Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sagarika Ghose and The Habit of Over-Interpretation

Sagacity is a precious commodity in the markets of collective wisdom. However for this gold, there is always a platinum, which needs to be identified by the term common sense. This commodity called common sense is indeed rare. For every thousand people, barely half a person will  display it. Such is its importance in the public discourse and governance that no less than a great thinker like Thomas Paine had to write a book to extol its virtues. Sadly, however, the people who control public discourse in India stake claim to this commodity, even though despite their perceived first right to use is contradicted by the sheer inability of their wit and wisdom to reach out to this, thus making it a much sought after valuable.

One may wonder why I am out to praise common sense today, especially given the circumstances. I lay heed to one woman's doorsteps who with her sheer brilliance has often left us poor minions gobsmacked, struggling to search for answers in the radiant light of her powers of perception. The High Priestess of the School of Nehruvian Secularism has often been bandied wrongly for branding dangerous working professionals as Internet Hindus, the Internet base of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Rashtravadi Manch, who instead of trishuls of the sadhus and saints angrily brandish mouse and keypads (or touchpads in the case of smartphone users), threatening the 'temple of democracy' by striking its very foundations. So what if she calls a couple of questioners as guttersnipes and braggadacio (misspelt by the Priestess 'on purpose'); it was all in the light of the grave threats to the 'secular modernist foundation stones' that define our nation! Everything is exempt for this epitome of modernism in India, including great displays of peripheral awareness and perscipacity with these one sided 'interviews' of Narendra Modi, posing ten questions of grave importance. Some of this light was radiated in today's column in Hindustan Times.

I frankly love reading these sermons - if you cannot blame someone for the riots directly, try finding a comparison to navigate past this "Hindutvavadi wall" ala the Great Chinese Firewall. My only problem is that such sermons lead into false premises. Ms. Ghose is a habitual offender on the over-interpretation front. Repeated lampooning from sensible people makes little impact on her. One person's murder is a chilling reminder of communal violence perpretrated by the 'Hindus'- so what if there has been some meager stone pelting in the past month, or the fact that under the UPA regime, there were genocides in Assam and Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir or the shooting of Meo Muslims in Rajasthan? Books being pulled out of circulation is another threat to communal fabric of India - never mind that Praful Patel got a gag order on Jitendra Bhargava's book about Air India's chaos, or the ban imposed on Javier Moro's book on Sonia Gandhi. Much like Sharad Pawar's grand theorization, Ms. Ghose sees more than there is to the same thing, linking the incident directly to Narendra Modi. If one murder is linked to Narendra Modi, then by Sagarika Ghose's logic:
Just like these cannot be taken to be Congress party's official stance, should any right wing lunatic be directly linked to the BJP? By her own admissions, Ms. Ghose would make us believe that what the Ulema say is not representative of the entire Muslim community. Modi does not face any dilemmas - one just has to see the manner in which RSS and others have been systematically marginalized in the public space in Gujarat. What it shows however is that the state governments are responsible for maintaining order in their respective jurisdictions.

Perhaps it would be prudent to remind Ms. Ghose that Asoka is not the only homegrown model that we have of governance. There was a predecessor to Asoka who was ably guided by a brilliant mind - Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya, who defined the outlines for a modern Indian state. This outline suggests practicing peace and aggression with equal caution, talks about giving tax breaks to its citizens, and was the first to figure that transfers of officials regularly may be used a means to tackle corruption in the state. Chanakya declared any man who spread rumours unnecessarily as an enemy to the state - a principle still followed today by many modern states. If only the grandfather and his adviser were extolled as much by Ms. Ghose as Asoka was, we would have a different narrative for India. Her obsession with Buddha and Buddhist pacifism as well as Asoka's reign may have virtue to it, but it stems from the eulogies that Westerners have given to it. Ms. Ghose should remember that we have also had such great rulers in India as Rashtrakutas, Gangaikonda Chola and Samduragupta, whose rules were called India's Golden Age. These rulers had to deal with greater diversity than Asoka, as evidenced by the patronage of Jainism and Buddhism alongside Sanatana Dharma that these rulers gave. Why should not those models be studied - all of them were great victors in battle as well, but did not convert to Buddhism at any stage. In fact, the Cholas took the Santana Dharma heritage to South East Asia, where it still survives in myriad ways despite the prevalence of Buddhism. Why should Dharma not be our guiding light instead of Dhamma, though both essentially would entail the same meaning? Why should India be embarassed about its Hindu past?

Spare us the sermons Ms. Ghose, and get a life for yourself. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Why Badayun is a Wake-Up Call for Greater Hindu Unity Within India

"Why am I asked about my caste when I go to the police? Am I not a citizen?"  

The recent horrific case coming out of Badayun has many layers to the problem. Caste oppression has been one aspect of it. Members of the Yadav community have been found guilty of misusing their status in society to commit such dastardly acts including murder and sexual assault on Dalit girls. Another has been the appalling state of sanitation in India and the subsequent harassment women face, which has implications on public health and, as the case shows, law and order as well. While the latter is no less troublesome for a nation that aspires to be a global superpower of this century, a major worry for me personally has been the perpetuity of the ills that the decaying caste system carries with them in the form that it is seen across many parts of the country even today.

Caste system existed in India in a certain time and context. It is not a racial profile as is often misconstrued by lazy arm chair academics and brainwashed left leaning ideologues. Rather, there were two aspects to it - the status at your birth, and the profession you should practise. Any moderately devout Hindu would have noted that their birth chart carries an epithet varna, which is the profession that the individual should particularly pursue. Jati is what one may be born in, but technically the system was supposed to be flexible to allow merit to rise the ranks. The Shalya Parva of the Mahabharata recalls a story whereby a rishi who was of a lower jati and was not invited for a mahayagna took away the river Saraswati with him, thus causing its disappearance. With time however, the system began to decay due to various influences,  including invasions by foreigners and ownership of property, leading to solidification of the barriers that existed. What made it worse however was the British rule in India.  The multiplicity of texts and the difference of relationships that existed in various regions of India amongst people of different castes were set in stone by the British, who conveniently used Manusmriti as the guiding text for 'governing the natives of India'. It was another disguise for dividing Indians, particularly Hindus, amongst themselves, so that they could never stand united and give an authoritative challenge to British rule and hegemony.

Many leading lights saw through this divisive plan of the British to rule India forever. Sri Aurobindo, a leading authority on Hindu thought and reformer, was a luminary even during his revolutionary days, and had a great impact on many future revolutionaries of Bengal, including Surjya Sen. Veer Savarkar was critical in casting light as he had long identified the dangers of the perpetual divisions Indians would face if they did not unite, and worked very hard to fight these ills, being amongst the few who supported Baba Saheb Ambedkar's struggles. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) set up by Guru Golwalkar and others have always strived since their inception towards removing these social ills among others from Hindu society.

However, the problem of division of Hindu society has persisted. These carried over into independent India, with power shifting towards marginalized groupings of society. The acceptance of the fundamental faultlines that were responsible for dividing India and Hindus in particular has wrecked havoc on India even after the British left India. These fictional faultlines were introduced into India particularly by the British, and they were used as tools to divide Hindus to the extent that any talk of unity degenerates into a blame game. The damage it has caused in the region has been immense. Conflicts in Sri Lanka and Nepal have persisted because many of these falsehoods have been accepted as truths. Closer home, the oppression of the weakest sections of Hindu society has persisted, with a change in the perpetrators towards the marginalized but numerically dominant caste groupings in India. The RSS has been labelled a fascist organization, and its name is used for scaring sections of Hindu society. This grasp of power becomes necessary to maintain a distinct identity, since power corrupts people, and can be used to condone even the most horrific of crimes, like the case coming out of Badayun. The response to the case in Badayun by Hindus has been tepid at best. Armchair activists have been busy spinning stories that can only cause greater friction within Hindu society. Politicians whose role has only been to tear Hindus apart are being allowed to take advantage of the situation.

These divisions of Hindu society are responsible for the continuous cycle of violence that power play causes in India. As a result of this violence, people have been blinded to the damage being caused to the larger cause of Hindu unity for eradication of evils. A few people reap the benefit by whipping up emotions along caste lines, and can then get away with rank non-performance when it comes to governance. These people patronize other people who continue to undermine the integrity of India - physical and spiritual - with falsehoods and imagined conspiracies, and work hard to deepen faultlines within Hindu society using these half truths. A divided Hindu society has been the reason why crimes against the weak of society will persist, because if the debate will always be about 'us' and 'them' but not about 'we', no evil can ever be rooted out. Hindus will be immunized to horrific crimes against humanity, because they will not see themselves as Hindus but as someone of a particular caste who 'own' power in society not to do greater good for others but to fill their own pockets.

Hindu unity is the need of the hour.A vibrant united Hindu society today cannot have a decayed foundation which finds its acceptance in wild goose chase theories and imaginations of the erstwhile colonial masters. It will not allow India to retain its glory as the jagatguru as the spiritual and moral authority shall continue to be chipped away at by those for whom a divided Hindu society has financial and political benefits. We need to come together and condemn this incident not just as a particular caste man but as a Hindu. This will send out the signal that there is no space for such horrors in Hindu society. This in turn will teach a lesson to those  political and cultural forces whose sole aim is to divide India. 

The Economic Slowdown Needs Immediate Address

The Buck Stops With the Duo (Courtesy: Bloombergquint) The fracas in Maharashtra notwithstanding, things are at a critical juncture ...