both the times. Now I-was an atheist. I wanted to settle for myself whether it was in the days of peace and enjoyment alone that I could boast of being an atheist or whether during such hard times as well I could stick to those principles of mine. After great consideration I decided that I could not lead myself to believe in and pray to God. No, I never did. That was the real test and I came, out successful. Never for a moment did I desire to save my neck at the cost of certain other things. So I was a staunch disbeliever: and have ever since been. It was not an easy job to stand that test. 'Belief' softens the hardships, even can make them pleasant. In God man can find very strong consolation and support. Without Him, I man has to depend upon himself. To stand upon one's own legs amid storms and hurricanes is not a child's play. At such testing moments, vanity-if any-evaporates, and man cannot dare to defy the general beliefs, if he does, then we must conclude that he has got certain other strength than mere vanity. This is exactly the situation now. Judgment is already too well known. Within a week it is to be pronounced. What is the consolation with the exception of the idea that I am going to sacrifice my life for a cause? A God-believing Hindu might be expecting to be reborn as a king, a Muslim or a Christian might dream of the luxuries to be- enjoyed in paradise and the reward he is to get for his sufferings and sacrifices. But what am I to expect? I know the moment the rope is fitted round my neck and rafters removed, from under my feet; that will be the final moment-that will be the last moment. I, or to be more precise, my soul, as interpreted in the metaphysical terminology, shall all be finished there. Nothing further. A short life of struggle with no such magnificent end shall in itself be the reward if I have the courage to take it in that light. That is all. With no selfish motive or desire to be awarded here or hereafter, quite disinterestedly have I devoted my life to the cause of independence, because I could not do otherwise. The day we find a great number of men and women with this psychology who cannot devote themselves to anything else than the service of mankind and emancipation of the suffering humanity; that day shall inaugurate the era of liberty. Not to become a king, nor to gain any other rewards here, or in the next birth or after death in paradise, shall they be inspired to challenge the oppressors, exploiters, and tyrants, but to cast off the yoke of serfdom from the neck of humanity and to establish liberty and peace shall they tread this-to their individual selves perilous and to their noble selves the only glorious imaginable-path. Is the pride in their noble cause to be - misinterpreted as vanity? Who dares to utter such an abominable epithet? To him, I say either he is a fool or a knave. Let us forgive him for he cannot realize the depth, the emotion, the sentiment and the noble feelings that surge in that heart. His heart is dead as a mere lump of flesh, his eyes are-weak, the evils of other interests having been cast over them. Self-reliance is always liable to be interpreted as vanity. It is sad and miserable but there is no help.

You go and oppose the prevailing faith, you go and criticise a hero, a great man, who is generally believed to be above criticism because he is thought to be infallible, the strength of your argument shall force the multitude to decry you as vainglorious. This is due to the mental stagnation, Criticism and independent thinking are the two indispensable qualities of a revolutionary. Because Mahatamaji is great, therefore none should criticise him. Because he has risen above, therefore everything he says-may be in the field of Politics or Religion, Economics or Ethics-is right. Whether you are convinced or not you must say, "Yes, that's true". This mentality does not lead towards progress. It is rather too obviously, reactionary.

Because our forefathers had set up a faith in some supreme, being-the Al mighty God- therefore any man who dares to challenge the validity of that faith, or the very existence of that Supreme Being, he shall have to be called an apostate, a renegade. If his arguments are too sound to be refuted by counter-arguments and spirit too strong to be cowed down by the threat of misfortunes that may befall him by the wrath of the Almighty-he shall be decried as vainglorious, his spirit to be denominated as vanity. Then why to waste time in this vain discussion? Why try to argue out the whole thing? This question is coming before the public for the first time, and is being handled in this matter of fact way for the first time, hence this lengthy discussion.

As for the first question, I think I have cleared that it is not vanity that has led me to atheism. My way of argument has proved to be convincing or not, that is to be judged by my readers, not me. I know in the present, circumstances my faith in God would have made my life easier, my burden lighter and my disbelief in Him has turned all the circumstances too dry and the situation may assume too harsh a shape. A little bit of mysticism can make it poetical. But I, do not want the help of any intoxication to meet my fate. I am a realist. I have been trying to overpower the instinct in me by the help of reason. I have not always been successful in achieving this end. But man's duty is to try and endeavour, success depends upon chance and environments.

As for the second question that if it was not vanity, then there ought to be some reason to disbelieve the old and still prevailing faith of the existence of God. Yes; I come to that now Reason there is. According to me, any man who has got some reasoning power at his command always tries to reason out his environments. Where direct proofs are lacking philosophy occupies the important place. As I have already stated, a certain revolutionary friend used to say that Philosophy is the outcome of human weakness. When our ancestors had leisure enough to try to solve out the mystery of this world, its past, present and the future, its whys and wherefores, they having been terribly short of direct proofs, everybody tried to solve the problem in his own way. Hence we find the wide dufferences in the fundamentals of various religious creeds, which some times assume very antagonistic and conflicting shapes. Not only the Oriental and Occidental philosophies differ, there are differences even amongst various schools of thoughts in each hemisphere. Amongst Oriental religions, the Moslem faith is not at all compatible with Hindu faith. In India alone Buddhism and Jainism are sometimes quite separate from Brahmanism, in which there are again conflicting faiths as Arya Samaj and Sanatan Dharma. Charwak is still another independent thinker of the past ages. He challenged the authority of God in the old times. All these creeds differ from each other on the fundamental question, and everybody considers himself to be on the right. There lies the misfortune. Instead of using the experiments and expressions of the ancient Savants and thinkers as a basis for our future struggle against ignorance and to try to find out a solution to this mysterious problem, we lethargical as we have proved to be raise the hue and cry of faith, unflinching and unwavering faith to their versions and thus are guilty of stagnation in human progress.

Any man who stands for progress has to criticise, disbelieve and challenge every item of the old faith. Item by item he has to reason out every nook and corner of the prevailing faith. If after considerable reasoning one is led to believe in any theory or philosophy, his faith is welcomed. His reasoning can be mistaken, wrong, misled and sometimes fallacious. But he is liable to correction because reason is the guiding star of his life. But mere faith and blind faith is dangerous: it dulls the brain, and makes a man reactionary. A man who claims to be a realist has to challenge the whole of the ancient faith. If it does not stand the onslaught of reason it crumbles down. Then the first thing for him is to shatter the whole down and clear a space for the erection of a new philosophy. This is the negative side. After it begins the positive work in which sometimes some material of the old faith may be used for the purpose of reconstruction. As far as I am concerned, let me admit at the very outset that I have not been able to study much on this point. I had a great desire to study the Oriental Philosophy but I could not get any chance or opportunity to do the same. But so far as the negative study is under discussion, I think I am convinced to the extent of questioning the soundness of the old faith. I have been convinced as to non-existence of a conscious supreme being who is guiding and directing the movements of nature. We believe in nature and the whole progressive movement aims at the domination of man over nature for his service. There is no conscious power behind it to direct. This is what our philosophy is.

As for the negative side, we ask a few questions from the 'believers'.
(1) If, as you believe, there is an almighty, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent God-who created the earth or world, please let me know why did he create it ? This world of woes and miseries, a veritable, eternal combination of number less tragedies: Not a single soul being perfectly satisfied.

Pray, don't say that it is His Law: If he is bound by any law, he is not omnipotent. He is another slave like ourselves. Please don't say that it is his enjoyment. Nero burnt one Rome. He killed a very limited number of people. He created very few tragedies, all to his perfect enjoyment. And what is his place in History? By what names do the historians mention him? All the venomous epithets are showered upon him. Pages are blackened with invective diatribes condemning Nero, the tyrant, the heartless, the wicked. One Changezkhan sacrificed a few thousand lives to seek pleasure in it and we hate the very name. Then how are you going to justify your almighty, eternal Nero, who has been, and is still causing numberless tragedies every day, every hour and every minute? How do you think to support his misdoings which surpass those of Changez every single moment? I say why did he create this world-a veritable hell, a place of constant and bitter unrest? Why did the Almighty create man when he had the power not to do it? What is the justification for all this ? Do you say to award the innocent sufferers hereafter and to punish the wrong-doers as well? Well, well: How far shall you justify a man who may dare to inflict wounds upon your body to apply a very soft and soothing liniment upon it afterwards? How far the supporters and organisers of the Gladiator Institution were justified in throwing men before the half starved furious lions to be cared for and well looked after if they could survive and could manage to escape death by the wild beasts? That is why I ask, 'Why did the conscious supreme being created this world and man in it? To seek pleasure? Where then is the difference between him and Nero'?

You Mohammadens and Christians: Hindu Philosophy shall still linger on to offer another argument. I ask you, what is your answer to the above-mentioned question? You don't believe in previous birth. Like Hindus you cannot advance the argument of previous misdoings of the apparently quite innocent sufferers? I ask you why did the omnipotent labour for six days to create the world through word and each day to say that all was well. Call him today. Show him the past history. Make him study the present situation. Let us see if he dares to say, "All is well",

From the dungeons of prisons, from the stores of starvation consuming millions upon millions of human beings in slums and huts, from the exploited labourers, patiently or say apathetically watching the procedure of their blood being sucked by the Capitalist vampires, and the wastage of human energy that will make a man with the least common sense shiver with horror, and from the preference of throwing the surplus of production in oceans rather than to distribute amongst the needy producers-to the palaces of kings built upon the foundation laid with human bones.... let him see all this and let him say "All is well". Why and wherefore? That is my question. You are silent. All right then, I proceed. Well, you Hindus, you say all the present sufferers belong to the class of sinners of the previous births. Good. You say the present oppressors were saintly people in their previous births, hence they enjoy power. Let me admit that your ancestors were very shrewed people; they tried to find out theories strong enough to hammer down all the efforts of reason and disbelief. But let us analyse how far this argument can really stand.

From the point of view of the most famous jurists punishment can be justified only from three or four ends to meet which it is inflicted upon the wrongdoer. They are retributive, reformative and deterrent. The retributive theory is now being condemned by all the advanced thinkers. Deterrent theory is also following the same fate. Reformative theory is the only one which is essential, and indispensable for human progress. It aims at returning the offender as a most competent and a peace-loving citizen to the society. But what is the nature of punishment inflicted by God upon men even if we suppose them to be offenders. You say he sends them to be born as a cow, a cat, a tree, a herb or a best. You enumerate these punishments to be 84 lakhs. I ask you what is its reformative effect upon man? How many men have met you who say that they were born as a donkey in previous birth for having committed any sin? None. Don't quote your Puranas. I have no scope to touch your mythologies. Moreover do you know that the greatest sin in this world is to be poor. Poverty is a sin, it is a punishment. I ask you how far would you appreciate a criminologist, a jurist or a legislator who proposes such measures of punishment which shall inevitably force man to commit more offences? Had not your God thought of this or he also had to learn these things by experience, but at the cost of untold sufferings to be borne by. humanity? What do you think shall be the fate of a man who has been born in a poor and illiterate family of say a chamar or a sweeper. He is poor, hence he cannot study. He is hated and shunned by his fellow human beings who think themselves to be his superiors having been born in say a higher caste. His ignorance, his poverty and the treatment meted out to him shall harden his heart towards society. Suppose he commits a sin, who shall bear the consequences? God, he or the learned ones of, the society? What about the punishment of those people who were deliberately kept ignorant by the haughty and egotist Brahmans and who had to pay the penalty by bearing the stream of being led (not lead) in their ears for having heard a few sentences of your Sacred Books of learning-the Vedas? If they committed any offence-who was to be responsible for them and who was to bear the brunt? My dear friends: These theories are the inventions of the privileged ones: They justify their usurped power, riches and superiority by the help of these theories. Yes: It was perhaps Upton Sinclair, that wrote at some place, that just make a man a believer in immortality and then rob him of all his riches, and possessions. He shall help you even in that ungrudgingly. The coalition amongst the religious preachers and possessors of power brought forth jails, gallows, knouts and these theories.

I ask why your omnipotent God, does not stop every man when he is committing any sin or offence ? He can do it quite easily. Why did he not kill war lords or kill the fury of war in them and thus avoid the catastrophe hurled down on the head of humanity by the Great War? Why does he not just produce a certain sentiment in the mind of the British people to liberate India? Why does he not infuse the altruistic enthusiasm in the hearts of all capitalists to forgo their rights of personal possessions of means of production and thus redeem the whole labouring community-nay the whole human society from the bondage of Capitalism. You want to reason out the practicability of socialist theory, I leave it for your almighty to enforce it. People recognize the merits of socialism in as much as the general welfare is concerned. They oppose it under the pretext of its being impracticable. Let the Almighty step in and arrange everything in an orderly fashion. Now don't try to advance round about arguments, they are out of order. Let me tell you, British rule is here not because God wills it but because they possess power and we do not dare to oppose them. Not that it is with the help of God that they are keeping us under their subjection but it is with the help of guns and rifles, bomb and bullets, police and millitia and our apathy that they are successfully committing the most deplorable sin against society- the outrageous exploitation of one nation by another. Where is God ? What is he doing? Is he enjoying all I these woes of human race ? A Nero; A change (changez): Down with him.

Do you ask me how I explain the origin of this world and origin of man? Alright I tell you. Charles Darwin has tried to throw some light on the subject. Study him. Read Soham Swam's "Commonsense". It shall answer your question to some extent. This is a phenomenon of nature. The accidental mixture of different substances in the shape of nebulae produced this earth. When ? Consult history. The same process produced animals and in the long run man. Read Darwin's 'Origin of Species'. And all the later progress is due to man's constant conflict with nature and his efforts to override it. This is the briefest possible explanation of this phenomenon.

Your other argument may be just to ask why a child is born blind or lame if not due to his deeds committed in the previous birth? This problem has been explained away by biologists as a more biological phenomenon. According to them the whole burden rests upon the shoulders of the parents who may be conscious or ignorant of their own deeds led to mutilation of the child previous to its birth.

Naturally you may ask another question-though it is quite childish in essence. If no God existed, how did the people come to believe in him? My answer is clear and brief. As they came to believe in ghosts, and evil spirits; the only difference is that belief in God is almost universal and the philosophy well developed. Unlike certain of the radicals I would not attribute its origin to the ingenuity of the exploiters who wanted to keep the people under their subjection by preaching the existence of a supreme being and then claiming an authority and sanction from him for their privileged positions. Though I do not differ with them on the essential point that all faiths, religions, creeds and such other institutions became in turn the mere supporters of the tyrannical and exploiting institutions, men and classes. Rebellion against king is always a sin according to every religion.

As regards the origin of God my own idea is that having realized the limitations of man, his weaknesses and shortcoming having been taken into consideration, God was brought into imaginary existence to encourage man to face boldly all the trying circumstances, to meet all dangers manfully and to check and restrain his outbursts in prosperity and affluence. God both with his private laws and parental generosity was imagined and painted in greater details. He was to serve as a deterrent factor when his fury and private laws were discussed so that man may not become a danger to society. He was to serve as a father, mother, sister and brother, friend and helpers when his parental qualifications were to be explained. So that when man be in great distress having been betrayed and deserted by all friends he may find consolation in the idea that an ever true friend was still there to help him, to support him and that He was almighty and could do anything. Really that was useful to the society in the primitive age. The idea of God is helpful to man in distress.

Society has to fight out this belief as well as was fought the idol worship and the narrow conception of religion. Similarly, when man tries to stand on his own legs, and become a realist he shall have to throw the faith aside, and to face manfully all the distress, trouble, in which the circumstances may throw him. That is exactly my state of affairs. It is not my vanity, my friends. It is my mode of thinking that has made me an atheist. I don't know whether in my case belief in God and offering of daily prayers which I consider to be most selfish and degraded act on the part of man, whether these prayers can prove to be helpful or they shall make my case worse still. I have read of atheists facing all troubles quite boldly, so am I trying to stand like a man with an erect head to the last; even on the gallows.

Let us see how I carry on: one friend asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, "During your last days you will begin to believe". I said, No, dear Sir, it shall not be. I will think that to be an act of degradation and demoralization on my part. For selfish motives I am not going to pray. Readers and friends, "Is this vanity"? If it is, I stand for it.

Prabhat Patnaik on Ramdev Phenomenon

Prabhat Patnaik is a well known economist and a political commentator.  In an incisive article written in the latest issue of Frontline (June 19 – July 1, 2011) Professor Patnaik  says:

Prabhat Patnaik

Ramdev project is fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-secular and a disturbing throwback to our pre-modernity. This is because while everybody in a democracy has a right to hold views on what is good for the nation and to fight for their realisation, this fight must not violate two conditions; and Ramdev violated both...............

Prof Patnaik concludes: is necessary that all the sane and honest elements within the polity should come together, both to fight “corruption”, and the neoliberal regime underlying it, and also to prevent our democracy and secularism, which have been our biggest achievements in the last two millennia, from being undermined by the intrusion of babas and swamis into the political arena. 

Here is the full text of the article:

IN the entire discussion on the episode of Baba Ramdev's fast, one aspect has not received the attention it deserves, namely, that even if we ignore Ramdev's Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) links and the issue of his personal integrity, it still remains the case that the Ramdev project is fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-secular and a disturbing throwback to our pre-modernity. This is because while everybody in a democracy has a right to hold views on what is good for the nation and to fight for their realisation, this fight must not violate two conditions; and Ramdev violated both.

First, a fast-unto-death may be justified as a weapon of struggle in certain cases of personal victimisation, but it cannot be used legitimately as an instrument for demanding specific public policies. As there is a constitutionally stipulated mechanism for the determination of such policies, any attempt to force such policies upon the nation through a fast-unto-death, no matter how benign the intent, amounts to an abrogation of the Constitution, and hence of the democratic order guaranteed by it.

And Ramdev does not just want specific public policies; he even wants a change in the Constitution so that the people directly elect the Prime Minister, an echo of the Bharatiya Janata Party's earlier demand for a presidential form of government. Settling such vital issues under the Damocles' sword of a fast-unto-death is fundamentally anti-democratic. (Imagine what would happen tomorrow if some religious leader went on a fast-unto-death demanding the disputed Babri Masjid land for his constituents.)

Secondly, it is illegitimate on the part of anyone to mobilise people for a political end, namely, demanding a particular set of public policies on the basis of non-political loyalties that he or she may command. If a person commanding the loyalty of millions of devotees for religious, spiritual or other reasons uses that loyalty to mobilise them behind political demands, then we have a subversion of the secular polity. Ramdev's political mobilisation certainly owes much to the loyalty he commands as a yoga teacher. If the dangers of such mobilisation are not emphasised, then this will provide a carte blanche to religious leaders to impose their particular agendas upon the nation, undermining the country's secularism.

The BJP, an offshoot of the RSS, does not set much store by a secular polity. But what has been surprising is the attitude of the government. True, Ramdev's fast was terminated by the government, but not before it had deployed four senior Cabinet Ministers to appease the Baba, even to the point of meeting him at the airport when he arrived in New Delhi to start the fast. If, instead of appeasing him, the government had opposed the Baba's plans from the beginning and placed before the people a perception of the threat to democratic order that such fasts-unto-death for enforcing specific policies and even amending the Constitution posed, then the denouement would have been better than what it has turned out to be in at least three distinct ways.

First, the violence that occurred when the fast was terminated, after having been allowed to start, would have been prevented. Second, a public debate on the wisdom of such actions would have been started, which would have raised democratic consciousness all around. And third, a halo of martyrdom would not have been provided to the Baba, the dangers of whose project have still not been explained to the people despite his fast having been terminated. The opportunism of the present government becomes clear if we ask ourselves the question: would Jawaharlal Nehru have rushed four Cabinet Ministers to appease a Baba who was on a Constitution-amending spree?

Devaluation of politics

The fact that the government has fallen so low is, paradoxically, not despite its economic “success” but because of it. The economic trajectory being followed is one which necessarily embroils the entire bourgeois political class in “corruption”. It devalues politics, and hence leaves the field open for all kinds of “babas”, “swamis”, “godmen” and self-styled messiahs, who are accountable to no one and who are not even themselves necessarily free of corruption, to move in and impose upon the state their own agendas that have no social sanction. The devaluation of politics is necessarily an attenuation of democracy and a throwback to the pre-modernity against which our freedom struggle was fought.

But how is “corruption” linked to our economic trajectory? What is called “corruption” refers broadly to two kinds of payments. The first consists of payments for services that are illegitimate because such services are not supposed to be commodities at all, that is, they are not supposed to be bought and sold in the first place. And the second consists of payments in excess of the prices, which happen to be fixed for certain goods and services, to obtain excess amounts of them, that is, in excess of what would have otherwise accrued under the system of rationing (which accompanies fixed prices).

If I have to pay a bribe in order to get a telephone connection for which I have already deposited what is legally necessary, then that is a case of “corruption” of the first kind. This is because the “service” rendered to me by the person taking the bribe, of giving me a telephone connection, is not supposed to command a price, that is, it is not supposed to be bought and sold at all. On the other hand, if my child does not get admission into college (that is, is rationed out), but I get him admission by paying an amount over and above the admission fee, then that is “corruption” of the second kind. Most cases of “corruption” can be classified under either one of these categories. (The 2G scam “corruption” clearly belongs to the second category).

But the basic point is this: underlying the concept of “corruption” there is a distinction between two spheres, a sphere of free commodity exchange and a sphere outside of it. We do not talk of “corruption” in the realm of free commodity exchange. “Corruption” arises when in the sphere designated to be outside of free commodity exchange a price is charged as if it belonged to the sphere of free commodity exchange. The elimination of “corruption” simply means that the boundary between these two spheres must remain intact, must not be transgressed. Is this possible?


One of the deepest insights of Karl Marx was that under capitalism there is a pervasive tendency towards commoditisation, that is, there is a tendency for everything to become a commodity. The boundary between the sphere of free commodity exchange and the sphere outside of it is forever being pushed outwards. But if this boundary is legally fixed, then this pushing outwards occurs in violation of the law, and thereby becomes “corruption”. In the pre-neoliberal era, or under what is called the “license-quota-permit raj”, there was a palpable legal fixing of such a boundary. This provided an easy explanation of “corruption” (on the grounds that the boundary was wrongly and arbitrarily fixed) and created the impression that if this boundary was pushed out through neoliberal reforms then “corruption” would disappear or at least get minimised.

This argument missed two obvious points: first, no matter how far outwards the boundary is pushed, a legal boundary will always have to remain, for a society in which literally everything is for sale is simply inconceivable (which, given the pervasive tendency towards commoditisation under capitalism noted earlier, points to the transitoriness of the system).

To see this point, imagine, for instance, what would happen if examination results became a commodity. And if any such legal boundary remains, then the immanent tendency under capitalism to push it outwards will necessarily still generate “corruption”. Secondly, the force with which the tendency to push the boundary outwards beyond its legal delineation operates depends upon the degree to which “money-making” becomes respectable, that is, capitalist values become pervasive. Neoliberal reforms have made such values pervasive; the force with which “corruption” has entered our public life has accordingly multiplied. And since the ultimate responsibility for the executive enforcement of the existing legal boundary of free commodity exchange lies always with the political personnel of the state, the logic of capitalism makes these personnel, who comprise the bourgeois political class, the most significant practitioners of “corruption”.

The idea that “corruption” can be weeded out by simply making it legal is flawed not just ethically but also analytically, because a boundary for the terrain of commodity exchange must always remain, and in a world of pervasive capitalist values this would still breed “corruption”. For instance, even if medical college admission is made a commodity sold to the highest bidder, this will still not end “corruption” in medical colleges since examination results will then be surreptitiously bought and sold.

Likewise, the idea that a mere Lokpal Bill will end corruption is flawed because in a world of pervasive capitalist values the Lokpal office itself will become an abode of “corruption”: as a senior Supreme Court judge explained recently, in the current environment the desire for post-retirement “sanctuaries” (which are at the government's discretion) makes sitting judges try to please the government through judgments in its favour.

The point is not that the scale of “corruption” is absolutely invariant to all measures and can never be decreased; it certainly can, and to that extent legislation against “corruption” is not to be pooh-poohed. The point is that the entire discussion of the spreading capitalist values, the passion for money-making, the intrusion of commoditisation into every sphere of life, all of which are integrally linked to our current economic trajectory, has receded into the background in the current discourse on corruption and in its place all kinds of facile quick-fix solutions are being sought to be rammed down the throat of the nation by parvenu godmen and self-styled messiahs; and the bulk of the political class opportunistically acquiesces in their doings, to the detriment of democracy.

Impact of capitalism

The fact that our current economic trajectory with its uninhibited emphasis on “money-making” delegitimises the terrain of politics by “corrupting” the bulk of the political class and thereby opens the door to political intervention by “babas” and “swamis” is germane to another basic debate, which has raged for long and which relates to the modernising impact of capitalism in societies such as ours.
Capitalism is usually seen as a powerful modernising force; indeed many in India have supported neoliberal reforms on the grounds that the unfettered capitalist development they unleash will hasten our march to modernity. Their argument, reminiscent of the old “dual economy” models, has been that our economy and society consist of two parts: a “modern” capitalist part and a “traditional” pre-capitalist part; as the former develops rapidly, the weight of the modern segment increases and, correspondingly, society gets progressively “modernised”.

The Left, ever since the days of Lenin, has rejected this position. It has argued that in countries embarking late on capitalist development, the bourgeoisie allies itself with feudal and semi-feudal elements and, hence, far from dealing the requisite decisive blows against the old order, reaches a modus vivendi with it that impedes the march to modernity; the capitalism that develops on this basis is itself enmeshed with pre-modernity, bearing the marks of the soil in which it is rooted. The Left view has been that it is only those social forces that seek to transcend capitalism which can also carry the country to modernity.

If the rapid gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of the country, its new-found “prestige” in the international arena and the globalisation of its elite had created an impression that the Left position was wrong, the Ramdev episode should dispel it. The episode did not just underscore our lingering pre-modernity; it expressed something infinitely more disturbing, namely, neoliberal India, far from countering pre-modernity, is actually strengthening it. We have seen a revival of khap panchayats and now we have had the spectre of a “Baba” demanding policies and constitutional amendments of his personal choice through a mobilisation of his disciples.

Recent developments, in short, suggest something that goes even beyond the usual Left position. The development of capitalism within a neoliberal regime, far from overcoming pre-modernity, is actually strengthening it on a new basis. The discrediting of the bourgeois political class, itself a fallout of the neoliberal strategy, is allowing babas, swamis and other interlopers, typically steeped in a pre-modern outlook, to appropriate the political space of the nation at the expense of actors envisaged by our “modern” Constitution to be occupying it.

The Anna Hazare episode

The Anna Hazare episode was itself quite problematical from this point of view: the government's agreement with him for ending his fast meant an implicit devaluation of parliamentary institutions, though it covered only the drafting of a Bill, which at least had to be submitted to Parliament for ratification. (The devaluation consisted in taking this ratification for granted.) With the Ramdev episode, the attempt of interlopers to devalue constitutional institutions is brazen.

The point here is not to apportion blame or to vilify anyone but to capture a dialectic that is taking the nation in a dangerous direction. One can get trapped within this dialectic, in which case the only choice will be between a Ramdev-like figure on the one hand and a “corrupt” political class on the other. To do so, however, is only to carry forward this dialectic. The point must be to overcome it, to rise above it, so that the choice is no longer confined to one between a “corrupt” political class and a set of pre-modern interlopers.

For this, it is necessary that all the sane and honest elements within the polity should come together, both to fight “corruption”, and the neoliberal regime underlying it, and also to prevent our democracy and secularism, which have been our biggest achievements in the last two millennia, from being undermined by the intrusion of babas and swamis into the political arena. The Left, which is by and large free of corruption, opposed to neoliberalism and committed to “modernity”, will have to play a major role in this struggle. 

Sunday, 19 June 2011

M.F. Husain: Victim of Intolerance

Ram Puniyani

On 9th June 2011, M.F. Husain breathed his last in a London Hospital, and was later buried in the cemetery in London as per his wish that he should be buried at a place of his death. The most celebrated painter of India, a thorough Indian and understanding Hindu culture much more than any of his detractors died, away from his home due to self imposed exile. This self imposed exile was due to the threats of Hindu fundamentalists. The renowned painter called by many as Picasso of India, had the fate similar to that of Picasso, who also went into self exile in the regime of fascist Franco of Spain.

M.F. Husain’s work spanned a long period, evolving with time and deeply rooted in the rich traditions of India, cultural Hinduism. He was confronted as to why he does not pick up Islamic motifs for his work. One can understand this as Islam has Calligraphy alone and human figures are not drawn in Islamic tradition.  He came more into the news from the decade of 1980s, with the rise of sectarian politics, as the intolerant Hindutva groups started attacking his painting- exhibitions regularly. The allegation was that he is hurting the sensibilities of Hindus, and is doing it deliberately as he is a Muslim. He was abused for painting Hindu Goddesses like Sarswati, Durga, Draupadi and the one titled Bharat Mata in nude.  Interestingly some of these paintings were done in 1970s or so. With the rise of the movement for Ram Temple the Hindu Fundamentalist forces became more assertive, the intolerance grew in the society, many a magazines and newspapers started fanning the fire of ‘hurting our sentiments’ and that’s when the followers of VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena started attacking Husain’s paintings. His exhibitions, Gufa in Ahmadabad, SAHMAT painting exhibition were ransacked.

Bharat Mata

Later these communal forces went on filing case after case against him to harass him. The Courts ruled in Husain’s favor saying that his paintings are not obscene and are not promoting enmity between communities in any way. Husain by this time was quiet old, he was offered the security by the state but he declined to be imprisoned in the cordon of security and decided to take the citizenship in Qatar to continue his work in his own uninterrupted way, while maintaining that the Passport is a piece of paper and he remains an Indian at heart. Interestingly at this stage of his life he undertook the work of portraying India from Mohanjodaro to current times. In exile he missed India but it was a painful choice, to do the work in an uninterrupted way or to face the physical and mental wrath of the Hindu fundamentalists. As such he was not spared by Muslim Fundamentalists also, who had objected to his film, ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three cities’ on the charge’ that it blasphemes Koran, and the film had to be taken off the screen.

As such Husain probably represents the best of Indian syncretic traditions and that too his rooting in Hindu mythology and culture may be much deeper than those who kept attacking him. Indian syncretic traditions have the strong synthesis of plural religious and cultural ethos of the country. Be it the work of poets like Raskhan or Rahim, the musicians like Ustad Bismillah Khan or Ustand Zakir Hussain, the religious traditions of Kabir or Nizamuddin Auliya, the magic of Indian mixed culture mesmerizes the scholars to no end.

He was born in the Maharashtra town of Pandharpur; a place of pilgrimage for the Warkari’s, the followers of great Marathi Saint Tukaram. He belongs to Sulaimani sect of Shias, whose some practices are like Hindus and they also believe in the theory of reincarnation. During his childhood years he was very impressed by the staging of Ramlila and along with his Hindu friend used to enact it. He also went to study the Valmiki and Tulsidas versions of Ramayana. His quest for understanding the society led him to study Gita, Puranas and other spiritual texts. His rooting in liberal Hindu culture, not the Brahmanical variety of those attacking him, was very deep. One example we can glean is from the information card which he designed for telling people about his daughter Raeesa’s marriage. Raeesa did not want any ceremonies. Husain just designed a card which showed Parvati sitting on the thigh of Lord Shiv with Shiva’s hands on Parvati’s breast. Husain regarded this union as the first marriage in the cosmos.

When he was in Hyderabad, Ram Manohar Lohia suggested to him to paint Ramayana. Husain was broke at that time, but he undertook this job seriously and drew 150 canvasses around Ramayana mythology over a period of eight years. He also used to discuss with the Pundits of Kashi on the themes when drawing this Hindu epic. He regards Ganesha as one of the figures with a delightful form, a brilliant material to draw and generally before beginning on a large painting first he used to draw a Ganesha, and must have drawn hundreds of them. The major criticism against him was and is politically motivated. Being a Muslim and drawing these motifs so boldly was unacceptable to the offshoots of Sangh Parivar. As such the charge that nudity is an insult to Hindu Goddesses does not hold water as Husain pointed out that Nudity is a metaphor for purity in Hindu mythology. The example of Khajuraho cannot be dismissed on the ground that people wanted to increase the population so these were drawn, and were otherwise of no consequence to Hindu culture. As such Khajuraho paintings were expression of the prevalent culture.  The painting or any other work of art has to be seen in the context of the artist and the cultural rooting of the work. Nudity can express vulgarity as well as purity, and that’s where the fundamentalists of all variety show their intolerance for the artistic souls like Husain.

The rise of fundamentalism for various reasons has tormented the creative people, like Tasleema Nasreen, Salman Rushdi, Deepa Mehta and Vijay Tendulkar, to name a few, in recent times. The case of Husain is a bit more unique, as here is an artist whose work on Hindu iconography is insurmountable, one who is deeply rooted in the core spirit of broad Hindu culture, still he has been hounded. And not to be left behind, Muslim Fundamentalists also take him to task for his film, ‘Meenaxi…’ All this has taken place while the other political formations have been so ineffectual in protecting him, in creating an atmosphere where people like Husain can undertake their work without any fear or intimidation. While the Hindutva party has been the blatant opponent of his work the other parties have done precious little for protecting the maestro.

Atheist Centre Celebrates Saraswathi Gora Birth Centenary, Sept.28-29, Vijayawada

We have received the following mail from Vikas Gora of Atheist Centre, Vijayawada, which is celebrating the Birth Centenary of Ms Saraswathi Gora:

Greetings from Atheist Centre, Vijayawada.

We cordially invite you to  the Birth Centenary of Saraswathi Gora National Conference at Atheist Centre, Vijayawada on September 28-29 this year. It will be held at the spacious Siddhartha Auditorium.  Key Note address will be delivered by Mr. JIM HERRICK, known Humanist and Rationalist &  President, South Place Ethical Society, London.

Saraswathi Gora

Please plan to participate in this historic event--Birth Centenary of SARASWATHI GORA (Sept. 28,1912-Aug. 19, 2006).She was a veteran freedom fighter, social revolutionary, Champion of atheism as a positive way of life & Co-Founder of the World's first known Atheist Centre.
Champions of atheism, humanism, Gandhism  and social change and admirers of Saraswathi Gora's  social reform activities will participate and show their solidarity with the issues and programmes she championed. We will write details in due course.

We will be able to provide you local hospitality at Atheist Centre premises. As Atheist Centre is completely dependent on public support and cooperation, we will not be able to meet the travel.

Kindly inform us your convenience at the earliest.

With kind regards.

Yours humanly

Dr. Vijayam, 
Executive director, 
Atheist Centre, Vijayawada 520010, AP

Those who are interested in participating in the event may contact:

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fraudulent Use of Obsolete Vaastushastra

Book Review:

Searching For The Sun In Candle Light….
(Wisdom of Vaastushastra)
Arvind Pralhad Pakhale

(Translated by Ms Suman Oak)

Prabhakar Nanawaty (

As highlighted in the Forward written by Prof. R. V. Kolhatkar, Ex Director of Institute of Architecture and Design, Hyderabad, if one goes to any bookstall on airport, railway station or even remotely located town bus stand, there will be number attractively printed and colored books praising Vaastushastra displayed prominently in the showcase. And of course, there are customers who are ready to pay the fancy prices to buy them. But you may not find a single book challenging and exposing the myths built around Vaastushastra. Perhaps this so called Shastra is built upon    endless untruths and it may be very difficult to expose all the untruths. However Searching For The Sun In Candle Light… written by Arvind Pakhle is one book which attempts to expose the frauds and falsehoods of the Vaastushastra. In fact this book is a 'collage' of extracts from many articles, books, conversations and discourses. Since the author is a practicing builder and developer of real estate in and around Pune, he has collected wisdom of truths about Vaastushastra during his professional career and has brought out them in the book form to help the frightening and gullible common people.  

It is quite surprising that no one had heard this ancient wisdom on architecture till 1980's and it suddenly appeared on the stage and caught fancy of middle class and rich class as though it is one time remedy for all the problems associated with fast moving life in recent years. One cannot forget that the progress of the society was not at all hampered in those 2000 years earlier to recent fad of Vaastushastra. In fact one can boldly say that it appears that when Vaastushastra was not practiced then only the society made lot of progress and brought happiness and worldly comforts to the individual and society.

The author has tried to trace the historical background of Vaastushastra. According to him the cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro evolved around 2300 BC were well planned. However, all this huge evidence of progress made in housing and town planning by the old culture was devoid of any mention of Vaastushastra. The Aryan tribes, arriving from the cold grass lands of central Asia entering into Sindhu valley in the northwest India, enslaved the native people and stabilized their own colonies. They needed to establish their superiority over the civilized natives. In this endeavor they invented abstract and mystifying concepts like heaven, hell, Moksha, Mantrashakti, and of course Chaturvarnya – caste system. They believed in Yadnya Vedi which appears to be the root of Vaastushastra. Their philosophy was founded on symbolism. Their Vedic culture gave birth to concepts like Shilpshastra, Manasar and Mayamat. Amongst them Shilpshastra narrates the basic principles of Vedic philosophy and might had more influence than other two concepts. The rules mentioned in Shilpshastra might have been propagated orally till recently. The author had listed a few details from Shilpshastra as samples. After going through these details one can conclude that the whole pseudoscience is constructed with the aim of strengthening the system of male dominance and the dominance of the society by the Chaturvarnya giving control to the Brahmins and subjugating the Shudras. The method of developing this so called 'Shastra' is quite strange which includes imaginary stories, imaginary characters like Vaastupurush, the concepts like Vaastumandal   and Brahmasthan etc. In fact the author had devoted a full chapter on this Brahmasthan and proves beyond doubt how it is impractical and illogical. Everything appears to be fantasy in this so called ancient art of building constructions. In the chapter on Prudence in Vaastushastra, the author tries to see the whole scene through the eyes of Vaastu experts and feels that this cannot be science at all.

While commenting on present situation, the author feels that the contemporary Vaastushastra as practiced by the experts selectively uses the dictates of ancient wisdom which are advantageous to them. It has taken features regarding the eight directions, plays with the meanings of Sanskritised names of these directions and how the portion of the house in particular direction is to be utilized.  No one can give logical explanations for why people staying in a building, water storage, toilet, veranda etc located in East will face the problems like sterility, death, eye disease, heart problem, paralysis etc; why stair case built in northeast should result in abortion, mental illness or sudden death. According to Vaastu authority northeast is God's direction; as such water tank should be in northeast, slope of the ground and street should be in the northeast. No one can give any logical explanation for these absurd and totally irrelevant recommendations for house constructions to be built in 21st century or houses built in the last century. In fact the author convincingly explains citing examples of two representative layouts of the flats built as per Vaastushastra norms and concludes that it is impossible to build such a house/flat adhering to Vaastushastra criteria. He questions that does it mean that all those who live in the apartments not built as per Vaastushastra are leading a wretched life? Surprisingly these connoisseurs have instant answer for such objections too. As per their argument, every apartment has some features that are approved by this science and as such they are happy. If there is no happiness, then these so called specialists will come forward and bring happiness by restructuring (demolishing!) the whole house (and charging hefty fees!). Whatever may happen they never hesitate to blow their trumpet.

The author even takes issues like shapes of the plots, the slope of the ground, examining the soil, the compound wall, the compound gate, parking arrangements etc in threadbare details in which Vaastushastra experts usually have something to comment and concludes how bizarre it seems to follow the instructions of this so called science. In fact the author wonders why the science of erecting the buildings had been linked to philosophy, religion and cosmic energy and why this science interlinks with 9 planets (Navagrahas!), 12 zodiac signs and 27 Nakshatras. However not a single book explains in what way the shape of the plot is related to its being auspicious or inauspicious. It is generally explained in terms of positive and negative energy. The whole trend of thought is simply incomprehensible. In fact shapes of the plots, directions of the roads, slopes of the grounds and even naming the eight directions are all handy work of the people. There is no point in attaching any importance to these aspects as long as they are convenient and masking them as lucky or unlucky. When science of construction was in infant stage there were some empirical tests prescribed to examine the soil on which the house is to be built or slope, shape etc so as to minimize the construction cost as far as possible. But nowadays the construction technology had advanced so much so that it can overcome any issues relating foundation and one can construct building any where or on any soil condition irrespective of its colour or taste which were prime considerations in Vaastushastra. The criteria of Vaastushastra are not at all worth today.

The Vaastu experts even have some opinion about the parking space. The idea of parking space might not have been there at all while Vaastushastra was developed in ancient period. But the experts say that parking should be either in east or northwest or the north of the plot. All these conditions apparently are quite foolish. The parking space is generally determined by the availability of the space and number of vehicles and their reach on the road and not by directions, heights and slopes.

In spite of all these absurdities the people still fall prey to Vaastu experts. Probably the experts' aggressive marketing may be influencing their decisions or customers' predicaments. The talk of death of one's child, loss of wealth, incurable disease, being lost in debts, theft, accidents, calamity etc are such terrifying things, usually uttered by Vaastu experts, make listeners to take corrective action to their dwellings and spend the money. If Vaastu experts feel that customers is hesitant to spend the money as per their demand, the new breed of Vaastu experts have solutions even for this too. There will be some compromised solution and thus expert will extract money up to the last rupee. Nowadays they combine Vaastushastra of Indian origin with Feng Shui of China and suggest some methodologies to balance the 'energy'. For compensating the energy, they may suggest to place the tortoise (black!) a symbol of safety, long life and intellect, some photo frames, chimes etc thus swindling the customers. Earlier it was thought that Vaastushastra and Feng Shui are competing with each other to claim success. But nowadays there is a holistic approach, thanks to globalization of superstitions!

The author had written open letter to the Vaastu experts and narrates his bitter experience of restructuring his own house as per Vaastu dictates to remove Vaastu Doshas. He lists these Doshas and what actions he took to reduce their ill effects. He even performed Navachandi Yagnya, started wearing Pushkaraj stone and a coral and made rings out of them to wear on fingers. But finally nothing good came out of all these. He concludes that these Vaastu professionals exploit the vulnerability and helplessness, the problems and misfortunes, the greed and temptations of gullible people constantly threatening them with dire consequences of not following their recommendations.

There are number of cartoons and quotations interspersed between the pages and are quite interesting.   On the back cover of the book the author had given the full text of the declaration of scientists on the illusory Vaastushastra which was signed by Dr. Jayant Narlikar. This is also a worth reading material. 

Monday, 13 June 2011

Wide-ranging Questions about India: Review of "Exasperating Essays"

Book Review: 

Exasperating Essays: Exercises in the Dialectical Method
D. D. Kosambi

Prabhakar Nanawaty  ( )

"The whole value of Marxism seems to me to be in the absence of dogmatism, mode of approach, and in the attitude to action… The success or failures of the Russian social experiments do not directly affect the validity of the Marxian theory."

-Jawaharlal Nehru, Autobiography

In fact these words were written long before the fall of communist regime in USSR and Jawaharlal Nehru gave a fitting reply to critics of Marxism. However while reading Exasperating Essays: Exercises in the Dialectical Method written by D.D. Kosambi, a scholar, historian and a mathematician, one will understand what misconceptions the elite Indian society had about various aspects of social life in general and Marxism in particular. In fact D.D. Kosambi took mammoth task to air his views on aspects like Is leadership necessary? Need the individual do nothing because all mass changes are inevitable? Is India really headed towards socialism? Is there a powerful class in India that has ideas contrary to those of our leaders and planning commission? Are the Chinese on the way to socialism? What is meant by freedom of science and of the scientist?  Is the 'inner voice' always a safe guide?  Why did Buddhism, the most benign of religions fade away from its own country? What is the significance of the 1857 revolt? Is Sanskrit literature free from class bias? Can the factors that impede World Peace be subjugated? 

DD Kosambi
Professor D.D. Kosambi was one of the best-known scientists of our country endowed with a truly renaissance versatility. Shunning the limelight of publicity, he made outstanding contribution in various fields of knowledge, which included mathematics, statistics, Numismatics, Indology, history as well as contemporary socio – political problems. The book under review is a collection of wide ranging essays written during the years 1939 to 1957. As stated in the introduction written by D.D. Kosambi himself, these essays (and a short story "The Kanpur Road") still continue to attract studious readers. This introduction tries to clarify the philosophical objections raised by Indian official Marxists (OM). In this connection Dr Savyasachi Bhattacharya, Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research and a former Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, states that “Indian Official Marxists hereafter called OM” were often displeased with him but he could not but protest their “theological emphasis on the inviolable sanctity of the current party line, or irrelevant quotations from the classics.” In using Marxist method in his own lights, in his effort to construe the civilization in India, in the convergences and divergences between his approach and the nationalist discourse of civilization, D.D. Kosambi has left much for us to try and understand and evaluate. There is a feeling that Marxism has become obsolete in 19th century itself. But D.D. Kosambi compares Marxism with scientific achievements of that era and states that the achievements and Marxism will never become obsolete in any sense.

The author refers to the analogy of crystallization to explain the position of leadership in a social movement. He feels that the entire process of transformation with very little scope for super-saturation should be a natural process and its aftermath. He makes this statement while explaining why the communist revolution was successful in Russia but failed in Germany. He attributes this to leadership of Lenin, though he may not have lead the whole movement alone, but he was a great link in the chain. In religious leadership though one cannot predict about theological understanding of masses, the leadership knows how to stand firm during social unrest. In fact the author quotes the example of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1930, when Satyagrah got out of hand, he discovered the need for the uplift of Dalits and whole movement was sidetracked.

While reviewing the book Discovery of India written by Jawaharlal Nehru while he was in prison, the author appreciates the efforts taken by Nehru to put Indian History in broader perspective. However he feels that the book could not be recommended to the general reader, though Prof Kosambi admires the work of Nehru. Prof Kosambi is perplexed on the statements made on racism and casteism prevailing in India. The author analyses the mindset of bourgeoisie settled in South Africa, which typically wants equality with the Whites but not with Negroes. Though the equations might have changed in due course of time; however one can trace the remnants of bourgeoisie mentality in day-to-day affairs even now. In fact Prof Kosambi in a prophetic manner predicts that though history had thrust upon Nehru mantle of leadership, the strong and powerfully organized middle class will cleverly exploit him for its own purpose and Nehru's orientation towards Marxism will be bound to change.

In the essay on 'The Class Structure of India', the author quotes extensively Marx who predicted that the British bourgeoisie would never allow the Indians to reap the fruits of the progress. The author traces the events leading to decline of feudalism in India and how the technological progress metamorphosised the society. In fact hunger, unemployment, epidemic diseases have become permanent and massive features of Indian society in spite of elimination of older property forms and replacing them with vast class of landless farm laborers with no hope of massive industrialization. In reality, with active support of great Indian middle class the Government itself became the biggest capitalist, the main banker, the greatest employer and ultimate refuge of intelligentsia.

According to the author, the greed and avarice of pro-capitalists appears to be one of the reasons for this state of affairs and poor conditions. He finds that civilized moneymakers of advanced capitalist countries are satisfied with 5 % profit margin on their turnover; contrary to this the Indian capitalists' profit range is anywhere between 20 % to 50 %. Indian bourgeoisie had appeared last on the capitalist stage whereas other capitalists have almost abandoned the exploitation and adopted welfare means to satisfy the working class. As such the author suggests that India will be in a position if it adopts socialism. However he was afraid of socialism turning into fascism by empowering a leader to dictate the terms.

It is quite surprising to know that the author, in 1957 itself, predicted that China will be far ahead of any other countries due to its policies and implementation methodologies. According to him the China made progress due to its correct social approach. In fact the author compares India with China and points out at the differences in the mindsets of the population at large. For example, birth control propaganda catches on very quickly in China since Chinese know that in their old age they will be comfortable and looked after by the State even when they are childless. It is not true in India.

In the essay on 'Science and Freedom', the author criticizes heavily the scientists who think freedom means to do whatever they like while being paid by Universities, business houses or governments. In fact the author reminds them that science is no longer 'independent' as it was in its infant stage. Scientists are no more harmless who are toying with toxic chemicals, nuclear materials and complex gadgetries. They are, in fact, part of the society and they don't need any special treatment for their services. There is a well-defined social structure and there is a social necessity for scientists too. The author emphasizes that science is not mere accumulation of experimental data; the data should settle some disputed theory and should have some relation with production. Prof Kosambi feels that the science need not be the creation of gifted individuals. In fact, gifted individuals are there in every age and in every field right from the inception of society. There is nothing great about these individuals since they are the product of the environment in which they are growing.

Like any other thinker and scholar Prof Kosambi too had the curiosity to solve the mystery behind the death of Socrates.  He discusses this issue from democratic angle and makes certain severe comments on the social circumstances of that time under which he was forced to drink the poison.

In the chapter 'The Decline of Buddhism in India', the author pinpoints the reasons for the fall of Buddhism in India. According to him, though the Buddhism owed its initial success since it fulfilled social need of that era, it started deviating from the principles it had set. During the course of time, Buddhism became uneconomic beyond the reach of common man; monasteries became rich, the inmates were pampered, and monks started behaving like Vedic Brahmins. Buddha became 'Chakravarti'. The real damage came from within the practitioners and in fact there was a class distinction among Buddhist scholars, which ultimately lead the religion to decline in India.

The author had devoted a full chapter on the great Sanskrit poet, Bhartrihari, quoting the verses in original and their relevance as a great poet of ancient era.  As a true democrat, the author once again takes the issue in the essay 'Imperialism and Peace'. According to him, peace and democracy are two sides of the same coin and one cannot sustain without the other. No one should claim to be another's master whether by divine right, the right of birth, the right of armed conquest, or the right as a rich. Such rights are acquired by fraudulent means and violence against the vast majority of the people and by destroying truth and justice. The imperialism thrives on the profits and this profit benefits a few monopolists.

While concluding we may quote Dr. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya in verbatim "In posing such wide-ranging questions about the civilization in India, Kosambi differed from the general run of academic historians of his times for they rarely engaged in the discourse of civilizations. He was swimming against the current. The specialized and fragmented view in the academic historians’ professional writings did not usually add up to that vision of totality that the notion of civilization demands. The fact that Kosambi was never given his due by them in his lifetime can be, arguably, ascribed to their disdain for a non-professional who was not only an avowed Marxist, but also given to talking about a dubious entity called ‘civilization.’" 

Exasperating Essays: Exercises in the Dialectical Method
D. D. Kosambi
Published by Sri R.P. Nene, Pune 411030 (1986)
Price Rs 15,  pp 99 


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