Monday, 28 September 2015

Facets of Materialism in India: A Historical Outline - Part I

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

The history of materialist thought in India is quite old, going back at least to the times of the Buddha. But its latest form, known as the Cārvāka/Lokāyata, flourished only in or around the eighth century CE. It was a living system till the twelfth century. Thereafter it seems to have vanished into the blue, without leaving any trace whatsoever. It was the most uncompromising philosophical system that ever appeared in India. It refused to accept the notions of the other-world (paraloka), i.e., heaven and hell, rebirth, any creator God, and the infallibility of the sacred texts (the Vedas in particular). Its bold satire against all this is reminiscent of the Encyclopaedists of eighteenth-century France. In short, it was a materialist (or, as some prefer to call it, naturalist or physicalist) system through and through. All pro-Vedic schools of India, particularly Vedānta, Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya among the orthodox (āstika) systems, and the Buddhist and the Jain among the heterodox (nāstika) ones, tried their best to refute both the Pre-Cārvāka and the Cārvāka/Lokāyata views. Unfortunately we are not in a position to say how the materialists, both old and new, responded to the charges brought against them, for all the Pre-Cārvāka and the Cārvāka/Lokāyata works – the base or mūla texts (a collection of aphorisms, sūtras) and commentaries and sub-commentaries (if any) – are lost. All that have come down to us are fragments quoted or paraphrased by their opponents. Attempts have been made to reconstruct the basic tenets of the system on the basis of such a pitifully few specimens.1

It is not easy to say what the Cārvākas really meant. The case is similar to that of many of the Presocratics whose works have come down to us in similar conditions. However, it is known that the views of the Cārvākas have been distorted and wilfully misrepresented by those who were not only idealists and Vedic fideists, but also strong supporters of status quo ante in their socio-economic outlook.

Materialism in India before the Cārvākas

There are inklings of Pre-Cārvāka materialist thoughts as well as expressions of doubts and even open denial of current notions concerning God or gods, life after death, the soul etc., in much older works. Like the Cārvākas, some earlier thinkers, right from the later Vedic times down to the days of the Buddha and Mahāvīra (sixth/fifth century bce) and even after, asserted the primacy of matter (consisting of five basic elements, namely, earth, air, fire, water and space) over consciousness, futility of performing sacrifices (yajña) and post-mortem rites (śrāddha), and offering gifts (dāna) to Brahmanas. The Cārvāka/Lokāyata seems to have absorbed all such views that had originated before its times and appeared as the vigorous ‘negative arm’.2

The history of proto-materialism in India can be traced back to the late Vedic period (1500 bce – 500 bce). We have glimpses of scepticism, direct challenge to the authority of the Veda, rejection of the existence of the other-world (paraloka), etc. both in the Saṃhitās and the Upaniṣads.3 The Uddālaka-Śvetaketu episode (Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.1, 2, 7, and 12-13) has been particularly marked off as representing rudiments of materialism.4 However, for a clear-cut exposition of a proto-materialist view we have to wait for the Buddhist and Jain works. ‘The Duologue of King/Governor Pāyāsi’ (‘Pāyāsi(rājañña)-suttanta’) in The Long Discourses (Dīgha Nikāya) and the Jain work, Dialogue of King Prasenajit (Rāya-pasenaijja), have been highlighted by some other scholars (disregarding the Chāndogya).5 Another such Sutta, ‘The Discourse on the Fruits of Being a Monk,’ The Long Discourses (‘Sāmañña-phalasutta’, Dīgha Nikāya), introduces, among other itinerant preachers, a proto-materialist mendicant called Ajita Kesakambala, who is said to have practised extreme austerity by wearing a hair-garment (hence the eponym) throughout the year, having no concern for heat and cold. This evidently gives a lie to the notion that all materialists have been hedonists. Ajita is made to propound the proto-materialist ‘worldview’ more elaborately.6 The ideas recorded in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, however, are rather fragmentary, although they deal with issues that are not even touched in Ajita’s declaration. Thus, by juxtaposing the two sources, one Upaniṣadic and the other, Buddhist, we can reconstruct the first inklings of proto-materialist thought in India.

Another point to be noted is that history of materialism in India shows two distinct phases. The first, as mentioned above, may be called ‘old materialism’ and the second, beginning with the Cārvākas (who do not appear in the philosophical scene before the eighth century ce), ‘new materialism’.7 Historians of Indian philosophy, both European and Asian, tend to ignore the period lying between the Pre-Cārvākas such as Ajita or Uddālaka (not later than the sixth/fifth century bce) and Purandara (not later than the eighth century ce), a commentator on the Cārvākasūtra and most probably the compiler of the base text. They treat it as a sort of tempora incognita, a long period about which nothing is known, with no indication of materialist thought flourishing or even surviving anywhere in India.

The fact is otherwise. We do have a Tamil epic called Maṇimēkalai (composed between the fourth and the seventh century ce) which is an important landmark in the development of materialism. A whole canto (27) is devoted to the discussion of several philosophical systems then current in South India. A Vedic logician tells the heroine, Maṇimēkalai:

These are the systems that accept logic:
Lokayata, Buddhism, the Sankhya,
Nyaya, Vaiseshika and Mimamsa.
The teachers of these sects: Brhiaspati,
Buddha, Kapila and Akshapada,
Kanada and Jaimini. At present
The six systems of logic in use are
Through perception, inference, the Shastras,
Analogy, presumption and negation.” (27.78-85, p. 149)8

In the same epic we also have an exposition of the basic materialist ontology by a bhūtavādin (an exact translation of this term would be ‘materialist’):

When aathi (?) flowers, sugar and the rest
Are mixed, wine is made. Life too appears
By the mixing of elements, vanishes
When they separate as [do] sounds from a drum.
Conscious elements produce life within
And unconscious ones produce the body
Each appearing through their [its] elements.
This is the truth.” (27.265-71, p. 154)

Not only this. We read of not one, but two distinct schools of materialism bhūtavāda ‘the doctrine of the elements’ and Lokāyata, differing in their epistemological views:
Words different from this
And other facts are from Materialists [Lokāyatas].
Sense perception is valid. Inference
Is false. This birth and its effects conclude
Now. Talk of other births is falsity.” (27.272-76, p. 154)

In spite of all this, however, nothing specific is known about the social outlook of the materialists in general and the Cārvākas in particular. All the works of the materialists, whether old or new, are lost. Not a single complete book, neither the base text nor any commentary has come down to us.9 All we have are a few fragments, quoted in the works of the opponents of materialism.10 There is a general canard that the materialists were all heedless hedonists, preaching an ‘eat, drink and be merry’ kind of philosophy of life. Right from the Jain canonical text, the Sūtrakṛtānga-sūtra (orally transmitted for almost a thousand years, written down in the sixth century), down to the Sarva-darśana-saṅgraha (chapter 1) by Sāyaṇa-Mādhava (fourteenth century ce) we read of this criticism. Since we have no way of knowing how the old or the new materialists responded to this charge, we have to resort to what other writers have spoken of them.

And here is a surprise waiting for us. At least two denigrators of materialism have made the materialists proclaim the equality of the sexes, and extol the womankind rarely found in Sanskrit literature.11 Moreover, we are told, that the materialists were opposed to caste discrimination as well.

It appears from the works of Kṛṣṇamiśra and Śrīharṣa, two Vedāntin philosopher-poets, that the Cārvākas were opposed to caste (varṇa) and gender discriminations. Since we have no option but to reconstruct the Cārvāka/Lokāyata, in fact the whole of materialism in India as such, on the basis of the evidence provided by their opponents, we have to be extra-cautious regarding the possibility of misrepresentation. However, because both the authors mentioned above have been already utilized by scholars and historians of Indian philosophy,12 it is at least probable that their presentation of the social outlook of the Cārvākas may not be far from the truth.

1 See R. Bhattacharya 2009, pp.69-104.
2 Cowell 1862, p.382.
3 See Sarup pp.78-81, Radhakrishnan and Moore pp.34-36, 227 n1, Del Toso pp.138-41.
4 Ruben 1962, pp. 345-54. D. Chattopadhyaya 1985, pp. 164-227, followed Ruben in this respect.
5 Frauwallner 2:216 et seq, Franco and Preisendanz 1998, p.179; Franco 2011, p.634. Haribhadra’s Story of Samarāditya (Samarāiccakahā) is a re-working of the same story. The three versions do not vary widely. The original story (now lost) from which all the three seem to have been derived must have been the same. See R. Bhattacharya 2009, pp.22-24.
6 See Appendix A below.
7 See R. Bhattacharya 2013a, p.1.
8 For the concept of ‘six tarkas’, see Gerschhiemer pp.239-58. This otherwise admirable essay, however, does not mention the Maṇimēkalai. – For a study of the Tamil epics as sources for the study of different systems of philosophy, particularly materialism, see Vanamamalai, pp.25-41.
99 Some scholars believe that the Tattvopaplavasiṃha by Jayarāśibhaṭṭa is the work of a Cārvāka, although by ‘Cārvāka’ they mean a section of them who were sceptics, not materialists (e.g. Sanghvi and Parikh 1940, pp .i-xiv, reprinted in Cārvāka/Lokāyata, , pp. 394-43, and Franco 1994, pp. XII-XIII). Such a claim is not beyond question, but even assuming for argument’s sake that Jayarāśi was a non-materialist Cārvāka, the fact still remains that his work does not represent mainstream materialism – a fact that is denied only by those who have never cared to read the book. As V.N. Jha recently observed, ‘The Cārvākas seem to have accepted only one pramāṇa called perception and the four mahābhūtas namely, earth, water, fire, and wind. Jayarāśi demolishes this position also. Thus, although one may get an impression initially that Jayarāśi is the follower of the Cārvāka school, one will be disillusioned once one completes the reading of the text carefully’ (p. xi).
10 For a collection of available fragments, see n1 above. For another translation of the aphorisms and pseudo-aphorisms and the verses attributed to the Cārvākas (most of them of doubtful authenticity), see Franco 2011.
11 One honorable exception is Varāhamihira (505-87) who is eloquent in praise of women in his compendious work, Bṛhatsaṃhitā, part 2, chap. 27 (74), particularly verses 2-11.
12 See, for instance, Muir 1861, reprinted in Cārvāka/Lokāyata (C/L), 365 n3, 366-67 n13; H. Shastri 1925, reprinted in C/L, p.382; D. R. Shastri 1957, p.62; Dasgupta, 3: 531 n2, 532, etc.

Prof Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of Pavlov Institute, Kolkata.

Controlling Thought and Food Habits

Ram Puniyani

The intolerance does not grow in one field of social life in isolation. In different arena of our life it tends to run in a parallel manner. In Maharashtra, with the BJP majority Government in seat of power, we had a ban on the storing, selling and eating of beef few months ago. This ban increased the problems of a large section of society, the workers in abettor, those consuming beef and those selling beef. The workers of Devnar abettor, located in Mumbai, the biggest one in the area, rendered jobless due to this decision of the Government are writhing in the pain of unemployment. Then came the Government order that any criticism of Government servants will be treated as sedition. This is an attempt to put a total cap on the basic democratic rights, on freedom of expression and on the right to dissent. During this period the state witnessed the murder of two of its foremost rationalist thinkers and leaders, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar and Comrade Govind Pansare (who was also a political worker) for taking on the forces of blind faith and for promoting scientific temper. In the neighboring Karnataka the ex-Vice Chancellor of Kannada University, Hamphi, the tall scholar of Kannada and rational intellectual was done to death.

On the heels of this comes the decision of Mira Bhaynder Municipal Corporation to ban the non vegetarian food, except fished and eggs, during Paryushan, a Jain festival, for eight days. This ban has been put for four days in Mumbai area under Mumbai Corporation. BJP is in lead in taking decisions in this direction. As such over a period of time the number of days for which this ban has been there is proportionally going up with the rise of sectarian politics in the nation and in the state. As such earlier during Paryushan the ban was there for one day in 1960s, two day in 1990s, now it is four days in Mumbai and eight days in Mira Road-Bhayander area. Interestingly fishes and eggs which Jains don’t consume have been spared from the wrath of the zealots who think imposing your sentiments is part of one’s religion. Will there be such a demand for prohibiting garlic and root vegetable, which are also prohibited by Jain practices, next? 

Country as a whole has been the victim of this food fundamentalism of the dominant forces. There are housing societies in Mumbai where the non-vegetarians are not allowed to stay. In Ahmadabad, Gujarat I came across an interesting incident. I was staying with a friend, who was living in a rented accommodation. Suddenly one morning when we were sipping our morning tea, the landlord barged in and headed straight to the kitchen. And then after few minutes he made his exit. I was puzzled. My friend explained that it is “Kitchen Check’ to examine whether any non vegetarian food is being cooked or consumed! It was very baffling moment for me. One knows that there is a sort of ‘food curfew’ during the day time during Ramzan month in many Gulf countries, where Sheikhs are ruling with iron hand, in the name of Islam. Which community and whose sentiments will prevail in a diverse society is a complex question.

How does one handle the food habits in a diverse society like ours? As such earlier also many a kings have respected the sentiments of the minorities. Akbar when approached by the Jain delegation did impose restriction on Non vegetarian food for some time.  Babar in his will to his son Humayun instructs that cow slaughter should not be permitted as deference to Hindu sentiments. As such the basic aspect of teachings of religion is to respect the feelings of other people in the society. What is taught is that the followers of that religion implement these in their lives. The question of imposing one’s sentiments on the others is the sign of one’s social dominance in the society. Communal parties for the sake of vote bank and for their political social agenda are feeling they can have their way and impose such practices on the society. There are others who feel grateful enough if they can practice their own things in their own family and social space without imposing it upon others.

As such what should happen in a democratic society? It’s very complex question at one level. Point should be to respect each other’s feelings and accommodate for that. Ideal is that the ‘other’ calls for such a self imposition out of volition and respect. That’s what Mahatma Gandhi teaches us time and over again. Be it the matter of religious practices or food habits, his path was clear, lets follow our path without imposing it upon others. As such, imposing one’s sentiments on ‘others’, is the highest form of violence. One of Gandhi’s writing on the issue of beef eating- cow slaughter is very illuminating, he writes “I maintain that Muslims should have full freedom to slaughter cows, if they wish, subject of course to hygienic restrictions and in a manner not to wound the susceptibilities of their Hindu neighbors. Fullest recognition of freedom to the Muslims to slaughter cows is indispensable of communal harmony, and is the only way of saving cow.” (

Our country has diverse food habits, from Arunchal Pradesh to Kerala to Punjab and Gujarat, we inherit the rich diversity. With the rise of the sectarianism and politics in the name of Hindu religion, Hindutva, such intolerant things are being brought in with bigger aggression. The section of Jain leadership, which getting this done, is close to the BJP.  BJP in turn has an agenda in all aspects of our socio-cultural life. Ban on Beef eating is a deliberate ploy to sharpen the divisive politics, the politics which is polarsing the communities. One recalls the 1946 V. Shantaram Classic film Padosi, where the two neighbors, Hindu and Muslim, love and respect each other’s sentiments and feelings. There are legions of stories in times past where such camaraderie amongst these communities was a matter of celebrating each other’s practices not just tolerating them. It is this intermixing at all the levels which gave us the diverse plural heritage, the culture of joy and celebration of diversity in our country.

Such issues related to bans have become an integral part of identity politics, Islamism in Gulf countries and Hindutva in India. This is painfully gripping our democratic society by the neck and imposing suspicion and dislike for the ‘other’. The economic aspects of banning beef, and banning selective non vegetarian food during the Paryushan is of no concern to the political leaders who keep deepening their hold on the section of community not by harping on issues of dignity and rights of the people but by the intolerant attitude for the ‘other’.

From over last one year, this stifling attitude is a retrograde step, putting chains on our democratic freedoms. This is a regressive march inching towards the pattern of countries where democratic freedoms have been put under the carpet in the name of religion

Killing a Rationalist: Silencing Reason

Ram Puniyani

The killing of Professor Maleeshappa Madhivallapa Kalburgi on 30th August 2015 came as a severe jolt to all those who are for an open, liberal society, who uphold the values of reason and are against blind faith. Prof. Kalburgi was a renowned scholar with over 100 books to his credit. He had brought to fore the ideology of Basavanna; the 12th Century poet saint of Kannada; and had supported the idea that Lingyats, the followers of Basavanna be given the status of religious minorities as they do not belong to the Vedic tradition. His study of Vachanas, the teachings contained in the verses of Basavanna, was a profound contribution to the rational thought.

It was his forthright reminder of Basavanna’s teachings, criticism of idol worship and Brahmanical rituals, which earned him the wrath of Hindutva groups like Bajrang Dal. As there are many traditions within the broad pantheon of Hinduism, the atheist tradition has its own existence from centuries, Charvak being the one from ancient times. Even opposition of idol worship is not new to Hindu traditions as Swami Dayanand Sarswati, founder of Arya Samaj, had given the call to stop the idol worship.

Prof MM Kalburgi
Incidentally as we are receiving the news of this killing, the neighboring Bangla Desh has witnessed the murder of three young secular bloggers in recent times (2015). In Syria a Scholar Khaled al-Assad has been put to death by ISIS fanatics. Maharashtra was shaken by the murder of a rationalist of repute Dr. Narendra Dabholkar nearly two years ago. He was instrumental in getting the law against black magic and practices related to blind faith passed in Maharashtra. Another well respected activist, Comrade Govind Pansare was killed just a year ago. Pansare was working on many issues; anti-blind faith campaign being one of them. He is also the author of well known tract on Maharashtra’s revered king Shivaji. Contrary to the communal presentation of Shivaji as anti Muslim king, Pansare shows that Shivaji was the king who was very sympathetic to the farmers (rayyat) and that he was respecting all religions. This interpretation of Shivaji is a great eyesore to the Hindutva politics.

On the back of the murders of these two rationalists, comes the murder of Dr. M.M. Kalburgi on 30th August 2015 in his home in Dharwad. Prof Kalburgi was a very well accomplished man, ex Vice Chancellor of Kannada University in Hapmi, and recipient of National and Karnataka Sahitya Academy Awards for his writings. The learned professor had deep study of Virshaiva, Basavanna tradition amongst others. The opposition to him was due to his criticism of idol worship, Brahmanical rituals and ritualization of Basavanna tradition by Lingyats. Controversies followed him and so did the threats from conservative forces. The first one of which, was the publication of Marga treatise on Kannada folklore including articles on Virshaiva, Basavanna. Due to the death threats to him time and over again police protection was given. This police protection was withdrawn on his request recently. He supported U.R. Anathmurthy on the issue of stopping idol worship. When he invited VHP leaders and the pontiff of Vishveshra Tirtha Swami for a public debate; another controversy followed. His support to Karnataka bill against practices of superstition invited anger of Bajarang Dal and associate organizations and he had to face protest; where his effigy was burnt.

There is a pattern in the murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi. Though there are some differences in the broad range of field of their social engagement, the similarity is very striking. They were rational, they made their voice abundantly clear and many threats were received by them. Another stark similarity is that all these three murders took place in early mornings by those who came on motor cycles, one person driving the bike and the second one pumping bullets. Strangely despite a long lapse of time the killers of Dabholkar and Pansare have not been nabbed so far.

After the murder of Kalburgi one Bajrang Dal activist Bhuvith Shetty tweeted, ***"Then it was UR Ananthamurthy and now MM Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die dogs (sic.) death. And dear KS Bhagwan you are next" .*** This tweet was later withdrawn. Also many a person’s related to Hindu right wing organizations started saying that Kalburgi had insulted Hindu gods, so anger among Hindus and so such murders. This is a subtle justification of the intolerance which our society is being gripped with. As such the attitude of communal elements in different religions is very similar. One recalls the threat to Salman Rushdie, the type of intolerance shown to Taslima Nasreen and the murder of bloggers in Bangla Desh and also murder of Salman Taseer in Pakistan. Taseer had stood in defense of a Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy.

The opposition to the voices of reason has been going on in History all through. One can as well begin with Charvak, who opposed the Brahmanical understanding about the world, divine nature of Vedas in particular. Charvak said Vedas are manmade, social in nature, and was persecuted. Gradually with the power of clergy the imposition of faith on society became more institutionalized. Even teachings of Gautam Buddha, who was agnostic, and talked about the social nature of human problems, were attacked. This had led to the wiping out of Buddhism from India. The medieval Bhakti saints were also more for rational thinking, critical of the imposition of various social practices-rituals in the name of faith. Many saints like Tukaram in Maharashtra had to face persecution at the hands of those who were close to social power, the clergy.

Globally one can see the same pattern in Europe. In Europe the scientists, rational thinking had to face the opposition from organized Church, which condemned Galileo to hell for stating that the Earth is round etc. Similar was the fate of many scientists who had to face inquisitions and punishments of various types. Clergy hid behind the façade of ‘divine authority’: faith, and tried to stall the process of social change and halt the scientific thinking. The society over a period of time overcame the opposition to the rational thinking and so we saw the rooting of science and scientific inquiry. Clergy had maintained that they are the repository of whole knowledge; as knowledge is already there in our ‘Holy books’. This is a part generalization and it manifested in different cultures and religions in diverse ways. In Pakistan, some Maulanas asserted that the problems related to power can be solved by doing research on djinns, who are power houses of infinite energy; this was presented as part of the religious knowledge.

In India with freedom movement, those standing for social change and transformation did stand for rational thinking and critiqued the scriptures from that angle. The traditionalists, who wanted to retain the old social equations; resorted to ‘our glorious heritage of knowledge’. Faith based understanding was counterpoised against the spirit of scientific inquiry. With independence, with Nehru being at the helm of affairs, the notion of ‘scientific temper’ came up in a big way paving the way for establishment of institution of higher learning and research; leading to the national growth and transformation towards democratic structures. This was the time when the nation was looking forward to all round progress and rational thinking was duly promoted. The national science resolution; based on reason and logic was passed unanimously in 1958.

Things start changing in the decades of 1980s. The politics in the name of religion came up in a very assertive manner and faith not only continued to be the emotional support system in the times of social anxiety but some political forces started asserting identity politics, faith based politics. Identity issues and faith based politics started getting more legitimacy. The social conservatism and undermining of rational thought went hand in hand. Incidentally it is around this time also when the groups promoting rational thought, scientific temper, groups to oppose blind faith, came up. The most prominent of these groups was Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad. Later in Maharashtra Narendra Dabholkar took the lead to establish Andhshraddha Nirmulan Samiti (Committee to oppose Blind faith).

This took the Maharashtra conservative elements by storm as the volunteers of this organization started going from village to village and started demonstrating the science behind the magic tricks which were being practiced by hoards of God men and other of their tribe, who were taking full advantage of the social insecurity of poor villagers and exploiting them. Pansare, in addition to opposing blind faith was also disseminating the values of Shivaji, presenting him as a person respecting all religions, which Shivaji was. The right wingers could not stomach it; neither could they oppose the logical formulations presented by him. In Karnataka individual like U.R. Ananthmurthy articulated against idol worship and blind faith. Kalburgi not only supported U R Anathmurthy; he also went on the support the bill against the practices promoting blind faith. He did author papers/books to disseminate his ideas.

Slightly back in time when the first NDA Government came to power with Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi as the MHRD minister, he introduced the courses like ritualism (paurohitya) and astrology (jyotish shastra) in the universities. This gave a big boost to the ‘faith’ based groups who were politically close to the politics in the name of Hindu religion. With the new Government coming to power (2014) again now the mythology is being promoted as history, the Pushpak viman, ‘plastic surgery in ancient India’ etc. is being promoted; at the same time so called fringe elements, which as such are part of the Hindutva politics, are becoming more assertive. The liberal open space is shrinking and the place of debate is being taken by physical violence. The liberal values which accept the validity of differences is being eliminated by force, intimidation and even partly by state support. The murder of these ‘saintly’ figures , Dabholkar, Pansare and Klaburgi, just goes to show  that we are landing in a situation where those entrenched in the conservative values are becoming dominant and do not want the rational thinking to exist in our society.

The aggressive stance by the Hindutva right wing on those who are putting forward the rational thought, criticizing the ills of caste system, idol worship etc. is ideological supplement to the politics of Hindu right wing. The march of this politics in recent years has been built around identity issues like Ram temple or cow slaughter. Their whole assertion is built around the Brahmanical Hinduism, which upholds the caste hierarchy. The ideology being propounded by the likes of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi stands closer to the ideology for liberation from the caste hierarchy, which is the root of HIndutva politics. This politics does target the religious minorities, while ironically Hinduism is so diverse with contradictory tendencies within same religious umbrella. Kalburgi’s murder is part of the larger scheme of things where the ideologies opposed to the present status quo are being hounded along with persecution of those who are struggling to uphold these values.

On the other hand there has been a tremendous opposition to these brutal acts. The social groups upholding pluralism and rationalism have been agitating against these murders and the ideology of those involved in these killings.  Opposition of sections of society to the murders of Daholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi shows that there are still large numbers of people who are willing to uphold rational values and that gives a ray of hope for the times to come. In last couple of years after the murder of Dabholkar, various social groups have been coming together with a determination not only to oppose the intolerant conservative aggressive right wing politics, but also to take up the unfinished task of these slain pioneers committed to social change

Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj: To Each Ones’ Own!

Ram Puniyani

Some concerned citizens have filed a Public Interest Litigation (August 17 2015) to stop the highest award of Maharashtra Government, Maharashtra Bhushan to Babasaheb Purandare. Purandare is known for his work ‘Raja Shivaji Chatrapati’ and the play ‘Jaanata Raja’ (wise king) his is not the first time that such a controversy around Purandare has come up. Few years ago Maharashtra Government had appointed him as Chairman of the Committee which was to plan the statue of Shivaji in Arabian Sea. The Maratha Mahasangh objected to this appointment on the ground that Shivaji was a Maratha while Purandare is a Brahmin. Purandare’s interpretation of Shivaji presents him as the one who was devoted to Brahmins and Cows (Go Brahman Pratipalak) and the one who was against Muslims. This interpretation of Shivaji has been the major version used by sectarian political groups. As this on one hand presents him as upholder of supremacy of upper caste and at the same time looks down upon Muslim kings. 

Maharashtra has seen many a controversies on Shivaji issue times and over again. There was an attack on Bhandarakar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), Pune few years ago. The issue at that time was that this institute had helped the western author James Laine for writing his book, ‘Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India’. In this book he had cast aspersions on Shivaji’s mother by mentioning some rumors. Maratha-Brahmin politics was at the root of this. BORI is regarded more as being Brahminical. In yet another controversy, just before the elections in Sangli area (2009), the poster of Shivaji killing Afzal Khan with a knife, was the provocation for communal violence, in which one person was killed and a tense atmosphere was created. The symbolism was that Shivaji is representing Hindus while Afzal Khan represents Muslims. This is the fertile ground for hatred and the consequent violence, which polarized the communities and the communal forces won the election.

One recalls another controversy around Shivaji and that was when the Human rights activist Teesta Setalvad had prepared a hand book of history for school teachers in which she narrated the incident of Maharashtra Brahmins refusing to coronate Shivaji as he was a Shudra. The priest from Kashi; Gaga Bhat; had to be invited, who did coronate him but with the little toe of the left foot, as that is the organ which according to Brahmanical norms is lowest in the body hierarchy.

The local Shiv Sainiks objected to this handbook on the ground that how dare someone call Shivaji as Shudra? History has its own truth and emotions operate on different wavelength! What is true is that Shivaji was a King who reduced the burden of taxation on the poor peasants. That’s what made him popular amongst the masses. Also the legend of Shivaji asking his army to return the Muslim daughter in law of Kalyan’s Nawab is a matter of deep respect for him amongst the people of Maharashtra. The memories of his policies towards the rayyat (cultivating farmers) make him very revered figure in Maharashtra.

Lokmanya Tilak was the first one who recalled Shivaji’s role by organizing a Shivaji festival. Tilak presented him as protector Brahmins and Cows. Since then Shivaji came back in the social memory but with upper caste orientation. The later popularization of Shivjai was done by communal forces that centered the narration on Shivaji’s battles with Aurangzeb and Afzal Khan. This was in a build up to Shivaji’s own kingdom. These battles with these two Muslim kings are highlighted while Shivaji’s battles with Hindu kings are underplayed or omitted from the recall. While his battle with Aurangzeb was for power; the official who came from Aurangzeb’s side was Raja Jaisingh who was a big official in Aurangzeb’s administration. In case of Afzal Khan it was Shivaji’s Muslim body guard who advised him to carry the iron claws, while on Afzal Khan’s side we see Krishnaji Bhaskar Kulkarni as his secretary. The battles for power have been given religious color.

Today Shivaji on one side is being used for sharpening communal (Hindu Muslim divides) and on other hand between Brahmin-Marathas.

The rational understanding of Shivjai has been excellently presented by late Com. Govind Pansare in his very popular book Shivaji kon Hota? (Who was Shivaji?) Com Panasre’s you tube video is also a brilliant watch, ‘Janatecha Raja Shivaji’. One need to realize that the shadow boxing around Shivaji is in a way is reflection of the underlying communal politics and caste struggles. Real Shivaji needs to be understood so that we can undermine these sectarian tendencies

What did Colonialism do to India?

Ram Puniyani

A video of Shashi Tharoor speaking at Oxford on a debate related to the colonial period has been ‘viral’ on the social circuit for a while. In this video Tharoor makes a passionate plea to the British that they make reparations for the losses to Indian economy during the British rule. He puts the blame of India’s economic decline on the British and also recounts Jalianwala Bag, Bengal famine as the major highlight of British rule which reflected the attitude of British towards this colony of theirs’. Tharoor points out that resources from India were used by British to build there economic prosperity and to fund their Industrial revolution.
Shashi Tharoor

However, Dr. Manmohan Singh (2005), the previous prime minister, had made a very different kind of argument. In this Dr. Singh as a guest of British Government extols the virtue of British rule and gives them the credit for rule of law, constitutional government, and free press as the contributions which India benefitted from.

So where does the truth lie? Not only the context and tone of the speeches by these two Congressmen is totally different, the content is also totally on different tracks. Dr. Singh as the guest of the British Government is soft and behaving as an ideal guest and points out the contributions of the British rule and there is some truth in that. Tharoor as an Indian citizen with memory of the past; is narrating the plunder which this country suffered due to the British rule. He is also on the dot. These are two aspects of the same canvass. What Tharoor is saying is the primary goal of British and what Dr. Sigh is stating is an incidental offshoot.

British (East India Company) did come here looking for markets for their industrial products, gradually went on defeating one after another king, ruling in different areas and brought the whole subcontinent under a single rule, which became one of the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ for British as the whole wealth, raw material, resources from India were pumped out to Britain. In order to achieve this goal they did go on to introduce railways, communication network-postal, telegraph-telephone and modern administrative system and modern education to create the assistants for their officers ruling here.

The lacuna in our systems were primarily because the primary goal of British was to plunder the country and as an incidental thing; as by product; the new institutions, rule of law and later some reforms against ghastly social practices also began (like abolition of Sati). Perceptions do matter while Singh and Tharoor are talking of the same phenomenon from two different angles. The third angle is the one that was articulated by British themselves. British presented their rule as part of “Civilizing mission of the East”! There is very little truth in this, but it can be said that British also did help in the process of social reforms at times.

The major point which is unseen in these perceptions is one which had dangerous consequence on the social-political scenario and that was- British planted the seeds of divisive politics. As such broadly speaking the colonial-imperialist rule sows the seeds of ‘divide and rule’ and in this subcontinent they did it with gay abandon. In the wake of 1857 revolt, when the British East India Company’s rule was shaken, British identified existence of two major religious communities where the wedge could be driven. This is where they introduced communal historiography as a part of ‘divide and rule’ policy. James Mill with his ‘History of British India’ periodized the history on communal lines (Ancient Hindu Period, medieval Muslim period and modern British period). Supplementing this were Elliot and Dawson with ‘History of India as told by her historians’, which reduced the history to the eulogizing account of the courtiers of the kings. These played a major role in deepening the communal understanding of the past.

At social level we see emergence of modern classes, industrialists-workers and modern educated classes while the old classes of feudal lords and kings survive though with some reduced influence. The modern classes came forward to build up anti colonial movement; this movement led by Gandhi with people from all regions, religions, men and women both is what built modern India on the infrastructure of industrialization-modern education. This movement tied the people together in the bond of ‘Indian-ness’ and had imbibed the values of the central pillars of transformations of caste and gender relations. The latter aspects most highlighted by Jotirao Phule, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Periyar Ramasamy Niacker on one side and introduction of girls education with Savitribai Phule opening the girls school on the other. This group underlined that ‘India is a nation in the making’.

On the other hand the declining sections of landlords-kings, both Hindu and Muslim, threatened by the modern changes and seeing the rise of their vassals who were escaping from their grip, shouted that their religion is in danger. They upheld the communal historiography introduced by British. Muslim elite gradually came to form Muslim League. For them the raison d’être of their coming together was Islam being in danger. They held that here the Muslim Nation had been there since the time Muhammad bin Kasim had won over Sindh from Hindu Daher in eighth century and so they have to work for creation of a Muslim nation. That’s how they remained aloof from the freedom movement, which was aiming at the Secular democratic India.

The Hindu landlords Kings in due course came to form Hindu Mahasabha and then RSS. For them this had been a Hindu nation from times immemorial and Muslims and Christians are the alien invaders. They also remained aloof from freedom movement and harped on building Hindu nation in contrast to the goal set by National movement, that of secular democratic India. They constructed their own history of a glorious past of the Hindu rulers and its corruption by the Muslim invaders. Gradually they came to construct the ideology that all the ills of Hindu society are due to the Muslim invaders.
While the national movement brought together the people of all the regions, religions, castes: women and men both, the communal streams nurtured the seeds of divisiveness sown by British, and this is what led to communal violence and later the tragic partition of the country. Here also what is generally analyzed mostly is the fault of leader A or B for partition while overlooking the fact that partition was the part of continuing British policy, to have their interests preserved in the sub continent and that’s how they played their cards well enough to create a situation where partition became an inevitable calamity.

If one has to point the major problem which the British rule introduced; apart from the impact on the socio economic life of the sub continent; it is undeniably letting the feudal classes-kingdoms to continue in the face of changing scenario of industrialization-modern education. So in the sub continent on one side we see the emergence of the values of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity as an ideology of the emerging classes, while the feudal ideology of ‘caste and gender hierarchy’ persists as the flag-mast of declining sections of society which came to be represented in the communal organizations, Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. These declining groups construct the ideology of ‘Religion based Nation state’ which is a unique synthesis of feudal values with the modern concept of nation state, their communal politics is a modern phenomena but derives its identity from as ancient as time as possible. As neither Hindu nor Muslim nor Christian Kings were ‘religious nationalist’ so to say; as actually they presided over on the empires based on taxation of the toiling peasants in their kingdoms. Their goals of power-wealth were written on their sleeves; sometimes they adorned the masks of Dharmyudh, Jihad or Crusade for their ambitions of expanding power.

So during freedom movement we see those working for anti colonial movement are saying, ‘India as a nation in the making’ the concept which runs parallel to modernization in transport, industrialization, education and administration in particular. Muslim League said we have been a Muslim nation from eight century and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS asserting that we are a Hindu nation from times immemorial Muslim league derives identity from the Kings’ rule while Hindu Mahasbha-RSS project the concept of nation to times when people were having pastoral pattern and later made a transition to settled agriculture.  For the communalists the major transition of industrialization and modern education is of no consequence.

While the declining classes do eulogize the kings of their religions, it is interesting that none of the kings in the history set out to spread his religion, they set out to expand their empires. To make this rule grounded there of course is an exception, Emperor Ashok who did spread his religion.

Today we cannot say what might have been the course of History had India not been colonized, what patterns of Industrialization-modernization would have taken place, but one thing can be hypothesized that this communal politics, abuse of religions’ identity for political goals might not have been here to torment us, to kill and maim the innocents, may not have been ruling our streets and asserting for authoritarian structures right within the democratic institutions which the country has nourished from last six decades.

So while Tharoor and earlier Manmohan Singh are pointing to two supplementary aspects of British rule, we also need to delve deeper and see the result of their policies which gave rise to communal politics, the politics which is tormenting South Asia as a whole and India is witnessing the worst in the form of Hindu Nationalism, Hindutva which is dominating the political ideology.

Saluting Courage: Memorial for Vasant Rajab

Ram Puniyani

Gujarat violence (2002) was horrific. In this, after the burning of train in Godhra in which 58 innocents died, the same tragedy was made the pretext to launch the massive violence in which over one thousand people perished. In the aftermath of that I got many occasions to visit different parts of Gujarat and also to come to know about two legendary youth who had laid down their life to protect the people when the communal violence was going on in Ahmadabad in July 1946. These two young men, Vasant Rao Hegishte and Rajab Ali Lakhani, close friends and workers of Congress Seva Dal, came to the streets to stop the killings. Vasant Rao trying to protect Muslims and Rajab Ali stood firm to save the Hindus. Both were done to death by the mobs.

The activists in Gujarat started celebrating 1st July as the day of communal harmony. Recognizing this fact government in Gujarat has raised a memorial in their memory, Bandhutva Smarak (Brotherhood Memorial). In the news of coverage of this program what struck me was that while Vasant Rao’s relatives were present for the program, the relatives of Rajab Ali were not there.

The acts of violence continued in the country after 1946 with increasing intensity. Relatives of Rajab Ali were targeted in the subsequent violence to the extent that first they started concealing their relationship with Rajab Ali, then started assuming Hindu names and finally some of them not only adopted Hindu religion, but also migrated to Canada and US! The person who stood for the amity of religious communities must not have envisaged that while he stood for such noble values, his own kin will be subject of attack by the divisive elements. This also reflects the trajectory of events where in India the Hindu-Muslim violence led to the condition where Muslims started feeling insecure. This in turn led ghettoisation. Today the percentage of religious minorities as the victim of communal violence is number of times more than their percentage in population. The ministry of Home affairs data of 1991, quoted by researches show that while Muslims were 12 odd percent in population then, they formed over 80% as the victims of communal violence.

In the aftermath of Gujarat violence one also saw that while a large number of prominent Hindus and Muslims were part of peace efforts, at the level also activists of both communities came forward for peace efforts. Today with the new Government in power the number of communal incidents has gone up by 25% right in just one year. The overall direction of the intercommunity relations is on trial and the fate of peace maker Rajab Ali’s kin is a sad reminder of the state of affairs.

Communal violence, violence in the name of religion, has been the cancerous phenomenon, which came into being with the colonial policies of British, policy of ‘divide and rule’. They introduced communal historiography where the religion of king became the central marker of his rule and his major policies related to taxation were down played. Kingdoms’ central focus of power and wealth was substituted by ‘religious identity’ and this was picked up by communal organizations. These communal organizations remained aloof from freedom movement and did their best in spreading hate against the ‘other’ religious community. Communal clashes began and there by a ‘social common sense’, which looks down on the other community; became the norm. The prevalence of myths, stereotypes, biases against minorities came in handy for the practitioners of communal politics in instigating the violence. The conclusions of investigation of communal violence and lately Yale University study tells us that, the areas where the violence takes place, the instigating communal organization becomes electorally strong and that’s what we are witnessing in India today. Climbing the ladder of violence the communal organizations come to the seat of power.

With increasing violence many a leaders voiced their concern for peace and amity. Gandhi and his close associates were the main force for promoting amity, Hindu Muslim Unity being the central credo of Gandhi’s politics. Notwithstanding that; violence went on rising in intensity and people like Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi went to the extent of laying down their lives to quell the riots, to save the innocents’, that’s what the victims of communal violence are.

Today we are in a phase where the violence has changed its form; from the massive bloody phenomenon to sub-radar actions where the minorities get intimidated on some issue of mosque or a church or eating beef or some other social practice. The major goal of communal forces is to polarize the communities along the religious lines.

What would a Gandhi have done in such a scenario? Many an experiments in peace have been floated, Mohalla Committees (Area level intercommunity committee), Shanti Sena (Peace Army), Awareness programs about need for harmony, interfaith dialogues, intercommunity celebration of religious festivals, promotion of films on harmony, Kabir Festivals have been popular amongst others. Social activists have also focused on getting justice for the victims of violence and promoting people to come together for programs cutting across religious lines. How to undo the ghettoization, how to create an awareness for amity overcoming negative perceptions does remain a challenge today, greater than ever before. The issue needs to be addressed to ensure that the likes of Rajab Ali’s kin do not have to hide or change their identity.

The State Must Not Organise Religious Festivals

Ram Puniyani

After staging the Yoga spectacle on 21st June 2015 on Rajpath, Delhi, the Modi government now plans to celebrate Rakhi, Raksha Bandhan on a grand scale in late August. This plan has full approval of its parent organization, the RSS. Now a Hindu religious festival will be given the status of a national festival. It surely is indicative of the deeper agenda of narrow nationalism this Government has in mind. 

As such this festival Raksha Bandhan stands for ‘bond of protection’ and is amongst the very popular festivals, primarily celebrated by Hindus, Jains and some Sikhs. There are legends which point to the innovative use of this festival for goals which are beyond the religious identity so to say. There is a tale of Rani Karnavati of Chittor sending a Rakhi to emperor Humayun when she was faced with the attack by Bahadur Shah (1535), the Sultan of Gujarat. Touched by the gesture of the Hindu queen the emperor set off to defend her, but it was too late to defend Chittor by the time he reached there. This Rajasthani narration is doubted by many historians. Whatever be the truth this tale does reflect Hindu-Muslim amity in medieval times, it does reflect the Ganga Jumani tehzeeb (syncretic culture) which was the kernel of the sub continent. 

Another legend is the invocation of Rakhi by Guru Rabindranath Tagore in the aftermath of the partition of Bengal by the British (1905) on communal lines. To register the protest against British policy and to cement the bonds between the two major religious communities, the poet laureate gave the call of celebrating Raksha bandhan as a bond of unity between Hindus and Muslims. This was also a time when the communal forces had begun articulating the sectarian mindset, trying to promote aversion for the ‘other’ community. While the communalists from both the communities went on articulating hatred against ‘other’ community, this type of incidents show the deeper bonds which prevailed amongst Hindus and Muslims during the freedom movement, these were the bonds which reflected Indian nationalism at the social levels. 

There are multiple other instances where Rakhi has acted as a symbol of love and unity cutting across social groups, kingdoms and clans. While all this is in place, the fact is that primarily Rakhi is a reflection of patriarchal relations. Here the sister is tying the thread on the wrist of her brother wishing for his well being. The brother in turn is pledging to protect her all her life. 

While recognizing the other lovely narrations, like ‘Rakhi brother’ (one who is not a biological brother but becomes brother after Rakhi is tied) etc. the core of the festival does remain structured around gender equations of prevalent from feudal times. Its meaning and tenor has not changed so far despite the development of industrial-democratic society and despite the concept of equality of women to coming to fore. It is unnecessary to judge the past society by the values of the present times, but it all the same calls for revision in the symbols and rituals in the direction in which we aspire to go. The overdue just demand for gender equality is what we need. Today the deeper meaning of Rakhi needs to be understood before carrying on with it in the same form. 

Many Hindutva ideologues are harping on the point that this festival empowers the woman to choose her brother, who is not a biological one. Brother in present equations stands for protection along with control as well while what women want is parity, the freedom to choose their way of life and their life partner. The intriguing fact of the rise of Khap Panchayats with the rise of communal politics needs to be underlined. Such social groups are intimidating and attacking the couples who make their own choices in matters of selection of life partners. A promotion of this festival with inherent gender hierarchy means reinforcing curbs on freedom of women. 

Primarily festivals of this type are social. Holi, Diwali, Eid, Christmas are social events of joy, celebration. Many politicians and organization celebrate it at social-community level. Social festivals are family-community events. Two major questions which the decision of the Modi Sarkar raises are, one why a Hindu festival is being presented as a national festival, and why the Government should come forward to promote social festivals? National festivals have to be restricted to the one’s which are related to freedom movement, a phenomenon, which built us as an Indian nation. 

In a plural society one religion cannot be singled out to become the national religion and a secular state does not go in for organizing the celebration of religious festivals, majority or minority. Government should not come in the arena of social festivals; communities are already doing that. It seems this government wants to give a subtle message of the deeper gender related agenda; that of the subordination of women as well through this festival. All narrow nationalisms and ideologies which take recourse to the label of religion or race have this agenda inherent in them. Be it Christian fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism or Hindu Fundamentalism, they all take recourse to some or the other pretext from the past or present to restrict the freedom, equality of women. 

In a society where Khap Panchayats are becoming more visible, what is needed is the program to empower women for economic self sufficiency and the promotion of an emotional build up which looks at both the genders on par. What should be promoted is the tendency for mutual help and coordination amongst siblings where they support each other on par in building their lives around their free choices. The deeper agenda of RSS, upholding patriarchal mind set is very well reflected in the celebration of this festival. Perpetuation of patriarchal norms is inherent in the very nomenclature of RSS. The term Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is masculine (Swayam, self) in contrast to its women’s organization which is Rashtra Sevika Samiti, sans the swayam, the ‘being’. Women’s being is missing in this scheme of things and that’s what is aimed to be strengthened by such festivals being organized at national level. The apparently innocuous is certainly not so.


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