Blind by one eye: A response to “How converters could be made to stop offering inducements”

June 14, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

[This article is a response to an article published in The telegraph, , and was sent to the newspaper; but in their wisdom they decided not to publish it.]

Professor Ashok Sanjay Guha’s article “Conversion controversies- How converters could be made to stop offering inducements” in The Telegraph of 29th May 2015 is a classic case of very clearly seeing half the truth and being totally blind to the other half. He catches the deliberate one-eyed vision of left leaning liberals who see conversion to Christianity and Islam as an exercise of cherished freedom of belief; but conversion to Hinduism as bigotry. He also rightly points out that banning all conversion is denial of freedom to practice and propagate one’s faith. And then surprisingly the article builds an argument that is oblivious of the impact of religion on social and political life of the converter, the converted and the rest; and fails to take into account full scope of what freedom of choice means.

His argument in a nutshell is that conversion with allurements is a free economic transaction between the converter and the convert, both consenting adults; therefore, any third party including the state should have no say in it. This argument is flawed on many counts. But in a brief response like this I will show its un-tenability only on three counts.

Weak interpretation of the principle of liberty

First let’s look at a few examples. If one goes by Professor Guha’s argument the state and other citizens should have no say in the following cases: 1. Demanding dowry, 2. Polygamy among Hindus, 3. A dalit selling his land to a non-dalit or non-tribal person, and 4. Offering money to vote in favour of a candidate in elections.

All four can be construed as ‘free transitions’ between consenting adults with supposed to be mutual benefits. Then why are they all banned legally? Among others, one reason is a certain understanding or interpretation of the principle of liberty. Democracy is premised on the principle of individuals making their own choices according to their own light. A democratic state cannot rest assured just by declaring the freedom for its citizens to make their own decisions; it has to maintain a coercion free social and legal environment in which making of choices are facilitated without fear and pressure. In all the four examples above there is a possibility of coercing one party into acceptance of a decision s/he could not have made freely. When a poor father wants his child to be admitted in a supposed to be good school that charges fees beyond his economic capacity and confronts a choice of accepting the religion propagated by the school, then he is being coerced. Or when he cannot afford treatment of his ailing child in a supposed to be good hospital where free treatment is tied to bartering of faith he is not making a free choice. His decision to barter his faith is not a free decision, it is a decision under duress. This is the business of the state to protect weaker citizens from this kind of coercion of the stronger.

Abandoning civic concern for the other

When Professor Guha argues against raising the issue of conversing through allurement by ‘third party’ he is advising citizens to abandon civic concern for fellow citizens. Democracy functions on concern for the well-being of all citizens and of the whole society. When a concerned citizen sees conversion through allurement—economic coercion—s/he has a duty to speak against it. Failing in this duty is tantamount to failing in one’s duty as a citizen. Fraternity in the preamble of The Constitution of India demands concern for wellbeing of all citizens.

No society can maintain justice, liberty and equality if the citizens are concerned only about their own business and their own wellbeing. This is one of the biggest failures of Indian democracy and Professor Guha’s article advises to worsen the situation.

Socio-political impact of conversions

The article completely fails to take into account the socio-political impact of conversions. It is well known by now that conversion almost always destroys the social relationships including those within extended family. Social fabric and families are bound together by shared belief, patterns of life, rituals and other cultural activities. A change in faith demands abandoning many of them, often demands acting in a contrary manner. The argument here is not to sustain unjust social order and superstitious or otherwise subjugating practices; such practices can be challenged even without change of religion. Rather the argument is against the personal and psychological pain caused by distance that change of faith creates with the near and dears, and the community one has been living with. The proselytizing church knows and admits this, but juxtaposes it with the spurious joy found in submitting to Christ. Of course, one can say that this is a matter on which the individual should think, what right any third party has to be nosy about it? Which is Prof. Gha’s argment. But the matter goes further and becomes socio-political.

We all, including Professor Guha, know well enough that conversion today is mainly an economic and political power game. I think it has always been so in the history as well. The ‘sarva-dharma-samabhava’ version of secularism adopted by Indian state has exacerbated the competition and acrimony in this game as all religions under this mistaken brand of secularism have a chance of attempting to grab as much public space as possible; and to impose their dictates on others. For example, ban on beef eating in some states is a clear attempt to impose preferences of a small set of Hindus on others.

This competition results in vigorous efforts to gain convers or to slowdown depletion of one’s religious group. We should remember that religions are also political ideologies. In a democracy this game has a place; but also has to be played with all fairness. Allowing coercion—be that of political, economic or plain brute force—will create unrest, exacerbate hatred and promote violence. That will certainly result in intolerance and social disharmony. A democratic state is duty bound to create a level playing field for these forces; and therefore, has to provide a fair legal framework to operate within.

The only fair possibility

In a democracy, as Professor Guha rightly says, one’s free choice of faith cannot be restricted.  Therefore, conversion has to be accepted and allowed, as it is today. But it has to be allowed in a manner that is fair to all religious groups; therefore, Hindu groups have as much right to attempt and succeed in conversion as Christian and Muslim groups do. The left leaning liberals have rendered themselves irrelevant on this issue by taking a partisan position for decades, which is fully exposed now.

Forcible conversion has to be dealt with firmly, be that by any group. It is a crime and should be dealt as a crime. Cheating gullible people into conversion should also be a crime as cheating in any other case is. Economic coercion and bartering of faith for money, if proven beyond doubt, should be criminalised on moral as well as pragmatic grounds discussed above.

The so-called opinion makers and intellectuals should realise that there is no higher motive behind conversion, it is simply a dirty violent political game; and has been so throughout the history. They should spend their energies in exposing the moral depravity of zeal for conversion. And also the inherent bigotry and epistemic stupidity of the idea ‘my religion is the only true religion’. The Hindutva groups’ attempt to create a narrow proselytizing religion out of diversity encompassing Hinduism should be resisted by Hindus themselves as well as the opinion makers. Most of their proclamations of ‘re-conversion’ are either false propaganda to attract attention or plain coercion. It is a political game and is rightly criticised as such. But that can hardly justify closing eyes to economic coercion and cheating involved in conversion to other religions.

The Quran: Continuing dialogue with Mr. Ashraf

February 20, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

[This post is my response to Mr. Ashraf’s comment on my last post. Interested people will understand better if first read his comment. However, I have tried to summarise the points I am responding to.–Rohit]

Dear Mr. Ashraf,

You are interpreting Quran in a very balanced manner coming to conclusions most (not all) of which will be readily accepted in today’s world. I think it is a very commendable effort. If Quran teaches you that ‘sanctity of human life is the summum bonum’ I believe every sane human will rejoice in this conclusion of yours. One by one you have made very significant choices: 1. today as a believer it is not your job to punish non-believers, 2. the declaration of war (jihad in Quran) was not against all rejecters but the Maccan rejecters of that time, 3. as a present day believer you cannot disassociate yourself from non-believers and rejecters.

I think they are very reasonable and intelligent choices and interpretations for a believer. However, it seems to me there is a tension between these ‘interpretations’ and some declarations in the Quran. Please do not misunderstand me; I am not trying to dissuade you from this interpretation; that would be a pity, an act against humanity; if I believed in ‘sin’ I would have called such an attempt a ‘sin’. But logical tension is something we should not ignore. In the light of this last statement of mine I have three specific points regarding your claims in this post:

1. Sura 9 is about declaration of war only against idolaters of Macca.
2. That war against idolaters of Macca was justified because they rejected the ‘truth’.
3. A knowing and wilful rejecter of ‘truth’ (after understanding) should be punished, by the messenger.

I will briefly deal with each one of them below.

1. War was against Maccan rejecters alone

Not so, Mr. Ashraf. Actually the most stringent verses making jihad mandatory for all believers came after capturing Macca and almost total consolidation of Arabia under Muhammad’s rule. They came in connection with expedition to Tabuk, which was based on either unconfirmed rumours of possible attack by Byzantine Empire or a fabrication. As the Muslim army found no enemy at Tabuk and Byzantine records have no mention of any plan to attack Arabia or Muslims at that time.

Maulana Azad says that the first 30 or 40 verses came sometime after occupation of Macca. They were for consolidation of faith. Maulana also claims that the “last verses of this chapter were also delivered during the ninth year of the Hijra, while the Prophet was on an expedition to Tabuk and a little there after.” However, the Maulana agrees with you about the initial verses that they were not for war against polytheists in general but polytheists of Arabia, who were still resisting in some parts. According to Maulana the Verse 29 is about Jews of Arabia and Christians of Syria. And he also says that “the remaining verses of this chapter deal with the Prophet’s expedition to Tabuk.” One can confirm this with two other commentaries. One, Tafsir-ul-Qur’an by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi; and two, A Comprehensive Commentary on Quran by E M Wherry. So the chapter involves more than just Maccan rejecters. And that is important, as the involvement of Byzantine Empire gives these verses a wider context.

My second disagreement regarding ‘only in context’ interpretation of these verses is what I have already explained in my earlier post. Maulana Azad sees a general lesson in these verses when the community of believers is in danger or under attack. This is legitimate, in a way, but the interpretation of danger and under attack in the history have shown that this little consideration can be easily converted into a call for jihad. Even the Tabuk call for jihad is suspect in this sense; was there a real danger? However, people agreeing with this contextual interpretation can legitimately claim that that is not the fault of the Book, but that of the interpreters.

2. That war against rejecters of Macca was justified

I am not absolutely certain about it. Muhammad was the first one to declare the Maccan gods as false and of no use, which cannot even protect themselves; and giving inflammatory examples of idol breaking by Abraham etc. He rejected all offers of reconciliation; one fully understands that being steadfast with his monotheism he could not have worked out any compromise. But was it necessary for him to denigrate their gods? At one or two places Quran advises the believers not to insult nonbelievers’ gods, but the reason given is that if you do that they may insult your God. However, the Quran itself calls them false and useless, and talks of them in insulting terms. One should understand Maccan people’s behaviour exactly on the yardstick of Islam today. Does an Islamic state allow preaching a new religion in its territories? The Maccan Arabs were from the same culture. In such circumstances the question becomes important as to how justified was Muhammad’s war against the Maccans? I know the stories of all the ‘aggressions’, ‘unrest in the land’, ‘unprovoked attacks’, etc. But there are more than one versions of all these claims. That brings me to my third and the most important point.

3. Knowing and wilful rejecter should be punished?

I am asking this question not regarding common people like you and me; I am asking this regarding someone claiming to be a ‘messenger’. There have been many people in the history who declared themselves either as prophets, or messengers or avatars or somehow having the authority of the supreme Lord. Some of them were proved to be charlatans, some were more successful. Suppose today someone declares himself/herself as such an authority; and peaches to us (to you and me) for 20 years. One, can this person ever be certain that we understood him/her? No, so s/he has to invoke the help from the God, who informs her/him that we have understood but are still rejecting. Two, can the people ever be certain that this person is really the authority s/he claims to be? If no, why should they believe her/his claims and why should they accept? Then what right does this preacher has to punish them? On the authority given to him/her by the God, of which no one but s/he alone can be certain?

What I am trying to say is that this very idea of someone having the ultimate truth, and those who do not believe can be punished, even be killed, is a violent idea. The very possession of ultimate truth and the authority to enforce it are ideas against human freedom of conscience, autonomy of decision, human dignity and human reason. Sorry, Friend, but they are evil ideas. All religions have this tendency in the beginning; but slowly they learn and become mellowed. Perhaps you know that even the Catholic Church has come to the understanding in Vatican three that religions other than Christianity can also be true religions and lead to salvation. (In my opinion they all lead to slavery, rather than to salvation!) All your writing in this dialogue, Ashraf Saheb, in spite of being very gentle and liberal in all other respects, is very firm that there is one and only one true religion and that is Islamic monotheism. And that all the atheists and all polytheists and rejecters of Islam will go to hell (I am saying this on the basis of the theory you gave in your first response). And that is the real problem with religions, their belief that they are the only true guardians of the ultimate truth. The more absolute this belief becomes, greater condemnation for the humanity issues from it. And the more foul a tinder-box ready to be sparked it becomes.

I am sorry if it has come out rather strongly. And, yes, in one of your posts you have wondered that ‘mocking religions’ might be my religion. No, Mr. Ashraf, I am not mocking; just analysing somewhat ruthlessly. And this cannot be a religion. In my humble view (I might be wrong) a religion (purely at the level of belief) can be defined as follows:

• It is a system of beliefs based on some central dogmas.
• These central dogmas are considered the ‘truths’ by the believers and have to be accepted on faith; there are no rational grounds for their justification; and a rational examination of them is not accepted.
• One of the central dogmas is necessarily life after death, in some form or other.
• One’s actions in this life determines the kind of life one will have after death.

[Religions also have social, political and organisational aspects. So this is not a full definition but takes care of the belief system aspect adequately.]

A belief system that does not have these characteristics cannot be called a religion. A belief system which accepts reason as basis of justification and is ready to subject each belief to strict rational scrutiny cannot be called a religion. Therefore, my examination of religions cannot be called a religion.

With regards

Quran and violence 3: Jihad, idolaters and infidels

January 13, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

(Continued from part 2)

What I have posted so far, including this post, is open to some serious charges of deliberate misinterpretation and/or bias. Some of them could be: (i) Particularly fundamentalist translations are used. (ii) The verses are cherry-picked, and those which show Quran in better light are ignored. (iii) Quotations are given almost without any analysis. And, (iv) that the verses supposed to be revealed in particular context are presented as universal principles. I will deal with these charges in the next post (tomorrow), because some material (by the way of examples) is needed before one can make any case on these issues.

Jihad, idolaters and infidels

Verse 2:190 states “And fight in the Way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors.” [NQ] This is a much debated verse. Some emphasise “fight in the way of Allah”, indicating fight for religious purposes. Others remind “those who fight you, but transgress not”; therefore, it is a verse sanctioning fighting a defensive war.

The explanation offered by Noble Quran [NQ], however, clearly sides with the first interpretation. NQ’s explanation is worth quoting in full. First, it states that “[T]his Verse is the first one that was revealed in connection with jihad, but it was supplemented by another (9:36)”. We will have a look at 9:36 presently. But before that the meaning and importance of Jihad should be understood as per NQ: “Al-Jihad (holy fighting) in Allah’s Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars (on which it stands). By Jihad Islam is established, Allah’s Word is made superior, (His Word being La ilaha illallah which means none has the right to be worshipped but Allah), and His Religion (Islam) is propagated. By abandoning Jihad (may Allah protect us from that) Islam is destroyed and the Muslims fall into an inferior position: their honour is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim, and he who tries to escape from this duty, or does not in his innermost heart wish to fulfil this duty, dies with one of the qualities of a hypocrite.


Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Masud: I asked Allah’s Messenger, “O Allah’s Messenger! What is the best deed?” He replied, “To offer the (prayers) at their early fixed stated times.” I asked, “What is next in goodness?” He replied, “To be good and dutiful to your parents.” I further asked, “What is next in goodness?” He “To participate in Jihad in Allah’s Cause.” I did not ask Allah’s Messenger anymore and if I had asked him more, he would have told me more. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol.4, Hadith No.41).” [Emphasis added]

This explanation does not leave any doubt that: (i) jihad is not some internal purification as far as this verse is concerned, it has to be fought with ‘full numbers and weaponry’, this is a duty, so no deviating interpretation is allowed. (ii) It is not a defensive war, but one to make Allah’s word and Islam supreme, which means nothing else can be worshipped. (iii) Jihad is at the least third best deed for a Muslim, after offering regular prayers and looking after one’s parents.

But there are other interpretations. We should have a look at the least at one of them. TuQ explains in footnote 266 that the call to fight is given to Muslims (O Muslims!). Then goes on to explain in footnote 267 that “in the way of Allah” refers to “in the cause of His true Religion; in the cause of truth, justice, equity and humanity. To combat the dark forces of polytheism, superstition, perfidy, irreligion, and religious persecution, and not for the greed of booty or for self-aggrandisement, nor yet to extend the ‘sphere of influence’ of this country or that. Is the extermination of moral evil, in any sense, an unworthy object of war?” [Emphases added]

This is an interesting explanation. It first lists “the cause of truth, justice, equity and humanity” which are very much acceptable as good cause to struggle for, even if not for war. But then gives another list “the dark forces of polytheism, superstition, perfidy, irreligion, and religious persecution”. Polytheism clearly indicates the agenda; and it is implied that superstition, perfidy and irreligion can be stemmed by monotheism only. Now, if a war could be waged to eradicate polytheism then the definitions of justice, equity and humanity cannot remain as they are supposed to be in the modern world. Nor can ‘religious persecution’ be understood as ‘lack of freedom to practice one’s own religion’, as the war itself is against a religious idea, namely polytheism. The whole passage looks like either an eyewash or an alternative discourse which defines justice etc. in its own manner, which is unknown to unbelievers and infidels. And, it does not take the position that the jihad is not general against all polytheists, in all lands and all times. The verse may have come in the local context of fighting a religious war with Makkans, later in this article we have to look at the attempts to draw universal eternal principle from contextual commands.

The next verse is clearly in connection with the fight between the believers and people of Makka. 2:191 And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing. And fight not with them at Al-Masjid-al-haram (the sanctuary at Makkah), unless they (first) fight you there. But if they attack you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.”

Al-Fitnah is translated in various ways. NQ explains it as “polytheism, to disbelieve after one has believed in Allah, or a trial or a calamity or an affliction” at one place; the meaning in the next verse makes it more general “disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah”. TuQ explains “(of irreligion and impiety). The word covers, on the part of the Makkans, a number of other such crimes over and above the grossest forms of idolatry, as treachery, perfidy, wanton persecution of the Muslims, and aggression in fighting.” The centre of the meaning clearly is “polytheism”. Worshiping other beings with Allah is the real issue, rest of the ‘crimes’ are just additional reasons. And as soon as this meaning is given, the call to fight becomes universal against “al-fitnah”.

Therefore, it is necessary to “fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers).” [NQ, 2:193] This verse makes it clear that even if ‘they’—whomsoever they may be—cease fighting, the war against polytheists must go on.

The verse 9:36, mentioned above demands “…so wrong not yourselves therein, and fight against the Mushrikun (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) collectively as they fight against you collectively. But know that Allah is with those who are AI-Muttaqun (the pious).” The verse 9:38 admonishes those who “when … asked to march forth in the Cause of Allah (i.e. Jihad) you cling heavily to the earth? Are you pleased with the life of this world rather than the Hereafter? But little is the enjoyment of the life of this world as compared to the Hereafter.” And warns them (9:39) if you march not forth, He will punish you with a painful torment and will replace you by another people; and you cannot harm Him at all, and Allah is Able to do all things.” A believer who does not march willingly in jihad will get “painful torment”. And will be replaced with another people.

Hadith supports this idea. Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said, “Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world, even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s Cause).” (Sahih AI·BukhM, Vol.4, Hadith No.53-A).” [NQ]

One can make a much bigger list of verses of this nature, but perhaps it is not needed. If this does not sanction violence against polytheists and unbelieves one does not know what would?


‘पीके’ के बहाने

December 30, 2014

रोहित धनकर

धर्म—मजहब, पंथ और रिलिजन के अर्थ में—बहुत कमजोर और डरपोक विचार है. यह बात खासकर धर्म के संगठित हो जाने पर सही उतरती है, और सब धर्मों के लिए सही है. चाहे वह हिन्दू धर्म हो, ईसाइयत हो, इस्लाम हो, बोद्ध धर्म हो या कोई और. उनकी हिंसक और आक्रमणकारी प्रवृत्ती धर्म के मूल में बैठे इस डर का नतीजा है, किसी ताकत का नहीं. यह डर स्वयं विश्वास के आधार-हीन, तर्कहीन और विवेकविहीन होने के कारण उपजता है. क्यों की धर्मं लोगों की असुरक्षा की भावना और जगत की रहस्यमयता पर पनपता है, अतः वह नासमझी और भय को सदा बनाए रखना चाहता है. लोग यदि समझने लगें और अपनी असुरक्षा को स्वयं संभालना सीखालें तो धर्म को बहुत बड़ा खतरा होता है. जो धर्म की इस कमजोरी की तरफ इशारा करता है धर्म उसको हिंसा से रोकना चाहता है. ‘पीके’ के साथ यही हो रहा है.

जिन हिन्दुओं को ‘पीके’ में दिखाए गए धर्म के टोटके, चालबाजियां, धोखे और छल आपत्तीजनक लगते हैं वे उनको मिटाते क्यों नहीं? सड़क पर लाल पत्थर रख कर रोज उगने वाले मंदिरों को ये क्यों नहीं हटाते? रामपाल और आशाराम जैसे बाबाओं के चरणों में ये सर क्यों झुकाते हैं? ‘पीके’ के तपस्वी जैसे धोखेबाज बाबा तो आज हर गली-मोहल्ले में हैं; इन के होने से तो इन हिन्दुओं को कोई शर्म नहीं आती. उनके होने की बात करने से, बता देने से शर्म क्यों आती है? ‘पीके’ का विरोध इस डर का नतीजा है कि धर्म की जड़ों की सड़ांध को लोग समझने लगेंगे तो उसकी धन कमाने की और सत्ता देने की क्षमता खत्म हो जायेगी.

‘पीके’ कोई कॉमेडी नहीं है, केवल कोई नासमझ ही उसे कॉमेडी कहेगा, यह एक तीखा व्यंग है. व्यंग (satire) और प्रहसन (comedy) का फर्क या तो लोग सकझते नहीं या फिर व्यंग को नरम साबित करने के लिए कॉमेडी शब्द का प्रयोग कर रहे हैं. वैसे भी धर्म की जड़ में जितना छल होता है उस को उजागर करने के लिए कॉमेडी बहुत हल्का हथियार है, यह काम व्यंग ही कर सकता है.

लोकतंत्र में किसी चीज का विरोध करने के लिए, किसी छल को उजागर करने के लिए, व्यंग का उपयोग एकदम जायज है; बल्की लाजमी है. कुछ लोग अपने विवेकविहीन विश्वासों की रक्षा के लिए दूसरों के विचारों की अभिव्यक्ती पर आक्रमण नहीं कर सकते. उन्हें यह इजाजत नहीं दी जा सकती.

क्यों की अभिव्यक्ती की स्वतन्त्रता हमारा अधिकार है, इस लिए इस अभिव्यक्ती का विषय चुनने का भी अधिकार है. आप किसी लेखक को, कलाकार को, इस बात के लिए बाध्य नहीं कर सकते की वह धर्मों की जड़ में डर, मूर्खता और धोखा उजागर करे तो सब धर्मों में इन की बात करे. यह लेखक या कलाकार का चुनाव है की वह किस की बात करना चाहता है और किसकी नहीं. उसे न तो सब की बात करने के लिए मजबूर किया जासकता है ना ही सब की बात न करने पर दण्डित. ‘पीके’ हिन्दू धर्म पर अपना ध्यान केन्द्रित करती है, और यह उसका हक़ है. इसके लिए उसे दोषी नहीं ठहराया जासकता. इस्माल और ईसायत की बात उसमें केवल एक संकेत के रूम में है. मेरे विचार से फिल्मकार यह कहना चाहता है कि वह हिन्दू धर्म के माध्यम से कुछ समस्याओं पर सवाल उठा रहा है; ये समस्याएं इस्लाम औए ईसाइयत में भी हैं. कोई और उनको विस्तार से ले, चाहे तो.

वैसे भी हम सब जानते हैं की इस तरह का करारा व्यंग इस्लाम पर करना ज्यादा खतरनाक है. (यह बात बहुत से लोंगों को बड़ी फिरकापरस्त लगेगी, पर सही है.) इस के कई कारण हैं. एक तो यह कि हिन्दू धर्म का कोई केंद्रीय रूढ़-मत (dogma) नहीं है. बहुत सारे रूठ-मत है, इन में कोई भी सर्वमान्य नहीं है. इस का फायदा यह है कि कोई भी ऎसी चीज नहीं है जिसे कोई न कोई नकारता नहो, जिस पर अंगुली उठाने से पूरे धर्म पर अंगुली उठ जाए, जिसकी जड़ खोदने से पूरे धर्म की ही जड़ खुद जाए. पर इस के नुकशान भी हैं, जैसे यह कि धर्म के नाम पर कोई कुछ भी चाल-बाजी कर सकता है. दूसरा कारण हिन्दू धर्म की आलोचाने के कम खतरनाक होने का यह है कि बड़ी कटु आलोचना का इतिहास भी रहा है इस धर्म में. अब तो संध की करामातों के चलते इस खुलेपन के इतिहास को खतरा लग रहा है, पर अभी भी लोग इस की रक्षा करने में समर्थ हैं. तीसरा कारण यह है की इस्लाम में मुहम्मद और खुदा पर अंगुली उठाने का जवाब हिंसा से देने का पुराना रिवाज है.

जहाँ कोई एक रूढ़-मत नहीं होता वहां विभिन्न संभावनाओं को तलाशने की गुंजाईश थोड़ी ज्यादा मिलसकती है. और उस रूढ़-मत पर चोट से डर भी कम लगता है. हिन्दू धर्म के बारे में यह आशानी से कहा जासकता है कि लोगों ने अपनी जरूरत के मुताबिक भगवान् और देवता बना लिए, कई बार भ्रामक विश्वास के कारण और कई बार जान बूज कर अपने किसी फायदे के लिए, बल्की लोगों को छलने के लिए भी. मुहम्मद के बारे में यह कहना कि कुरआन देने वाला जिब्रील उसके मन का भ्रम या जान बूझ कर घड़ी गई छल-पूर्ण कल्पना थी, कहीं ज्यादा खरनाक है. रश्दी ने यही कहा था. बीबीसी हिंदी पर पाकिस्तानी पत्रकार वुसतुल्लाह ख़ान का एक लेख है ‘पाकिस्तान में भी कोई पीके बनाएगा?’ के शीर्षक से. उसमें वे कहते हैं “ऐसी फ़िल्म पाकिस्तान में बनाने का अभी किसी का हौसला नहीं और कारण आप जानते ही हैं.” यह कारण इस्लाम के लिए भारत में भी लागू होता है.

पर इस से ना तो किसी को ‘पीके’ के विरोध में हिंसा करने का हक़ मिलता है नाही हिरानी को पक्षपाती कहने का. यह उनका चुनाव था, और जायज था. इस देश में बहुसंख्यक हिन्दू हैं, हिन्दू धर्म में ढकोशले और पाखंड की ज्यादा गुंजाईश है. यह पाखंड इसी धर्म में इस वक्त सबसे ज्यादा हो रहा है. और इस से होने वाला नुकशान भी इस वक्त ज्यादा लोगों को हो रहा है. तो व्यंग भी इसी पर सब से पहले होना चाहिए.

आखिर में एक स्पष्टीकरण और एक दावा: मैंने धर्म के बारे में जो कुछ ऊपर कहा है वह कई लोगों को बहुत सतही और भोंथरा लगेगा. इस में उनको विश्लेषण की गहनता और सूक्ष्मता (nuance) की कमी लगेगी. मैंने यह बात जान बूझ कर इसी तरह कही है. क्यों कि ‘पीके’ के सवाल भी इसी तरह के सीधे सादे हैं. उदहारण के लिए: इन इतने भगवानों में असली कौनसा है? कैसे पता चले? या, भगवान् को हमने बनाया या हमको भगवान् ने? ये बड़े सीधे और बुद्धूपने के सवाल हैं. पर कोई सूक्ष्म से सूक्ष्म ईश्वर-मीमांसा भी इन का उत्तर नहीं दे सकती. हाँ, गहराई और सूक्ष्मता के नाम पर भ्रम जरूर फैला सकती है. इन का जो सीधा-सादा विवेक है उस की चमक धर्म-मीमांसा की सारी लफ्फाजी से कहीं ज्यादा है.

Teaching Religion in Schools: Problems and Possibilities

July 28, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

Published in Deccan Herald, on 28th July 2014;

One often comes across expression of worries regarding lack of moral values in present day education. The teaching of religion in schools is advanced as a preferred solution to this problem. Teaching of religion is also often suggested as a means to reduce tension and strife between followers’ of different faiths.

Basically these claims boil down to two contentions: one, that knowledge of each other’s religion will enhance mutual goodwill; and two, that religion can become a viable basis of moral development in a secular democratic society. Both contentions stand in need of critical examination.

Such examination will require a distinction between ‘religious teaching’ and ‘teaching about religions’. This distinction is often ignored when arguments to introduce religion in curriculum are advanced. ‘Religious teaching’ indicates teaching of the religious dogmas as well as acceptance of those dogmas. For example, teaching Hinduism for a vaishnavite may involve making students believe that Krishna was really an avatar of Vishnu. Teaching Islam and Christianity will respectively involve making the students believe that Muhammad was really a prophet of Allah and that Christ was really the son of God.

‘Teaching about religions’, on the other hand, will limit to helping the students to understand the religious beliefs, but without any commitment to their truth. In ‘teaching about religions’, then, the three religious beliefs mentioned above need to be understood, critically examined; but the students are not required to accept them.

Religious teaching, then, will be incompatible with a secular education system. That leads to the assumption that those who want to introduce religion in curriculum are recommending ‘teaching about religions’.

In principle understanding of each other’s belief systems should facilitate better mutual understanding, and therefore, enhance harmonious living of different religious groups. This should also increase sensitivity and tolerance as knowledge of the others’ beliefs helps understanding emotional importance of those beliefs for them. But in a multi-religious secular democracy there might be serious practical problems in teaching about religions in schools.

Let’s note that one important aim of education in democracies is to develop critical citizenship; as no democracy can function well without constantly watchful citizens. Development of critical citizenship necessarily require independence of judgment and action. Which in turn will demand critical rational examination of all ideas and beliefs. Therefore, if one has to teach about religions in a democratic system what is being taught has to submit to critical rational examination. The study of religions, then, cannot be a “reverential study” as Gandhi along with many other often recommended. It has to be a critical study rationally examining every belief and event in the history of religions.

Critical study of religions in schools is likely to create a practical problem with two dimensions. One, lack of teachers who can deal with religious beliefs and history with respect, without biases and at the same time without slightest compromise in incisive analysis, without compromising on precise expression of the results of rational enquiry; whether they be favourable or unfavourable to religious beliefs. Our system at resent does not have enough teachers who can take up this task. The second dimension is that the very people who are recommending teaching about religion today will oppose it when religious beliefs like avatar-hood of Krishna, prophet-hood of Mohammad and status of Christ as son of God will be seriously interrogated in classrooms across the nation.

This, however, is not an argument against teaching about religions in schools. This is only to indicate that serious preparation will be required before we could do that. We have to prepare teachers and we have to prepare the public to take critique of religions in a rational and mutually accommodating spirit. A beginning in the second could be made in the press by examining religious beliefs and history more seriously than we do at the moment.

The second claim that religions can provide a basis for moral development is based on the false assumption that in essentials all religions meet in perfect harmony. This claim is born out of unduly reverential study of religions and not out of critical study of them. Actually religions are more often in serious confrontation with each other. Claim of harmony is more of a politically correct statement than a substantiated one. This disharmony between different religious belief systems is enough to dash all hope of religions becoming basis of moral development in a secular system.

But there are even more unsurmountable problems. Moral development does not mean memorisation of moral maxims like “always tell the truth”. Nor is it complete even if one is conditioned to act according to such maxims. Moral development necessarily requires ability to make reasoned judgment in the face of value conflicts. There can be no predetermined formula to resolve value conflicts arising in different actual contexts. The religious ethics is essentially a faith based ethics. It depends on the dogma or divine command, and therefore, is not capable of independent rational judgment. Another problem in religious ethics is that it is essentially utilitarian and self-centred. You obey religious dogma or divine command because you want personal favours from the divinity or you want salvation. It, therefore, depends on non-rational uncritical belief; for personal benefit. How does one square development of critical reason for democratic citizenship and uncritical belief formation in the same classroom?

In conclusion perhaps we can say that teaching about religions cannot form a basis for moral development. Though, it could be very important for development of mutual understanding and sensitivity between different religious groups. However, even for this second purpose introduction of critical study of different religious in schools will require enormous preparation and a very cautious approach.

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

Place of religion in public schools: Part 4

July 22, 2013

Religious behaviour of students and teaches in the school

Rohit Dhankar

We are discussing place of religion in public schools in a secular democracy. What I am saying here may be totally irrelevant in a theocratic state or a country which does not place any value on secularism. Secondly, even within a secular democracy we are interested in public schools, most of which are state funded. Some of what is said may be applicable to denominational schools, but rest may not.

I am assuming (it could be argues quite plausibly, but I am leaving that out for lack of space) that education system in a secular democracy is duty bound to help children grow up into active and critical citizens who can make informed choices and can defend those choices in public. Of course education will have other aims as well; but I am deliberately taking this one for the sake our argument.

Democracy gives every citizen equal rights to autonomously choose the life they want to live within the constitutional framework; which is designed to promote equality, personal autonomy, liberty and freedom. Thus in a democracy every citizen needs to learn: 1. To understand and respect the others views and freedoms; and 2. To care about them. These seem to be necessary qualities of an active and critical democratic citizen; though not enough in themselves. Therefore, the job of the school becomes to help students understand others’ views and respect other people as equals even if one can not agree and respect their views. (There is a difference between respecting a person and respecting a belief. Demand to respect all beliefs equally is an impossible hypocrisy; while demand of equal respect to all people is a democratic ideal, and is possible.) This is a very difficult attitude to develop, and perhaps no one succeeds completely; but we all have to keep trying thorugh all our lives; that is, if we want to live in a democracy.

We should understand that a secular state can not preach anti-religion ideas. It has to give people freedom to choose their personal beliefs; the schools can preach neither religious dogma, not atheistic ones. They can simple present them and analyse them. A secular school can not disdain, prohibit or insult in any way religious behaviour of its students. It can make its policies strictly on the secular and constitutional grounds but if the children want to participate in pooja or namaz, and even if remain out of school for these purpose, it can do nothing. However, the usual penalty for being absent, if there is such a rule in the school, applies to those who remain absent for pooja and namaz as well. It seems to me that the school should also bring the fact that by remaining absent they are losing opportunity to learn to students notice. But the final choice has to be that of the students. This is necessary as students have to learn to weigh pros and cons of their decisions and learn to be responsible for them. But at the same time he school, to my mind, should also not deviate from its settles time-table to make room for such activities. For example, there could be a demand for having Tuesday or Friday as the weekly holiday. All other things being equal, the schools should not consider that on the religious grounds of the communities living around it. In India there are too many religions, we shall never be able to manage such adjustments. However, in a mono-religious society such adjustments may be possible; but mono-religious societies are rarely, if ever, secular and democratic.

A secular rational attitude demands that one does not curb or promote any belief system through force and rules. Not even the secular and rational belief system. The only possible way is that of dialogue and rational persuasion where people make their own decisions on the basis of their own lights. So a school can not stop children from attending their pooja or namaaz even if they remain absent from the school for that purpose.

Teachers’ display of religious behaviour or symbols in the school

Some secular states take the position that as public functionaries teachers should not be allowed to display such behaviour or symbols. To my mind it is a very complex issue. Let’s take the example of thick band of moli (the red-white thread that Hindu priests tie on the wrists of their yejmaans on every auspicious occasion) which many Hindu teachers, officials, politicians, and so on display prominently these days. Actually I distinctly remember that about two decades back it used to be a thin kachcha dhaga that used to break on its on mostly by the end of the second day. Now it has become a think band which does not break for months, and usually becomes very dirty. It has nothing to do with Hindu religion as such. It is an assertion and display of identity. It is a social-political act, associated with religion but not unalienable part of it. Similarly, prominent display of a cross around a Christian’s neck or a round skull cap on a Muslim’s head are markers—and these days also an assertion, like moli—of identity and not really essential part of religion. I think it could be plausibly argued that in modern India a feeling of underlining difference with others is also mixed with these markers of identity. Conceptually, all identity marks have an element of difference from the other, as any identity has to do two things: proclaiming who you are and also who you are not. Our ambiguous attitude to religion and habit of our democratic state to prostrate before any thing vaguely religious have made these symbols into assertion of political power, solidarity to ones own community and challenge to others. Thus, as I understand the situation these symbols at the present juncture in Indian polity are dividing the society; and slowly but certainly nudging us to move away from dispassionate secular politics, pushing us towards aggressive identity politics where democratic principles are definitely a casualty.

Personally, I feel that we should have a dress-code for all public servants. And these markers should not be allowed in that dress-code. Not because the state wants to take an anti-religion or anti-identity stand; but simply because a public servant should, particularly in present times, make all efforts to communicate that whatever her religious and political views she stands in absolutely identical relationship with all citizens in her role as a public servant. That is a stand in principle; but that can not happen in present day India. Therefore, as a compromise somewhat uncomfortable compromise one has to accept the display of these markers in office. That brings an added responsibility on the public servants that they should communicate in their behaviour a totally secular dealing with all citizens; people should develop a confidence that in spite of these identity markers the person will act according to our secular constitution. At present this is not communicated. And so there is a problem here.

A teacher, in this sense, is a public servant. She should, ideally speaking, refrain from public display of these makers, but our constitution does not prohibit it; therefore, even strictly secular schools can not ban or strongly oppose these practices. As a result we will have to live with them. Sadly, enough.

Preaching of ones religion in the school

In short no school has the right to preach any religion, and so no teacher can preach one’s religion in the school. But we need to understand the place of religion in curriculum and school life in a little more detail.

In addition to what we have discussed above—display of religious behaviour or symbols in the school—lets make two more categories: ‘teaching religion’ and ‘teaching about religion’. Teaching religion here would mean teaching religious beliefs in the school and hoping that the children will acquire those beliefs. It will also include religious practices in the schools—for example, various kinds of prayers in the school, including Saraswati and Gandhi’s supposed to be secular bhajans. Teaching about religion would simply means an attempt to make the religious belief systems known to the students, understand them and examine them as one examines any political, social or scientific theory.

Teaching religion is clearly contradictory to the ideal of democratic citizenship. The Morning Prayer in the schools, saraswati statues, gayatri-mantras on the walls etc. are all non-secular and objectionable practices. This certainly amounts to practicing religion in schools. Actively teaching religion in schools will also be objectionable on the same token.

Teaching about religion, however, seems to be a logical necessity for ay curriculum in a secular country. We have to provide children with the knowledge base needed to understand the history, culture and belief systems of all citizens if we want them to make independent and informed choices in life. Even if we do not like religious belief systems people live by them and the children may make the same choice. It is the duty of the school to inform them about these possibilities, as impartially as possible. But school can not present them as necessarily true beliefs. If we want our children to be informed about Ram and Karishna we will have to present views of those who consider them as avataras, we have to present the views of those who consider them historical figures, and also of those who consider them simply imaginary mythological figures, who never actually existed. We have to share these views with available evidence, if any. We can say that there are some Hindus who think that Ram was Vishnu’s avatar; but we also have to inform them that there are other people, Hindus as well as non-Hindus, who believe neither in Vishnu nor in Ram as his avatar. We will have to present the critique of what is supposed to be their lives and preaching. For example, we will have to inform children that in the eyes of some agniparisksha was injustice to Sita and banishing Sita from Ayodhya later was simple desire to cling to power and cowardice in some people’s eyes. I am putting all this rather in a crude sense; but the point I am making is for presentation of various contrasting views with their arguments and available evidence. One can make that as sophisticated as one pleases or the occasion demands. In case of Muhammad (as he is definitely a historical figure) we have to talk of him exactly as we talk of, say Marx, or Plato, or Nehru, or Buddha or Mahavir. We have to inform the children that Muslims consider him the last and final prophet. But we will also have to inform that there are plenty of people in the world who do not believe in God so they think no one could really be a prophet or an avatar or a sun of God. Therefore, all prophets and self-proclaimed avatars were either misguided people or they deliberately spread lies. That, however, does not preclude the possibility of spreading lies for imagined good of mankind. We will have to present both views with equimindedness, and leave the children to make their own decision. What I am arguing for is that teaching about religion will have to be done in a rational manner. All religious figures in this scheme will get only as much respect as any philosopher or historical figure; no less no more. They will face all the questions that other philosophers and historical figures face, whether they like or not. Similarly all religious scriptures will have to be analysed exactly as any other book on philosophy or political theory. I believe that would be of immense benefit to the children and to the country.

But that will also require a huge amount of preparation. We have to have balanced and authentic curricula, we have to decide at what age the children should be introduced to what kind of issues and information, we will have to have a huge number of teachers who can teach in a rational and impartial manner. Perhaps team teaching could be explores—education about religion could done by a team that has teachers from different religions in it, and not by a single teacher. Are we ready for it? I do not know, let sociologists and political scientists answer that. Should we teach about religion in this sense? Yes, I am certain of that. Should teachers preach their own religions in school? Not at all.

That leaves us with one more issue from the initial discussion. Teachers’ religious behaviour out side the school. The next and last part of this series will deal with that.indus HHh


To be Concluded.


22nd July 2013

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