Gandhi – A Religion of the Question: Ajay Skaria

[The following is the ‘Preface’ to AJAY SKARIA’s recent book, Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance by Ajay Skaria. The preface raises interesting questions not only about Gandhi’s politics but also about the idea/s of secularism and religion in what we might call a postsecular world – a world that is, where the naive and uninterrogated binary between the two terms is constantly put into question. Also of interest to readers might be the attempt made by the author to read Gandhi’s writings as a long and ongoing struggle to articulate or ‘understand’ his own politics – a politics that Skaria claims is as much premised on equality among humans as it is on the equality of all being/s.]

Unconditional Equality by Ajay Skaria
Unconditional Equality by Ajay Skaria

Somewhere in the early 2000s, while preparing to teach Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s English translation of Hind Swaraj to my undergraduate class, a passage about history in the text intrigued me. Since I happened to have the Gujarati version of that text at hand, I consulted it. The divergence is striking. The Gujarati text criticizes “history” (the English word occurs in the Gujarati text) and contrasts  it to itihaas [usually translated as “history”]. The English text criticizes “history,” but in it there is no equivalent for itihaas; the contrast between history and itihaas is thus obscured. The gap between the Gujarati and English texts, I have since come to realize, is symptomatic of Gandhi’s struggles to think his politics. What this politics involves is by no means clear to him; perhaps he writes so prolifically and indefatigably (his collected works run to ninety-eight volumes in English) precisely in order to try and understand his own politics. This politics becomes even more intriguing when we attend not only to Gandhi as an author or “intending subject,” but to his writing.[1] By dwelling in and on the gaps (between Gujarati and English and also within each of these languages) in his writing, this book tries to draw out his politics.

For me, writing this book has been difficult also because of another gap—that between Gandhi’s insistence that there can be “no politics without religion” and the secular inheritance that I have, as far as I know, no desire to abandon. Gandhi repeatedly describes satyagraha (his most famous neologism, which he coins initially as a translation of “passive resistance”) as his “dharma” or “religion,” even as the religion that stays in all religions.[2] Symptomatic of my difficulty with this religious politics was my inability for long to even recognize it. When Vinay Lal first asked me in 2007 to write an essay on Gandhi’s religion for a volume he was planning on political Hinduism, I protested that I was not interested in this aspect of Gandhi. But with his characteristic persistence, Vinay did not accept my protests, and I ended up writing that essay, which became a precursor of this book.

In the process, my own understanding of dharma and religion as “concepts” has been transformed.[3]

Continue reading “Gandhi – A Religion of the Question: Ajay Skaria”

The Terror That Is Man: Shaj Mohan

Guest post by SHAJ MOHAN

Manifold is the un-homely, yet nothing is more un-homely than man — Sophocles

The middle of the previous century is understood to be the termination of all kinds of containments of man, having witnessed the worst containment in the Camp[i]. This termination resulted from a crisis that is both philosophical and political: what is the de-termination of man such that he is not the contained? A summary of this scenario is found in a trivial understanding of Foucault’s statements concerning “the end of man” (The Order of Things) and Derrida’s deconstruction of the notion of the “the end” in his essay “Ends of Man” (Margins of Philosophy). As a result of the exigencies of the philosophical and the political, the concept of the state located itself, in the occidental domain, away from the containers. The State would no longer claim to be the clergy and the sovereign of containers such as race and religion. Instead, the State demanded only the right to primary containment—first Indian and then Muslim, first British then White, first Spanish then Basque. The list, the differences, the classification and the management of all the other containers—religion, caste, language, race, public, private—were left up to the new clerics, the new academic disciplines and the NGOs. If all containers were opened up then everything should have flooded out and mixed to form a substance of a new world of people; rather, a substantiality for the in-terminable formation of people. This new people-substance should have dissolved the traces of all the containers, the way science-fiction often imagines the future to be. It should have left for us tales which are the negative of memories, that is, taboos, or myths. For example, the tales that we received about incest from the ancients, the tales of cannibalism in fairy tales, the tales of the world’s resistance to Nazism. Continue reading “The Terror That Is Man: Shaj Mohan”

An old RC ruminates on his ‘Pseudo-Secularist’ roots: Hartman de Souza

Guest post by HARTMAN DE SOUZA

The background and context to this not-so-enigmatic title is very simple. By today’s standards, I am old – I get a hefty discount travelling by train which I am still hooked on, and I am still counting the years and sniffing my coffee. The ‘RC’ is a lot simpler:

Travelling by train from Mumbai to Delhi many, many moons ago, a man in the compartment, in his thirties, got into conversation with me. After I had answered his opening bullet shot questions – You are from? You are doing what? Your father is doing what? – he told me I spoke English like a ‘foreigner’.

I was still fresh from Kenya those days, where I was born, so I got a lot of grief from having a different accent that no one could place.

This was of course much, much before you could study for an undergraduate degree in India (where you were born) and then, if you had the means and the SATs, go and study in the US for a few years. There, in the land of beef and honey, as we now note with pride, many Indians also discovered the ‘free market’ and their ‘authentic’ Hindu roots – then came back to spew communal venom with a makeshift American accent and the dollars to back it.

As if it was stamped on my bloody forehead, he then asked: “You are Christian?” He pronounced this as “Kir-tchin’.

I pretended I hadn’t heard. So he repeated the question. I nodded, hoping he would disappear and let me get on reading my book.  He did not. Instead had a broad grin on his face, like he knew in which bag he could drop me in.  “You are RC!” he said, almost triumphantly.

For a few seconds, he almost had me stumped. I raised my eyebrows.

Ro-maan Catholic,” he offered.

I shook my head and smiled back. “No,” I replied “Retired Catholic…”

He didn’t get the joke. Guys like that still can’t. Continue reading “An old RC ruminates on his ‘Pseudo-Secularist’ roots: Hartman de Souza”

Real Estate of Religion:Satya Sagar

Guest Post by SATYA SAGAR

 

Several years ago a friend of mine filed a petition in the Indian Supreme Court against – believe it or not- the tenth incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu! Or at least, against a fellow who claimed to be ‘Kalki Bhagwan’ and has in the past two decades drummed up a significant following in the southern part of India.

Blasphemous as the claim of this fake avatar was the court battle itself was not really about the finer details of Hindu mythology or theological doctrine.Based on several years of painstaking investigation and research it was my friend’s claim that ‘Kalki Bhagwan’, had taken money from the public for ‘rural development activities’ and fraudulently diverted it to his personal bank accounts as well as that of his close relatives.

From being an ordinary clerk working for the Life Insurance Corporation in Chennai thirty years ago today the ‘Tenth Incarnation of Vishnu’ is allegedly worth many million dollars and owns vast properties in many parts of South India. It is a trajectory that is tragically very common everywhere, with spurious spirituality – ironically also a form of ‘insurance’-being the fastest way to material wealth and power since ancient times. Continue reading “Real Estate of Religion:Satya Sagar”

Impossible Lessons: Ravi Sinha

Guest Post by RAVI SINHA

Far away from Peshawar five men and a woman sat in a physician’s waiting room in Lucknow. The television screen that ordinarily shows some Bollywood film or a cricket match had a news channel on. It was day after the slaughter of children. The assistant who maintains the waiting list of patients and collects the doctor’s fee said something very predictable, even if heart-felt, expressing his horror and revulsion. The matter would have passed as unremarkably as most things do most of the times, except for what an elderly gentleman waiting to see the doctor had to say in response.

In a feeble yet firm voice whose conviction and sincerity was unmistakable, he said – dhaarmikata ko badhaava doge to kattarta badhegi; kattarta badhegi to aatank upajega, haivaaniyat saamne aayegi. (If you will promote religiosity, fundamentalism will grow, and from that will emerge terror and barbarism.) After a pause he added – hamaare desh mein bhee yahee ho rahaa hai, haalaan ki abhee hum pehle daur mein hain, dhaarmikata badhaane ke daur mein. (Same thing is happening in our country too, although we are in the first phase so far – that of promoting religiosity.) Continue reading “Impossible Lessons: Ravi Sinha”

मई दिवस और गणपति

मई दिवस और गणपति में सम्बन्ध ही क्या हो सकता है? दोनों की न तुक मिलती है और न ही अनुप्रास की छटा दोनों के पासपास होने से बिखरती है. फिर गणपति  शुद्ध हिन्दू देवता हैं, गणेश चतुर्थी के अवसर पर तो उनका नामजाप समझ में आता है, लकिन मई दिवस पर उनका आह्वान? इससे बड़ा दूषण हो ही नहीं सकता और इसका दंड उन्हें तो किसी न किसी रूप में भुगतना ही पड़ेगा. सो हुआ.

सती  अनामंत्रित अपने पिता दक्ष के घर गई थीं  और अपमान न सह पाने के कारण उन्हें यज्ञ वेदी में ही कूद कर जल  मरना पड़ा . किसी भी जगह बिन बुलाए  नहीं जाना चाहिए, इसकी सीख देने के लिए   यह कथा वे  सुनाते हैं जिन्हें इस समय भी कुछ कथाएँ याद रह गयी हैं. निश्चय ही त्रिथा को यह प्रसंग या तो पता न होगा या वे इसे भूल गईं जब मई दिवस पर जवाहरलाल नेहरु विश्वविद्यालय में  एक वामपंथी छात्र संगठन द्वारा आयोजित एक संगीत संध्या में मंच पर वे  अनामंत्रित गाने चली गईं. एक तो वे स्वयं अनपेक्षित , अतः किंचित अस्वस्तिकर उपस्थिति थीं , दूसरे आयोजकों और श्रोताओं  को , जो मई दिवस पर संघर्ष और क्रान्ति के जुझारू गीत सुन कर अपने शरीर के भीतर जोश  भरने आये थे इसकी आशंका थी कि वे इस पवित्र अवसर पर जाने  क्या गा देंगी. और आखिरकार  उन्होंने इस आशंका को सही साबित कर दिया, जब वे शास्त्रीय संगीत के नाम पर वक्रतुंड, महाकाय …. गाने लगीं. थोड़ी देर पहले जो  सैकड़ों शरीर हिल्लेले हिलोर दुनिया पर झूम रहे थे, उनसे नहींनहीं का शोर उठा. इस छात्र जनता के नेता जनभावना का आदर करते हुए मंच पर पहुंचे और त्रिथा को अपना गाना बीच में रोक कर मंच से जाना पड़ा. Continue reading “मई दिवस और गणपति”

Caste and Exploitation in Indian History: Bharat Patankar

Guest post by BHARAT PATANKAR translated by GAIL OMVEDT

Introduction: The Process of Exploitation

Exploitation arising from the caste hierarchy is a particular feature of the South Asian subcontinent. There was no such exploitative system in other continents or in countries outside of South Asia. But since caste exploitation has been a reality for 1500-2000 years this shakes the belief that only class can be the basis of exploitation. And because of this we have to transcend the attempt to find a way only pragmatically and deal with the issue on a philosophical and theoretical level. Class has been theorized extensively in terms of exploitation; to some extent gender also, but not caste. Exploitation as women in various forms has also been a reality for thousands of years; this also is not through “class”. This reality from throughout the world gives a blow to the idea that exploitation can only be class exploitation. This can also be said of exploitation arising on the basis of racial and communal factors. Continue reading “Caste and Exploitation in Indian History: Bharat Patankar”