Sunday, 30 October 2011

Illusion of Taste

B Premanand

The four primary sensations of taste are sweet, sour, salt and bitter. Although some taste buds are situated on the palate, tonsils and in the upper throat, the tongue is the central stage. Its tip is more sensitive to sweetness than any other part because the highest concentrations of sweet taste receptors are located there. Saltiness and sourness hold sway at the sides, the former near the tip, the latter more centrally. All tastes are combinations of the effects by food on the four basic taste receptors, modified occasionally by that made on the ordinary nerve endings, like the sensation of burning.

Without saliva it is impossible to taste anything, a fact which can be proved by the following experiments:

Experiment – 9

Effect: Sugar cubes or salt crystals are tasteless

Props: Sugar cubes, salt crystals, and a clean piece of cloth.

Method: First wipe your tongue dry and then place the sugar cube or salt crystal on the tongue. It will be tasteless until the mouth begins to water again. Even ice cream is tasteless until it melts.

Experiment – 10

Effect: Odd things happened to your taste buds.

When the taste buds are tired with sweet in the mouth, water tastes saltish. And when the taste buds are tired with sour solution in mouth, water tastes sweet.

Just like the receptor cells of the retina becomes fatigued when exposed too long to a single visual stimulus, those cells that register taste undergo a similar process of distortion.

Props: Strong solution of sugar and water, strong sour solution. Fresh water.

Method: Roll the strong sugar solution around the mouth for several seconds before swallowing it until it tastes less sweet. Next, take a glass of fresh water and taste it. It will taste so salty you will not believe it. What has happened is that the taste buds responsible for sweetness have been phased out temporarily thus giving those responsible for salt extra prominence. In the same way an extremely sour solution will make fresh water taste sweet if sipped immediately afterwards.

In everyday life we experience this. After eating sweets when you drink a cup of tea or coffee, you find the same less sweet. Also, when you eat a gooseberry and immediately drink a cup of water it tastes sweet!

Experiment – 11

Effect: Tasting any sweet you like best by taking deep breaths and concentrating on the taste of the particular sweet.

Props: Saccharin, pencil and paper

Method: Apply a bit of saccharin on your right index finger. Call a volunteer from the audience and ask him to write on a piece of paper the name of the sweet he likes best. Touch the writing with your index finger on which you have applied saccharin. Ask him to put his tongue out, close his eyes and think about the taste of the sweet he has written on the piece of paper while taking deep breaths. After a few seconds while you go on taking the name of the sweet touch the written part to his tongue and he will be surprised that he can actually taste the particular sweet!

This happens when one concentrates on the taste of the sweet one likes best. The taste of the saccharin on the tongue makes the person believe he tastes the sweet which he is thinking of.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Illusion of Hearing

B Premanand

The outer ears designed to collect sound waves, and channel them through a can one inch in length until they reach the ear drum, a thin membrane that vibrates in response. These vibrations pass directly on to the adjacent middle ear, a cavity no more than a third of an inch wide and a sixth of an inch deep, dominated by three small bones hinged together and whimsically named hammer, anvil and stirrup after the ironmongery they appear to resemble. The ossicles, as they are collectively called, are capable of amplifying the movements of the eardrum twenty-two times. By resounding on the inner ear, the stirrup, the last of the three, passes on the vibrations through the layer of fluid to the main organ of hearing, the snail shaped cochlea. Here the initial sound waves, after finding the nerve cells which respond to their particular vibrations, re transformed into nerve impulses which connect with the auditory centre of the brain to become intelligible sound.

The system described above is the chief but not the only avenue by which we hear sound. It is possible to hear by bone conduction, which is easily proved by clicking teeth, munching celery, or more scientifically, by striking the prongs of tuning fork sharply against a hard edge and then, without delay, firmly applying its handle to the bone behind the ear. You will hear a distant sound, which will vary depending upon which bone you bring into contact with the fork. The most resounding result will come when you clench the handle between your teeth with year ears plugged.

Experiment – 7

Effect: Focus sound waves and produce an illusion

When we hear an echo, it means that a wall, a mountain or some obstacle is reflecting sound in the way that a flat mirror reflects light. Similarly, just as a concave mirror concentrates rays of light to a single point, it is possible to have a concave sound mirror that will focus sound waves and produce an illusion in the process.

Props: Two identical soup plates, a small time-piece

Method: Take two identical soup plates, place one in front of you on the table at which you are seated and hold the time-piece inside it, an inch or two from the base. Hold the other plate to one ear. By carefully adjusting the position of all three objects, you will begin to hear the ticking of the timepiece as if it is actually coming from the dish you hold. Close your eyes and you will be unable to tell by ear alone in which hand you are holding the timepiece.

Experiment – 8

Effect: Illusion of brushing when you are touching

Props: Flat clothes brush with soft bristles

Method: standing behind a volunteer, stroke his back firmly with the fingers of one had, at the same time as the other brushes your shirt in perfect synchronization. His brain, led astray by the combination of past perfect synchronization. His brain, led astray by the combination of past experience and false assumption the moment it sees the brush, pieces together the information it receives from the downward pressure put on the back and the sound of the bristles heard through the ears, and reports back to its owner that you are actually brushing him down.

This happens because he is already conditioned by seeing the brush,. When he is told that you are brushing his back, the experience already stored in the brain makes him come to the wrong conclusion.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Optical Illusion

B Premanand

What happens when we see? Information in the form of light waves is projected from the external world via the opening in the iris onto a highly sensitive screen called the retina, a layer of cells extending over virtually the whole of the inside of the eye. These cells translate the light stimuli focused upon them into nervous impulses and transmit them to the brain for interpretation by means of the optic nerve. Only then can the ‘seeing’ really begin and concepts such as color, movement, space and shape take on real meaning.

Situated at the rear of the skull is an area known as the occipital lobes. This is the section of the brain which registers sight. A blow on the back of the head can produce blindness, even though the eyes themselves remain intact. Here resides the key to the sensation of sight. You do not even need your eyes open to experience it. One can visualize anything in the mind without the use of the eyes. This happens when you have dreams, or hallucinations, or when you imagine.

The following experiments prove that eyes can indeed create illusions:

Experiment -5

Effect: Binocular vision – the combined efforts of both the eyes is responsible for seeing a hole in your hand.

Propos: A magazine or thick board rolled into a tube secured with an elastic band, pen or pencil.

Method: Hold the tube in your right hand up to your right eye like a telescope. Now hold your open left hand, its palm towards you, and its edge against the tube in front of your open left eye still focused ahead. Focus both your eyes ahead and both images will merge into one. The whole in the tube appears to be in your hand. You slide your hand along the tube until you find the hole in the centre of your palm. Now ask someone to pass a pencil through the tube and you will actually se the pencil passing through your hand.

Experiment – 6

Effect: Illusion of floating finger with nails at both ends in between your two pointing fingers.

Method: Hold the index fingers of both hands horizontally with their tips near the bridge of your nose without touching each other, nails facing up. Look straight with both your eyes at a point on the distant wall while you can still see the points of both your fingers out of focus. Then slowly separate the finger tips and you will see a finger with nails at both sides floating in between the two pointing fingers.

Image Courtesy:
This is because when your eyes are focused n the distance, the retinal image pertaining to nearer objects in the right eye is prevented from fusing properly with its counterpart in the left. The two images become staggered in such a way that you see the tip of each finger twice.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Faith versus Universal Compassion - Part III

P L Rao

(Part I and Part II of this Essay are here)

Flourishing field of Religion
Religious field is flourishing today due to the vast scope of earning fame and power.  Scandals and Babas sail together. But the institutions survive due to political patronage enjoyed by the community as a whole. None bothers if the stated objectives of these institutions are flouted as people are just pigmies.
B Premanand
The usual ‘’miracles” performed by these Babas to allure masses are ‘producing’ scented ash (vibhuti), wrist watches, gold rings, faith healing and selling sacred stones etc. The well-known skeptics, B Premanand, and Narendra Nayak, have for last 30 to 50 years been exposing their tricks and the skeletons lying hidden inside their cupboards. The former had toured extensively in India and abroad, advising people not to get cheated by Babas. He brought out many books, CDs and Videos spreading Scientific Temper and Skepticism. Professor Narendra Nayak is now heading the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations. Both had thrown open challenges offering one lakh Indian Rupees to anyone who could perform any miraculous feats. But have found no takers.  Prof Nayak’s challenge is still open. Thus all the seers and Babas preaching on faith walk on clay foot. .  

There is another class: Gurus and Matajis who deal with only top CEOs, company bosses, foreigners, government officials and Country Heads. Elegantly attired Guru walks out at steady pace to the dais of Ashram set in extreme luxurious style. The back ground is enough to hypnotize any business tycoon. After all, he is just a commoner, least heard of spiritual salvation etc. He needed a Stock Exchange to convert his shady assets into white, cleanse his soul for once and gain respectability. One more version of yoga, yet another variant of a breathing practice, meditation and stress relief techniques are enough to fool them.  

A recent trend is the rise in number and status of Indians abroad and the consequent increase in the number of temples and religious platforms. Affluence of the younger community and nostalgia (opportunity for gathering with Indians or outing for weekend) are the two factors responsible for this. Religious awareness spread here is braided with modernism befitting the sophisticated elite class, thus lacking depth and seriousness. No contribution towards analyzing the trend or deriving a meaningful interpretation of religion is possible from these entities.
Thus, in the ultimate, God and faith are the most exploited aspects in today’s life world over. If He really ruled, He would have been the most detested One. Stripped of commerce, the entire Institution of Faith would crumble to pieces. Faith today is not a free standing pillar, but is propped up by commerce. The end result is the fundamentalism and the religious strife now prevailing all around in the World. 

Faith in Divinity: an obstacle to uplifting of mankind:

A common question frequently asked is why this concern about Divinity? Why not work for human reformation directly? The fact is that the term Faith ‘exists’ in life of man as dog in the monger. Priestly community still demands of its disorganized followers to stick to rituals and customs. The educated youth is too engrossed in accumulation of wealth to seek solution to this largest evil. Instead, to atone for their sins, they would donate liberally to any cause of religion and wash hands off. 

But transformation of man is feasible only when every man thinks. Not when a few think for all with their concept of betterment of society or self as the case may be. Each brain has infinite capacity if the self-imposed veil of conditioning is shed off. Thus the first task of one is to transform oneself by deep introspection - then seek that of others, not by confrontation, but by showing with self practice and pursuance. Transformation of society starts from oneself.  

In effect, Faith, now focused towards Divinity, should get re-focused as concern towards all animate and inanimate beings in Eco system. The task is to change common man’s outlook, rather than expect rescue operation at every crisis of one’s life. A holistic approach to problems of society helps; that is, if one sees ‘Brahman’ in everything around us and develops universal compassion. There are near to ideal examples around us showing that this is not an Utopian idea.  

Action plan:

One begins by asking oneself: “Do I get pricked by the violence in Kashmir, the Naxalite movement, worldwide terrorism, exploitation by powerful, deaths due to poverty, abnormal rise of disharmony within family life and the dragon of corruption and superstition  embracing all walks of life?”’. One dispassionately looking around sees that the Truth, in reality, lies not in Heaven, is not an alien concept, but is in the Earth around us amidst the joys and sorrows of life. Eco system is the greatest inheritance to us, which we are bound to preserve and deliver intact to next generations.

Mark Twain
If one still has reservations on implementation, listen to Mark Twain: “Let us so live that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry”. Some one else said: “Imagine your own funeral, and you will realize what kind of impact you have created on those around you”. An easier solution, if one opts to get liked by everyone around, it is not a very tall order for the neo-rich of today - Just adapt 4 slums. But in the process, he would have created an army of beggars for perpetuity. Hence one can leave sustaining impression (his consciousness) on Earth only by working for permanent solutions to problems of mankind, by raising others’ confidence level. This brooks no compromises or half measures, each of which can puncture it easily.  Thus caution against distraction of energy is important.
The best dictum “From cradle onwards, interfere the least in the physical actions of a child. NEVER   dictate in psychic field. Encourage in it, at all ages, the faculty of self discovery and decision making befitting its age. Never pamper. Thus brought up, a child grows as a useful citizen of Earth” .Here again we have the poser from Swami Vivekananda to society: “Give me hundred people committed (as me) towards mankind and I will transform the whole World”. From his achievements, we see that his was not a hypothetical notion. 

Now consider implementing immediately a few simple actions for which you need take permission from nobody. 

  • Re-script your Faith as concern towards all species on earth. Always keep pondering what lasting help you can render to the needy rather than expecting from others.  Have a holistic approach in all your dealings. 
  •  Never expect or owe anything of others. If one is mentally of this frame, physical field will take care of itself, exceptions not withstanding. 
  • Live sincerely, always inquiring before every action, using your best judgment, least annoying others in process. 
  • Pre declare donating your vital organs to worthwhile causes after death.  
  • In the will, advice against any religious rituals, which are all waste. Those who remember you will anyway assemble on their own. One need not worry the least of the post death scenario except from the angle of his pending responsibility to others.     

  1. ”The ethics of Belief and other essays”: by W K Clifford  
  2. “The complete works of Swami Vivekananda” by Advaita Ashram, Mayavathi Memorial edition. 1972
Inspiration: Teachings of J Krishnamurthy.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Indian Materialism

August Thalheimer

 [This essay is Chapter 6 of August Thalheimer's 'Introduction to Dialectical Materialism -The Marxist World-View']

August Thalheimer
The Greeks played the leading role in the foundation of science and philosophy, and in the detachment of these from religion, but they are not alone in having made this progress. It is no more than just to mention the great intellectual labor performed by the people of the East, even though this labor was not as consequential as that of the ancient Greeks. The elements of materialism which were developed in the East can there serve as a point of departure for dialectical materialism. Therefore, before concluding the first section of lectures, I should like to speak of materialism in ancient India. I will reserve discussion of China for the last section. In the next chapters I proceed directly to the doctrines of Marx and Engels.

Materialism had already appeared in ancient India by the sixth century B.C. This is the period which immediately follows primitive times. This period of primitivity is also called the period of the Vedas, because the Vedas, the oldest religious poems of ancient India, afford the best reflection of this period. The time in which materialism made its appearance is called the epic period of India, because then the great popular epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, emerged. It was a time of great religious and philosophical agitation; Buddhism then made its appearance as the new world religion and with it an allied religious reform called Jainism. It was thus a time of profound crisis for ancient religious views, a crisis for the ancient religion which bore the name Brahmanism. The members of the ancient priestly caste of India were called Brahmans. It was a time of broad mass movements against the authority of this Brahman caste and against the religious views on which the authority of the Brahmans rested.

Illusion of the Senses

Chapter II

Illusion of the Senses

There may be millions of devotees of godmen and avatars who have witnessed the apparent creation of objects from “nowhere” and are prepared to stand witness to the alleged creation. Can their testimony be taken at face value as true? No, because they are unable to see the phenomena from all the six sides. Moreover they fail to observe carefully because the creation of objects is done without their previous knowledge. The act is so swift and sudden that the observer sees only when the object is produced.

Our senses work only with the help of the brain. Unless what is seen is registered in the brain, a phenomenon cannot be observed. The following experiments will illustrate the speed at which the brain really works and how our senses create illusions.

Experiment - 4

Effect: You can’t catch a note when another person lets it drop.

Props: One rupee note which is new, crisp, flat and unwrinkled.

Method: Ask a volunteer to hold a rupee note between his right thumb and middle finger at the centre of the top, its long side downward. Let him keep the index finger and thumb of his left hand on either side in the centre of the note without touching it. When he leases the note, he can easily catch it with the other hand before it falls to the ground.

Then you hold the note as stated before and ask him to catch it when you release it. He has to grab it when you suddenly release it without giving any advance warning. It is impossible to catch the note!

Ashta Siddhis through Sponge Balls

Experiment -2

Effect: Making a match box disappear and appear

Props: One match box

Method: With the movement of the hands and the fingers one can make an object appear, disappear or change to another. Take a match box in the palm between the small finger and the index finger. While moving the hand vertically palm side, with the match box to the audience, push the match box to tips of the fingers, simultaneously pushing the match box to the other side of the hand by using the ring finger and the middle finger and holding it by the little finger and the index finger sides. Now you have made the match box disappear. Because of the movement of the hand the audience cannot see the movement of the fingers and cannot understand what has happened to the match box; they can only see the empty palm, the match box having disappeared.

To produce the match box again: While moving the hand vertically, bring the match box to the side of the palm with the help of the ring finger and the middle finger at the same time holding the match box with the sides of the small finger and the index finger. Now you have produced a match box from “nowhere” or from “Nothing”, as claimed by the godmen and avatars.

Never in the history of miracles have godmen ever produced anything without the movement of the hands and the body. Therefore, if they are really materializing any object, they ought first to show their palm is empty without moving the hand or the body and materialize something on that empty palm held without moving. No one can materialize anything on their empty palm in this manner. If they can, they should agree to the investigation of their claims under fraud-proof conditions since we are confronted here by a mystery.

Creating Holy Ash – Sai Baba Style

Experiment – 1

Effect: Creating Holy Ash – Sai Baba Style

Props: Perfumed Vibhui, starch water extracted from cooked rice, a plate to make the pellets with vibhuti.

Method: The perfumed ash is mixed in the starch water and made into small pellets and dried. This pellet is hidden between the thumb and the index finger. One has to learn to keep the hand relaxed without keeping the fingers stiff.

One must also be able to use the fingers and hands to say “namaste”, shake hands, drink coffee and eat or even write while keeping the pellet hidden from sight. The circle the hand, palm down, and in a swift movement bring down the pellet to the finger tips, crush it to smooth powder, and let it fall into the hands of the volunteer.

Now, if the godman or avatar is not using the same sleight of hand method of the magician, why does he refuse investigatin? Should he not prove beyond doubt that this method is not a sleight of hand trick? What is he afraid of? Exposure? Only when it is proved under fraud proof conditions, using methods of science, that his powers are beyond science or human comprehension can his claims be accepted. Godmen must first prove that they are not using the sleight of hand method.

To expose this trick when the person is moving his hand in circles and at the same time when he brings the pellet to his fingers of crushing, jus slap the hand so that the pellet falls down and he is exposed.

Never in the history of miracles have godmen ever produced anything without the movement of the hands and the body. Therefore, if they are really materializing any object, they ought first to show their palm is empty without moving the hand or the body and materialize something on that empty palm held without moving. No one can materialize anything on their empty palm in this manner. If they can, they should agree to the investigation of their claims under fraud-proof conditions since we are confronted here by a mystery.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Kashmir, Ultra Nationalists and Path to Peaceful Solution

Ram Puniyani

Prasant Bhushan
The condemnable attack on Supreme Court Lawyer and ‘team Anna’ member Prashant Bhushan on 12th October 2011, threw up many a questions. To begin with the attackers were congratulated by ‘ultra Nationalists’ like Bal Thackeray of Shiv Sena, showing the gross intolerance around certain issues in our society, more particularly those related to Kashmir and other issues being raised by those who have been practicing the sectarian politics. It does reflect the growing intolerance in the society without doubt.
This attack took place in the aftermath of the statement of Prashant Bhushan regarding his opinion that the option of referendum as suggested by UN way back can be the way to solve the Kashmir problem. In the aftermath of this dastardly attack on him the cracks also surfaced in team Anna and most of the members of the team disowned his opinion to the extent that the move to expel Bhushan from team Anna has came up.  Anna Hazare, displaying his ‘mastery’ on Nationalism and History asserted that Kashmir is the inseparable pat of India from times immemorial. Some of those asserting ‘Kashmir as the inseparable part of India’ also resorted to saying that Bhushan should be treated as anti National as his opinion violated the position of Indian Constitution.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Faith versus Universal Compassion - Part II

P L Rao

History of growth of "Faith" in some important religions

Faith as an entity is the backbone of any theology. We now examine how true this statement is by taking example of few religions. Hinduism was born in about 2000 BCE as a blend of emigrant Indo Aryan and earlier existing Dravidian culture. The latter were basically nature worshipers and the Aryans brought in a cult of assigning each such natural event as sunshine, flood, rain, wind, sickness, fire, water etc  to a different Power. These gods were then appeased by performing sacrifices, Yagna etc. Hinduism was thus ritual based, worshiping a large phantom of gods. In this process, gradually castes other than Brahmins and Kshatriyas felt themselves alienated as second class citizens. As a reaction, by the 6th Cent BC, Buddhism rose up, focusing on sufferings of common man and stress on nonviolence. The declaration of Buddhism as State religion and the Missionary movement started by Emperor Asoka (4th Cent BC) resulted in the spread of Buddhism to Central and East Asian countries. This continues to be popular with the Dalit and other castes in India even today. While Hinduism professed faith in multi powers, Hinayana Buddhism, the original version, advocated total humanism.   

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

U.S. Evangelist Held for Violating Visa Norms

William Lee, the U.S.-based evangelist, who went into hiding after police spotted him violating visa norms by addressing a gospel convention in the city on Wednesday, was arrested and produced before the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court-I here on Saturday. He was remanded in judicial custody till October 18.
Mr. Lee arrived on a multiple-entry tourist visa, which was valid till March 20, 2012. 

Following information that he would be addressing the convention named ‘Musical Splash 2011,' organised by the Thiruvalla-based Faith Leaders Church of God at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kaloor here, police officials landed at the venue and asked him not to do so.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Communal Violence (Prevention) Bill

Ram Puniyani
In a recently held meeting of the National Integration Council, in September 2011, the discussion on The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparation) Bill 2011 was on the top of the agenda. While the leaders of opposition of both the houses of parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, came down heavily on the draft Bill, there were not too many members of the council speaking in support of it. The ruling party members were quiet as most of the opposition leaders criticised the proposed draft. The main reasons behind this criticism are the definition of the minority group, which presumably divides the country along linguistic, caste and religious lines; and the role of the central government in the prevention of violence, by playing an active role in controlling it. Both the grounds of criticism are more out of bias and misconceptions rather than out of what the Bill contains and intends to do.
Communal violence has been one of the major problems India is faced with. It has been surfacing on the Indian horizon time and over. During the freedom movement, the communal forces, those aiming for an Islamic state or a Hindu nation, spread venom against the other religious community and many major incidents of violence broke out. The communal forces matched each other brick for brick. The resulting violence was a point of major tragedy. The violence following the tragedy of Partition should be etched in the conscience of the sub-continent, as a tragedy from which we should have all learnt the horrors of communal politics and communal propaganda from both the sides. These communal politics could not stand the amity amongst religious communities symbolised by the life and preaching of Mahatma Gandhi. He symbolised the opposition to communal politics. Gandhi was murdered because of his work, in a calculated move by the perpetrators of communal politics.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Delhi University scraps Ramanujan's essay on Ramayana

Under protest from Hindutva fanatics, the top academic body of the Delhi University has decided to withdraw an essay by eminent scholar A K Ramanujan on the Ramayana. We reproduce two news reports on this retrograde steps of the university.

Delhi University's top academic body has decided to withdraw from its History syllabus an essay by eminent scholar A K Ramanujan on the Ramayana that had run into a controversy and even sparked violent protests by some right wing groups here in 2008.

The decision was taken by the university’s academic council in a day-long stormy meeting on Sunday. While a majority of the council members favoured withdrawal of the controversial essay from the prescribed readings for BA History (Honours) students, nine of them vehemently opposed and submitted written dissents.

“It is very regressive and unfortunate that a central university in today’s world has arrived at such a decision. The essay gives different perspectives on the Ramayana which are important from the academic point of view. We are sorry that the vice chancellor did not act like an academic on this issue,” one of the dissenting members on council,  Abha Dev Habib, said.
Another scholar, who did not want to be identified, said that the university’s decision to scrap the essay was an instance of a secular institution buckling under the pressure of right wing organisations. “This decision does not augur well for the university and will set a bad precedence”, he said.

Ramanujan, a scholar of Indian literature from Mysore city, was a renowned poet and playwright. Although, he wrote extensively both in English and Kannada, his academic research ranged across three other languages—Tamil, Telugu and  Sanskrit. He was conferred the Padma Shri by the government in 1976 for his contributions to the field of literature.
The matter came up before the Delhi University’s academic council following a directive from the Supreme Court where a case seeking removal of the essay from the syllabus is pending.

Hearing the matter in July 2010, the Supreme Court had asked the university to set up an experts committee to look into the matter and submit a report before the academic council for a decision.

Poster by ABVP congratulating the Vice Chancellor of Delhi University

Ramanujan’s 30-page essay, which was included in the History syllabus five years ago, offers a number of tellings of the epic story of Lord Rama, including the Jain, Buddhist and Kannada narratives.  This did not go down well with some of the right wing groups which raised serious objections to the inclusion of the essay in the syllabus, describing Ramanujan’s write up as “blasphemous”.

In 2008, a group of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activists had even gone on the rampage at the university History department in protest. “The Hindu understanding of Ramayana and Valmiki’s rendering of the epic is in no way the singular versions. The removal of any material that incorporates Tamil, Jaina and Buddhist versions of the Ramayana would be an act of majority fundamentalism being imposed on linguistic religious minorities of the country,” members on the academic council said in their dissent note.

Ramanujan’s essay will now be replaced by two essays — by historians Romila Thapar and R S Sharma.


Historians protest as Delhi University purges Ramayana essay from syllabus

Most academicians at Delhi University are feeling betrayed by their own fraternity, the reason — the Academic Council's recent decision to drop from the history syllabus a celebrated essay by the late scholar and linguist A. K. Ramanujan on the Ramayana, despite intense opposition from the history department. 

The essay, “Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five examples and three thoughts on translations,” which forms part of the B.A. History (Honours) course, had attracted the ire of Hindutva activists because it talks about 300 different versions of the Ramayana that abound in our country and beyond. And when the decision to scrap the course was put to vote at the Academic Council meeting this past Sunday, only nine of the 120 members present dissented. 

“This is definitely not an academic decision but a glaring example of an academic institution succumbing to pressure from the Right wing. The council has severely compromised on its standards and has conveyed to our students the message that only the ideology that is supported by the majority will be accepted,” said AC member Rakesh Kumar, who was one among the nine to express a dissenting opinion against scrapping of the essay. 

His opinion is echoed by the present department head, Prof. R.C. Thakran. “This essay is rich in academic content and there have been two resolutions in the past in which the history department unanimously agreed that as far as history as a subject is concerned, this piece is important for our students. But the resolution of the AC is binding and we cannot really do anything further about this.” 

A writ petition had been filed in the High Court on the grounds that the essay hurt religious sentiments. The matter was then taken up by the Supreme Court, which directed the university to seek the opinion of experts and place it before the Academic Council. “The names of the expert team were kept confidential, three of the four members were happy with the essay but the fourth member expressed an opinion that second year students may find it difficult. Nothing religiously offensive was found by these experts,” said Prof. Renu Bala, another dissenting AC member. “There was no need to even ask for a vote. The essay should have been kept on its academic merit. Our culture is diverse and so are our legends. We give these students the right to vote when they turn 18, so why not the right to think,” she asked. 

In 2008, activists from the BJP-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad barged into the history department to protest the teaching of the Ramanujan text and vandalised the place, forcing the then department head, Prof. S.Z.H. Jafri, to hide in his own office. “What is the value of my opinion? When the Academic Council has passed this resolution, the history department has no choice,” he rued. 

Meanwhile, academics are incensed with the manner in which the essay was scrapped. “They had no regard for the report of the expert committee, the history department's views or the arguments put forth by the dissenting members. The Vice-Chancellor just told the AC that the essay should be deleted in the interests of the university and they voted in his favour. This decision conveys to our students that there is no space for dissenting voices,” said Executive Council member, Abha Dev Habib, who had, as an Academic Council member in 2008, been among those who had supported the continuation of the essay despite the controversy surrounding it. 

“We are disappointed with the Vice-Chancellor, who despite being an academic has indulged in such a regressive act. By removing such texts, a sort of fascism is being encouraged, no educationist will be happy with such a decision.” 

University officials, however, state that the entire matter is a non-issue and that the whole matter was taken up for hearing by the AC only because they had to provide an answer to the Supreme Court. “The essay says things like Ravana was Sita's father and that Rama and Sita were siblings, so obviously we don't want to teach such things to our students,” said a university official not wishing to be named. 

Historians and writers ridicule this argument. “It is a matter of deep shame for all of us that A.K. Ramanujan's great essay on the Ramayana is banned by the Central University of Delhi,” Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy told The Hindu. “Even the most orthodox of our scholars who admire Valmiki's Ramayana are still aware of many versions of the Ramayana that exist along with it. Even Valmiki's Ramayana has different readings in the country.” 

Kannada writer Chandrashekhar Kambar, the winner of this year's Jnanpith award, said: “The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are texts which have been re-created many times over by several cultures in India and outside. Intolerance shown towards a scholarly study of these versions should be condemned by the entire academic fraternity.” Prof. Ananthamurthy added: “India has always made a distinction between Shruti, Smriti and Purana. There are different Shrutis for different believers, which remain mostly unchanged like the Vedas, the Koran and other scriptures. On the other hand, Smritis and Puranas are dynamic and change with time and culture. And great poets like Bhasa took the liberty of resolving the entire problem of Mahabharata without a war. It is strange that religious beliefs and practices are being commercialised and vulgarised in the modern world. We have given up the celebration of diversities of beliefs that our ancestors practiced. The banning of Ramanujan's essay on the Ramayana is an insult to the imagination of the Jains, Buddhists and several folk practices.”

Philosophy Is Dead: Long Live Science

Innaiah Narisetti

In their latest book, The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow declare positively that philosophy is dead. Alarming to philosophy lovers, of course.

During 1940s, M.N. Roy, the humanist philosopher, warned that unless philosophy took into consideration the philosophical consequences of modern science, it would not survive. That is exactly the reason why Stephen Hawking emphatically says that philosophy is dead.

Philosophy has to answer the questions faced by modern world but fail to do so. What are they?

“Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why do we exist?
Why this particular set of laws and not some others?”

Hitherto people thought that everything was created by god. They did this out of ignorance. For every natural event like thunder, lightning, rain, fire, oceans, earth, planets, or stars, ancient people imagined gods behind them. Hence they worshiped them to get favors and to escape calamities. Many gods were created and several religions emerged out of people’s ignorance.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Sufi Islamic Sect Warns Against Hardline Wahabi Extremism

The All-India Ulama & Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), a Sufi Islamic branch claiming to represent 80 per cent of Indian Sunni Muslims, has come out strongly against hardline Wahabism, holding the ideology responsible for radicalisation of young Indian Muslims. The AIUMB counts itself among the significant Sufi Khanquahs in India, among them Ajmer Shareef and Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

“Wahabi-influenced terrorism has taken a section of Indian Muslim youth in its grip,” said Maulana Syed Mohd Ashraf Kachochavi, AIUMB general secretary at a press conference here. He said the AIUMB would hold a Muslim Maha Panchayat at Moradabad (on October 16) from where a call would be given to the masses to rescue Islam and Muslims from the clutches of Wahabi extremism which was sustained largely by (Saudi) petro-dollars. “Peace-loving Sufi Muslims are in a huge majority in this country but regrettably the major Islamic institutions, including the Waqf Boards and the Madrasas, are under the control of cash-rich organisations practising hardline ideologies. We want to reclaim Islam from these elements and turn our youth away from the path of extremism and towards harmony and co-existence,” the Maulana said. “The Wahabi hardliners are spending billions of dollars to hurt the democratic and secular fabric of this country built over centuries through peaceful activities of the Sufi saints.” 


Churn in Muslim community over Wahabi charge

Vidya Subrahmaniam [The Hindu,October 20, 2011]
Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kachochavi is the General Secretary of the All-India Ulama & Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), a Sufi sect that came from nowhere to take Moradabad — and the Muslim world — by storm last week. Soft-spoken and gentle, with long robes and a flowing beard, he fits the part of the Sufi cleric to perfection. 

Yet on stage at the Sufi Maha Panchyat, he roared like a lion, hurling charges against institutions that Muslim intellectuals hold in awe. At the centre of his accusations was the venerated Islamic seminary of Deoband which he held guilty of spreading hard-line Wahabism: “Hamey Wahabiyon ka na Immamat kabool hai, na kayadat Kabul (We reject the religious and political leadership of Wahabis”). Maulana Kachochavi went on to ask the gathering to rebuff overtures from Wahabi preachers, saying, “If anyone knocks on your door with the message of extremism, hand him over to the nearest police station.” 

The cleric had done the unthinkable and unsurprisingly there was a rush of reactions. Retaliation came swift and strong from the adherents of the Deoband school. The Mohtamim (vice-chancellor) of Darul Uloom Deoband summoned a hurried press conference where he countered the charge and questioned the credentials of the AIUMB. And yet, alongside the loud protests — and blogs that sprang up overnight denouncing the Sufis and calling them non-Muslim — there were also gentler voices urging Muslims dispassionately to examine the message from Moradabad. Interestingly, the Sufi strains were picked up in neighbouring Pakistan with some energetic tweeting of the Moradabad Panchayat news by liberals who saw the Indian challenge to extremism from their own perspective — a perspective of fighting a long and losing battle against intolerance and bigotry. 

The AIUMB, which claims to represent, among others, the Sufi Khanquahs of Ajmer Shareef, Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Barelilly Shareef, made three broad points at the Maha Panchayat. First, Indian Islam's roots are in peaceful, inclusive Sufi traditions which have historically been followed by the largest numbers (80 per cent according to the AIUMB) in the community. Second, over the years, the Sufis have lost their voice and prominence to hard-line Deobandis who have taken control of key institutions like the Wakq Board and the Madrasas, besides acquiring enormous political clout. Third, influenced by Saudi petro-dollars, the Deoband ideology has slowly morphed into a form of extremist Wahabism which has taken sections of the young into its vice-like fold. The AIUMB did not directly link the spread of Wahabism to terrorism but said terrorism drew sustenance from ideologies like Wahabism and Salafism, etc. At his press briefing, Darul Uloom rector Maulana Qasim Nomani, was unsparing of both the AIUMB and the English press that covered the meet. He said no one claiming to be Sufi could use the defamatory language that the AIUMB had used against fellow Muslims. “Why did the English media front-page this news?” he asked. 

‘Funds are fully audited'
Later, Maulana Nomani told The Hindu that the Sufis were malcontents out to spread disaffection among Muslims. There was no Saudi influence as Deoband's funds were fully audited and the institution did not accepts grants from any government, domestic or abroad. The Maulana also rebutted the extremism charge, saying Deoband had held a huge anti-terrorism rally on the campus two years ago. 

The Urdu press, which all but boycotted the Maha Panachyat and blanked out the speeches made there, however, gave full play to the reactions of Maulana Nomani. There were also individual statements of outrage. Masoom Moradabadi of Jadeed Khabar saw a foreign hand behind the Sufi sect. He also accused the Sufis of presiding over huge sums of money collected at the dargahs for which there were no accounts. 

Social activist Tanweer Alam argued that the Sufi sect was welcome to seek political power but it had no business to tarnish Deoband which had played a stellar role in India's freedom struggle. Mr. Alam was furious that the AIUMB saw no difference between Deobandi and Wahabi ideologies which were themselves in conflict in some areas.” 

Islamic scholar Sultan Shahin however fully backed the Sufi conclave saying it marked a milestone in Muslim politics: “It is for the first time that mainstream Ulema have come out so strongly against Wahabism which is slowly but determinedly spreading in this country.” Mr. Shahin cited the example of Pakistan where extremism not only took liberal lives but toasted and celebrated the killers. “Islam on the subcontinent has always had a syncretic, local flavour. Islam spread in India through the Sufi saints. But all that changed with the infusion of Saudi petro dollars. For me the most worrying example is Pakistan. Everything that happened there a decade ago is happening here today.” 

Mr. Shahin admitted that the space for extremism had been created by the Indian State which far from showing sensitivity towards Muslims, prematurely accused them of terrorism whenever there was a bomb blast:” When from the very first minute you talk of Muslim suspects when there have also been instances of Hindutva terrorism, that would distress any Muslim.” Mr. Shahin, was however emphatic that the answer to injustice was not extremism: “You cannot deny that injustice has been done. But if you turn to extremism, you destroy yourself.” 

‘Lack of tolerance'
Faizur Rahman, Secretary-General of the Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought Among Muslims, attributed the “unnecessary” Sufi controversy to “the lack of tolerance among Muslim organisations for dissent.” He said it was within the Sufi group's Islamic and democratic rights to “censure the so-called Wahabi school of thought” adding that there was enough evidence in Wahabi writings and homilies to justify the AIUMB's charges. “There are books of fatwas written by Saudi clerics which contain such abhorrent ruling as those that declare a Muslim who does not pray five times to be a ‘kafir' and say that he must be killed and ‘buried outside the graveyards of the Muslims' if he does not repent.” 

But Mr. Rahman was unhappy with the sweeping nature of accusations flowing from Moradabad. He found the charge that Wahabi hardliners turned up at homes to propagate extremism particularly over-the-top. “There is no evidence for this.” 

There is no doubt that the Sufis set the cat among the pigeons last week; they have pitted ideologues against ideologues. But whatever the Sufi group's larger interests, they have done a service by setting the stage for a debate on extremism.


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