Is the cow still holy?

September 30, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

“The 50-year-old father of an Indian Air Force personnel was beaten to death by a mob on the outskirts of Delhi on Monday night, allegedly over rumours that he had eaten beef.
Mohammad Ikhlaq and his 22-year-old son were dragged from their house by around 100 villagers in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh and beaten with bricks. Ikhlaq’s son is critical.” From NDTV site, 30th September 2015.

Reading the news item makes it is clear that the killers knew the victims; they lived in the same area (is it a village?). One finds it difficult to believe that people known to each other will kill on such grounds. The announcement from the temple regarding a calf being killed indicates a plan. Who knows deep down the incident there might be some old animosity or grudge. Temple and holy cow may have been used as a pretence to attack the family. And that (if it happened to be so, I am only guessing in order to understand the bizarre incident) is much more dangerous and heinous than if the killers actually believed in ‘protection of holy cow’ and actually believed that the family has killed a calf. Pretended religious sentiments are more dangerous that actual. These inhuman schemes of the rogue elements may get concretises with the help of unjustified laws like beef ban. I am not discounting the larger communal politics here, rather am hinting that the larger divisive politics plays through personal animosity or old grudges among people known to each other.

The issue of cow protection is not new. Arya Samaj in the guidance of Dayanand Saraswati started a movement in 1882, and established cow protection societies all over India. This movement led to serious riotes in 1893. In independent India there was an anti-cow-slaughter movement in which the parliament was gheraoed by a mob of thousands in the leadership of Hindu organisations and Shankaracharya Niranjandev Tirth.

One of the problem in this issue is also the article 48 of the constitution, which is a directive principle; it states: “Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry.—The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” It seems to me inclusion of the words “cows and calves” serves no purpose here as the article is about agriculture and animal husbandry. Organising animal husbandry on “scientific lines” may require protection of some animals for environmental and economic reasons; but it may also require slaughtering some animals for the same reasons. Specifically mentioning “cow and calves” here gives a religious tinge to this secular constitution. In my view it should be amended and these words should be deleted. But, all said and done, we should remember that it is only a directive principle, and by definition should “not be enforceable by any court”.

The present proponents of the beef ban, however, are no respecter of the constitution. The debate and thin justification mainly hinges on two kinds of arguments: one, that Hindus have always respected cows and never ate them; and two, that killing and eating cow by others hurts Hindu sentiments.

The first claim has two parts: ancient Hindus (Aryans?) respected cows and never ate them. Respected in terms of ‘valued’ might be true, as they considered them their wealth, and cows and oxen played an important role in their agriculture. The second part is certainly not true; as one finds references to eating beef as well as to declaring it a sin. Which is not at all surprising; Hinduism always had several views on almost all issues. There might have been people who happily ate beef, and there might have been another set who declared them sinners. Actually, who will declare a non-existing practice as a sin? And why? Declaring a practice as abominable or a sin also proves its existence, at the least till the time of declaration.

However, the debate regarding whether the Aryans and ancient Hindus ate beef or not is totally irrelevant in the present case. We have to remember that we are not living in ancient India. Even if the ancient Hindus did not eat beef it does not mean we should not or cannot eat it today. It does not mean at all that non-Hindus cannot eat it. Only about 200 years back Hindus motivated and sometimes forcibly burnt women on the funeral piers of their husbands in the name of sati; it was not considered a crime. Today it is a crime. Ancient Hindus did not allow shudras and women to study vedas; and if shudras were found studying vedas they were punished. Today, anyone including shidras can happily study vedas if they want. In the epic of Ramayana it is mentioned that Shambuka was killed by the so-called maryadapurushottam Rama simply because he was indulging in tapasya to gain power and he was a shudra. No maryadapurushottam can do that today. By the way, even Ramayana in this tale of oppression recognises that change is inevitable. It says that in Satayuga only Brahmans could do tapasya, in Treta Brahmans and Kshariyas were allowed, in Dwaper, when story of Ramayana is supposed to be situated, Brahmana, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas could do tapasya, but Shudras could not. It also mentioned that Shudras will be allowed in Kaliyuga, our own yuga.

We are living in a diverse and democratic country, and in kaliyuga, we have a constitution which gives us freedom to regulate our own personal lives. Eating what we like and not eating what we don’t like is our personal matter. So what ancient Indians (Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas, Charvakas, etc.) did or did not eat does not matter and constitutes no argument today. Please also remember that Charvakas were as good Indians as Hindus, perhaps better, and I am sure, though have no proof, they had no problems with eating beef.

That brings us to the second argument in the current debate: that if others eat beef it hurts Hindu sentiments. This argument has several problems.

First, beef eating by others may hurt sentiments of some Hindus; but they are in a minority. Because there are plenty of Hindus who actually eat beef. And there is a greater number of those who themselves may not eat beef but nothing happens to their sentiments if others do. This brigade whose sentiments are hurt (if they are actually hurt, that is) is a small minority. They do not represent Hindus.

Second, the ‘hurt sentiment’ is a bad argument in a democracy. Jain sentiments may get hurt if you eat any animal flesh, Muslim sentiments may get hurt if you eat something as dirty as pork anywhere in their vicinity. Rajput sentiments were hurt due to Jodha-Akbar TV serial, Jat sentiments are hurt if their girls marry in their own gotra or a Dalit. In each case the rights of Indian citizens are trampled underfoot, and the state which should provide guarantee of liberty to act as per the constitutional rights fails. The ‘hurt sentiment’ argument is the biggest danger to our secularism, to openness in society and to freedom of expression.

This flawed argument has played havoc with the freedom of expression in India, even if we ignore rest of the world. The Indian society and liberal intellectuals have been either very tolerant or selective in criticism to this spacious argument. Let us realise that the ban on cow slaughter and ban on Satanic Verses, in spite of seeming different on the surface, basically use the same argument of hurt feelings/sentiments. In both cases one group wants to impose one’s own way of life on the rest of the people: one on what you can eat, other on what you can read.

This argument is basically a gift of our own distortion of secularism which we call sarvadharma-samabhava. The beauty of sarvadharma-samabhava is that if you accept an unreasonable argument of one religious community, you have to accept an equally unreasonable argument from another community. Thus a competition in being more and more unreasonable and to grab public space starts between the communities. Since the state want to be polite to religion it cannot stop the slide on the slippery slope. This is the defect in Indian secularism.

Professor Irfan Habib rightly said in an interview that “[i]t is absurd to say that if we treat all religions equally, then religion can play a part in the state”.  Professor Thapar, another famous historian and public intellectual, also said in a lecture that Indian definition of secularism is “limited and incomplete”. It seems to me that both, like many others, recognise the problem and its gravity. But they seem to see the damage it can cause only partially. They both claim, in somewhat differing terms, that this definition privileges the majority religion. This conclusion, in spite of the correct recognition of the problem, is only partially true. Neither one can build a theoretical argument to support it fully, nor is it corroborated by empirical facts.

The acceptance of religion based decisions in the public affairs and in the state policy basically opens the way for influencing the state and public decisions in favour of religions. It results in attempts to impose religious ideas and ways of living on unwilling non-believers. All religions in a democracy tainted with sarvadharma-samabhava can use that opportunity, and they actually do.

If one looks at the list of banned books and other public acts allowed or banned in the name of religion the list shows that Hindus and Muslims both have been using it quite frequently. The only solution, therefore, is that no legitimacy should be provided in the name of religion. If someone’s sentiments are hurt due to other citizens’ legitimate acts within the constitutional boundary it is their own problem. If A eats beef and B’s sentiments are hurt because of it, there is something wrong with B, not with A. May be B does not understand democracy and individual freedoms. Or maybe he wants to impose his ideas on others. Or maybe he simply does not know why, but feels terribly disturbed to the point of wanting to kill. Or he may not feel anything, just sees an opportunity to further his selfish ends and simply pretends. In all these cases it is the problem of education or general thinking in the society. It needs to be rectified, not appeased. It seem to me that most cases of hurt sentiments on religious matters are actually mob pretentions.

If we want to save secularism any law that legitimises imposition of ways of life of one group on unwilling others should be resisted. Beef ban is a dangerous step for democracy. Unlike banned books, it provides occasions to rogue elements in general public for settling scores and spreading violence. In the last decade or so there have been several incidents (remember five Dalits killed in Haryana, in 2002?)  in the name of cow; so much so that now it might start looking like ‘unholy’ rather than ‘holy’. [Please don’t read it as blaming cow. Cow is neither holy nor unholy, it is simply cow. The ‘holy’ and ‘unholy’ characterises the thinking of people in this controversy.]


सोशल मीडिया पर गाली-गलोच एक बड़ी बीमारी का लक्षण भर है

September 20, 2015

रोहित धनकर

मैं TV कभी-कभी ही देखता हूँ. रवीश कुमार के कुछ लेख भर पढ़े हैं. दो-चार रिपोर्ट्स भी देखी हैं. वे सब मुझे बहुत सुलझे हुए और सटीक विश्लेषण लगे. इस तरह के लेखन या रिपोर्टिंग के लिए कोई गाली-गलोच करे यह बहुत ही बेवकूफी की बात है.

फेसबुक पर कई दोस्तों की पोस्ट से पता चालता है कि कुछ लोग वर्त्तमान सरकार और विशेष रूप से प्रधानमन्त्री मोदी के विरूद्ध कुछ भी बोलने पर गाली-गलोच करने लगते हैं. ये निसंदेह ऐसे लोग लगते हैं जो यातो बहुत मूर्ख है, या फिर समझते हैं कि सोशल-मीडिया में हल्ला मचाने से लोग विश्लेषण करना और बोलना बंद करदें गे. इन के करतबों से इनके आकाओं को भी कोई लाभ नहीं होनेवाला. विचार-विमर्श और अभिव्यक्ती की आजादी के बिना लोकतंत्र संभव नहीं है. अतः तथ्य का जवाब तथ्य और तर्क का जवाब तर्क से देने के बजाय धमकी और गाली देना public debate को खत्म करने की कोशिश होती है. इस का विरोध करने की और इसे रोकने की जरूरत है.

पर मुझे यह भी लगता है की सोशल मीडिया पर बहुत बार विरोध भी केवल विरोध और इस से अपने ऊपर धान आकर्षण के लिए होता है. यह भी debate के लिए शुभ नहीं है. इस वक्त सोशल मीडिया में शोर और मूर्खता पूर्ण दावे संतुलित विचार की तुलना में कहीं अधिक हो रहा है. पर गाली और अशोभनीय भाषा का उपयोग मोदी और बीजेपी समर्थकों की तरफ से कहीं ज्यादा है. यह शायद इस लिए की उनकी वैचारिक क्षमता विरोधियों की तुलना में बहुत कम है. और क्यों की वे ठीक से तर्क नहीं कर सकते इस लिए मूर्खों की तरह गाली पर उतर आते हैं.

आप इन लोगों को ठीक से समझना चाहते हैं तो थोड़ा यह देखिये कि समाज में विवेकशील विचार की बाकी जगह क्या स्थिती है. यह देखिये की टीवी धारावाहिक क्या संदेश देते हैं और उनमें आनंद लेने के लिए कितनी अक्ल चाहिए. क्या वे पूरी तरह विचार को ख़त्म करने की मुहीम नहीं लगेते? यह देखिये की टीवी पर चलने वाली बहाशों में वैचारिक मशाला कितना होता है विचार-विहीन पूर्व-निर्धारीं मतान्धता  कितनी? क्या इन बहाशों में भाग लेने वाले लोग, चाहे वे बीजेपी के हों या कोंग्रेस के, अपने अपने मालिकों के भोंपू नहीं लगते? यह देखिये की राजनीति और पार्लियामेंट में क्या विवेक की कोई कीमत है? यह देखिये कि बाबाओं और अम्माओं में अंधश्रद्धा कितनी है?

इस सब को ध्यान से देखेंगे तो पायेगे कि इस वक्त जो सिद्धांत देश में चल रहा है वह है: जिससे मेरा स्वार्थ सधता लगता है वह बात सही है; तथ्य और तर्क कुछ नहीं होता, शोर ही लोकतंत्र में कारगर हथियार है. इस सिद्धांत को मानने वालों को बहुत अशानी से जाती के नाम पर, धर्म के नाम पर और धन के नाम पर मूर्ख बनाया जा सकता है. और इस तरह मतान्ध बनाए गए लोग विवेक से सामना होने पर केवल और केवल भावनात्मक प्रतिक्रया करते हैं; वह वास्तविक जीवन में वास्तविक हिंसा में अभ्व्यक्त होती है और वर्चुअल दुनिया में वर्चुअल हिंसा में. धमकी और गाली-गलोच वर्चुअल हिंसा का ही रूप है.

भारत में जो बुद्धीमान अकादमिक पिछले ४० वर्षों से विवेक को ताकत वालों का नाजायज हथियार मानने और भावना को उस से ज्यादा महत्वापूर्ण मानने के लिए थ्योरी बनाते रहे हैं, विमर्श में विवेक के उपयोग को दूसरे लोगों को दबाने का साधान मानते रहे हैं उन बौद्धिकों को अब इस स्थिती के विश्लेषण में अपने सिद्धांत को देखना चाहिए. उनको यह समझना चाहिए कि ये लोग अपनी मूर्खता पूर्ण भावनाओं का ही इजहार कर रहे हैं. उनके आकाओं को, इन के मन में स्थापित मान्यताओं को, जब आप चुनौती देते हैं और उनके पास विवेकपूर्ण जवाब नहीं होता तो वे अपनी भावना के सहारे आप के विवेक का जवाब देते हैं; और वह धमकी या गाली के रूप में आता है. हमें यह समझाने की जरूरत है कि भावायें पब्लिक debate में स्वीकार्य और अस्वीकार्य दोनों तरह की हो सकती हैं. और कौनसी स्वीकार्य और कैसी अस्वीकार्य है इस का निर्णय भावना से बहार निकल कर ही हो सकता है, भावना के सहारे नहीं. यदि केवल-और केवल बहुमात से निर्णय करना चाहते हैं तो गाली-गलोच समूह इन्टरनेट पर अपना बहुमत साबित कर रहा है, अतः किसी को कोई कष्ट नहीं होना चाहिए. पर कष्ट तो है. इस का अर्थ यह है की स्वाकार्य-अस्वीकार्य भावना और विचार के लिए ना तो भावना अकेली यथेष्ठ है नाही बहुमत. तो केवल विवेक ही बचता है इस मूर्खता से लड़ने के लिए. यह सब मैं इस लिए लिखा रहा हूँ की पिछले ४० वर्षों में तर्क और विवेक की मिट्टीपलीद करने में हम में से बहुत से बौद्धिकों के महत्त्वपूर्ण योगदान किया है. तो अब पब्लिक स्पेस में हमें ही विवेक को पुनः स्थापित करना होगा. और अभी भी यदी इसे स्वीकार नहीं करना चाहते तो जैसी आप की भावनाए वैसी गाली-गलोच-मूर्खों की, फिर परेशानी क्या है? सोशल मीडिया पर गाली और धमकी समाज में व्यापक स्तर पर विवेक पर हो रहे हमलों का एक रूप है, असली बीमारी विवेक-विहीनता है.

और आखिरी बात यह कि मुझे लगता है (मैं गलत हो सकता हूँ, क्यों की मैं सोशल मीडिया को बहुत नहीं समझता) कि हम सोशल मीडिया और उस पर गाली-गलोच करने वाले मूर्खों को उनकी औकात से ज्यादा महत्व दे रहे हैं. उन को उसी स्पेस में बेवकूफ और असभ्य साबित करना अधिक उपयोगी होगा.


राजनैतिक दमन और देश छोड़ने की बहादुरी

September 12, 2015

रोहित धनकर

चंडीगढ़ के एक पत्रकार श्री अमित चौधरी के पिता को पुलिस ने रात भर चौकी पर रखा. केवल इस लिए कि कहीं वे प्रधानमंत्री की रैली के विरोध में किसी विरोध प्रदर्शन में शामिल ना ही जाएँ. यह सब हिन्दी आउटलुक के इस पृष्ट पर है.  ( आखिर में उन्होंने (या उनके पुत्र ने) लिख कर दिया कि वे किसी विरोध के मोर्चे में शामिल नहीं होंगे. असहमती की अभिवेक्ति के लिए शांति-पूर्ण विरोध कर नागरिक का हक़ है. इसे कोई लोकतांत्रिक सरकार नहीं छीन सकती. यदि छीननें की कोशिश करती है तो वह सरकार लोकतंत्र की परवाह नहीं करती केवल धोंश और दमन के बूते सत्ता में काबिज रहना चाहती है.

पिछले एक-सवा साल में कई ऐसे निर्यय सरकार ने लिए हैं जिनको देखकर लगता है कि या तो जो लोग सत्ता में हैं वे लोकतंत्र का अर्थ नहीं समझते या फिर वे लोकतंत्र चाहते नहीं. आये दिन सरकार के सहयोगी (या मई-बाप?) राष्ट्रीय स्वयं-सेवक संध, विश्व हिन्दू परिषद् आदि भारत की धर्म-निर्पक्षता पर आक्रमण करते रहते हैं. कभी भारत को हिन्दू राष्ट्र बताते हैं, कभी बनाना चाहते हैं. सरकार कुछ नहीं बोलती. विद्यालयी पाठ्यक्रमों में हिन्दू धर्म-ग्रंथों को बढ़ा-चढ़ा कर शामिल करना चाहते हैं. भारत के इतिहास की अपनी ही व्याख्या को बिना तर्क प्रचारित करना चाहते हैं. स्वायत्त शैक्षिक और अन्य संस्थानों के प्रमुखों के रूप में राजनैतिक विचार में सरकार के मूर्ख पिठ्ठूओं को बैठाना चाहते हैं, चाहे उनकी योग्यता कुछ भी नाहो. कई राज्यों में गोमांस खाने पर प्रतिबन्ध लगा दिया है. कुछ धार्मिक पर्वों पर पूरी जनता को, चाहे वे उस धर्म को मानने वाले हों या नहीं, शाकाहारी रखना चाहते हैं. लोगों को अपनी मर्जी का खाना खाने से भी रोकना चाहते हैं.

यह सब कई बातें साफ़ करता है.

  • उनके मन में देश की तस्वीर हिन्दू-धर्म की एक मूर्खता पूर्ण और संकीर्ण समझ के आधार पर बनाई गई है. यह उनका हिन्दू धर्म है, जहाँ तक मुझे लगता है बहुसंख्यक हिन्दुओं का नहीं. यदी हिन्दू इस का विरोध नहीं करते तो उन को धर्म के इस नाजायज उपयोग का दोषी मानना पडेगा. वे अपने धर्म के खुले पन और सहिष्णु होने की दुहाई देना बंद करें.
  • वे अपनी इस संकीर्ण राष्ट्रीय तस्वीर को बल और छल से साकार करना चाहते हैं. खुली बहस, सहमती, विवेकपूर्ण सामूहिक फैसले आदि लोकतांत्रिक तरीकों को तिलांजली दे कर बस सत्ता के बल पर अपनी चलाना चाहते हैं.

यह सब साबित करता है की भारत की राजनीती बहुत गलत और लोकतंत्र विरोधी दिशा में जा रही है. पर इस से भी ज्यादा चिंता की बात मुझे यह लगती है कि इसका विरोध करने वाले बहादुर लोग अपने घर में थोड़ी सी आंच आते ही देश छोड़ने की बात करने लगते हैं. इस देश छोड़ने की भगोड़ी-बहादुरी से मुझे कई आपत्तियां हैं.

  • यह एक ऎसी मानसिकता का परिचायक है जहाँ भगोड़े-बहादुर केवल अपना हित देखने में रुची रखते हैं. संपूर्ण जन के दुःख-सुख और पीड़ाओं का मोल अपने पर थोड़ी-सी भी आंच से कम है. ये वही माध्यम-वर्गीय भारतीय हैं जो यहाँ आर्थिक समस्याओं के चलते किसी दूसरे देश में किन्ही दूसरों द्वारा बनाई गई व्यवस्थाओं का स्वाद लेने चल पड़े थे.
  • अब ये लोग वहां जाना चाहते हैं जहाँ लोकतंत्र के लिए लड़ने और उस लड़ाई में खतरे उठाने के लिए कोई और लोग हैं. ये तो बस लोकतंत्र की आजादी और सुरक्षा चाहते हैं, उसके लिए कोई मोल चुकाना इनके बस की बात नहीं है.
  • क्या इन समझदार और बहादुर लोगों का देश की उस जानते के लिए भी कोई कर्तव्य है जिसके पास जैसा भी यह देश है इसमें रहने के अलावा और कोई विकल्प नहीं है?

मुझे नहीं लगता कि ऐसे बहादुरों के विरोध का कोई मोल है जो केवल अपने लिए हरा और सुरक्षित (किन्ही दूसरों द्वारा सुरक्षित) चारागाह ढूंढ ने की फिक्र में तुरंत आ जाते हैं. आखिर वर्त्तमान सरकार की मूर्खताओं और ज्यादतियों को रोकने के लिए उन लोगों को सन्नद्ध होना पड़ेगा जो इस देश की अपने मन की तस्वीर बनाने को अपना हक़ मानते हैं और उसे इतनी अशानी से छोड़ना स्वीकार नहीं करते. जो यह कह सकें की जो हो रहा है इसमें उनका भी शायद कुछ दोष है क्योंकि उन्हों ने इस बीमारी को रोकने की पहले भरपूर कोशिश नहीं की या उन्हें पता ही नहीं था क्या चल रहा है या उन्हें इसे रोकने का कारगर तरीका नहीं आता था. अब वे ही इसे रोक सकेंगे जो कहीं नहीं जाने वाले. जो उन्हें गैरवाजिब लगता है उसके विरूद्ध इसी परिस्थिती में लड़ेंगे. यदी हम सही में एक जागरुक, विवेकी, और जिम्मेदार नागरिक की भूमिका निभाना चाहते हैं तो हमें इन्हीं परिस्थितियों में रास्ते ढूँढने पड़ेंगे. कहीं और जाने का विकल्प हमारे पास नहीं है. हाँ, जो जाना चाहते हैं उनको सुरक्षित इस खतरनाक स्थिती से बहार जाने में हमें मदद करनी चाहिए. मानवीयता के नाते, वे बेचारे हमारी इस कहिनाई में बेवजह फंस गए हैं. वे इस में हमारे बारबार के सहयोगी नहीं कोई पराये हैं जिन्हें हम अबतक अपनी नागरिकता का हिस्सा मान रहे थे, गलती से. पर क्यों की वे मानव हैं, अतः हमें उनकी मदद करनी चाहिए, पर उनसे कोई उम्मीद नहीं करनी चाहिए. जाइए भाई, हमारी शुभ कामनाओं सहित इस खरतनाक परिस्थिती से बहार हो जाइए, ताकी हम बिना आप की सुरक्षा की अतिरिक्त चिता किये अन्याय का खुल कर विरध कर सकें.


Unprincipled Politics and Distorted Secularism

September 5, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

“I shall not therefore enter into the merits of the Constitution. Because I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot. The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.” BR Ambedkar, 25th November 1949

Ambedkar was prophetic in this statement. The insight expressed in the statement is not limited to constitutions; it is equally true for any other provisions in the law and principles in political ideology.

Nothing illustrate the truth of the statement more painfully than the misuse of two potentially positive ideas by the Indian politics in last more than 60 years. The two ideas I have in mind are: One, the idea of reservation as affirmative action for those who suffered deliberate deprivation by the powerful in the history. Under this idea, which is enshrined in the constitution, reservation in various positions in the polity, administration and government jobs are provided to the scheduled casts and scheduled tribes. The second idea I have in mind is interpretation of secularism as sarva-dharma samabhava.

Both these ideas are distorted by the political exigencies to the extent that they have become obnoxious tools to destroy social harmony and encourage communitarian competition which has made communities totally self-seeking gangs devoid of any ethical considerations. The distortion does not only create competitive animosity between communities, it also instills the value of selfishness in all citizens.

If the reservation would have been used properly for upliftment of deserving communities with other supportive economic and educational measures it would have not only helped the deprived community, but also would have contributed to the overall capabilities of the country by including a large section of population in national endeavors at appropriate places and with appropriate powers. But the political parties were quick to realize the vote-bank potential of the provision and used it to the hilt. Now we have communities like Patels (Patidars) and Jats, who are doing reasonably well, clamoring for reservations. The whole process of vote-bank use of the provision has helped caste becoming a political identify which is firmly entrenched in the Indian society for many decades to come, if not many centuries. Now even if the caste markers like ­ideas of purity, endogamy, occupation, etc. disappear the caste as a political power group will survive by reinventing itself. The misused idea of reservation has helped in giving a new lease of life to this ancient monster of Indian society.

The second idea sarva-dharma samabhava was itself a distortion of secularism. But still it could have functioned as a positive idea if we would have taken it in the spirit in which Gandhi defined equimindedness towards all religions. (For a brief comment on this see my blog )

In this blog I write: “But modern-day Indian sarvadharma-samabhava is equal capitulating in the face of all religions. One cannot interrogate and raise questions about religion. Hussain, Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie are victims of this mentality. The current interpretation of sarvadharma-samabhava bans critique of religion, kills freedom of expression. It sets all religions in competition with each other for more and more preferential treatment from the state, more and more freedom to create public inconvenience in the name of melas, poojas, namaaz and muharram. If one religion encroaches on the road to build a temple, the current sarvadharma-samabhava attitude does not allow the law to take its course and declare that as an encroachment and act to remove it. Rather it prefers abject surrender to encroachment in the name of Mosques, Chapels and Gurudwaras constructions as well. It is a mindless bowing down in front of religious force and cannot be justified as a kind of secularism or even as Gandhian sarve dharma sambhava at all. However, the Constitution of India correctly interpreted, and if implemented in spirit, still has the strength to uphold secularism in its true spirit of equal distance from all religions.”

At one level it is a good sign that Indian intellectuals are recognising the problems in this Indian interpretation of secularism. For example Prof. Irfan Habib recently has said:

“Actually, one of the difficulties, ideologically, is that we have rejected the global notion of secularism. … It was first used by (George Jacob) Holyoake (in 1851), who said secularism is morality without religion, without any idea of after-life. He also said secularism is linked to the idea of welfare (of people). This is the correct notion of secularism.[1] Emphasis added.
Another very reputed historian and public intellectual Prof. Romila Thapar recently observed that “Secularism is the curtailment of religious control over social institutions, not the absence of religion from society. It is when our primary identity is of equal citizens of the nation, not as belonging to a particular religion or caste. But the Indian definition of secularism is limited to the coexistence of many religions …”.[2]

I am neither a historian nor have been following Professors Habib and Thapar, but it would be interesting to investigate if this understanding that Indian definition of secularism is incomplete and defective, and that it has created problems for us, is their recent discovery or their past writings also have been on the same premise. This observation of mine is just a politically relevant curiosity, and no accusation that they understood secularism differently in the past should be read into this.

However, be that how it may, they both are still determined to ignore half the truth and emphasise only the half that they like. Prof. Habib, after recognising the problem of Indian understanding of secularism says that this “idea of secularism opens the door to majority communalism” and that “It is absurd to say that if we treat all religions equally, then religion can play a part in the state. Since there is no abstract religion, then only the majority religion can play a part”. Thus the problem with this idea of secularism for him is that it could be used by the majority religion. Prof. Thapar echoes the sentiment, with some difference, when she says that “is incomplete because some religions can still be marginalised as they are”.

The actual situation is that this distorted definition of secularism open up a long contest between all religions to grab as much pubic space as possible, and to attack as many democratic ideas as possible, from their own perspective; be they minority or majority.

It is quite clear if we look at the recent history of religious attacks on the freedom of expression. If a Hussain paints Saraswati or a Ramanujam writes an article on Ramayana; one kind of bigots will be after their blood. If a Rushdie or a Taslima write something another kind of bigots will be after their blood. The state rather than protecting the fundamentally important democratic value of freedom to criticise will try to placate both. And open the doors for killing people who might criticise religion.

If a Namaz blocks a road every Friday, rather than stopping this public inconvenience the state will allow Ganapati Pooja or Krishna janamastmi to block the roads for days. This competition for grabbing public places escalated and due to this distorted understanding of secularism the government can stop neither this not that. We need to correct the definition but not because it privileges the majority religion, which it actually does not; but because this provides a convenient ground for all religions to attack democracy and freedom of thought.




To detain or not to detain: Barking-up the wrong tree

September 3, 2015

[A shorter version of this article is published in THE HINDU on 3rd September 2015. it could be accessed here ]

Rohit Dhankar

The national press is abuzz whether to re-introduce the old pass-fail system or continue with the current automatic promotion (referred to as “no-detention policy”) to the next class brought in in the process of implementation of RTE. The central government is treading cautiously “[i]rrespective of the unanimous outcry for revocation” of no-detention policy and has “decided to get written responses from all State garments”[1]. “Most states in the country … want the Centre to amend the Right to Education Act and revoke its no-detention policy for students of classes I to VIII”, according the state minister of education, Maharashtra[2]. Some educationists, however, see a corporate agenda behind the push to do away with this policy. They think that “The RTE Act clearly spelt out how CCE should be implemented. Just by failing children you do not make them good learners”[3]. The teachers often complaint about no detention and no punishment; as some of them see these two the most effective tools of control over the children; and control, as we all know, is seen as a necessary condition for making the children learn.

Both claims, it seems, have some truth in them; but miss the real issue by a wide margin. Our formal education system has been straddled by the tight grip of exams for more than one and a half century by now. Exams have an unstoppable tendency to become the only motivation for learning, and effectively kill all other motivations. All educated Indians have experienced it, and therefore, are thoroughly conditioned in believing that “no exams, not learning”. This beliefs is easily transferred to the children in a system that has almost no idea of joy of learning in itself. Therefore, the people who believe that children will not learn without the fear of exams have a practical point; even if very untenable from the pedagogical point of view.

The educationists are right when they say that just “by failing children you do not make them good learners”. But they are wrong when they think just by automatic proportion to the next class elementary education can be completed. The often expressed idea that children drop-out because of failure[4] is actually wrong; children drop-out because of non-learning, failure is just the last straw on the proverbial camel’s back. The claim that the “RTE Act clearly spelt out how CCE should be implemented” is plainly wrong; the RTE hardly displays any understanding of CCE; leave out how to implement it.

First, we should note that ‘no-detention policy’ and CCE are very closely connected. Admission in age appropriate class[5] is a third issue which may have complicated the situation in some schools. As according to this provision if a child above the age of six years is either not admitted to school or left school without completing elementary education “he or she will be admitted to a class appropriate to his or her age.” We already know that our children are much behind learning in comparison to what is expected in the curriculum.

In such a complicated situation the only thing no-detention policy can ensure is pretention of completing elementary education without any real learning. However, if we want to understand the educational worth of no-detention we have to take into account three important ideas promoted by RTE simultaneously, they are: admission in age appropriate class (AAAC), continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) and no-detention policy (NDP).

The roots

All three of these ideas come from what could be broadly called the progressive education movement in the West, which has many internal forms and variations; but entered India under the name of Child-centred Education. The slogan of child-centred education is a powerful and alluring one. It talks of the classroom process being guided by the child’s interests and learning through activities. The current pedagogical form promoted in Indian education discourse by the name of constructivism is the pedagogy that suits child-centred education perfectly. Constructivism, like progressive education has many forms. One extreme position is that the teacher should facilitate the children to construct their own knowledge and should apply no criteria for the veracity or appropriateness to their constructed knowledge, as all knowledge is a result of individual experiences and meaning making. A more modest form is to start from where the child is and help her actively engage in making meaning through constructing concepts and forming relationships between them; but the goal remains to arrive at the knowledge generally accepted today.

These ideas demand that the children work together in collaboration with each other and progress in rational enquiry in a free atmosphere. It is assumed that interaction and collaboration with children of similar age will help them better in this progressive meaning making. Therefore, AAAC. Similarly, children progress with varied speeds and not necessarily through the same conceptual routes; therefore, one periodic examination on fixed questions for all becomes inappropriate and leaves much of the child’s progress in scholastic as well as moral and emotional development un-assessed. Hence, CCE. Since children progress as per their own speed, which is necessary for conceptual clarity through their own engagement of mind, there is no point in pass-fail in classes. This will only artificially bunch children together. Therefore, NDP.

The three ideas are closely connected through assumptions regarding knowledge, human learning and child’s nature. They are complementary to each other and can only work in any education system if taken together seriously. Separating them and adopting any one leaving the others out will not work.

Deep contradiction

If we accept the assumptions underlying AAAC, CCE and NDP then the organisation of the curriculum and the structure of the school will have to undergo a fundamental changes. The curriculum and syllabi will have to assume a “learning continuum” rather than a “learning ladder”. A continuum imagines a curve of learning which might be an individual path taken by each child and which does not necessarily have any time-bound fixed milestones. The knowledge, skills and values in the curriculum and syllabus may be organised sequentially where need be, but no year-wise rigid packaging can be admitted.

In learning ladder, on the other hand, the curriculum and syllabus are neatly organised in yearly packages, which we call grades or classes, to be learnt in one year. Examinations may come during the year and as many of them as one likes, but results are finally aggregated at the end and decision on whether sufficient learning has happened or not is expressed in the form of a pass or fail. In case of failure the whole chunk has to be learnt again; in case of pass no further opportunity to strengthen learning in the already covered areas is supposed to be needed.

Organising curriculum in the form of learning continuum will immediately contradict the grade-wise structure of the school. Since learning is supposed to be continuous, no rigid year wise division is made; putting children into different grades and pass-fail kind of examination system becomes redundant as well as an impediment to the process of teaching-learning. The only form of assessment that can serve the purpose is CCE then.

Now, our education system is profoundly authoritarian. The idea of progressive creation of knowledge by the child directly contradicts the idea of knowledge as finished product enshrined in the textbook. The grade-wise organisation of curriculum goes very well with this idea of knowledge, as any finished product can be neatly packages in manageable chunks. The class-wise structure of the school is an administrator’s delight; as it can be used for simple delineation of tasks for teachers and students. And the pass-fail examination system is a natural logical outcome of these ideas of knowledge, learning, curriculum and school.

This is the contradiction between an outmoded authoritarian system and a more enlightened idea of education that is being played out in the form of introduction and then clamour for removal of CCE and NDP. CCE and NDP simply cannot be meaningfully implemented unless we challenge and dismantle the authoritarian education system.

Lacking in courage or understanding?

All the three ideas of CCE, NDP and AAAC are theoretically sound and practically proven. They are much better for quality education than what we have today as fixed grades and pass-fail examinations. That is what makes the current antagonism to NDP barking-up the wrong tree. The fault lies in the authoritarian structure of the school, not in NDP.

But in India we have a history of attempting to introduce half understood ideas without proper preparation in terms of institutional structures and personnel capacity building. The DPEP kind of child-centrism, ideas of BRC/CRC and the farce called annual in-service teacher training are examples. Now this is the time to discredit another educationally sound idea of NDP, and we are busy doing precisely that.

Expecting education administrators to understand the CCE and NDP properly would be a pipe dream. But what of the educationists who advise on policies like RTE? Do they lack the understanding of the sophistication and interconnectedness of these proposed educational reforms? Or do they lack the courage to suggest the above mentioned contradiction, and therefore, dismantling of the authoritarian structure of school? At present we are discussing new education policy for the nation. The issue of a more enlightened vision of education and school should have been in the centre of this discussion. One is dismayed to note that those who are guiding the policy debates seem to have no awareness of this dire need of our education system. And therefore, we will continue basking-up the wrong tree.


[1] The Hindu, in “Govt. treads warily on RTE amendment” dated 21st August 15.

[2] The Hindu BusinessLine, in “States want revocation of no-detention policy in schools”, 21st August 15

[3] The Hindu, in “Panel for phased implementation of no-detention policy in schools”, 18th August 15.

[4] The Hindu BusinessLine, in “States want revocation of no-detention policy in schools”, 21st August 15

[5] RTE section 4.

शिक्षा का निजीकरण: और दुर्गती का रास्ता

September 1, 2015

यह लेख शिक्षा-विमर्श के जुलाई-अगस्त अंक में छापा है.

2015-07-30_Dhankar_Durgati Ki Rah Par Shiksha