Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 4/4—Tools to counter

August 25, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

Part 4: Ideological tools to counter the threat

Hamid Dalwai

I am not a scholar of politics, nor have I read extensively on Hamid Dalwai. Actually I have read only what Ramachandra Guha includes in his “Makers of Modern India”. Guha calls Dalwai ‘The last modernist’, and includes excerpts from three of his essays. I find whatever little I have read of Dalwai’s writing forthright, balanced and bold; he does not pander to political correctness and takes on obscurantists, some liberals included, of all verities with equal objectivity.

Dalwai does not accept the theory that Hindu communalism originated in a response to Muslim communalism or that the Muslim communalism originated in response to Hindu communalism. He sees the origin of both in their own obscurantism and history; however, accepts that they feed on each other. He sees the roots of Muslim nationalism and separatism, that finally resulted in partition, in the Muslim mind-set that they were the rulers of India and the British snatched their inheritance from them. He thought that “[T]he foundation of Muslim nationalism is the postulate that Hindu and Muslim societies are autonomous and parallel social structures”. This idea of separate autonomous societies is antithetical to modern secular citizenship according to him.

Dalwai disagreed with all obscurantists, be they Muslims, Hindus or belonging to any other religion. He blamed obscurantist elements among Muslims for not being introspective enough and blaming Hindus for their own problems. He blamed the obscurantist Hindus for blocking the emerging modern ideas among Hindu population and feeding Muslim communalism; and he also blamed some liberals for soft-peddling Muslim communalism. I can hardly do better than quote Dalwai directly to understand the precarious position of secularism and on how it could be strengthened:

“Secularism in India, although embodied in the Constitution, is as yet only an aspiration. It has not yet permeated our social life. It is even in danger today. Within the Hindu majority, there is a strong obscurantist revivalist movement against which we find a very small class of liberals engaged in fight. Among Indian Muslims there is no such liberal minority leading the movement towards democratic liberalism. Unless Indian liberals, however small they are as a minority, are drawn from all communities and join forces on a secular basis, even the Hindu liberal minority will eventually lose its battle with communalist and revivalist Hindus [Note–Precisely what is happening today]. If Muslims are to be integrated in the fabric of a secular and integrated Indian society, a necessary precondition is to have a class of Muslim liberals who would continuously assail communalist dogmas and tendencies. Such Muslim liberals, along with Hindu liberals and others, would comprise a class of modem Indian liberals.”

Dalwai is prophetic writing little after independence (English translation published in 1968, Marathi Guha does not mention):

“It is often argued that Muslim communalism is only a reaction to Hindu communalism. This is not true. The real conflict in India today is between all types of obscurantism, dogmatism, revivalism, and traditionalism on one side and modem liberalism on the other. Indian politicians being short-sighted and opportunistic, communalism and orthodoxy is always appeased and seldom, if ever, opposed. This is why we need an agreement among all liberal intellectuals to create a non-political movement against all forms of communalism. If this is not done, democracy and liberalism will inevitably collapse in India. The stakes are high. It is a pity that few people realize the gravity of the situation. It is even more unfortunate that they are hardly informed about the true nature of the problem.”

I am quoting Dalwai extensively because I think he understood the problem accurately even before 1960s:

“I believe that if the Hindus were sufficiently dynamic, the Hindu-Muslim problem would be solved. For if the Hindus were dynamic, they would subject the Indian Muslims to several shocks which history has spared them. … Hindus can accept the challenge of Muslim politics in India only by developing dynamism and a balance of mind. But to develop such dynamism Hindu orthodoxy itself has to be liquidated. The caste system has to be eliminated. The Hindus must embrace modernism. They must create a society based on fundamental human values and the concept of true social equality. Unfortunately, the Hindu mind lacks balance. Even those Hindus who have accepted modernity, justice and brotherhood as their guiding principles sometimes support Muslim communalism. Some avoid speaking against it and some even indirectly encourage it. Those Hindus who ought to be combating communalism today seem, instead, to be trying to put the clock back. They are supporting obscurantism, revivalism, the caste system and the cult of the cow. This is a process which would drain Hindu society of whatever little dynamism it may still have. There have to be enough Hindus trying to modernize the Hindu society and, at the same time, opposing the irrational politics of Muslim communalism. I hope this would happen. For that would precisely be the process by which the Hindu-Muslim problem can be eliminated. Muslim communalism today makes the most of the rift between liberal Hindus and communalist Hindus. It is ironical that Muslim communalists gain the support of Hindus, both liberal and communalist.”

The diagnosis remains accurate to date. Dalwai’s writing threw a challenge to liberals almost 50 years back; and the liberals, both Hindus and Muslims, failed to meet the challenge. Muslim liberals never met the challenge of criticising Muslim obscurantism with sufficient force, many of the Hindu liberals supported their own obscurantism and remaining became so politically correct that criticised everything Hindu and abstained from even expressing disagreement with Muslim obscurantism. The result is that today the communalism in both societies is thriving while liberals have lost all conviction and are wondering whether the ideals of secularism and democracy are even worth fighting for.

Those who care about equality, democracy and secularism in India have to counter Singhals, Bhagwats and Togadias of the country. They have no ground to oppose Singhals, Bhagwats and Togadias if they do not oppose with equal force Bukharis, Owaisis and Jilanis. And that is one of the most serious problems we face today—we are not fair in criticising communalism.

Obfuscation is not the same thing as an unmitigated bunch of lies. It could also be a carefully crafted collection of misuse of truth, half-truths, plausible lies, plan lies and white lies. Condemning the whole thing at one go as bunkum is being counterproductive. The truths have to be accepted and their misuse exposed. Half-truths have to be shown to be just what they are. Lies have to be countered. It is a game of mind-manipulation; an engaged dialogue has to be created.

The Hindutva claims have been ignored for far too long as being too stupid to counter and being beneath the dignity of serious intellectuals to engage with. They are forgetting that there are a large number of voters today who think that the name ‘Hindustan’ was created at the same time as ‘Pakistan’, who do not know that Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, who do not know what Indian freedom movement was. Leaving the ground totally to Bhagwats and Singhals will give them an unchallenged access to this group. The group is too large to ignore. We should remember that our education system has failed democracy. The job of creating critical citizenship has to be taken up in the public discourse.

We have to heed Dalwai, even if belatedly. Or be prepared for a long period of confusion, unrest, and conflict. The end result of which might come out as loss of secularism and democracy.

Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 3/4—Ideological 2

August 24, 2014

Part 3: Ideological basis for direct threat-2
Rohit Dhankar

Part 4: Ideological tools to counter the treat

Mohan Bhagwat continues …

But ‘unity of India’ is a difficult idea to grasp. Bhagwat obviously is not talking of the geographical India of today; what he has in mind if more likely to be akhanda Bharat, which is roughly the Indian sub-continent. In what sense the sub-continent has been ‘united’ since ancient times? Three candidates come to mind immediately: united as a geographical area (whatever that might mean), as a cultural entity, and as a political entity.

Geographically the sub-continent has been somewhat demarcated, if not isolated, from the rest of the world due to the Himalayas, Hindukush range and the sea. The area has a range of climatic conditions, flora and fauna. Still perhaps Indians are prone to see a continuity from proverbial Kashmir to Kanya Kumari and now from Baluchistan to Myanmar border. It could of course be debated. But in any case human belief systems, be they religious or otherwise, could have had no impact on the climate etc., this geographical demarcated-ness, then, cannot be attributed to Hinduism or any other faith.

As a political entity one wonders when has India—in the sense of sub-continuant—been united before the Britishers ruled it? Nation states as we know them today are a comparatively modern phenomena. India became an independent nation state only in 1947, and that covers only part of the sub-continent. Whether we realise or not the project of building a nation state of India is still incomplete. The debate Sangha parivar is raising is actually part of that process. More precisely speaking, whether this nation of ours should remain secular democracy or convert into a Hindu Rashtra is one of the main issues today. If the Sangh Parivar wants to give credit to Hindus for keeping India as secular state after Independence, it seems to me, it is not entirely true, even if may have a grain of interpretative truth. Of course all Indians—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis—wanted a secular democratic state and so they created it. But one has to give credit to the majority of Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other, as they were actively fighting each other during the partition. And the partition itself came about on religious basis. Denying the contribution of sanity of majority Hindu population in crafting a secular state immediately after partition would be erring on the other side. Also explaining it away purely in terms of political and economic necessity as if there was no other way available would be rather stretched. This certainly constitutes at least the part of Bhagwat’s intent in the unity statement. Even if the secular intelligentsia of the country does not like it, or even if this is not a politically correct position, it is debatable without calling names to parties on either sides of the debate.

Beyond this what could be called ‘unity of the sub-continent’ politically? The region has been governed by different kingdoms and empires throughout the history. The only two empires that came close to covering the whole of the geographic region were Mauryan Empire under Ashok and Mughal Empire after Akbar. Ashok became a Buddhist, and so one has to accept Buddhist contribution to that empire; Mughal Empire clearly was a creation of Muslim rulers, even if some of them were remarkably secular for their historical age. Most of the time in the history, then, the region has been divided into various kingdoms and empires and political unity of the whole region has been a rare phenomenon.

That leaves us with the third candidate: cultural unity. We have already mentioned above that the sub-continent has been a cauldron of ethnicity, social and cultural practices, and religious beliefs. So if one has to seek cultural unity, it has to be sought more in the family resemblances rather than strictly defined cultural practices. If one considers Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism as one, intermingling of practices and knowledge sharing across the region, then perhaps one can imagine the sub-continent as one cultural region. But then one has to share the claim for keeping it united with various ethnic groups and faiths. Hinduism as we use the term today cannot claim this credit alone.

If this understanding is acceptable then a factual analysis of Bhagwat’s statement shows it to be false. But perhaps the real purpose of the statement is not to state a truth at all. The real purpose might be to create a certain emotional impact among the Hindus to give them confidence and prominence in the Indian nation today. This might be a statement designed for hegemonic purposes rather than to establish truth. We should remember that partially true statements serve such purposes better than plain lies. Simply because when opponents summarily reject such statements without shifting truth from falsehood the small grain of truth in them gets magnified and those who reject summarily are seen as biased. It becomes easy to label these people as anti-Hindu.

Another statement, as reported in The Hindu, by Bhagwat is designed to achieve the same purpose through it ambiguity, he says “[A]s long as dharma exists in India, the world will continue to respect this country. But once dharma is gone, no force on earth can stop the country from crumbling”. What does ‘dharma’ mean here? The term in Sanskrit is used for meanings as diverse as physical properties to moral duty taking in its stride true-nature and even coming close to religion. Modern use mostly connotes religion. So is he saying that as long as the ‘Hindu-dharma’ exist India will continue, but if Hindu-dharma is gone the country will crumble? The context seems to suggest this interpretation unmistakably.

One simple truism is that if there is a large scale change in the belief systems of a population the country does not remain the same, one can say that it ‘crumbles’ in the sense that even if exists as a political entity it becomes a different country. Hindus now comprise slightly above 80% of the Indian population. The present character of the Indian society and democracy certainly will change if Hinduism disappears from India. But that, as mentioned above, is simply a truism. Why mention it? The purpose seem to be to indicate that Hinduism is actually under threat, an old claim of the Sangh Parivar. And the second purpose seems to be that if no Hinduism in India, no secular democratic India. This second claim also has a hint that if Hinduism goes, the second largest minority in the country, Islam, will become a majority. Therefore, it seems there are at the least four claims packed in this statement: one, Hinduism is under threat; two, it is under threat mainly from Islam; three, if Hinduism goes it will be Islam which will come to majority; and four, the secularism and democracy will not survive in a Muslim majority country. These are standard Sangh Parivar ideas being used for creating a political Hindu identity; other name for Hindu consolidation. The standard secularist response to these ideas is that they are paranoid imagination of a lunatic fringe in Hindu population and are patently false. This standard response is not serving the purpose; actually, right or wrong, it is discredited in the minds of now sizable Hindu population and secularists are considered either anti-Hindu or, more charitably, unconcerned morons who can’t even see their own interest. So if the secularists are concerned with the democracy and secularism in the country they have to change the discourse and take on the Hindutva brigade with more vigour and better tools. A victory of Hindutva will be certainly fatal to democracy as well as secularism, as we know it today.

This provides the ideological basis to Singhal’s statement. Without challenging this ideological basis simple condemnation of statements like Singhal’s will not work

What could be a set of better intellectual and ideological tools to counter Hindutva then? I believe Hamid Dalwai’s writings have more than a hint at how to fashion such tools.

Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 2/4—Ideological 1

August 19, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

Part 2: Ideological basis for direct threat-1

Mohan Bhagwat

Bhagwat, as is expected of RSS chief, is providing the ideological basis for Singhal’s Hindu belligerence. His statement, as in the news report in The Hindu on 10th August 2014, is based on a carefully created logical confusion in the meanings of terms “Hindu”, “Hindutva”, “Hindustan” and “Hinduism”.

Bhagwat’s rhetorical poser “[I]f inhabitants of England are English, Germany are Germans and USA are Americans then why all inhabitants of Hindustan are not known as Hindus?” uses the terms “Hindustan” and “Hindu” as geographical terms. And that is how these terms are believed to have been originated. They were a reference to a river, and the land ‘beyond’ that river seen from the west to east. It is not necessary that any cultural essentialism or religious significance was part of this early use of the terms. Bhagwat should also remember that these terms were given to us by foreigners who knew very little about the people living on this side of the river. Another point he should pay attention to is that the terms ‘India’ and ‘Indians’ are also connected with the same river, given by foreigners and no one objects to their use today. Because India and Indian were never associated with a particular religious or cultural essentialism. The issue is: why Bhagwat is asking this question regarding ‘Hindustan’ and ‘Hindu’ instead of his beloved Bharat and Bharatiya or ‘India’ and ‘Indian’? The reason becomes clear in what he says further down.

What he wishes to rub in is “[T]he cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture”. In this statement obscurantism and lies make their appearance with full force.

“Hindutva” is a term more recently invented to essentialize Indianness and equate it with Hinduism. The most commonly known definition of ‘Hindutva’ is a mix of geographical and cultural elements. According to Hindutva ideology anyone who is: 1. an Indian national (the geographical element); 2. considers India as his ‘pitribhoomi’, that is land of forefathers; and 3. also considers India as his ‘poonyabhoomi’, that is the holy land; is a Hindu. So if someone thinks that his/her forefathers came from some other part of the world or if his/her holy land or pilgrimage land lies outside what Sangh Parivar consideres ‘akhanda Bharat’ is not a Hindu. This cultural identity fits the Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs quite well. But the believers of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Many of them consider themselves descendants of people who came from outside and have their pilgrimage places outside imaginary akhanda Bharat.

In today’s situation the proclamation that cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva might mean one of the two things only. One, those who consider themselves descendants of outsiders and have their pilgrimages outside akhand Bharat are not true Indians, this is insinuation of disloyalty. Or alternatively, they should start believing that their forefathers were inhabitants of akhanda Bharat and stop their pilgrimage outside that geographical area. Both alternatives are obnoxiously hegemonic and divisive. Go against people’s freedom of belief systems and faiths. If accepted will destroy secularism and democracy.

The second half of his statement that “the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture” squarely jumps into the cultural identity. The recently invented term ‘Hindutva’ has become an ancient culture and it is claimed that Indian subcontinent had only this culture in the ancient times. Anyone with a smattering of historical knowledge understands that: one, ‘Hinduism’ itself is a term of relatively recent origin. Two, there was no time in Indian history when any one culture was the only culture.
Whether Indus valley culture was the same as Vedic culture is still being debated. The subcontinent always has had the Dravidian culture, and various other indigenous cultures. India was always a cauldron of ethnicity and cultural ideas; and that is its beauty. The jump Bhagwat makes from a geographical claim to cultural claim is patently false.

The next claim is a good example of deliberate obfuscation. He claims “that Hindutva is a way of life and Hindus could be of any religion worshipping any God or not worshipping at all”. First, he is replacing ‘Hinduism’ with ‘Hindutva’. Hinduism is a relatively open term; Hindutva a more closed and harder version of Hinduism, an ideological term. Hindutva is a politico-religious ideology, adopted by fundamentalist Hindus. Hinduism is an umbrella term that includes several religious sects and can plausibly be considered a way of life.

If one claims that “Hinduism is a way of life” then it can be defended. There are Hindus who worship various gods, have a variety of religious beliefs, a plethora of rituals, idol worshippers and considering idolatry unacceptable; and even atheists. They call themselves Hindus, and beyond that there is nothing which can pin point anything common in their belief systems. Most of them throughout the history have been quite eclectic regarding their belief systems and what the others believed did not bother them much. But they also have had their fanatics and indulged in wars with other religious faiths. Still the claim that Hinduism is a way of life and not a religion at the least is debatable; personally I think defendable. But not so ‘Hindutva’.

Even if one replaces ‘Hindutva’ in Bhagwat’s claim with ‘Hinduism’ and says that “Hindus could be of any religion worshipping any God” it has problems. Hindus mainly have been worshippers of the gods in Vedic pantheon. But Hindu gods breed and new gods from other groups are adopted. The oldest examples of inclusion of non-Vedic gods in Vedic pantheon is supposed to be the Shiva family. The objects of veneration in other faiths are included in gods, Buddha and Mahavir are examples. Loved and respected human beings are elevated to the status of gods. This has been the historical nature of Hinduism. But we should note two things. One, that no god of non-subcontinental origin has ever had a large following as the main god for any section of Hindu people. However, they have no objection to elevating Christ and even Muhammad to the position of their gods. However, such attempts do not have a large following. Partly this could be because of the resistance from Muslims and Christians themselves, they never wanted their God and prophet to be one of many in the pantheon. But it is partly also due to the distance between the concept of godhood between the subcontinental ideas and ideas in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The irony, however, is that the most ominous threat to this openness and eclectic nature of Hinduism is posed by the Hindutva brigade itself; and Bhagwat is the most important figure in this brigade who is now invoking this very openness. They don’t seem to realise that creating ideologically closed and divisive concepts do not go well with eclecticism and openness; and that one cannot use both strategies simultaneously.

Bhagwat also claimed that Hindutva has been the only basis to keep India united since ancient days despite having plenty of diversities. We have already talked about Hindutva and its antiquity. For the sake of arguments let us suppose that what he really means is that “Hinduism has been the only basis to keep India united since ancient days despite having plenty of diversities.” Hinduism, even if it is difficult to define precisely, can be said to be an ancient Indian family of religious sects which share a wide range of beliefs, rituals, ethical principles and ways of looking at the world; and thus a way of life. However, no single religious idea is common across all Hindus. The unity is Hindu ism is created by overlapping family resemblance. [Continues …]

Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 1/4—From Hindu consolidation

August 18, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

Part 1: Direct threat of Hindu Consolidation

On 17th July according to a news item in Hindustan Times Ashok Singhal issues a thinly veiled threat to Muslims, saying “[I]f they keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?” Less than four weeks later Mohan Bhagwat declared that “[T]he cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva”. These kinds of statements are not sporadic, they make a thought through pattern. What has appeared in small news reports in the above mentioned two cases is worth paying attention to for their carefully crafted mix of truths, misinformation, acceptable principles and totally condemnable intentions.

Indian liberal attitude to such pronouncement is not helping. The liberals either condemn all in such statements simply on the basis of their origin or ignore them considering beneath their dignity to respond to such rubbish. Neither of these attitudes help; the first simply makes them look like totally biased anti-Hindu, and the second leaves the Hindutva forces free to manipulate public opinion. Also, both these attitudes undermine the importance of dialogue in public life; thereby destroying the only means of countering propaganda available to them.

I would like to take whatever information is available to me seriously in this article and analyse these statements in order to shift acceptable from condemnable.

Ashok Singhal

Singhal presents his analysis of Indian politics. According to him the Lok Shabha polls have proved that Hindu polarisation can win elections without Muslim support, that it is a setback to Muslim politics and that if the rift between Hindus and Muslims continues further polarisation at the level of states will happen. He also claims that Ram temple movement and Godhra incident have made this possible.

It seems to me that this understanding is earthy, simple and accurate. Those who are still denying Hindu polarisation are deluded. In spite of calling Muslim polarisation a myth the public at large believed in it. The political parties bending backwards to play vote bank politics and willing participation of Muslim religious leaders in their politics did not help dispel the myth of Muslim vote consistently going in favour of a certain brand of politics, even if not to a single party. The repeated calls for consolidation of secular votes did not help; it only aided to the call for Hindu consolidation by Sangh parivar. And Lok Sabha polls are certainly a setback to this brand of politics.
Singhal does not stop here; he also insinuates that the Muslim politics was being used by “foreign and divisive forces to destroy our identity”. This is his Hindutva card, the Sangh Parivar has created a victimhood mentality in the sizable Hnidu population. A selective use of history of what is still called Muslim era in Indian history, partition and repeated communal riots are used for this purpose. The Muslim is being painted as ‘the enemy within’ and the seculars have not been able to counter the canard.

The confidence generated by the fact that Modi has been a RSS swayam sevak and that the BJP has majority on its own is belligerently expressed. Singhal expresses confidence that the Sangh Parivar agenda of Ram Temple, uniform civil code and abolition of article 370 will be implemented. Let’s note here that the latter two of these demands have their independent justification in a democracy and to support them one does not need to be a Hindu communalist. Declaring all those who consider these later demands reasonable and debatable in a democracy as communal people will help the Sangh Parivar; the mistakes which secularists have been making for last 50 years.

The majoritarianism in the statement is unmistakable. The cursory promise that “Muslims will be treated as common citizens — nothing more, nothing less” is immediately bellied by the threat that “they must learn to respect Hindu sentiments. If they keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?” In his thinking it is the Muslim who has to learn to respect Hindu sentiment, and not vice-versa. No such reciprocity is demanded from the majority community. The love that the Muslims will get from the Sangh Parivar is conditional in respect of their sentiments and giving up “claims over Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura and also accept a uniform civil code”. If they do accept, no further demands on Masjids that according to Snghal are built by Muslim rulers in medieval era on Hindu temples be made. And then comes the threat: if they don’t, further consolidation of Hindus will happen. Consolidation of Hindus in the light of “[I]f they keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?” is as ominous a threat as could be.

Singhal here is not talking of dialogue, resolving of issues through negotiations, this is no commitment to democracy; it is a statement of terms in a belligerent manner and a direct threat.

If this cursory analysis is correct then Singhal’s statement is based on an earthy understanding of politics, contains threats, is belligerent, makes a pretention of democratic values, and has a mix of legitimate and illegitimate demands. The legitimate ones, perhaps, to serve as smoke-screen and tools of manipulation.

[next ideological threat]

स्वावलंबन: कुछ गड़बड़ है

August 17, 2014

रोहित धनकर

हम साठ पार के राजस्थानी देहाती जब उच्चाप्राथ्मिक स्तर पर पढाई कर रहे थे तो विद्यालय में और पढ़े-लिखे घरवालों की तरफ से बार बार स्वावलंबी होने को कहा जाता था. किताबें, कापियां, या कलम-स्याही खरीदनी हैं तो खुद ६ किलोमीटर चलकर जाओ, और खरीद लाओ. स्कूल की यूनिफार्म के कपड़े खरीदने हैं तो खुद खरीदो. यहाँ तक की आठवीं के बाद किस स्कुल में पढ़ना है और कौनसे विषय पढ़ने हैं खुडी तय करो. यह मामला आजादी का कम और जिम्मेदारी का ज्यादा था. स्वावलंबन में केन्द्रीय मूल्य आजादी नहीं, जिम्मेदारी होती है. पर जिम्मेदार होने के रस्ते में आजादी मिल ही जाती है. आज उसी गाँव में जहाँ मैं बड़ा हुआ बच्चों के पास न आजादी है ना जिम्मेदारी. स्वावलंबन कहीं रस्ते में खो गया है.

बच्चों को छोड़ कर पूरे गाँव को देखें तो हाल और भी बुरा है. एक उदाहरण इसे समझने में काम आ सकता है.

गाँव में कुल दो कुँए थे. दोनों में पीने के लिए अच्छा पानी था. कुँए सरकार ने नहीं गाँव वालों ने मिलकर खोदे थे. पानी की जरूरत लोगों के पीने-नहाने से ले कर पशुओं तक तो लागतार रहती थी. गरमी के दिनों में और भी ज्यादा. तो गाँव वाले अपनी पंचायत करते औए कुँए के साथ लगी जमीन को साल भर बोने-जोतने के एवज में पूरे गाँव के लोगों और पशुओं के लिए पानी की व्यवस्था कर लेते. कुँए के साथ की जमीन में सबकी हिस्सेदारी नहीं थी, पर पानी की व्यवस्था सब लोगों और सबके पशुओं के लिए करना जमीन के उपयोग कर पाने की शर्त थी. यहाँ तक की पशुओं के पानी पीने की खेली को सदा भरा रखना पड़ता था और उसमें कहीं के भी, किसी के भी पशु आ कर पानी पी सकते थे.

आज लगभग सबके अपने खेतों में कुँए हैं. आधे से ज्यादा लोग अपने खेतों में ही रहते हैं. अपना खेत, अपना कुआँ, अपना पानी. किसी सहयोग या पंचायत की जरूरत नहीं. लगता है स्वावलंबन बढ़ा है. पर दूसरा भी पक्ष है: कुछ लोग अब भी गाँव के कुँए पर निर्भर है. वे मिलर व्यवस्था करने के बजाय सरपंच के चक्कर लगाना पसंद करते हैं. मोटर खराब हो गई तो सरकार ठीक करे, पाइप टूट गया तो सरकात ठीक करे. गाँव में गंदगी हो गई तो सरकार ठीक करे.

पानी यहाँ एक उदारण भर है. मेरे इलाके में लगभग सभी परिवारों की आर्थिक सामर्थ्य कई गुना बढी है. पर-निर्भरता, सरकार पर, बिजली पर, बाज़ार पर भी कई गुना बढ़ी है. मेलजोल, सहयोग, सामूहिक योजना बनाना, अपनी समस्याओं को स्वयं हल करना कई गुना घटा है.

पुरानी व्यवस्था बराबरी और न्याय पर आधारित नहीं थी. कुछ लोगों के पास जाती और परंपरा के आधार पर गाँव के बारे में निर्णय लेने के ज्यादा मौके थे, कुछ के पास कम. पर निर्णय लेने में कम से कम ख़याल सबका रखा जता था. अब बराबारी बढ़ी है, पर ख़याल रखने की परंपरा खत्म सी हो गई है. अपने अधिकार हासिल करने हैं तो ताकत चाहिए, भलमनसाहत कुछ ख़ास काम की चीज नहीं लगती.

मामला जटिल है. कौनसी व्यवस्था बेहतर थी? जिन्दगी किस में ज्यादा सुरक्षित थी? सामूहिक स्वनिर्भरता किस में ज्यादा है? रिश्तों की स्निग्धता किस में ज्यादा है? एक-दूसरे का ख़याल रखना किस में ज्यादा है? कहीं कुछ गड़बड़ है. हम कुछ नया और बेहतर पाने के चक्कर में पुराना और बेहतर खो रहे हैं. पुराने और अवान्छानीये (गैर बराबरी, परंपरा की जकड़न) से पीछा छुड़ाने के लिए नया और अवांछनीय गले लगा रहे हैं. क्या पुराने अवांछनीय को छोड़ने और वांछनीय को मजबूत करने का कोई तरीका है? क्या नया वांछनीय अपनाने और अवांछनीय से बचने का कोई तरीका है? क्या हम दोनों दुनियाओं के शुभ को पा सकते हैं और अशुभ को मिटा सकते हैं? क्या हम दोनों हाथों में लड्डू रख सकते हैं? और यदि नहीं तो क्या हम अपने आप को विवेकशील मानव कह सकते हैं? कुछ तो गड़बड़ है.

Apathy for truth

August 14, 2014

Rohit Dhankar
(Deccan Herald, 14th August 2014)

Gujarat State School Textbook Board (GSSTB) is distributing nine books written by self-proclaimed educationist Dina Nath Batra to all schools in the state. These books are to teach children ‘facts’ about history, science, geography, and religion. Examples of some facts from one of these book titled “Tejomay Bharat” are worth considering. It is claimed that 100 Kaurawas were test-tube babies incubated in 100 tanks of ghee, that motor cars were available to Aryans in Vedic era, and that Indians used television in Mahabharat era. Such claims are not new, preachers of many religions claim hints at modern scientific discoveries in their ancient texts. What is new is distribution of such knowledge to all children as ‘compulsory reading’. And the frequency of such claims by people who are generally thought to be sensible.

Barely a week after this report a Supreme Court judge declared that had he been dictator of India he would have introduced Gita and Mahabharata to all Indian children from class one. Speaking at an international conference the judge advised Indians to return to ancient traditions. According to him it would be a remedy to present day violence and terrorism. Gita and Mahabharata will teach children how to live life in modern era. The judge is not a dictator, but GSSTB has the power and is using it.

The question in the face of such claims is: how should we understand such repeated assertions of superior scientific and moral knowledge in our ancient texts? What should we make of emerging greater thrust for such knowledge in curriculum and textbooks? Education has always been a hotly contested arena. Its aims, curriculum and content all are sought to be used for furthering socio-political agendas. One can interpret such claims and thrusts by sections of people to be an expression of love for their culture, patriotism and an expression of their genuine beliefs. It could be assumed that the authors of books like Tejomay Bharat and the GSSTB officials who want every child to read them really believe what is written in them, and that spreading this lost knowledge widely in the society is for everyone’s good.

Interpreted in this sense they have all the right to push for their version of good education. Their attempt to emphasise education rooted in ancient culture is as legitimate as attempts to spread rational thinking, scientific knowledge and objective history. However, the sheer flight of imagination expressed in the claims like stem-cell research in Mahabharata makes one somewhat uncomfortable with this charitable interpretation.

Harry Frankfurt in “On Bullshit” claims that bullshit is much more prevalent in societies than we think. He philosophically analyses the concept of bullshit, not as a term of abuse but as an expression used to communicate a standpoint in conversations. Frankfurt claims that: one, bullshitters are profoundly indifferent to truth. Two, they are not concerned with communicating information, though they may pretend to be doing so. Thee, that they are “fakers and phonies” and that what they care about primarily is whether what they say is effective in manipulating opinion. This understanding of bullshit leads Frankfurt to the conclusion that “bullshitting constitutes a more insidious threat than lying does to the conduct of civilized life.” Because a liar at least recognises the force of truth as well as its place in life; and he lies to avoid that force. A bullshitter is unaware of the place of truth in society and is profoundly indifferent to it; all that matters to him is manipulation of opinion to gain prominence and power.

Unconcern for truth and consistency becomes immediately clear in Mr. Batra’s claims if one looks at the original text even cursorily. He interprets Gandhari’s pregnancy for two years, then birth of mass of flesh, its division into hundred pieces and keeping these pieces in tanks of ghee, etc. as experiments in stem-cell birth of Kaurvas. But ignores the fact that the mass Gandhari gave birth to was hard like iron, and broke into pieces when cold water was poured on it. How does this process square with processes in stem-cell cultivation? Obviously this is no concern of a bullsitter.

Batra’s own account of use of television by Sanjay to report war in Kurukshetra is full of holes. He claims that Mahabharata narrative of Sanjaya’s divya-drishti is a proof of existence of television. But modern day television is no Divya-drishti, it can be explained in terms of scientific causal relationships. To square the Mahabharata divya-dristhi with modern day television one has to stretch the concepts of “yoga-vidya” and “divya-drishti” out of shape to the extent that they become meaningless. However, as Frankfurt says, consistency in use of concepts and truth is no concern of a bullshitter as long as the desired manipulation of opinion works.

The issue, then, is: how to counter bullshit in the public education and discourse? The usual answer is: through encouraging critical thinking. But this answer is rather tame in the face of current attack on common sense.

The same idea is expressed in somewhat stronger terms in a Postman and Weingartner’s book “Teaching as a subversive activity”. The authors propose that for survival of a viable democratic society the schools should set out to cultivate “experts at ‘crap detecting’.”

The advice, in spite of being more than forty years old, is very relevant today in our society. We should gear our education and public discourse to countering bullshit and crap floating so thick these days. We should not imagine that ignoring crap and bullshit will make it go away. It won’t. We have to counter it. This is necessary not only to preserve the truth; but also to preserve a viable democratic society.