EXPOSING INTELLECTUALISM (Three Essays)
IS THE RAM JANMABHOOMI MOVEMENT ANTI-MUSLIM?
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is the most important event of the post-independence era of India. It has completely altered the complexion of the politics, as well has drastically altered the reference point for evaluating many other aspects of our society. Hindutva has become the focus, instead of Marx. Those who have been in the forefront of the movement are rightly claiming that the Hindus are no longer ashamed of identifying themselves as Hindus. Given the correct emphasis, the movement can lead to rejuvenaration of our society and make India occupy her rightful place in the world. It will make the prophesy of Shri Arnold Toynbee come true: "Today we are still living in this transitional chapter of world's history, but it is already becoming clear that the chapter which had a western beginning, will have an Indian ending, if it is not to end in self destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way - Emperor Asoka's and Mahatma Gandhi's principle of non-violence and Sri Ramkrishna's testimony of religions." (Foreword to 'India's contribution to world thought and culture', 1970.)
However, at the intellectual level, the issues are perverted, and the whole movement is termed as a programme to teach Muslims of India a lesson. This is because the Babri structure, supposed to be a place of worship for the Muslims, was sought to be shifted and a temple for Lord Ram was to be built in its place. The history of the site has been so mixed up with the political issue, that the question of whether a temple was destroyed in 1528 AD and the Babri structure built in its place is never adequately answered in a public debate. Similarly, the public has not been told that the Hindus have made sincere efforts to recover the site through a dialogue in December 1990. The events of December 6, 1992, enabled these intellectuals to further confuse the issue. Additionally, they suddenly discovered the sublimity of Hinduism and tried to use it to denounce the destruction of the Babri structure.
The funny part is that these same intellectuals have been saying all these years that there is nothing in the Hindu civilisation to be proud of. In fact, they tried to establish that Hinduism is a modern 'construction', and that prior to the eighteenth century there was nothing called Hinduism. The social ills of our society were also sought to be placed at the doorsteps of the Hindu philosophy. Now, people like Swami Vivekanand, who were denounced as reactionary, have suddenly become people of great wisdom. If the Ram Janmabhoomi movement has woken them up to what Hinduism is all about, then that itself will be the biggest gain of the movement.
This note will put the communal issue in the right perspective. The history of the site has been well established and documented. What needs to be understood that this is not a mere ordinary site - it is the Ram Janmabhoomi. What needs to be understood that what is sought to be reconstructed is not a temple for Lord Ram - but a temple for Lord Ram at the Ram Janmabhoomi. What needs to be understood that the destruction in 1528 AD was because it was the temple at the Ram Janmabhoomi. The issue here is not of bricks and mortar, or real estate either.
Every conqueror from outside tries to establish symbols which will remind the people who is the master and who the slave. At the time of the first Russian occupation of Poland (1614-1915), the Tzars built a cathedral for the Eastern Orthodox Church in an avowedly Roman Catholic country. In 1918, after the country became free, the Poles pulled down this structure, because the purpose for which the Russians had built it had been not religious but political, and the purpose had also been intentionally offensive. Even though the cathedral was to offer prayers to Jesus Christ, a free Poland could not tolerate monuments of slavery in their land. In this way it is ensured that true nationalism has its rightful place in the remaking of the nation.
The construction of the Babri structure was meant to be an ocular reminder that Islam ruled over the Hindus, and even the holiest of the holy Hindu sites are not immune from vandalism. Armies can win the geography, but demolition of the national symbols (physical and spiritual) will complete the victory by destroying the civilisation and culture. No invader can afford to allow these symbols to survive, since they can well be rallying points for the freedom struggles. Similarly, an invader has to ensure that the memory of the people's ancestors is also wiped out as quickly as possible.
It is natural that a free people should recover their own symbols. The problem is created when this inclination is sought to be thwarted, under the guise of modernity and allegation of trying to revive old wounds. However, what these opponents are attempting to do is to frustrate the legitimate aspirations of the people. Often, these opponents have their own agenda, which involve denying the past of the people, particularly the past that involves the period prior to the invaders. In effect, they try to uphold the memory of the invaders over the ones of the heroes of an earlier antiquity.
An article in The Illustrated Weekly of India on Rana Pratap Singh, Chhatrapati Shivaji, and Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, created quite a ruckus at the time. The management of the publication had to tender a public apology for the distortion that was sought to be made. However, the real intent of the writer can be seen from the following statement: "History is a luxury that a colonised population on the threshold of freedom cannot afford. It thus becomes imperative for a nascent nation to produce a costume drama for itself, in lieu of the past. The nation's origins and antecedents are explained away by means of a series of tableaux vivants, splendidly mounted by adept ideologues within the proscenium of mythology. The first function of this nationalist mythology is the creation of exemplars, role models. For this purpose, cultural heroes and heroines are abstracted from the intricate cross-weave of their original context. Deprived of the political and cultural specificities of which they were actually the creatures, they are converted into larger-than-life figures." (Myths and Supermyths, Nancy Adjania, Illustrated Weekly of India, April 10-16, 1993.)
What is sought to be stated is that the heroes are created out of thin air, and there is no historical basis for it. The same game can be seen in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi, because the denial of the reconstruction of the temple is sought to be justified not only on the basis of the alleged holiness of the site for the Muslims, but also on the basis that the Babri structure is a monument of our secularism and composite culture. How does a structure which came up after destruction of a temple, and which had a political purpose, can have such significance is not answered.
In making the demand for the return of the Ram Janmabhoomi, the VHP had said in January 1991, "We do not even demand the return of the thousands of places of worship that have been forcibly replaced with mosques.....We merely want three places back, three age-old sacred places. And we would prefer getting them back from the Muslim community, to getting them back by an official decree.....Muslims should understand what kind of message they are sending by insisting on continuing the occupation of our sacred places, an occupation started by fanatics and mass-murders like Babar and Aurangzeb. We do not like to think of our Muslim compatriots as heirs and followers of such invaders and tyrants. It is up to them to make a gesture that will signify a formal break with this painful past."
What is being posed here is how does a demand for the return of a holy Hindu site, usurped by force, can be anti-Muslims? What is being posed here is how does a usurped Hindu holy site can have any religious significance for any other religion? What is being posed here is what does one think of a person who upholds the memory of the invaders over those of our own cultural and civilisational heroes?
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is not designed
to open old wounds but to heal them. These wounds are those that have
been inflicted on the Hindus. Anyone who wishes not to see them healed
are only perpetuating the memory of our slavery. Similarly, this movement
is not that is something that has been created by the leaders of Hindutva.
Shri V S Naipaul said, "What is happening in India is a new, historical awakening.
It seems to me that Indians are becoming alive to their history. Romila
Thapar's book on Indian history is a Marxist attitude which in substance says:
there is a higher truth behind the invasions, feudalism and all that.
The correct truth is the way the invaders looked at their (own) actions.
They were conquering, they were subjugating. And they were in a country
where people never understood this. Only now are the people beginning
to understand that there has been a great vandalising of India. Because
of the nature of the conquest and the nature of Hindu society such understanding
had eluded Indians before. What is happening in India is a highly creative
process. Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal
beliefs, may not understand what is going on, especially if these intellectuals
happen to be in the United States. But every other Indian knows precisely
what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even
if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening. I don't
see the Hindu reaction purely in terms of one fundamentalism pitted against
another. The sense of history that the Hindus are now developing is a
new thing. (To prevent emotions from spilling over and creating fresh
tensions), it is not enough to use that fashionable word from Europe: fascism.
Wise men should understand (the historical significance) and ensure that it
does not remain in the hands of fanatics. Rather they should use it for
the intellectual transformation of India." (The Times of India, July 18,
ALIENATION OF SOME INTELLECTUALS
When Shri M F Husain's depiction of Saraswati in the nude came to light, he could have said, "I did not intend to hurt the sentiments of the Hindus. However, I now see that this could have happened, and, therefore, I am sorry for having depicted Saraswati in the manner I did." That would have been the end of the matter. Shri Vikramrao Savarkar, nephew of Veer Savarkar, had in fact suggested this approach. Shri Husain chose not to follow this advice. The support he received in this obstinacy from the intellectuals not only made the controversy ugly, but has also prolonged it. What is more, it has highlighted, as nothing else could, the way we deal with issues when the sentiments of Hindus come into the picture.
The drawing depicts a female nude form with the standard Saraswati symbols of a lotus, a peacock and the musical instrument Veena. The lettering Saraswati (in devnagari) at the bottom clearly identifies the artist's intentions. In case of such a drawing, the issue of aesthetics cannot be discussed. The image of Saraswati is so jarring, that it has to offend one's mind, if one reveres Saraswati. If the picture had the same arrangement, with the same female form fully clothed, the issue of aesthetics can come into play. If the picture had the same female nude form, without the Saraswati symbols, the issue of aesthetics can also come into play. The question is not of a nude female form, but of a nude goddess.
Symbols are very important to society. These symbols can be visual, textual or of some other variety. When we hear the words 'tryst with destiny', the image of Jawaharlal Nehru comes to mind. If Mother Teresa is depicted in a Paithani sari and not in her usual simple garb, the form will be jarring to one's sensibilities. A Paithani is associated with wealth, something that is not of concern of the Mother. If one were to use the aesthetics argument here, then obviously one is barking up a wrong tree.
Although the drawing was done about twenty years ago, it has come to light only through a book, Husain - Riding the Lightning, by Shri Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, brought out in 1996. For a long period of time, the existence of this drawing was not public knowledge. And hence it would not have created the controversy. Using the 'long ago' argument also implies that a fraud conducted more than twenty years ago, but discovered only now, should not be the concern of the law.
Shri Husain has also been supported on the basis of artistic freedom. But, does freedom also not presuppose responsibilities? When Mahatma Gandhi was given a Bill of Rights, he sent it back to the author, saying that he should prepare a Bill of Duties, and from this the Rights would automatically follow. This is the concept of Dharma that exists in our Hindu philosophy, and a person of high social position has a stricter Dharma than a person at a lower level. The former is held as a role model for the rest of society. The intellectuals obviously do not wish to have any duties, but will demand that they enjoy all the rights.
Some say that it is prudish to be offended by Shri Husain's drawing, since in Hindu art there are many depiction of nudity, even in temple premises. Thus, if Khajurao is to be accepted, so should Husain's Saraswati. What this line of argument ignores is that what Shri Husain has drawn is not a nude form, but a Saraswati in nude. Khajurao depicts mortal human beings, and the erotic art is restricted to a small part of the total temple art. Similarly, we have Hindu gods and goddesses in what could be determined to be 'intimate' positions, using today's ethical standards. In such a case, the sensibilities are not offended because this is a traditional form of expression. Much has also been made of a 'Saraswati' in nude at a temple. Again, one needs to understand the rule and the exception. This nude 'Saraswati' is not in a temple of Saraswati, and the only way it is identified as Saraswati is because she is holding a Veena. There are no other Saraswati symbols.
Shri Husain is also said to be steeped in Hindu culture. But, does this give him a license to hurt Hindu sensibilities? Does this not put an even greater responsibility on him to show restrain? Moreover, those who have objected to this drawing of Shri Husain have never said that his other depiction of Hindu symbols are objectionable. Again, an irrelevant argument is brought into the picture.
All the points put forth by the supporters of Shri Husain's drawing have been answered. Yet, they go on saying the same thing again and again. Using different words, different structure of sentence, rearranging the position of the points, may be good English, but it does not add anything to the debate. One would like to assume that those supporting the drawing are not stupid or ill-informed - this would be a real insult to their intellectualism. Therefore, one cannot but help to come to a conclusion that there is a deliberate effort being made to create confusion.
This impression is reinforced when it is alleged that Shri Husain is being targeted because he is a Muslim. The question is whether Shri Husain has hurt Hindu sentiments. If he has, his religious identity is immaterial. Unless, of course, one starts with a proposition that it is perfectly legitimate for a Muslim to hurt Hindu sentiments. The Husain supporters well know that whenever Hindu sentiments have been affected, various people have objected to the same, even when the ones creating the hurt are Hindus. Numerous examples can be given of such instances. What these supporters (and even Shri Husain) seem to have forgotten is that when he was asked to leave the premises of Willingdon Club, the organisation that supported him was Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Many of the present Husain supporters had actually rationalised the decision of the Club. Does this mean that these supporters were anti-Muslim then? Furthermore, some Muslims have also condemned Shri Husain. Does this make them anti-Muslim too?
While these supporters are unrepentant as far as Shri Husain is concerned, they are up in arms against the reaction of the Bajrang Dal in Ahmedabad. Before condemning, if one does not understand the events that led to it, and some of the subsequent ones, we would be doing a great disservice to rational discussion. Had Shri Husain apologised earlier, would this event have happened? Is blaming Bajrang Dal totally not akin to blaming the Pandavas for the Mahabharat war? Why did Shri Husain suddenly apologise after the event? Does this not mean that in the future a reasonable request will be acceded to only after a drastic action is taken? Since the issues cannot be answered, the programme is to change the terms of discussions from the original one about Shri Husain hurting Hindu sentiments, to the reactions of Bajrang Dal as a stand alone incident.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has requested Shri Husain to make a ceremonious destruction of the offending drawing. In turn, he has 'threatened' that he will destroy all his paintings. The VHP has clearly stated that if he chooses to do so, then it is his artistic freedom. However, the objective of the 'threat' is to once again confuse the issue, and create another diversion. Clearly, if the apology is sincere, then the existence of the drawing cannot be accepted. Some time back, a fashion house in Europe had made some garments with Arabic verses as a design. When it was found that these were Koranic verses, the fashion house apologised and announced that the dresses were destroyed.
In another instance, a popular general-purpose magazine in Japan, Marco Polo, had published an article stating that while six million Jews were killed by the Nazis, the method used was not the gas chamber as is generally accepted. Various Jewish organisations protested at this perversion, and rightly so. The publishers immediately apologised, and on their own volition announced that the magazine would cease to exist.
Given this background, it is amazing that some of the Husain supporters are now criticising him for having apologised. All of them are continuing their campaign of calumny even after Shri Husain's apology, with the additional target being the Bajrang Dal. What is amusing is that these supporters, who are essentially anti-Hindu, are now using the Hindu philosophy to berate their opponents. Their empathy for the Hindu civilisation and culture is well recognised in that they are willing to accept an image of a nude Saraswati - the goddess of learning.
These Husain supporters need to do some serious introspection. If they uphold the right of artistic freedom will they support a move to abolish censorship laws, and permit pornography to be displayed in book stalls? Will they come out with a statement saying that they will support the freedom of anyone who depicts symbols of other religion in a manner that may cause hurt of the people of that religion? Will they organise the same type of campaign in support of such a person? Before they answer these questions, let them reflect on the problems being faced by Prof Mishuril Hasan, the pro-Vice Chancellor of the Jamia Millia University. He had said that while he finds Satanic Verses to be personally objectionable, but banning is not right. Even after three years of the controversy, he is being prevented from entering his office at the University.
The manner in which the controversy has raged reveals a lot of the mind set of those who call themselves intellectuals. Whenever issue relating to Hinduism comes to the centre stage, the first reaction is to allege that those who are taking up the issue are wanting to create something out of nothing. When this fails, and the issue is adopted by the people, the next stage is one of creating confusion, by bringing in all sorts of unrelated issues. The denial tactics are also very frequently used. In the present case, it is denied that Hindu sentiments are hurt. Due to the tensions that this insidious programme produces, a reaction takes place. Then the issue becomes the reaction, without taking into cognisance the events leading to this reaction. The whole objective, right from the beginning, is to deny legitimate requests made by Hindus. At the same time, whenever other religious communities make unreasonable requests, the 'intellectuals' will be in the forefront of demanding that the same are immediately acceded to. Their plea is that the minorities are insecure in this country, and therefore their feelings must not be upset. The rights or the wrongs of the issue are not for consideration, just as in the case of permitting the just requests of the Hindus.
It is puzzling to understand why all this happens. The only logical explanation can be that the intellectuals are so alienated from the society, that they are unable to comprehend how the masses think so differently from them. They are so ensconced in their own very small world, that anything outside it is unreal. And because they read what they want to read, they do not have the feedback from the people at large. For them, an event like the mass celebration of Pandurang Shastri's birthday, by lakhs of people converging at Chowpatty in Mumbai, is incomprehensible. The tragedy for the intellectuals is that the publications that they normally read find it demeaning to cover such events, except as a small news item. However, a Michael Jackson event becomes big news. Reading what they do, the intellectuals think that there is no world beyond it. If they at all read how the Marathi and Gujarati papers have covered the Husain controversy, they will think that there is another parallel controversy going on, which they are unaware of.
The manner of the English press coverage also highlights another tactic used. Those artists who have spoken against Shri Husain are mentioned once, and rarely repeated. However the Husain supporters will find themselves in the news all the time. It does not matter that they keep saying the same inane things again and again. The impression that is sought to be created is that the artist community is fully behind Shri Husain. If in the process the people think that this is actually so, the ones to be blamed are not the vocal supporters, who, after all, have a larger agenda in mind. Blame should be entirely put on those silent opponents of this picture of Shri Husain, since they do not have the courage to let the people know it.
In every society, the intellectuals have an important role to play. They can do this only if they involve themselves in the lives of the people that they would like to lead, and deal with issues that are of concern to the people and not to themselves.
October 21, 1996.
PU LA DESHPANDE AND BALASAHEB THACKERAY
The recent efforts of some Marathi literary personalities to pass a resolution at the 72nd Marathi Sahitya Sammelan (Marathi Literary Conference) at Ahmednagar, condemning the statement of the Shiv Sena Pramukh, Balasaheb Thackeray, on Pu La Deshpande is yet another classic case of the way the progressives are perverting discussion on social issues and, in the process, creating confusion in the society. The manner in which they have tried to make a mountain out of a molehill clearly shows that they have no compunction of stooping to an abysmally low level just so that their political objective is achieved.
The Maharashtra government has created a new award called Maharashtra Bhushan. It is the normal practice of various governments, including the central, that such awards are given to a person who is close to the ruling party as a reward for his services. The present government (a coalition of Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party) decided to honour Pu La, a Marathi literary giant, well known not only in Maharashtra but all over the world.
Given the controversy that has been created, it is necessary to understand the political background of Pu La. He belongs to what is called progressive circles and subscribes to an ideology which is opposed to the party in power in the state. It is, therefore, clear that the government had broken new grounds, and made a choice on the basis of what would bring honour not only to the person, but also to the state.
In his acceptance speech, apart from the usual comments, Pu La made an extremely disparaging remark about the parties in power. He said that while they have promised Shivshahi (rule by the principles of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj) they actually practice thokshahi (rule by muscle power). The speech of Pu La was read by his wife, since his health does not permit him to speak. He suffers from a severe case of Parkinson's disease.
Without going into the merits of the comments, which I think has no basis, had Pu La made them on another platform the issue would have had a different dimension. But, here is a case where a person receives an honour from a government which he is antagonistic towards, carrying a cash prize of Rs 5 lakhs, at the hands of the Chief Minister, and makes these comments at a function where the award is given. Surely, this is in very bad taste, and reflects poorly on Pu La himself. If this was his opinion about the government, the honourable thing for him to do was to reject the award, and publicly state the reason why he has done so. There have been instances where people have returned the awards, after many years, to express their displeasure against the government. Such an action would have made his protest more dignified, and would have elevated his status further. His statement would have received even greater publicity, and the impact would have been much greater.
The comments of Pu La, predictably, brought out a reaction from Balasaheb Thackeray. At a function of opening a new bridge, he said that while old bridges are falling down, new ones have to come up. This is a play on words, for the word for bridges in Marathi is pula, which is similar to the initials of the first Maharashtra Bhushan. Balasaheb also said that he has high respects for the literary contribution of Pu La. However, he disapproved of the statement of Pu La on the platform that was made. Balasaheb's argument has been summarised above.
The progressives in Maharashtra thought that they had been given a handle with which to beat the government in the state. Their propaganda machinery got into gear to conduct a campaign of calumny, similar to the ones that they have been doing in the past. The ethos of these progressives is never to offer anything positive, and they are past masters at attempting to destroy what is positive. The people at large have become fed up of these antics, and they have deserted these progressives, who are today tilling a lonely furrow. But, these progressives command the reigns of instruments of dissemination of information, and thus they can pervert the way the news is conveyed.
Conveniently, they will not inform the public the whole background. The impression that is created is that Pu La made his statement at a function which had nothing to do with the government. They will also not inform the public the true import of Balasaheb's statement. The impression that is created is that Balasaheb has abused Pu La, without any justification. What Balasaheb has objected to is a political statement of Pu La. He has not questioned Pu La's literary excellence - in fact he has praised it. They think that creating a political controversy of this type at a Sahitya Sammelan is within their rights. But, if all this is said, then the progressives know that they have no case, and thus cannot criticise the government.
To understand the whole controversy better, it is necessary to bring in some aspects of Pu La into the picture. One is forced to mention these incidences, because of his unprofessional behaviour. While Balasaheb has expressed a desire to end the controversy, before the Sammelan began, Pu La has made no statement, apart from what he had said when he accepted the Maharashtra Bhushan award. These incidences, of course, do not detract Pu La the literary man, but they are definitely a reflection on Pu La the political man.
In his writings, Pu La has said that he is afraid of taking up a stand against the government. This was much before the Shiv Sena-BJP government came into power. One does wonder how come he has suddenly mustered the courage to make this allegedly bold statement of his. The conclusion that one arrives at is that in the previous cases, he would have to bear not only verbal 'abuse' but something more. It may well be that he would have been deprived of government patronage - this is something that has happened to others. Or that he would be subjected to physical attacks. Yet, the progressives have labeled the present government as fascist, and the previous governments as democratic. This is another instance of the perversion that the progressives are famous for.
A second example relates to another Marathi Sahitya Sammelan. In 1974, Shri Purshottam Bhaskar Bhave, a Hindutva protagonist and a devotee of Savarkar, was duly elected as the President of the Sammelan. The progressives hatched a plan to disrupt the presidential address, and put forward some members of the dalit community as a front for this nefarious plan. It is believed that Pu La was one of the main conspirator in this episode. In any case, Pu La has been not condemned the progressives on the issue. Who is a fascist, and who a democrat?
Before going on to comment why I think these progressives behave in this manner, one needs to mention the names of a couple of people in the controversy. The first is Shri Girish Karnad, who was the chief guest of the function. He too made his own contribution of politicising the event by making political statements in his speech. Another person is Shri Ramdas Athawale, a self-styled dalit leader and a minister in the previous Congress governments. He led the shouting brigade which raised slogans against Balasaheb. Yet he received no censure from the progressives in the media, while those who responded to these slogans were commented upon unfavourably.
In an article on the Husain controversy, I had shown that those who supported him for depicting Saraswati in the nude were alienated from our civilisation and culture. They refused to distinguish between a nude goddess and nudity per se. The present episode clearly shows the arrogance of the same group of people. They think that whatever they say has to be accepted by the people as the gospel truth. They are unable to accept that it is their duty to put forward issues in a logical manner. They think that it is perfectly legitimate for them to mix electoral politics in everything, and perversion of issues, so long as their political objective is achieved, is nothing to be ashamed about. However, if their opponents employ similar tactics, they will be the first one to cry and shout. This double standard is their forte, and they will use each and every opportunity to put their distorted view point across.
It seems that the world that these progressives are living in revolves around what comes in the print. The live only to write, and think that only what is written is what others think. And, since they control the media, they can ensure that what is written is only what they think.
The progressives have become an isolated group. They refuse to listen to an alternate logic, on an arrogant assumption that whatever they say or think is the only right thing, and that everything else is automatically wrong. Having decided so, they are convinced that it is not necessary to explain to the people why they are right. And to 'prove' that they are right, it does not matter what tactics they use, and whom they use. But, as they say, you cannot fool all the people all the time.
January 10, 1997.