A reply to Dr Zakir Naik – Maria Wirth

Ishwara

Maria WirthIf you are sincere, Dr Naik, you will realise that the wisdom of your ancestors scores high over the worldview and the mind-set of Abrahamic religions. The attitude of “We alone are right and you go to hell if you don’t accept our religion” is doing great harm to humanity. It may be helpful for world dominion, but do you want to live in a world where everyone has to wear a straight-jacket? — Maria Wirth

Hindus generally don’t criticise other religions in spite of the fact that Christianity and Islam not only criticise, but demean Hinduism badly. Zakir Naik is only one example. Do Hindus know what is preached in the innumerable churches and mosques across India? I know for sure that Hindu gods are called devils by Christian missionaries. Yet Hindus neither defend their gods nor challenge the Abrahamic dogmas in spite of having a solid philosophical basis for their beliefs, which is lacking in Christianity and Islam.

Zakir NaikSome years ago, Zakir Naik had ridiculed Ganapati and thrown a challenge to prove that Ganapati is God. I assume he means by God the Supreme Being that Muslims call Allah.

Now what do we know about Allah?

Foremost, Allah is great and merciful, and the faithful as well as the unfaithful are loudly reminded of it five times a day. He also knows what all human beings are doing, but is separate from them. It is claimed that Allah has communicated his final words to Prophet Mohammed. Those words are in the Quran. Allah declared that Islam alone is true. So, all human beings must follow Islam because other paths are wrong. And they must hurry up, because every human being has only one life.

Those, who do not accept Islam during their lifetime, will be thrown into eternal hell-fire where “boiling water will be poured over their heads that not only melts their skin but also the inner parts of their bellies….” (Quran 22:19-22)

Clearly, here is where Allah’s mercy ends. He does not brook any dissent. And the azan, which started compassionately, ends with: “Oh Allah, guide us to the Right Way. The Way of those whom You have favoured, not of those who have earned Your wrath….” (Al-Fatiha 1)

This means, Allah is merciful only to his followers who are called Muslims and he is wrathful to those who are not Muslims.

Dr. Zakir Naik, I am confident that I got the concept of ‘God’ in Islam right because Christianity has a similar concept. And I dare to claim that it is not true. Can you prove (and this challenge goes also to Christian clerics) that Allah / God is indeed so unfair and divisive? Can you prove there will be this huge cauldron of fire where billions of people will burn for ever after Judgment Day? Do these claims of “eternal hell-fire for unbelievers” not rather have the purpose to keep the flock in check? To divide and rule?

There are about two billion Christians, who are told they have to remain Christians, otherwise they can’t go to heaven. And then there are about two billion Muslims who are told that they have to remain Muslims, otherwise they can’t go to paradise. Both religions had plenty of time to sort out which one is true, but they did not do it. Why? Because they cannot prove it. They can only make claims and counterclaims and fight among themselves, between Muslims and Christians and with heathens or infidels. They do this for the last 2000 years.

Under these circumstances, can anyone claim that Islam or Christianity is beneficial for humanity? Is it not time to have a thorough check of what REALLY is the truth?

In regard to the absolute Truth, Dr. Zakir Naik, your ancestors, the Indian Rishis, made valuable contributions and you can be proud of them. In ancient times, long, long before Christianity or Islam appeared on the scene, the Rishis had a very mature understanding of Brahman which would be ‘Truth’ or ‘Supreme Being’ or ‘God’ in English. Brahman is not personal, not a superhuman entity somewhere in heaven, not male or female, not jealous of other gods, not revengeful if ignored, but It is sat-chit-ananda, the conscious, one essence in all names and forms—like the one ocean is the essence of all the waves.

The Rishis realised that this universe is a wrong perception of Brahman. They called it maya, not really true, only apparently true.

For anything to qualify as absolute Truth, it has to be always—past, present and future—and it has to be self-evident.

The Rishis came to the conclusion that nothing fulfils these criteria except pure (=thought free) consciousness. This consciousness is here and now, always, everywhere. Yet we miss it because we focus only on things or thoughts, emotions, etc.—like, when we focus a torchlight in a room only on the furniture and miss the empty space. Infinite space, which throbs with life and love is actually a good metaphor for sat-chit-ananda—the highest truth that underlies names and forms (nama-rupa).

Science has meanwhile discovered the sat aspect of the truth. Oneness is there. To discover that this Oneness is also aware (chit) and blissful (ananda) scientists would need to turn to their own consciousness to research further instead of looking outside. Let us see whether the scientists will support also the claim of the Rishis that this whole manifestation is alive and full of bliss.

In one point, however, you are right, Dr. Zakir Naik: There is only one Truth, one God, which the wise call by different names. But the nature of it you got wrong. It does not send non-Muslims or non-Christians eternally into hell-fire. The Supreme Being is indeed merciful and great.

GaneshaBut you wanted to know whether Ganapati is a deity.

May I explain a bit of your ancestors’ tradition which struck me as most profound when I came to know of it?

Sanatana Dharma is not only about intellectually knowing sat-chit-ananda, but about realising it. Since Brahman is all-pervading, it must be also in us (ayam atma brahma). So we can tap and feel it. For this, however, we need to follow certain rules. We need to purify ourselves, lead a moral life, speak the truth, etc. To eat plenty of meat and have plenty of sex is not conducive for this purification. Yet one factor is very conducive: bhaktilove for God.

Here Hindu Dharma brings in Ishwara.

The concept of Ishwara is close to the Abrahamic notion of a personal God but more benevolent. There is of course no eternal hell for unbelievers. Everyone gets chance after chance in life after life till he realises that he is not a separate wave, but one with the ocean.

Ishwara is God with attributes and has innumerable aspects, as this universe has innumerable aspects or human nature has innumerable aspects. These aspects are personified in different deities and the devotee can choose the one who is dearest to him. It helps to develop love for the invisible Truth—for example through Ganapati.

Those Devas are mistakenly much maligned by Christianity and Islam. They are not separate entities but kind of access points to the one Brahman, which is otherwise unimaginable. It is possible to feel familiar with them, to love them, to talk with them. And the scriptures leave no doubt that Devas are ultimately Brahman.

And here, Dr. Naik, you may get an answer to your question whether Ganapati is ultimately the Supreme Being.

The Ganapati Atharvashirsa Upanishad, which is part of the Atharva Veda, states: “Tvameva kevalam karta si, tvameva kevalam dharta si, tvameva kevalam harta si. Tvameva sarvam khalvidam brahmasi, tvam saksadatma si nityam.”

It means: You alone are the creator, You alone are the sustainer, You alone are the annihilator. All this is Brahman and You are that Brahman. You are indeed the Atman eternally.

This declaration, however, is not unique for Ganapati. It is said for other deities, too.

Yet the fact that this is written in a sacred text, is not proof enough. There are plenty of sacred texts in this world and if everything in them is blindly accepted as true, we end up with all kind of proclaimed truths which are not true. We need to verify what is declared as truth on the touchstone of reason, intuition and experience. If it contradicts all of these, it is not worth believing it and certainly not dying for it.

The proof that all deities are Brahman is because only Brahman really exists. Brahman is like the ocean. The waves are not separate from it. The name with which one worships the Divine, does not matter. What matters is how much devotion one feels. The greater the devotion, the more miracles can happen. Ganapati is loved by millions of Hindus worldwide. He is the door through which they try to access sat-chit-ananda.

Sanatana Dharma is very ancient. And yet the Rishis had such deep insights, for example that the world is a wrong perception of what is really true, like seeing a snake at dusk when in fact there is only a rope. Max Planck Universe PhotoWesterners who ridiculed Hindus because they believe that the world is an illusion keep now quiet as science supports the Hindu view.

Meanwhile NASA scientists have detected the building blocks of DNA in meteorites. The Max Planck Institute in Germany published the first picture of the whole universe. It had an oval shape. Could it be possible that those who ridicule Hindus for worshipping a Shiva lingam might soon rethink their attitude, as well, lest they embarrass themselves?

Great men have come and gone in India’s ancient civilisation. Some have been made into gods. There is nothing wrong with it. The Divine is in all.

It should make you reflect, Dr. Naik that science keeps validating the insights of the Rishis, for example the mind-boggling age of the universe, or the ultimate Oneness of all.

Attempts to vilify Indian tradition by you and others are successful because the British weaned Indians away from their tradition and most people know little about it. Yet if you are sincere, you will realise that the wisdom of your ancestors scores high over the worldview and the mind-set of Abrahamic religions. The attitude of “We alone are right and you go to hell if you don’t accept our religion” is doing great harm to humanity. It may be helpful for world dominion, but do you want to live in a world where everyone has to wear a straight-jacket?

If I were you, Dr. Naik, I would be worried especially about one thing: what if you wake up after death and there is NO paradise waiting for you? What if all those jihadis, who were inspired by you, cursed you after realising there was no paradise for them? What if you are taking birth again in another form and reap the fruits of your actions of this life where you consciously or unconsciously distorted the truth? Rebirth is not only mentioned in the Indian texts. There is also plenty of evidence for it—over 2500 cases are documented in the archive of Virginia University.

Dr. Naik, I don’t know how deeply you believe what you preach. I know from personal experience how effective brainwashing in childhood can be. But I also know that it is possible to get out of it, and it seems the older one is, the easier.

For me, it was a great relief to come out of the Christian religious straight-jacket and I would encourage you to also genuinely enquire into the truth. Your concept of God is not Truth. You quote a book as support. Truth does not fit into a book. Truth is THAT WHAT TRULY IS.

Your ancestors, the Indian Rishis, spoke from experience, not from book knowledge.

» Maria Wirth is a German psychologist and author who has lived in Uttarakhand for decades.

 Atman Brahman

Does Hinduism really have thirty-three crore Gods? – P. Parihar

Rishi

The Vedas refer to 33 koti (types) of Devatas, not 33 crore of Devatas. They are explained in Shatapatha Brahman and many other scriptures very clearly.

“Yasya Trayastrinshad Devaa Ange Sarve Samaahitaa, Skamma Tam Bruhi Katamah Swideva Sah” (Atharva Veda 10/7/13).

Which means: With God’s influence, these thirty-three (supporting Devatas) sustain the world.

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad while discussing Brahman, Yajnavalkya is asked how many Gods are there. He says that there are three hundred and three, [then he says there are] three thousand and three Gods. When the question is repeated, he says thirty-three. When the question is again repeated, he says six. Finally, after several repetitions, he says one (BU 1/9/1).

The number thirty-three comes from the number of Vedic Gods explained by Yajnavalkya in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad—the eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras, the twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapati (BU 1/9/2).

  • Eight Vasus: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether, Moon, Sun, and Star. They are called Vasus because they are abode of all that lives, moves or exists (also mentioned in Mahabharata 1/66/18).
  • Eleven Rudras: The ten Pranas (Prana, Apana, Vyana, Samana, Udana, Nag, Kurma, Krikal, Devadutta and Dhananjaya) i.e. nervauric forces which live in the human body. The eleventh is the human soul. These are called Rudras because when they desert the body, it becomes dead and the relations of the deceased, consequently, begin to weep. Rudra means one who makes a person to weep (also mentioned in Harivamsha 13/51-52).
  • Twelve Adityas: The twelve months of a year called Adityas, they cause the lapse of the term of existence of each object or being (also mentioned in Mahabharata 1/65/15-16).
  • One Indra, which is also known as the (all-pervading) electricity as it is productive of great force.
  • One Prajapati, also called the “Yajna” because it benefits mankind by the purification of air, water, rain and vegetables and because it aids the development of various arts, and in it the honor is accorded to the learned and the wise.

The master of these thirty-three Devatas is the Mahadeva or Ishwar who alone is to be worshipped as per the 14th Kanda of Shatapatha Brahman. — Hinduism and Sanatan Dharma, 17 April 2014

Lamps

Yoga is the basis for a true idea of India – David Frawley

Surya Namaskar

Dr David FrawleyYoga with its integral and unitary view of life is in many ways more progressive, global and universal than any other philosophy or ideology today. – Dr David Frawley

Today two different ideas of India are struggling with each other in a cultural war that is likely to continue for some time.

The first can be called the “Nehruvian idea” of a modern post-independence India as a multicultural, secular, socialist state striving to be culturally neutral and socially progressive. The predominant thinkers behind it are from the Left, including a number of Marxists.

The second or what could be called the “Bharatiya idea” is that of India as a great ancient civilisation and perhaps the most important spiritual culture on the planet. We could also call this “yogic India”. The predominant thinkers behind it follow traditional spiritual and cultural practices and include many gurus and swamis.

There has been some overlap between these two ideas of India; particularly during the independence movement in which India’s ancient heritage was evoked to awaken national pride. Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of India was much more traditional than that of Nehru.

The Nehruvian idea is that of the Congress. It is unusual in two ways. The first comprises the embracing of socialism—a term Indira Gandhi added in the Preamble to the Constitution in 1976—at a constitutional level. Today socialist states have all but disappeared and appear to be an anachronism from the 20th century.

The second is its idea of secularism, which includes special restrictions and taking of revenue from the Hindu majority but not minorities. This kind of anti-majority secularism is not found in other countries.

The yogic or “Bharatiya” idea is the main inspiration of the ruling BJP. The current Narendra Modi government at the Centre has proposed a number of initiatives for honouring India’s older culture. Its effort to replace Marxist interpretations of India’s history with views that better acknowledge the region’s spiritual and dharmic ethos is often criticised.

Other such initiatives include promoting pilgrimage to sacred sites in India that are predominantly Hindu and Buddhist. Votaries of the Nehruvian idea regard these changes as a dangerous imposition of Hindu values upon the secular state.

Narendra Modi 2015Yoga Day and promoting yoga

A major part of the BJP’s traditional cultural agenda comprises promoting yoga, dramatically portrayed in the International Yoga Day last year and the worldwide celebrations the accompanied it. The promotion of yoga this year includes new government proposals for yoga training in the schools, and to develop yoga teachers at various levels from exercise teachers to masters of the yogic philosophy and meditation. Such an initiative is unique in the world today.

The fact is that if one travels outside of India, he would realise that it is the yogic idea of India that people are most aware of, along with India’s great gurus. Few people know much about Nehru and generally look at him in the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi. There is a fear about India’s spiritual traditions and their growing global influence.

India’s yogic culture has spread worldwide since Swami Vivekananda opened it to the world in Chicago in 1893. It now embraces all aspects of yoga, including bhakti or devotion, with the popularity of kirtan as a musical form in the West.

It promotes mantra and meditation, yogic philosophy and the study of the Yoga Sutras. Yet it also includes Ayurvedic medicine, Sanskrit, and Indian music and dance. Many individuals outside India have devoted their lives and resources to following these teachings.

Yoga Day is the Modi government’s most visible initiative supporting and reclaiming India’s traditional culture and presenting it to the world. It shows that the older spiritual idea of India is still strong and is undergoing a resurgence. Yoga Day is likely to continue as a major event for India and the global yoga community for years to come.

We should note that yoga with its integral and unitary view of life is in many ways more progressive, global and universal than any other philosophy or ideology today.

Yoga is the basis for the true idea of India. It is not a political concept, but the exploration of consciousness as the main cultural value of the country, and goes back thousands of years. – Daily-O, 20 June 2016

» Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) is a Vedacharya and includes in his unusual wide scope of studies Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient teachings of the oldest Rigveda. Tweet him at @davidfrawleyved.

President Pranab Mukherjee inaugurates Yoga Day at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, 21 June 2016

Narendra Modi

Yoga exponent Ramdev, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu, BJP MPs Meenakshi Lekhi, Manoj Tiwari and others practice Yoga during a yoga camp ahead of the International Yoga Day on June 21, at Rajpath in New Delhi on Sunday, June 21, 2016

Richard Rahul Verma

Yoga teacher training in Rishikesh

Hindu Temples: Demand for ritual change misplaced – Unnikrishna Panicker

Hindu Temple

Unnikrishna Panicker“The demand for change in some practices, like the ban on women’s entry in Sabarimala, is politically motivated. Can practices rooted in Sanatana Dharma be altered? At a time when a few demand a ‘timely change’ in rituals and the very philosophy of Hinduism, this question is of prime importance.” – Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker

Most of the Hindu practices have changed with time. We have corrected many wrong practices of the past century. Those, who were not allowed to enter temples once, enter and worship now. Bloody and gory rituals once widely practised have ceased in the last century. It must be this history that inspires a few to demand more changes, which is not a bad idea in itself. Some current practices indeed go against tradition and rituals. For example, using elephants for processions is not what the rituals demand.

But the demand for change in some practices, like the ban on women’s entry in Sabarimala, is politically motivated. Can practices rooted in Sanatana Dharma be altered? At a time when a few demand a “timely change” in rituals and the very philosophy of Hinduism, this question is of prime importance. The temple culture practised in Kerala today is not very old. Historians say they are not older than 10th century CE. In other words, Sanatana Dharma and a proper Hindu form of temple worship started gaining popularity in Kerala after Judaism and Christianity reached here. This, however, does not mean that the rituals themselves originated in that period. The scriptures that Kerala temples follow when it comes to rituals Kodungallur Bhagavathy Deviand rules originated in Kerala and quote some of the ancient Hindu texts. They have taken into consideration regional beliefs and practices and tried to accommodate them while prescribing rituals. The rituals are not as inflexible as they are made out to be.

It was the great Kalidasa who wrote that all that is old need not be good, and all that is new need not be bad. Only a moodah (fool) will follow what others say without thinking about it. Unfortunately, when it comes to rituals, we follow what others say without putting any thought into it. In the case of Hindu rituals, what makes a practice customary is not its age but whether it is in line with the method of worship and rituals mentioned in authoritative texts.

Many customs in Kerala temples have no scriptural authority. For example, there is no textual basis for the ban on women’s entry into Sabarimala. Though texts like Tantrasamuchaya discuss what makes a temple impure in detail, the fact is there is no clear rule that bans women’s entry. But it will not be wise to conclude that such practices should be stopped because there is no textual rule. Another example is the use of elephants in temples. There is no textual rule that supports this cruel practice. One of the most authoritative texts on elephants, Matangaleela, says elephants won’t be comfortable if they are taken away from their natural habitat. Yet, we keep using elephants.

Not all rituals have a textual basis. In fact, some rituals go against the text too. To make rituals and customs similar across the temples would be to go against the very essence of Hinduism, as such an attempt would undermine the multicultural practices that exist in the Hindu compendium. Some historians argue that the Shiva and Vishnu temples of Kerala were once abodes of Devi. Legendary stories about the origin of most Devi temples in Kerala have many similarities.

Something common for most of these temples existed, even before Sanatana Dharma and Hindu practices became common in Kerala. Something that is as old as the language connects these temples. Even though temple culture did not exist in those times, there would have been a similarity in religious practices and beliefs. Most rituals and customs can be directly or indirectly linked to this ancient belief system that existed here, before Shaiva/Vaishnava/Devi belief systems and a structured kshethraachaara became prevalent in South India. It is not possible to find a basis to these practices in texts and scriptures, or to bring uniformity in existing practices.

If the practices that exist today cannot be made uniform, and if scriptural authority is not the criteria to decide whether a practice is ritualistic or not, on what basis should we try to redesign them? We need to redesign the practices. This, however, does not mean we can be judgmental. Most of the rituals, even Kerala Temple Elephantsthose that are seemingly outdated, started at a different time, under a different value system. We cannot judge them using today’s value system.

A research on Kerala temples, published seven decades ago, writes about the “indecent practices” of animal sacrifice and bawdy language. Both these practices do exist today. The difference is that we have become more mature and know the historical reasons behind these practices. There was a time when elephants were ritually killed, as a sacrifice, in Kerala. We have stopped such practices. If stopping such practices is not seen as a compromise on rituals, we can surely stop using elephants in temples altogether; that will not be a compromise on rituals either.

The case of ban on women’s entry in certain temples is different. We saw that the Hindu temple culture accommodated regional beliefs while structuring temple worship. The practice of ban on women’s entry, I believe, is a remnant of those regional beliefs. So, the argument that a ban on women’s entry goes against the broadness and openness of Hinduism is misplaced. We need to think about the criteria by which the rituals are redesigned. It is difficult to answer what these criteria should be. But answering a few related questions would help us get there.

Who needs a change in rituals? Whose demand is it? If it is the demand of practising Hindus and priests, there is a further question. Why do we need a change? It should not be politically motivated. One of the fundamental characteristics of Hinduism is its openness. We should not downgrade that by bringing rituals, traditions and practices into a common framework. – The New Indian Express, 19 May 2016

» Unnikrishna Panicker of Parappanangadi in Kerala is said to be Jayalalithaa’s most trusted astrologer.

Pilgrims at Sabarimala

Indic thought inspiring great minds holds many lessons – Anirban Ganguly

Robert Oppenheimer

Dr Anirban Ganguly“Fritjof Capra and the epochal minds who preceded him never shied away from exploring the links between philosophy, mysticism, languages, scriptures, sciences and mathematics. They sustained themselves on the continuous energy that they derived from sources of Indic thought. Wouldn’t they laugh at the facile and false controversy raging in India, on Sanskrit, IITs, science and mathematics?” – Dr Anirban Ganguly

Seven-odd decades ago when the first atomic bomb was exploded in Los Alamos, Robert Oppenheimer, the die-hard physicist who led the project, was struck by what he saw. What dominated Oppenheimer’s mind that point of time when one of the most decisive moments of human history unfolded by was not a mathematical formula but the verse from the Bhagavad Gita, which said, “Divi soorya-sahasrasya bhaved yugapad utthitaa yadi bhaah sadrshi saa syaad, bhaasas tasya mah’aatmanaah! Kaalo’smi loka-kshaya-krt pravrddho lokaan samaahartum iha pravrttah” (What brilliance there would have been if a thousand suns were to blaze forth all of a sudden in the sky. To that was comparable the splendour of that great Being).”

Sri KrishnaOppenheimer recalled later, with great emotion, how the verse from the “Hindu scripture” flashed before him, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another. An entire battery of physicists whose researches altered the course of history, Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr—who had famously observed that “I go into the Upanishads to ask questions”—Werner Heisenberg—who had observed how “quantum theory will not look ridiculous to people who have read Vedanta”—along with Erwin Schrödinger formed part of that group, which regularly and seriously delved into the depths of Indic thought and philosophy to derive direction or to be further convinced of the line of their scientific quest.

Heisenberg revealed in an interview to that other profound scholar of Eastern mysticism and modern physics, Fritjof Capra, that “while he was working on quantum theory, he went India to lecture and was a guest of Rabindranath Tagore.” Capra talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy. “Heisenberg told me,” he recalled, “that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy.”

Capra, in the introduction to his opus The Tao of Physics, for example, discusses a deeply personal spiritual experience, which revealed to him—a physicist by training and predilection—the cosmic Dance of Shiva, “I knew also that the earth’s atmosphere was continually bombarded by showers of ‘cosmic rays’, Natarajaparticles of high energy undergoing multiple collisions as they penetrated the air. All this was familiar to me from my research in high-energy physics, but until that moment I had only experience through graphs, diagrams and mathematical theories. As I sat on that bench, my former experiences came to life; I ‘saw’ cascades of energy coming down from outer space, in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses; I ‘saw’ that atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy; I felt its rhythm and I ‘heard’ its sound, and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva, the Lord of Dance worshipped by the Hindus.”

Capra and the epochal minds who preceded him never shied away from exploring the links between philosophy, mysticism, languages, scriptures, sciences and mathematics. They sustained themselves on the continuous energy that they derived from sources of Indic thought. Wouldn’t they laugh at the facile and false controversy raging in India, on Sanskrit, IITs, science and mathematics?

Too often we forget how civilisational India inspired great minds across the globe. – The New Indian Express, 7 May 2016

» Dr Ganguly is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter @anirbanganguly.

Brahman

Sri Aurobindo and his Idea of India – Anirban Ganguly

Dr Anirban Ganguly“Sri Aurobindo’s vision of India had no place for pseudo-secularism, vote-bank politics and repudiation of Bharatiya civilisation. The Sage was also the quintessential internationalist, yet his internationalism was not a rootless cosmopolitanism but steeped in Sanatana Dharma” – Dr Anirban Ganguly Continue reading

A Partisan Constitution: Why the law is loaded against the Sabarimala Temple authorities – R. Jagannathan

Supreme Court Justice Dipak Misra

R. Jagannathan“When did anything with a religious dimension have pure ‘rationalism’ as its core? In fact, our Constitution itself hardly passes the test of rationality in the way it framed provisions on religious rights.” – R. Jagannathan

Given the trend of questioning in the Supreme Court, where women activists are fighting a ban on the entry of menstruating women in Sabarimala, it is clear that the temple authorities are fighting a losing battle.

Supreme Court of India in New DelhiOn 11 April, the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra asked questions that cannot but indicate how the case is going. Among the questions asked: “What right does the temple have to forbid women from entering any part of the temple? Every argument has to meet the test of constitutionality.”

Then: “Can you deny a woman her right to climb Mount Everest? The reasons banning anything must be common for all.”

Or take these questions and observations: “Why this kind of classification for devotees to visit the temple? We are on constitutional principles. Gender discrimination in such matters is untenable. You cannot create corrosion or erosion in constitutional values.”

And, finally: “We will be guided by (a) rational dimension and that is the Constitution. I just believe in the Constitution.”

The last one takes the cake. When did anything with a religious dimension have pure “rationalism” as its core? In fact, our Constitution itself hardly passes the test of rationality in the way it framed provisions on religious rights.

The contrast with the US Constitution is stark. The US Constitution has just 16 words to describe its approach to religious freedom, while we have multiple articles in our tome. The first amendment to the US Constitution, which deals with religious and other freedoms, has this to say:Our constitution has an imbalanced approach to religious issues. In fact, it ties itself in knots by professing one high principle in one place, and then allowing exceptions to this principle in other places when it involves another community.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

This simple sentence allows religious groups to practice what they preach: this could include the right to discriminate against homosexuals, oppose abortion, or practice polygamy (Mormons) or whatever, as long as an individual claims it is part of his or her religious faith or practice.

India, on the other hand, has elements in the constitution that say contradictory things. One part will say such laws will apply only to Hindus (including Sikhs, etc), and another says some laws will not apply to others. Our constitution is egalitarian in spirit, but discriminatory in many of its provisions.

Thus, civil laws will apply to Hindus, but not minorities.

Thus, you can make laws that discriminate against beef-eating, and still claim you don’t’ discriminate against minorities who want to eat beef.

Thus, you can make laws (like the Right to Education) that are supposed to be applicable to all, but not minority-unaided institutions.

Thus, you can profess the right to religious freedom, but states can also put in laws to hinder it.

This is why the Supreme Court can claim it is following the constitution, even while defeating the spirit of it.

Haji Ali Dargah MumbaiThe real villains are Articles 25, 29 and 30. Article 25 gives the state the right to interfere in how Hindu temples are run, but articles 29 and 30 give minorities the right to run their own institutions according to their own traditions and culture. This is why Sabarimala is a losing battle, but Haji Ali may not be.

Article 25 is about “Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.”

It says: “(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.”

This should have given Sabarimala the space to argue that its practices are part of its religious belief, but there is an important “but” in Article 25.

It says: “(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the state from making any law (a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice; (b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.”

Article 25(2)(b) would thus allow the Supreme Court, if not the government, to claim that Sabarimala is an institution of public character and should be “open to all classes and sections of Hindus.”

Given the recent tendency of the Supreme Court to make the law rather than just interpret it, the fact that the Kerala government is on the Sabarimala temple’s side may not matter much.

On the other hand, Article 29 gives minorities the right to protect their culture and institutions. It says, inter alia, that “(1) Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.”

If Sabarimala had not been covered under Article 25(2)(b) which gives the state the right to enforce its own idea of egalitarianism, it could have claimed protection under Article 29. Article 29 negates a part of the ideas in Article 25. Giving minorities a right not enjoyed by a majority is essentially iniquitous, but the Supreme Court may not spend much time discussing this anomaly.

Clearly, the Indian Constitution is a mish-mash of contradictory provisions. It needs to be seriously rewritten.

This is not to say that Sabarimala is right to keep out menstruating women, but we can’t deny that our laws are wonky. – Firstpost, 12 April 2016

» R. Jagannathan is the editorial director of Swarajya Magazine in Mumbai.

Women yatris returning from Sabarimala

See also

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,446 other followers

%d bloggers like this: