Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Leftovers of Brahmanism

Here is report on a disgusting annual ritual practised at Kukke Subrahmanya, a prominent temple in Karnataka. This temple, located in one of the most forward districts in Karnataka and patronized by such luminaries from the Indian sports and the cine world as Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Aishwarya Rai, and Shilpa Shetty, attracts lakhs of devotees every year. This temple is popular among the devotees for Sarpa Samskara, a special puja conducted to get rid of serpants' curse inflicted in one's present or previous births!)

'Made Snana' performed at Kukke Subrahmanya Temple

Anisha Sheth

Several men, women and children performed ‘made snana', a ritual in which people roll on plantain leaves containing leftovers of lunch served to Brahmins at the Kukke Subrahmanya temple, on Monday.

Assistant Commissioner of Puttur subdivision Sundar Bhat, who is the administrator of the temple, was reported to have said on Sunday that the ritual would not be allowed to be performed this year. It is said that the Dakshina Kannada administration allowed the ritual on Monday bowing to pressure from local people.


There was a controversy over the ritual last year following opposition by certain groups. The groups had urged the Government to ban the ritual in a temple that comes under the Muzrai Department. ‘Made snana' has been performed on the temple premises for three days during the annual Champa Shasthi festival for many years.
‘Made Snana' is a ‘harake' (an offering made for fulfilment of a wish). In this case the offering is to roll on leftovers of food consumed by Brahmins. Another reason this ritual is the belief that it cures skin diseases. Those who perform the ritual include Brahmins.

Speaking to presspersons at the temple office on Monday, Mr. Bhat said that on Sunday he had “appealed to the people to cooperate with his request” by not performing the ‘harake' as it was not among the listed sevas at the temple.

Referring to his statement on Sunday, Mr. Bhat said he had not issued an order, but had only made a request. A copy of the ‘harake' listed at the temple is available with The Hindu . It does not mention ‘made snana'.

Mr. Bhat said Deputy Commissioner N.S. Channappa Gowda had given him an “oral” order to permit the ‘harake'.

Around 10.30 a.m. a few people at the temple began to express disagreement with Mr. Bhat's decision. A banner stating that the ritual would be performed on all three days was put up on one of chariots of the temple outside the entrance. A.V. Nagesh, a man from the Malekudiya community, said that the temple's “ancient tradition” must be continued. He threatened that no one from the Malekudiya community would prepare the temple ratha for the ‘shasthi' festival if ‘made snana' was banned.

Legend has it that the Malekudiyas, a tribal community, were the ones who originally installed the temple deity. Preparation of the temple chariot is ritually done by members of the community. 

A number of Malekudiya people living in and around Subrahmanya gathered outside the temple office. For around half an hour, a group of people were closeted with Mr. Bhat in his chamber before the go-ahead was given.

Vidya Prasanna Tirtha of Subrahmanya Math said that a devotee should have the right to “rectify” his ‘dosha' .

Leader of the Social Transformation Movement in Belthangady P. Dikaiah told The Hindu that such a ritual being performed in a government temple would amount to the government indirectly supporting casteism.

The Deputy Commissioner told The Hindu that district administration “had not given permission”, but had merely allowed the people to perform the ritual.
He did not give a clear answer when asked why the district administration thought of banning the ritual on Sunday.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Preface to "Science versus Miracles"

Pushpa M Bhargava

The following is the Preface written by Dr PM Bhargava to the book "Science versus Miracles" of Premanand. We reproduce it as part of our effort to upload the entire book online in html format. We have already uploaded a few chapters of the book. The remaining chapters will be uploaded in due course.

Man has been on our 4.5 billion year-old planet and some 12-15 billion year old universe for less than 2 million years. Our recorded history is much less than 10.000 years old and our oldest cities such as Jericho in Israel are less than 7,000 years old. Today there are two dominating influences on man: religion and science, the former being much older than the later.

The origins of both religion and science can be traced to the evolution of intelligence in man. Intelligence is just another name for the ability to ask questions. One can therefore surmise that in the remote past, when man came to be endowed with intelligence, he must have asked himself questions - of at least four kinds. First, questions about the non-living material he saw around him, such as water, air, earth and minerals. Secondly, questions about the physical phenomena he witnessed, such as light, heat, sound, thunder and lightning. Thirdly, questions about the extra terrestrial objects and phenomena he observed, such as the periodical rising of the sun, the moon and the stars; the passage of the planets through the various constellations and of course the eclipses. And fourthly, questions about the living things that he saw around him - for example the recurrent phenomena of birth, disease and death. All these phenomena, which now come under the purview of the four basic sciences - chemistry, physics, astronomy and biology - must indeed have intrigued early man. How did he then go about finding the answers?

The method of science had not developed, and the whole logic and logistics that we have today for answering such questions, did not exist at that time. What did the primitive man then do? He used his intelligence to construct self-consistent systems of beliefs such that once you accepted certain premises entirely on faith, and without questioning, answers that were plausible, at least at that time, emerged. It is this kind of effort that perhaps led to the development of religion both pagan and codified - the codified religions including Hinduism. Buddhism. Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However as the total fund of human knowledge increased, a time came when man began to question the basic premises of religion. Out of this questioning, perhaps, crystallized what we today know, formally, as the method of science.

It soon became apparent that the scientific method could not only be used as a tool, which would satisfy human curiosity much more than religion had done so far, but it also opened up new areas for investigation that had so far been hidden or den prohibited- The phenomenon snow-balled from the thirteenth century onwards, and we had Roger Bacon, Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Galileo, Rene Descartes Newton, amongst others, to give new dimensions to the method of science - to the newly developed art of questioning. The answers that emerged did not demand acceptance on the basis of faith alone; moreover they were testable and verifiable and did not depend on the whims and fancies - or the likes and dislikes - of an individual or a group of individuals. Soon, science became a competitor to religion and' often, came into direct conflict with it We had in the 16th and 17th centuries, the conflict between Copernicus and Galileo on one side and the Church on the other. More recently, in the last centuries the Church waged another major battle - this time against the Darwinian theory of evolution, which was so ably extended by Thomas Huxley to the evolution of man.

As science opened up new vistas, religion soon became a hindrance to its progress, and led to the persecution of scientists. Copernicus had to recant because he said that it was not the sun that goes round the earth, but the earth that goes round the sun. Galileo, a follower of Copernicus, died in prison on account of holding on to Copernican beliefs. And, before Galileo, Bruno was burnt at the stake for reasoned dissent. As recently as a hundred years ago, Darwin and Huxley were laughed at by an uneasy Church for saying that man has evolved from 'lower' creatures, and not put on the earth as an act of creation. However, there was a redeeming feature for science too. Whenever a conflict arose between science and religion, the explanation provided by science through the use of the method of science, was always found to be more appealing to reason. Science, therefore, grew up, so to say, as a competitor to religion, and the battle still continues on many fronts. Mr. Premanand's book is about one such battle: between science and miracles that are an integral part of religion.

There has been no god or prophet with whom miracles have not been associated - be it Christ or Mohammed - or Krishna or Rama - or even gods such as Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu or India. (Goddesses seem somehow, even in our folklore. less prone than gods to performing miracles!) In fact, the ability to perform miracles has often been considered as an essential proof of divinity.

Today, science and technology have come to be interwoven irrevocably into the very fabric of our existence. Further, they have represented and symbolized the creative urge in all of us which is built in our genes and has given our species an extremely valuable advantage that has helped us survive against so many odds during evolution and the competition between species, a la Darwin. It is the incursion of science into our even-day life and the consequent development of scientific temper to a lesser of greater extent in different societies, that has helped in the disappearance of the colonial rule, in the overall democratization of the world polity, and in the recognition of individual human rights, and the value of peace and integrated development in all parts of the world. Therefore, there is no getting away from science and technology. Mankind today is thus an inheritor of two trends of thoughts: one based on religion which in turn is based on revelation and unquestioned or unqualified acceptance of authority, and the other based on science which is on the right to question and the obligation to form one's opinion on the basis of evidence. I have argued elsewhere (Society and Science, 1981, 4(2), 42-50) that science and religion are incompatible and stand in contradiction to each other. (In using the term religion here I refer to religious dogmas which is what distinguishes one religion from another, and not the basic value system which is common to all religions and which finds substantiation in modern science.) Miracles constitute an important part of the dogma of every religion and a miracle is a miracle only if it cannot be explained by science.

Miracles are thus, by definition, a manifestation of the supernatural - something, which is outside the scope of science and of comprehension of the ordinary man. Science on the other hand, by definition, denies the existence of the supernatural.. One often witnesses or hears about events, which, in the opinion of many people, can have only a supernatural explanation, that is, an explanation outside the scope of the method of science. In reality, all such events do have a scientific explanation, often simple and ingenious!

For example, the famous magician Houdini, could come out of locked jails, and could swim ashore safely after he had been tied in a sack, placed in a trunk. The trunk locked and then drop in a river bed. If he had started claiming supernatural powers and set himself up as a godmen in our country, he would probably have acquired an enormous following! Here is one explanation of how he may have done it

It is well-known that some people can develop by training, special physical abilities, like the ability to twitch one's ear at will. Houdini had developed the physical ability of vomiting out the contents of his stomach at will. He swallowed a knife and the key to the lock, just before he was tied up; physical search therefore, never revealed him to be in possession of these objects (they would have, of course been discovered on him - or rather, in him - if some one had decided to use X-rays!). To come out of the jail, he only had to vomit the gadgets out, cut open the rope and then open, from inside, the lock.

There is no doubt that belief in the supernatural (and thus in miracles) as an integral part of one's belief in religious dogma, has been one of the more important impediments to development of our society - not only here but elsewhere at a well, for belief in the supernatural and in miracles has not been just been an Indian prerogative (If we have our Sai Babes the West has their Reverend Moons or Jones or believes in Mahesh Yogi or Acharaya Rajneesh or the Hare Krisna movement.) Prime Minister Nehru was acutely aware of this when he coined the term "Scientific Temper" and said:

"The applications of science are inevitable and unavoidable for all countries and peoples today. But something more than its application is necessary. It is the scientific approach, the adventurous and yet critical temper of science, the search for the truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change our conclusions in the face of new evidence the reliance on observed fact and not on preconceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind all this is necessary, not merely for the application of science but for life itself and the solution of its many problems."

A group of leading intellectuals of the country issued a statement "A statement on Scientific Temper", in 1981. The statement said:
"Despite Jawaharlal Nehru's advocacy of Scientific Temper, we are witnessing a phenomenal growth of superstitious beliefs and obscurantist practices. The influence of a variety of godmen and miracle makers is increasing alarmingly." "In such an environment, there is an erosion of belief in the capacity of human faculties to solve national problems through a systematic critique of the existing social situation. There is a cancerous growth of superstition at all levels. Rituals of the most bizarre kind are frequently performed often with official patronage. Obscurantist social customs are followed even by those whose profession is the pursuit of scientific enquiry. Our entire educational system works in an atmosphere of conformity, non-questioning and obedience to authority. Quoting authority of one kind or another substitutes enquiry, questioning and thought."
From what I have said-above it would follow logically that if one could establish that so-called miracles by our godmen and the rest are no miracles but are explicable in terms of laws of science, it would help substantially in eradication of superstition, and thus preparing people to form their opinions, base their decisions, and carry out their actions, within a framework of objectivity, reason and rationality - something in which we have been so acutely deficient as a nation so far.

There has been no crusader-that I know of anywhere in the world against miracles who has been more successful and more eloquent and is more knowledgeable than Mr. Premanand with whom l had the pleasure being acquainted with for many years. They say, to catch a thief, employ a thief! Thus, to make people realize that those who perform miracles are no more then ordinary men, the best person would be someone who can perform these miracles himself or herself and show to the people how it is all done. Mr. Premanand is one such person.

But, then, to how many people he can go himself even with the tremendously increased facilities of travel and communication? Spoken word has much power, it said. He has exercised this power over tens of thousands of people from all over t world. But there are millions of others who can he reached only through written word. I am, therefore, delighted that Premanand has, in his direct style, presented in this book, the recipe of performing 150 miracles, many of which would have intrigued readers some time or the other in his or her life. What a godman can do, you can do too - and possibly better. Where, then, is the need for you to fall at his feet? You, least, would not cheat or tell others that because you can perform these miracles you have godly powers and whatever you say must he accepted entirely on the basis of faith and without questioning. Godmen cannot afford to be so honest.

I have every hope that readers of all ages would enjoy going through this book and come to the conclusion that if a miracle has happened (Remembering that very often a miracle has only been talked about but never happened), there must be a natural explanation for it, and the person who says that he performed a miracle because he has specie powers is only telling a lie.

I congratulate Mr. Premanand for writing this book and for publishing it.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Syncretism in the Caraka and Suśruta saṃhitās

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Ancient Indian physicians were as much interested in philosophical speculations as in the problem of diseases and their cure (Chattopadhyaya 1979: 110-13; Dasgupta 1975: VI and ch. 13). Two Sanskrit compendia of medicine and surgery, the Carakasamhitā (CS) and the Suśrutasamhitā (SS), often employ the Sāmkhya and Nyāya-Vaiśesika terminology (Dasgupta 1975: ibid.; Mrinal Kanti Gangopadhyaya, Appendixes VI and VII in Chattopadhyaya 1991: 481-540). Interestingly enough, there are also allusions to some ‘lost philosophies’ – as Randle (1930: 16, n. 3) called them – in both in connection with the origin of man and that of the diseases. While referring to them, the two texts are rather cryptic and the available ancient commentaries, Cakrapānidatta’s on CS and ahlana’s on SS, do not help us much to compre- hend the nuances of the names (specially of the term svabhāva, literally ‘own being’, suggesting ‘inherent nature’). Modern interpreters, too, are not unanimous in their explications. We shall therefore try to understand the views of the original authors of the relevant passages of the texts by comparing and contrasting them with those found in non-medical, philosophical sources.

SS first. A verse in the Śārīrasthāna (1.11) runs as follows:

vaidyake tu –
svabhāvam īśvaram kālam yadrcchām niyatim tathā /
pariāma ca manyante praktim pthudarśina // (SS ed. Śāstri, p. 340)

According to medical science, however, farsighted men consider svabhāva, God, Time, Accident, Destiny and the evolution/modification (of primeval matter) as the origin.

SS apparently refers to six separate claimants of the first cause which are elsewhere posited as rivals for the title (Śvetāśvatara Upaniad, 1.2) 1.The adherents of the doctrine of svabhāva form a separate group, those of the doctrine of kāla another, and so on. According to one school of interpretation, svabhāva stands for the inherent nature of every object. How is it that the thorn is sharp, water is cold, and fire is hot? Answer: It is because their inherent nature makes them so.Yadrcchā, on the other hand, signifies randomness, the absence of any cause whatsoever. ahlana, however, explains yadrcchā as causality:

yo yato bhavati tat tannimittam iti yādrcchika yathā trnāranimitto bahnir iti (SS ed. Śāstri, p. 341)

Wherever or whatever happens is due to its cause – such is the view of the yādrcchika. As for example, fire is due to grass and arani woods.

This interpretation flies in the face of both etymology and usage. But then, svabhāva has been taken to mean arbitrariness, the absence of causality as such by some Buddhists (see Pramānavārttika, Pramānasiddhi, 182 cd, p. 64; Tattvasamgraha, ch. 4; see also n. 12 below). But they do not mention yadrcchā in the context of the first cause along with svabhāva. On the other hand, wherever both svabhāva and yadrcchā are mentioned severally, they denote two contradictory approaches: the former accepting a sort of causality, the latter denying it altogether (Chattopadhyaya 1991: 57-59).3 

The second problem relates to the basic attitude of SS. ahlana, following his predecessors, suggests that SS takes a syncretic view regarding the first cause. Instead of endorsing one or the other of the rival claimants, he admits all the six collectively as the first cause. He then cites verses elucidating all the six and quotes passages from SS itself in support of each of them (see SS ed. Śāstri, pp. 340-41).

Jejjhaa, however, explains the idea differently. According to him, four of these, svabhāva, kāla, yadcchā and niyati, are the evolution/modification of prakti. Although they are not different from prakti in the truest (pāramārthika) sense, they inhere in prakti because of their special properties (quoted, or rather paraphrased, by ahlana, ibid., p. 341; see also Tarkavāgīśa 1988: 184-85).

Gayī (Gayadāsa), on the other hand, says that the physicians accept all the six factors in their combination (samuccaya) as the first cause. Parināma is the material cause (upādānakārana); svabhāva and the rest (five in all) are together the efficient cause (nimittakārana).

It is worth noting that Jejjhaa leaves God out of consideration whereas Gayī includes Him as one of the efficient causes, but not as the cause.

Haranachandra Chakravartti (SS Chakravartti), a modern commentator, however, has challenged such a syncretic view ascribed to SS (SS Chakravartti on Śārīra, 1.11, p. 10). He explains the word pthudarśinanah as asūksmadarśinah, i.e. ‘the gross-sighted ones and men capable of observing only the superficial appearances’ – as Bhishagratna (1981: V.12, 118) renders it in his English translation of SS.4

According to Chakravartti, SS, Śārīra 1.11 does not express the view of the author of SS: it merely ironizes the views of others. The verses that follow, viz. 1.12-13, express the opinion of SS (SS Chakravartti, ad ibid., vv. 10-12, pp. 10-11).5

However logical this interpretation may seem, there is one fundamental problem in the way of accepting it: why does SS introduce the above- mentioned verse with the comment, vaidyake tu, ‘according to medical science, however’? (see Tarkavāgīśa 1988: 185).6 Second, such a syncretic view is not altogether unprecedented in the ancient Indian tradition. Both the Mahābhārata, Śāntiparvan, 224.52 and Haribhadra’s Śāstravārtāsamuccaya, 2.192 advance such a view instead of upholding any one as the first cause.7 Hence it will be more appropriate to accept the interpretations of the three ancient scholiasts of SS who, in spite of some differences between themselves, broadly agree on the syncretic approach expressed in 1.11.

So much for SS. Let us now move on to CS. It does not speak of the first cause as such. In the Sūtrasthāna we read of a sort of symposium. The prob- lem to be discussed is the following: What is the origin of the diseases as also that of man? It is in connection with this couple of questions that different sages propose several alternative doctrines. They are as follows: the six dhātu-s, parents, karman, svabhāva, Prajāpati and kāla (CS, Sūtrasthāna, 1.25.14-25). Each one of these is rejected by one or the other of the authorities present. Punarvasu Ātreya, the final arbiter, who is mentioned and quoted in CS, at last declares: «Food is the thing (bhāva) which is at the root of all» (CS, 1.25.31).

Since the scope of this symposium is rather limited, it may be improper to draw any conclusion regarding CS’s view concerning jagatakārana from this passage alone. Yet another passage in CS (1.11.6) may be taken in conjunction with this.

It runs as follows:

Śrutibhedāc ca – 
mātaram pitaram caike manyate janmakāranam / 
svabhāvam paranirmānam yadcchām cāpare janāh //

Tradition also differs (regarding this question). Some consider the parents to be the cause of birth. Others (consider) svabhāva, divine creation and accident (to be so). 
This is spoken in the context of the question whether there is such a thing as rebirth or not. What is to be noted, however, is the juxtaposition of the views of two ‘lost philosophies’, viz. svabhāva and accident. Cakrapānidatta does not refer to any verse or saying in relation to the doctrines of kāla, svabhāva, etc. in his commentary on CS, 1.25.21-25 (CS ed. Acharya, pp. 128-29). His glosses on 1.11.6 are, however, quite elaborate. He identifies svabhāva with the views of such nāstika-s as the Cārvāka-s and the rest (CS ed. Acharya, pp. 68-69). Nāstika to him is one who does not believe in the other-world (paraloka). This is also a traditional view that can be derived from Pānini’s Astādhyāyī.8  As regards yadcchā, too, Cakrapānidatta’s view is quite tradi- tional: one who believes in the production of an effect without any definite cause is called a yādrcchika (CS ed. Acharya, on 1.11.6, p. 69). Svabhāva and yadrcchā, then, are clearly distinguished in Cakrapānidatta’s interpretation and in neither of the passages is there any approach towards syncretism. 

It is, however, interesting to note that CS too seems to incline towards a syncretic view, not concerning the first cause, but the cause of diseases and of health. It first explains the northern and southern courses of the sun, the changes in other aspects of nature and sums up by saying: ‘This is how, the sun, the wind and the moon, governed by time as well as by inherent nature (svabhāva) and orbits are spoken of as the causative factors of the manifestations of the periods, seasons, sap, morbid body-elements and physical strength’ (CS ed. Acharya, 1.6.5, p. 44). 

As with SS, here too we have a syncretic view regarding several natural phenomena. But one difference has to be noted. Here the idea of svabhāva has nothing to do with accidentalism as it was apparent in Kānkāyana’s objections to Bharadvāja’s proposal in CS, 1.25.22. On the other hand, svabhāva here stands for absolute regularity and represents a natural force, not a supernatural agency existing outside nature and controlling all events. Kāla, too, is not a mysterious entity as projected in the Mahābhārata, Śāntiparvan (chs. 217 and 220), Kāmasūtra (1.2.32-37) and elsewhere.9 Time here is no less regular than svabhāva: it leaves nothing to chance or randomness.
It has been suggested that svabhāva is the basis of Caraka’s materia medica (Chattopadhyaya 1979: 155 and passim [see Index]). We would like to add, however, that CS is not uniform in its use of the term svabhāva. The connotation of the word in 1.6.4-5 is much narrower than it is in 1.25.22. 

Syncretism has been a part and parcel of ancient Indian thought. In the philosophical tradition we have such syncretic schools as the Sāmkhya-Yoga and the Nyāya-Vaiśeika. In the case of the ‘lost philosophies’ too, we find the same inclination towards syncretism. It is evident both in Brahminical and Jain works as well as in the two medical compilations.10 

At the same time, it is worth noting that in CS itself, svabhāva is used in two quite different senses: one, suggesting the inherent nature of objects as the cause of their appearance and the other suggesting randomness. Cakrapānidatta apparently did not bother to explain this discrepancy. His identification of svabhāvavāda with the Cārvāka/Lokāyata seems to have followed from a tradition that can be traced back to the author of Suvarnasaptatiśāstra (sixth century CE).11  alhana’s interpretation of yadrcchā, however, is not only unconventional but also unacceptable. It is probable that since svabhāva and yadrcchā had already been considered as synonymous,12 he used yadrcchā as an interchangeable term for svabhāva, taking it to mean causality or regularity of nature. All this proves that the doctrines of svabhāva, kāla and the rest were largely forgotten by the early centuries of CE which is why the commentators of CS and SS do not agree in their interpretations of these terms.



1 The interpretation of the verse is rather problematic. Commentators and translators are not unanimous in their understanding of the syntax as also of the exact significance of purua and yoni (see Bhattacharya 2006: 48-49). But one thing is certain: kāla, svabhāva, niyati, yadcchā and a few such items had already been proposed as the first cause in the Upaniadic times.
2 See Chattopadhyaya (1991: 55-70) for an exposition of the doctrine although all may not agree with his views. 

The views of both ancient and modern authors in this regard are to be found here.

4 A. Śāstri glosses the word as viśāla buddhi vāle log (SS ed. Śāstri, v. 15, p. 4). He also refers to Chakravartti’s interpretation (p. 5). Ghanekara offers several related meanings: moti yā udāra buddhi vāle, dūradarśī, samkucita vicāra na rakhne vāle (SS ed. Ghanekara, v. 10, p. 11).

5 Tarkavāgīśa (1988: IV, 185) most probably had Chakravartti in mind when he referred to ‘a modern scholiast’ (ādhunikaīkākāra). However, Tarkavāgīśa had doubts whether such an in- terpretation properly reflected SS’s view (ibid.).

6 Chakravartti seems to have taken the whole section (vv. 11-13) as representing SS’s view, viz. the elements (bhūtāni) alone are the first cause, and hence nothing else should preoccupy the thought of the physician (as stated in v. 13 cd).

7 For a detailed exposition of the texts mentioned above, see Bhattacharya (2001a; 2001b).
8 Aphorism 4.4.60: astināstidistam matih. Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita (1906: 30.1610), Vāmana and Jayāditya (1966: 765) explain asti as the existence of the other world (paraloka). So nāstika refers to one who denies it. Another interpretation of the word nāstika is found in the Manusmti, 2.11d: nāstiko vedanindakah («The nāstika is the reviler of the Veda»).

9 For other sources see Bedekar (1961: 3-8) and Bhattacharya ( 2001a).
10 The tradition of worshipping five gods (pañcopāsanā) instead of belonging to any one cult (Sun, Śakti [Mother Goddess], Śiva, Viṣṇu and Gaeśa) is also an indication of the same trend. See Bandyopādhyaya (1960: passim).

11 Bedekar (1961: 10, n. 44), quoting extracts from the commentary on Sāmkhyakārikā, v. 27. See also the English rendering from the French, [Suvarnasaptatiśāstra], p. 36. Utpalabhaṭṭa (tenth century CE) and Vidyāraya (fourteenth century CE) have also identified svabhāvavāda and the Lokāyata doctrine. For details see Bhattacharya (1999: 92, n. 1). A few other later Advaita Vedāntins (Agnicit Puruottam, Amalānanda, nandagiri, Nsihāśrama and Rāmatīrtha) have also followed suit.

12 Right from the first century CE svabhāva was explained as lawlessness. Cf. Aśvaghoa, Buddhacarita, 9.62. The later Naiyayikas also meant the same. See Bhattacharya (2006: 34-38).


Aṣṭādhyāyī = Pāini, Aṣṭādhyāyī, ed. Sumitra M. Katre. Delhi 1989.
Bandyopādhyaya (1960) = Bandyopādhyaya Jitendranāth, Pañcopāsanā. Calcutta 1960 [in Bengali]. Bedekar, V.M. (1961) The doctrines of Svabhāva and Kāla in the Mahābhārata and other Sanskrit works. Journal of the University of Poona (Humanities Section) 13, 1-16.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna (1999) Svabhāvavāda vis-à-vis Materialism: A Review in the Light of some Mahābhārata Passages. Anvīkā 18, 92-101.
— (2001a) The First Cause: The Syncretic Views of Haribhadra and Others. Jain Journal 35/4, 179-84.
— (2001b) The First Cause: Rivals of God in Ancient Indian Thought. Indian Skeptic 14/8, 19-23.
— (2006) Various Views on Svabhāva: A Critical Survey. Sambodhi 30, 32-60.
Bhattoji Dīksita (1906) Siddhāntakaumudī, ed. S.C. Vasu. Delhi.
Bhishagratna, Kunjalal trans. (1981) The Suśrutasamhitā (Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series Office,Vol. II). Varanasi. [1st edn. 1911].
Cakrapāidatta’s commentary on Carakasamhitā = see CS.
Carakasamhitā = The Charakasamhitā, eds. P.M. Mehta et al. Jamnagar 1949.
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1979) Science and Society in Ancient India. Calcutta. [1st edn. 1977].
— (1991) History of Science and Technology in Ancient India. Vol. 2. Formation of the Theoretical Fundamentals of Natural Science. Calcutta
CS Acharya = The Charakasamhitā by Agniveśa, ed. Vaidya Jadavji Trikamji Acharya (Chaukhamba Sanskrit Sansthan). Varanasi 1984. [1st edn. 1941].
ahlana’s commentary on Suśrutasamhitā = see SS.
Dasgupta, Surendranath (1975) A History of Indian Philosophy 2. Delhi. [1st edn. 1931].
Gayī (Gayadāsa)’s commentary on Suśrutasamhitā = see SS.
Jejjhaa’s commentary on Suśrutasamhitā = see SS.
Kāmasūtra = Vātsyāyana, Kāmasūtra, ed. Śrīdevduṭṭa Śāstrī (Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan).Varanasi [n.d.].
Mahābhārata = The Mahābhārata. Critical Edition, eds. V.S. Sukthankar et al. (Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute). Poona 1933-66.
Manusmrti, ed. Ganganath Jha. Delhi 1982.
Pramānavārttikam = Dharmakīrti, Pramānavārttikam, ed. D.D. Shastri. Varanasi 1968.
Randle, H.N. (1930) Indian Logic in the Early Schools. London.
SS Chakravartti = Suśrutasamhitā. Śārīrasthāna, ed. Haranachandra Chakravartti. Mahescandra Basak, Calcutta 1910 [1832 Śaka].
SS Ghanekara = Suśrutasamhitā. Śārīrasthāna, ed. Bhaskar Govinda Ghanekara. New Mahar-chand Lachmandas Publications, Delhi 1986. [1st edn. Savat 1997 = 1940-41 CE].
SS Śāstri = Suśrutasamhitā, ed. Ambikādatta Śāstri (Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan). Varanasi 1987. [1st edn. 1953]. 
Suvarnasaptatiśāstra = Suvarnasaptatiśāstra. Sāmkhyakārikā-vtti by ‘Paramārtha’ (trans. S.S. Sūryanārāyana Śāstri). Bulletin of the Department of Indian Philosophy 1. Madras 1933. 
Śvetavatara Upaniad = Śvetavatara Upaniad, in V.P. Limaye, R.D. Vadekar (eds.), Eighteen Principal Upanisads 1. Poona 1958.
Tarkavāgīśa, Phaibhūana (1988) Nyāyadarśana Vātsyāyana Bhāya 4. Calcutta. [in Bengali]. [1st edn. 1333 BS = 1926 CE]. 
Tattvasamgraha = Tattvasangraha of Ācārya Shāntarakita with the Commentary ‘Pañjikā’ of Shri Kamalashīla, ed. Dwarikadas Shastri (Bauddha Bharati). Varanasi 1968.
Vāmana and Jayāditya (1966) The Kāśikāvtti, Part 3, ed. D.D. Shastri, K.P. Shukla. Varanasi.


Syncretism has been a dominant trait in Indian thought. It is also found in the two medical compilations, the Carakasamhitā and the Suśrutasamhitā in relation to the question of the first cause.

(Ramkrishna Bhattacharya is a Fellow of PAVLOV Institute, Kolkata.
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Is there a Life after Death?

Innaiah Narisetti

The majority of people believe in an after-life. If there is something after death, what is it? 

After death, the body is buried by some, cremated by some others, donated to hospitals by a few. These practices are common. When a person dies, along with other parts of the body, the brain also dies. That is the end of it. Now the question arises. If there is something after death, what is it that survives death?

Religions jump into the fray to answer this question. They say that there is a soul that is subtle, that goes to heaven or hell or takes rebirth. The believers in rebirth, reincarnation, heaven, and hell have to accept this concept. Otherwise there is no meaning in an after-life. Who decides the fate of the soul after the death of the body?  All religions have created the concept of God to sustain this belief.

Burning Ghats - Varanasi
What is soul? You can’t touch it nor is it visible to you. Where is it in the body? In the brain? The Brain is filled with neurons well connected to one another. The thinking, memorizing and related functions are done by the brain. Thus, the brain plays a vital role in the body. With death, brain ceases functioning. There is nothing to function after death. There is no separate existence for mind without brain

Then, where is the soul? It is only a blind belief. All religions survive on the believers’ blind faith in soul, god, heaven, and hell. Once the belief in soul is accepted without question, then the game starts. Stories are woven around soul, which has to be saved through prayer - how to pray, what to pray, and whom to pray. These are the monopoly of religious priests. To sustain this belief system, holy books are created. Though the so-called holy books are written by people at various ages, they are propagated in the name of god because only then the believers accept it. Priests are the middlemen to interpret the meaning of holy books on behalf of god.

Parents give their religious beliefs to children. There is no choice for children to opt for their own religion or non religion. Since birth, children are brain washed with the belief system of their parents. Hence it is very difficult for persons to come out of that belief which is inculcated since birth. That is how the children of Muslims become Muslims; those of Christians become Christians, and so on. Even the educated persons are not able to come out of this childhood influence.

The concept of soul, god, heaven and hell and life –after-death cannot stand in front of rational questioning and scientific evidence.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Early Miracles

B Premanand

The early miracles were performed by shamans acting as oracles. Through incantations they brought the spirit of god on themselves, swaying and dancing, and making fearful sounds to prove to their followers that punishment meted out by the clan leader of the rulers could not harm them.

Among self-inflicted punishments were ship lashes, cutting the body with knives and swords, standing on swords, putting hooks on their backs to haul weights, piercing the head with nail through the nostrils, live burial, stitching lemons and fruits on their body with fire, walking on red hot coals, piercing the tongue and cheeks with a trident (Trishul), piercing the neck, hear and body with swords, sleeping on a bed of nails or thorns, putting their hands in boiling oil, drinking poison, acids, etc, and much else. These punishments performed by the oracle proved to the followers that if they also believed in their gods they would come to no harm and would escape punishment

There are countless legends in the Holy Scriptures to prove that their beliefs brought them no harm when they were punished. In the Ramayana, Sita is made to walk on red hot coals to prove her chastity through “Agni Pariksha”, which anybody can perform without even being chaste!

Narendra Nayak demonstrating the Fire Act (Exp.No.16)
The ruling class and the priests alone could acquire knowledge. Others were never allowed access to learning. In Ramayana there is the story of Sambuka being slain by Rama because he did penance which was forbidden to shudras. In Mahabharatha, when Ekalavya, a low caste youth, learnt archery by watching boys of the ruling class being taught, and when the guru came to know of his skill he demanded Ekalavya’s thumb. Thus Ekalavya’s thumb was cut of as guru dakshina so that he could never practise archery again or excel in it.

Whatever knowledge the ruling class and the priests gained through experience and experiments were misused to perform miracles to exploit the credulous populace.

The question is: Does an all powerful god need human help to get himself manifested on the priest to demonstrate his powers? And is god a lunatic to behave the way his oracle sways, dances and shrieks?

Fifty years ago, when I way young, we played a trick to find out if a priest was really possessed by the spirit of god.

We had to do Sandhya Vandana Puja daily, where we awakened the sleeping god, washed him and applied perfumes and sandal paste and flowers after which food was served to him. We then asked him favours to solve our problem. At the end of the puja, he was again put to bed. We wondered why the god was never taken to the toilet. As children I believed that god did not do this dirty job.

Behind our house there was temple. During the Navaratri festival the priest would get possessed by the goddess. We wondered whether a goddess would behave the way the priest behaved when possessed by the goddess. We could not imagine a woman, the mother goddess, could be cruel, blood-thirsty, and mad. To us a woman stood for beauty and lover.

We found that early in the morning the priest had to consume three or four bottles of country liquor. We purchased four packet of Epsom salts (Purgative) and mixed it in his morning potion. The purpose was to see whether he would begin purging. Within a short time the purgative started working, but it was not possible for him to stop acting as an oracle of the mother goddess. He was a clever fellow and so he asked for one of wooden barrels used for making Prasad with beater rice (rice flakers).He sat on the wooden barrel swaying his head and body, and evacuated in the hole of the barrel. Out came the excreta and a few minutes later he swooned and fell down and had to be hospitalized. Luckily he survived, and we concluded that it was not the spirit of the goddess but the devil which had possessed him!

The only spirit which I have come across in my search for spirits of the dead, ghost, devils, angel and gods, is bottled spirit and no other spirit. With out consuming this spirit priests cannot act the way they do, when they claim to be possessed by a particular god or goddess.

Fire on the Body

Is it a supernatural feat to move fire along one’s body without getting burnt?

Experiment: 16

Effect: The body does not get burnt when you move fire over it.

Props: 12” wooden stick, old cotton cloth, preferably knitted cloth, thread, kerosene oil, match box.

Method: Wrap one end of the wooden stick with a 1” strip of cloth and make a 3” wide swab. Wrap a thread around it and knot it to keep it tight. Dip it in kerosene oil and after shaking off extra kerosene, light the swab and move the flame over your hands and body. Though the hair on the skin’s surface will singe, the skin itself does not burn. Do not keep the fire at the same place for more than three seconds. Keep moving it over the body.

If you take a pot filled with water and place it on the fire, it takes some time for the pot to absorb heat and get burnt. Three oracles do no hold the flame three seconds to absorb heat and et burnt. The oracles do not hold the flame against the same place for more than three seconds. If they are asked to keep the fire at the same place without moving it, they refuse because the trick would be exposed.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Hazards of a Spiritual Pilgrimage

Apollo Hospitals opens critical care unit with ICU facility at Sabarimala 

(The Hindu, Madurai,  

The Apollo Hospitals has set up a full-fledged critical care unit with ICU facility at Sabarimala for the healthcare needs of devotees going to Lord Iyappa temple. The seven-bedded centre at Pamba was established based on the request made by Akhila Bharatha Iyappa Seva Sangam. 

“Already there is an Apollo Clinic cum information centre functioning at Pamba for Iyappa devotees. Since there was a request for starting full-fledged unit, the Apollo Hospitals Group chairman Pratap C. Reddy gave his consent for setting up a state-of-the art critical care unit there so that a devotee in emergency would get timely medical attention,” a press release from the hospital said. 

Rohini Sridhar, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Medical Services, Apollo Speciality Hospitals, Madurai, has said that the seven-bedded critical care centre at Pamba in Sabarimala is a 2,500 square feet facility which will be fully operational from November 16. 

Apollo clinic which was started in the year 2000 at Pamba had now grown to a 24-hour unit with ICU facility and it had provided timely care to nearly two lakh patients during the past 10 years. This unit will be connected with other major centres through telemedicine facility in order to get expert opinion for emergency cases. 

Besides free consultation and ICU care, the Sabarimala devotees are also given medicines free of cost as a part of the Apollo Group's corporate social responsibility, she said. 

Explaining about the critical care unit at Pamba in a simple function held here, the hospital's Senior General Manager T.N. Sekar had informed that lakhs of people travel to Sabarimala during the pilgrim season every year and some of them face health problems due to unaccustomed exertion. Blisters on the feet and diarrhoea due to unsafe food are the common minor complaints while some devotees get serious ailments. 

The total number of outpatients was above 37,000 last year. P. Boopathi, General Manager (operations), Apollo Speciality Hospitals, Madurai, spoke on the latest devotee-oriented initiative of the hospital.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Sri Sri Ravishankar and Art of Politics

Ram Puniyani
Ravi Shankar
AS ELECTIONS in Uttar Pradesh are nearing, so is the number of travels by spiritual gurus. These gurus are giving their discourses against corruption. (November 2011). The major ones amongst them are Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Sri Sri). Sri Sri has shared space with Anna and played a considerable role when the government had arrested Anna. Sri Sri came to play the role of an interlocutor between Anna and his followers, during his prison stint. As if by a divine design, yoga guru Ramdev and Sri Sri have suddenly realised this menace of corruption and have plunged themselves head long into the anti corruption movement.

So, the teachings of Ramdev have a supplementary dose of anti corruption teachings added on to it. Similarly Sri Sri’s ‘Art of Living’ has now the additional flavour of anti corruption sermons. While this is going on, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh has alleged that Ramdev, Anna and Sri Sri are team members of RSS. Ramdev is known to be close to BJP and had also toyed with the idea of floating his own political party. However, Sri Sri never talked on similar lines, and has maintained that he has nothing to do with politics. According to him his UP tour is a mere extension of what he has been doing, making people take oath against corruption.
And, now Digvijay Singh has gone hoarse, claiming Sri Sri has a political agenda and he is Team C of RSS. Does Sri Sri have no political agenda? Or is he a part of RSS pantheon? Surely one can guess that Sri Sri may not have attended the Shakha bauddhiks (intellectual sessions conducted in RSS branches, known as Shakhas) and might not have worn khaki shorts and saluted the saffron flag in RSS shakhas. But yet, Sri Sri is surely a part of a scheme to influence electoral politics. Having said that, let’s understand that electoral politics is not the only form of politics influencing the society; it is also done by social movements and awareness programmes.
Bills cannot be passed on the streets and not under pressure. The government had accepted and is furiously working in that direction. Despite that the threats from team Anna are on and team Anna actively worked against the ruling Congress in Hisar elections. It seems there is more to the Anna upsurge than just the JLB or anti Corruption issue. They are having a deeper agenda, and Sri Sri is very much a part of it. Earlier the bill for Right to Information, NREGA etc were brought in, anti Corruption bill is in the offing, than why such a pressure from Team Anna and associated gurus. This just reconfirms that there is more to Anna movement than meets the eye.
The political agenda of this movement is much deeper than what is apparent at the surface. One needs to question whether under the garb of spirituality a particular type of politics is being strengthened. Sri Sri had a phenomenonal rise during last three decades. To beat the stress of today’s working youth, Sri Sri has devised Sudarshan Kriya, based on the breathing exercises from the past traditions of India. Today, he is in league with many a God-men, people like late Bhagwan Satya Sai, Asaram Bapu, Baba Ramdev, propagating values of a particular type. While these godmen are selling tranquilising therapies, ‘keep fit regimes’ on one side, on the other they also support the prevalent social dynamics in the society. The ‘deeper changes’ to ensure the rights of weaker sections of society is what we should strive for. On the contrary the type of politics,  which comes in the garb of religion, propagates the values which are opposed to the politics of affirmative action for weaker sections of society. The godmen are rubbing shoulders with the Nitin Gadkaris. Narendra Modis, Ram Madhavs and the like. So logically they are the one’s touring the state where election is due and they know on whose side they are canvassing in a subtle fashion. Such type of politics, laced in color of religion, is tied to the apron strings of a Hindu Rashtra, which in turn is being spearheaded by RSS.
WHILE SPEAKING on the eradication of corruption a noble sentiment, there is obvious rise of parallel movement of Anna and initiatives of Godmen on the issue. There simultaneity is striking. RSS chief claims that he talked to Anna Hazare to take up this issue. It is appalling as to how this triad of Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri realised the need for anti Corruption movement all at the same point of time? And, of course, the RSS rushed its swayamsevaks in this movement all over the country without a minutes delay. Mere coincidence? No way! While talking against corruption is good, the question is why is there no talk about female foeticide, atrocities against dalits and violence against minorities? The spiritual guru, one hopes, is aware that these issues are prevalent in our society. Why no support for ‘right to food’ issue, or why no support to eradicate communal violence? And last but not the least how come there is such a perfect match in what Sri Sri believes and what RSS-BJP want on the issues related to minorities, reservations for dalits, etc?

Monday, 14 November 2011

To Kill or Not To Kill: A Human Rights Perspective on Capital Punishment

Ramesh Nagaragere 

Time was when a king got angry with one of his subjects and said, 'Off with his head' and it was done. Not just that. He would also order the chopped off head to be hung on the walls of the fort. At the gates. The intent was not merely to punish the guilty, whatever be the guilt, but also to prove to the people that the king was all powerful and the same fate would befall them if   they ever dared to go against the king or violate the established practice. The question whether it was humane or not, or just or unjust would never arise. The king’s word was law.

Since then lots and lots of water has flown down all the rivers of the world and it has witnessed remarkable shifts and twists in history. One significant development is the democratization of a majority of nations and the word of the king is no more the law everywhere. Along with this, human life has also gained some recognition and it can not be ended   just because one autocrat thinks a particular individual does not deserve to live. Besides, the world has also seen many wars   which have only resulted in loss of life along with destruction of property. Especially, the two world wars and several ethnic conflicts in different parts of the world   have resulted in premature cessation of human life. This has made nations think in terms of protecting human life at least from individual whims and idiosyncrasies. Consequently several countries have abolished death penalty as a means of punishing their citizens. This is a minor attempt at humanizing and civilizing society.

The efforts of civil societies   and human rights organizations of various countries have succeeded in getting 96 countries so far to decide to abolish capital punishment or legal execution as it could be called. In some countries, India is one of them, it is announced only in ‘the rarest of the   rare cases’. But what are the norms set to decide which is rare and which ‘the rarest’? More often than not, it is the presiding judge who   has to decide   the merits of the case   in the absence of definite guidelines. That means, in the ultimate analysis, the question of life or death of a person depends on the discretion of one individual which could be very subjective and arbitrary at times. An estimate says that 60% of the world’s population lives in the four countries which still have capital punishment in their law books. – India and   Indonesia  where it is resorted to  only in  the rarest of the rare cases and China and America where it is a very common phenomenon.  These four countries voted against a U N General Assembly resolution in 2007 calling on the member-nations to, at least, announce a moratorium on capital punishment which could pave   way, eventually, to abolition. Amnesty International, the reputed internal human rights organization has come out with very useful information on the issue.

Presently,   heated discussions are happening in India especially against the backdrop of the implementation of the   death penalty   already   awarded to Afzal Guru,Kasab and several others. Those   proclaiming the efficacy of the punishment want these people to be hanged soon and   those   who are opposed to death penalty   want it to be converted to life imprisonment. It should be remembered that besides these there are several others including those accused of killing Rajiv Gandhi and a few tribal activists who have been sentenced to death.

The supporters of capital punishment as a legal way of doing justice argue that that is the most suitable punishment for those indulging in such heinous crimes as murder. This, they say, would also make the near and dear ones of the victims of the murder feel ‘satisfied’, feel that justice has been done. More over, they also assert that once such   punishment is   given out in  a few cases, that would be a deterrent to others who might be planning to commit such crimes. Also, the state has to   prove that it is powerful and strong and one way of doing it is using the powers bestowed on it by the law of the land.  As a consequence of this mode of thinking that at the moment the government of India is being dubbed as weak since it has failed to carry out the executions already ordered by the courts.

The Supreme Court of India has decreed that capital punishment could be awarded in cases like murder, murder with the intent of looting, sedition by citizens or members of the armed forces, ‘terrorist’ related crimes, police ‘encounters’, honor killings and others, But even then this sentence could be pronounced only in the rarest of the rare cases, as the highest seat of justice says. The last instance of hanging   was in 2004 when Dhananjay Chatterjee of West Bengal was hanged and since then in quite a few cases death   sentence has been awarded but not implemented yet and one important reason is that   mercy - petitions are still pending with the President of India or the government of India. Obviously it  is bound to take some more time before the actual implementation of the   verdict even if all the petitions for mercy are rejected.

However, there is increasing   pressure on governments in many parts of the world for the cessation of capital punishment and India has also been witnessing this phenomenon. Several human rights organizations have taken the lead in arguing for the abolition of capital punishment.  The effort has now grown into a movement. Killing a person, even   legally, is   negation of   life, they say. On many occasions, people   who had been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment had been found to be not guilty. If these people had been hanged or electrocuted, it would have turned out that they would have been ‘murdered ‘by the system which is meant to protect its members, to   do justice.  Then there are others who argue for abolition on religious grounds. But no religion of importance has taken a clear position on the abolition of death penalty. Even in countries where they profess Buddhism the legal framework has the provision for killing   the accused if found guilty of serious crimes.

One very important question arises here:  how does   the state which normally acts against the interests of the common people   acquire power over the lives of its citizens? For instance, the era of globalization, at least in India,   has seen the government   following   a policy   inimical   to the interests of farmers which has resulted in   suicides by a large number of farmers in many parts of the country.  This   is in spite of the government claiming that   the country has achieved remarkable growth rate  that a considerable section of the people has also been benefited.  Compare this with    a suicide due to coercion by some   in which the abettor is punished. But in   the case of these suicides who is to be held responsible for these deaths which are nothing short of murders? Who is to be punished and   what should be the punishment? Unfortunately these questions remain unanswered.

The argument that capital punishment can act as a deterrent is a myth.  If that were to be true, in countries like China and a few states of the US, by now crime rate should have gone down considerably.. On the contrary, it is reported that crimes in those states of the US, for example, where death penalty is part of the legal system are more compared to the states which have removed this provision from their law-books. Then there is the argument that   by punishing the murderer with death the close relatives and friends of the victim could be made to feel ‘satisfied’. Is it not     position that adds to the revengeful attitude already present in us?  Can a society claiming to   be   civilized afford to do it? In some countries   where Islam is the official religion and Shari at is followed, the culprit can get relief if   the members of the family of the victim decide to spare the life of the culprit: but then it depends on the will of the some individuals and there is no legal compulsion.

All the arguments cited above   in favor of legal execution try to establish that capital punishment is the only way to prevent further crimes and understandably   the general perception in the society is also for capital punishment, at least in our country.  It is so because  there has been no serious effort at building public opinion through concerted campaign and whatever little is being done by human rights organizations here and there has  been met with  very little success or cynicism. 

But if one cares to consider different instances of crimes and the people involved one would certainly be ready to give it a second thought.  For example,  in some cases of ‘terrorism ‘the person who has  committed such an act is prepared to die along with those he or she has planned to kill, some times even innocents.  Such an individual has no consideration either for   the life of self or that of others and for him or her death sentence is no punishment at all.  In death penalty there is nothing like making the culprit ‘experience’ the punishment. On the other hand, if the wrong doer is made to spend the rest of his or her life in prison, that is punishment and there is also the possibility   of such a person   realizing the futility and gruesome nature of the crime and repenting for at least the innocent lives cut short. Then, what is  more meaningful is the effort to identify the social, political and economic  factors  resulting in some people turning out to be ‘terrorists’ and to resolve the issue socially, so that nobody would ever think of committing such acts and that is a mark of civilized governance

Killing, even legally, by the system as a way of punishing offenders only smacks of the tyranny of the system and its unbridled power over the lives of its subjects. That is   for the autocrats   and   an   uncivilized one at that. So much so, the European Union has stipulated that any country wishing to be a member of the organization has to first   take out capital punishment from its justice - system. This is certainly a slow but sure way of moving towards civilized living.   

We claim very often that ours is an  ancient country espousing human values and that the whole world, especially the western world, looks to us for answers when ever they are beset with problems . This much acclaimed’ spiritual superiority’ of India can best be established not just through claims made in internal and international forums  but by  translating into practice  some of the suggestions being   made by the civil society and abolition of capital punishment is one such important  proposal.  Here   in   , we have to admit   that some countries have moved ahead of us and shown themselves in better light. It is not merely the government that has to decide in favor of abolition   of death penalty, but it has to be part of the social consciousness. The Constitution of India stipulates that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” (Part III, Article 21 of Indian Constitution). That needs to be amended so as to remove the provision to deprive a person of his or her life even “according to procedure established by law”. To do that a strong public opinion in favor of abolishing legal execution has to be created and eventually the society or at least the right thinking people should   bring pressure on the government to put an end to this provision.  What is needed now is that one has to put aside all false emotions and subjective considerations and be prepared to apply one’s mind to this intensely human problem. Can one hope to see that day soon?

(Ramesh Nagaragere was the Principal, National College, Jayanagar, Bangalore. He has been associated with the Human Rights Group, Peoples' Democratic Forum, Bangalore)


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