Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Rise of Intolerance in India

G Vijayam

The National Conference of the FIRA is taking place at the critical juncture of modern Indian history. It is crucial for the country as to which road we take-the tolerance or the Intolerance.
Dr G Vijayam addressing the FIRA conference 

Our country is known for the comity of the nations and for its tolerance and accommodation. Indian path to democracy highlighted accommodation and adjustment of diverse view points through dialogue and discussion. The legacy of the freedom movement was unity in diversity. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution envisioned India as a Federal state with a unity bias. The strength of India lies in its unity and its ability to adjust to new situations without compromising the basic tenets of the Constitution.

The dividing line between tolerance and intolerance is very thin, but with profound consequences to the nation and the people. Which road we take is the crux of the matter.

History bears testimony to the disastrous consequences of intolerance. The Crusades in the Middle Ages of Europe and the 100 Years War, 30 Years War and many other internal and external conflicts within the Nations, led to greater intolerance, resulting in the bloodshed. Much blood was shed in the name of religion and its bigotry. The conflicts between the Catholic and Protestant countries and the other nuances of the in same Christian religion, led to shedding of much blood of the innocent people.

Constitutionalism and to the Emergence of Democracies

This finally led to the idea of Constitutionalism and to the emergence of democracies. The foundation for these is the need for Separation of State and Religion. In other words, Politics and Religion must be separate. The State belongs to all, irrespective of their personal beliefs or non belief and religious preferences, if any. The acceptance of the concept of separation of the State and Religion was an important landmark in the onward march of the society. The supremacy of the State over religion was not that easy and it took centuries to accept the idea.

The emergence of secularism reflects the primacy of the State over all other institutions within the state.

The growth of Democracy in many parts of the world, in particular in India, is equally significant. Democracy may not be best form of Government, but the other alternatives of democracy are the worst. Democracy may be weak and ineffective and incapable of talking decisions fast. But the greatness of democracy is that it reflects the will of the people through periodic elections and people can enthrone, or dethrone the representatives of the people through their power of ballot. The periodic elections are the safety valve in democracy.

Experience of Dictatorship

The dictatorships ruled the roost in the 20th Century, the world over. The Communist, Fascist and tribal dictatorships finally collapsed, because they did not give scope for dissent or difference of opinion. Intolerance is the inherent quality of dictatorships. They brook no opposition. But difference of opinion is bound to be there. People have divergent views. They cannot be silenced forever. The Concentration camps in Germany could not silence opposition for long. The collapse of the Soviet Union which was a super power was not due to any war, but because of lack of freedom and expression of their opinions. The tribal dictatorships like that of Edi Amine in Uganda also collapsed. Thus by the end of the 20th Century, it was more or less clear to the people that dissent is the ascent of society. The will of the people is supreme. The new wave of recent awakening in the Middle East, especially triggered in Syria and Egypt, has created a snowball effect for democratic uprising in the majorly dictatorial area.

The Indian Experience 

What we have achieved in India in 1947 is the political Independence. Democracy gives freedom, but does not guarantee food. Unless and until there is concerted and continuous effort to achieve social and economic equality, mere political democracy will not satisfy people.

The political parties in India have turned into mere vote catching machines without any scruples. They want to cash on the weaknesses of others. Others weakness or lapse is their str2ngth. They do not have constructive or creative approach to rebuild society.

Of late the parties have become intolerant to others and they are looking at each and every issue through partisan and opportunistic lenses. In India, almost all political parties are in power in one state or the other. When they are in power, they want to safeguard their position by hook or crook, even with the most opportunistic alliances and with all types of compromises. When they are in opposition, they shed crocodile tears and try to recapture the power as early as possible. The constructive thinking is at a discount.

Thus in the political sphere, intolerance is growing, as the people in power have a single point of agenda, that is to cling on to power by hook or crook and while the opposition parties are steeped in mudslinging at their opponents. Politics, thus degenerated into, poly-tricks. Every party poses as though it is holier than others. But they do not hesitate to resort to corruption and nepotism when the opportunity comes. What happens in politics has a ripple effect on all other areas of social, economic and educational spheres. There may be some degrees of difference, but not much difference in quality.

As politicians lost their moral fiber and their sole aim is to capture power, they started alliances with the moneyed and the opportunistic groups and individuals. The outcome is too well known to be elaborated here. Anti-social elements capture the legislative and ministerial positions by their money and muscle power.

The political parties started compromising their stand on secularism, freedom of expression and democratic values. It is resulting in the rise of money power and fall in moral standards in public life.

It is the time to build alternatives to strengthen the democratic and secular ramparts we guard. Our sole aim is to achieve social change through democratic and secular means. Our moral fiber is our strength. Without firm commitment, determined action and ready for sacrifice, alternatives to the present dismal situation cannot be built.

The growing corruption in all fields of life -political, economic and social-is eating the vitals of the nation. As moral values are at discount, everyone talks about the corruption of the others. In one state or the other, all major parties are in power, at least as the coalition partners. When the opportunity to do corruption comes, they leave all their sermons to winds, and resort to corruption. The corruption of the ministers at the Union and the State Governments reveal that with some minor exceptions, majority of the politicians are trying to make hey when the sun shines. The degree of difference is in proportion to the opportunities they have to resort to graft. The people at various levels start emulating politicians. Corruption, nepotism, and partisan spirit go together. Corruption in the country is growing horizontally as well as vertically.

People are asking, who is our role model?

Caste and Democracy

Added to the woes, now intolerance is growing in the social field. Caste has become a convenient tool in the hands of the politicians. They are fanning the caste and sub-caste consciousness. In Portuguese language "Casta" means division and the word caste was derived. Since the advent of Independence, how many new castes emerged in India is everyone's guess. Now, many people moved beyond caste professions and they are migrating and are engaged in many other professions. But as the birth of the person is the criteria for caste classification, it opened up Pandora's Box and now the sub-caste consciousness also has grown, which is leading to hostility and intolerance between sub-castes, there is the new cause of intolerance and conflict in society. Caste and religion are intertwined. Religion will not go unless caste is abolished and inter-untouchability and intra-untouchablity is the part of the caste system. Caste consciousness grows at the expense of secularism. Politicians and social leaders are now exploiting the caste differences. Instead of encouraging castelessness and intercaste marriages and intermingling of all, politicians are trying to have a cleavage in the name of caste.  It will have an adverse affect on secularism.

Democracy has given the right to vote through universal adult suffrage. It is a quantum jump, no doubt. It brought new awakening among people. People's consciousness has increased. The media plays a major role in informing the people about their rights. It is a welcome change. But rights and duties are two sides of the same coin. It is a matter of regret that duty consciousness, and the effort to enhance their abilities for social good through collective action has not taken strong roots in the Indian soil. The political leaders and the Trade unions and all ethers are stressing their rights, but not on corresponding duties. Without performing their duties, the short cuts to success are short lived and leads to a bone of contention.

The growing intolerance in political, social and economic, educational and others spheres need to be tackled for the unity and integrity of the nation and society. Positive action with determined commitment will lead to change in the atmosphere. Corruption, nepotism, intolerance, parochial considerations need to be addressed at various levels. Alternatives must be evolved so that there will be a positive action for a positive future.

Role of Individuals and Organizations 

Here comes the role of the individual and all the organizations. Growing intolerance will lead to cut throat competition and instability in the nation and society. In this age of democracy, the citizen's action is bound to have a positive impact on the society in the long run, if not earlier.

For complex and compound problems there is no single or simple solution or instant results. But in a democratic environment the scope for social change is much more and in this age of communications and media, people' receptivity and wave-length can be established relatively faster than the yester years. Hence every conscious and concerned individual or organization must raise their voice against the growing intolerance in the society and its adverse impact on the democratic and secular ramparts we guard. Pleasure lies in pursuit and it is bound to gain momentum as the cause is genuine and the need is profound to the future growth of the nation and the society on peaceful lines. 

(Dr G Vijaym is the Executive Director of Atheist Centre, Vijayawada. This is the paper he presented at the 8th National Conference of  Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA) in Nagpur, Maharashtra, held on 11th & 12th February 2012. Dr Vijayam is also elected as the Patron of FIRA)

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Gujarat: A Decade of Carnage 2002

Ram Puniyani

India has witnessed many an acts of communal violence. Starting from the Jabalpur riot of 1961 to the last major one of Kandhmal (August 2008). Many an innocent lives have been lost in the name of religion. Amongst these the Gujarat carnage is a sort of marker. It came in the backdrop of massive Anti Sikh pogrom of 1984, the anti Muslim violence of post Babri demolition and the horrific burning of Pastor Graham Steward Stains in Kandhmal. It was a quantitative and qualitative departure from the other major carnages which have rocked the country. 

To begin with the burning of Sabarmati S 6 coach was cleverly projected to be an act done by neighboring Muslims and in turn the violence was directed against the Muslim population of Gujarat, on the ground that the Hindu sentiments are hurt. The section of Hindu community was deliberately incited by the decision of state to take the burnt bodies of victims in a procession, against the advice of the collector of the city. The Bandh call given by VHP created the ground for violence. Here the social engineering was at its display, and dalits and Adivasis were mobilized to unleash the violence against the hapless innocent Muslims, accompanied by the propaganda which demonized the Muslim community as a whole. While in earlier acts of violence, the state police have been an accomplice and the silent onlooker to the violence, here a sort of active collusion of state machinery and the communal forces was on display. 

The BJP ruled state Government had unrestricted run in the state as the Central Government was being ruled by BJP led NDA and the other allies of BJP were too enamored by the spoils of power to spoil the broth by speaking out. Modi had already instructed the officials to sit back when the Hindu backlash will take place. The leading light of socialist movement, George Fernandez, went to the extent of taking the violence against minority women in the stride by saying that rape is nothing new and it happens in such situations. What more was needed for the rioters to run amuck and to central BJP leadership to let the things go on. The pattern of violence against women was particularly horrific, targeting at their reproductive organs and shaming them to no end. 

While the architect of Gujarat pogrom Narnedra Modi kept saying that violence has bee controlled in three days, and central BJP leadership patted him for this, the matter of fact was that violence went on and on painfully for a long time, uncontrolled and unrestricted. The attitude of the BJP controlled state was pathetic and showed the religious bias in relief and rehabilitation work. The compensations given to minorities were abysmally low, state quickly retreated from the refugee camps on the ground that the refugee camps are ‘child production centers’, hitting the minorities where it hurts most. The biases against them were on full display. The atmosphere was created by communal forces in such a manner that the riot victims could not go back to their houses as the people in their areas demanded a written undertaking from them, that they will withdraw the cases filed in the context of violence and that they will not file any cases. Most of the police as machinery either refused to file the FIRs or if registered they kept enough loopholes for the criminals to get away. It was in this atmosphere that the process of getting justice became a close to impossible task. The communalized state apparatus, the attitude of police and judiciary led the Supreme court to direct the shifting of cases away from Gujarat. 

The investigation against Narendra Modi by the state police was an impossible task and so the Special Investigation team was constituted. Unfortunately, that also did not help the matters. Accompanying all this violence and attitude of state government the minorities started feeling extremely insecure. They were boycotted in trade and other social spaces. The result is the sprawling slum of Juhapura as the symbol of polarization of communities along the religious lines. The total dislocation of the monitories created multiple problems at the level of education and sources of livelihood for the minorities. 

The religious polarization and section of media has created a Halo around Narendra Modi, while strictures against him are coming by, about his failure to protect places of religious worship of minorities, the malafide intentions of state in filing cases against social activist Teesta Setalvad, many another cases are still pending, crying for justice for the victims of Gujarat. Having consolidated the section of majority community behind him, assured of their ongoing support, Modi started the high profile propaganda about development and has been trying to distract the attention from the havoc which he has wrought in the state. The big capitalists are finding the state of Gujarat as a happy hunting ground for massive state subsidies, so the media controlled by them is singing praises and modulating popular opinion in his favor, creating a larger than life size image, development man, in order to suppress his role in the violence against minorities. 

In this dismal scenario, there have been many an examples of victims and social activists standing for the cause of justice and doing the practically impossible task of getting justice for violence victims despite all the efforts to turn them hostile and protect the guilty of the communal crimes. While the massive propaganda and state policies are trying to turn the minorities into second class citizens, there are efforts which have gone on simultaneously to retrieve the democratic values in the face of such adverse intimidating situation created by the communal forces. Lately, apart from Court judgments, the civil society response has been picking up and the civil society is trying to overcome the stifling situation and trying to make its voice louder. While we are nowhere close to what should ideally be there in a democratic set up, the responses of civil society and social action groups are noteworthy in the matters of getting justice for victims and in the matters of recreating the liberal space which has been undermined by the communal forces. Times alone will tell if democratic values will be successfully brought in this ‘Hindu Rashtra in one state’

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A Code of Conduct for Rationalists

Prabhakar Kamath*

A rationalist’s approach to educating the deluded masses should be rational and not emotional.

Dr Prabhakar Kamath
Many rationalists are so incensed by the behavior of the religious fanatics that they become emotional in their retort. Emotional reaction invariably diminishes the logic of the rationalist. Very often the rationalists have their own emotional baggage, which comes in the way of calm, rational approach to addressing this problem.

A rationalist should have been born in the same religion that he wants to reform or undermine.

A Hindu rationalist cannot reason with a Muslim religionist and vice versa. His wisdom will be immediately discounted by virtue of the fact that he is of another religion.

For a rationalist to succeed in converting fanatics of his former religion, he must first show his authority on the scriptures of that religion, which are the basis of irrational beliefs and rituals.

The authority to change other people’s beliefs comes only to those people who have demonstrated high level of knowledge on the subject they are talking about. If the rationalist knows little about the scriptures, those who claim to know more than him would discount his ideas. A “Brahmin” rationalist who has mastered the scriptures has far better chance of showing the fraud of scriptures than a non-Brahmin who does not even have a rudimentary knowledge of them. It took Gorbachov, an ultimate insider, to topple Communism in Russia. It took Nixon, an ultimate conservative, to change the attitude of Americans toward Chinese.  One has to be an insider to show the irrationality of a given religion.

A rationalist must undermine the scriptures by giving concrete examples of fraud by vested interests, not just being dismissive of them off hand.

More often than not, a rationalist just gives his opinion about the wrongfulness of the delusion of religious people. This means he is entitled to his opinion and the religionist is entitled to his. End of progress.

A rationalist should resort to Constitutional measures to bring the fanatics to justice when they indulge in hateful behavior towards dissidents.

Deluded fanatics are obviously irrational people whose Constitution is their religion. They are living in the past. Religion was the Constitution (LAW, DHARMA) in the ancient times. Now we have a Constitution of the Nation, applicable to all religions. Rationalist’s approach should be strictly Constitutional and rational.

Dr. Prabhakar Kamath is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. This article was first published in Bangalore Skeptic (an ezine, now defunct) in 2009.  We reproduce the article as it seems to be still relevant.  Dr Kamth has written a series of articles from a skeptical point of view. You can read them here:

The Rise of Intolerance in India

V Kumaresan

V Kumaresan
The rise of intolerance seems to be alarming at present. The peculiar feature of it is that all voices of intolerance are not one and the same. Tolerance to inhuman practices is a age old phenomenon in this society. Human beings who have to be rational must be intolerant to irrational practices and events. They should be intolerant against inequities and injustice meted out to them. When the history of 20 centuries  and even earlier is scanned, it would be vividly evident that the major section of the mankind of this land were made subservient to dogmas and doctrines in the name of  god and religion, thereby they were tempered over a period of time to be tolerant of slavery. It is not mere the existence of social slavery, the slaves were made to enjoy their slavery. The social slavery was glorified as divine and as a design, created by god. Their life style was tuned as such and any violation of it was considered as crime and deserved punishment till such so called deviants are alive and even after their death.

This sort of centuries old inequitable tolerance was sanctified by the people who raise voice of intolerance at present, alarmingly. It is not the same people who designed the inequitable tolerance but they are the people who stake claim for the heritage of sustaining such an evil design in the society.

Presently, the intolerance exists in the society and its rise is not right in a collective sense. The nature of intolerance is not in totality; it is choosy; it is self-oriented. The relativity is lacking. Whenever it is convenient, the fundamentalists of the dominant section of the masses support or oppose on the right to freedom of speech and expression. When religious dogmas of other sects are exposed, the claim for the right to freedom of speech and expression rose to the sky, under the guise of intolerance. When such rights are exercised against their own religious dogmas, then their support for the right to freedom of speech and expression becomes dismal. This is the dilapidated tactics of the culturally dominant, oppressive section of the society.

B R Ambedkar
When ‘fatwa’ was issued by the then political head of foreign state against Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses, the other religious countries provided asylum for him. The fatwa issued against him has transnational impact. India need not have any reservation on the version of the Satanic Verses since it is a Secular State. In order to appease the  section of the people in India who follow the dogmas of religion against which Satanic Verses speak; it develops an illusion as if there would arise some security threat had the Britain dwelling Salman Rushdie attended the recently held Literary Festival in Jaipur, Rajasthan. When the security threat was discussed widely, no state machinery either in Maharashtra or Rajasthan was bold enough to share the perceived probable security threat. Even foreign litterateurs who read certain quotes from Satanic Verses at the Festival were pressurized to leave the venue and the country immediately. But the entire blame of probable security threat was shifted, to the premises owner where the Festival was held, under the guise of the apprehension of an individual. In that case what for the State exists, which is expected to maintain law and order. But the strange affair is criticism about such unsecured condition in a Secular State by the other sect of fundamentalists. They raise their voices in support of freedom of speech and expression. What were their views few decades back when Dr. Ambedkar’s book ‘Riddles of Rama and Krishna’ was published in Maharashtra. The same sect which advocates for freedom of speech and expression today was against the publication of Ambedkar’s book. The fundamentalist forces were diplomatic enough to celebrate the Birth Centenary Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, but opposed the publications of his writings. Same is the case when the foreign movie ‘The Da Vinci Code’ was released in India. It was banned for the reason that it hurts the sentiments of the particular religious sect. 

Taslima Nasreen
Latest episode is the release of biography of Taslima Nasrin, its seventh volume, Nirbasan at Kolkata Book Fair. It is just the release of biography of an atheist writer and not even a seminar, workshop or public meeting to deliberate on the contents on the book. The release of the book itself was not allowed at Kolkata, an important city in Secular India. But the adjoining State, Bangladesh, despite its deep faith in the religion against which Taslima Nasrin remains as a prolific writer, has provided a climate for the release of the book. 

In all these episodes, the tendencies of intolerance have been exhibited. But such tendencies are mutually conflicting. They cannot discharge their protest and opposition under one banner. The reason being, the opposing forces hail from different religious sects. Shadowing up their inherent conflicts, they project themselves as a force fighting for the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, whenever the dispute is raised about the religious dogmas other than their own. The forces behind the rise of intolerance in the name of fighting for the right to freedom of speech and expression are different with strong conflicting fundamentals ideologically as well as organizationally. 

Under such circumstances, the State which is expressive ‘secular’ constitutionally has to remain neutral, non-aligned and naturally with the support of atheists, rationalists and humanists. But the prevailing position is not like that. The State suffocates and suffers due to these fissiparous tendencies and rise of intolerance. All these inadequacies may be attributed to the secular approach adapted by the State which is indifferent. In letter it is right. The spirit behind it is different. The word ‘Secular’ means non-religious. The State should distance itself from the religious affairs. If one religious practice creates disharmony, the State should approach the issue in a humanistic way. Such approach has to be adopted whatever be the religion that creates nuisance to the society and its harmony. Instead of that, at present, State encourages every religion, of course not equally, provide patronage which cannot be the duty of a Secular State.  

What role we rationalists need to perform at this juncture?

As rationalists, we have to expose the real face of the fundamentalists who speak for the right to freedom of speech and expression for their convenience then and there. The contradiction between such forces should be sharpened and exposed at the times when rise of intolerance is projected as collective efforts with alleged coherences among them.

Certain provisions of constitutional law of India have to be amended. Article 19(i) (a) speaks about the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. Article 25 speaks about the right to freedom of practice and propagation of religion. It protects the freedom to practise rituals and ceremonies which are the integral part of the religion.
G Vijayam presenting his paper at the FIRA session on Rise of Intolerance - Sitting (from the right): V Kumaresan, Ramachandra CST Voltaire, and Dhaneswar Sahoo

In exercising these fundamental rights, in the name of ‘reasonable restriction’, freedom of speech and expression is curtailed to protect the sentiments as freedom of practice and propagation of religion. Freedom of religion could be possible only in an island where there exists no other religion. Many rituals and ceremonies are contradicting mutually among the prevailing religions. When the religious sentiments encourages inhuman practices, then the reasonable restriction  need not be applied and should not be applied on  the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Suitable amendments must be brought to provide exception clause on reasonable restriction for freedom of speech and expression providing immunity to the opposition made by fundamentalist. Amending the constitutional provisions is not a simple task. Lot of debates and discussions, involving the real secular political forces and various humanist movements are required. Let the initiatives be done by the rationalists under the banner of FIRA (Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations). We may be miniscule comparing to the vast population who adheres religion, either consciously or as convention without application of mind. The   task is challenging. We should remind ourselves, that in the history, many revolutionary happenings had been initiated only by few individuals. One footstep may look insignificant but necessarily it is the first step for the long march. The droplet may be tiny. It is the basic structure which devolves as the big flow stream. Let us resolve ourselves! Let us start today!

(Excerpts of the speech delivered by V.Kumaresan at 8th National Conference of Federation of Indian Rationalists Associations at Nagpur, Maharashtra  held on 11th and 12th February 2012. V Kumaresan is the General Secretary of The Rationalists’ Forum, Tamil Nadu.)

Gita: Not a Religious Book?

Ram Puniyani 

Srimad Bhagwat Gita or Bhagwat Gita or Gita has been in the news recently for various reasons. Few months ago, the matter came up when a Siberian Court in the Tomsk City of Russia was to decide about the ban on the translation of Gita by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad Swami, the founder of ISKCON. The argument was that this particular translation was promoting social discord and so be banned. It was perceived in India as if there is a demand for ban on Gita in Russia. In this context the matter came up in the parliament and a strong protest was voiced against banning of Hindu religious text. Later the court did not ban this particular translation and so the matters came to rest there. Incidentally it can be reemphasized that Gita as a Hindu religious scripture is prevalent in Russia from centuries, and what was being demanded was a ban on particular translation and not on the Holy Scripture as such. 

Closer home, the M. P. High court has ruled (Jan 2012) that “Gita is essentially a book on Indian philosophy, not book on Indian religion”. This judgment gave a sanction on the decision of M.P. Government to continue with the teaching of Gita Sar (Essence of Gita) in the MP schools. This petition had come up in the court when the Catholic Bishop Council appealed that moral values of all religions should be taught in schools and not just Gita. So now the M.P. High Court has concluded that since Gita is a book on Indian Philosophy and not on religion, it can be continued as such and the need to consider introducing the moral values from other religions as well, need not be considered. Incidentally other BJP ruled state; Karnataka is also planning to introduce the teaching of Gita in its schools. While giving this judgment, one wonders if the honorable judge forgot that while the oath is administered to Hindus in his court, they are made to do take oath by keeping their hand on the same Holy book, as a religious book not for its philosophy! 

One is reminded of another judgment at this time, the one known as “Hindutva as a way of life”. The Supreme Court was to decide whether the use of the word Hindutva in elections tantamount to corrupt electoral practices or not, as Hindutva divides people along religious lines. Contrary to the theological, sociological and political understanding that Hinduism is a religion and that the word Hindutva is built around Hindu religious identity, Court ruled something which opened the floodgates of dividing people along religious lines. This judgment ‘Hindutva is a way of life’ exonerated someone who was doing divisive religious propaganda and gave legitimacy to the politics in the name of religion. Now the Gita judgment has again raised the questions about the nature of Hinduism, its religious texts and its religious belief.

Opportunistically the MP government and other Hindutva ideologues who called Gita as a holy Hindu religious scripture, and so needs to be taught in schools are keeping quiet, as this judgment suits their political agenda. The confusions prevail at multiple layers, as Hinduism is not a prophet based religion and there is no single 'revealed holy book’ this understanding is being used by many to take the convenient path of taking the meaning which suits their purpose. 
While term Hindu is of late origin, eighth century, the consolidation of Hinduism from the various prevailing religious sects has been a process beginning around that time with Magadh Maurayan empire. There are many a religious scriptures, many a holy books in this umbrella of Hinduism, Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. So which is the holy scripture of Hindus? While all these books are regarded as Holy, over a period of time Hindu religion is being shaped around, One Deity, (Lord Ram) One Book (Gita), One Clergy (Acharyas, Mahants). The verdict of the court defies logic when it proclaims, “Gita is essentially a book on Indian philosophy not book on Indian religion.” 

The Bhagwat Gita or Gita (Song of God) is a 700 verse scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata. As it is drawn from Mahabharata it can be labeled as Smriti text. Some sects of Hinduism give it the status of Upanishad, thereby making it sruti (revealed) book. It is also regarded to represent the summary of Upanishadic teachings and so it is also called as ‘Upanishad of Upanishads’. In this Holy Scripture Lord Krishna teaches Arjun about his duties as a Prince belonging to Kshtriya Varna. Arjun was faced with the dilemma of the war, the possibility of killing his own kin, cousins and others. Lord tells Arjun that it is his holy duty to undertake the war. Lord elaborates on different Yogas and so Gita is often described as a core of Hindu theology. As most holy scriptures are the revelations from the supreme God, in Gita also Krishna reveals his identity as Supreme Being himself (Svayam Bhagvan). He blesses Arjun with the awe inspiring vision of divine universal form. 

The Gita elaborates on the central part of Hindu theology, the origin of Varnas. In Purush Sukta of Vedas Lord Brahma narrates as to how he created four Varnas from the body of Virat Purush. In Gita on similar lines Lord Krishna also tells about the divine origin of Varna’s. Lord says that the fourfold order was created by him according to the divisions of quality (Guna) and work (karma). 

One knows that origin of Hinduism is different from the Prophet based religions. Here there has been an evolution of the Hinduism over a period of time and today while Hinduism is a religion, Gita is its Holy Scripture. To take the stand that it is Indian philosophy and not religious one is far from truth. There is philosophy also in many a Holy Scriptures. Notwithstanding that, they are primarily religious scriptures. The verdict of the court needs re-examination as it is not conforming to the belief of millions of Hindus; neither can it stand the scrutiny of rational understanding about Hinduism as a religion. From the religion of Pastoral Aryans to the practices of Hindus today, there is a long journey. The communal forces want to introduce this text in schools as not only they want to impose Hindu nation in this country but also through this book, they aim to reinforce the concept of Varna, which is one of the core doctrine of Hinduism, and Gita tells this by attributing Varna to the divine creation by Lord Himself. While there are many a philosophical formulations in this divine book there is also the subtle defense of what the Hindutva politics wants to bring in today, Varan- Jati in a repackaged form.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Stifling the Freedom of Expression: Beyond the Obvious

Ram Puniyani

The whole fiasco of Salman Rushdie not coming to Jaipur Literary Festival, JLF, (Jan 2012) has been a great shame on Indian democracy. With the news that Salman Rushdie will be coming to JLF, Deoband seminary issued a protest against Rushdie’s coming to India to attend the same. This was due to the underlying understanding about the derogatory references to Prophet Mohammad by Rushdie’s in his novel Satanic Verses. As such Rushdie being an India born person has the right to come to the country without any VISA, and has been coming to India off and on. This time around it became a major issue in the public sphere and the conservative Muslim groups took up the issue in a strong way. There were many an associated things, Rushdie dropping his trip on the ground that there is an intelligence report that assassins have been dispatched to kill him. There are claims that this was a hoax deliberately planted to dissuade him from coming. Then, the few authors read non offensive extracts from Satanic Verses and were prevented from doing so by the organizers in the face of the strong protest from a group of conservative Muslims.

At the same time the tongues started wagging that the Muslims are fanatic, Islam is conservative and restrictive and many biases against Muslims started re-circulating. This came as one more opportunity for those intensifying Islamophobia. At this time a diverse section of Muslim leadership and scholars also pointed out that Rushdie has full right to express his opinion, to attend the festival. Satanic Verses, a 1988 novel by the author has been banned from being imported to India and its publication was prevented on the grounds that it will hurt the sentiments of section of Muslims. While Ruling Congress has been playing games with the elections in mind, the main opposition BJP has been criticizing the Congress. BJP, while critical of, Congress on this issue has been associated with the groups which have been demanding similar bans and have been vandalizing exhibitions and protesting against M.F. Husain’s paintings, demanding the withdrawal of A. K.Ramanujan’s essay on Ramayana and much more. 

AK Ramanujan
One can also recall similar stifling of freedom of expression from Hindutva stable, their agitations-attacks for demanding ban of books/paintings etc. Their acts of vandalizing are a long list, attack on Hussain’s paintings and withdrawal of Ramanujan’s essay from University book being the few of these. In both the responses of Muslim Fundamentalists and Hindutva group, what is common is their opposition to liberal stance, and sticking to the conservative thoughts, protests and much more.  Their interpretation of the works of art and writing is narrow and both have no tolerance for the view of ‘others’, both streams are far away from liberal mind set. Freedom of expression, respect for divergent views, which is the core value of democracy, does not exist for them. 

While reiterating that freedom of expression is the core pillar of progressive, modern society, one recalls that this attack on freedom of expression has gone up in the society more so during last three decades. It needs to be linked to various political forces globally and locally. The politics of oil, projection of the Salafi version of Islam as the Islam, the Madrassas set up by US to train Taliban, Al Qaeda and the threat perceived by sections of Muslim community globally has given rise to the reaction leading to tendencies of conservative world view. With attacks on many a Muslim countries in the oil zone and demonization of Muslims through US media’s coining of the term ‘Islamic Terrorism”, the psyche of Muslim community has come under a stress. This demonization of Muslim community is so gross that the feeling of insecurity comes in and it strengthens the conservative thought process. 

In India, the things are much worse. In the aftermath of Partition, the seeds of communal hatred sowed by the communal organizations, Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha-RSS, have led to the mind set which triggered communal violence, which came back strongly in post Independence India. In this communal violence, 90% victims are Muslims, while they are 13.4% in population. The series of violence going from riots to carnage, to pogrom has created an atmosphere of gross insecurity amongst the Muslims. This insecurity is the fertile ground on which the fundamentalists find the merry hunting ground. Salman Rushdie tells us that Satanic Verses is not banned in Egypt, Turkey and has been unbanned in post revolution Libya. There is a complex interplay between the global factors leading to Muslim insecurity and the local condition of Muslims, where they face the violence from majoritarian political groups operating in the name of religion. The physical insecurity amongst minorities leads to the situation where identity related issues become more important. This in turn leads to the influence of Mullahs, conservative world view and intolerance to others’ views. 

Sculptures at Khajuraho
The impact of majoritarian politics in the name of religion has a different dynamics. It creates a feeling of insecurity amongst large sections of majority by projecting the imaginary fear of minorities. In India this has been the handiwork of Hindutva politics. The politics of Hindutva, which resurfaced in the decades of 1980s, is built around the existential anxiety of upper caste/class in the face of social and political changes leading to the entry of downtrodden dalits and women in to the social space. The affluent-upper caste groups, in order to preserve their social-economic privileges hark upon identity politics, the like of Ram Janmbhumi movement-holy cow etc

The agenda of identity politics-politics in the name of religion, any religion for that matter, is to suppress the process of transformation of social equations of caste and gender. This politics of identity projects the ‘outside’ enemy in the form of minorities. The minorities are projected as the threat for majority and so the conservative mind set comes up. So in the country of Konark and Khajuraho, M.F. Husain’s old paintings of nude goddesses are ‘discovered’ and his exhibitions are rampaged. In the country where infinite versions of lord Ram story prevail, a Sahmat exhibition showing the Buddhist Jataka version is attacked, and Ramanujan’s celebrated essay, scientifically telling about diverse versions of Lord Ram story, is made to be withdrawn. This is another threat to freedom of expression, which does not come under as much criticism. 
Bharat Mata of MF Hussain

Both, majority and minority fundamentalisms are prevailing in the country; both these fundamentalisms attack the freedom of expression and liberal thought. They are regressive; still their etiology is very different. Amongst minorities the insecurity is the expression of defensive ‘turtle’ psychology while the fundamentalism from the majoritarian groups is expression of offensive agenda and it comes from its projecting the minorities as the threat to majority. No fundamentalism is good, they have their own dangers. The one from minority groups has many times been very visible as in Shah Bano case or in the present one in Rushdie case. The other from, the majoritiarian groups sometimes aggressive; sometimes subtle has much different potential. It aims to abolish democracy and bring in a fundamentalist regime. While taking the government to the task on Rushdie fiasco, one also needs to look beyond and realize that ‘physical insecurity’ (minorities) and ‘constructed insecurity’ (majoritarian politics) are the breeding ground for the intolerance. While recapitulating the Rushdie affair one also needs to keep in mind the aggressive agendas of a politics which cannot tolerate a Ramanujan or a Husain. 


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