Sarathi Baba no match for Asaram Bapu, worth less than Rs 13 crore – Rakesh Dixit

Sarathi Baba

Anti Sarathi Baba demonstration in Odisha

Sarathi Baba Arrested“Sources said that decision to arrest godman, who used to attract followers by performing magic tricks, was taken after his intensive grilling and proof about his huge wealth and sexual exploitation of women. The Crime Branch team found evidence of blackmailing of young women with their nude photos taken by cameras hidden in bathrooms of the lodge inside the ashram.” – Rakesh Dixit

After days of violent agitations against him, self-styled godman Sarathi Baba alias Santosh Raula was on Saturday, [August 8th] arrested by state Crime Branch which has decided to take him on five-day remand. 

Crime Branch ADG B. K. Sharma said that 47-year-old Sarathi, who made it big as a godman in the last 10 years, was arrested under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 420 (cheating) 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 506 (criminal intimidation), 379 (theft) of the Indian Penal Code and the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. 

Sarathi, whose shenanigans became a matter of public debate after local TV channels ran reports about his stay at a posh Hyderabad hotel last month along with a young medicine student, was arrested following initial questioning at the Crime Branch headquarters in Cuttack, where he was brought from his ashram at Barimula in Kendrapara early on Saturday, [August 8th]. 

Sharma said a special team of Crime Branch led by an Additional SP had been to the Barimula ashram and submitted a report after investigation. 

“Based on the report, the Crime Branch registered a case (No-17) at the CID police station,” said Sharma. 

He said the Crime Branch team had seized important documents, bank documents, gold, silver and cash from the ashram. 

Significantly, two swords were seized from the ashram following which section 25 of the Arms Act has been slapped. He has also been charged under Section 7 of Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988. 

The seizures from the ashram included bank and property documents, 15 kg of silver, 54.1 grams of gold, cash worth Rs 2.28 lakh and 55 kg of metal coins with pictures of the godman. Crime Branch has asked for seizure of the godman’s bank accounts. 

Sources said that decision to arrest godman, who used to attract followers by performing magic tricks, was taken after his intensive grilling and proof about his huge wealth and sexual exploitation of women. 

The Crime Branch team found evidence of blackmailing of young women with their nude photos taken by cameras hidden in bathrooms of the lodge inside the ashram. 

While three bank accounts worth Rs 30 lakh of the godman, who hails from Ganjam, were seized, the sleuths also got hold of his passport. 

The godman, who is alleged to have bought a flat worth Rs 55 lakh in Bhubaneswar, also had dealings with people involved in the chit fund scam. 

The arrest followed violent protests against the godman in different parts of the state, including Kendrapara in which at least 100 people have been injured and over two dozen arrested so far. 

While Kendrapara superintendent of police Satish Gajbhiye was shifted immediately following allegations of high-handedness, the lawyers’ association has announced a state-wide bandh on August 10 against police atrocities in Kendrapara. – Mail Online India,  8 August 2015

Cash CollectionsSarathi Baba’s finances under Crime Branch radar – Rakesh Dixit

The Odisha Crime Branch is focusing on financial transactions of self-styled godman Sarathi Baba also known as Santosh Raula who was interrogated for the third day on Tuesday with three separate teams of sleuths checking as many as 18 bank accounts of the spiritual guru and his trust.

Sources said so far the Crime Branch has come across proof of deposits worth over Rs 2.5 crore in the seized bank accounts most of which are in Kendrapara. It has also gathered proof of 11 plots belonging to the Baba and his trust. He also owns a house worth Rs 55 lakh in Bhubaneswar.

Crime Branch teams checked records pertaining to the 47-year-old godman in the income tax office and the sub-registrar’s office in Kendrapara. Additional director general of police of Crime Branch, B.K. Sharma, said that the godman will be produced in the court of sub-divisional judicial magistrate (SDJM), Cuttack, on Wednesday at the end of his three-day remand period. The court will be requested to extend his remand by another five days.

Thirteen associates of the godman were also questioned by the Crime Branch. One of them, Khaga, had been accused of blackmail by the girl who had accompanied Sarathi to Hyderabad last month. They had stayed at a posh hotel in the southern city. The sleuths had also recorded the statement of the girl on Monday.

“We have found plots in the name of the godman at prime locations in Puri, Bhubaneswar and Khordha, two houses in Bhubaneswar and one in Kendrapara town,” said a senior Crime Branch official.

Sources said during the search operation at the godman’s ashram in Kendrapara, the sleuths came to know that a woman was staying in one of the rooms for a long time. They also checked the visitors’ register and conducted the measurement of 2.5 acres of the land on which the ashram has been built.

Meanwhile, Congress and BJP, the two major opposition parties of the state, stepped up their agitation demanding suspension and arrest of former Kendrapara SP Satish Gajbhiye who was transferred following the alleged excesses committed by him during the protests against the godman on August 7.

State BJP president KV Singh Deo said his party would be satisfied with nothing less than the arrest of the police officer who had crossed all limits of decency. “If necessary, pressure would be put on the Centre for acting against him,” said Singh Deo adding that Union Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural gas Dharmendra Pradhan had also criticised the SP. – India Today, 12 August 2015

Sarathi Temple BarimulaGopis queued up for Sarathi Baba’s ‘gupt seva’ after 11 pm – Akshaya Kumar Sahoo

The crime branch of Odisha police has claimed to have unearthed startling facts from controversial godman Srimad Sarathi Baba alias Santosh Raul with regard to his alleged immoral activities as well as accumulation of huge assets by deceitful means.

The godman, who was arrested on Saturday, claimed himself as incarnation of Lord Krishna and wanted his devotees, mainly women followers, to love him as gopis.

In the line of the rituals of Puri’s Jagannath temple, Sarathi Baba’s ashram too designed some rituals, like Anant Sayan or deep sleep on a specially designed cot fitted with a wooden seven-hood snake decorated with gold and silver ornaments.

After the devotees leave the ashram at around 11 pm, Sarathi Baba would recline in his restroom and asked his confidants to let in the women devotees who desired to perform the Gupta Seva or secret ritual. These women were gifted with designer dresses, sarees and gold and silver ornaments, sources in the CB said.

In fact, the CB has seized a huge cache of clothes and ornaments during the raid on the ashram in Barimula in Kendrapara district. On Tuesday, the crime branch officials questioned Sarathi Baba mainly on his financial transactions and land deals. The cyber cell of the crime branch also examined the income tax documents of Sarathi Baba.

The CB officials said they would move the court seeking to take Sarathi Baba on remand of five more days for further questioning. – Deccan Chronicle, 12 August 2015

Odisha Tourism Dept promoting Sarathi BabaBJD leaders have close links with arrested godman Sarathi Baba: BJP – PTI

Accusing ruling BJD leaders in Odisha of having close links with arrested self-styled godman Sarathi Baba, the BJP on Tuesday sought to know why no action was taken against a former Kendrapara SP for police excesses on demonstrators who demanded Baba’s arrest. 

“BJD government in Odisha is in the dock over the so-called Baba’s activities. Handling of the episode showed the ruling party and its leaders had close links with the self- styled godman,” BJP’s All-India general secretary P. Muralidhar Rao said. Though it was the state government’s responsibility to ensure quick investigation into Sarathi episode, the manner in which the controversial issue was handled clearly showed the state government was trying to hide and suppress facts.

People across the state had turned restless over the whole issue particularly because of the state government’s approach towards dealing with the episode which also exposed criminalisation of administration, Rao claimed. Accusing the state government of trying to protect former Kendrapara Satish Gajbhiye, the BJP leader said the IPS officer was only shifted from the district following a public outcry amid allegation of police excesses on demonstrators who agitated demanding arrest of Sarathi.

However, no action has been taken against the police officer despite agitation by people, including lawyers community, across the state, he said. He said the party would intensify the agitation if strong action was not taken against the ex-SP of Kendrapara.  – DNA, 11 August 2015

» Rakesh Dixit is the current bureau chief for Hindustan Times in Bhopal.

Sarathi Ashram Barimula

Anti Sarathi Baba Demonstration

Asaram’s shady 10,000 crore rupee empire – Uday Mahurkar

Asaram Bapu

Narayan Sai“As Asaram and Sai cool their heels in Jodhpur and Surat jails, … the Gujarat Police allege they have unearthed a string of highly lucrative illicit business ventures, all piggybacking on the unquestioning faith of millions. … On paper, the total comes to a mind-boggling Rs 4,500 crore. But investigators say the worth of Asaram’s shady empire will cross the Rs 10,000-crore mark if the land and real estate are valued at market rates instead of the old circle rates used by the police to value them.” –  Uday Mahurkar

A murky money-lending nexus, shady land deals and clandestine conspiracies to buy police officers. Transactions in a range of financial instruments worth hundreds of crores. Investments in little-known American companies. Suspect foreign currency transactions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Allegations of rape and witness intimidation, it seems, are not the only crimes self-styled holy man Asaram Bapu and his son Narayan Sai are in the dock for. 

As Asaram and Sai cool their heels in Jodhpur and Surat jails, and a trial court is set to begin hearing the rape case against Asaram, the Gujarat Police allege they have unearthed a string of highly lucrative illicit business ventures, all piggybacking on the unquestioning faith of millions. 

And the details—contained in reams of documents police say they seized from an ashram aide’s apartment—read like the laundry list of a small-town businessman who has come into enormous wealth: Benami property deals and financial transactions—many of them allegedly in cash—adding up to more than Rs 2,200 crore.  

Cash loans totalling 1,635 crore given to more than 500 beneficiaries in exchange for equally fat interest rates.

Rs 156 crore invested in shares of two obscure US companies suspected to be in violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). 

Rs 8 crore allegedly earmarked to bribe police, judicial and medical officers linked to the rape probes against Asaram and Sai.

On paper, the total comes to a mind-boggling Rs 4,500 crore. But investigators say the worth of Asaram’s shady empire will cross the Rs 10,000-crore mark if the land and real estate are valued at market rates instead of the old circle rates used by the police to value them. 

Sai’s counsel, however, rubbishes the allegations. 

“Narayan Sai and the others have been falsely implicated in the case,” Kalpesh Desai, the defence counsel in the bribery case, said, referring to the financial wrongdoing alleged by the police following seizure of what they call “highly incriminating documents”. 

Asaram BapuIt all started in 2013, not long after Asaram was arrested in Indore in a rape case. Surat police were in the middle of a nationwide manhunt for Narayan Sai, who had disappeared after being accused of rape by a former devotee. 

While he was eventually nabbed in December that year, on October 26, a police team had raided an apartment in Ahmedabad’s plush CG Road following a tip-off. It was owned by a builder and long-time Asaram devotee Prahlad Kishenlal Sewani

Unwittingly, the police had chanced upon a treasure trove of documents—hastily stashed away in 42 large sacks, hard disks and computers. 

Surat Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthana and a team of officers spent months collating and deciphering the information. 

Once collated, they literally blew the lid off a suspected network of deceit and crime centred around Asaram and his network of ashrams.  

Asthana wrote early in 2014 in his covering letter forwarding the case for further scrutiny by the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department: “The documents and data show large-scale tax evasion and malpractices by Asaram and Narayan Sai and also (names) a large number of traders, businessmen and real estate dealers.

“They used black money thus generated for professional and personal gains.

“Since the matter has national and international ramifications, it should be thoroughly investigated under the Income Tax Act.”

Asthana’s cover letter was followed by seven volumes of documents adding up to 900 pages. But 18 months on, income tax authorities seem to have little to show as progress. 

Asaram Under The ScannerBenjamin Chettiar, assistant commissioner of income tax, who is investigating the details found, however, insists the probe is on track. 

“We have made progress in the case and the order for attachments has been issued. The results will be in public domain soon,” he said. 

However, investigations by India Today, based on information gleaned from the seized documents, reveal the seemingly dark underbelly of the empire Asaram and his son built over four decades. 

For starters, the money-lending operation, seen to be funded almost exclusively through devotee donations and profits from the sale of ashram merchandise, was run on the scale of a mid-sized banking setup. 

Besides the money lending operations, the seized documents reveal scores of evidently dubious land deals. 

Real estate is shown to have been acquired at several locations in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh as well as several central and north Indian states. 

Much of the land owned by Asaram’s ashrams are illegal, alleges Surat Police Assistant Commissioner Mukesh Patel, who is leading the probe into the rape case against Narayan Sai. 

“They were acquired by enticing devotees with improper documents and through encroachments,” he says. 

Asaram, according to investigators, controls his empire through 400-odd trusts. Investigators and the documents seized from Sewani’s apartment indicate huge amounts of money came into the ashrams’ coffers also from the sale of merchandise and farming on land acquired or often usurped by the ashram. 

A lot of this money, earned by legitimate means, was meant to be reinvested in ashrams or in the welfare of devotees and residents. 

But investigators allege that large sums of money were instead used to fund dubious land deals and a massive money-lending racket in which cash was loaned at exorbitant interest rates. Insiders also allege that ashram authorities manipulated records to avoid paying taxes. 

“For him, every activity was a money-making activity—be it bhandaras, relief work during natural calamities, or even gau seva (cow welfare). In fact, the figure of Rs 1,650 crore (extended in loans) seems small; I wouldn’t have been surprised had it been even Rs 5,000 crore,” says Rahul Sachan, a key Asaram aide until he parted ways with the ‘guru’ a decade ago and who is now a witness in the Asaram rape case. 

Although still under the scanner, Prahlad Sewani insists he was not personally involved in the shady dealings. 

The builder has told police that he had merely handed over the keys to his flat following “urgent summons” from Asaram’s ashram in Motera, when Narayan Sai was on the run. 

Sewani claims a circle of Asaram’s closest followers, fearing a large-scale crackdown, moved the documents, hard disks and computer CPU to his CG Road apartment. 

Seizure of the documents during the raid also prompted a frenetic response, with ashram functionaries allegedly attempting to bribe police officers involved in the investigations. 

Income tax officials tracking Asaram’s wealth say the probe has been somewhat stymied by the unexplained disappearance of Kaushik Popatlal Wani

Acknowledged as the brains behind Asaram’s rapidly expanding financial empire, the 45-year-old from Nagpur, who has spent most of his adult life alongside Asaram, went missing in November 2013Mail Online India,  8 August 2015

» Uday Mahurkar is a senior journalist with India Today. 

ASARAM INC

Asaram Bapu's Empire

 

 

Remembering Anandamayi Ma – Maria Wirth

Maria Wirth“Behind all the different, perpetually changing names and forms in this universe there is only ‘one thing’—Brahman, Bhagwan, God or however you like to call it. That alone is eternal, ever the same. All appearances are contained in it, like in a mirror. That is the I of our I. Life is meant to realise this—to realise who we really are and drop the wrong identification with our person.” – Maria Wirth

Anandamayi MaNext to the Ramakrishna Mission in Dehradun, there is a small ashram where 33 years ago, on 27th August 1982, Anandamayi Ma left her body. Anandamayi Ma, who was born in 1896 as Nirmala Sundari in what is now Bangladesh, was and still is revered all over India for having being extraordinary saintly and wise right from childhood. Devotees still come to her samadhi in Kankhal, even though many of them have never seen her in person. I was fortunate to meet her and would like to share some of those precious memories.

During the Ardha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in April 1980, some foreigners asked me to join them to receive their guru, Anandamayi Ma, at the railway station. I was curious, because I had seen a photo of her in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. The photo was taken in the 1930s and showed a beautiful woman. Almost fifty years had passed since then and I was surprised that she was alive and anyone could meet her.

At dawn we went to the railway station. A group of Indians were conspicuous by their well-groomed appearance. They were devotees of Ma. Then the train from Varanasi pulled in. Four young men in spotless white dhotis entered and carried Ma out on a chair, to which four handles were attached.

Ma looked delicate, was wrapped in white cloth and her black hair fell over her shoulders. She looked at us with calm eyes. There was no reaction on her face, no sign of recognition of her devotees, many of whom she would have known for decades. She simply looked and her eyes moved slowly around the group. It was pleasant, and I had the strange feeling, that nobody was there behind those eyes.

When I saw her like this, tears were rolling down my cheeks. There was no reason for tears and yet they didn’t want to stop. “That’s normal, when one is touched by a great soul”, someone next to me, who had noticed it, reassured me. And indeed I felt being touched by a very pure soul.

Anandamayi Ma went to her ashram in Kankhal and we followed. At the ashram gate, flower vendors awaited us. Everyone entered the ashram with flowers or fruits in his hands. In the centre of the courtyard, a chair was placed for Ma. She sat down and we, about thirty people, were standing around her.

Now she asked some of her devotees about how they were doing, whether “sab thik hai” and so on. The questions were commonplace, and yet there was a sense of sublime grandeur in the air. I noticed it again: her gaze was different. It touched the heart and widened it. Because of this short, fleeting gaze, I went from then on every evening to Kankhal.

Was Ma enlightened? I did not know, but felt it was possible. Melita, a journalist from Germany, who had been with Ma for many years, explained to me what enlightenment meant.

“Ma sees in everything and everywhere only the one Brahman, that is, her own Self. For her, ‘others’ don’t exist. She herself has said that only because of convention she differentiates between herself and others. In truth, she doesn’t see a difference and there is no difference.”

So basically, an enlightened being and we ordinary mortal differ only in one aspect: an enlightened being feels this oneness of all as real, whereas we think we are separate and even prefer this illusion, though we, of course, are also at home in the oneness. Oddly, we even want to be separate; we are fond of our person, our thoughts, feelings, relationships, memories, hopes. Why should we give up this feeling of being separate? Just because it is not the truth?

Few are ready for it in spite of the assurance that truth is heaven, and illusion compared to it hell. Our suffering originates from our imaginary isolation and is unnecessary, claim the sages. I tried to imagine what Anandamayi Ma perceived, while she looked at us. Did she see our bodies and her own body merely as transitory waves on the one ocean, while feeling blissfully immersed in its depth and vastness?

Concepts like truth and God, which, so far, I had not considered relevant, seemed in the Indian context important, relevant and natural. Ma formulated the essence of Advaita Vedanta in clear terms.

Behind all the different, perpetually changing names and forms in this universe there is only ‘one thing’—Brahman, Bhagwan, God or however you like to call it. That alone is eternal, ever the same. All appearances are contained in it, like in a mirror. That is the I of our I. Life is meant to realise this—to realise who we really are and drop the wrong identification with our person.

When Ma’s mother had died and was laying out in the ashram, Ma had laughed her hearty laugh as usual. Her devotees felt that her behaviour was not appropriate for the occasion. Ma reacted surprised: “Why? Nothing has happened!” For her dying was like changing a dress. Who would be sad over losing an old dress, when one is still fresh and alive?

While waiting for Ma’s darshan in the evenings, we were singing bhajans. Once, a girl of about ten sat next to me. She sang full throatily, yet a little out of tune. Her clapping was also slightly out of rhythm. When I heard her singing like this, my heart suddenly went out to her and was overflowing with love.

Just then Anandamayi Ma appeared, supported by two women. Even before she reached the cot, she briefly stopped, half turned and looked sort of irritated into my direction. When she finally sat down on the cot, her glance settled on me for a long time. In all likelihood Ma’s glance was attracted by the love that I felt for that girl, and she really did not perceive us as separate persons. After all, she often said that it is a mistake to consider oneself as separate from others. But almost certainly all of us, as we were sitting there on the veranda, wished that she appreciated us personally….

Ma didn’t oblige. A genuine guru can see that the ego is the culprit who makes life difficult. Naturally she or he is not interested in flattering the ego—on the contrary.  “The association with an enlightened being consists in getting blows for the ego”, Anandamayi Ma once remarked.

Ma had a cure for all worries:  “Trust in Bhagawan. He certainly will look after you and all your affairs, if you really put full trust in him and if you dedicate all your energy to realise your Self. You then can feel completely light and free”, Ma claimed and it sounded convincing. By ‘Bhagawan’ she meant the formless essence in everything. Yet this essence is not something abstract and cold. It is love and can be experienced as the beloved. “You are always in his loving embrace”, she claimed.

Feel Bhagawan’s presence in you 24 hours a day. Be aware he moves your feet, he makes your eyes see, he makes your mind think’, she advised us.

I wonder whether she, in her elevated state, knew that this is not that easy for us. It may have been so obvious and natural for her. – Maria Wirth Blog, 31 July 2015

» Maria Wirth is a German psychologist and author who lives in Uttarakhand.

Anandamayi Ma's Samadhi Shrine

Guru is like a full moon – Chaitanya Keerti

Adhi Guru Dakshinamurthy

Swami Chaitanya Keerti“A guru is the one who liberates us and with whom we are in deep love, faith and reverence. A guru is a presence. Through him one gets the first glimpse of divinity. A guru creates, transforms and gives a new birth to a seeker so that with complete trust one can follow his guru while travelling through many unknown paths and doors and opening many unknown locks. His blessing is a vital phenomenon. Through a guru, we can look into our own future and can be aware of our own destiny. Through him, we start growing up like a seed trying to sprout towards the sky.” – Swami Chaitanya Keerti

Full moon over Arunachaleshwar TempleThousands of disciples of various gurus, especially in India, will be celebrating July 22, the night of full moon, to express their gratitude towards their gurus. The full moon in July is very significant, and it is called Aashadh Purnima. It is such a time, when we can never be sure if the full moon will be visible in the sky or not.

Osho has given a very poetic expression to this. He says: “Guru is like full moon and disciple is like Aashadh (the month of clouds and rains). The moon of Sharad Purnima is beautiful because it is in the empty sky.”

“There is no disciple then, the guru is alone. If the same beauty happens in Aashadh, then it is something, where the guru is surrounded with cloud-like disciples.”

Rishi Vyasa“The disciples have come with their darkness of many lives. They are like dark clouds, they are the weather of Aashadh. If the guru can shine like the full moon in that atmosphere of darkness, if he can produce light, only then he is the guru. That’s why Aashadh Purnima is called Guru Purnima.”

This brings us to another question: Who is a guru?

A guru is the one who liberates us and with whom we are in deep love, faith and reverence. A guru is a presence. Through him one gets the first glimpse of divinity. A guru creates, transforms and gives a new birth to a seeker so that with complete trust one can follow his guru while travelling through many unknown paths and doors and opening many unknown locks. His blessing is a vital phenomenon. Through a guru, we can look into our own future and can be aware of our own destiny. Through him, we start growing up like a seed trying to sprout towards the sky.

In Osho’s words: “Guru means one who has gravitation, around whom you suddenly feel as if you are being pulled. The guru is a tremendous magnet, with only one difference. There is a man who has charisma—you are Adi Shankarapulled, but you are pulled towards him. That is the man of charisma. He may become a great leader, a great politician. Adolf Hitler has that charisma; millions of people are pulled towards him. Then what is the difference between a charismatic leader and a guru? When you are pulled towards a guru you suddenly feel that you are being pulled inwards, not outwards.”

When you are pulled towards Kabir, Nanak or Buddha, you have a strange feeling. The feeling of being pulled towards them and at the same time you are being pulled inwards—a very strange paradoxical phenomenon: the closer you come to your guru, the closer you come to yourself.

The more you become attracted towards the guru, the more you become independent. The more you surrender to the guru, the more you feel that you have freedom you never enjoyed before.

Guru does not exist as an ego—he exists as a pure presence and godliness radiates through him. He is transparent. – Asian Age, 22 July 2013 

» Swami Chaitanya Keerti, editor of Osho World, is the author of Osho Fragrance.

Harnessing heritage – Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma“The SandHI Series of articles that the Financial Chronicle hosted … were an effort to give a brief glimpse of the range and rigour of traditional Indian knowledge systems. They suggest strong reasons for integrating Indian knowledge systems in mainstream education as opportunities for discovery, research and interpretation of our intellectual inheritance. This will equip students to critically evaluate the information available and to construct knowledge free from the stereotype labelling of knowledge as ‘traditional,’ ‘modern,’ ‘east,’ ‘west.’” – Amita Sharma

RishiIf one were to represent the contemporary educational scenario in India dramatically, a morality play would probably be a good choice. A host of actors battle the ground for knowledge, each claiming to be truer than the other, accusing the other of ‘tempting the mind’ of the nation with falsehoods.

The more cacophonous the contestation becomes, the more it begins to look like a ‘dumb charade.’ Instead of enquiring into what ‘truth’ is — which, in fact, is the very essence of education and the only way in which knowledge is discovered — the skirmishing sides want the rights to lay down a set of pre-determined forms as truth, defeating the very ground of knowledge or the need for education.

Such claims and counter claims are about power, not about education and the struggle is to seize the education system to make it a means of generating symbolic forms — of whichever hue — that in turn, entrench the power system.

This is the worst form of intellectual paranoia and fundamentalism and is symptomatic of the failure of the education system to develop a culture of critical consciousness capable of rational debate, self-reflection, imbued with faculties to evaluate and sift information to construct know­ledge and to disc­riminate betw­een the spheres wh­ere such knowledge can be used. Where is the great intellectual tradition of India that delighted in debate and celebrated questioning as a way of seeking knowledge? Why has the freedom to let ‘thoughts…wander through eternity’ sunk into the narrow confines of dogmatic facts, swerving between defensiveness and aggression, unsure of what they claim and why.

While there are several reasons for this, the deep-lying malaise is the loss of self-esteem and pride and the confidence in our own intellectual abilities and identity. This is the result of a steady and subtle colonisation of the mind that may have started historically with British rule over India but that continues post-independence. Modern day educational systems perpetuate the domination of western epistemologies.

This has spawned a mimetic knowledge system where the norms of knowledge construction and its legitimisation is on borrowed terms. We do not engage with our own environment and culture. Happy with borrowed language and borrowed technologies, we do not invest enough in research and cripple our ability to think originally and construct knowledge from our own resources, relevant to our society.

As a result, development problems of the nation get mortgaged to imported and ill-suited technologies. For example, dam structures in India often modelled on the slow-moving rivers of the US, do not add­ress the problem of silting caused by the fast-flowing rivers of India.

Oddly enough, the insistence of a ‘national’ educational system enc­ourages prescriptive content and information as ‘knowledge forms’ that cannot be interrogated or be deviated from. Paradoxically, the discourse of ‘national’ concerns be­comes yet another way of colonising the intellectual space of the country.

This is aggravated by the bureaucratisation of the academic system where academic institutions occupy the bottom rung of a hierarchy as subordinate ‘offices.” Bureaucrats as the neo-colonisers devise ways in which education institutions are to be controlled. Excessive control and regulation does not necessarily mean better quality, and standardisation of content does not necessarily mean better standards. So the increased numbers of educational institutes do not add up to quality. In the absence of quality, education barons thrive, commercialising education.

In such a context, educational debates whether in the guise of ideological warfare or regulatory norms or legal frameworks skim the surface of problems, evading the pivotal question of educational reform — how can the nation foster the creativity of its people to trigger their intellectual and material development in sustainable and ethical ways.

The question remains dormant also because it is believed that it is enough to canonise its concerns theoretically in the National Curricular Framework (NCF) which describes educational goals as value development and building a cohesive society, fostering a national identity preserving cultural heritage. The NCF also emphasises indigenous knowledge, the development of aesthetic sensibilities and the interface between cognition, emotion and action, by linking learning to work and life.

Despite the NCF, learning operations in all Indian classrooms are verbatim memorisation of officially sanctioned knowledge available in the textbooks.

Guru & ShishyaHow can educational processes be liberated from their own ent­renched authoritarianism so as to stimulate critical consciousness and holistic development that the national curricular framework posits?

As a first step, there is a need to re-examine the existing epistemological hegemonies that inform the text books without which the spirit of critical enquiry cannot be the guiding force of our educational system. The dominant epistemological paradigm in the current educational processes is based on western knowledge systems. Colonising constructs of India have marginalised its own powerful knowledge systems, or brushed it off as an amalgam of rituals and myths.

The long unchallenged dominance of such discourses, have not only spawned questionable and spurious theories about Indian culture and society, they have unfortunately obviated the memory of our own history and knowledge systems from the minds of our own people.

The strength and rigour of Indian knowledge systems have been elaborated upon by several scholars in diverse contexts, quite a few eminent ones being of non-Indian origin, but are strangely enough rejected by modern Indians — a testimony of their allegiance to their progressive education! It is said that if one does not know one’s own language, it is doubtful if one will have the ability to acquire competence in a foreign language. Indians need to know their own intellectual inheritance and to be able to evaluate it in its own context as well as its contemporary significance. And in a way to understand the critical implications of the choices they make now.

This kind of a statement arouses mainly amused disbelief or vehement rejection. Why deal with what is obscurantist? An indulgent attitude prefers to treat traditional knowledge systems as interesting antiquities, objects as in a museum, cultural/ethnographic studies rather than knowledge systems. Even those who believe in the strength of Indian knowledge systems ask the question — why should one know of one’s intellectual inheritance? Of what use is it to us? Does it offer a better solution to current problems? If not, how does it matter if one knows it or not?

The SandHI Series | Indian Knowledge SeriesAll these criticisms stem from a very limited idea of what is rejected. The SandHI Series of articles that the Financial Chronicle hosted in the Know pages from April 2015 to June 2015 were an effort to give a brief glimpse of the range and rigour of traditional Indian knowledge systems. They suggest strong reasons for integrating Indian knowledge systems in mainstream education as opportunities for discovery, research and interpretation of our intellectual inheritance. This will equip students to critically evaluate the information available and to construct knowledge free from the stereotype labelling of knowledge as ‘traditional,’ ‘modern,’ ‘east,’ ‘west.’

Such intellectual decolonisation will spur original creative discourse. It will also encourage a greater engagement with the local context as many traditional knowledge systems that have continued historically to serve human needs have been preserved as community practice. Such knowledge has an inherent dynamism and innovative energy generated by the real life contestations of its users but is relegated the place of folk customs and finds scarce place in text books or any formal educational curriculum. Research shows how several of these folk practices tested by time and real world challenges are constructed on valid scientific grounds. Neglect of these traditions has been a loss to its practitioners and researchers.

Local problems create a new idiom of knowledge by compelling innovation and encouraging re-interpretation of traditional knowledge forms in terms of their contemporary relevance. A study of traditional practices will offer opportunities to evolve appropriate technologies to address problems ranging from every day existence such as water, food , productivity to major environmental hazards on a more sustainable, equitable basis.

This will also imply the re-legitimisation of traditional knowledge practitioners as equal knowledge partners. Currently, there is a hierarchical relationship between the main curriculum like math and language and a co-curriculum like vocational education, privileging the former over the latter and discouraging lateral movements. It also creates a paradoxical situation, wherein despite the emphasis on skill development and practical knowledge, existing skills honed in real world and relevant to the knowledge domain are not recognized because they are not encoded in formal treatises. As a result, there is a dearth of skilled teachers, the real practitioners for whom the skill is not just a curriculum unit with a credit but a source of survival.

A good example comes from the community of artisans and artists. Design schools can conduct workshops with artisans and artists but they cannot be acknowledged as teachers because they lack formally prescribed educational qualifications. This restricts knowledge transfer.

IIT KanpurAn interesting innovation to break this impasse is IIT Kanpur’s intervention with the toy clusters of Varanasi, the moonj grass weavers of Allahabad and the metal sheet workers of Kanpur integrating traditional production processes with improved technologies in ways that empower traditional artisans while also working out IPR related issues of community owned traditional design products and technologies and to outline fair-trade strategies for these creative communities. The Design Manifesto released by the ministry of human resource development in January 2014 builds on such initiatives, foregrounding community needs to evolve appropriate technologies, valuing local knowledge systems, and integrating experiential learning with formal theorisation, well exemplified in the design education curricula and pedagogies in IIT Bombay.

Such engagements of premium academic institutes with local problems and the traditional knowledge resources in creative communities should help steer Make in India towards tradition bonds. They reverse the process of epistemological schizophrenia caused by formal educational systems wherein multiple world views clash, those that inhere in the community and those that the academic institution imports and the ability to negotiate between them instead of being encouraged is suppressed leading to a sense of alienation. Ironically, having driven a wedge between the school and the community by the way knowledge is legitimised, educational policies of the state then expect the school to be a platform for community participation.

An inclusive epistemic approach recognises the significance of culture as the locus of knowledge and its use. This recognition has the potential to make knowledge transformative. The World Dev­elopment Report 2015: Mind and Culture, underscores the importance of culture, which provides mental models that influence what individuals understand and espouses integrating knowledge scattered across many disciplines to inform development strategies.

While the implications of such an epistemology for formal education in India appear to prompt a radical re-designing, it is interesting to note that theoretically at least, the National Curricular Framework recognises that “ideally, various learning experiences should make an integrated whole.” This seems close to the way traditional Indian knowledge systems entwined multiple knowledge fields. Fragmented worldviews and the domination of economic reasons have been partly responsible for splintering knowledge into ‘useful ‘ and ‘useless’ with deleterious impact on the individual and society. Socially, this creates a false division of the math type as bright and gifted and the arts type as frivolous and unemployable. This has had a reductionist effect on educational systems, by knocking off subjects deemed irrelevant denting the traditions of liberal education.

At the individual level, this creates what T.S. Eliot calls the dissociation of sensibility, the disconnect between reason and im­agination, the loss of in­tuitive cognition — the source of creativity and innovation. Increasingly, even the market now recognises the higher productive value of holistic cognitive capabilities over simply specialised skill sets as these become rapidly obsolete and fail to respond to complex situations.

Both from an intrinsic and an instrumental perspective, it becomes important to consciously encourage cross-disciplinary studies, specially between science and liberal arts, technology and culture. The pedagogy of such cross-disciplinary study needs careful designing. The challenge is to develop processes that transact learning objects in ways that stimulate exposure to multiple knowledge fields encouraging the abilities for multiple interpretations, for analysis and synthesis of different ways in which reality is constructed, broadening and deepening comprehension , making for more inclusive perspectives. For example, a musical instrument can teach music, material sciences, physics, engineering, math, history, aesthetics. Examples can multiply. This will reduce the burden of too many subjects, while enriching understanding at many levels.

Such cross-disciplinary organisation of knowledge would also, for example, enlarge the study of history from just a narrative of political events to the study of ideas and the development of different knowledge systems. It would also nudge the study of history from the refracting lens of contemporary ideologies to scientific evidence. This in itself would do much to liberate us from the political prison-house of communal identities and to discover a truly national identity.

Most significantly it would change the way languages are taught. Lan­guages are taught as me­ans of social communication and fall in the domain of culture or literature. Never of science or technical knowledge. Cons­equently, they are not regarded as vehicles of knowledge. Worse, they get confounded with the religious beliefs of the community to which they belong. Politicisation of language has spelt the death of several important knowledge systems.

SanskritA good example is Sanskrit — one of the oldest Indian languages which holds much of our scientific, technical, philosophical and linguistic knowledge from the Vedic to the medieval period. There is a growing interest in this intellectual heritage, not only to clarify India’s place in the growth of ideas, but also to explore sustainable, and locally relevant solutions to current societal, environmental, and medical challenges. A similar case can be made for other classical languages in India. A study of classical languages will not only unlock a vast reservoir of knowledge of significance to the contemporary world, but will unravel an inheritance of ideas that have much in common, again highlighting a shared identity despite manifest differences.

The reason that this sort of cross-disciplinary study that knits together traditional with modern knowledge systems, and traverses multiple knowledge fields, has not taken off is the difficulty of finding teachers competent to use integrative pedagogies. To nurture academic institutions in this direction, it is important to allow them academic autonomy. It is this that will, over time, build the three pillars of a strong knowledge economy: creative thinking, innovations and a holistic world view.

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a study of colonisation, Caliban accuses Prospero: “You taught me language; and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you for learning me your language.” A nation cannot build itself if it cannot think for itself. The SandHI Series of the Financial Chronicle reminds us that we have a rich inheritance of thinking in India. Modern India, in making itself, will be the stronger by building on it. – Financial Chronicle, 22 June 2015

» Amita Sharma is former additional secretary in ministry of human resources development. Right to Education

Ask the past – Michel Danino

Michel Danino“Whether the inquiry was philosophical, medical or agricultural, India’s knowledge traditions were continuous and cumulative: savants, thinkers, artists did not normally demolish their predecessors’ work but built upon it and enriched it with their contributions, even if that involved sharp criticism at times. This richness of many-sided knowledge and freedom of inquiry is what we have lost in our linear and impoverished education, which discourages or penalises original thinking. Young Indians know next to nothing of this huge intellectual heritage, while many of our ‘intellectuals’ are content to scoff at it.” – Prof Michel Danino

SaraswatiIndia is perhaps the only civilisation of the ancient world that turned knowledge into a goddess. It was, in any case, regarded as sacred and so was its transmission: there was an old saying that a teacher, however great a scholar, who failed to find one student worthy of his learning, would have to go to hell. More historically, bas-reliefs in temples and other monuments often depict gurus teaching disciples; and when Dharmaswamin, a Tibetan monk, visited in 1235 the ruined site of Nalanda University, sacked four decades earlier by Bakhtiyar Khilji, he found a 90-year-old teacher, Rahula Shribhadra, still instructing a class of 70 students — perhaps Nalanda’s last class, stubbornly taught by a nonagenarian.

Knowledge was, however, not shapeless or a collection of snippets. Previous articles in this SandHI series have shown how it was carefully structured, yet shunned compartmentalisation: language and grammar often had underlying mathematical models; India’s earliest geometry resulted from complex fire altars and a philosophy of sacrifice; mathematics occasionally used poetry to express itself and shared with philosophical systems concepts of zero and infinity and the science of logic (variously called nyayayukti, tarka, anvikshiki, depending on the approach or school of thought); Aryabhata’s concept of beginningless and endless time, Indian astronomers’ use of yugas and the Kali Era are rooted in classical Hindu concepts; Ayurveda relied on fundamental philosophical views of the human and the cosmic, and had close links with alchemy and metallurgy; architecture was a meeting ground of cosmological concepts (most of them part of vastushastra), geometry (including the application of various sets of proportions) and building technology.

Dancer from Mohenjo-daroHarappan beginnings

When and how these knowledge systems took shape remains a matter of debate. Most of them go back two to three millennia, but a few clearly have roots in the Harappan or Indus or Indus-Sarasvati civilisation (2600 to 1900 BC for its urban or mature phase): its legacy to classical India of advanced practices in town planning, water harvesting and management, sanitation, metallurgy and craft technologies is rich and now well documented, although studiously ignored by our textbooks.

Mohenjo-daro’s Great Bath is often seen as the ancestor of pushkarinis. Almost every major city area or structure follows the same sacred proportions that classical architecture will use (this is especially visible at the impressive site of Dholavira in the Rann of Kutch, where the dimensions of every fortified enclosure and every reservoir obey strict ratios). The perky Dancing Girl has an arm covered with bangles, as do rural Rajasthani or Gujarati women even today; this bronze figurine was cast by the ‘lost-wax’ technique, in which a wax model is first made, covered with thick clay, fired, and molten bronze is then poured into the hardened clay mould — a technique transmitted to historical India and to today’s bronze casters.

Harappan symbols and designs — from the swastika to the intersecting circles and the endless knot — have survived; even the general design of the enigmatic Indus seals, with an animal standing before a ‘ritual stand’ and below an inscription, survived on coins from Mauryan and later times. Living customs such as the anjali namaskar with joined hands or the application of vermilion at the parting of the hair are traceable to Harappan traditions.

We know little of the Harappans’ thought and belief systems. Their rigorous town planning and obsession with standardisation — from the Indus seals and script to pottery styles and designs, from brick proportions to weights — bespeak a high sense of order. Several deities appear on the seals; while their identities remain speculative, their iconography is familiar: one stands below an arch of pipal leaves, just like Shiva under his arch of fire: another, with three faces, sits on a throne in mulabandhasana (a difficult posture, with the two heels brought back under the hips). Indeed, Harappans appear to have practised some form of yoga, judging also from figurines in various asanas and the so-called, but probably mis-called, Priest-King with his half-closed eyes conveying a sense of inward contemplation.

Salomon ReinachThe Aryan imbroglio

Surprisingly, whether Vedic literature, the earliest in India, begins before, during or after the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation remains an unsettled question after almost a century of Harappan archaeology. The answer hinges on whether one accepts or rejects the mainstream view that Aryan-speaking tribes swept into the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BC, some four centuries after the decline of the Harappan cities, and settled in northwest India to compose the Vedic hymns. In that perspective, the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation would be pre-Vedic and would therefore have little to do with subsequent developments in the Ganges plains, where, in the first millennium BC, a new civilisation emerges that will soon give rise to the kingdoms and empires we are familiar with, and ultimately to ‘classical’ India.

Mainstream or not, the Aryan theory has seen many avatars, from a brutal and massive conquering invasion swamping the indigenous people to a largely peaceful immigration limited to a few waves of ‘trickling-in’ Aryans. This tactical retreat — a dilution, rather — has been necessitated by the failure of archaeology, anthropology and genetics to support the old scenario, and their occasional success in opposing it. It would have completely faded away but for linguistics, which still insists on the origins of the Sanskritic branch of the Indo-European family of languages being located outside India — but where and when, there seems to be no agreement in sight.

We cannot go deeper here into the complex question of the origins of Vedic culture, except to point out that the characterization (‘demonisation’ would be more appropriate) of critics of the Aryan scenario as ‘hindu chauvinists’ or ‘hindutva communalists’ is deeply dishonest, although widespread in India as in the west. In reality, strong opposition to the Aryan paradigm was first voiced not by Indians but by European scholars such as British archaeologist and philologist Isaac Taylor (1890) or French archaeologist Salomon Reinach (1892). Several noted Indian scholars did follow suit — P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar (1914), B.N. Datta (1936), A.D. Pusalker (1950), P.V. Kane (1953) — as well as prominent public figures: Swami Vivekananda (1897), Sri Aurobindo (1914) or B.R. Ambedkar (1946), none of whom can invite the above invectives.

In recent decades, British anthropologist Edmund Leach, US bioanthropologist Kenneth A.R. Kennedy, US archaeologist Jim Shaffer, French archaeologist Jean-Paul Demoule, Italian linguist Angela Marcantonio, Estonian biologist Toomas Kivisild, all of them accomplished academics, have vigorously argued against the Aryan paradigm. Expectedly, our ‘demonisers’ have studiously ignored them, exerting themselves instead to create an impression in the public mind that Hindu fanatics alone oppose the Aryan invasion/migration theory.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jnana_yogaThe Vedic tradition

Let us leave this controversy to trace the first organisation of knowledge in the Vedic age, whether it is to be positioned before, during or after the Indus civilisation. The Vedas themselves are collections (samhitas) of hymns invoking divine powers for a multiplicity of purposes, from the most material level (protection, victory, wealth, progeny) to the most spiritual: some hymns explicitly call for the divine birth in us, while others, such as the famous Gayatri mantra, pray for the illumination of the mind. The river-cum-goddess Sarasvati is praised as the ‘impeller of happy truths’ who ‘awakens in the consciousness the great flood and illumines all the thoughts.’

By the time of the early Upanishads, a distinction is made between paravidya, the supreme knowledge of the nature of the brahman, and aparavidya, which includes pretty much all else: the knowledge of the universe, the human world and the sacred texts. A portion of aparavidya dedicated to the study and understanding of the Vedas is structured into six vedangas, or ‘limbs of the Veda’: grammar, prosody, phonetics, etymology, rituals and astronomy (the last initially for the elaboration of calendars).

Along with the Ganges civilisation, six darshanas or systems of philosophy emerge early in the first millennium BC, each giving rise to a primary literature that will, in turn, produce numerous commentaries, schools, sub-schools, and rich intellectual debates all the way to pre-colonial times. The six darshanas have been called astika (‘orthodox’ is a poor translation) because they were founded on the authority of the Vedas. Keeping in mind that equivalent English terms are approximate at best, they are:

  1. Vedanta or, broadly, the Upanishadic philosophical tradition;
  2. Nyaya or logic, which inquired deep into concepts of perception, inference, means of validation and categories;
  3. Vaisheshika, an atomistic inquiry into the nature of the physical world and its relationship with consciousness; it famously declared that ‘whatever exists is knowable and nameable’;
  4. Samkhya, which sees the universe as the result of the interplay of prakriti (nature) and purusha (the knower, a witness of pure consciousness);
  5. Mimansa or Vedic exegesis; and
  6. Yoga.

The last hardly needs a definition, although it may be useful to recall that it aims at the union with the divine consciousness. The level of that union and the method chosen to achieve it define the countless schools and systems of yoga. They are, at bottom, systems of self-exploration and self-fulfilment. Founders of the early schools of yoga, such as Kapila or Patanjali, would have been bemused by our current debate on whether yoga is ‘secular’ or not, ‘Hindu’ or not; they may have scratched their beards, if they sported one, convinced that this must be one of the signs of an advanced Kali Yuga, the age of ignorance.

RamayanaTransmission

Indeed, liberation from ignorance was the pursuit and ultimate objective common not only to the above six darshanas, but also to several others, called nastika (‘unorthodox’) because they did not accept the authority of the Vedas. There we find, among others, the Buddhist and Jain philosophies, the various systems of tantra, and a few atheistic schools such as the Charvaka, which laid emphasis on the exclusive truth of sensory perception; they do not appear to have appealed to the society and soon dwindled.

Buddhism and Jainism, although today regarded as ‘separate’ religions, in fact shared much with their late Vedic sisters: concepts of dharma and karma, the cessation of rebirth as ultimate objective, and the pursuit of happiness here and now. Recall Ashoka: “What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men.” In time, these two ‘religions’, if we must call them that, also integrated a number of Vedic and Puranic gods and goddesses, from Indra to Sarasvati, into their pantheons. The symbiosis (much more than rivalry) worked both ways: when Buddhism faded away from northern India, largely under the Islamic impact which left most of its brilliant centres of learning in ruins, it did not ‘disappear’, as is often said, but was partly reabsorbed by an ever-assimilating Hinduism, its teachings and worship.

If Hinduism had by then regained much of its old vigour, its two great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, deserve some credit for this. Those timeless texts are not only outstanding teachers of dharma and knowledge, but a gigantic tapestry of human life, its meaning, its limitations and tragic contradictions. They are also, incidentally, a mine of information on ethnography, polity and governance, warfare, social customs, sacred geography, ceremonies and rituals, diet, dress and ornaments, environmental changes, and much more. With countless regional adaptations and translations, they worked out the cultural integration not only of India but also of much of southeast Asia.

All this knowledge was transmitted by a variety of methods, from the formal institutions of Buddhism (not just Nalanda but thousands of monasteries across India) to the smaller gurukulas (often centred on temples) and village schools, not forgetting the hari katha tradition of wandering scholars who recited the two epics and other texts night after night in village after village, so that even the so-called illiterate were not uneducated but part of those knowledge traditions. The illiterate was cultured; today’s literate is uncultured.

Ramachandran GuhaA knowledge society?

When we look back on ancient India, we often imagine that its culture was, in the main, ‘spiritual’ and ‘otherworldly.’ Without going into the reasons for this misconception, let us point out that India’s so-called ‘spirituality,’ her philosophies, arts and literature, flourished best when the civilisation was materially most developed and opulent. From the Mauryan to the Gupta empires and beyond, this is a clear lesson of history.

Whether the inquiry was philosophical, medical or agricultural, India’s knowledge traditions were continuous and cumulative: savants, thinkers, artists did not normally demolish their predecessors’ work but built upon it and enriched it with their contributions, even if that involved sharp criticism at times. This richness of many-sided knowledge and freedom of inquiry is what we have lost in our linear and impoverished education, which discourages or penalises original thinking. Young Indians know next to nothing of this huge intellectual heritage, while many of our ‘intellectuals’ are content to scoff at it. The loss is considerable — nothing less than the essence of Indian culture. Perhaps, it is not too late to show to some of our bright young minds that they can still be enriched, stimulated or inspired by their distinguished predecessors. We will not go back to the past, but we may build a better future if we study some of its accomplishments, the best of which include a high vision of the goal of human life. – Financial Chronicle, 16 June 2015

» Prof Michel Danino is the author of The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati, and guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar, as well as member of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Contact him at micheldanino@gmail.com

The SandHI Series | Indian Knowledge Series

Anti-yoga Muslim leaders march back to medieval times – Balbir Punj

Balbir Punj“The backward march has been the goal of the Muslim Personal Law Board ever since it opposed the apex court’s decision on maintenance of divorced women and demanded changes in law that upheld what was held up as their divine tradition—that is deny the basis of any such maintenance. Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi … also succumbed to the mindless orthodoxy. He overturned the court judgment, despite strong pleas from liberal Muslim opinion represented by … Arif Mohammad Khan. It was a major setback to the efforts to wrench out the Muslim psyche from the stranglehold of Islamic fundamentalism.” – Balbir Punj

Mohammad Rabey Hasani NadwiIt is not surprising that the Muslim Personal Law Board has opposed observing June 21 as International Yoga Day. And while doing so, it has several “secularists” on its side. It only confirms that the orthodox Islamic leadership in India continues on a backward march into medieval times with “secularists” singing the marching tune.

Whether this particular opposition is in the interest of the Muslim masses, who need physical and mental healthcare as much as any other human being does irrespective of his religious beliefs or un-beliefs or even prejudices, is a matter for the intended beneficiaries to decide.

The backward march has been the goal of the board ever since it opposed the apex court’s decision on maintenance of divorced women and demanded changes in law that upheld what was held up as their divine tradition—that is deny the basis of any such maintenance. Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, for all his computer-savvy image of his early days in power, also succumbed to the mindless orthodoxy. He overturned the court judgment, despite strong pleas from liberal Muslim opinion represented by his cabinet colleague Arif Mohammad Khan. It was a major setback to the efforts to wrench out the Muslim psyche from the stranglehold of Islamic fundamentalism.

Imam Umer Ahmed IlyasiSince then, it has been a slide further and further into primeval times for this community and a marginalisation of its liberal leadership. From the Babri issue to Taslima Nasrin’s book and now, the direction has been back to the middle ages. The undercurrent of admiration for the resurrected caliphate of the 7th century onwards as the ideal political institution in this age of technology and information further underlines this ugly reality. Obviously, a good section of the community does not agree with the proponents of such orthodoxy. The All India Imam Organisation, only the other day, met the prime minister and supported his idea of celebrating International Yoga Day. That organisation claimed the community was for the projection of what it characterised as bharatiyata.

How misleading the position of the board is can be grasped from the fact that when this commemoration was proposed last October by our prime minister in his address to the UN General Assembly, as many as 177 nations supported the subsequent resolution. Now, as many as 192 nations—including many Muslim-majority—are participating in the Yoga Day.

The other aspect of this Islamic orthodoxy distancing the community from one cultural practice of the bharatiyata to another is the subtle advice against participating in the lighting of the brass lamp at the beginning of events, the refusal to say pranam or namaste in greeting other Indians, etc. The board itself has opposed the proposition of all liberal, modern minds that the age of consent for marriage should be 18 and not 15.

There are over 700 yoga centres in the US alone and more in Canada, the UK, France, Germany, etc. Leading Indian yoga masters have received tremendous support, even adulation, in many of these countries. Several million people abroad practice yoga and most of them are from local non-Hindu communities.

Dr John DenningerThe respect that yoga has earned among scientific circles abroad is revealed in a Bloomberg report dated November 22, 2013, saying: “Scientists are getting close to proving what traditionally was held to be true for centuries. Yoga and meditation can ward off stress and disease.” The report reveals that John Denninger, HMS instructor in psychiatry in the Massachusetts General Hospital, is leading a five-year study on yoga’s effect on this.

Noted foreign expert on Indian classical traditions Dr David Frawley in his book, Yoga and Ayurveda, says that yoga and ayurveda are two closely related spiritual or sacred sciences rooted in India’s Vedic traditions. Both have holistic health as a common factor, though yoga is at its high point towards self-relalisation.

Constitution of IndiaThe learned men constituting the Muslim Personal Law Board must explain if they are against all national symbols as they have rejected yoga for its “religious” roots. Would they reject the slogan, “Satyameva Jayate”, or our national symbol of Ashoka Chakra also because all of them derive from religious texts or events?

Do we understand that the board will advise their followers not to associate in any manner with what is derived from or has roots in Hindu religion? The so-called secular parties that have also taken up cudgels against teaching of yoga and readings from the Bhagavad Gita in schools have also to explain whether they would side with the Islamic orthodoxy that is distancing itself from all that is part of Indian culture and has religious roots.

Unfortunately for them, there is little that can be entirely separated from the Hindu tradition in the country. For instance, will the board order its followers to shun Hindustani classical music with its deep-rooted spring in the Hindu bhakti tradition? In the dance forms including Kathak that have Bharata’s magnum opus Natya Shastra as the fundamental book? Or in the Shilpa Shastras, all of which say the ultimate goal of even sculpture is to capture the ananda of the divine?

These exclusivists and their secular-political vote bank seekers tend to ignore what many among Muslim masses and intelligentsia, specially cultural leadership have already made part of their life including their religious life. Hymns of worship sung at many places of Muslim Peers are encased in Hindustani ragas.

The most famous classical musicians, be it Ustad Allauddin Khan or the Dagar Brothers, or any of the great songs sung by them have religious, mainly Hindu, ideas of self-realisation, merging with the divine and such themes at their core.

Ustad Alauddin KhanWe would wait to see if the board, in its new-found—derived from the Wahhabi puritanism—enthusiasm for keeping the Muslim masses untouched even by the cultural stream derived from Indian, mainly Hindu, traditions, evoke a boycott, in which case are they moving towards a cultural partition of India? It is reassuring that a section of Muslims, including the imams, has already answered this by opposing any cultural partition in its entirety and re-emphasising on bharatiyata as its flagship. As anybody with a strong sense of history and responsive to modernity will see, Wahhabi exclusivism and an Islam-only mindset is increasingly finding resistance—among Muslim-majority nations themselves.

Perhaps some sections of Muslims are beginning to assert. In the yoga discourse also, they are bound to assert themselves rejecting the cultural partitionists. Incidentally, June 21 is also the day the sun is staying longer on the northern hemisphere despite the Islamic leadership that would like to reject everything we speak about with warmth about this life-giver of the planetary system. – The New Indian Express, 13 June 2015

» Balbir Punj is national vice  president, BJP. E-mail: punjbalbir@gmail.com

Surya Namaskar sculpture at New Delhi Airport

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