Tag Archives: Nehru

A Few Remarks On The Absence of Scientific Temper in the Land of Bose, Raman, and Salam

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

[I must begin with a “thank you” to the Indian Diaspora of Washington DC* and to Razi Saheb for letting me say a few words here. It is an honour for me to share the dais, even if virtually, with Gauhar Raza and Pervez Hoodbhoy. I was stressed about Razi Saheb being a stern time-keeper. So, I decided to jot down what I have to say. But the flip side is that I did not know at the time of preparing these notes what Gauhar and Pervez would say. Please bear with me if what I say turns out to be redundant in the light of what has already been said, or if it appears tangential to the concerns of the organizers or of the other two speakers.]

Let me first get some elementary considerations out of the way. The title refers to the land of Bose, Raman and Salam, which might betray an assumption that a scientist is guaranteed to possess scientific temper and he is influential enough to leave an imprint on the society. In an ideal world, perhaps, that ought to be the case. But even scientists do not live in an ideal world.

Take the example of Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest icon of science, whose genius did put its final and authoritative seal on the Scientific Revolution. Running away from plague in Cambridge to his native village, the young and solitary scholar single-handedly laid the foundation of modern science. He accomplished this during a mere 18 months of his anni mirabiles of 1665-66 when he formulated his laws of motion and his theory of gravitation. In addition, he also invented calculus during the same months. But, after that, he devoted a large part of his long life to the practice of alchemy and to the theological labours of interpreting the Bible. He denounced what he thought were corruptions of Christianity – such as trinitarianism – and adopted a radically puritanical version of Arianism that considered the Bible as an exact Revelation about the future. Nothing in Newton was of normal proportions – neither his scientific genius nor his rigid dogmatism and confident superstitions.

If you think I am being unfair to Newton – after all he could only be a product of his times – you are already conceding part of the point I am driving at. But let me cite a few examples from more recent times before I try to peep into the relationship between Science and Scientific Temper. Pascual Jordan, a pioneer of Quantum Mechanics, was an active Nazi who continued to hold his fascist views even after his rehabilitation in post-war Germany. Physics Nobel laureates Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark too were active Nazis and confirmed anti-Semites. A little earlier, the great mathematician, Emmy Noether, had been prevented from becoming a faculty in the mathematics department of the University of Gottingen just because she was a woman. An exasperated David Hilbert famously said, “I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission as a privatdozent. After all, we are a university, not a bathhouse.” And a scientist friend of mine reminded me the other day that our own Sir C V Raman, one in the title of this program, was opposed to a woman being admitted as a Ph.D. student, because, in his views, women were unfit to do science.

I am not here to withhold the certificate of scientific temper from being awarded to eminent scientists. My purpose is to examine whether lack of scientific temper comes in the way of doing good science. Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote a book some thirty years ago. The book is called “Islam and Science”, and the subtitle is “Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality”. In the book he cites a telling example. Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam – the same Salam who too is in the title of this program – came up with one of the greatest physical theories of 20th century – the unified quantum theory of electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. They invented this theory independently of each other and shared the Nobel Prize for it. Weinberg was an avowed atheist; Salam was self-confessedly a believer. Salam wrote the foreword to Pervez’s book in which he concurs with the author that being a believer made no difference, one way or the other, to his coming up with the theory. There you have it from the horse’s mouth. What, then, is the relationship between science and scientific temper?

The scientist does not live by science alone. Even a scientist’s mind is not entirely colonised by Scientific Reason. I do not know if, like the brain, the mind too has two separate but interconnected lobes. But allow me to use a simple-minded metaphor. Scientific temper, it seems to me, has something to do with the rational side of the mind trying to influence the emotional side. This may give rise to a reasonable and cultivated individual, but it can also result in disaster. With the rational side meddling too much with the emotional side, it may give rise to a rather childish adult, if not a veritable Dr Strangelove.

Scientific temper is a tricky business. It involves a very intricate game between Reason and Culture. Neither side of the game we understand very well. There are those who think that Reason is transparent, whereas Culture harbours dark corners. The opposing side points out that this is a false picture. It labours to show that Reason has murky origins – it did not result from an immaculate conception. And, it is not at all self-aware – it does not know that it is inextricably entangled in structures of power.

Which side is more important for a successful and at the same time a meaningful life? Which side should sit in judgement? It is a debate that is hard to settle. There are funny episodes, for example, of scientists sitting in judgment over poetry. Paul Dirac, one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century once told J R Oppenheimer, another great scientist and a polymath, “I don’t see how you can work on physics and write poetry at the same time. In science, you want to say something nobody knew before, in words everyone can understand. In poetry, you are bound to say something that everybody knows already, in words that nobody can understand.” The judgements of poets about science, on the other hand, are usually not so funny. They are often much darker – prone to denouncing the supposed soullessness of science or mocking it as one mocks the childishness of a grown-up.

With this much as a background, let me now come to the topic of the day. I do agree with the assertion that scientific temper is largely missing from the societies and cultures that form a distinct civilisation on the subcontinent. But, I am less surprised that it is missing despite scientists likes of Bose, Raman and Salam. I am more surprised that it is missing despite someone like Jawaharlal Nehru. To my mind, Nehru was the best and the wisest proponent of the desirability of scientific temper. Let me quote a passage from The Discovery of India even if it consumes a precious minute,

“Science deals with the domain of positive knowledge but the temper which it should produce goes beyond that domain. The ultimate purposes of man may be said to be to gain knowledge, to realize truth, to appreciate goodness and beauty. The scientific method of objective inquiry is not applicable to all these, and much that is vital in life seems to lie beyond its scope – the sensitiveness to art and poetry, the emotion that beauty produces, the inner recognition of goodness. The botanist and the zoologist may never experience the charm and beauty of nature; the sociologist may be wholly lacking in love for humanity. But even when we visit the mountain tops where philosophy dwells and high emotions fill us, or gaze at the immensity beyond, that approach and temper are still necessary.”

I might also add that the Indian Constitution is the only Constitution in the world which prescribes developing “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform” as a fundamental duty of every citizen.

All this, however, may sound too philosophical and too idealistic. How can one be sure that scientific temper really matters to a society or a civilisation? I think history has provided a very real example. Let me dwell on it for a minute.

Pervez’s book that I have already mentioned opens with a parable of “a team of Martian anthropologists visiting Earth sometime between the 9th and 13th centuries”. They find that “the civilization with greatest promise is the Islamic civilization with its Bait-ul-Hikmah, astronomical observatories, hospitals and schools”. Then they visit again towards the end of 20th century and find that “their earlier prediction had turned out to be wrong. The part of humanity which once seemed to offer the greatest promise now appears inescapably trapped in a state of frozen medievalism, rejecting the new and clinging desperately to the old. On the other hand, the former retrogrades have climbed the evolutionary ladder and are now aiming for the stars. Was this stunning reversal of roles, ask the visitors, the mere misfortune of one and the good fortune of the other? Was it due to invasions and military defeats? Or was it the result of a fundamental shift in outlook and attitudes?”

With minor variations the parable may apply equally well to the fate of the subcontinent. If the Martians were to visit here sometime during the 17th century, they would be dazzled by the Navratnas (nine jewels) in Akbar’s court and they would marvel at the fact that the subcontinent accounted for nearly one third of the total world production. However, on their second visit at the turn of the millennium, they would be equally disappointed with this civilisation.

Perhaps the real question to ask is: why and how did the West pull ahead? That may shed easy light on why everyone else got left behind. The answer is obvious, but, like the case of the elephant in the room, there have been reasons for ignoring the obvious. Looking for deeper causalities behind the long trajectories of history may no longer be the intellectual flavour of the day. After all, this is the era of suspicions about grand narratives. We who got left behind can derive satisfaction from the all-round denunciations of colonialism and imperialism and attribute all that we suffer from to their crimes. We may rejoice that those in the high chairs of western academia are raising an intellectual storm against science and modernity which, supposedly, have been nothing but handmaidens of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism. The postcolonial theorist may continue to uncover sinister doings of the long dead colonialism. But someday we will have to ask – what is in it for us on the subcontinent? These critics are definitely making the western societies better, more cultivated, more democratic and more multicultural. But they already had science and modernity; they had already pulled ahead. How should we find our path out of poverty and superstition? What kind of future should we visualize for ourselves?

Explanations about why and how did the West pull ahead fill entire libraries. But, in some ways, the answer is too obvious: West did it with the help of science and modernity. Of course, both were born along with capitalism and colonialism. But one should not throw the baby with the bathwater. It is truly astonishing that there exist high theories declaring that all claims of science about universal truths, objectivity and uniqueness of scientific method are false; that all cultures and communities in all ages had equally valid claims to knowledge and method. In India a simple way has been found to support such theories – all one has to do is to claim that everything that modern science has accomplished, and will ever accomplish, is already there in the Vedas.

In any case, West did not accomplish the miracle of Great Divergence only through capitalism and industrial revolution. Enlightenment and Modernity played an equally important role. I have already referred to the complex interaction between Science and Culture. In 18th century Western Europe this imparted an added acceleration to history. And it took nearly two centuries after the advent of modern science for scientific temper to seep into western culture. Enlightenment was the name given to this process of seeping in.

Enlightenment and Modernity cannot just be imported or imitated. This is because of the fact that science is one but cultures are many. All cultures must find their own ways to imbibe science and animate modernity. Among those who were left behind, there have been a few successful examples of catching up with the West. Soviet Union used to be one such example but it collapsed. Russia, in any case, was too close to the European civilisation to count as a distinctive example. In the East, Japan earlier and China now have been such examples. What has stopped the subcontinent from being another such example?

This too is an enormous subject and an extraordinarily complex one. It is said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. But let me rush in nevertheless. Among many millennial historical processes that have gone into the making a distinct civilisation on the subcontinent, one is special and unique. Elements of it may be found in other lands but on the subcontinent it has played role like no other place on the planet. This, in my opinion, has been the single largest obstacle to scientific temper seeping into our culture. Let me conclude by pointing a finger at it.

I am alluding to the fact that nearly all religions on the subcontinent took, in varying degrees, a mystical-devotional form, comprising of numerous sects led by gurus, pirs, mahatmas and other god-men – all engaged in the task of paving a plebeian road for a direct access to God without the mediation of priests or books or other intermediaries. On the Hindu side it emerged in the South as the Bhakti Movement and spread to the North in the second millennium. On the Muslim side it made its way through Afghanistan to the north-west of India and spread through sufis, dervishes and pirs. The phenomenon also gave rise to a new religion – Sikhism. It is this phenomenon of Bhakti, Sufism, Sikhism and assorted mystical-devotional movements that is at the heart of a distinct civilisation on the subcontinent.

This phenomenon has been judged favourably by nearly everyone. It has won praises from the religious and the non-religious, from traditionalists and modernists, from the right-wing as well as the left-wing. Nearly everyone prefers heterodoxy to orthodoxy. There is no denying that in many ways it has contributed positively to the culture and civilization on the subcontinent. And yet, there is a very large negative fall-out that has been largely ignored.

This phenomenon triggers processes that obstruct the advance of scientific temper and modernity. It encourages blind faith at the cost of a genuine sense of wonder; prevents religiosity from turning genuinely spiritual and becoming philosophical; prevents the philosophical from becoming reasoned; prevents Reason from seeping into Culture. It has been the principal vehicle of unreason, blind faith and superstition in our part of the world. George Orwell once said, “Saints should always be judged guilty until proven innocent”. An ironical meaning has been added to Orwell by today’s India where god-men do not lose followers even after being convicted as rapists and murderers.

Even Nehru fails to grapple with the civilizational consequences of Bhakti Movement. He harbours contradictions. He admires Vivekanand, Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Einstein – all at the same time. He was a great man – a visionary, a leader, a thinker, a statesman. Like Whitman he could perhaps say, “I am large, I contain multitudes”. He failed because the weight of the past was too heavy. He could not speak bare truths because he had to carry his people along. That is why, sometimes, you need to listen to small men too. They can speak the bare truth as they are spared the onerous task of carrying Nehru’s burden.

This is where I will stop.

——————————————-

Dr Ravi Sinha, Theoretical Physicist, Activist, Scholar, associated with Progressive Movements and Writer

[* The Indian Diaspora Washington DC Metro, USA organised an online panel discussion on the theme ‘Absence of Scientific Temper in the Lands of Scientists Raman, Bose, Abdus Salaam on 19 th November 2022.

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, Eminent Physicist, Prominent Public Intellectual, Civil Rights Activist, Author, Columnist from Pakistan ; Dr Ravi Sinha, Theoretical Physicist, Activist, Scholar, associated with Progressive Movements and Writer ; Mr Gauhar Raza, Former Chief Scientist, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Civil Rights Activist, Poet, Documentary Filmmaker both from India shared their ideas at the programme which was followed by discussion.

Prof Razi Raziuddin, Scientist, Founder, Indian Diaspora, Washington DC Metro, USA shared welcoming remarks. ]

Axing Scholarships, Denying Opportunities

When Government itself Does Not Have Any Qualms in rationalising Drona Mindset

( Photo Courtesy : Feminism in India)

[H]istory has come to a stage when the moral man, the complete man, is more and more giving way, almost without knowing it, to make room for the . . .commercial man, the man of limited purpose. This process, aided by the wonderful progress in science, is assuming gigantic proportion and power, causing the upset of man’s moral balance, obscuring his human side under the shadow of soul-less organization.

—Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism, 1917

( Quoted in ‘Not for Profit – Why Democracy Needs Humanities, Martha Nussbaum, Princeton University Press, 2010)

A single story is sometimes enough to tell how an institution functions and how it needs to be overhauled.

Aruna’s long struggle to get overseas scholarship is one such story.

Son of landless agricultural labourers from Orissa, this bright student, belonging to a socially oppressed community, had applied to get a overseas scholarship via the National Overseas Scholarship – which awards scholarships to students from SC, ST, Denotified tribes etc – and even had lost two years in bureaucratic wrangling despite the fact that he had already got admission into Essex University.

Thanks to the timely intervention of a group of Ambedkarite thinkers from Nagpur, who filed a petition in the Delhi Highcourt on his behalf , which ultimately ruled in the student’s favour.

It would be cliche to say that Aruna’s struggle is an exception.

Story of Vishal Kharat is qualitatively no different who is still trying to get a scholarship for the last two years and has discovered to his dismay that the scholarship portal itself does not work properly.

Instances galore how this ambitious scheme which was launched in the wee hours of India’s independence when Nehru was the Prime Minister and a great scholar and freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a Cabinet Minister for education, has been left to go slowly into oblivion.

The latest decision by the Union ministry of social justice and empowerment, to not to fund scholarships for marginalised students keen to study India’s history, culture abroad, is just another indication of how it is being implemented.

We can recall that it was the year 2012 when UPA government led by Congress was in the saddle this scheme was extended to Humanities as well and every year 100 students from the socially deprived, oppressed communities started receiving it but with the change of power at the centre things started changing drastically

Like many of its earlier decisions, this decision to axe scholarship to study humanities abroad was taken without consulting the stakeholders involved in the process or without even giving a hint of how the government wants to proceed in this unique empowerment initiative. The fact that the final date to apply for this scheme is to expire on 31 st March and when there was hardly anytime left to young scholars who are keen to study abroad, to search for alternate path to fulfill their dreams.

The rationale being provided by the powers that be appears unconvincing.  

It talks of utilising rich availability of repositories, records as well as books available in Indian institutions and various experts on this subject of India’s culture, civilisation etc and divert the resources thus saved to study other subjects like Science, technology.

It is rather difficult to believe this claim but even if for the sake of discussion we concede, can it be said with certainty that the existing faculty and these institutions would be sensitive to the issue or the concerns of emerging talents from the oppressed, exploited sections of our society, and would be accommodating as well! Fact is that even Higher Educational Institutions are not free from exclusions, discrimination  on the basis of caste, gender, community and despite constitutional provisions for affirmative action existing since decades, the character of the academia in most of these institutions is very much exclusive mainly dominated by the so called upper castes.

Cases of discrimination faced by students from such Institutions keep piling up leading even to many unfortunate incidents – rightly called as ‘institutional murders’ of many such talents.

The stories of suicides of  the likes of of RohithVemula, ( HCU, Hyderabad) ; Payal Tadvi ( Medical College, Mumbai,) or Fathima Latheef ( IIT Madras) and many of their ilk cannot be seen as exceptions.

A related point is the status of academic freedom in India.

With the ascendance of right-wing politics world over the very idea of academic freedom has come under attack globally – including India

Thanks to the majoritarian turn in the Indian politics where religious minorities are being further marginalised and invisibilised – the ambience which exists here within the academia itself is a pale shadow of its earlier situation. It is becoming increasingly difficult nay impossible to have a critical, open minded discussion on themes, topics which are found not palatable to the ruling dispensation which is a prerequisite for any healthy educational institution.

We have before us cancellation of international seminars on innocuous themes even like Scientific Temper or teachers being hauled to courts after taking up discussions about ‘Kashmir within the class ‘ or for engaging in open ended discussion about nationalism inside class or students-teachers being charged with sedition for protesting about highhandedness of the government.

Secondly, with the rightwing holding reins of power with a brutal majority, has also led to radical changes in the content of humanity studies playing mythology over facts e.g. there are allegations how the draft history syllabus pushed by the UGC presents a theory of the origin of caste system which relates to the advent of the ‘Muslim rule’ here.

Can we ever accept that these bright students opting for scholarships abroad who have themselves experienced caste, community or class based deprivation, discrimination in their younger days, would be ever ready to easily gulp down such trash as intellectual discourse.

Definitely not.

This decision to axe funds to socially oppressed sections to study humanity abroad very much gels with the overt concerns of the people in power which are evident in the New Education Policy 2020 which envisions restoring the the role of India as a ‘Vishwa Guru’ and interestingly remains silent on caste and other discriminations and even does not talk about reservations. It clubs SC / ST, OBC and minority communities as an acronym SEDGs – Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups.

What needs to be underlined that this step by the Ministry has raised concerns among the members of the international academic community, and scholars of India spread all over the world as well  and in an open letter addressed to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment they have demanded that the government withdraws this immediate changes in the policy.

It emphasises how ‘[t]he argument that one need not go abroad to study India is intellectually flawed and will only serve to isolate Indian scholarship from the rest of the world.’ and these amendments attest to a lack of understanding of how interdisciplinary research is conducted today, where natural sciences, law, history, sociology and the humanities work together beyond national boundaries.

Another important point which it make that how it will further negatively impact women recipients of this scholarship who are already ‘disproportionately under-represented in scientific and technological disciplines and tend to more easily find opportunities in the Social Sciences and Humanities’

Last but not the least it also displays the great hiatus between the outwardly, strong image of the ruling dispensation and how paranoid, insecure it is about deeper fault lines of the Indian society.

Perhaps it worries that with increasing interest of the academia of the west in what is happening to the largest democracy in the world, and the study of caste and its attendant asymmetries receiving special attention by them, and also dalit activists, scholars there pursuing it at various levels there, these exclusivist hierarchies have rapidly attracted attention. Not some time ago the California State University system added caste to its non-discrimination policy, prohibiting caste-based discrimination or bias across its 23 campuses.

The ruling dispensation knows very well that the more students from dalit, adivasi and other deprived sections of society go out to study abroad, it will have to be ready to face many such embarassing moments because whereas it itself is keen to invisibilise caste once for all, and even clubbed all these sections – the SC / ST, OBC and minority communities as an acronym SEDGs – Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups; the reality as it exists would continue to haunt it.

Wishful visions, dishonest tales and bitter fruit

Review of ‘Malevolent Republic : A Short History of New India’ by K. S. Komireddi

Image result for malevolent republic

‘The idea of a peace-loving, nonviolent India exists, persists, as part of a selectively constructed and assiduously cultivated national self-image in the midst of a society pervaded by social and political violence…’ argued Prof Upinder Singh, in her well-researched voluminous book ‘ Political Violence in Ancient India’ which had appeared around two years back. She had also added that pioneers of independence struggle were instrumental in creating this ‘[m]yth of non-violence in ancient India which obscures a troubled, complex heritage.’

‘Malevolent Republic’ – A Short Hisotry of New India’ by K. S. Komireddi – a commentator, critic and journalist who has written for leading western publications, reminds one of this debate. The book tries to chronicle the trajectory of post-independence India from Nehru to Modi – and does not shy away from raising uncomfortable questions which demand broader contemplation as well as deep soul searching.

( Read the full story here : https://epaper.telegraphindia.com/calcutta/2019-09-06/71/Page-11.html)

Return of Hindutva: A Challenge for Secularism

Guest Post by Gargi Chakravartty

BOOK REVIEW

Hindutva’s Second Coming by Subhash Gatade; published by Media House, Delhi; 2019; pages: 272; Rs 395 (US $ 18).

The return of Modi to power with a huge margin in this 2019 election is a clear verdict for the Hindutva plank. Why and how it happened leave us, the secular billions, to ponder about the reality and its aftermath. And at that juncture Subhas Gatade’s 272-page analysis titled ‘Hindutva’s Second Coming’ gives us something concrete to think over once again. This in-depth study with rich academic perception is a commendable work, bereft of jargons and convoluted expressions, often found in books written from a high pedestal which goes beyond the mental reach of lay readers. Precisely for this reason the author needs to be specially acclaimed for bringing out facts at one place based on notes and references which are so far scattered in divergent historical materials. It serves as a Reader for millions who are combating communalism and distortion of history at the grassroot level.

( Read the full text here : http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article8847.html)

Modi’s Meditation ‘Tour’

The art of legitimising religiosity in a secular country and live happily ever after.

Modi in KedarnathReligion is regarded by the common people as true, by wise people as false and by the rulers as useful. — Seneca (4 BC-AD65)

A picture is worth a thousand words.

An outgoing Prime Minister of the ‘world’s biggest democracy’ seen meditating under the glare of cameras in a cave specially opened for the occasion and with a dress stitched for the event, conveys many things simultaneously.

First and foremost, it tells us that the present incumbent to the post would at least be remembered for his varied sartorial tastes among the galaxy of PMs who headed the republic earlier. It appears that either all the others lacked the sense to dress for the occasion or found it a mundane job not befitting the post and the responsibilities they held then. Continue reading Modi’s Meditation ‘Tour’

Bharatiya Janata Party or Bharatiya Jumla Party !

Review of ‘Truth in Fetters : Broken Promises and Shattered Unity’

Image result for media house ram puniyani truth in fetters

“Change is in the air”!

A retired academic who had his last assignment as Vice Chancellor of a leading university said to me the other day, while we were discussing the contemporary political scenario. Frankly admitting that he had supported Modi’s candidature then and had even discreetly campaigned for him, during 2014 elections, he said that what a ‘disaster’ it has been these last four and half years to our polity with him at the helm of affairs.

What surprised me more was that he was from Eastern UP and belonged to one of the dominant upper castes in the region. Continue reading Bharatiya Janata Party or Bharatiya Jumla Party !

Nehru, Ambedkar and Challenge of Majoritarianism

Image result for nehru ambedkar

( Photo courtesy : The hoot)

(To be published in the special issue of ‘Janata’)

 

The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled me with horror and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seemed to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition, exploitation and the preservation of vested interests.

– Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru (1936), pp. 240–241.

If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.

– Ambedkar, ‘Pakistan or Partition of India’, p. 358.

Introduction

India’s slow ushering into a majoritarian democracy is a matter of concern for every such individual who still believes in pluralism, democracy, equality and a clear separation of religion and politics. The way people are being hounded for raising dissenting opinions, for eating food of their choice or entering into relationships of their own liking or celebrating festivals according to their own faith is unprecedented. The situation has reached such extremes that one can even be publicly lynched for belonging to one of the minority religions or for engaging in an activity which is considered to be ‘suspicious’ by the majority community.

No doubt there is no direct harm to the basic structure of the Constitution, its formal structure remains intact, de jure India does remain a democracy as well as a republic, but de facto democracy has slowly metamorphosed into majoritarianism and the sine qua non of a republic—that its citizens are supreme—is being watered down fast. It does not need underlining that this process has received tremendous boost with the ascent of Hindutva supremacist forces at the centrestage of Indian politics. Continue reading Nehru, Ambedkar and Challenge of Majoritarianism

“I used to feed fish to my widowed grandmother” by Buddhadeb Dasgupta: Soumashree Sarkar

This is an English translation by SOUMASHREE SARKAR of a column by Buddhadeb Dasgupta which appeared in the Sunday special supplement, Rabibashoriyo, of the Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika on March 20, 2016 and can be found in the original Bengali here.

It was probably the month of November. Winter had set in firmly in a city that neighboured Kolkata. The quilts had come out even before that. Morning had not even broken and there was still a lot of sleep left to be slept when Ma yanked the quilt away from me and woke me up, “Don’t you remember who’s coming today? Get up and hurry, I’ve been calling you for the longest time, Khrushchev and Bulganin are coming, they might have reached already. My cooking’s almost done.” The words were pouring out of my mother’s mouth with frightening speed and excitement, all in the Dhaka’s native Bengali tongue.

Bathed in cold water, shivering through chattering teeth, and sufficiently clothes, we siblings went and stood in front of our mother. With a comb in hand, Ma sat on a chair, and neatly parted all our heads of hair.

I asked, “What does Khrushchev look like? What does Bulganin look like? The same rice-dal-fish curry that we eat – do they also eat that?”

Continue reading “I used to feed fish to my widowed grandmother” by Buddhadeb Dasgupta: Soumashree Sarkar

Nation and its Violences: Sanjay Kumar

Guest Post by Sanjay Kumar

Violent thoughts and deeds are increasingly getting justified in the name of Indian nation. A mob of lawyers has attacked students, teachers and journalists, right in the middle of a court complex in the national capital. Leaders of these patriotic lawyers were later caught bragging on camera about how they will next time throw bombs on anti-nationals. A young woman in Delhi has received emails and face book posts threatening her with acid attack and sexual assault, because she happens to be a sister of Umar Khalid, one of the organisers of the JNU programme, during which according to police anti-India slogans were raised. The mere being of this woman, and her defence of her brother, is enough of a provocation for many men and women of the country to justify the threat of ultimate male violence against women. Another man, Mr Adarsh Sharma put posters in the central district of the capital announcing an award of Rs 11 lakh for anyone who kills Mr Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of  the JNUSU, charged with sedition. Mr Sharma claims that his ‘blood boiled’ when he saw Mr Kumar’s much publicised speech after his release on bail. The popular movie Pyasa (1957) of Gurudutt had a song ‘Jinhen Naz hai Hind par vo kahaan hain’, which used the reality of social degradation to question celebrations of the nation. Sahir’s poem worked because it asked Indians to look at themselves in the mirror of public morality of the recently independent India. That mirror has been cracked for long. With the brazenly violent now claiming that their violence and threat to violence should really be the pride of the nation, we are now witnessing the final shattering of that mirror. Continue reading Nation and its Violences: Sanjay Kumar

Happy Constitution Day. Yet, India is where some are forced to eat cow dung

(First published in http://www.catchnews.com)

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Mujadpur, a village in Haryana’s Hisar district,  which has been in the news recently for what the government  lexicon calls ‘dalit atrocities’, involving murders and ‘suicides’.

Recently, it was hit by another such incident, albeit of a less fatal nature: Members of the Jat community thrashed a dalit man called Ramdhari and his family members and stuffed cow dung in his mouth. Reportedly, Ramdhari installed a statue of BR Ambedkar in his house and that provoked the upper caste Jats.

The irony of this cannot be emphasised enough.

One does not know whether in an area dominated by the Jats, Ramdhari’s perpetrators have been arrested under provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989) or not.

Or has the incident been explained away in the light of some vague personal animosity, which is what happened when two children in Sunped were recently killed by throwing of inflammable material in their house by dominant castes.

As the nation begins another series of grand celebrations, this time to celebrate the contributions of BR Ambedkar, the plight of a dalit family for merely installing his statue stares at us in our eyes. It is symptomatic of the gap between the principles and values on which the Constitution is based and the situation on the ground.

Read the full text of the article here. 

The Indian Unconscious : Ravi Sinha

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

There is yet another head on the political platter of the world’s largest democracy. This head is not metaphorical. It does not signify a disgraced leader or a government that has fallen. It is a literal head dripping with literal blood – battered with bricks that supported a leg-less bed. The bed belonged to one Muhammad Akhlaq who lived in a village called Basehara in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, not too far from the national capital of India. The head too belonged to him.

It has been only a few days but this latest episode in the long-running Indian serial is already well-known to the world. On a late September night it was announced over the loudspeakers of the village temple that there was going to be beef on Akhlaq’s dinner plate. A mob hundreds-strong – some say thousands – gathered within no time. It attacked the family killing Akhlaq on the spot and badly injuring his son, Danish.

In the meantime, meat-loafs confiscated from the family fridge have been sent for forensic examination. The system of justice must check whether it actually was beef, although, as one commentator points out, “…mere possession of beef isn’t illegal in Uttar Pradesh.”[1] Shedding helpful light on feebly lit corners of the Hindu moral universe, a prominent Hindutva ideologue wrote in a national daily, “Lynching a person merely on suspicion is absolutely wrong, the antithesis of all that India stands for and all that Hinduism preaches.”[2] The lynch-mob should have waited till the forensic reports came.

A few suspects have been apprehended for the murder. This has made the village livid with anger. There are protestations that those arrested are innocent. Journalists have been attacked for making such a big thing out of a small matter and bringing a bad name to the village. Cameras have been broken and OB vans damaged. There is a pertinacious wall of angry women guarding the village against any further intrusion by outsiders who can neither understand the village mind nor the Indian culture.

It is not easy to understand the collective mind of an Indian village. Even learned anthropologists are of little help. Their ethnographic techniques of studying a form of life from its internal standpoint are particularly susceptible to the rationalizations of a complex cultural species. If anyone has a chance, it would, perhaps, be a villager who has stepped out – an Archimedean Point created out of the same cultural universe. Ravish Kumar, by now a near iconic journalist and anchor of a prominent Hindi news channel, stood out for this very reason.[3] His eyes could see the natural rhythm and the instinctual response of an Indian village in the immediate aftermath of a collective crime. Nearly everyone had disappeared from the village. Whoever could be found claimed that he was miles away at the time of the incident. The lynch-mob had materialized instantaneously out of thin air. It had as quickly melted away after the job was done. Everyone has now returned to defend the honor of the village and strategize about how to deal with the unwarranted intrusions of modernity including that of the law. Continue reading The Indian Unconscious : Ravi Sinha

How Sedition crept into the constitution: Siddharth Narrain

Part 2 of a 3 part series by SIDDHARTH NARRAIN. First published on The Hoot

While in their Draft Constitution, the Constitutional Framers included ‘sedition’ and the term ‘public order’ as a basis on which laws could be framed limiting the fundamental right to speech (Article 13), in the final draft of the Constitution though, both ‘public order’ and sedition were eliminated from the exceptions to the right to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19 (2)).Commenting on this omission many years later, Justice Fazl Ali said: 

The framers of the Constitution must have therefore found themselves face to face with the dilemma as to whether the word “sedition” should be used in article 19(2) and if it was to be used in what sense it was to be used. On the one hand, they must have had before their mind the very widely accepted view supported by numerous authorities that sedition was essentially an offence against public tranquillity and was connected in some way or other with public disorder; and, on the other hand, there was the pronouncement of the Judicial Committee that sedition as defined in the Indian Penal Code did not necessarily imply any intention or tendency to incite disorder.

Continue reading How Sedition crept into the constitution: Siddharth Narrain

Phool Walon Ki Sair

Akbar Shah Saani (the second) ruled over a rapidly disintegrating empire between 1806 to 1837. It was during his time that the East India Company dispensed with even the fig leaf of ruling in the name of the Mughal Monarch and removed his name from the Persian texts that appeared on the coins struck by the company in the areas under their control.

Bahadur Shah Zafar who succeeded him was not Akbar Shah Saani’s choice as his successor, Akbar Shah was, in fact, under great pressure by one of his queens, Mumtaz Begum to declare her son Mirza Jahangir as the successor. Akbar Shah would have probably accepted this demand but Mirza Jahangir had fallen foul of the British and they will have none of this.

The Phool Walon Ki Sair or Sair-e-gul-Faroshan that is celebrated with much fanfare and official patronage had its beginning in a fracas between Mirza Jahangir and Sir Archibald Seton, the then British resident at Delhi. According to contemporary records of the event, Mirza Jahangir was extremely resentful of the manner in which the British threw their weight around the Red Fort and violated all customs and traditions. He was a strong man, moved around with a band of his followers and kept getting into arguments with the Goras. Continue reading Phool Walon Ki Sair