Letter to a cultural relativist friend

August 31, 2013

Rohit Dhankar

[Did not get time to write something specifically for the blog, and am likely to remain busy for some more time. So thought will put this letter to a friend on it, as I have many relativist friends here too. It is not of general interest though. Still….]

Dear Friend,

We speak from two different lines of thought, so perhaps will keep on hitting road blocks. But still I will respond to two of your general principles, before shutting up.

Giving prominent place to emotions and personal politics in our meaning making and decision making in public life:

I may not have read much of a particular kind of literature on this issue, and my actual knowledge of cultural relativism is nonexistent; but I have thought a lot on this. I never rejected, and I never reject, the importance of desires, emotions, intentions, and politics to achieve what we want to achieve in this. Actually I believe that desires, emotions and intentions are what make the life worth living, enjoyable, meaningful, good as well as evil. What I object to is using individual’s emotions, desires and intentions in public decision making on issues of common interest. Once you accept that the desires and emotions of the stronger will rule, you have no antidote to that. The religiously tried compassion for the weaker is iniquitous, patronising, and keeps everything in the hands of (under the sweet will of) the self-interest of the stronger, as the weaker have no principle of unity to counter. Gandhi’s change of heart and Buddha’s karuna does not work. It leaves no ground for the weak to fight on. The idea that not allowing individual’s emotions and desires to play in the public arena shuts up the weak is plain wrong. It provides the weak the ground to fight upon and a powerful weapon to fight with. Therefore, the desires, emotions and personal politics in the public arena should be governed by some more just and inclusive principles. Sorry, considering every shred of idea of equal worth is not inclusive, it is ultimate exclusive principle.

The second point: who says what and why? Must be considered fist:

I must share with you a little personal detail. I come from Chirawa tehsil in Jhujhunu district in Rajasthan (advance apologies to Chirawa people, in case their feelings are hurt). This idea is ingrained in the thinking of every illiterate as well as well educated inhabitant of that area; sometimes I feel it is hard-wired in their brains and is part of their genetic code. This is not only a theoretical principle there, it is their lived reality, and most of them are aware of it, and can articulate. You go to any village in Chirawa, propose the sanest scheme that benefits all and be as transparent as you can. The first thing each listener to you will think and will discuss with his confident is: Who is she? What does she want? Why does she want to benefit us? What is there in it that is actually for her? If you don’t believe me, go to that place and start working with them, you will find that every semiliterate farmer is using this principle to the hilt.

I grew up in that culture. I saw, am seeing, devastating effects of this thinking, unbridled by reason. It is pragmatically a bad principle and theoretically untenable. It over emphasises either the evil side or the unconscious-ignorant side, or both, of human being. When we attribute people consciously using general principles for their own benefits alone, we are emphasising the evil side; when we think that their consciousness is shaped that way and they are unaware (and will always remain so) we are emphasising the unconscious-ignorant side of human being. I reject neither the possibility of evil not that of ignorance. I accept both. But I don’t want to celebrate them, I want to control the evil side and mitigate the ignorant side. (And don’t worry about my using the word evil, and come up with the argument that I am already terming others’ ways of thinking evil. I am doing no such thing. Consider “evil = self interest on the cost of harm to other” for the sake of simplicity. If you reject that that is evil, then we really have no ground to talk on, end of the dialogue. Period.)

Fortunately, there is another impulse (yes, impulse, generated by what we are) in humans. Which is capable of seeing the other as myself, and feeling the pain of the other (note emotion, as necessary ingredient in reason). “This other as myself” is a generalisable principles, and empathy connects me to the humanity. Both put together I call impulse of reason. (Why impulse of reason? A long story, some other time; but that is one of the definitions of reason. Or at the least, one necessary ingredient in the definition of reason.) This impulse of reason I find the only antidote to the impulse of self-interest and unawareness of one’s motives. I find this impulse lightening the darkness of human heart, and generating hope for the future of humanity. All this is not based on emotional proclivities; it has sound rational grounds.

So where does that lead me? To this: if I hear an Iliah or a Hitler say X, then

  1. First, I will examining X closely. Its concepts, its arguments, its proposals, on its face value. No matter whether it comes from Hitler or Iliah.
  2. Then I will examine the intellectual tradition in which it is said.
  3. Then I will examine who Iliah or Hitler is, how X related to his/her known agenda, why s/he might be saying that? And when I find that X is something good, but flies in the face of his/her known agenda, I will still hope and give her/him benefit of doubt—may be this time s/he has seen the light! And will keep my fingers crossed.
  4. And then I will use all three in my judgement; yes, I will make judgment as a thinking being.

I will not start examining number 3 first and will not decide the worth of X on the basis of who said it alone. It to my mind is a fallacy rooted in the belief that predominant nature of humanity is either evil or ignorant. I accept the possibility of evil and ignorance in humans, but reject the belief that it is their predominant nature. I believe that human beings do have the capability both to understand and go beyond the self; in recognition of the other as equally worthy. I would like to strengthen and use this later. And all my stark harshness is generated from this sand point.

In case you find all this too simplistic and un-nuanced, please consider the possibility that that might be because of the quick articulation in too brief an email.

At the end I cannot resist a dig J:

Cultural relativism comes in two varieties: methodological and moral/political.

The methodological variety is harmless, and perhaps a necessary and powerful research tool for the anthropologist.

Cultural relativism of moral variety has many ideas that are very useful in making people aware of their own biases, and thereby, making them open-minded towards other people and cultures. But when it is pushed to extreme it makes the relativist’s own mind opaque to him, throws him in the same pit, perhaps in even a darker corner, he wants to pull others out of.

Sorry for boring you with all these fundamental assumptions.



Why do we want Universalisation of Elementary Education?

August 11, 2013

Rohit Dhankar

As a nation India is committed to universalisation of elementary education[1] (EE), at the least on paper, even if the action encourages scepticism about this commitment. There is also a push to extend this commitment to secondary[2] level. There is an act called “The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009”, in short RTE Act, to guarantee universalisation of quality education. There is a national consensus on this, stamped by the parliament.

We might feel comfortable about this national consensus and may think the matter settled. But there are debates on ways of achieving universalisation of EE, on whether the private schools should be forced to admit 25% at fee decided by the government, on what constitutes quality, whether no-examination and no detention is a good policy, what continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) happens to be, and so on. We are trying to construct generally acceptable answers to these and a host of other such questions. In this context I want to pose a few old and baring questions yet again. First of them being: why do we want universalisation of elementary education?

This issue is considered debated enough and settled finally, which means we have a generally acceptable and accepted answer to it. That might be true. The policy makers and administrators might have an answer to this, the educationalists and university professors also might have an answer to this. But one wonder if every worker in education does. Does the community worker trying to mobilize local support for school improvement have an adequate answer to this question? Do the teachers have such an answer? Do most of the teacher educators have one? If they all do, are their answers coherent with each other? I am not sure.

Usually the kinds of answers we provide for the basic questions have a great influence on the further questions we raise and on their acceptable answers. There is good reason to believe that the kind of answer we construct and accept for “Why UEE?” will influence all our further questions like whether 25% quota should be mandatory, whether no detention policy is good, how do we define quality of education and so on. If all his be acceptable, the question “Why do we want universalisation of elementary education?” seems to be worth engaging with.

Therefore, I request those who happen to read this post to give their answers to this question in comments or any other way they like. I also request to please keep your answers within 1000 word and out of those 1000 do not in quotations more than 250 words.

So, why do we want universalisation of elementary education?


11th August 2013

[1] Elementary Education means education for eight years, officially defined as from 6 to 14 years of age; in common parlance education up to 8th grade.

[2] Secondary Education is supposed to be from 9th year to 12th year of schooling; or 9th grade to 12th grade. 9th and 10th grades are referred to as lower secondary and 10th and 11th as higher secondary.

धर्म की धोंस-पट्टी और शिक्षा

August 10, 2013

रोहित धनकर

आज सुबह ‘द हिन्दू’ अखबार में पढ़ा की अब मुस्लिम क्लेरिक्स (उलेमा?) कहते हैं की भारती ने उनकी धार्मिक भावनाओं को आहत किया है, अतः वे उन पर मुकदमा चलाएंगे। वास्तव में जब लोग धार्मिक भावनाओं के आहात होने के आधार पर लोगों की जुबान बंद करने की कोशिश करते हैं तो बहुत से भारतीयों की लोकतांत्रिक भावनाएं बहुत आहात होती हैं। शायद मैं भी उनमें हूँ। पर मुझे ऐसा भी लगता है की देश और खासकर लोकतंत्र भावनाओं के बल-बुत्ते नहीं चल सकते, तो सोचा थोडा देखलें की भारती ने ऐसा क्या कहा जिस से किसी की धार्मिक भावनाएं आहात हो सकती हैं। जब कुछ ख़ोज-खबर की तो दो चीजें मिली। वे नीचे दी हैं।

“आरक्षण और दुर्गाशक्ति नागपाल इन दोनों ही मुद्दों पर अखिलेश यादव की समाजवादी सरकार पूरी तरह फेल हो गयी है. अखिलेश, शिवपाल यादव, आज़म खां और मुलायम सिंह (यू.पी. के ये चारों मुख्य मंत्री) इन मुद्दों पर अपनी या अपनी सरकार की पीठ कितनी ही ठोक लें, लेकिन जो हकीकत ये देख नहीं पा रहे हैं, (क्योंकि जनता से पूरी तरह कट गये हैं) वह यह है कि जनता में इनकी थू-थू हो रही है, और लोकतंत्र के लिए जनता इन्हें नाकारा समझ रही है. अपराधियों के हौसले बुलंद हैं और बेलगाम मंत्री इंसान से हैवान बन गये हैं. ये अपने पतन की पट कथा खुद लिख रहे हैं. सत्ता के मद में अंधे हो गये इन लोगों को समझाने का मतलब है भैस के आगे बीन बजाना.” –कँवल भारती।

“उत्तर प्रदेश में सपा सरकार ने नोएडा में आईअस अफसर दुर्गाशक्ति नागपाल को निलंबित कर दिया, क्यों की उन्होंने रमजान माह में एक मस्जिद का निर्माण गिरवा दिया। यह निर्माण अवैध रूप से सरकारी जमीन पर हो रहा था। लेकिन, रामपुर में रमजान माह में जिला प्रशासन ने सालों पुराने इस्लामिक मदरसे को बुलडोज़र चलवाकर गिरवा दिया। विरिध करने पर मदरसा संचालक को जेल भिजवा दिया। इस मामले में अखिलेश सरकार ने अभीतक किसी अफसर को निलंबित नहीं किया। ऐसा इसलिए नहीं किया गया, क्योंकी यहाँ अखिलेश का नहीं आजम खां राज चलता है। उनको रोकने की मजाल तो खुदा में भी नहीं है।”–कँवल भारती।

पहली टिपण्णी में तो धर्म का जिक्र तक नहीं है। तो उस से धर्किक भावनाओं के आहात होने का तो सवाल ही पैदा नहीं होता। दूसरी टिपण्णी में तीन बातें हैं जिन से कुछ लोगों को बुरा लग सकता है। पहली,  रमजान माह में सरकारी जमीन पर मस्जिद के अवैध निर्माण के गिरना। दूसरी, एक मदरसे को गिरना। और तीसरी, आजम खान को तो खुद भी नहीं रोक सकता। मैं अभी भी नहीं समझ रहा की इन कथनों से धार्मिक भावनाएं कैसे आहात हो सकती हैं?

पहला और दूसरा कथन तो बस दो वास्तविक घटनाओं को इंगित करते हैं। वे सही या गलत (सत्य या असत्य) तो हो सकते हैं, पर भावनाओं से उनका क्या लेना-देना है? तीसरा कथन खुदा की असमर्थता बताता है, आजम खान को रोकने में। यह इक मुहावरा है: खुदा भी नहीं रोक सकता, और इसका उपयोग हिंदी भाषा में आम बात है। इसके उपयोग के हजारों उदहारण हिंदी साहित्य में कोई भी आधे घंटे की मशक्कत करके ढूंढ सकता है। जो मुहावरा इतने आम चलन में है इस से भावनाओं के आहात होने का क्या मतलब हो सकता है? येदि खुदा की असमर्थता बताने को मुद्दा बनाया जाए तो भी कुछ समझ में नहीं आता। बहुत लोगों का मानना है की खुदा तो मानव-मन का एक असम्भव और तार्किक रूप से असंगत विचार भर है। तो वह बेचारा अतार्किक विचार कहाँ से समर्थ होगा? लोगों के ऐसा मानाने या कहने से यदि भावनाएं आहात होती हैं तो बड़ी मुश्किल खड़ी हो जायेगी।जब कोई भी ऐसी बात कहेगा जो मैं नहीं मानता तो मेरी भावनाएं आहात होजायेंगी और मैं उसका मुंह बंद करने के लिए मुकदमा चलाने की धमकी देने लगूंगा। तो भाई बात-चीत कैसे होगी? विचारों का आदान प्रदान कैसे होगा? हम एक दूसरे को समझेंगे कैसे?

वास्तव में मुझे न तो यह भावनाओं का मामला लगता है नाही धर्मका। यह धर्म के नाम पर खुली धोंस-पट्टी है। किसी भी शहर की सड़कों के बीच में मंदिर-मस्जिद के रूप में इस धोंस-पट्टी के सैकड़ों उदहारण देखे जासकते हैं। लोगों के विचारों पर लगे प्रतिबन्ध और परबंधित किताबें भी इसी धोंस-पट्टी के उदहारण हैं। अब सवाल यह है की धर्म के नाम पर यह धोंस-पट्टी चलाती क्यों है?

यह धोंस-पट्टी चलाती क्यों है?

राजनैतिक तौर पर एक बड़ा कारण यह है की सभी भारतीय राजनैतिक पार्टियाँ लोगों को धार्म के नाम पर बर्गलाने में विस्वास रखती हैं। चाहे वह कोंग्रेस हो, बीजेपी हो, या कोई और। यह बात सब मानते हैं। पर यह बीमारी का वर्णन भर है, उसका कारण नहीं। राजनैतिक पार्टियाँ यह नीति इसलिए अपनाती हैं क्यों की उनको विस्वास है की भारतीय नागरिक येही पसंद करता है। तो हमें इस धोंस-पट्टी के प्रभावी होने के असली कारण भारतीय नागरिकों के सोचने-समझे, उनके व्यवहार में और उनके चरित्र में ढूँढने चाहियें। हमें अपने मन में झांकना चाहहिये और अपने कर्मों को देखना चहिये। तभी हम इस रोग के असली कारणों को समझेंगे। मैं यहाँ किसी प्रकार की आत्मा शुद्धि की नहीं सामाजिक अध्यान की बात कर रहा हूँ। हमें बहुत से सामाजिक अध्ययनों की जरूरत है जो हमारे अपने व्यवहार के पीछे कारणों को समझने में मदद कर सकें।

मुझे शक है की हम लोग लोकतान्त्रिक नागारारिक के लिए आवश्याक काबिलियेतें और मूल्यों में बहुत कमजोर हैं।

लोकतंत्र में नागरिकों को एक साफ़ सामाजिक दृष्टि की जरूतात होती है और उस दृष्टि को चरितार्थ करने के लिए काम करने के लिए तैयार रहने की जरूरत होती है। हमारी सामाजिक दृष्टि आत्मकेन्द्रित है और जो जैसी भी है हम उसको चरितार्थ करने के लिए कुछ भी प्रयत्ने करने से कतराते हैं। हम उसे चरितार्थ करने की जिम्मेदारी सरकार की मानते हैं।

लोकतंत्र के नागरिक में साफ़ सोचने और इसको बे झिझक अभियक्त करने की काबिलियत चाहिये। हम लोग सोचने से भी कतराते हैं और कहने से तो बहुत ही डरते हैं, ख़ास कर आजकल। लोकतंत्र में दूसरों के भले-बुरे के प्रति संवेदनशील होने और उनके अधिकारों का हनन होने पर उनके साथ खड़े होने की जरूरत होती है। हमारी आत्मा-केन्द्रितता दूसरों के साथ अन्याय होने पर उस अन्याय को समझने और उसका विरोध करने से हमें रोकती है।

हम फिरकापरस्त और पक्षपाती लोग हैं। हाल ही में हिन्दू जागरण मंच को गुडगाँव में सरकारी जमीन पर कब्ज़ा करती मस्जिद तो दिख गई पर भारत भर में सरकारी जमीन पर कब्जा करते सैकड़ों मंदिर उसको कभी नहीं दिखेंगे।

शिक्षा की भूमिका

मैंने ऊपर जो कुछ भी कहा है उसमें कुछ भी नया नहीं है। ये आम बातें हैं जो हम सब जानते हैं। सवाल यह है की लोकात्नात्र के लिए जरूरी काबिलियतें और मूल्य आयेंगे कहाँ से? हमारी शिक्षा पर बने कई कम्मिसनों और कमेटियों ने इन सब चीजों का जिक्र किया है। इन पर बहस की है और इन को शिक्षा के उद्देश्यों में शामिल करने की बात की है। वास्तव में ये मूल्य हमारी शिक्षा के उद्द्येश्यों में शामिल हैं भी। दाहरण के लिए हम राष्ट्रीय पाठ्यचर्या २००५ को देखें तो पायेगे की लोकतांत्रिक मूल्यों की समझ और उनके लिए विवेकशील प्रतिबद्धता को महत्त्वपूर्ण उद्द्येश के रूप में लिखा गया है। और लोकतांत्रिक मूल्यों में धर्मनिरपेक्षता, समानता, न्याय, दूसरों के प्रति संवेदनशीलता, आदि का जिक्र है। साथ ही विचार और कर्म की स्वायत्तता भी शिक्षा के उद्द्येश्यों में दर्ज है। यह कोई नयी बात भी नहीं है, शिक्षा के उद्द्याशों में इस तरह की क्षमता और मूल्यों का जिक्र कामो-बेश बल के साथ सदा ही रहा है। और फिर भी हमारी शिक्षा इन कबिलियेतों और मूल्यों के विकास में असफल रही है। क्यों? मुझे इसका कोई माकूल जवाब नहीं पता।

एक आम धारणा यह है की शिक्षा सामाजिक चिंतन और व्यवहार में इस तरह के बड़े परिवर्तन नहीं कर सकती, ये परिवर्तन सामाजिक-राजनैतिक आन्दोलनों और सामाजिक-आर्थिक परिवर्तनों से ही आते हैं। इस बात में कुछ सच्चाई हो सकती है। शिक्षा अकेली ऐसे परिवर्तन करने में असमर्थ रहेगी शायद, पर अन्य चीजों के साथ-साथ शिक्षा इस चितन के विकास में मदद तो कर ही सकती है। इस बातको अस्वीकार करने का अर्थ होगा की शिक्षा केवल दक्षताएं सिखा सकती है, चिंतन और मूल्य नहीं।

मुझे ऐसा लगता है की भारतीय शिक्षा तंत्र ने कभी भी सबको शिक्षित करने और उसकी गुणवत्ता पर गंभीरता से काम ही नहीं किया।

धर्म और इस तरह के अन्य सीमित चिंतन को चुनौती देने का काम शिक्षा की मदद के बिने नहीं हो सकता। चाहे शिक्षा अकेली यह काम न कर सके पर इसमें बहुत महत्त्वपूर्ण मदद कर सकती है और इसको सही दिशा दे सकती है। अंततः यह लड़ाई हमें विद्यालयों और शिक्षक शिक्षा महाविद्यालायं में लड़नी होगी। शिक्षा में काम करने वाले हम सब लोगों को धर्म की इस धोंस-पट्टी के लिए अपने आपको जिम्मेवार समझना चाहिए। हम अपने काम में और समाज के प्रती अपनी जिम्मेदारी निभाने में असफल रहे हैं, हमारी शिक्षा ने लोकतंत्र की मदद नहीं की। (यह सब मैंने निरपेक्ष दृष्टा के रूप में विश्लेषण के लिए नहीं, बल्की एक नागरिक और शिक्षक की सक्रिय भूमिका में लिखा है। इस विश्लेषण में हमें अपने आपको देखने की जरूरत है। आम तौर पर सैद्धांतिक विश्लेषण एक दृष्टा के रूप में किया जाता है, कर्ता के रूप में नहीं।)


Place of religion in public schools: Part 5

August 6, 2013

Religious behaviour of teachers outside the school

Rohit Dhankar

The three last questions raised in the meeting I referred to in Part 1 of this series seem to be the most difficult ones to deal with. In the first glance they seem to be guaranteed in a democracy—freedom to practice and propagate one’s faith; but a little analysis brings out, if not objectionable, certainly worry some issues. Let’s try to understand what is involved here.

I have changed the order of the questions, and restate them as below:

  • Should teachers participate in public religious activities like keertan or namaaz every day or very frequently?
  • Should teachers be allowed to work for better adherence to their own religion amongst their co-religionists in the community, though do not preach it to the followers of other religions?
  • Should teachers be allowed to preach their religion in the immediate community in which the school is situated and from which the children come to school?

Teachers participating in public religious activities

It sounds ridiculous to even raise such an issue. As mentioned above, democracy is all about choosing one’s beliefs and living according to them. Therefore, there is no ground for denying that same freedom to teachers. Actually one may stop here and consider the matter closed. However, perhaps it is worthwhile to explore a little further.

Why does one participate ostensively in keertans, daily poojas and namaazs? Now of course we are speculating on other people’s motives and mental states, to which we have no direct access. Nor am I quoting here any empirical study to understand such motives. Therefore, what I say next might sound very biased and unreasonable. Still, it seems to me, it is worth speculating.

Perhaps one can imagine at the least five reasons for participating in such activities in an ostensive manner: 1. Plain entertainment; 2. Socialisation; 3. Solidarity with ones own community of believers; 4. Solace in times of difficulty; and 5. Spiritual progress. Of course, there could be more reasons, but I am unable to extend the list at this moment. And, of course, there could be a combination of these reasons.

One may object that no one goes for pooja, keertan and namaaz for entertainment. I am reasonably certain on the basis of personal experience that for pooja and keertan people do go for entertainment as well, even if the number of such people is very small; regarding namaaz or other religious activities, I am not sure; however theoretically speaking this is not impossible. Participating in religious activities for entertainment, all other things being equal, is no different from going to a movie or to a play for the same purpose. It is not something which any individual or organisation can objet to, as long as it stays in legal bounds. However, Ganesh pooja, other noisy poojas and Friday namaaz on roads tend to cause public nuisance. One has to regulate them in public interest and other people’s right to go about their business in an unhindered manner. But the organisers and participants in such activities are also within their rights of association and public gathering. All they have to do is cooperate with the state authority to cause as little disturbance as possible. Usually, though, they are less than willing to cooperate. Actually, they use such occasions to cause maximum inconvenience, and to show that their religion can brazenly browbeat both the public and the state. And still, no school can object to participation of their teachers in such activities.

Socialisation through pooja, keertan and namaaz is no different from socialising in a club with a couple of Patialas of some good whisky. There is nothing objectionable in that, either morally or politically. Nor is there anything particularly religious about it. Such activates might give good opportunity to be with the community, to keep in touch with one’s acquaintances and even for making new acquiesces. This, too, can be no concern of the schools if their teachers socialise through religious activities.

Solidarity with and belongingness to some group of likeminded people seem to be a fundamental human need. It is a necessary basis for forming self-identity as we all see ourselves in the mirror of other people’s social behaviour towards us. Self awareness and identity is the basis of one’s purpose in life and one’s epistemic, ethical and aesthetic (styam, shivam, sundaram) belief systems. Therefore, through expressing solidarity with groups one forms and enriches oneself, as well as fulfils a social obligation by helping others to do the same. Who can object to such a fundamental need and obligation? But groups and socio-political-religious formations need some unifying principles which each member accepts. Such unifying principles may be exclusionary and closed in nature. All exclusionary group formations to my mind are potentially dangerous for a democracy. Therefore, one has to be aware of divisive potential of expression of solidarity. Religion seems to be especially prone to such divisive potential, due to its characteristics discussed earlier. Still, all other things being equal, no school can object to its teachers’ participation in religious activities for purposes of solidarity.

Seeking solace and spiritual growth through participation in religious activities are obviously the legitimate religious ends. There might be people who may not regard such motivations particularly commendable, still no on has a right to object to other people’s seeking solace and spiritual growth—whatever the later might mean! Therefore, it seems participation in religious activities out-side the school timings is a personal matter of the teachers and the school transgresses it’s legitimate concerns even in questioning such activities.

Working for better adherence to their own religion

Making others co-religionists to act in accordance with their religious code of conduct or dogma’s may not be such a simple matter. One has to think how one proceeds to do that. If there is peaceful persuasion; even on non-rational and religious logic (?), but leaving the persuaded person to make his own decision; one can not object to it. However, religious zealots who want to make others more faithful then they are, rarely remain in the bounds of peaceful persuasion. Numerous incidents in India connected with misbehaviour of self-styled protectors of Hindu vales on valentine day or violence against girls peacefully enjoying themselves in bars, are case in point. The self-styled protectors of Indian culture and Hindu values in such cases claim to be correcting deviant behaviour of their own coreligionists. Umpteen number of incidents of this nature could be sited in other religious communities as well. Enforcement of burka on Muslim women against their wishes, objection to school girls participating in singing and dancing on stage in school functions, passing various fatwas (not all fatwas), etc. are common examples in Muslim community. Therefore, one has to make a distinction between willing participation of to be persuaded and enforced against their wishes. If the persuasion is within the bounds of the law of the land, even by teachers, it can hardly be objected to.

We should also keep in mind that the grounds given to behave in a particular religious manner; for example, Hindu girls not wearing jeans and Muslim girls always wearing burka; are unlikely to be rationally justified and are likely to encroach upon peoples autonomy, even if does in a peaceful manner. A teacher who used such arguments in the community is unlikely to contribute to rational enquiry in the school. The children will see through his pretended behaviour in the school. This is not a very happy situation, but as long as one remains impartial to people and ideals in the schools, and fosters critical enquiry in the school, his public behaviour can not be objected to. I am certain that such a teacher will not be very suitable for a secular democratic school, but the school can not put restrictions on what he does in his private time and in his private capacity.

Preaching of one’s own religion to others

Preach as a verb means to “deliver a sermon or religious address to an assembled group of people, typically in church” (OUP). As a noun preaching means to “publicly proclaim or teach (a religious message or belief)”. Here preaching is used as ‘preaching to convert’. More accurate word to express that meaning would have been “proselytizing” in place of “preaching”. The original conversation was in Hindi and word used was “dharma-prachar” in the sense of “attempting to convert” (dharma-parivartan) others to one’s own religion. We will continue here to use the simpler word “preaching” in the sense of “preaching to convert”.

Before we examine appropriateness of a teacher as a religious preacher, some time spent on understanding the motivation and implications of attempts to convert will be useful. A natural question that comes to one’s mind is: why do people try to convert others to their own religion?

It is hard to deny in the modern world that a major reason is to gain/consolidate social, political and economic power. Religion has always been associated with economic and political power, most often in favour of the privileged; but some times in favour of the underprivileged too. However, by the time a religion gets institutionalised it creates its own privileged and then works for their benefit all along. In the name of nuanced understanding—which most often is nothing more than obfuscation—one can site examples of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Bukti Movement as counter examples, and claim that they all started to ameliorate sufferings of the downtrodden. But by the time they firmed up as religions or created stable institutions (in case of Bhakti) they all started fighting for power and siding with the powerful. Therefore, when people see religious conversion as power games and attempts to dominate other religious groups they are seeing right.

Of course there is nothing wrong in trying to make democracy work in one’s favour. But that requires having a principle of unity that is not exclusionist, admits rational pursuit, and works for justice for all. Religion as a principle of unity fails on all counts. Therefore, playing power games with religion is playing them unfairly.

But not all people active in proselytizing are totally devoid of other motives; they may genuinely believe that converting to their own religion is actually good for the converted and the society in general. They almost always believe that their own religious belief system is the only true religion, all others are false. This is particularly true of so called Semitic religions: that is Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Hinduism basically is not a proselytizing religion, and multiplicity of religious truths is admitted in it. Reza Aslan thinks that “like “Hinduism,” “paganism” is a meaningless and somewhat derogatory catchall term created by those outside the tradition to categorize what is in reality an almost unlimited variety of beliefs and practices.” There is substantial amount of truth in this claim, even if it is not wholly true. Perhaps that is why Hindu zealots require racial, ethnic, and geopolitical elements to brew their own brand of fanaticism. Their idea of “matribhoomi” and “punyabhoom” being the same within actual or claimed boundaries of Bharat is necessary to turn Hinduism into a fanatical religion. Earlier, when Hindus had heir rifts with Buddhism the caste based hierarchical organisation of the society could be used to pepper over doctrinal differences, now that has become impossible. Therefore, they want a single doctrine and other ingredients to create fanaticism.

Islam and Christianity never had any doubt that their religion is the only true religion and anyone who does not accept that will definitely go to hell. Many Muslim clerics and ordinary believers will express that opinion as a matter of fact, without slightest hesitation. Many of them also believe, on the basis of scriptural authority, that it is the duty of the believers to spread the truth by all means they can. This, of course, will be objected to, but we can get into that debate later. One who converts a non-believer to faith is sure to get the rewards by admittance in heaven.

The problem with all this is that it is closed minded view which declares all other views false and is not open to examination. If a person happens to be indoctrinated into an unjustifiable belief system, and from within that belief system, if he does something to benefit others according to his own view; it can not be justified. His assumed to be good intentions alone are not enough here, as the very basis of his action is unjustified. This also leaves the room open for using force.

Of course, religious conversion could also happen for solace. We have dealt with the benefits and problems of religious solace earlier, need not revisit that here. Sometimes, spiritual growth is sited as reasons for conversion. Spirituality is not a clearly defined concept. On close analysis it looks like religion’s surreptitious attempts to disguise itself behind a veil of mystery. Unless a clearer understanding and articulation of what spirituality happens to be is available, we can not discuss it. My guess is that spirituality is either disguised religion or it has nothing that normal garden variety of secular morality or purposes in life can not provide.

This quick, partial and cursory analysis seems to point that a preacher for conversion is unlikely to be a good, impartial and secular teacher. His understanding of the world and humanity is likely to be marked by dogma, and rational enquiry for him would be of a certain variety that will always look up to theology. Therefore, the schools should not allow their teachers to be religious preachers. I am not aware of the rules and regulations for public servants, but suspect that they are not allowed to be part of organisations that proselytise. As I am not sure on this, any authentic information is welcome. (I am being lazy, do not want to look for material on the issue and read it!)

That brings us to the end of this series. I am aware that there are many logical gaps in my analysis and I may lack information on many issues. I have also become aware of further study/investigating on several issues during the course of writing. In a way it is a working understanding that is open to be questioned and to be refined. Therefore, critiques is welcome.



6th August 2013

Rohit Dhankar, Azim Premji University, Bangalore and Digantar, Jaipur


9th Foundations of Education Course

August 4, 2013

Course Announcement