Rationalising the rationalist – Prakash Belawadi

Prakash Belawadi“To point to a stone idol and say ‘it is a stone’ is not the entire truth. It is, in fact, ‘of stone’ and recognised as ‘not that.’ To see it as ‘sacred,’ is an act of faith, by the faithful of that persuasion. It is not an offence to be differently persuaded, for there are indeed other faiths of the divine, but there is an utter failure of the aesthetic in the rational position that it is ‘only stone.'” – Prakash Belawadi

RationalistsThis is not an obituary, though it is occasioned by the murder—or assassination, as some prefer it—of Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, academic and author.  Many tributes are being written on his scholarly contributions to Kannada literature and epigraphy. Every one of them will dwell on his rationalist positions on Hindu idol worship and controversial articles with regard to Basaveshwara (Basava), the 12th century pioneer of Veerashaivism, revered by many even outside the Veerashaiva or Lingayat faith as a saint; and possibly, on Kalburgi’s questionable support to the late Dr U. R. Ananthamurthy on the idea of “urinating on idols.” In the absence of a clear owning up of these murders by organisations and persons, and the failure of the investigation agencies to identify the killers thus far, the widely accepted surmise that the motivation was of wounded religious sentiment must continue to be probed. The threats were indeed present, precisely on those grounds, and the killings followed a pattern. So, the question that is open to debate is exactly what the rationalist position could be with regard to faith. 

To point to a stone idol and say “it is a stone” is not the entire truth. It is, in fact, “of stone” and recognised as “not that.” To see it as “sacred”, is an act of faith, by the faithful of that persuasion. It is not an offence to be differently persuaded, for there are indeed other faiths of the divine, but there is an utter failure of the aesthetic in the rational position that it is “only stone.”   

When an actor assumes the role of Krishna, the godhead, everybody else in the company of actors understands that the person is, in fact, NOT Krishna, but plays along as other characters.

Everybody in the audience, too, understands, clearly and unhesitatingly that the actor is NOT Krishna. But this is a conscious act, “a willing suspension of disbelief”, not an act of faith (barring the odd and occasional fan of cinema or religious TV serials).

The investment of belief in a stone idol is not a failure of intelligence or imagination. It is evident to the faithful that it is indeed stone, but to believe that it is sacred requires more than the suspension of disbelief: it requires faith. To conclude that the idol is simply “stone” is not an intellectual achievement. It is banal.

This is by no means an inquiry or speculation into who the killers were or what their motives could be in murdering the professor. But the facts, according to eyewitness accounts, are that on Sunday morning, August 30, two young men rode on a motorcycle to Prof. Kalburgi’s home in Dharwad, Karnataka. While one waited on the bike, the other walked up to the door and rang the doorbell, told Prof. Kalburgi’s wife who opened the door, in Kannada, that he was a student and wanted to see the professor.  She left the visitor waiting in the hall and went to the kitchen. She heard two gun shots. When she came out, she saw Prof. Kalburgi had been shot, and the killers had ridden away on their motorbike. The killers are yet to be identified. But except for a few vocal skeptics of the “Hindu terror” theory and open supporters of the Sangh Parivar, there is near universal agreement in the media on the surmise that Prof. Kalburgi was killed because of his views on Hindu idol worship, possibly by members of a Hindu extremist group. 

Investigating officials already point to a pattern:  Earlier this year, on February 16, less than 200 km away in Kolhapur, in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra, a communist author and known critic of communal organisations, Govind Pansare and his wife Uma were shot near their house, during their morning walk, by unidentified gunmen. While the 82-year-old Pansare died four days later in hospital, his wife survived skull wounds and told the police a month later that the killers were on a motorcycle and spoke to them in Marathi before they opened fire and she lost consciousness. She could not identify the brand of motorcycle or the killers’ faces.

The Pansare killing itself was similar to the notorious attack on his activist friend Narendra Achyut Dabholkar in August 2013 at Pune, about 240 km from Kolhapur, while he was on a morning walk, again by unidentified gunmen on a motorbike. The 68-year-old Dabholkar was also a rationalist and author, founder-president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, campaigning for legislation to eradicate superstition.

All three of them had received threats from anonymous sources. Soon after the murder of Dabholkar, Pansare had received a letter that warned: “Tumcha Dabholkar karen (You will get the same as Dabholkar).”

According to one report, Kalburgi’s daughter Roopadarshi said there was a threat to her father “from groups that couldn’t digest his views on caste and communalism.”

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah acknowledged the perception of threat, although it is not clear yet exactly why special police protection to the Kalburgi home was given, or later removed, apparently at the behest of the family itself.

The police on Monday have arrested Bajrang Dal member Bhuvith Shetty, at Bantwal in coastal Karnataka, because of his short-lived tweet on Sunday, following the murder of Kalburgi, which read before it was deleted: “Then it was UR Ananthamoorty and now its MM Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die a dog’s death. And dear KS Bhagwan you are next.” The latter, another rationalist and writer, had offered to burn selected verses from the Bhagavad Gita. He has now been given special police protection.

Kalburgi himself came up against some Lingayat community leaders for the  first time in 1989 because of articles in his book, Marga, which questioned the known biographical details about Basavanna’s life. His more recent encounters with dharmic outrage are related to his views on idol worship and his backing of a more unfortunate comment attributed, somewhat erroneously, to the late Dr Ananthamurthy, that one can “urinate on idols.” Erroneous, because Dr Ananthamurthy had written in a 1996 book that he had so experimented “in his childhood” to test the theory of retribution by unseen, wrathful deities.

The rational position is banal if it challenges faith by the physicality of phenomenon. God or divinity cannot be proved in a laboratory. Man, although given the power of consciousness, is limited by nature, for we cannot know the secret of the birth of the universe or the miracle of life. Science understands it, and it is always humble in inquiry. The rationalist who mocks faith fails the test of inquiry, for he is looking at the wrong end—the object under question is not the stone idol, but human faith. It is a human game to speculate on the Creator and Creation. It is a human need to believe in the miracle, for that is what it is. 

So, what is the state to do? The authorities of faith, whenever they have had power over peoples, have imposed it brutally and suppressed dissent, with censorship.

Wherever science has been made accessible to the non-violent cause, it has been possible to liberate humans from the impositions of faith.

We the people have given ourselves a state with the framework of a Constitution to make laws that we will be bound by. To choose our faith is a liberty given to the individual. But to mock the choice, cannot be a crime.

However, to silence the person who mocks, by murder or threat, is a punishable crime. So the state must defend Kalburgi’s right to criticise faith, and the faithful’s right to practice it. – Deccan Chronicle, 2 September 2015

» Prakash Belavadi is a  celebrated Bengaluru-based  theatre and film personality,  actor-director and journalist.

Tilting at windmills

Spooked Swiss banks ask Indian customers to disclose accounts – PTI

Robert Vadra
Sonia & Rahul Gandhi“Swiss banks, long perceived to be safe havens for parking unaccounted funds, have also started asking for auditor certificates from high net worth individuals (HNIs) and corporate clients to vouch for the clean status of their money.” – PTI 

Spooked by the new black money law, a number of Swiss and other European banks have begun asking Indian clients to disclose their accounts to tax authorities back home as they fear being accused of ‘abetting’ the hoarding of untaxed assets. 

These banks, which include those headquartered in Switzerland and London, are asking their customers from India, including non-resident Indians, to use the ongoing ‘one-time compliance’ window provided by Indian tax authorities for the disclosure of undeclared foreign assets.

Executives at some of these large financial institutions also said these banks are also asking their clients to give fresh undertakings to state that they are ‘in compliance’ with laws in their home countries.

Under the new law, a three-month compliance window has been given for the disclosure of all undeclared foreign assets till next month, for which they will need to pay 30 per cent tax and a 30 per cent penalty to escape further action.

After this window, anyone with undisclosed foreign assets will have to pay 30 per cent tax and a 90 per cent penalty, and will also be labile for a jail term of up to 10 years.

The law also provides for ‘punishment for abetment’. This provision would be applicable to everyone who abets or induces in any manner another person to make and deliver an account or a statement or declaration relating to tax payable under this Act which is false, and which he either knows to be false or does not believe to be true, or to commit an offence.

The abettor would be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to seven years and include a fine.

Arun JaitleySeeking to come clean on illicit funds, the Swiss banks, including Switzerland-based arms of some other European banks, have asked their Indian clients to provide fresh undertakings to ensure that untaxed money is not stashed in their accounts. 

Swiss banks, long perceived to be safe havens for parking unaccounted funds, have also started asking for auditor certificates from high net worth individuals (HNIs) and corporate clients to vouch for the clean status of their money. 

India is aggressively making efforts to bring back illicit money parked by its citizens overseas and Switzerland has also agreed to cooperate on the issue. 

Sources said that Swiss banks are asking their Indian customers to provide fresh undertakings that all taxes have been paid on funds deposited by them in these accounts. 

Such directives are believed to have been issued to HNIs, wealth management and portfolio management clients, sources added. 

Indian authorities are already pursuing cases related to its citizens who had kept unaccounted funds in HSBC’s Geneva branch after receiving a list of names from the French government a few years ago. – Mail Online, 30 August 2015

See also

Black money inside India


PMO refuses to disclose Subhas Chandra Bose files, CIC reserves order – ET Bureau

 Surya Kumar Bose & Narendra Modi
Nripendra MisraIn April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met Bose’s grandnephew Surya Bose in Berlin and promised to examine the request for declassification of all files related to events since Netaji’s death or disappearance in Taiwan on August 18, 1945. Surya had told ToI, “I urged the PM to release the classified files on Netaji. He was extremely positive and promised to personally look into the declassification of the documents,” and requested Modi to ‘right a wrong propagated’ by Congress. – ET

The Prime Minister’s Office has refused to declassify files related to freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose, saying it would adversely affect relations with foreign countries.

Testifying before the Central Information Commission, the final appellate authority for the Right to Information Act, the PMO said it held the files related to Netaji but would not declassify them, citing Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act that allows the government to withhold information disclosure of which would, among other things, prejudicially affect relation with foreign states. The CIC has reserved its order.

In April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met Bose’s grandnephew Surya Bose in Berlin and promised to examine the request for declassification of all files related to events since Netaji’s death or disappearance in Taiwan on August 18, 1945. Surya had told ToI, “I urged the PM to release the classified files on Netaji. He was extremely positive and promised to personally look into the declassification of the documents,” and requested Modi to ‘right a wrong propagated’ by Congress.

Subhash Chandra AgrawalThe commission was hearing an appeal filed by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal who had sought copies of all files related to Netaji’s disappearance from PMO. He had also asked for copies of requests and the action taken by the government on them.

PMO rejected his application and Agrawal moved the Central Information Commission. During the CIC hearing Agrawal expressed doubt that the government was being secretive because Netaji’s files had been destroyed or lost. The PMO has categorically denied that any file had been destroyed. Agrawal urged the CIC to seek written submission on rejection of declassification plea from the PMO but it was turned down by chief information commissioner Vijai Sharma who has reserved his order in the matter. Contesting the PMO’s decision to withhold the files before the commission, Agrawal cited Section 8(2) of the RTI Act that allows exempted records to be disclosed if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests. He claimed that foreign relations cannot be affected because Bose allegedly went missing 70 years ago.

Section 8(3) of the RTI Act allows disclosure of information withheld under Section 8(1), as is the present case, if the information related to any event which happened 20 years before the request is made, “Provided that where any question arises as to the date from which the said period of twenty years has to be computed, the decision of the Central Government shall be final, subject to the usual appeals provided for in this Act.” – The Economic Times, 28 August 2015

Churchill & StalinSubhas Chandra Bose family approaches UK on declassifying Netaji files – PTI

Subhas Chandra Bose’s family, still awaiting a response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi over declassifying files on the “mystery” surrounding Netaji, has approached the UK asserting it has the relevant documents on him.

Netaji’s grandnephew Surya Kumar Bose, who had met PM Modi on the issue during his visit here in April, said he had written a letter to him days after the meeting but is yet to receive any response.

Asked about Modi government’s approach on the issue, Surya said he was hopeful on securing “closure” to the “mystery” over the issue.

“I am hopeful because I think Modi has the guts to do it and I have told him quite frankly that we are ready to face whatever comes out, whether it is positive or negative or whatever it is. We have to face the music. Because we have been asking for it,” he said. 

The family has approached the UK government, asserting that it has classified files on him besides Japan and Russia. “My sister who has a base in London has approached the British government to declassify the files. They have admitted that they have files. But they have to go through them in detail. They have asked for more time. So that means they have files on Subhash Bose which are classified,” Surya told PTI Berlin.

Surya said the issue is being taken up with governments of Japan and America and that the family was determined to get to the bottom of it notwithstanding whatever comes out of the declassification of the files.

Surya claimed that governments of Russia, Japan and the United States have information about Netaji and that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had their files Big Ben in Londonopen on him till 1985.

“I do not think opening up of those files will create issues with any present government. You cannot blame the present government for what had happened in 1945-46,” he said.

Surya said it was “high time” the mystery surrounding Bose is brought to a close.

Asked when the family approached the British authorities, he did not specify but indicated it was approached recently.

He said the Indian government must request the foreign governments to share the details about Bose with it.

Toeing the line adopted by the previous UPA government, Prime Minister Modi’s Office in February had refused to declassify the files relating to Bose.

The PMO on Wednesday had told the Central Information Commission that it cannot declassify files related to Bose as it will adversely affect relations with foreign countries.

The fate of the freedom fighter, who led the Indian National Army (INA), is not known after his plane crashed in Taiwan in 1945. – NDTV, 30 August 2015
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Dharmashastra: How we can transform society with Hindu dharma – Rohini Bakshi

Satyavrata is Vaivaswatha Manu

Rohini Bakshi“I believe that our dharma tradition is flexible, practical and humane. Undoubtedly, ancient texts have rules and beliefs that are abhorrent to our modern, liberal sensitivities, and in no way am I suggesting that we follow ancient practices to the detriment of any section of society. Rather I’m proposing that ten or five, or four, or even three learned manīṣīs form a pariṣad and write a fresh dharma text or texts. They have never stopped being written.” – Rohini Bakshi

Manu and Brihaspati Articles about the dharmaśāstras invariably focus on Manu and come in a highly polemic form. You are likely to see listings of verses from Manu which are deleterious, for instance, to the status of women, or you might see an exclusive focus on verses from Manu extolling women. So I was understandably and pleasantly surprised to see this blogpost by @vAsukeya, which focused on not only the ability, but also the requirement of dharma texts to adapt to the need of the times—a little known and much ignored characteristic of dharma literature. I hope to persuade you with this article that the alleviation of social ills blamed on the dharma tradition can be solved most effectively through the tradition itself.

The fundamental basis of this column is to show why we need to “bother with” Sanskrit. Studying the nature of dharma texts directly, rather than depending on polemics is most certainly an example. 

Dharmaśāstras are normative and considered binding on members of the Ārya community. A lesser known fact is that they reveal intense disputes and divergent views on a variety of topics.[1]

This nuance that is lost unless we study and understand the texts ourselves rather than depend on bowdlerisers and narrative builders. Not only do individual dharma texts differ from each other, one can find contradictory rules within the same text (as we see in Manu with regard to women). In addition, and more germane to our discussion, dharma literature far from being set in stone, has repeatedly shown its ability to respond to socio-economic, cultural and political change.

Take, for example, the inclusion in Manu of a systematised rājadharma detailing the duties and responsibilities of a king. In the dharmasūtras that predate Manu,[2] references to statecraft, the king, judicial and royal procedures are scattered and scarce.

Scholars posit that the advent of large kingdoms and empires (such as Mauryan) made the need to present rājadharma systematically imperative. Another fundamental change in the dharma texts is the accommodation of bhakti and the concept of an iṣṭa deva/devī.

Prayaścitta (expiation) in the early dharmasūtra were limited mostly to recitation of Vedic hymns, fasts, and other austerities. Later texts like the Parāśarasmṛti (PS) include the worship of gods (as we know them today) to atone for transgressions. PS 6.7 states that a killer of certain birds can purify himself by showing reverence to Śiva (Śivapūjyaviśudhyati). The bali offering to Nārāyaṇa in the Vaiṣṇava Vaikhānasasmārtasūtram (10.9-10) again is evidence of how the worship of an iṣṭa god had become the norm.

Manu sits at the watershed of the Vedic and the Purāṇic modes of worship. While tradition sees continuity rather than rupture between these two, there is no denying that modes of worship and expiation were changing. So Manu displays the decreasing importance of early prayaścitta like the aśvamedhayajña in statements like “A man who abstains from meat and a man who offers the horse sacrifice every year for a hundred years, the reward for their meritorious acts is the same.” (M 5.53) Yet, in Manu, the killing of a cow is a lower order transgression (upapātaka), the prayaścitta for which is the same as if the perpetrator were to give instructions as, or receive instructions from a paid teacher, or cut down trees for firewood. (M 11.60-67. For the prayaścitta, see M 11.109-118) Compare Manu’s stance to an entire chapter in Parāśarasmṛti (Ch 9 Gosevopadeśavarṇanam) on how to care for cows/cattle. It has detailed prayaścitta for every conceivable harm—unwitting or deliberate—that might come to them. PS 9.52 states clearly that Manu was wanting in this area. This reflects the heightened importance of cows in Hinduism, as was practised in that era.

Let’s look at another example—that of the “purification” of women. Vasiṣṭhadharmasūtra (VD) has this to say about women: “A woman is not polluted by a lover (28.1) … whether she has strayed on her own or she has been expelled, whether she has been raped forcibly or abducted by robbers, a wife who has been defiled should not be forsaken. There is no law permitting the forsaking of a wife. One should wait for her to menstruate; she is purified by her menstrual period (28.2-3).”

Compare this leniency with Manu (8.371) who mandates that an unfaithful woman should be “devoured by dogs in a public square frequented by many.” Yet, at 11.171, Manu says “The husband should keep an adulterous wife confined in a single room and make her perform the observance prescribed for a man who has sex with another man’s wife.”

Reflecting the leniency of Vasiṣṭhadharmasūtra, the 10th century Devalasmṛti, written in Sind [now dealing with the changed scenario of contact with and abductions by foreign invaders (mlecchaiḥ)] mandates that women taken by force are purified by abstaining from sexual intercourse and food for three nights. Even if they become pregnant and bear a child from the said abduction, they were as pure as gold after their menses resumed after the birth of the child.

@vAsukeya’s path breaking blog quotes Manu, Yāgñavalkya, and renowned commentary Mitākṣara from P. V. Kane’s magisterial study of the dharma texts. He says practices which are lokavikṛṣṭa (distanced from) or lokavidviṣṭa (odious) should be discontinued. So, not only does the dharma tradition absorb new practices, it is required to expel old ones which have become distasteful. Manu Chapter 5 on rules for food allows the eating of meat if it is part of the Vedic sacrifice.

If a dvija refuses to eat ritually consecrated meat, “after death he will become an animal for twenty-one life times.” (M 5.35-36) Yet at 5.56, he says that abstaining (from meat) brings greater rewards. This ambivalence reflects the debate on meat-eating that was raging at the time, as a reading of an un-edited version of the contemporaneous Mahābhārata shows. In forbidden foods, Manu does not mention beef even once. The only cow related product to be eschewed is colostrum (gavyam ca pīyūṣam at 5.6). By contrast, the later Parāśara is unequivocal. If the brahmin consumes beef, he must perform a severe penance to atone. (P 11.1)

With these contradictions, how are we to determine which is the correct rule and which isn’t? Well, the famous and infamous Manu is in no doubt. “When there are two contradictory scriptural provisions on some issue … tradition takes them both to be the law … for they have both been pronounced to be the law by wise men (manīṣibhiḥ) (M 2.14). And what happens when specific laws have not been laid down? Then a pariṣad, a legal assembly of learned people can be formed. Depending on their qualifications, this could consist of ten people, or five or four or three. Parāśara concurs at 8.7 and 11. However M 12.113 categorically states, “When even a single brahmin who knows the Veda determines something as the law, it should be recognised as the highest law….”

What does this all too brief excursion of dharma texts tell us? Well it tells me that far from being static, fossilised and retrogressive, the dharma tradition is a dynamic, fluid one, all too ready to adapt and change with times. For instance, Āpastamba outlines what noble conduct is in the gambling hall. (Ā 2.25.12-14)

Manu, however, feels the need to suppress it with violence, including execution for gamblers. (M 9.221-228) Parāśarasmṛti explains it best when it proclaims itself to be a dharma text for this yuga (kali). It specifies at P 11.50 that there are different dharmas prescribed for different ages, and that the good brahmin must not be censured for following the yuga-dharma. As the age is, so should the brahmin be.

This brings me to the purpose of undertaking this study. I believe that our dharma tradition is flexible, practical and humane. Undoubtedly, ancient texts have rules and beliefs that are abhorrent to our modern, liberal sensitivities, and in no way am I suggesting that we follow ancient practices to the detriment of any section of society. Rather I’m proposing that ten or five, or four, or even three learned manīṣīs form a pariṣad and write a fresh dharma text or texts. They have never stopped being written.

As recently as the 17th century, Trayambakayajvan wrote the very conservative Strīdharmapaddhati, and a hundred years later Bālam Bhaṭṭi by Bālakṛṣṇa gave wide latitude to women in property matters and other rights. All it takes is one learned brahmin who knows the Veda to change what we define as dharma. This has phenomenal implications for the uplift of the oppressed and underprivileged members of Hindu society. For us to come comprehensively into the 21st century, all we need is an age appropriate dharmaśāstra.

And if your reaction is to scoff, remember, when Manu was written, it was a new text. – DailyO, 21 August 2015


1. Olivelle, P, 1999, Dharmasūtras, OUP, pg xxi

2. While absolute dating is impossible, a relative chronology is accepted widely. The dharmasūtras are believed to pre-date Manu, while other key dharmaśāstras postdate him. Please see Kane, P.V., History of Dharmaśāstras. Approximate dates: Dharmasūtras 600 – 200 BCE; Manu 200 BCE – 100 CE; Parāśara 500 CE.

» Rohini Bakshi’s interests include Sanskrit (founder #SanskritAppreciationHour), Indian Army, womens’ empowerment, and justice for #1984. She describes herself as a devout Hindu, egalitarian, and liberal. She tweets @RohiniBakshi.

Manusmriti recorded on palm leaves

The need for a resurgent Bharat – Vamadeva Shastri

Abhaya Mudra

Vamadeva Shastri / David FrawleyA nation is largely defined according to its history. There is a great battle going on relative to the history of India. After independence, history studies and national institutions, such as the Indian Council of Historical Research, were dominated by socialists, if not Marxists, who were naturally hostile to the older dharmic culture of the region. … When the greatness of India’s past, such as the extensive urban sites along the ancient Sarasvati River were discovered, this largely Delhi intelligentsia found little to be proud of or made known. The older Vedic period was reduced and not made into anything foundational for India as a whole. It was treated as a limited culture said to originate from outside of India in Central Asia.” – Pandit Vamadeva Shastri

BharatvarshaThere is an ongoing battle occurring at many levels relative to the concept of India and what India is, was and is meant to be. This is not merely a scholarly debate to arrive at truth but resembles more a struggle for power. Whoever controls the idea of India, as presented at media, education and government levels, to a great extent controls the country along with its resources, and shapes its future.

In this debate about India, the term Bharat—which is the correct and long-term name for the country—is usually left out, as that would immediately change the tenor of the discussion.

Bharat is the traditional name of India and is enshrined in the constitution, showing that those framed the constitution were aware of the importance of the term and its equivalence for India as a whole. Article 1(1) of the Constitution states, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”

If we use the term Bharat for India a number of issues of the nature and identity of the country are automatically solved. Bharat is the name of India in the region’s literature going back to Vedic times and shows a continuity of the country for thousands of years.

If we look at India only since 1947, we start with the idea of partition and tend to build upon it with further partitions and divisions of culture, people and language, each with its own separate identity. Those who are biased against the older history of India avoid the term Bharat so that they can redefine India today as if it no real past as a country before 1947, which allows them to turn the country into what they would like it to be, with no specific culture of its own.

Some modern thinkers say that India as a country was invented by the British during the period of colonial rule, who put together under a single administration the diverse group of peoples, countries, cultures and languages of the subcontinent, which overall had little in common to begin with. Other credit the Moguls (who called India “Hindustan”) for providing some sense of national unity to the far-flung land.

If we use the term Bharat, no one can say that there is no unity of culture, civilization or history to the region. Bharat implies a history of the country going back to the famous Vedic emperor Bharata, one of the early kings in the ancient Puru dynasty said to have reigned long before Rama, Krishna or Buddha.

Bharatiya Samskriti: The Culture of Dharma

Indian culture translates as “Bharatiya Samskriti” in the older terminology of the region, which also explains a lot as to what it is. Indian culture is not something invented over the last century or two and enshrined in the intellectual circles of modern Delhi. Indian culture is Bharatiya Samskriti, the culture of Bharat.

Samskrit is not simply a language but a way of culture and refinement, and a body of knowledge. The idea of Bharatiya Samskriti naturally brings back the culture of Bharatiya or Indian classical music, dance, poetry, philosophy, medicine, mathematics and science, and aims at a renaissance for them in the modern age. It includes the Prakrits or regional languages of the country as well as their cultural traditions, which are all linked together.

The culture of classical India or Bharatiya Samskriti is first of all a culture of dharma. It is built upon an effort to understand the dharma of all life and all aspects of human life and culture. This dharmic culture embraces a pluralism of spiritual paths, including the many sects of Hinduism, as well as Buddhists, Jain, and Sikhs and can be extended to anyone who honors a pluralistic view and respect for the whole of life.

Who are those who uphold the culture of Bharata or Bharatiya Samskriti in India today? It is not the English language media or even most of academia. These groups may address aspects of the traditional culture, but usually in a fragmentary manner, forgetting the overall connections, examining local folk customs in isolation for example. Or they may denigrate the idea that there was any overriding culture for the region as a whole.

Those who uphold the culture of Bharat are now on the periphery and often criticized as narrow-minded or out of date, though the dharmic culture of classical India or Bharat cultivated a broader view of life and consciousness than what we see in predominant modern ideologies and educational trends. Yet these voices of Bharat can still be heard and are making their present felt again.

This means that there is no need to create a new Indian culture post-independence in order to bring unity and identity to the country. The need is to honour the ongoing continuity of Bharatiya and Dharmic culture, its relevance for the future and its ability to adapt itself to the times, including its capacity to embrace and integrate diverse views. If India is a free and democratic country today, it is because of its history as Bharat.

Yet Dharmic culture is not confined to the boundaries of any political or religious system or dogma. This Bharatiya Dharmic culture was not limited to the subcontinent of India but spread throughout Asia and influenced Europe and much of the rest of the world as well. Yet it was in Bharat itself that this characteristic dharmic civilization most took root and survived.

Bharatiya culture is largely a culture of knowledge and promotes learning, considering meditation as the most important form of study that one can do. The symbol of Bharatiya culture is the Yogi or Buddha sitting in meditation pose. This dharmic culture of knowledge can embrace science as well as spirituality and sees consciousness as the underlying ground of the entire universe. The Bharatiya tradition of learning and knowledge is the basis for the success of India’s diaspora in the US, UK and western world.

There are those who say that India is an inclusive concept but Bharat is communal because it is mainly Hindu, though Hindu Dharma itself has a pluralistic and respectful view of life. But traditional Bharat never tried to invade and conquer other countries. There us no history of wars of religious conquest or conversion by Bharatiya armies, or any Bharata based colonial rule and exploitation of other lands.

The Bharatiya model is an excellent model for the modern era in which we must integrate a number of cultures from throughout the world. Compared to the inclusive and synthetic Bharatiya model of culture, socialist and Marxist models are narrow, repressive and materialistic. Even the capitalist model lacks the depth of the dharmic approach and its sense of compassion.

What should be our model for defining India, if not Bharata? Is it China, the Soviet Union, the EU or the USA? Is it Nehruvian socialism, Bengali communism, European nationalism, or American consumerism? These may have some benefits but reflect much more circumscribed views of human life and culture.


Bharat has the longest and most extensive literary continuity of any modern country or culture. This extends through its massive Sanskrit literature to the main local languages from Tamil to Hindi, which are linked to Sanskrit, and often have larger literatures of their own than the literature of modern European countries.

The concept of Bharata as comprising the entire subcontinent of India is clear in the Mahabharata itself, which is over two thousand years old. The Mahabharata embraces every portion of greater India from Sri Lanka in the South to Uttara Kuru or the lands beyond the Himalayas to the north.

The Mahabharata is not just a story of ancient kings but outlines the kingdoms, countries and cultures of the region. It reflects all the main sects of Hindu Dharma as Vaishnava, Shaiva, Ganapata, and Shakta but also honors freedom of thought and inquiry, with extensive dialogues examining numerous subjects, spiritual and mundane. It discusses the rule and laws of kings and the role of dharma in all aspects of life. No other country or region, whether Europe, China or the Middle East, has a text of such extent and a continuity of culture as the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata looks back on the older Vedic tradition, which originated in the Saraswati region of North India over five thousand years ago, when the Saraswati was a great river. Yet today it is in Kerala in the South that we find the strictest adherence to Vedic rituals and practices, showing the extent of influence of this ancient culture.

Saraswati RiverThe Battle Over History

A nation is largely defined according to its history. There is a great battle going on relative to the history of India. After independence, history studies and national institutions, such as the ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research) were dominated by socialists, if not Marxists, who were naturally hostile to the older dharmic culture of the region.

Their goal was to emphasize a new India defined in the post-independence era that was removed from its traditional past. There were a few traditional figures like Ashok and Akbar who were brought in as historical precedents of their idea of India, but much of the history of the country was ignored. When the greatness of India’s past, such as the extensive urban sites along the ancient Saraswati River were discovered, this largely Delhi intelligentsia found little to be proud of or made known. The older Vedic period was reduced and not made into anything foundational for India as a whole. It was treated as a limited culture said to originate from outside of India in Central Asia.

Today the Archaeological Survey of India and Geological Survey of India have placed the Vedic period on a firm footing, showing a continuity of culture in the Saraswati region from the beginnings of agriculture before 7000 BCE to the drying up of the Saraswati River around 1900 BC.

We can identify the early Vedic period with the period from 7000-3100 BCE. Curiously when the Greek scholar Megasthenes visited India along with Alexander’s armies, he noted a tradition of 153 kings going back over 6400 years to a date of around 6776 BCE. This suggests a continuity of dynasties in the region going back a very long time.

We can identify the late Vedic period from 3100-1900 BCE with the urban Harappan period, in which the Saraswati River was already in decline, which is how we find the river described in several later Brahmana texts, in Mahabharata and in Manu Smriti.

The New Battle for Delhi

Delhi is the seat of government in India. But it is also the main center for the English language media and academia in the country, which often uncritically reflects the opinions of its western education and values. This Delhi intelligentsia has had the main role in defining India in recent decades, though the culture of Delhi, particularly of its ruling elite, is very different from the culture of most of the country.

The Delhi elite has redefined India largely in a Nehruvian-socialist-Marxist image, mainly as India after 1947. They have tried to make classical India into a foreign culture or something merely regional, while glorifying recent political trends in the West as capable of defining and raising up India as a modern nation.

Even today we have well-known communists appearing in the media, pretending to be defenders of India and examples of intellectual thinking, tolerance and compassion, though their comrades throughout the world have largely been thrown out of power, with their views discredited.

The Post-Marxist Era and the Twenty First Century

We need to redefine India in the post-colonial, post-Marxist era, which requires the rediscovery of Bharat. While India did throw off the British rule at an outer level in 1947, the rule of colonial based concepts, biases and institutions continued. These were gradually combined with Marxist and leftist concepts that maintained the denigration of the older dharmic culture of the region.

The great majority of Marxist countries in the world came to an end in the period from 1989-1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies. China has moved away from a Marxist orientation and is now re-embracing its Confucian past. Russia once more emulates the Czars and the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet India’s intellectuals continue to promote Marxist ideas in India’s universities as if Marxism were still an important and innovative trend in world thought.

India Resurgent as Bharat

India today in the twenty-first century is becoming resurgent as Bharat, because that is the actual foundation of the country through its enduring culture throughout the centuries.

India’s great dharmic traditions—including Yoga, Vedanta, Buddhism and Ayurveda—have gained respect throughout the world, with millions of followers in every continent. It is this older dharmic culture of Bharat that the world looks up to and hopes India develops, not the recent India of the Nehru dynasty.

Economically speaking, India is rising up today only by casting off the Marxist-Nehruvian-socialist yoke and embracing its own older Vaishya, merchant and dharmic economic traditions, which are similarly an integral part of Bharat. India was not poor when it was Bharat. It became poor when it ceased to be Bharat.

Bharat MataBharat Mata as Mother India

The land of Bharat has always been regarded as Bharat Mata, Mother India. This is not a cultural concept defined by aggression, intolerance, and materialism, but one that honors Mother Earth and Mother Nature and sees culture as a mother who nurtures us, not as a social control mechanism.

Bharat Mata is also Yoga Mata and regards human culture as a movement towards Yoga and the evolution of consciousness, such as Sri Aurobindo so eloquently proclaimed. Bharat Mata is Ma Durga, the protective force the takes us from darkness to light. She is Bharata Bhavani, Mother India as the mother of life and culture. Bharat Mata embodies the Yoga Shakti or power of spiritual striving in humanity. She is not the imposition of a religious concept upon the country but a poetic/spiritual representation of the soul of its people and its dharmic ethos.

Bharat was traditionally Vishvaguru or the world guru among nations for many centuries. People came from throughout Asia and the Middle East to study at its great centers of learning like Takshashila and Nalanda. Bharat was famous for its spiritual and scientific knowledge but also for its art, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and material prosperity.

Bharat remained prosperous until the period of British rule, showing that the colonial rulers did not raise India up but pulled it down. Colonial rulers tried to remove Bharat and in its place substitute an artificial idea of India, made according to their own biases, which they therefore had the right to rule.

Bharat Mata can be the Vishvaguru or the world guru, but India as defined by the last hundred years only cannot. It is time for Bharat to arise again and awaken the world to a greater destiny and higher awareness that goes back to its great ancient seers and yogis. A resurgent Bharat is of tremendous value for the entire world, if not essential for the future of humanity. – Vedanet, 13 August 2015

» Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (Dr David Frawley) is a guru in the Vedic tradition. He is recognized as a Vedacharya in India, and includes in his scope of studies Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient Vedic teachings going back to the oldest Rigveda. 

Raksha Bandhan
Raksha Bandhan
Bindeshwari Pathak
Narendra Modi

The Sangh and Intellectualism – Ashok Chowgule

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at RSS headquarters in Nagpur

“Not one of the people who want to associate themselves with the BJP
would be admitted within the vicinity of a detergent advertisement.”
T. K. Arun, “The BJP hype”, The Economic Times, Dec 26, 1997.
“Its phenomenal growth notwithstanding, the BJP has always lacked
acceptability in that segment of society for which BBC and the
Time magazine serve as a window to the world.”
Bhaskar Roy, “Five o’clock faces”, The Times of India, September 16, 1999.

BJPThough these two quotes name the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the sentiments they convey is intended to apply to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates. For decades, cut-and-paste articles have appeared, primarily from those belonging to the left spectrum of politics, which proclaim that the RSS has not produced any intellectuals of note.

The intention of these articles is not merely to state a fact—like the RSS headquarters is at Resham Bagh in Nagpur, or that it was founded in 1925 on Vijayadashmi day. If it were so, then it would merit a line in an article, and not a full one. And, even if a full article is written, it would not merit the multiple cut-and-paste articles that one has seen. You do not get to read an article on the architecture of Resham Bagh or the various buildings and offices in the compound, nor what happened on that momentous day in 1925.

The real intention is to imply that there has to be something intrinsically wrong with an organisation that is supposedly not able to produce any intellectuals. The leftists seem to start with the proposition that for an organisation to be successful and effective it has to keep on churning intellectuals. So, when they say that the Sangh has not been able to produce intellectuals, they are effectively saying that the Sangh is not a successful or an effective organisation.

The growth of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh

I think there would be a very few takers for the statement that the RSS is not successful or not effective. One could talk about the extent of having achieved this goal. I think a very large majority would give a score in excess of 80%. I do not base this number on any survey, but based on my own personal experience. Given that the RSS is going to complete 90 years of existence on this year’s Vijayadashmi day, and that it has been continuously growing and expanding, reinforces my experience.

The growth of the RSS has happened despite a continuous and vigorous opposition of the governments in power—the British during the pre-independence period, and the secular governments in the period after that. And also strong opposition from those occupying the intellectual space.  The articles about the RSS, particularly in the English language, have been written by the ones who had a deep antipathy to the organisation and its ideology. However, given the growth of the RSS, it would seem to me that these articles really did not have much impact in the minds of even the English readers in the Indian society.

Ashok ChowguleToday, the RSS has spread its activities to nearly all sections of the society. And its organisations lead in many sectors—for example the labour wing and the student wing, set up just prior to the independence.  Then there is the organisation that I am active with—Vishwa Hindu Parishad—which has been successfully able to bring the sants and swamis of the various sampradayas of the larger Hindu fold.  Ekal Vidyalay runs more than 40,000 schools in the tribal areas on the principle of one-teacher school. In the successful struggle against the Emergency of 1975-77, those who had come out in the streets were largely swayamsevaks, and they formed more than 70% of those who spent time in jail. It was the swayamsevaks, settled outside India, who formed the backbone of the Friends of India Society International, which ensured the flow of information to the world.

It runs large number of schools where value education is provided besides what is prescribed to get the qualification. It has put together the history of the development of science throughout our civilisation. It has encouraged Sanskrit and other Indian languages.  It has encouraged the temple priests to study the proper way to conduct the rituals, and also explain them to the devotees.  Such micro level work in the samaj has also been emulated by other Hindu organisations, leading to a big synergy of effort.

The RSS has also inspired hundreds of thousands of swayamsevak to undertake a large number of social service activities in various fields. My favourite is the Dr Hedgewar Hospital in Aurangabad, which is one of the larger private sector hospital in the country. In contrast to many of the other private sector hospitals, poor people can access quality medical treatment at very low rates, and sometimes without having to pay. It was started by a few medical doctors in Aurangabad, who decided to devote their lives in service to the people of India, forgoing an opportunity to earn large incomes if they had gone into private practice.

The leftist ‘intellectuals’

In contrast, I would like those who are opposed to the ideology of the RSS to let the people know what they have achieved in activities similar to where the RSS is present.  They can even list out the achievements in managing state funded institutions. And then we can have a discussion on the issue of successfulness and effectiveness.

The multitude of articles about RSS and lack of intellectualism, also implies that those opposed to the ideology have been continuously churning out what are called intellectuals.  It is necessary to understand how this was achieved. While not so openly stated in the past, there is now an admission that those opposed to the RSS were the ones who were dominating the state-funded institutions. That their appointment was on the basis of conforming to an ideology, and not on the basis of scholarship is clear in the next section.

The leftists have produced the intellectuals not by setting up their own institutes, but by capturing the state institutions, which were set up by using the money from the society.  And they did this through subterfuge, and not honestly. Once in the position of power they had little concern about being loyal to the society, and they tried to thrust their ideology on an unwilling people.

Three articles

To explain my point, I would like my reader to read the following articles by Ramchandra Guha:

I am deliberately using one person to make my case, because I have had correspondence with him in the past, and I attempted to put across to him the Sangh world-view on certain matters. And I met him once in Mumbai in a meeting lasting about two hours. Some time ago, he requested me not to send him any messages, and my messages to him has stopped. However, reading the comments on the articles that Ramachandra Guhahe has written, there seem to be sufficient number of people who are giving him perspectives that came to my mind.  (Provided, of course, he does read the comments.)

Guha’s twitter introduction says that he is a lapsed Marxist. I have not been able to find out when he lapsed, and I really do not see his writing to be any different from what a Marxist would write—though, perhaps due to the pressure from the social media, he does deviate from the party line here and there. But, he always seems to revert back.  Given the way Guha admires the Marxists that are mentioned in the article, he does not seem to have taken the necessary step to critically assess the Marxist ideology.

In one of the articles, Guha starts about how in 2004 a senior minister took a senior journalist for lunch, where the minister asked for names for the “directorship of a prestigious centre of historical research.”  No names were given, so we just have to take Guha’s word that it was a prestigious centre. Nor will we dwell much on why the views of a journalist (name unknown) were sought for the position, instead of doing a professional search. It reminds me of the phone conversations that the ex-lobbyist, Nira Radia, had with journalists like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai, etc.

What Guha says next is quite interesting—maybe amusing is the right word. His name was rejected because he wrote critically about Indira Gandhi, and that of Partha Chatterjee (a “distinguished political theorist”) met a similar fate because the latter wrote critically about Jawaharlal Nehru. Since we do not know the name of the institute, the nation has lost an opportunity to identify the Nehru-Gandhi sycophant who eventually made the grade. And an opportunity to evaluate his professional contribution to the “prestigious” centre. Maybe Guha can let the nation know. If nothing else, it would be an interesting gossip.

In another article, Guha talks about his first job as a supposed academic at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata, a state funded institution. He lets out that early into the job, in an interaction with a senior colleague, the latter assumed that Guha was a Marxist. (Perhaps it was true at the time, and that Guha lapsed only some years later.) Furthermore, he clearly says that this colleague was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and he did not seem to see anything wrong that a state institution is manned with card-carrying members of the communist party.

Perhaps inadvertently, Guha lets out that “(a)t least since the time of Indira Gandhi, the Central government has sought to undermine the autonomy of institutions that promote culture and scholarship.” I do not know whether Guha wrote anything substantially about the undermining while it was happening.  What is clear is that he does not dwell on the effect of the undermining today, except to state that there was undermining. He brings it up only in context of proclaiming that the RSS’ supposed attempt to undermine the integrity of the institutions will lead to a disastrous situation. As if we are presently in a land of milk and honey, where academic freedom reigns, and high quality professional research is being undertaken.

There are many other tit-bits that we can glean from the above three articles about how the Marxists used the state funded institutions to try and thrust their ideology. He admits that the leftists were allowed to capture the state institutions where one would normally find intellectuals, and that this was done with a political objective in mind. And he also says that only fellow-travellers had any hope of being admitted in the supposedly hallow portals.

However, there is a common thread that even though it was a fact that the autonomy of the various institutes was undermined, the sycophants were actually quite competent in their field of work. Not the best perhaps, but competent nevertheless.  But the reader just has to take Guha’s word that one can be competent and sycophant at the same time. For example, if post-independent history of India is not critical of the Nehru-Gandhi family, even where there is a legitimate reason, how can the history be unbiased? Of course, hindsight is perfect vision—but a society can learn from its mistakes only when it is admitted that the mistakes are made in the first place.

At one place, Guha says: “Marxist historiography is a legitimate model of intellectual enquiry, albeit one which—with its insistence on materialist explanations—is of limited use when examining the role of culture and ideas, the influence of nature and natural processes, and the exercise of power and authority.” How is it possible that a legitimate model is of limited use when it comes to applying it to so many different strands of inquiry? Such statements, and many others, makes me to conclude that Guha comes out as a confused person, drifting all over the place, and unwilling to admit that a major mistake has happened. The articles come out as written by one who has a reasonably good command over the English language, but not so much on logic or reasoning. Of course, I read it from my lens of being a right-wing.

The intellectual space

I would, therefore, like to make a distinction between an intellectual and one who occupies the intellectual space. This space consists of academic institutions, analysts who write from popular and/or specialised publications on issues relating to a nation, journalists, etc. This intellectual space need not necessarily be the one created by the state. However, when the person occupies the space created by the state, he has an aura of independence and unbiasedness.

When a reader explicitly knows that a person’s writing is influenced by his ideology, the reader is able to sift the wheat from the chaff. He also understands that to form an informed view on a matter, he will have to read articles written by others. But, when the state institutions have been captured by the leftists, and the ideological inclinations of the people occupying the position of knowledge is not generally known, the reader has a problem. Either he will accept what he reads as unadulterated truth, or he will be in a state of confusion.

To understand the problem, let us look at the contribution of the leftists towards resolving the various problems that are faced by our nation. They have projected that within the Marxist school of thought, solutions to the issues confronted by the socially underprivileged will be found. Yet, even today one frequently hears of atrocities against the Dalits primarily by those who are classified as Other Backward Castes. They have authenticated the political programme of the appeasement of the religious leaders of the minority communities, as a legitimate tool to win elections. But the Sachar Committee has highlighted the failure of the political leadership to do anything for the economic and social progress of the poor in the Muslim community.

T. N. MadanTheir definition of secularism was exclusively in terms of opposition to the RSS ideology. When sociologists like T. N. Madan and Ashis Nandy wrote one article each questioning the practice, and inquiring whether there is true secularism, they were projected by their colleagues as having suddenly being supporters of the RSS. The former wrote, in apparent exasperation, “A couple of my critics have, however, jumped to the conclusion that, since I have reservations about secularism as presented in the prevailing discourse, I must therefore be a supporter of communalism. This is patently absurd.” (T. N. Madan, “Secularism and the Intellectuals”, Economic and Political Weekly, April 30, 1994.)

The two, and many others, were intellectually terrorised in stopping their inquiry on the lines they had proposed.  And so the project of a perverted secularism still prevails.

In the economic field, the Marxist ideology determined the policy directions that the state followed. By 1980 it was clear that these policies were a failure. However, instead of introspecting on the causes of the failure, the Hindus were blamed by the Marxists for being cussed at not using the supposedly wonderful opportunities that were provided to them. Today, the same Marxists proclaim that the growth that has been achieved by the changes instituted since 1980 has done nothing for income equality between sections of the society. They do not even think of considering to examine whether there was income equality when their policies dominated the thinking at the time.

In case of history, the Marxist starting point is that there is nothing in the history of our nation that we need to be proud of. Hence, any inquiry in our past will only lead to disappointment and so there is no profit in it. In fact, the history is presented in a form that does not conform to the national consciousness. During the 1940s, they said that India consists of many countries, following the line of the Soviets in USSR. They completely ignored the cultural unity that enabled Adi Shankaracharya to give discourse on Hindu philosophy all over the country.  Or that of Swami Vivekananda speaking, again all over the country, on the same subject after he came back from the World Parliament of Religions, held in 1893.

Arun ShourieIt is also pertinent to point out how the leftists used their positions in the various state organisations to enrich themselves. Guha accepts that the Marxists who were given positions of influence in the state run institutions went about their task in a partisan and nepotistic manner. And, as Arun Shourie pointed out in his book Eminent Historians, they also had funds coming their way without showing any results of their efforts. In fact, Shourie has clearly shown the blatant disregard that these eminent historians had to any normal rules of public funded institutions, and an attitude that would seem to indicate that it is the duty of the society to ensure that they had a luxurious lifestyle, even though the people on whose behalf they claim to be speaking live lives of misery.

But, as is said, you cannot fool all the people all the time. The RSS, through its various organisations, and through mass level contacts amongst all the classes of people, have been able to bypass those who occupied the intellectual space. And through these contacts, the RSS has been able to disabuse the minds of the people of what can only be called the brainwashing that they have been subjected to by the leftists. The tragedy for the nation is that this brainwashing was conducted by using the financial resources provided by the victims, that is the people of India.

Marxism and intellectualism

To really understand the failure of the Marxist ideology, we need to look into the history of Marxism and intellectualism. A defining feature of Marxism was that there was never been a robust discussion, amongst those who continued to identify themselves as Marxists, about the premise on which it was based. Organisational rigidity and a top-down leadership ensured that free thinking was actively discouraged.  With changing social environment, the discussions would have fine-tuned the ideology to make it relevant and dynamic. I believe it was John Maynard Keynes who said that when the data changed, he had no problem to change his views.

D. N. GhoshMarxism, right from the time it captured state power at the political level, has had a deep disdain and suspicion of those occupying the intellectual space, particularly those outside the state institutions. Lenin said: “In general, as you probably know, I am not particularly fond of intelligentsia, and our new slogan ‘eliminate illiteracy’ should by no means be taken as expressing a wish to give birth to a new intelligentsia. To ‘eliminate illiteracy’ is necessary only so that every peasant, every worker can read our decrees, orders and appeals by himself without anyone’s help. The goal is purely practical. That’s all there is to it”.  (Quoted in D. N. Ghosh, “A God that is failing”, The Times of India, December 6, 2007.)

In effect, Lenin set about creating an army of useful idiots, who, being literate, could be given space in state institutions to take the Marxist propaganda forward. And the persons occupying the intellectual space found it monetarily profitable to lend their services. This happened in countries where the opportunity to earn decent salaries were limited, and the useful idiots allowed himself to be exploited.  In the developed countries, the useful idiots were also created—here the funds used were from the society. But due to reasons of accountability, the Marxist had competition, and the same institutes also encouraged a critical study of Marxism, and alternate paradigms were also provided to the students and the society.

But, merely occupying the intellectual space really does not necessarily make one an intellectual.  There is an important characteristic that is required, the one that Ghosh, in the above referred to article, quotes Albert Camus as saying, “… the intellectual’s role will be to say that the king is naked when he is, and not to go into raptures over his imaginary trappings”. The writings of Guha would show that the Marxists who have commandeered the position of patronage in all the state funded institutions know that if they said that the king was naked, they would have to suffer the same fate as that of the intellectuals (in the true sense) who opposed Marxist leaders like Lenin and Stalin.

In every country with a Marxist government, even in West Bengal, the ones occupying the intellectual space were always under threat of the state funding drying up. If anyone wanted to say that the king is naked had examples before him about what would happen if he mustered the courage to be honest to his profession. The sad experience of dissidents like Maxim Gorky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the Soviet Union were examples of what would happen to them if they even thought of mustering courage to defy the party line. Every Marxist government has shown the same disdain for genuine intellectuals as expressed by Lenin. They thought such people would be a threat to their position of power, and so had to be controlled, if possible, or neutralised (by exile or by death) otherwise.

In China, during the time of Mao Tse Tung, anyone occupying the intellectual space showed even a hint of questioning the party line was sent to labour camps for supposed re-education. In Cambodia, thousands of intelligent people were killed merely for being intelligent.

A useful idiot can never be an intellectual, who should have the interests of the people at large so that they are free in all sense. And when the situation is going in a direction that is not desirable, they should speak out in favour of the people. They should have no fear of their own safety, nor of their own material well-being. Genuine intellectuals should be a threat to the government in power.

Do read the full Ghosh article:

He also says: “For years on end, Stalin and the top party leadership carried on this tradition, treating dissenting intelligentsia as “socially dangerous” elements.”  The dissenters in India are those who think that within the parameters of Hindutva, solutions to the nation’s problems can be located.

Lessons in logic

The first lesson in logic dwells on the following: “All the ducks that I have seen are white, therefore all ducks are white.” The second lesson dwells on what is to be done if the above person meets another who says: “All the ducks that I have seen are grey, therefore all ducks are grey.” There can be one of two reactions—to contend to the other that what he has seen are not really ducks, or to consider the possibility that ducks could have a colour other than white.  It is only when one is ideologically driven, and not logic driven, that one will straight away insist the former, rather than reassess one’s opinion and then come to the conclusion.

A true intellectual, when given the additional data, will accept his conclusion that all ducks are white does not conform to the reality. Furthermore, he will investigate if Yadav Rao Joshiducks have more colours other than white and grey. He will define the duck not on the basis of the colour, but on other characteristics, like the shape of the beak, the size of the body, the way the bird walks, whether it floats on water, etc.

The late Yadavrao Joshi, a very senior RSS pracharak of yesteryears said that whether there are intellectuals in the Sangh is for others to say. But one can definitely say that there are intelligent persons in the Sangh. One such intelligent person, Dr Keshav Hegdewar, started the RSS ninety years ago. He inspired other intelligent persons to join the RSS, and all these intelligent people have built up the RSS to what it is today. The RSS would like the people to judge them by the work that is done, and not by flaunting the education qualifications, or the name of the state funded institute that they are employed at.

The intellectual Kshatriya

Even though the intellectual space was denied to them by the machinations of the Marxists, and their political masters, the Hindus worked in their own way to keep the memory of our civilisation and spirituality alive. The Hindu samaj provided theses Intellectual Kshatriyas the financial support to maintain their body and soul together. And because these Kshatriyas were working for a civilizational cause, they did not much care for material benefits. The viewed the value of their work by the body of knowledge they imparted.

The task of those who looked at history from their own civilisational perspective was not all that difficult because this work has been going on for centuries. India is unique in the sense that those who came here from outside to conquer the land and subjugate the civilisation were not fully successful. The people may have been politically ruled by those who were ill-disposed to the philosophy and culture of the Hindus, but their control stopped at the level of the mundane issues relating to administration. The Hindus continued to control, and nurture, the civil institutions through which their history and culture was propagated through generations. And this formed the base on which the Hindus could easily build upon when they had the political freedom to do so.

The Hindu samaj provided the Kshatriyas various platforms to convey their thoughts to the people at large. In the true Hindu tradition, these platforms were not a one-way flow of information. There would be debates and there would be discussions, so that the Intellectual Kshatriya could refine their thoughts, as well keep them relevant to the needs of the time. Through such debates, Adi Shankarachrya was as much a student as he was a teacher.

The Hindus who ventured into natural sciences always found the philosophy books as important to their work as the ones in sciences. Many of them wrote treatises on Hindu philosophy with as much fluency as the ones they wrote on sciences. And they had no hesitation in accepting that the understanding of Hindu philosophy made them better scientists.

Sita Ram Goel & Ram SwarupOut of the tens of thousands of the Intellectual Kashatriyas, I would like to name two—Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel—to whom I am grateful for forming my own thought process and keep them rooted in the Hindu culture and history. Apart from being a historian, Goel also set up a publication house, which gave so many others to see their work in print, and so reach a larger number of people. Other Hindus have posted these works on the internet, and it has become available to tens of millions of people all over the world.  The influence spread not just to those who were born Hindus. Others who came in contact with the people of India, and who soon started to look at Hinduism with a certain amount of empathy, found these works as a basis to research in a manner that made sense.

Due to their training in pamphleteering, and thinking that language can make a good substitute for logic, the Marxists are not able to comprehend that without intellectualism a mass based organisation cannot reach the levels that the Sangh has. While emotions are very important for a mass based organisation, without a sound grounding in sensibleness, the organisation cannot sustain itself in any meaningful way. Through various programmes, the Sangh explains its world view on various issues to its swayamsevaks, who then convey it to others through their contacts. Also, through the programme of mass contacts, these views are conveyed to the people at large.

Dump Marxism!In conclusion

The swayamsevaks in general, and the Intellectual Kshatriyas in particular, will not allow the histrionics of the Marxist to distract them from going about their self-appointed tasks of keeping Hinduism not just alive but also dynamic. We know that it was the sacrifice of our ancestors that ensured the survival of our civilisation.  We will not allow this sacrifice go in vain.

» Ashok Chowgule is the Working President (External) of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.  This article is a tribute to the intelligent people in the Sangh Parivar, the Intellectual Kshatriyas, and the hundreds of millions of Hindus who are doing their own bit for a resurgent Hinduism.

» A shorter version of this article under the title “Intellectualism And The Sangh” is available at Swarajya. 

A reductive reading of Santhara – Shiv Visvanathan

Santhara of Muni Jasraj (28 February 2013)

Shiv Visvanathan“The court has held that extinguishing life, sacrificing it or effacing it cannot be considered as acts of dignity. A right to die cannot be a part of a right to life. In constructing such a judgment, the court’s ethno-centricity becomes obvious. It enshrines a piece of Christian theology and Anglo-Saxon law in its response to the logic of Santhara. Eventually, the judgment creates a monologic sense of life and a standardised sense of what death and dying is. In fact, it has missed an opportunity to look at life and death and the ethics of dignity and dying in a creative way.” – Prof Shiv Visvanathan

Charles Dickens: "If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, "the law is a ass — a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience." Courts, as institutions of interpretation, intrigue citizens, and often awe them. The dignity of their ritual, the imprimatur of the official, the detailed litany of textual interpretations before a judgment is arrived at, are often impressive. Judgments often have the moral gravitas and the narrative power of a novel. Yet, a badly done judgment, even if it appeals to the secular mind, lacks conviction. One felt that about the judgments around nuclear energy; equally, one senses these limits in the judicial reading of Santhara.

I refer to the Rajasthan High Court’s verdict against Santhara, or the centuries-old Jain practice of voluntarily starving to death. On August 10, 2015, the court’s Jaipur Bench ruled on a public-interest litigation (PIL) filed in May 2006 against the practice. It held that Santhara would henceforth be treated as “suicide” and accordingly made punishable under the relevant sections—Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) and Section 306 (abetment of suicide)—of the Indian Penal Code. It made its absolute rejection of the Jain philosophy underlying the practice unequivocally clear. An appeal challenging the order has now been filed in the Supreme Court.

A way of life

The word Santhara means a way of life and encompasses a way of dying as well. In Jainism, the body is seen as a temporary residence for the soul which is reborn. One must remember that a word can embrace a multiplicity of worlds and meanings. As a result, translation is one of the most difficult of acts. It demands a delicacy of understanding about words which, in their consequences, can be lethal. Equivalences are welcome when we seek unity but we need a unity that can sustain the multiple senses of difference.

The critical word here is suicide. One is almost tempted to be facetious. I remember that moment of epiphany in the film Sholay when actor Dharmendra, as the character Veeru, standing up on a water tower, tells Basanti (played by Hema Malini) that he will commit suicide. An old man in the crowd asks: “what is suicide?” The answer is profoundly wise. It says when Englishmen kill themselves, the act is called ‘suicide’.

I was struck by this scene as I read the High Court judgment on suicide in the case of Nikhil Soni vs. Union of India. There was an element of irony to it. The scene in Sholay is straight from the 1969 classic, The Secret of Santa Vittoria and yet, in the very moment of mimicry, the movie emphasises the essential drama of difference. The court judgment, while playing with the cultures of difference, eventually succumbs to a reductive act which is textually disappointing.

There are critical nuggets of information in the initial pages. It claims that the Jain attitude to the body is different from the Christian attitude to the body and that Santhara is a ritual farewell to the body; it is an act of non-violence performed as an ethical act. The court hints that for the petitioners, Santhara cannot be suicide. The etymology and the cosmologies are radically different.

The English word ‘suicide’ means a deliberate killing of oneself. The Etymology Dictionary cites W. E. H. Lecky, in a History of European Morals where he writes of the stigma attached to suicide. He claims that even in 1749, “a suicide named Portier was dragged through the streets of Paris with his face to the ground, hung from the gallows by his feet and then thrown into the sewers.” Right from its origins up to the French Revolution, suicide was a mark of stigma of criminality and pollution.

Different narrative

Santhara encapsulates a different narrative. It is a ritual act of purification, done in consultation with a guru, and follows the most detailed of procedures. It cannot be an impulsive act or an egoistic one. It bears the imprimatur of theology and the approval of society.

As India became colonised, many Indian rituals came under the critical Anglo-Saxon lens, and translation and interpretation became a critical part of legal exegesis. Is Santhara a giving up of life or of taking death in one’s stride? For a culture that believes in rebirth, is Santhara philosophically or ethically suicide? The frame widens as the drama becomes sociological because then there will have to be a differentiation made between sati, suicide and Santara.

French sociologist Emile Durkheim, in his Suicide, a groundbreaking book in the field of sociology, basically made a differentiation between three forms of suicide—the anomique [anomie], the egoistic and the altruistic genres of suicide (based on the personalities of people). Anomie is a state of normlessness of rootlessness where an individual commits suicide because nothing binds him. It is associated with social disorganisation and imbalance and Durkheim has tried to illustrate this by giving examples from economic life. Egoistic suicide occurs when the individual feels full of himself. These are suicides committed by persons who are self-centred and to whom self-regard is the highest regard. In altruistic suicide, a person sacrifices himself. It is a form of sacrifice in which a person puts an end to his life by some heroic means in order to promote or further the interest of the cause or idea dear to him. In a sociological sense, altruistic suicide comes closest to Santhara. It is a ritual of giving up the body in times of old age, famine or catastrophe or when an individual feels the need to be closer to cosmic cycles.

As one looks at the colonial interpretation, the critique of sati, where a woman sacrifices herself for her husband, brought condemnation. Santhara was read in a different way as an act of non-violence tuned to the deepest norms of Jain culture.

Prof Shekhar HattangadiLanguage and interpretation

Experts cited indicate that it adds a dignity to dying, where death is in continuum with rebirth. Shekhar Hattangadi, a Mumbai-based professor of constitutional law, has sought to outline some of these conflicts in his award-winning documentary, Santhara: A Challenge to Indian Secularism? But one cannot reduce it to an encounter with colonialism. To place it in the alleged opposition of religion and secularism fails to read it as a failure of language. There is a flatness, a narrowness to the English language which even the presence of James Joyce, William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Shakespeare could not contain. For example, the word ‘corruption’ lacks the multiple senses and the flair of society which invents words like upari, dakshina, seva for a bribe. Santhara is a multivalent term which cannot be reduced to the dreariness of suicide as closure or a termination. The English term cannot comprehend Santhara in terms of being a ritual exit and a rite of passage to a different world. Santhara, performed correctly, is ritual non-violence. In fact, I would feel that the court’s judgment misinterprets both the word and world.

There are doubts about Santhara. Many people have pointed to the coercive, even aspirational aspects of the practice. Witnesses claim that families whose reputations are at stake often refuse to let a person change his mind. There is an aspirational aspect as families of the individual who wishes to observe Santhara get respect and status, so they often tend to advertise the act. Here, Santara is often presented as sati. Its voluntariness is forgotten.

The court had to make a differentiation between Santhara and euthanasia, sati and suicide. It has made brief and superficial attempts to do so. And in this abortive act of comparative sociology, the ritual dignity of Santara has been lost. In the confusion between the literal and the symbol, between a construction of fact and celebration, the meaning is lost.

Santhara PetitionA narrow view

The court—after its abbreviated move through philosophy, ethics, language and law—has reduced the whole to one narrow issue, namely the test of essentiality. It asks where Santhara is an essential tenet of Jainism and declares that it is not. Such a litmus test might work in textbook chemistry but it fails to work in the contextuality and polysemy of culture. The court could have been strict about aberrations or deviations from Santhara but to reduce the ritual act to suicide amounts to an exhibition of illiteracy. The court seems more worried about the debates on euthanasia and sati than about looking at Santhara as a cultural practice with its own repertoire of meanings.

The court claims that some rights can encompass their opposite. The freedom of speech does not compel one to speak. Yet, a right to life does not include the right to die under certain circumstances. Ethics and religion lose out to the wooden definitions of Santhara, which, as a ritual, has qualities of a controlled experiment. The court has held that extinguishing life, sacrificing it or effacing it cannot be considered as acts of dignity. A right to die cannot be a part of a right to life. In constructing such a judgment, the court’s ethno-centricity becomes obvious. It enshrines a piece of Christian theology and Anglo-Saxon law in its response to the logic of Santhara. Eventually, the judgment creates a monologic sense of life and a standardised sense of what death and dying is. In fact, it has missed an opportunity to look at life and death and the ethics of dignity and dying in a creative way. In creating such a standardised theology, the fact of justice becomes secondary. This has wider implications because words in one culture cannot lose their meaning in translation. Language and justice die or are diminished when language is deprived of its right to polysemy and to a multiplicity of meaning. When language is rendered captive, justice loses out in the long run.

The aridity of a reductive secularism often comes out in displays of language. In fact, translation becomes a test of justice. This is the epic tragedy of the Santhara judgment. It conveys the fact that nation states that can inflict and adjudicate death, often feel lost in the complexity of the phenomenon. – The Hindu, 24 August 2015

» Prof Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist who teaches at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy in Sonipat, Haryana.


Members of the Jain community staging a demonstration in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s offic,e in protest against the Rajasthan High Court judgment on ‘Santhara’, in Belagavi on Monday.



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