Sunday, 25 December 2016

Specimens of Philosophico-Religious Literature in Tamil: The Maṇimēkalai and the Nīlakēci

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

North-South Divide

The story of Agastya, a north Indian sage, crossing the Vindhya hills and visiting south India (never to return), is well known. It has given rise to a proverb, Agstya-yātrā in Bangla and maybe in other north Indian languages. Like all legends it is without date. So, it has been interpreted as an allegory of the ingress of the north to the south, or, as a recent historian has said, ‘evidence of Aryan speakers’  movement towards the south’ (Noboru Karashima,  ‘Beginnigs of south Indian history’ in: Noboru Karashima (ed.), A Concise History of South India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014, p.26). From about the third century BCE, religions that were born in north India spread to the south. Interestingly enough, two heterodox religions, Buddhism and Jainism were first to reach the Deccan and further south; the brahmanical religion (Vedist) was to reach later. There are enough archaeological findings to suggest so. The most conspicuous of the north Indian religions was Buddhism, though traditionally Jain migration is said to have started as early as the time of King Chandragupta Maurya (fourth century BCE).

The reflection of both Buddhism and Jainism is found in old Tamil literature. There are several long narrative poems that seek to establish the superiority of either Buddhism or Jainism. The brahmanical religion did not find roots in the south before the first century BCE. Consequently, in the Common Era we find specimens of works belonging to these three religions, written not in Sanskrit, but in Tamil.

Historians of Tamil literature or of Indian literature as a whole (one such ambitious work is Sisir Kumar Das’s A History of Indian Literature 500-1399, New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2005) seldom, if at all, mention the fact that the polemics in the Manimēkalai (The Jewel Belt) , the Nilakēci  (The Blue-Haired), and similar works contain strong denunciation of several philosophical systems that came from the north to the south. Tolerance is now projected as the hall mark of Indian culture. Contrary to this notion, there seems to have been no love lost between the Indian philosophical systems and Jainism as well as Buddhism in the south. Apparently, Buddhism and Jainism were both imported in their northern garb. Nevertheless, in the course of time, south India produced most eminent Buddhist logicians, such as Diṅnāga (c 480-540 CE). The Jains too in their turn gave birth to such theologians and philosophers as Kundakunda (first century BCE), who earned all-India fame in the Common Era.

Tamil Literature: Its Antiquity and Variety

It is to be kept in mind that ‘Tamil can claim one of the longest unbroken literary tradition of any of the world’s living languages’ (Kamil Veith Zvelebil, Tamil Literature (A History of Indian Literature, Volume X Fascicule 1, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1974), p.2). Nota Bene (Note Well): ‘the world’s living languages’, not just India’s.

Jean Filliozat, in his essay, ‘The Jaina narrative literature in South India and its counterparts’ (Indologica Taurinensia, Vol. XI, 1983, pp.97-107), provides an account of the rich narrative tradition in Tamil. What is noteworthy is that, besides entertaining their audience with interesting stories, the narratives are also highly tendentious: they indulge in undisguised propaganda in favour of their respective religions and philosophical systems. No counterpart of these narratives is to be found in the north. Historians of Tamil literature have called them ‘epics’, although they do not conform to either the Sanskrit criteria laid down in the books of poetics and rhetoric nor judged by European standards. As Zvelebil has explained:
To express this terminologically, we may say that Tamil epic texts are not itihāsas, i.e. large narrative poems (large in character, in events, in setting, in effect) of the traditional heroic past, but rather longer or shorter mahākāvyas. . . . They are very different from each other and, strictly speaking, some of them should hardly be called epics in the narrower and more technical sense at all. But they are not as radically different from the accepted concept of the epic as, say, Dante’s Divine Comedy which has also been called an epic. (Zvelebil, 1974, p.16).

Philosophical Debates in the Epics

The Maṇimēkalai [Ilanko Ādigāl and Sattanar, Maṇimēkalai, trans. Prema Nandakumar, Thanjavur: Tamil University, 1989] (± 550 CE) is what in Tamil tradition is called an epic. So is the Nīlakēci (± 950 CE). The first is the story of the wanderings of a Buddhist lady ascetic called Maṇimēkalai. It is said to reflect ‘almost exactly the ideas of Diṅnāga, the founder of Buddhist logic’ (Zvelebil, p.141). Among other things the epic Maṇimēkalai contains the first known list of ṣaṭ-tarkī, six systems of philosophy based on argument: Lokāyata, Buddhism, Sāṃkhya, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, and Mīmāṃsā (27.78-80). Instead of the āstika/nāstika division of the philosophical systems (based on the brahmanical criterion of adhering or not adhering to the Veda), here is a secular division of systems founded, on the one hand, on argument and the other (presumably) on faith. Maṇimēkalai, the heroine, enquires of the basic tenets of all philosophical systems – Sāṃkhya, Mīmāṃsā, etc. – and finds all of them wanting in substance. In the debates, Buddhism ultimately proves to be the victor over all Veda-abiding systems as also Jainism and materialism with its two schools, Bhūtavāda and Lokāyata (27.272-73). The Maṇimēkalai then, besides its other merits, is the earliest work of doxography (collection of views of ancient philosophical schools, now lost). The earliest doxographical work in Sanskrit so far known to us is the Ṣaḍ-darśana-samuccaya by a Jain savant, Haribhadra, which was composed in the eighth century CE, long after the Maṇimēkalai. The Nīlakēci, too, is a doxographical work of some importance, for it records several doctrinal aspects of southern Buddhism, probably not to be found anywhere else. The inclusion of the Ᾱjīvikas is also significant. No other heterodox view that was current in the Buddha’s lifetime is mentioned. All of them seem to have become extinct in the Common Era.

With the passage of time, religious and philosophical systems that had their origin in north travelled to the south. It has already been mentioned that Jainism perhaps came first with Chandragupta Maurya (fourth century BCE), followed closely by Buddhism (third century BCE); brahmanism with its emphasis on varṇāśrama-dharma  was late to arrive (first century BCE). The Ācārakkōvai  ‘belongs to the brahmanical school and is a digest of ideas from the dharmasastra’ (Y. Subbarayalu, ‘Sangam and Post-Sangam Literature’ in: Noboru Karashima (ed.), A Concise History of South India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014, p.46). There is also a Jain work called Silappatikāram,  also spelt Cilappatikāram (The Lay of the Anklet) (c.450 CE) by Ilangovadigal, supposed to be a Chera prince. ‘Unlike the Silappatikāram [a Jain kāvya], the Maṇimēkalai [a Budddhist kāvya] is quite outspoken in religious propagation and underlines the fact that there were lots of polemical disputes and discussions developing among adherence of rival religions’ (ibid., pp.46-47).

The Jains, however, were not to be left behind: the author of the Nīlakēci (Neelakesi, edited, translated into English and published by A. Chakravarti, Kumbhakonam, 1936), although Jain and hence tolerant by conviction, spares no religion or philosophical system. In the last part of the work (Section IV Chapters 1-10, pp.136-336), Nīlakēci, the Jain nun, deals with no fewer than ten doctrines: 1. Dharma Urai (Tarumavurai, exposition of the [Jaina] dharma), 2. Kuṇḍalakēci-vāda (the doctrine of Kuṇṭalakēci, i.e., the Buddhist doctrine preached by a lady Buddhist ascetic), 3. Arka-candra-vāda (another Buddhist doctrine), 4. Mokkala-vāda (the doctrine of Mokkalaṉ, Pali Moggallāna, Sanskrit Maudgalyāyana, refers to the Buddhist doctrine of momentariness, kṣaṇikavāda), 5. Buddha-vāda, 6. Ājīvika-vāda (doctrine of the Ājīvikas, a heterodox sect, now extinct), 7. Sāṃkhya-vāda, 8. Vaiśeṣika-vāda, 9. Veda-vāda (Mīmāṃsā), and 10. Bhūta-vāda (Pūtavātam, materialism).

Referring to (and apparently agreeing with) the view of Chakravarti), Filliozat writes:
It has been observed by the editor, A. Chakravarti, who contributes a detailed introduction to the work, that the major non-Jaina schools of philosophy: Śaṅkara, the Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava Saints, Nāyaṉmār and Āḻvār, are not mentioned in the work. Chakravarti thinks that this is because they did not yet exist as opponents of the Jaina doctrine, so that the polemical work Nīlakēci must belong to the period before their emergence. This may place the composition of the Nīlakēci in the 5th or 6th centuries’ (Filliozat p. 105).
Modern scholars, however, prefer to date the work much later (tenth century CE. See Zvelebil p.139).

Materialist Schools Expounded in the Epics

What is most noteworthy is the mention of bhūtavāda in both the epics. The Maṇimēkalai refers to another materialist school called Lokāyata (27.272-73). Curiously enough, the Nīlakēci does not mention Lokāyata at all; it speaks of bhūtavāda alone. [One caveat: Appaswami Chakravarti Nayanar in his translation of the Nīlakēci 4.10 often uses such expressions as ‘the Lôkâyata teacher’ (p.322)or ‘the Chârvâka teacher’ (p.335 thrice, p.336 twice). But the text (checked and confirmed by A. Mahalingam) invariably refers to Pūtavātam and Pūtavāti.  Similarly, a quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is inserted (p.336), which is obviously not in the original. Barring these, Chakravarti’s translation, I am assured, is fairly faithful to the original.]

The doctrinal aspect of materialism (of the pre-Cārvāka kind) is more or less the same in both the epics: unlike the Cārvākas, earlier materialists in India relied on one instrument of cognition only, namely, perception, while the Cārvākas admitted the validity of inference up to a certain extent (in so far as it was based on and/or was verifiable by perception). There are other differences between the pre-Cārvākas and the Cārvākas, which can be discerned from later evidence (for details see R. Bhattacharya, ‘Development of Materialism in India: the Pre-Cārvākas and the Cārvākas’, Esercizi Filosofici 8, 2013, pp.1-12. (2013a). ISSN 1970-0164. Link:

The Maṇimēkalai contains the first ever description of Lokāyata as a philosophical system, not a mere śāstra of disputation. In the Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist tradition disputatio is the only meaning of Lokāyata. The Maṇimēkalai refers to no book of disputation but specifically mentions Lokāyata as a separate school of materialism, different from bhūtavāda.

Predominance of Women

One word more. Tamil epics have no heroes; they have heroines. There are no scenes of bloody battles, but only battles of ideals, both religious and philosophical. The heroines, whether Buddhist or Jain, are self-confident, vocal, and always prepared to take part in a debate. They roam about the whole Tamil land, disguised as male. Social historians have detected ‘indications of matrifocal and matripedestal traditions in the sources, indicating different cultural practices within the Tamil macroregion. The post-Sangam literature (c. fourth-sixth centuries CE), marked by the didactic works and the epics, points to influences from outside the region in the form of Jainism and Buddhism. . . . However, the new ideas presented by the Sramanic traditions were eclipsed in the early medieval period with the growth of the Brahmanical religion in the region’ (R. Mahalakshmi, ‘Women in premodern south Indian society’ in: Karashima (ed.), p.115).

[‘Matrifocal societies are those that are centred on the mother as the pivotal figure in the social organization, while matripedestal refers to the idolization and worship of the mother.’ Ibid., p.115 n39.]

Appendix A

The bhūtavādī in the Maimēkalai is made to declare the basic doctrine of the system he adheres to in the following terms (as translated by Prema Nandakumar):
When aathi (?) flowers, sugar and the restAre mixed, wine is made. Life too appearsBy the mixing of elements, vanishesWhen they separate as sounds from a drum.Conscious elements produce life withinAnd unconscious one produces the bodyEach appearing through their elements.This is the truth. Words different from thisAnd other facts are from Materialists [Lokāyatas].Sense perception is valid. InferenceIs false. This birth and its effect concludeNow. Talk of other birth is falsity. (27.265-76, p. 154)
The words of the bhūtavādī have been paraphrased by a late medieval commentator in the following way:

When certain flowers and jaggery are boiled together, liquor is born which produced intoxication. Just as when elements combine, consciousness arises. Consciousness dissolves with the dissolutions of the elements composing them like the disintegration of sound. Elements combine to produce living Bhūtas and from them other living Bhūtas will be born. Life and consciousness are synonymous. From non-living Bhūtas consisting of two or more elements rise non-living Bhūtas of the same type. Lokāyata is a variant of this system that agrees in fundamental with this system. Observation is the method by knowledge is obtained. Inferential thinking is illusion. This worldly life is real. Its effect is experienced in this life only. The theory that we enjoy the fruits of our action in our next birth or in another world is false. (Quoted and translated by N. Vanamamalai)

Appendix B

There are at least two recent translations of the Maṇimēkalai  in English, one in prose and other in verse:

Maimēkalai (The Dancer with the Magic Bowl), trans. Alain Danielou with the collaboration of T.V. Gopala Iyer, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1993.

Maimēkalai, trans. Prema Nandakumar, Thanjavur: Tamil University, 1989.

There is also an abridged version of the epic:

Lakshmi Holmstörm, Manimekalai/Silappattikasam, Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1996.

No other edition or translation of the Nīlakēci excepting the ones by A.Chakravarti is available. The 1936 edition has ben reprinted several times. Both the text and the translation are available on the net.

The following articles are of interest:

Miyamoto Jō, Lōkāyata in Tamil, Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, Vol. 55, No.3, March 2007, pp.1131-1135.

G. Suryanaryana Sastri, The Manimekalai Account of the Sankhya, Journal of Indian History 8 (1929) pp.322-327.

G. Suryanaryana Sastri, Buddhist Logic in Manimekalai, Journal of Indian History 9 (1930) part iii.

N. Vanamamalai, Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature, Social Scientist, Vol.2  No.4 (November 1973), pp.25-41, also available on the net (JSPOR).

Other sources have been mentioned in the text of the lecture within parentheses.

Acknowledgements Chayan Samaddar, Prabir Gangopadhyay, Sunish Kumar Deb. The usual disclaimers apply.

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.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Election Season and Return of Lord Ram

Ram Puniyani

Lord Ram has served the BJP very well so far. It was the Ram temple issue around which seeds of the divisive politics were sown all over the country. The Rath yatra of Lal Krishna Advani precipitated deeper polarization and was followed by the trail of violence.

The well planned Babri demolition further intensified the communal violence and the politics in the name of religion in the country.

The reward of this was the strengthening of the electoral base of BJP, due to which the party gradually came to the fore, and from a marginal party in the national scheme of things it emerged as the single largest party in 1996.

With the 2014 elections it managed to get the simple majority (282 Lok Sabha seats, with 31% of votes). The promise of building the temple has been constantly on the agenda of the BJP but that has been a carrot which cannot materialize as a construction; but can keep serving BJP’s purpose of deceiving and polarizing the people. 

This promise of Ram Temple is an allurement for sections of society. This promise has been made despite knowing well that the issue is pending in the Supreme Court and it cannot be built legally. The RSS combine also knows that demolitions can be incited illegally while constructions cannot be done illegally, still the propaganda can serve as an important electoral tool.

As UP elections (2017) are approaching, the issue of Ram Temple is being invoked yet again. In the Dussehra rally in Lucknow Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked the slogan of Jai Shree Ram (October 2016). 

This was the battle cry of the RSS combine as a build up to the Babri demolition in 1992. 

A few days later, while inaugurating the power plant PM Modi was greeted with the same war cry symbolic of Hindu nationalism which has been the agenda of the BJP-RSS. 

To supplement the efforts in the communal direction the BJP declared the project of a Ram Museum in Ayodha, and not to be left behind the Uttar Pradesh Government of Akhilesh Yadav decided to declare a Ram Leela theme park around the same time.

As such the Ram temple is the trade mark of BJP politics but seeing the electoral dividends which it has yielded for the ruling party, other political parties are also trying to jump in to this fray. Even Congress scion Rahul Gandhi during his Kisan Yatra paid a visit to the Hanuman Gadhi temple in Ayodhya. 

To keep the pot boiling Vinay Katiyar of the BJP, who was part of the demolition squad in 1992, said that the museum-theme park is not the real thing, they are mere lolly-pops, real thing i.e. temple has to be built.

While RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat has been declaring that the temple will be built in his life time, other worthies from the RSS combine have been more exactl saying the temple will be constructed during the regime of the current Modi Government.

As per the Allahabad high court judgment; the land of the Babri mosque should be divided into three parts. As per this ruling, one third of the land has gone to the Babri Masjid Action committee, another one third to Ram Shila Nyas and another third to Ram lalla.

This judgment used people’s faith as the foundation. This must have been a rare case where prevalent faith of people has been made the ground for a judgment. History has been mixed up with faith.

Lord Ram has been a strong cultural, religious and mythological entity in this part of South Asia. While giving the affidavit about the Ram Setu issue the UPA Government did say that Lord is a mythological figure. This statement is being heavily criticized by spokespersons of RSS, forgetting the clear cut distinction between history and mythology. One can’t deny the existence of Lord Rama at cultural and mythological levels, still to say that it is history is altogether a different matter.

With the rise of communal politics, on the one hand Lord Ram is being presented as a historical figure, that’s how communalists wanted to claim the Babri Masjid land on the ground that this was his place of birth.

On the other hand the cultural existence of Ram is being reduced to a mere religious one. One recalls that Dr. M. M. Basheer an important scholar of Ramayana from Kerala was forced to stop his column on Ramayana in the newspapers for being a Muslim.

Similarly famous actor Nawajuddin Siddiqui was stopped from playing the role of Ramayan character Marich in his village RamLila for his being a Muslim. The communalization of Lord Ram is a sad part of the story.

As such during the last few years, BJP’s assault on democratic values by playing communal games has been shifting the centre of gravity of Indian politics towards politics in the name of religion.

That’s why Rahul Gandhi has to visit a temple in Ayodhya as a public event. That’s how the Samajwadi party on the one hand is promoting theme parks like Ram Lila and on the other has been letting the communal violence continue in UP.

Starting from Muzaffarnagar (2013) the SP has played a dubious role due to which the BJP agenda of polarization has got a boost. 

The calculation of the BJP is that low intensity communal violence will get it Hindu votes and on parallel lines the Samajwadi party feels this violence will make Muslims vulnerable and they will gravitate to it for protection. 

As such the BJP now has equipped itself with many more emotive issues. It is out to politicize the surgical strikes in its favor by claiming ‘it is for the first time such a brave act has taken place’.

It is the leadership of PM Modi due to his training by RSS that such decisions are possible now. Falsehood and chest thumping are dominating sections of the media. BJP also has the issue of beef to boost its electoral campaign. So the grounds of democracy, issues related to material existence, rights and justice are being substituted by emotive issues. There is urgent need to restore the democratic order.

Confusions around the term Hindutva

Ram Puniyani

On October 25 (2016) the seven member Supreme Court Bench started hearing to revisit ‘Hindutva’ cases. These are group of cases where the use of term Hindutva-Hinduism to be used during elections is to be opined. One such case was that of Manohar Joshi who in his election speech said that if he is voted to power he will work for making Maharashtra as the first Hindu state in the country. In another incident Bal Thackeray, Shiv Sena founder and supremo of BJP associate Shiv Sena, said in November 1987, declared that his party is contesting elections “for the protection of Hinduism, we do not care for the votes of the Muslims. The country belongs to Hindus”.  And “[The Muslims] should bear in mind that this country is of Hindus, the same shall remain of Hindus... if Shiv Sena comes to power… everybody will have to take diksha (initiation) into Hindu religion.”

The 1995 Judgment, where Justice Varma opined that the word ‘Hindutva’, “is used and understood as a synonym of ‘Indianisation’, i.e. development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures coexisting in the country.” This came to be known as ‘Hindutva as a way of life’, judgment and became popular as ‘Hindutva judgment’, was used by RSS combine to reinforce their Hindu rashtra agenda. In Guruvayoor temple case again similar opinion was given. Also one recalls that way back in 1966 in a case involving Satsangis, who were asking for status of a separate religion, the court had given the similar opinion, that Hinduism is a way of life, so where is the question of Satsangis being given the status of a separate religion? This does not exhaust the list of such judgments in this category. 

Teesta Setalvad, eminent social activist, has intervened in the court in the matter with an application stating that religion and politics should not be mixed and a direction be passed to de-link religion from politics. The hearing of the case is on. This is a great opportunity for the court to clear the air about the terms Hinduism and Hindutva. So far many opinions have been given that since Hinduism has so much diversity, so it is not a religion and that it includes all the communities so ‘it’s a ‘way of life’ The words Hinduism and Hindutva have been used interchangeably many a times. 

The confusion and nature of the word Hinduism and Hindutva emerge as Hinduism is not a prophet based religion; with a clear cut single Holy book the teachings of the prophet or a single God. Its nature is different from prophet based religions like Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Sikhism for that matter. It has been identified with Vedas, where the life and norms of Aryans is expressed. In matters of faith starting from animism to atheism may come under its umbrella. The term Hinduism itself came into usage from eighth Century onwards. The term was coined by those coming here from Central Asia and they coined the word Hindu as a derivative of the word Sindhu which they had to cross to this part of the sub continent. Essentially what were prevalent here were multiple religious traditions, Brahmanism, Nath, Tantra, Siddha, Shiava Siddhanta and later Bhakti also. The first construction of Hinduism takes place to refer to these diverse tendencies. Later Hinduism as religion starts being referred to for the people around these sects. Jainism and Buddhism were also present in good measure. With British coming the construction of Hinduism became well delineated. With seeds of communalism coming up Hinduism started being contrasted against Islam and Christianity in particular. 

VD Savarkar
In late early twentieth century ideologue of Hindu nationalism, Savarkar put forward the concept of Hindutva in a sharper way to present it as ‘whole of Hinduness’, i.e. it includes Hindu religion as conceived by them and also it includes the politics of Hindu nationalism. So inherent in the term was religion, Hinduism, which had the dominant part of Brahmanism, and it was blended with the Hindu nationalism. Hindu nationalism was being projected by the upper caste, landlord-kings sections of Hindus who were weary of the emerging “India as a nation in the making and accompanying ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The Hindu nationalists upheld the scriptures like Manu Smiriti, while the majority of Hindus led by Gandhi were aspiring for secular democratic ethos.

Hinduism is the most complex umbrella where interpretations are dominated by the caste factors. Ambedkar does point out that Hinduism is a Brahmanic theology. Other streams of Hinduism. Nath Tantra, Bhakti etc. have been marginalized and undermined and it’s around Brahmanical hierarchy that Hindutva movement has emerged. It’s clear that Hinduism is not the religion of all the Indians. Also that Hinduva has been built around Brahmanical stream of Hinduism. This complex understanding needs to be unraveled before opining on the Representation of People’s Act. In S. R. Bommai case the court the Supreme Court recognized the value of this understanding of terms Hinduism-Hindutva. Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy wrote, “To fight elections on a plank of religion, was tantamount to eroding the country’s secular fabric.” But, barely a year later, this was subverted when India’s secular credentials came to be undermined with the rulings known as ‘Hindutva cases’.

The foundation of this understanding is already there in what Dr. Ambedkar writes, B.R. Ambedkar, who played a sterling role in the RPA’s drafting; his aim was to ensure that the statute conformed to secular principles. “I think that elections ought to be conducted on issues which have nothing to do with… religion or culture,”. Further that “A political party should not be permitted to appeal to any emotion which is aroused by reason of something which has nothing to do with the daily affairs of the people.” This is the spirit of Indian Constitution which wants to separate religion from politics.

It is a Historic opportunity for the Court to set the matters straight and put the norms back to the basic structure of Indian Constitution, the values of secularism. And finally Hindutva is revolving around Hinduism which is religion to be sure.

[November 09, 2016]

Is there an undeclared Emergency Today?

Ram Puniyani 

The decision to put a one day ban on Hindi NDTV, since withheld, came as a big jolt to the country. A major channel was asked to stop the broadcast. The charge was that its broadcast on Pathannkot revealed sensitive information regarding national security. On the same Pathankot issue this Government had allowed the Pakistan authorities to come to the same airport. The channel (Hindi NDTV) pleaded that its program was very balanced and nothing related to national security was relayed which was not on the public domain through other media. It is clear that NDTV Hindi in particular has been debating issues which are uncomfortable to this Government. Apparently the pressure of all round protests forced the Government to hold its decision for time being. The issue of Bharat mata ki jai, nationalism, the issues related to JNU and Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Una in particular, were debated in ways which critical of the ruling party. 

Since this dispensation, Modi Sarkar, has come to power there is a qualitative change in the political scenario. Right at the beginning we witnessed many attacks on Churches. We saw the interference in the institutions of national importance like FTII, IITs, JNU and HCU among others. The incompetent persons with ‘right wing’ leaning were installed and have been brought in at most of these. The places of learning are a special target. The JNU was targeted labeling it as the den of anti-nationals. A cooked up video was used to defame the student leaders of JNU, in HCU Rohith Vemula had to commit suicide. The growing intolerance led to returning of awards by luminaries of our society. The issue of beef was blown up to the sky; the emotive hysterical projections were propped up leading to the death of Mohammad Akhlaq, many other traders and later the dastardly attack on the dalits in Una in Gujarat. Many sections of media have been brow beating the liberals and secular elements while giving a free run to Hindu nationalists. 

It is in this backdrop that the Bhopal encounter has taken place where eight Muslim youth alleged to be terrorists were killed in an extra judicial manner. The incident as it has been presented clearly shows that the version of the police has lots of holes in it. In JNU again one student Najeeb has been missing for last three weeks and his mother was manhandled by the police. Is it mere emergency, where such blatant violations of human and democratic rights are taking place? Emergency was a condemnable authoritarian regime where from the top a dictatorship was imposed. Press censorship was brought in. Surely the present times are having lot of difference. 

To begin with the dominance of corporate and doing away of the rights of workers and farmers along with undermining the schemes like MNREGA, Right to Food, Right to Health and Right to education show that the orientation of this Government is to ally with the big capital. The complimentary part of this phenomenon is the promotion of Hindu nationalism. Right from the word go; the sentence, ‘I am nationalist and I am born in a Hindu family’ by Modi set the tone of shape of things to come. With this the targeting of minorities, on the issue of Uniform Civil Code and beef is there. The ultra-nationalism is manifest in the handling of Kashmir and relations with Pakistan in particular. The use of Uri and consequent surgical strike to bloat the chest of this political dispensation is very much in the air. The permission of thousands of NGOs working in the social sector has been stopped on frivolous grounds. The attack on Pakistani artists is another instance where the sectarian nationalism is having an unrepentant march. It is to be remembered that we have a bilateral trade to the tune of thousands of crores with Pakistan. With China similar sentiments have been flashed by talking about boycott of Chinese goods, despite the fact that the contract of proposed Saradar Patel statue running in to thousands of crores has been given to China. The popular sentiments are being guided into negativity and hate towards neighboring countries, religious minorities and the human rights activists.  
The stifling of democratic freedoms, welfare of the poor, the intimidation of minorities and human rights defenders is running parallel to the creation of mass hysteria and mobilization of masses to uphold the agenda of ruling party. Those questioning the state are being put in the dock. In a democracy it the state which is answerable to the people. Now this formula is being reversed. In democracy questioning the authorities is the bedrock of the Constitution. So something is seriously amiss, something which is more sinister than the emergency. Something which has deeper portents for the democracy is being legitimized and glorified by the ruling party and the parent organization of the ruling party. 

So how does one characterize it is the matter not of mere academic concern. Recently CPM leader Prakash Karat had stated that the present dispensation is mere authoritarian and not fascist. The distinction between two has been a matter of historical debate. The main features of fascism has been centrality of state over people, overarching Leader, dominance of Corporate, doing away with rights of poor, targeting of minorities, ultra-nationalism and aggressive policies towards the neighbors. The crucial point for those wanting to preserve the democracy and Indian Constitution is to build up social and political alliances, irrespective of some differences, to fight this raging politics of Hate, politics of sectarian nationalism. 

During 1990s, BJP did project itself as a ‘Party with a Difference’, and that is so much true. It is the only party whose agenda is guided by the Hindu nationalist RSS, which rejects democracy and secularism as Western imports and wants to stick to the laws of Hindu Holy Scriptures. These scriptures are the same, one of which was burnt by Ambedkar as a mark of protest against its values of caste and gender hierarchy, values of Brahminism. Debates can continue but politics to defend Indian Constitution cannot wait!

Can Compulsions Elicit Respect? Singing of National Anthem in Cinema Halls

Ram Puniyani

Supreme Court Order on national Anthem (November 2016) has asked theatres to play the national anthem before a film show begins “for the love of the motherland”. This has yet again started the debate over the personal freedom and legal obligations in present times. This is in the backdrop of growing intolerance. The point is whether nationalistic pride can be injected by such legal dictates. Some commentators are arguing that this compulsion is a undermining of civil liberties. Let’s recall that few decades ago, in many places national Anthem used to be played at the end of the film screening. The observation was that many in the audience will leave the hall during the anthem. Now at many places, like in Maharashtra, the playing of anthem has been started in the beginning of the film screening. The Supreme Court order of the two judge bench; court makes it mandatory for this singing to be done all over the country and this order also asks for closing of the doors during this period.

There are laws to ensure the protection of national symbols like National flag. There are some landmark cases which have shown the conflict between the state norms and the individual liberty. In the well known ‘Jehovahs witness’case the students belonging to Jehovah faith had refused to sing the anthem; their argument being that it would tantamount to idolatry not permitted by their faith. The children were expelled by the principal of the school. The matter went up to Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the students and their expulsion from school was revoked. 

Courtesy: BBC

In a democracy there is a balance between the individual rights and the duties towards the state. The whole Constitution is an attempt to bring in ‘rights of citizens’ and ‘freedom of expression’ to the fore. While a decade ago the Court could rule in favor of the individual liberty; now it seems the trend is just the opposite as ‘love for mother land, nationalism, patriotism’ are being flaunted at the drop of the hat. All those not agreeing with the policies of the ruling government are being dubbed anti national, it is being said that they are ‘not patriots’. Even standing in queue for withdrawing cash from ATM or Bank is being glorified as an act of patriotism, for the sake of the country. This is in the wake of the painful demonetization brought in by Narendra Modi. The present Court order comes in a back drop of the times when words patriotism; nationalism are dominating the scene in the rule of BJP Government.

We also recall that since Modi Government has come to power the patriotism/nationalism of those who are dissenting from the ruling Government’s policies are being challenged by the ruling dispensation. In case of Rohith Vemula the activities of the Ambedkar Student Association were dubbed ‘anti-national’ and so the whole pressure of the MHRD minister on the complying Vice Chancellor to expel him from Hostel and stop his fellowship, leading to Rohith’s suicide. In an attempt to close down JNU, the Government resorted to nationalism ploy and the doctored CD was played on some TV channels to demonize Kanhaiya Kumar and his friends. He was labeled to be Deshdrohi (anti national). It is another matter that Kanhaiaya Kumar had not shouted those ‘slogans’ and that even Constitutional position is that mere shouting of slogans does not tantamount to anti-national activity. In the present charged up atmosphere, the hysteria around patriotism and nationalism, in Goa a wheel chair bound person was beaten up for not standing during singing of national anthem. In Mumbai a young script writer was heckled out of cinema hall for not standing during the anthem.

Such growing atmosphere of intimidation and imposition around issue of nationalism is a matter of concern for the political culture which is being built up in the country. As such in India the whole concept of patriotism begins in a very strange fashion. During kingdoms the kings were eliciting and demanding absolute loyalty from their subjects. The punishments for not complying with such patriotism-loyalty were severe, cutting off hands, meting out of death punishment etc. During colonial period we had two types of nationalism which came up simultaneously. On one hand were the rising classes of Industrialists, workers and educated classes veering around anti-colonial movement for secular democratic India. They opposed the British rule. They were not patriots. The nationalism in the name of religion began with the Kings and landlords coming together and pledging their loyalty to British. They were patriots for Queen of England. Their organization, United India Patriotic Association was the progenitor of nationalism in the name of religion, Muslim Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism. These formations did remain loyal and patriotic to British rule all through.

The anti-colonial nationalism was comprehensive, inclusive and not merely ethnic nationalism. The nationalism of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS was built around their religious identity. The nationalism built around democratic values and secularism, the one led by Mahatma Gandhi had inherent liberalism in it. Post-Independence the nationalism of the communal organization as such has the feudal mind set of unquestioning loyalty to the state and no scope to have differences from the ruling state. That is what the Kings demanded from their subjects. That’s what dictators demand in present times. The present atmosphere created by RSS-BJP smacks of the mindset of the norms of authoritarian systems. In these systems like Kingdoms, Kings were supreme and people were mere subjects. In dictatorship again the rights of citizens are undermined. As per RSS-BJP politics state is supreme and citizen should be loaded with duties alone. It seems the present judgment is has the overbearing influence of such a mindset.

Ultra nationalism, while operating in the broad democratic setup, is an attempt to instill the values of dictatorial state. Hope such a realization will prompt the Supreme Court to revisit the judgment with a larger bench.    


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