The spiritual gift of India to the world has already begun. India's spirituality is entering Europe and America in an ever increasing measure. That movement will grow; amid the disasters of the time more and more eyes are turning towards her with hope and there is even an increasing resort not only to her teachings, but to her psychic and spiritual practice. -- Sri Aurobindo (from the message broadcast on the eve of August 15, 1947)

Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Asian Age

New Delhi, June 12, 2005
"JD-U is the Jinnah winner"
By Arati R. Jerath

Commented By Tusar N. Mohapatra - on 6/17/2005 9:31:51 PM

The genesis of the seemingly crisis dogging the BJP today can be traced to a decade or so back. It was George Fernandes, who, from the secular camp, first befriended the BJP untouchables and seduced them onto the path to power. By shedding its three stings, BJP was emasculated enough not to fermnt further religious hatred. Obviously, Gujarat was an embarassment.The present Jinnah episode is only leading to a climax as directed by George Fernandes. Fernandes is the Trojan Horse and has a hidden agenda.By transforming the BJP and its top leaders, he has done a yeoman's sevice to his fellow countrymen.Whether or not he has followed the narrow path hewed by his leader, Lohia, he has saved the country from enormous communal turmoil. So, Fernandes is the most deserving candidate for the BHARAT RATNA award.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Swaminathan S. A. Aiyer
The Times of India
June5, 2005

Adam Smith would have smiled at the way outsourcing equates the private profit of MNCs with the public interest of a poor developing country. It is a succinct demonstration of his theory of the ‘invisible hand’ which, in competitive conditions converts private profit into social good.
Gurcharan Das
The Times of India
June5, 2005

India’s rising prosperity is due to the liberal global order….. Ironically, it was Marx who first predicted that the inexorable march of technology and capital would deserve all feudal, religious, and national barriers. Now that it is happening, it is the west that is complaining.
Vir Sanghvi
The Hindustan Times
July 25, 2004

Nandan Nilekani’s reasoning is simple. He believes, he says, that the market is a far more efficient way of allocating resources than, say, a centralized bureaucracy. But, he also adds, there will be times when the market will make certain individuals incredibly wealthy, not because they are the very best but because they happen to be in the right place at the right time…..

In such a situation, Nandan argues, anybody who makes so much money because of a quirk of the market system, has an obligation to give much of it back to society….In the US, for instance, nearly all the first generation entrepreneurs gave chunks of their fortunes to public causes….. It was only because they showed themselves willing to share their wealth with society that capitalism and the free market won the faith of the rest of the American people. Till then, all the first generation millionaires had risked being seen as robber barons.
The Economic times
June 9, 2005
Firstly, it must accept that trade, business, and the economy are not the be-all and end- all of life. Social and political aspirations are part of reality too. Secondly, a just system must be based on the ' self-evident principle'. The US Founding Fathers laid down, that all people are "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights" even if they are not equally rich or equally powerful. This principle is the heart of the democratic ideal to take civilization to a higher order.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ila Patnaik

Book Review, EYE
The Indian Express
August 1, 2004
Globalization is the catchy word that has been given to the global movements of ideas, capital, goods and people. It is one of the most powerful forces reshaping our planet. All of us can remember a time when foreign goods were smuggled, foreign travel was a rarity, foreign books and magazines were hard to come by, where ISD calls required spending Rs 120 per minute, and where email did not exist. While that world is inexorably gone, there is considerable debate on whether its demise was a good thing. Two prominent recent books have pondered the issues: one by Joseph Stiglitz, titled Globalization and Its Discontents, and the more recent book by Jagdish Bhagwati titled In Defense of Globalization.
Stiglitz is a Nobel Laureate, for his brilliant work on the economics of information. Bhagwati is very likely to get a Nobel Prize, for his brilliant work on trade theory and the political economy of economic development. It may be said that he translated a ringside view of the cancerous growth of the Indian state in the 1960s into a Nobel prize.The two books are sometimes caricatured in the press as representing opposite viewpoints. Bhagwati is portrayed as an ‘‘orthodox economist’’ (if there can be such a thing), and Stiglitz as a renegade and an iconoclast. Upon reading both books, I certainly did not come away with such a feeling. I found much wisdom and insight in both books, and felt that both authors would agree with each other about the impact of the mobility of goods, capital, labour and technology. These may be summed up as follows.
  • One, the movement of ideas is good: our lives are better off because we learned about vaccination or spark plugs.
  • Two, the movement of capital is good: the growth of a poor country is hastened when foreigners bring capital in.
  • Three, the movement of goods is good. This is the only subtle piece, where economic logic takes us a bit beyond common sense. Sometimes, we believe that trade cannot take place between two countries when one is superior to the other in the productivity of making all goods. But this proves to not be the case. Even though Bangladesh may be impoverished, trade between India and Bangladesh benefits both. Even though Bihar may appear to have nothing to offer to Maharashtra, trade between Bihar and Maharashtra makes both better off. “Gains from trade” is a profound insight of economics.
  • Finally, the movement of people is good. Whether Indian workers go to the US, or US worker migrate to India, in either case, both countries are enriched by these transfers.

Jagdish Bhagwati has written an impassioned and rich account of these ideas, and their critics, directed at a western mass audience. But the issues have limited resonance in India, where a ‘‘large mass of opponents of globalisation’’ do not exist. There are idealistic young people in the West who believe (however wrongly) that when FIIs buy shares in Bharti Telecom, or Hutchison runs a phone company in India, it hurts Indian interests. As Bhagwati points out, these young people tend to be educated in English or Art or French literature, and hence lack an understanding of the issues. His book is primarily targeted at such young enthusiastic people whose social concerns have outstripped their knowledge. The Indian situation is different, where western-style NGOs, which he discusses at length, are absent. In India, debates about economic policy have coalesced into two camps. On one hand is the mainstream, where most people embrace globalization. They are happy with FDI if it brings more jobs, improves the quality of the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the phones they use. They are happy with trade if it brings competition and pushes down the prices of goods they buy.

On the other had are sections of the left and the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and the RSS, who have deeply held beliefs of the exact opposite nature. In general, they are suspicious of globalization and want the government to refrain from international trade, keep out foreign capital and western technology. Domestic capitalists, of course, have a vested interest that these barriers to globalization are put up and they lobby for them. They are the biggest gainers in a closed economy. Bhagwati’s book can help illuminate this Indian discourse, to the extent that people with left and right leanings will read his book. He also addresses the impact of globalisation on social issues like child labour, gender relations, culture, environmental damage, labour standards and poverty. For any reader who wants a full-fledged analytical and historical inquiry into the fascinating impact of globalization, the book is highly recommended.

Calling India's Freethinkers

Meera Nanda
The Hindu, May 22, 2004

A principled insistence on drawing clear distinctions between science and religion is crucial in India.

Murli Manohar Joshi has learned the hard way that astrology does not work after all. The will of the Indian voters has overturned the alignment of auspicious stars in the astrological charts of the BJP, just as it has defied the numerology of the pollsters. Indian voters have thrown out the obscurantist-in-chief and the party he represented. Even though most of the 370-million-strong voters did not consciously set out to punish the BJP for its obscurantist cultural and educational policies, they have inadvertently created the conditions where secularism has a second chance to succeed. This by itself is reason enough to cheer and hope.

But it is also a time to reflect and reaffirm the role of rationalism in the Indian society. Sure, throwing out the peddlers of superstitions is no mean task. But harder still is the task of creating a society where superstitions lose their hold on the public imagination. Ridding the government of those who would freely and arbitrarily mix science and spirituality is undoubtedly a great achievement. But greater still is achieving a society that has internalised the principle of separation between science and spirituality. Without this deeper secularisation of the cultural commonsense of the Indian people, secularism will remain a shallow legalism, forever at the risk of a saffron take-over.

This is where the intellectuals come in: the Indian voters have done their part, now the intellectuals must do theirs. Secular-minded citizens, scientists, writers, intellectuals, and the liberal, forward-looking clergy of all faiths will have to join the battle for a deeper secularisation of the Indian society. Scientists will have to step out of their laboratories and humanists will have to give up their haughty disdain for modernity. Those Left-inclined intellectuals seeking a "third position" between wholesale Westernisation and a nostalgic traditionalism will have to get over their preoccupation with cleansing modern science of its Eurocentrism. It is time for a no-nonsense commitment to the much-trashed idea of "scientific temper."

The objective of a genuine and sustainable secularisation is not to denigrate the religious impulses of ordinary people — that would be foolish, because all societies need a sense of the sacred in order to celebrate the rhythms of life and death. The purpose of secularisation is not to hasten the disappearance of the sacred, but to keep it within the limits of reason. In the case of Hinduism, secularisation must involve a critical engagement with those aspects of Hindu sacred teachings that make empirical claims regarding the presence of a disembodied spiritual element in nature "seen" in the mind's eye by mystics and yogis.

The fact is that people everywhere need a way to reconcile their faith with modern learning driven by science and technology. Fundamentalists (and unfortunately, many postmodernist defenders of "alternative epistemologies" as well) offer one way to reconcile faith with science: they relativise science and, in effect, declare religious cosmologies to be as rational within their own assumptions, as modern science is within its own materialistic and Western (or "Semitic") context. This road leads to Vedic sciences and the phony Hindutva slogans of "all truths being different only in name." Indian secularists have to offer a more honest way to reconcile Hinduism with modern science. They must refuse the cheap comforts of relativism. They must insist that all truths are not equal. In the name of respecting popular religiosity, they must not close their eyes to the glaring contradictions between what we scientifically know about how nature actually works, and what our sacred books, our gurus and our godmen preach.

The first challenge before India secularists is to carefully but firmly un-twine the wild and uncontrolled intertwining of science and spirituality that has been going on in Hinduism since the time of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century. Public intellectuals, in collaboration with progressive scientists, will have to explain — over and over again, through demonstrations and argument — why modern science is not another name for the same truths known to our Vedic forefathers. Indeed, Indian secularists will have to challenge the deep-seated and self-serving habit of Hindu apologists to draw wild parallels and equivalence between just about any shloka from the Vedas and the laws of quantum mechanics and other branches of modern science. The second challenge will be to bring what we know about the natural world through science to bear upon the cosmological assumptions of such "Vedic sciences" as astrology, vaastu, Ayurveda, yagnas, Vedic creationism, "consciousness studies" and the like. Indian secularists must sow seeds of doubt in the popular imagination about these "sciences" so that the masses reject the worldview of Hindutva on rational grounds.

A principled insistence on drawing clear distinctions between science and religion is crucial in India because Hinduism maintains a grip on this-worldly affairs by claiming to be "just another name" for science and reason. Hindu gurus and godmen stake a claim to extraordinary and extra-constitutional powers not by invoking God's commandments or by a literal reading of a sacred book — such stratagems are easy to laugh off in this day and age. Hindu apologists instead stake a right to intervene in secular matters by claiming for Hinduism a rational and empirical "holistic" knowledge of the "higher" and "subtle" levels of the material world. Indeed, even a cursory reading of the voluminous writings of Murli Manohar Joshi, K.S. Sudarshan (or any number of RSS ideologues), David Frawley, Subhash Kak, N.S. Rajaram and the host of other apologists associated with the Ramakrishna Mission and Aurobindo Ashram can show that Hinduism's unique "scientificity" constitutes the central dogma of Hindutva.

Hindutva ideologues stake their claims to make "Hindu India" into a "guru of nations" on the notion that only Hinduism is compatible with modern science, while all the "Semitic" faiths have been proven to be false by modern science. Hindutva's self-serving and entirely fallacious equation of Hinduism with modern science — Hindutva's central dogma — can be summarised as follows:
Hindu dharma is rooted in the eternal, holistic or non-mechanistic laws of nature discovered "in a flash" of insight by the "Vedic Aryans." These laws have been affirmed by modern science and therefore, Hinduism is uniquely scientific. Because the Hindus live in accord with a scientifically proven order of nature which unifies matter with higher levels of spirit, they are more rational and ecological as compared to those of Abrahamic faiths who derive their moral laws from an imaginary supernatural being, and who treat nature as mere matter, devoid of spiritual meaning. Because Hinduism is so scientific, there is no need for an Enlightenment style confrontation between faith and reason in India. To become truly and deeply scientific, Indians — indeed, the entire world — must embrace the teachings of the Vedas and Vedanta.

It was this central dogma that gave Dr. Joshi and his fellow travellers the chutzpah to install departments of Vedic astrology in public universities, to pour taxpayers' money into every superstition under the sun, and to try to take over public institutions like IITs and IIMs. It should now become the first order of business of Indian intellectuals to demolish this central dogma. We must demolish this dogma not because we do not want India to shine and prosper and take its rightful place in the community of nations.
  • We must demolish this dogma because it is based upon false parallels and correspondences between modern science and Vedic metaphysics.
  • We must demolish this dogma because it denies the existence of deeply oppressive superstitions, including the occult notion of the presence of consciousness in matter.
  • And we must demolish this dogma because of its deeply Hindu and Aryan supremacist overtones.

This dogma can only be demolished by drawing clear distinctions between scientific evidence and the evidence of religious and/or mystical experience. Clarifying what is science and what is superstition must become the top priority of India's freethinkers.

Paradigm shift

Ranjit Hoskote
The Hindu, May 3, 2005
Prophets Facing Backward
Postmodernism, Science and Hindu Nationalism
By Meera Nanda
This book is a thoughtful and provocative examination of the stratum of thought and belief that underlies the intolerant hyper-nationalism of the Hindu Right. What distinguishes Meera Nanda's book, however, is her courageous and uncompromising demonstration, from a modernist and Leftist viewpoint, of the unfortunate ideological overlap that conjoins Hindutva with some elements of the postmodernist Left, especially in its eco-feminist form. In doing so, Nanda delineates both what she terms the "reactionary modernism" of the Hindu Right, as well as the knee-jerk rejection of the supposedly colonialist and patriarchal premises of the Enlightenment that has led many postmodernists to throw the babies of science and rationality out with the bathwater of European modernity.

Ideological overlap: A scrupulous scholar, the author does not make sweeping generalisations that could blur the differences between right- wing and left-wing post-colonialism. She makes a specific distinction between the "cruder varieties of gender and Third Worldist essentialism in the writings of some postcolonial theorists" and the more carefully nuanced constructions of subalternity, marginality or resistance subjectivity as outcomes of specific confrontations between consciousness and circumstances, rather than hereditary or native identities.

That said, Nanda argues convincingly that the rampant relativism of the postmodernist — in which every society is seen to have its own rules of rationality, its own logic of historical progression and conception of truth — is not so different from the grounds that the proponents of Hindutva adduce in support of their own project. Both the postmodernist and the Hindutva proponent dismiss the possibility of universal measures of judgment for truth, justice, compassion and advancement. Thus, relativism cloaks the most arbitrary, unreasonable and violent impositions in a postcolonial context; because the absence of any common point of reference allows the most belligerent discourse to lay down the rules, justifying them with the scripture of "de-colonisation".

Paradigm of modernity: This situation is complicated, as Nanda points out, because Hindutva's champions have always been obsessed with validating their absurdities by reference to modern science. Since science, with its rationality, method and verifiability, formed the key paradigm of modernity, the Hindu Right has felt obliged either to challenge or subsume it. Thus, Hindutva imagines modernity as an incorporated past discovered afresh after centuries of enforced amnesia, while dismissing actual modernity as evidence of alienation, Westernisation or undesirable urbanisation.

It might be argued, of course, that such an attitude also grew out of the injured pride of a colonised people, who then claimed that all the fruits of modernity had been available to them in the dim past. Hence the frequently heard assertion that nuclear weapons, advanced mathematics and aerodynamic transport systems were known in Vedic times. Such popular delusions were encouraged both by mystical nationalist movements like the Arya Samaj and by alternative religiosities like those of the syncretistic and utopian Theosophical Society. Nanda draws a line of descent connecting both the Hindu Right and the more unnuanced forms of environmental resistance and feminist rhetoric with the various identitarian, racist or authenticist movements of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, which arose out of the anxieties of runaway industrialisation, sprawling urban growth and the alienation of the self from the protocols of labour and governance.

Perils of `retrievalism' : The book is a compelling account of the perils of what may be called retrievalism, the attempt to fabricate a new world on the basis of seemingly relevant elements from a lost time. The present reviewer has, elsewhere, described this phenomenon as a "radical counter-modernity: tradition treated, not as a past to be regained, but as a special form of modernity, a wager on an alternative future." Nanda's meticulously textured study invites us to consider what the future of such alternative futures can be, when they rest on dangerously inflammable assumptions. Can feminism, predicated as it is on the autonomy of the female subject from the structure of restrictions built up over the centuries, usefully adapt forms and values from peasant histories of messianic resistance that, however emancipatory they may have been for men, were oppressive to women? Can ecological activists romanticise the subaltern past merely because it is subaltern, glorious in its naïve pre-modernity?
The desire to retrieve the efficacies of "local knowledge" can lead to ambivalent results. It results in an excess of political correctness on the postmodernist Left, as when the virtues of specific ethnosciences are celebrated over the homogenising effects of modern science. It also permits the Right to elevate mantic practices to the level of academic disciplines, without bothering with empirical demonstration. At their extreme, some varieties of environmental and feminist activism become conflatable with some of Hindutva's social mobilisations.

Plea for critical sensibility: The book is a passionately argued plea for the preservation of the critical sensibility. Such a sensibility must defend itself from the expected quarters, the Right, but also secure itself against (un)friendly fire from the Left. Through her exploration of Dr. Ambedkar's project of combining a socially oriented Buddhism with the optimistic pragmatism of Dewey, Nanda also draws attention to a crucial but overlooked path to an Indian modernity. Ambedkar is often narrowly viewed as a Dalit messiah; in truth, his emancipatory vision embraced the totality of the Indian experience, and stands solidly as an alternative to the Gandhian, Nehruvian and Tagorean visions. Unfortunately, his vision has also been betrayed by Dalit activists who confine themselves to idealising Dalit "difference" as an end in itself, rather than as the beginning of a self-transformative process.

Nanda does not despair of science as a mode that articulates such a self-transformative process. She demonstrates the fatuity of treating European rationality and modern science as irredeemable instruments of repression in themselves, merely because they were institutionalised in the colonies by a repressive colonial regime. Surely a more reflective and constructive critique of their instrumentalisation is called for, rather than a dismissal tout court? Her book reminds us that such a dismissal would leave us at the mercy of the demons of repression, while denying us the liberal and liberating energies of a self-reflexive and non-dogmatic scientific approach.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dhiren Bhagat

Inkslinging Imprint, August 1983
Today he (N. J. Nanporia) spends his time writing an absolutely trashy column for Mid-day, ‘Strictly Personal’ and occasionally he takes up his dull books column on the Sunday Reviews books page. No examples are needed to convey the sheer tedium of NJN’s column: anyone who spent six months walking in the Sahara will know what I’m talking about.

Why Shourie Can’t Think Straight The Sunday Observer, December 12, 1982
Shourie is marked by his motives. Shourie’s work is often praised as insurgency journalism but… I don’t believe that mere insurgency is his motive. Perhaps the most dangerous fault in Shourie’s prose is the pseudo-scientific vocabulary he liberally uses which has the effect of dressing a dubious proposition to appear as authoritative…. Another careless feature of Shourie’s style is the frequent abstraction of types from individuals… Now a man who reduces to types nearly half the human beings he speaks of can at best be said to possess a partial vision…
Power and violence are often confused. So it is not surprising that many whose reading is confined to the daily newspaper feel that Shourie has a powerful style. What Shourie has is a bag of tricks that makes his prose more powerful than Girilal Jain’s if only because it is that much more violent. Here is a sequence from Shourie’s hatchet job… First the shrill question, a rhetorical device with which Shourie hectors the reader. Then the heavy exclamation mark... followed by a violent, clichéd metaphor. Most of Shourie’s violence is a tired violence in …. rusty prose... If rust could fight wrought Shourie would have solved all the national problems during his stint at the Express.

Khushwant: RIP The Sunday Observer, February 13, 1983
I was saddened to read that Khushwant Singh passed away in his sleep last week. What a quiet end for so loud a man. How the gods mocked the mocking…. As Khushwant once said, the obituary is the best place to tell the truth for dead men file libel suits. (An agnostic to the end he didn’t believe in the Resurrection.)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism? Demolishing a Myth

EPW Special Article
November 8, 2003
M V Nadkarni

This paper, citing evidence from the ancient scriptures, attempts to establish that Hinduism – its vedic and classic variants – did not support the caste system; it rigorously opposed it in practice and principle. Even after the emergence of the caste system, Hindu society still saw considerable occupational and social mobility. Moreover, Hinduism created legends to impress on the popular mind the invalidity of the caste system – a fact further reinforced by the constant efflorescence of reform movements throughout history. The caste system survived in spite of this because of factors that ranged from the socio-economic to the ecological, which helped sustain and preserve balance among communities in a non-modern world. …

I reject totally the myth that caste system forms an integral part of Hinduism… Hinduism can be defined, as Gandhiji did, as search for truth, non-violence, compassion for all beings and tolerance. Consistent with its commitment to search for truth, it is also marked by liberalism. Hinduism is a dynamic religion, not fixed or revealed once for all, and hence cannot be identified exclusively with the religion of the Vedas and Upanishads, nor with the religion expounded by ‘Dharmashastras’, nor with the Hinduism of the three eminent Acharyas – Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, nor also exclusively with medieval Hinduism and modern Hinduism.

All these phases represent Hinduism, and have contributed to its development. Moreover, there is no disjointedness between different phases of Hinduism, each deriving its inspiration from the previous ones. In that sense, there is both change and continuity in Hinduism. Since however, it is accepted by all as beyond controversy that medieval Bhakti movement was a protest against caste system and since it is equally well known that modern Hinduism as explained by Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and others also has rejected caste system, the focus of this paper is on previous or classical phases of Hinduism.

Because of mobility, there was no unanimity about which caste is above which caste, because each considered itself superior to the other. They competed with others in observance of purity rules to show that they were superior to others. Thus, quite a few castes considered themselves to be kshatriyas, while upper castes considered them to be shudras. To gain a higher rank in the caste system, they practised what the upper castes practised, like upanayana (sacred thread ceremony), and even certain ‘homas’ and pujas. Such attempts are called as sanskritisation by M N Srinivas (1977), through which eventually several castes gained in caste status. Sanskritisation as a process through which whole castes gained in caste status could not have been a purely 20th century phenomenon, though scholarly attention has been mostly confined to the modern period.

It is only in the dharmashastras (dharma sutras and smritis) that we find support to the caste system, and not in other canon. However, dharmashastras never had the same status as other canon known as shruti (Vedas and Upanishads) and it is laid down that whenever there is a conflict between the shruti and smriti literature, it is the former that prevails. It is Manusmriti, which is particularly supportive of caste system but where it conflicts with Vedas and Upanishads, the latter would prevail.Apasthambha dharmasutra may have supported untouchability, but it seems to be read more by those who like to attack Hinduism with it than by its followers! It is hardly regarded as canon, even if any Hindu has heard of it.

Though dharmashastras are supposed to support caste system, there is hardly unanimity about it among them. For example, as Ambedkar pointed out, though according to dharmasutras, a shudra is not entitled to upanayana, Samskara Ganapti explicitly declares shudras to be eligible for it. He also shows that according to Jaimini, the author of Purva Mimamsa, shudras could perform vedic rites. Ambedkar refers also to Bharadwaja Srauta Sutra (V 28) and Katyayana Srauta Sutra which concede eligibility to shudras to perform vedic rites [Vasant Moon 1990:198-99]. Kane points out that in spite of some other dharmashastras saying to the contrary, “Badari espoused the cause of the shudras and propounded the view that all (including shudras) were entitled to perform vedic sacrifices” [Kane 1990].

Interestingly, Manusmriti itself shows the way to demolish its own support to the caste system based on birth. In chapter 4, verse 176 clearly states: ‘Discard wealth and desire if they are contrary to dharma, and even dharma itself if it leads to unhappiness or arouses peoples’ indignation’. The first verse in chapter 2 of Manusmriti says: “Know that to be true dharma, which the wise and the good and those who are free from passion and hatred follow and which appeals to the heart”. Mahatma Gandhi was fond of quoting this verse in his lectures. According to this verse, if the wise and the good, who are free from passion and hatred, do not accept caste system based on birth as it does not appeal to the heart, the system can be discarded according to the Manusmrti itself. So much to the support of Manusmriti for the caste system.

Though Bhagvadgita (Gita) is not regarded as a part of shruti, Gita is highly regarded as sacred and is very much a part of classical Hinduism. As we shall just see even the Gita is against caste system based on birth, and not supportive to it….Far from support to the caste system, K M Panikkar considers it as constituting a devastating attack on caste based on birth. Kane says that if Krishna wanted to make birth as the basis of his division of labour, he could easily have said ‘jati-karma-vibhagashah’ or ‘janma-karma-vibhagashah’, instead of ‘guna-karma-vibhagashah’ as actually stated [Kane 1990:1635-36]. He pointed out clearly to ‘guna’. This is also consistent with what Krishna replied to Arjuna’s specific question in Uttaragita.

A posthumously published paper by M N Srinivas (2003) carries the assertive title – ‘An Obituary on Caste as a System’. Paradoxically, the system has expired but caste identities remain and show no sign of going. It looks, caste system is dead but its ghost remains. Caste as a system is taken to mean by Srinivas as involving mainly its localised social production base, subsistence economy, and jati (caste) based occupations. Alvin Toffler (1980) in his book, The Third Wave, has pointed out to the recent phenomenon of what he calls the ‘prosuming’ or ‘prosumer’, occasioned by the blurring line between producing and consuming. This refers to ‘do-it-yourself’ kits and self-service, which is becoming more prominent.

In this context, Arvind Sharma’s reinterpretation of the purusha sukta in the 10th mandala of Rg Veda is of interest. According to Sharma, the reference here need not be to social structure as such, but to combining in the same individual different duties one has to perform during one’s life, – learning, helping in the management or governance of the community and the country as in a democracy (voter being the king) including offering militancy service when needed, participation in economic or professional activities and service to society including manual labour (for one’s own benefit and for the society). In his words: ‘The idea is that all varnas are contained in every individual from now on instead of every individual being comprised within one of the varnas’ [Sharma 1996].

M N Srinivas (2003) refers to a combination of new forces in operation, responsible for the destruction of the caste system. These forces have led to the breakdown of the caste-based mode of social production in turn leading to the collapse of the caste system. The new forces are breakdown of the jajmani system, emergence of the larger market and decline of the village based subsistence production, urbanisation, and above all the rise of democracy based on adult franchise. Along with these, there is widespread acceptance of new values – equality, self-respect, and human dignity. He cites several instances of how village artisan based production has given place to factory production – mass produced edible oil replacing the oil-seed pressing caste, factory produced plastic and aluminum vessels replacing the village potter caste, urban textiles replacing the village weaver and so on. Srinivas observes significantly: “The moral is that ideological attacks on hierarchy and brahmanical claims to supremacy failed to create an egalitarian social order since at the local level the production of basic needs was intrinsically bound up with jati” (p 458)…

Hinduism has been thriving with renewed vigour thanks to such leaders as Satya Sai Baba, Mata Amritanandamayi and Sri Sri Ravishankar, and institutions like Ramakrishna Mission, Brahmakumaris and ISKON on an entirely non-caste basis. This is because caste is not intrinsic to basic principles and tenets of Hinduism as enshrined in Hindu canon. Hinduism itself has fought and is still fighting against casteism in a significant way. If caste system were intrinsic to Hinduism, Shri Narayana Guru and Mata Amritanandamayi would not have worked within the framework of Hinduism.

Address for correspondence:

Redefining secularism

By Subramanian Swamy

Professor Romila Thapar of the JNU propagated the Aryan-Dravidian two-race theory. But in 2002, in her book Penguin History of Early India she has disowned the Aryan-Dravidian race/nation theory altogether. She states now that: "To refer to `the Aryan' as a race is therefore inaccurate." Better late than never, but it is a pity that she has done it after the RSS has found power at the Centre and launched revision of textbooks.

Under cover of correcting the distorted history of India, which history had hurt the sentiments of not only the masses but of all non-anglicised intellectuals of India, the RSS has very nearly destroyed the natural appeal of secularism in the country. The RSS pracharaks have also re-defined secularism and painted it as appeasement of the minorities. This unfortunately because of the historical context has struck a responsive chord in the hearts of the Hindu masses. Hence if we are to reject the Martin Luther, Marxist, Nehruvian and the RSS version of secularism, then it is imperative to define how we are to positively structure a new concept that has appeal for the Indian masses.

To do that we have to recognise the process that the doyen of sociologists, Dr. M.N. Srinivas, had termed Sanskritisation. This term has nothing to do with the ancient language. Instead it comes from the word Sanskriti, which means culture. This learned scholar had told me years ago that the Indian masses first ape, then digest, and finally assimilate elite behaviour. He had decades of published research to prove this. The final co-option of the upward mobile sections of the masses for assimilation as elites, happens with religions sanction. To see this in reality, one has to study how the Nadars in Tamil Nadu, Ezhavas in Kerala, and Jats in Uttar Pradesh became elites in society. The Thevars may be the next caste to be so assimilated. The great Ramanuja had even assimilated well-educated Scheduled Castes into the socially prestigious priestly class.

It is my view that the real reason secularism as propounded by Nehru has floundered is that it became an obstacle to this process of Sanskritisation. That is, secularism as defined by Nehru in fact froze the Hindu social order by either nonchalance to religion or by its implied negative rebuke. It lacked the positive content of providing a process for assimilation of the lower castes into the elite. It is interesting to observe that the Hindutva propounded by the RSS has attracted more of the lower and deprived castes that the so-called upper castes. In Uttar Pradesh, the Yadavas, Kurmis, and Lodhs were the most enthusiastic adherents of Hindutva since it enabled Sanskritisation through political empowerment. The Babri Masjid was demolished by mobs of the backward castes. Uma Bharti or Sadhvi Ritambara are from these castes.

Hence, today Yadava leaders like Mulayam Singh, Kurmi leaders like Nitish Kumar and Lodh leaders like Kalyan Singh are feeling the heat of Hindutva and the pressure to conform. The RSS may be Brahmin-dominated at the leadership level, but its storm troopers like the Bajrang Dal are mostly of the Hindu "proletariat." Hence, rather than surrender or capitulate to this Hindutva blitzkrieg, and thus cause a frightening re-run of 1930s Germany in our country, secular patriotic forces now ought to and should redefine secularism as a neo-Gandhi-Patel concept rejecting the Nehruvian variety.

For this Sanskritisation should be promoted by a call declaring the caste system as anti-Hindu. Not that it will abolish the caste system, but it will begin the ferment for it. There is sufficient theological basis for such a call. Dr. M.V. Nadkarni has written a masterpiece on this in Economic and Political Weekly (November 8, 2003) titled "Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism — Demolishing a Myth." He has made out a convincing case that birth-based caste system is actually against the tenets of Hindu religion. Incidentally, Dr. Ambedkar, himself a scholar of Hindu religion and history, has all along held this view in his numerous and now buried writings. Dalit writers of today have totally distorted his concepts, and hence contributed to the obscuring of his writings.

Only an approach of incorporating Sankritisation in a concept of secularism can insulate the Indian mind from communal pollution and halt fascism. Indian culture needs modernisation, but not westernisation. In other words, we have to set religion to curb religious fanaticism in India much as Vivekananda, Subramania Bharati and Gandhiji had tried to do. The task is incomplete and in fact interrupted by the Nehru interlude and the RSS vulgarisation. It needs to be boldly rectified today.

(The writer is president, Janata Party.)

Friday, July 08, 2005

First, it was the Times of India, a decade back. It tried to break all the rules so that it can rule the roost. And, it worked. Via Delhi Times, it re-wrote the whole ethics of reporting and journalism. The new India lapped it up. From MTV to FTV, India has undergone a transformation, the magnitude of which is difficult to reckon or document. But all attempts to metamorphosis has a limit, for you can forever change into a new entity. And there comes the need for restraint. The Times of India discovered it lately. It crawled back into being a classic newspaper. Perhaps it makes commercial sense too, for, there is a huge audience which waits evey morning for a newspaper, not a magazine.
Now it seems TOI has planted a mole in the HT stable. Somebody is trying his level best to destroy the old HT ethos and make it look like the blued-jackal of our old parable. Now HT uses banner headlines and half-page photographs, not of much import. It is hell bent to destroy its front page. Its anaemic body seems to fall off some day. God save the HT!
It's difficult to understand whether the newspapers are meant for readers or picture browsers. Technology has facilitated the use of visuals but they need not ease out the words. Unfortunately newspaper pages are being designed as posters. And we get big stories and special reports spanning a full page. Huge cartoons, giant graphics, bloated photographs adorn the centestage. Words are squeezed out to the periphery. The reader, always short of time, is intimidated. He simply turns over the page.
That somebody has produced a film in black and white, today, is really a heroic venture. So, who'd fight against the tyranny of the visuals in the newspapers? Can we expect a special supplement in every paper which respects the intelligence of the reader and offers him food for thought?