Tag Archives: Jeyamohan

Tribute: Sasiperumal

1 Aug

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/77530#.VbxhtfOqqko

Translated by: Gokul

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While waiting for a bus today morning, I noticed a lungi-clad, middle-aged man enter a mango orchard with a helmet in his hand. Thinking it was a bucket that he held in his hand, I watched him closely. He placed the helmet on the ground and took out two bottles of rum. He squatted on the ground and poured the rum directly into this mouth. He didn’t even add water – and had nothing alongside it as well. Gulp, gulp. Five minutes. After retching once, he plucked a leaf nearby and chewed on it as he came and started his scooter that was parked near me.

A familiar scene. But it kept troubling me. When I visited Ambasamudram last year and went to the villages there, I saw men sitting idle in almost every house. The womenfolk were leaving for work. ‘His eyes wobble after the 10 o’ clock sun, sir, and he faints. That is why he doesn’t go to work’, they said. Liquor. Money for drinking? ‘He earns something. Beyond that, he snatches whatever I have’. The villages were full of these people afflicted by drink, sitting with swollen eyes and sunken cheeks, . The fertile land lay useless without any agriculture. The land which was immediately next to the road waited, transformed into ‘plots’.

The entire politics of this place is run on liquor funds. All free gifts (from the government) are funded by TASMAC. The corruption in TASMAC is the celebration of politics. TASMAC is completely destroying Tamil workers. Chemicals of the worst form are sold by the government as liquor here. The government itself orders and forces its employees and officers to increase the sale of liquor. The total revenues from liquor is published as some sort of achievement by the government. Early in the morning, one can see people sitting at the entrances of TASMAC shops waiting to start drinking. In this land of many more crores of workers, one cannot find a single person to work. One has to bring them from Bihar and Bengal.

Nobody speaks about this extrordinary repression and exploitation here. One group of apologists claim that liquor is part of ancient Tamil culture. Another group writes a few broken lines in the name of poetry and then drinks in celebration. Another group is content to wait for the grand revolution. Be it Tamil nationalism, Dravidianism – TASMAC is the venue for every sort of celebration. Drink has created a situation where women cannot go unaccompanied in any public space in Tamilnadu. In buses, in tourist places – drinkers make merry everywhere breaching all bounds of decency. Those who do not drink are their hostages.

Drink has always been here though. It was kept under check as it was designated a social evil through the influence of Jainism and Buddhism. It was during the British rule that they made it a commercial venture. The establishment of liquor shops enabled the systematic exploitaiton of workers. The British discovered that the auction of liquor shop licenses was an important source of income for the government. One can see the spectre of drink in the villages in the short stories of that era by writers like Pichamoorthy and Pudhumaipitthan. It exploited the deprived classes the most.

sasi

Seeing how drink wrecked havoc with the village economy and the lives of the deprived classes of India, Gandhi placed the struggle against drinking as one of the central activities of the freedom movement. Gandhi’s picketing of toddy shops was the only nation-wide movement against drink since the era of Jainism. It created significant awareness against drinking across India. In independent India, the governments that were formed subsequently found the British method of exploitation advantageous. They targeted the super normal profits from liquor. M. Karunanidhi officially introduced drinking in Tamilnadu, destroyed all social checks against drink and drove an entire generation into it. If he holds a place in Tamil social history, it is this.

Today, any voice against drinking is laughable for both the educated youth and the uneducated masses. But even today the voices from Gandhian age rise against drinking. It emanates as an expression of Gandhian obstinacy, deprived of support from either the people or the media. It is the voice of a conscience that refuses to die out in our society. It serves as proof that however it is quelled, Gandhism shall stay alive.

The news of Sasiperumal’s death reached today. He had collapsed and died during a demonstration against drink at Marthandam nearby here. A death that he would have desired. In a sense, this completes his life. But his voice never could converse with anyone’s conscience. The time was not ripe for that. In the intellectual discourse of this country, it is quite possible that Sasiperumal’s sacrifice will remain unnoticed by the media.

I got the chance to meet Sasiperumal and receive his blessings in an event organized by the Tiruppur Aram Foundation. A simple man who didn’t speak much. He had clearly set out goals for his life. He had realized Gandhi through action. It is infact the best way to realize Gandhi. And through that, to become Gandhi himself. My tributes to Sasiperumal, whom I saw as Gandhi himself.

J

Hitler and Gandhi

27 Jul

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/2768#.VbYzE_mqqko

Translated by: Gokul

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Dear Jeyamohan,

Do you believe that the Gandhian approach can win over somebody like Hitler? If all the countries hadn’t united and killed Hitler, could we have defeated him? Also, it is acceptable that Gandhi organized the people. But was he the one who brought us freedom? The British government of that time gave up its colonial policy. Was it not the reason?

Regards,

Prabhu
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Dear Prabhu,

There is no doubt about the sort of politics you have read: the worthless history written by our immature Marxists. Please reconsider this. Otherwise, you will soon start considering yourself an elite intellectual. You will start establishing yourself in a grand position, above crores of other people, discarding their wishes, dreams, history and culture. You will consider yourself as an emancipator of ordinary people and someone entrusted with the responsibility of guiding other people. That is the ugliest spot for a thinker to ever reach.

Once you stand on that spot, you gain a fabulous authority. You are not one of the common masses anymore. You are an evolved life form which can be tired of the stupidity of common people – ‘Our people have no sense!’. You can abuse crores of people that they prostitute themselves for money, as nitwits concerned solely about food. Given a chance, you could take people along as you decide, at the point of a gun. For their own sake, you can involve them in any war. You can kill and destroy them for the sake of their own future. Like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Il-sung did.

After that, they remain people only as long as they obey your orders, live as examples of your principles and transform as mice for your experiments. Otherwise, they can be put to death. I am reminded of a poem I read several years ago –

The Solution – Bertolt Brecht(1)

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?


I wrote this to drive home the gigantic flaw in the history that you mentioned. What we call history is comprised of people. Crores and crores of them. Their wishes, desires, strengths and weaknesses put together make history move forward. One who organizes the people and takes them forward, takes history forward. ‘Gandhi organized people, but history happened on its own’ – how can you make this statement?

To understand the Indian freedom struggle, you should understand the Indian social structure atleast a bit. India didn’t have a legacy of common people directly participating in politics. This is because, what existed here was monarchy. In India, the only authority that controlled the kings was tradition. People had an indirect authority over the kings in the sense that they constituted tradition – that was all. The concept of democracy originated in Europe as a result of two hundred years of tumultuous thought.

In the 17th century, the British people came when India didn’t have strong governments and when it was left devastated by invasions. They provided a stable government, law and order and a better administration of justice. Hence, a majority of Indian people accepted British rule. A large segment of the population remained loyal to their kings. Those kings remained loyal to the British. The reason why the British ruled India was because this great nation accepted the British entirely.

In the beginning, only a few realized that the hidden exploitation of the British government was impoverishing the country. Most of the early rebellions against British rule were against their excessive taxation policies. Kattabomman, Pazhasiraja, Veluthambi Thalavaai, Alluri Seetharama Raju… were all subdued.

Later, an educated class came up in India which understood the British exploitation intellectually. The great Bengal Famine and others became obvious evidence of the same. Concepts of freedom and self-governance came up. But they all remained in the midst of a few middle class educated people.

The man who took those concepts to crores and crores of Indians was Gandhi. His movements were aimed at making the hidden exploitation of the British, blatant and obvious. Boycotting foreign cloth, preparing salt and other movements – these exposed the economic extortion underneath the skin-deep justice of the British government. He made crores of people participate in those movements. He made the movements simple for that very same reason. ‘Our ocean, our fire – why cannot I prepare salt?’ a simple question was the basis for the birth of a new society.

Once crores of people had obtained political consciousness, he made them involve in activities for social change. Restructuring the village economy, instilling a sense of hygiene, spreading rural education – there were many steps. It is because of Gandhian movements that our society which once lived in compartments of castes, came out into the public space. Through contradictions and conflicts, it reached an equilibrium there.

Gandhi cannot be understood through nineteenth century Marxism. Our party Marxists attempt exactly that. For that one should know atleast a little bit about Antonio Gramsci. One should be familiar with western Marxist principles. We cannot expect that from Marxist fanatics.

To use Gramsci’s Marxist term, Gandhi created a ‘modern civil society’ in India. That civil society started boycotting the British. The British didn’t possess the ability to withstand this boycott. This was because they had ruled India based on the permission by Indian society.

Any government remains in authority based on the ideological recognition provided by society. i.e. that government has an ideological hold over society. It is this domination which it activates as direct authority. This can be called in Marxist parlance as ‘hegemony’. The British government gradually lost this hegemony.

Similar to the creation of a civil society, Gandhian movement gradually formed a political society. Gandhi was always open to debate in his struggles. Again in Marxian parlance, we can call it ‘static war’. He completely occupied the positions won over through talks. If we look at history, we can see that the British have stepped down from their positions gradually. The reason behind this is that they were afraid of people’s power.

Through this, provincial governments were formed all over India at first. In those governments, the Congress contested and won. It formed governments and passed legislations. At the same time, it fought against central authority. Thus, we got accustomed to democracy. If India is a country where democracy has taken firm roots today (apart from countries outside Europe), it is because of that training in democracy. At a stage, the Gandhian movement shook away even that authority and moved forward for further rights.

The final result of this was our freedom. It was not handed to us in a platter by the British. In several African countries, British domination continued for another thirty years. Why, in South Africa, even till the 1990s. According to your logic, South African freedom too is not a result of Nelson Mandela’s struggle. It was a gift from the British.

It could be said that Mandela was merely holding talks, isn’t it? It can be claimed that he held talks with the British and convinced them to achieve freedom, isn’t it? We can claim that it was not even a struggle, it was a compromise achieved through talks, can we not? But his path was also Gandhian. On one hand, he was forming the South African tribal society into a modern civil society. On the other hand, he dismantled the ideological domination of the British. This made freedom possible.

Finally, the question whether Satyagraha will work with Hitler. This is the result of a stupid understanding of Gandhian struggle as a sort of weak supplication. There is no surprise that Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins didn’t understand this. Their very minds were mechanical in nature. Also, their sense of English superiority is clearly strong in their book. They establish Mountbatten as a historical figure equal to Gandhi. They attempt to state that the British ‘gave’ freedom to India.

Hitler’s strength did not lie in his weapons. It was in the fact that he had won his society’s approval.  That society stood firm with him. The Germans who supported Hitler were all not cruel animals filled with sin. They didn’t know the things he did or what he went on to do. When they came to know after the war, they hung their heads in shame. They had been led by extremist nationalism and racism.

A great Satyagraha originating from those people could have spoken to their consciences. It could have spoken the truth to them. The conscience that awoke in them after the war could have been woken before the war. Those who could have made this happen were the leftists there. But they had belief in violent struggle. They had trusted Soviet Russia for the support required for this. An extremist nationalistic organisation like Nazism easily sidelined them using this alone as a reason.

Without winning over the minds of the people who supported Hitler, Europe waged war over the German government. Since they were being attacked, the people stood firmly by the side the government and supported it. This was the reason why World War II continued for that long and great destruction happened on both sides. Today, since Hitler lost, we speak that that was the correct path. Had Hitler won? Anyone who has studied World War closely will see that there was every chance of that possibility. Had he won, the world and Germany would have faced further destruction.

What will Satyagraha do, faced with Hitler or a similar dictator? It will alienate him from the civil society that provides him authority by changing its mind. Maybe, it will take some time to achieve this. But compared to the destruction caused by violence, its losses are fewer; success, almost a given.

We need not exaggerate a war tactic like Satyagraha with our imagination. It is the truth that it will converse with the conscience of those with a sense of morality. More importantly, it will speak with the sense of practicality of crores of people. Ordinary people wish to live. Not to wage war and die. They desire to win their material squalor and move towards a slightly better life.

For example, we know that even the Sinhalas, who are portrayed as war-crazy extremists today, made two leaders who contested elections on the promise that they will end the war and move towards peace – Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Vikramasinghe – win with significant majority. I do not think that they wanted to get rid of the Tamils. The hungry and ostracised people are the same everywhere. What they seek is just the hope that somehow life may be lived…

Gandhism, beyond its principles and policies is a struggle for rights which places ordinary people in the front. It is the path of a wise man who realizes that killing those people for his dreams is not just. The opposition of elitists, who seek to dissolve the people and choose the right set of people, is nothing but the frenzy of evil against good.

J

1. Brecht, Bertolt. (1953). The Solution. Wikipedia. Retrieved July 27, 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_L%C3%B6sung

‘Hindutva’

13 Jun

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: www.jeyamohan.in/75514

Translated by: Gokul

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Questioner: (Why do my friends label as ‘Hindutva’ anything about Hindu traditions. Like references in Vishnupuram.  What exactly do these people call as ‘Hindutva’?)

Dear Sankar,

A repetition though.

A small historical sketch. India was a thriving civilization in lifestyle, art and science. Like China, Egypt and Greece. Nobody can refute this. But a steady decline started in this grand tradition from the 12th century onwards. The attacks on India from outside destroyed its structure.

Grand civilizations move towards their destruction in their natural course of progression. This is because advancement in culture takes it towards plurality. Each of its constituents will grow individually. These components that grow will be contradictory to each other. At that level, it will no longer be a singular, strong warring society. They will be defeated by some fierce, unitary society which has a less advanced culture.

A stagnation of seven hundred years. After that, a renaissance began in the eighteenth century. The reason was English education. Contact with Europe. They call it Indian renaissance / Hindu renaissance. Hindu reformist movements such as Brahmo samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, Narayaguru movement, Vallalaar movement etc. were formed. India’s ancient culture was rediscovered. It was defined anew.

This renaissance blossomed into the Indian war for independence. India obtained freedom. This grand movement yielded fruits such as Tagore, Bharathi, Kuvembu, Kumaranaasan, Premchand, Manik Bandopadhyay, Sivaram Karanth, Pudhumai Pithan, Tarashankar Banerjee and a hundred other luminaries.

At that time, there was a grand dream. To take forward India’s tradition of wisdom, science and philosophy from the point where it had been cut off and on par with modern world’s intellectual discourse. It was repeatedly spoken about in the nineteenth century. There were two faces to Indian renaissance. To imbibe the best cultural aspects of Europe and to develop the various sections of Indian culture.

But after Independence, an important change happened in the world view of Indians. Though moulded by the Indian Independence movement, Nehru, who had no faith in the Indian tradition of wisdom and who blindly worshipped European traditions, became the Prime Minister. Having witnessed the great famines of India first-hand, eradication of poverty alone seemed important to him. He designed the education systems and thinking required to achieve this particular objective. Also, the major religious riots and the resultant animosities intimidated them. They planned to separate education from religion.

The education system created by Nehru and his close associates like Mahalanobis, P. N. Haksar kept aside anything related to Indian traditions as related to religion. If any country has created an education system that doesn’t teach even a single word of its philosphical traditions (one of the grandest in the world) to its students, it has to be India. There is no parallel to this before or since in human history. An entirely European education system became the common, public education system here. An education that could feed became the only education here.

During the British rule, the hatred towards Indian traditions and Hindu traditions in the Indian intellectual space was systematically planned and developed. During the Independence movement, this was restricted due to sentiments that prevailed at that time. After freedom, our modern education fed it and increased it to enormous proportions. Almost every educational institution and cultural department was filled with those who despised India and Hindu traditions.

In the 1970s, when the fear arose that India could become a strong nation, [Strategists like Chester Bowles record this fear. India’s nuclear tests and attempts to become a regional power were also reasons] global powers started an indirect war against India in the intellectual space.

Hence any thought process against Indian unity started receiving lots of money. Anybody who had an anti-India stance flourished with funds. They alone received grants, travel opportunities, awards and international recognition. Anybody who spoke even slightly in favor of Indian and Hindu traditions was ostracised without a single exception.

Since it was believed that Indian unity was a result of the Hindu religion, foreign powers maintained the practice of denouncing and defaming the Hindu religion almost as a major industry. The sheer opposition to being Indian and Hindu was an impregnable force amongst our intelligentsia, media and education. It still continues. It created thought processes and beliefs that reach the youth of today as single sentences. They believe that repeating them makes them appear as a modern and forward thinking person.

On the other hand, in 1925 Hindutva politics began in India. It was an attempt to gather the sentiments created by Indian national renaissance and Hindu religious renaissance as a politcal force. After the Muslim League was formed and Islamism became a political force, Hindu religious politics began as its response . It grew gradually through the mistakes of the Congress. By the 1980’s it became a potent political force and has captured power today.

Hindutva reduces the Hindu religion to a singular identity and gather popular support through that. It has no relation to the Hindu tradition of wisdom, Hindu philosophical traditions and the Hindu religion. Hindu traditions are pluralistic in nature. They grew and evolve by conflicting with each other. But opponents of Hinduism and India have constantly claimed that the politics of Hindutva and the Hindu traditions are one and the same. It has to be considered as an attempt to defame, marginalize and destroy the Hindu traditions.

This is the background. As a writer, I have a deep faith in the Hindu tradition of wisdom. I come from the Vedanta school of philosophy of Narayana Guru. In terms of philosophy, I agree with the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. I express them in my writings. I think that if thoughts and literature that are based on Hindu and Indian traditions grow and extend, it would be a great bounty for world civilization. This was the dream of Vivekananda, Tagore and Bharathi as well.

I am a modern writer. Hence I do not put forth belief systems. I analyze, dissect and argue. Moreover, I dream through the imprints that these traditions have given me. Through those dreams, I reach the depths of my tradition’s inner mind. I present them through the language of my times. I am the contemporary extension to a civilisation and literary movement that are several thousand years old. I consider myself as a continuation in the line from Kamban, Kalidasan and Bharathi.

As a Hindu, I am not an enemy of any religion. I try to attach everything to myself. As a nationalist, I accept the secular India that Gandhi proposed. In my India, everyone else shares the same space as Hindus.

The haters of Hinduism and India cannot accept me due to their politics of hate. They cannot understand me either. They can engage with me only through defamation, malice and bitterness. They can talk about Hindu traditions, Hindu wisdom and Indian nationalism only after branding it as Hindutva politics. That is their plan of action. They have been appointed for that purpose. And they are paid for that as well.

Those who read my creations know what I am writing. It is not religiousness. It is not even religion. It is modern thought and literature that is written standing as a contiguous point in line with a grand civilization. My readers are those who understand that. I do not worry about those who do not understand my writings. The smoke created by the propaganda of Hindu and Indian opponents will disperse. Then, I will be known as a writer who approached and advanced this civilization critically.

– J

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New Year’s Resolutions

1 Jan

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from:

http://www.jeyamohan.in/68944

Translated by: Gokul

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images

I occasionally read New Year’s resolutions, birthday resolutions etc. Most of these usually start with self criticism/mockery about unfulfilled resolutions from previous years. It will be followed by further new resolutions. If the person has crossed a few such resolutions or if he is middle-aged, then the resolutions will smack of improbability.

I was like this during my youth. I used to sigh at the sight of brand new diaries purchased in January, lying unused in December. Nowadays, I do not even remember the first of January. This year, I had to speak about this as a radio station requested me. The question was ‘Were you able to achieve your last year’s resolution?’

I replied ‘I do not take up any New Year’s resolutions.’ The questioner was a young girl from Kerala. ‘The let me rephrase the question. Have you completed what you planned for last year?’ I thought for a while and said ‘In the last 25 years, I have never failed to complete what I set out to do. I have never abandoned something that I started.’

She was quiet for a while. Then she laughed ‘Jeyetta, isn’t this a very tall statement?’ ‘Is it so? I really looked back after your question – whether I have abandoned something midway. No, I haven’t.’

I may have postponed a few things. Because the time was not ripe for it. I may have stopped something after realizing the path chosen to do a task is wrong. I may have expanded on a few tasks. But I have not failed to complete something having planned to complete it within so many days. I have completed even huge projects. I have been with the spirit of activity every single day. I told her that. ‘Given my nature, I cannot be peaceful with a sense of in completeness’. She said she will broadcast that.

In reality, the problem with those who take yearly resolutions is that they are not fired with the zeal of activity throughout the year, they do not plan their activity well or they do not realize their own limits and possibilities. If someone considers a New Year or a birthday as a new beginning, it means that he has not begun anything really. For someone who has begun something, isn’t Life really a flowing continuity of zeal and activity?

There can be only one beginning in life. Once begun, life is merely progress. There is nothing more farcical than beginning life anew every year. That is hesitation at the startline, rocking back and forth on the swimming pool plank, hesitating to jump.

In truth, it is dangerous as well. How are these resolutions adopted? They arise from the self-pity that one hasn’t done anything that one thought of in the last year. Hence grand resolutions are taken up with gusto. They do not see whether the necessary conditions exist for their accomplishment. There are no clear plans to achieve them. One’s own abilities are not taken into account. No effort is made to list one’s shortcomings and attempt made to remove them. Most resolutions are merely ‘Do you know who I am? I will nail that thing easily!’

As a result, these resolutions do not realize. After a few years, they console themselves ‘How many times have I told myself this? Nothing will happen. This is my fate!’. That is the end, then there is no progress. Life ends.

What is called beginning? Finding out what to do in life. And then deciding to accomplish it. Its very basis is to estimate one’s own abilities. We usually over estimate ourselves a little bit. But when we estimate ourselves exceedingly high, usually we are aware of that. We should not make future plans based on such estimates. The first step we take towards it is what I call the beginning. Mine happened in Kasargod in 1986. I have never looked back.

Our dreams may be big. Dreams are themselves big. They should be frothing within our internal selves all the while. Otherwise life doesn’t become sweet. But we should be aware of the distance between one’s dreams and practical goals. Our dreams are an internal river. Our plans for the future should be grabbed as a handful from this river.

In truth, it is not the accomplishment of these goals that is important. It is Life. To fill this period of time that we have received as life, with happiness. Happiness is not in achieving something, not in winning something, but in Being completely. A successful life is that in which we fill our life with activity which gives happiness. Looking back, being able to say – yes, I am content. Goals and plans are for this purpose alone. They are required only to prevent Life being wasted in mundane things and being frittered away.

A life with a goal, which progresses according to plans towards the goal will be filled with zeal and activity. There are few things in life which keep us as content and happy as having the zeal for activity with a positive outlook. That is why activity is important. In reality, nothing of consequence will be lost by our doing or not doing something in life. What we do is for our fulfillment alone.

A positive outlook has to be re-emphasized. Activities done as a retort or against another thing never yield contentment. Mostly they do not last long as well. There are people who start something as a response to something, find themselves in it and reach a positive state of mind through it and move towards contentment. But starting something completely negatively, as a challenge against somebody or something and continuing it for long time and winning it – these are things that cinema teaches us. It cannot happen in real life.

People with a negative mindset will lose interest in it after some time. Because it doesn’t give the pleasure of activity. Everyday it adds to ego and anger. As a result, it will kill ability. It makes one weak and sabotages one’s activity. We really do not pursue things for long if they do not yield happiness to us. It results in a defeatist attitude. We become bitter and angry, prone to abusing and mocking others.

Those with a negative mindset will be observed by others for problems. They will support them in a few instances for a few reasons. But mostly, others will studiously avoid them. The net result will be loneliness. That loneliness will push one towards more bitterness. Hence, one should never mind about enemies or those who are jealous about us. They are much smaller than us. When we contest them, we become small as well.

Anybody possessing zeal for activity will suggest the maxim that any activity should be undertaken only for joy. Any activity can also be converted to a joyful one as well. It only needs to be approached with a positive frame of mind and a sense of enjoyment. Realizing its subtleties will yield the joy of knowledge. Small day to day victories will yield the joy of accomplishment. That alone is enough.

I myself realized that one should not perform any activity for short term gains. With such an objective, anything big or long lasting cannot be achieved. Working towards a small goal merely causes agitation. Even small setbacks cause dejection and make activity a torture. Activities that are undertaken for joy alone can be continued for a long period of time. Only such activities can become successful.

There is something which qualifies me to speak about all this – the fact that I am successful in my field. I am stating merely how I conduct my activity – not what I saw, heard or learnt from others.

Hence we should ask ourselves four questions 1) What activity will make me really happy? 2) What activity do I have the capacity to do? 3) What are my shortcomings in that? 4) What is my plan to do it? Begin. Continue throughout your life. Beginning like this is a sort of birth. It is a birthday resolution. This one is enough.

(End)

Anna Hazare, Talibanism?

1 Dec

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=22663

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Respected Sir,

Greetings. Sorry for disturbing you. Again a question about Anna Hazare. You might have answered these questions before.  I didn’t notice. Now to my question. From the article that appeared in Tamil media… Is it true that there is no alcohol, movies, television (Cable TV), movie songs and Panchayat elections in Ralegaon Siddhi and if somebody uses them, Anna himself would tie them up and lash them with his belt?

With respectful regards,
Kannan
Trichy

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Dear Jeyamohan,

The statements of Anna Hazare after the slapping incident involving Pawar have shaken the trust in someone who was believed to be a Gandhian.  Even as a quick retort or even in jest, he shouldn’t have spoken like that.  It’s comic that after that, he tried to make amends by claiming that he only sought information.  Had Gandhi spoken like that, he would have fasted in regret.  He would have also admitted the truth.

Should we still believe that he is a Gandhian? I am asking this question in the belief that your answer will provide clarity.

http://www.dinamalar.com/News_Detail.asp?Id=355293

With regards,

Nayagi

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Dear Friends,

These days, I receive many letters of this sort.  I see a commonality between them. Those who raised questions over Anna Hazare and opposed him at the height of his movement, are writing now that they have lost faith in him.

I had foreseen and written that the media and the Government will launch defamatory and personal attacks on Team Anna.  Because that is in our history.  The ‘medicine’ given to Vinobha, Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayanan in the past will be given to him as well.

People like Anna Hazare cannot be trapped in corruption and wrong-doing. But allegations can be stacked up against him.  Slowly, an image of him will be created by the continuous allegations appearing against him in the media.  Our media conducted a continuous attack like this on even Jayaprakash Narayanan, who lived and died without enough money for his day to day needs.

A more effective weapon is ridicule. People like Jayaprakash Narayanan and Anna Hazare are not skilled strategists.   Nor are they politicians.  Skilled strategists will measure every word they say.  Politicians will always stick to hackneyed clichés. The media cannot fox such people easily.

But true public servants arise from among the common people.  They would speak the common man’s language and reflect his emotions.  Their words would be spontaneous.  Our media can easily twist them, show contradictions in them; can depict them as nonsensical.

In the past, there are many such who have fallen to this trick and erased from history. The most important victim was Jayaprakash Narayanan. One can be enraged by reading the English media from the 1970’s in which Jayaprakash Narayanan’s concept of total revolution was ridiculed, derided and portrayed as a sort of madness.

Now I am reading the Lohia-J.P. Kriplani time period serially.  These are the people who realized in the 1950’s itself the massive failure to be of the economic model given by Jawaharlal Nehru to India.  They had realized that the triad of Five year plans-Green Revolution-Urbanization can only end in destruction of the village economy.

Jayaprakash Narayanan has mentioned farmers’ suicides in his speeches on several occasions in the 1960s itself.  Lohia said that the entire economic plan should be rebuilt with focus on the villages.  Jayaprakash Narayanan seconded this.  It is this total change that Jayaprakash Narayanan called as ‘total revolution’.  He also succeeded in making this into a grand people’s movement. The media supported this on the face of it in the beginning, since popular opinion was favorable towards it.

Basically, Jayaprakash Narayanan’s movement was against the large capitalists ofIndia.  Hence they slowly started making the movement an object of ridicule.  Every single one of his speeches was twisted.  He was portrayed as a old man given to contradictory blabber.  His speeches were quoted one random statement at a time to create a negative image of him.  Surprisingly, within five years Jayaprakash Narayanan, who called for total revolution and galvanized the entire of north India, was established as a sort of clown in the minds of the people.  That image of him continues till today.

Jayaprakash Narayanan was a man of emotion.  He was capable of speaking from his heart.  A Gandhian himself, his statements in colloquial Hindi like ‘thrash them’, ‘drive them out’ were again and again made headlines by the media to make him out as a man of violence.  The media showed that he was destroying Indian integrity, kindling anarchy and dragging youngsters into violence. The media, by provoking the distrust of the Indian middle class, completely decimated the grand effort of Jayaprakash Narayanan to draw the Indian Government’s attention to village economics.

There is a close synonymy between Jayaprakash Narayanan’s and Anna Hazare’s movements.  Anna Hazare’s movement too is against the triad of Large Industry-Urbanization-Corruption.  It emerges from the contemporary reality that farmers have been given up on and are facing death.  Like Jayaprakash Narayanan, Anna Hazare too is not a politician.  He is a public servant who was created and shaped from the masses.  Hence his language is not one of a politician or a skilled strategist.  His language naturally reflects the emotions of the people.  The media is very easily making it an object of ridicule.

 

It would be good if the people who now state that Anna Hazare is not entirely on the Gandhian path, accept that the Gandhian path is okay, that Anna Hazare is following most of it and that he has failed in just this issue.  But they are using this deception simply to destroy the current enemy in front of them.  They do not follow any honesty in this debate.

Just like they did to Jayaprakash Narayanan, our media is making serial statements out of random utterances of Anna Hazare and his team and subjecting them to ridicule and debate by a section of our middle class, which itself is steeped in corruption.  They too are gossiping now why Anna Hazare said this, why he didn’t say that and whether what he said is Gandhian etc.

Do you know why Gandhi was not awarded the Nobel Prize?  He stated that if the Pakistan Army didn’t provide protection to those refugees who wanted to come to India, then war might break out between the two countries.  The British media started a propaganda that this was meant as a threat to Pakistanand hence Gandhi was against world peace.  The Nobel Committee believed this. For over five years, this charge against Gandhi remained.  When an explanation was sought from Gandhi, he refused. He said he was not interested in giving explanations.

Gandhi was not moderately educated like Anna Hazare.  He was not from a simple background nor did he work among commoners. He was a leading barrister; a great strategist. He had enormous control over his words.  Even he faced a situation like this. Several times his words have been twisted. He has been portrayed by the English media on several occasions as a man of violence, racist and a religious fundamentalist. There is no surprise that Anna Hazare is being hounded thus.

All that we have to think about is this: There is a big diffence between Anna Hazare and his critics. Anna is not merely a commentator. He is not a media expert. He has not shown himself as a man of sharp words or rare insight. He is a public servant. After demonstrating his devotion, honesty and effectiveness on that front, he has entered public life.  There appeared before him a historic moment to speak as the voice of the people. He then spoke the words of the people naturally.

Why do the educated middle-classes like us fail to believe in Anna Hazare’s past, his achievements, why do we trust all the sundry half-baked columnists in the English media? What sort of brain washing is this?  In truth, we should be considering this question alone.

One argument is arising in all the debates on Anna Hazare.  Specifically five-star-hotel-writers who pen articles in the English media repeatedly state this.  Most of these journalists are in reality power brokers for capitalists – like Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai etc. Many are brokers for other interests as well.  They mention in all their articles that Anna Hazare is uneducated, that he cannot speak in English and that he is a simpleton.

The truth is that our thought processes and social interactions have been destroyed and frozen by the English, half-baked principles and translated philosophies that these educated intelligentsia have learnt in their institutions.  These people are unable to understand the crores of common people in this country. Our ‘educated’ intelligentsia continues to speak as the voice of the well-to-do classes who believe they have a right to exploit commoners.

Anna Hazare emerged from the commoners. He is one of them. We can call Anna as the response of the Indian commoners to Gandhi. He did not come to work for the people having learnt all the principles of Gandhism.  He started questioning the degradation around him and thereby arrived at Gandhi through his activities. He discovered Gandhi through his reconstruction programmes.

One can understand what Anna Hazare says only from this perspective. When he went to Ralegaon Siddhi, it was famous for illicit hooch. He attempted a change in the village through his moral strength alone.  He brought back the centuries-old village panchayat system. But he rid it of the casteist ascendancy present in it.  He created equal platforms and opportunities for every caste in it. He made them realize that without everyone participating, one cannot make reconstruction programmes work and then made them successful.  I have seen this personally in Ralegaon Siddhi. It is probably the only village in North India where dalits have a direct share of political authority in village administration.

Anna Hazare is only telling us how the clout of illicit liquor was defeated by the village panchayat system.  He didn’t get skilled in Gandhian techniques and then descend there to try them out by serving them. He went there as one among them and served them.  It is natural that he shares their beliefs.  Any balanced individual will admit that it is alcohol which is ruining village economy.  He might have tried through the village panchayat system to create a social isolation and punishment against this social evil.

The media systematically creates an image.  Anna Hazare is not the dictator of Ralegaon Siddhi.  He is not an omnipotent landlord like one sees in Tamil films.  He is a public servant who lives in the local village temple.  He has the moral authority that his simplicity brings. What he speaks about is not his authority, but the authority of the village panchayat.

There are village specific reasons for why Anna Hazare thought why there need not be political party based elections there.  He thought that if there was a split within the village due to party based elections, then the large scale development programmes might suffer.  He didn’t stop party based politics with his personal authority.  It is the village panchayat which decided that party based politics is not required.  Instead, the traditional method of discussing and arriving at a choice for the head position was followed.

One can decide whether this is correct or wrong only taking the situation into consideration.   It created very good results there.  Here our villages which have panchayats constituted through party politics are caught up in corruption and are rotting.  It is the practical truth that politics has split up people so much so that it is impossible for them to demand responsibility from somebody.  The media creates the image that he kept the political parties banned for selfish reasons.  Pushing aside his achievements and the dedication that went into it, they try to show him as a village landlord (pannaiyar) who is shown grinning ‘Ahhaaa…’, belt in hand.

Anna Hazare was performing his service in the 1980s. At that time, he didn’t have any vision or motives outside of his village.  He was known outside only after Gandhian organizations and environmental organizations took his achievements outside.  I visited Ralegaon Siddhi in 1987.  Even at that time, it appeared that he didn’t have any goals outside the village.  As an honest social activist, he stood up to the corruption and government persecution in Ralegaon Siddhi. That is how he arrived at the Maharashtrian and national political scene.

I do not believe anyone tried to portray Anna Hazare as a blemishless Gandhian.  He is a social activist who moved towards Gandhism through practical work.  Gandhism does not possess an integrity and purity like religion.  It has two aspects, a vision and a practical guidance towards the vision.  Every Gandhian moves towards that vision through this practical guidance each according to his ability.

What should one do to be completely faithful to the Gandhian ‘principles’?  One should merely keep speaking about it without doing anything.  Someone who seeks to achieve results on the ground can only operate by arriving at explanations to them, sometimes by staying away from them and rarely, by refuting some of them.  We call Anna Hazare a Gandhian since the economic reconstruction programme in his village as well as the anti-corruption movement at the national level are both based entirely on the Gandhian vision.

It is heartening to note that our middle class intellectuals have unwavering clarity on what is non-violence and righteousness.  The Gita calls these sort of people as ‘rooted-in –their-consciousness’ (Stitha Prajna).  Even Arjuna who heard the Gita till the end didn’t reach that state.  Gandhi too.  Till the end, Gandhi has doubts as to what was non-violence.  During the First World War, he called out to all Indians to join the army and fight for the British.  At the global level, he thought of the British as a just power and that they should not be defeated.  He thought that after Britain wins, they would give more democratic rights to the Indians and that India would gain practice as a modern democratic society.

But several of Gandhi’s own students felt that it was diametrically opposite to the non violence that Gandhi spoke about.  He couldn’t convince them by speaking to them.  He stopped by saying that he felt within himself that it was right.   When he went to the villages for drafting men for the war and started propaganda, the common people were shocked and confused. He requested them to believe in him.  It is the trust that most Indians had on his honesty and personality that made them follow him, not clarity of principles.

He had this doubts on right and wrong till the end.  He read the Gita again and again for this.  He requested that the army should take strong action and bring control in regions where poor people were getting killed in religious riots.  He didn’t think that it was against non-violence.  But he said that those affected by violence should abstain from hitting back.  He taught people to forgive enemies.  He explained it as the path of non-violence.  Intellectuals of his time as well as today have not understood that his non-violence means giving space to both idealism and practicality at the same time.

Gandhism doesn’t contain an absolute ideology or principle.  Laurie Baker who insisted on a liquor shop in his Gandhian village is also a Gandhian.  Lech Valesa, a complete alcoholic was called a Gandhian by his supporters.

Gandhism can be understood at several levels.

Firstly: The social vision of Gandhism. It can be delineated as having characteristics of distributed authority, decentralization, attempting to reach self sufficiency in smaller units and non-consumerism.

Secondly: Gandhian politics.  Seeking the way of unity instead of division.  Attempting to move forward through reconciliation.  Moving towards one’s rights through non violent struggle.

Thirdly:  Personal discipline of right and wrong. It is based on personal honesty, simplicity and abstinence.

Several of those who are called Gandhians today have tried to follow atleast one of these and succeeded.  M. F. Schumacher is a Gandhian.  He followed the first set of principles alone.  Martin Luther King was a Gandhian. But he adopted merely the second way in Gandhi.  Vinobha took only the third aspect from Gandhi.

Hence, it would be absurd to discard Martin Luther King based on his personal discipline.  Even Gandhi reached Gandhism only very late, almost towards the end.  In the beginning, Gandhi has supported wars.  To expect one to start from the heights reached by Gandhi and to travel forth from there is nothing but stupidity.

Anna Hazare has within the limits of his personality, believed in Gandhian economics and has achieved success.  As a believer in the principles of personal discipline of Gandhi, he has been unblemished in his personal life.  He has been active in taking up Gandhian politics.

It is not as if he is a Gandhian only if he completely accepts all the statements by Gandhi and lives entirely as Gandhi.  There might be places where Anna differs from Gandhi.  He might believe that in social setup, there is room for a certain level of violence. He might have learnt it from practical life.  Gandhi was also a practical man.

Viewing from a Gandhian perspective, we might argue that Anna Hazare’s belief in that is faulty.  We might discard him from that perspective.  But it is blatant defamation to call him a fascist, a clown and a fool and against Gandhi himself because of that.   The English media in India has always been indulging in character assassinations.  They gave the same poison to even Gandhi himself.

I have written extensively about Gram Swaraj that Gandhi proposed.  I have deep misgivings about it.  I have recorded them too.  I believe that against the shift in global economics, it is impossible to create in a village or in a province Gram Swaraj organizations. It cannot last.  It might last for a generation at best.  That village will have to continue struggling against the entire world.  It has to guard all its doors.  It can continue only through village restraints, isolation and similar punishments.  It is a short dream.  I had mentioned this in the article in Malayalam which I wrote after coming back from Ralegaon Siddhi.

Gandhi’s gram panchayat system and gram swaraj model of economics have to be adapted to contemporary situations and modernized.  Its my belief that this can best happen through the methods of J.C. Kumarappa and E. F. Schumacher.

We have only two kinds of people among us.  One, those who fear Anna Hazare.  Even a single reason is sufficient for them to discard Anna Hazare.  Instantly, they will start abuses and defamatory remarks against him.  But they will justify the monumental faults of leaders whom they believe in with hundreds and hundreds of words.

Secondly, the believers.  They need a prophet.  A blemishless complete man.  They are constantly seeking blemishes.  A relief when they finally spot one.  Ah- he too is like us, and a sneer.  Even if Gandhi arrives today, only blemishes will be spotted in him, no?  What newer allegations can come up against Anna that Gandhi hasn’t seen?

The one that is amongst us now is an activist who tries to implement Gandhism within his abilities, within his limitations, and in his practical situations.  Hence he is a Gandhian.  He is not a bigger Gandhi than Gandhi himself, nor is he a prophet.  His integrity has remained untarnished after being hunted by so many people seeking to defame him till date.  That is what is surprising to me. If we merely analyze for half an hour those who accuse Anna Hazare, or follow them for a week, we can see the rotten sleaze of their private lives.

Today from among the people, one of them has arisen as their voice.  He has a great contribution to make.  He emphasizes the probity of public life.  He advocates the common discipline of right and wrong which we have compromised long back.  No political party has the moral authority to do this today.   Everyone has compromised one way or the other.  One cannot face electoral politics here without such a compromise. Only somebody like Anna who stands apart from this can do this.

The hegemony of our capitalist system is steeped in the corruption of electoral politics.  It is through this hegemony that our media houses are conducted.  Most of those journalists are merely power brokers.  They are trying to get rid of Anna Hazare simply because he is a force against them.  They employ all the tricks of the media trade for it.

I have been shocked by a truth when I was at the height of a political movement once.  Several industrialists in Tamilnadu will offer funds to Naxalite-like groups to run their trade unions. This is because their real enemies are left-right communist parties’ trade unions. These extremist leftists will come in handy to defame and weaken those trade unions. Since these will never gain in strength, there is no fear from them.

This is the same thing that Indian capitalism is doing now.  The true threat is from activists who have people’s support like Anna Hazare.  It is possible to get rid of them by getting ‘ultra’- activists to defame them, who have not been able to gather people’s support. These paper tigers will never be able to gather people’s support.  It is the voices of these ultras that we keep hearing now.

Another front, hides within itself blatant religious fanaticism, anti-humanitarian attitudes while speaking a thousand legalities out in public.  Our media makes use of them as well.

Anna Hazare is a great opportunity for India.  One of the questions that will decide its future is whether India should win this opportunity or lose it like it lost Jayaprakash Narayanan.  We can answer this question only if we are capable of conversing with our conscience within.

J

‘Am I a Hindu?’ (Part II)

20 Oct

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=21656

(Part 1)

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(Contd.)

Please examine this question from this background. ‘Am I a Hindu?’. Saivaites, Vaishnavites and Saktars could ask this question too, isn’t it?  Saivite and Vaishnavite forms of worship are different, aren’t they?  Then, who is a Hindu? One is ‘Hindu’ only if everyone stays together.  If they stand alone, they are merely Saivite, Vaishnavite or Saktar.

You have pointed out in your question a duality that is present in Hinduism.  It is the contradiction between theological religion and folk religion.  It is a sociological method developed by the British to study the forms of worship here.  But one cannot understand Hinduism using this.  The great godheads here were folk deities till a few years ago.  A folk deity of today will combine with an existing godhead and become one as well.

Shiva was a folk deity like your Karuppaswamy once.  Today Sudalaimadaswamy is turning into the the Graceful Lord Sivasudalaimadaswamy.  This evolution is constantly happening.  You can worship yesteraday’s Karuppaswamy or tomorrow’s Shiva.  You cannot add a chapter to the Bible about Karuppaswamy and make him a godhead. There is no place for him in the Bible and the Koran.  It’s possible in the Gita.  It is this nature which creates aggregate religions.

Now, the information which you share.  They mostly reveal your ignorance about your own heritage. You mostly do not know anything about your village, deities and forms of worship.  You would have grown up without interest in any of these like most other youth and would have come to the cities for work.  After this, you have imagined a village from what you have read or learnt here and there and are asking this question.

What do you know of Karuppaswamy or Sudalaimadan?  Have you attempted to learn something? I know local deities very well; the local deities and communal deities of Nellai and Kanyakumari districts in particular.  I am in touch with folklore researcher A. K. Perumal and have been discussing with him for over a decade. Only a few communal deities belong to your village alone. Karuppaswamy, Madaswamy, Kanniyamman, Maduraiveeran and Muthupattan are present all over the southern region.

Written histories are available for more than three hundred years for all these deities. In oral folklore, there are stories about these deities from even before this period.  The Sudalaimadaswamy folk song belongs to the 15th century. The Karuppaswamy villukathai (story narrated with a villu musical instrument) belongs to the 16th century. You can try reading them. Almost all of the southern folk deities belong to the Saivite tradition.  Shiva would have been mentioned as the god of these deities. Or they would have become deities having after receiving a boon from Shiva.  These stories are still being sung in the villu songs and kaniyan mudiyetru of these deities.

In our culture, gods continue to be created.  There are three ways through which a folk deity can be created.  One, symbolic deity.  That is, a small deity worshipped to cure a disease or to increase the harvest.  Worship of trees, rocks and rivers fall under this category.  Secondly, worshipping the deceased.  Making deities out of those who faced a violent death, killed in war, or childbirth for the sake of honoring their memory. Thirdly, worshipping elders – deifying one’s ancestors. Templesrise in places where saints are laid to rest.

In the beginning, deities created in this manner stay within the groups that created them.  When this community forms relationships with other communities, they mix with other gods and transform into larger godheads.  All the godheads that you see today were created in this manner.  Deities for a particular family alone continue to exist as their communal deities.

This process of relating would have started several generations ago.  To tell the truth, a local deity starts relating to the Shaivite tradition as soon as it is created.  For example, the temple of ‘Serman’ Arunachala Swamy.  It is in Eral. Arunachala Nadar was born on October 2nd 1880 at Melapudhukudi near Thiruchendur to Ramaswamy and Sivananaindha Ammai.  He took over as the Chairman of Eral Panchayat on 5th September, 1906. He undertook several good measures for the people.  He passed away on Adi Amavasya of 1908.  People established him as a deity and started worshipping him.

Slowly, the worship of ‘Serman’ Swamy started interacting with Saivism. ‘Serman Swamy’ turned into an incarnation of Siva.  Today Arunachala Swamy temple is an important spot of Saivite worship.  This is how Hindu religion takes birth and continues growing.  Any form of worship here starts a dialogue with Hinduism and over a period of a time merges with it.  Only by merging this like, Hinduism moves forward.  Like all streams of water in a particular region somehow going and merging with a large river in that region.

Hence your deities do not hang out of thin air without any relation whatsoever with the Hindu tradition like you think.  And you are not silent in the dialogue with the common structure of Hindu religion.  You are merely unaware of it.  Even communal deities will merge into the Hindu common traditional worship when the community expands and spreads a bit more.  All other deities will have a historical narrative which fits with the Hindu tradition.  Enquire this when you go visit next time.

As far as our smaller deities go, only a few in the village will have knowledge about them.   The others do not care. The reason is the cultural setback caused in the 19th century due to the great famines. Most of our families would have migrated during that time. The root of the community would be somewhere else. As a result, communal deities were given up and forgotten.  Traditional forms of worship were lost.  Traditional stories and wisdom was lost.  Only simple rituals survived in the places where ended up living.  Our fathers and grandfathers would have existed in a cultural vacuum and slowly gained roots in the new towns and villages. They would have known nothing.

Why this doubt as to what your religion is?  Which other religion does the word ‘Kaliraj’ belong to?  I believe that you atleast know that Kali is a Hindu god.  You mentioned Thiruchendur temple.  You can learn this easily.  Please see if your community has any right to any ritual like mandagappadi in the Thiruchendur festival.  If so, you are a member of a grand, temple based Hindu (Saivite) religious organization which has existed since the tenth century.   If your father or grandfather did not perform the communal worship meant for their community, it is their personal issue alone.

I too have communal deities.  Ittagaveli Neeli and Melaangodu Yatchi.  It is them that my ancestors worshipped.  At the same time, they were also a small part of a grand setup of the Thiruvattaru Adhikesavan temple.  All communities would have this dual religious belief.  Small deities would be their own unique deities.  They would have been attached to temples for larger godheads.

The Vedas were considered merely as books for rituals.  Hence only those who conducted rituals alone read them.  The Gita and the Vedanta were not spoken of as meant for everyone.  It was meant for those who crossed devotion and worship and searched for true knowledge. In all the communities, those who knew these were a miniscule number.

The puranas and epics belonged to all people of India in their respective forms.  For every community, there were different forms of the same stories from the puranas.  That lower class people had no introduction to the puranas and that they had no relation to it is simply a fraud perpetrated by the Folklore Center Palayamkottai and theMaduraiDivinityCollege.

Have you ever known that the puranas and the epics are the sole basis for all the folk arts of Tamilnadu?  There are around two hundred folk arts in the Nellai region like the Therukoothu, Tholpaavaikoothu, Pulluvan Paatu, Villupaatu etc.  All of them still narrate stories form the puranas and the epics.  Even today, over a hundred of them continue to be staged without facing extinction.  All the local deity festivals for the past two centuries have been conducting them only.  The people who act in them playing parts and those who watch them are all from the lower classes only.

When special dramas arrived, they staged dramas from the puranas.  When silent movies came, they were movies on the puranas as well.  Your village or your family is very surprising.  If they really do not know a little bit about all these things, they certainly live in an interesting illusory world.  Their special state should be separately studied.   One cannot examine Hindu religion or Tamil society on that basis.

You say that you and the Hindu form of worship do not have any relationship.  This is a statement made without any knowledge merely by believing in hearsay.  There are four ways of approaching divinity in the Hindu religion.  One, padayal (offerings) and sacrifice. Secondly, poojas  and prayers. Third are the Vedic rituals. Fourth, dhyana (meditation) and yoga. Any folk deity would be within the first two forms of worship only.

Do your offer prayers to your Karuppaswamy? Or a joint prayer session?  You would light a lamp or a torch.  You would deck it with flowers, offer food and worship it, wouldn’t you? And you would share the food as sacred prasadam. What is this but Hindu worship?  This what Hindus do in the Fiji Islands, South Africa and in Nepal.  This is what is done to Thiruchendur Murugan as well.  Its sacred ash (thiruneeru) that is smeared on Karuppaswamy and Sudalai.  You would know this if you went to a Karuppaswamy temple.

There would be life sacrifice and food from meat in a Karuppaswamy temple.  In a temple for a larger deity, vegetarian food would be offered.  There would be a few differences in the materials and in the words used, that is all.  This is because a few centuries ago, Thiruchendur Murugan became a god for a larger set of people.  Hence he moved towards a form of worship common to all the people.  Life sacrifice existed till around a hundred years ago in several of the great Hindu temples for major godheads.

Any small deity would continue to exist somewhere in the Hindu common tradition.  It will definitely not be completely outside of it; even the deities of the dalits and tribal people.  How far within it depends on how big the worshipping community is, how wealthy, how educated and how much social status it possesses.   The deity of a community gains as much importance within a larger tradition (and merges with it) as the extent to which the community gains stature in society.

That’s why Hindu religion is not thrust down your throat.  Who is there is to do so?  Does someone come door to door for religious conversion?  Do they distribute pamphlets or do they campaign with loudspeakers?  There are no evangelists for Hinduism.  Counter campaigns happen from all quarters with the utmost rigor.

It’s you who force yourself into the Hindu religion.  This is the history of the past five or six thousand years.  Every community jostles for social power.  It searches for its own place in society.  Once it reaches there, it establishes itself there.  Soon their deities gain prominence.  Convincing proof for this is the great prominence gained by Badrakaliamman temples of the Nadars and the importance being gained by Mariamman temples of the Vanniyars.

Watch the roadside when you go.  You will notice brand new Ammans and Karuppaswamys standing up out of the concrete.  A few people from the community that worships those deities would have earned money inDubai.  As they move up the social ladder and slowly gather authority, their deity will move towards the current core of Hindu religion.  If it has to move towards the centre, it should have a dialogue with the centre.  It should transform itself.  It should size the centre. That is what is continually happening.

This is what is happening in your village as well.  When smaller deities turn into larger godheads, their appearance and rituals get transformed.  When Karuppaswamy which seeks life sacrifice is worshipped as a the All Pervading ruler of the universe, it has to become a god which has compassion for all living beings.  After that, it is not possible to offer life sacrifice to it anymore.  It transforms into the Graceful Lord Karuppaswamy.

 There is no question as to whether this is right or wrong.  This has been the way culture has functioned in the Indian subcontinent for the past five thousand years.  This is how Hinduism was formed.  This society has grown and has progressed forward.  Our intellectuals who scream that this is cultural colonialism shamelessly dance to the tunes of proselytizing forces that uproot and destroy entirely the worship of local deities.

 Hence, if you ask if you are a Hindu, I would say that yes, you are a Hindu.   Hindu religion is not an ear-marked region.  It is an expanse in which several fronts continue to be in dialogue.  You and your deities are already a part of this vast Hindu expanse.  From what you have said, it appears that you continue to move towards the general way of life.  You are one among the group of people who are gaining ground within the Hindu religion and are making themselves the new core.

J

‘Am I a Hindu?’ (Part 1)

16 Oct

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=21656

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Question:

Let me tell you at the face of it:  I do not believe in an external power named God. This is not due to reading Dravidian Movement literature. Its entirely through my own confusion and the resulting introspection. The feeling that there is no external power named God gained strength after reading the thoughts of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Ramana. The reason I am saying this is to show that I am not merely a vacuous atheist. Though I do not understand Bharathi’s concept of ‘All that I see is Self’, Einstein’s ‘The World is a Cycle’, Ramakrishna’s ‘Nirchalanam’ I am incapable of refuting their contents. I am incapable of accepting theme either maybe since I do not understand them or haven’t experienced them. All I can do now is value them.

I have a desire to read the Vedas and the Upanishads. But not now.

I think this letter is the first step in my effort towards that. Though my question is not direct, I know that the answer will be a journey towards that. I will come to the question. Why am I a Hindu? Is it my mother religion or is it an alien religion? Please do not say like all the others that this is the power of Hinduism (I feel this is absurd. If I create a chapter on Karuppaswamy in the Bible, will I become a Christian? These sort of questions arise within me).

I do not agree with the reason that it is impossible to pin point what defines a Hindu or that under the Constitution, those who are not Buddhists, Christians or Muslims are Hindus.

What’s common between me and my fellow Hindus? Not religion, not even cuisine. Not habits (not even in worship). Why, not even common Gods. Isn’t this true? In my grandfather’s generation, I have never seen any other worship than worship of our communal deity (nor have I heard them speak of it). Its only in my generation that for the people of my village it has occurred that someone living in Thirupathi or Sabarimalai could be a God. Even Murugan worship at Thiruchendur was not very prominent till a generation ago.

Till now my village has worshipped as far as i now only village deities like Karuppaswamy, Sudalaimadan, Kanniamman. These people (including me) knew of the Ramayanam as merely an epic (that too through Kambar, or patti mandrams, I don’t know).  There is no Siva temple or a Rama temple in the vicinity of our village or an easily accessible distance (there was none in the past too). As far as I know, there is none in my ancestors who have read the Gita or the Vedas or have even thought of doing so.

I believe you would have understood my question now. With all these, why am I still a Hindu? Or is the Hindu religion something that was thrust on me like the other religions?

From where did this religion come towards me? Is distance the only differentiating factor between Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism? If it came in the recent past, did my ancestors have no religion before that? Did they have no form of worship? At the beginning of human history, there would have been no religion. I believe that all religions arose after that.

My question is – did my village not have any form of worship as its own? Or will this become a reality soon? The most significant change I notice in my generation is the food that is presented in temples. The educated (so-called) classes are keen to show themselves as abhorring the custom of eating meat in temples. For them, only the larger temples appear to be beautiful, potent and possessing divinity. My argument that we present to our deity what our deity likes fails to impress there. (I support vegetarianism solely on the basis of health. But this is different. They eat meat at home. But at the temple, they will do so with a guilty heart or will refuse.)

Similarly, I do not remember my grandfather or my grandmother performing offerings for the dead. What I learnt from that is that after the tenth day of rites, thats it. Now, this habit is also on the rise.

My question is not whether these are for good or for bad. My question is whether the Gita and Vedas are to me what the Bible and Koran is? Or whether there is a connection between me and them.

Am not sure if I have put my question properly. But I have hopes that you would have understood me.

Regards,

Kaliraj.

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Dear Kaliraj,

This confusion exists among a large section of educated youth in Tamilnadu who come from a humble background. This confusion has been fanned by Dravidian organisations and the Left over the past several years. Powers with financial and organisational might which operate with the objectives of proselytisation stand behind them. They seek to convert this confusion to a firm concept.

To give an example, its only in the 1990s that intellectuals of the Dravidian movement and the Leftists who espoused rationality started emphasising that the worship of local deities in Tamilnadu is not connected to Hinduism and that it is even against Hinduism. Before that, they used to entirely brand it as superstition.

The reason for this happening is the ten day conference named ‘Gods of the common people’ (‘Sanangalin Saamigal’) conducted at the behest of Father Jeyapathy of the Department of Folklore at the St. Xavier’s college in Palayamkottai. At the conference a segregation was easily fed to our intellectuals that all the local deities were subjugated and that Hinduism is a religion of subjugating gods. Around 50 lakhs was spent for this.

Look at what our Left intellectual S. Tamilselvan has to say about it: ‘In those days when the Department of Folklore at the St. Xavier College in Palayamkottai functioned actively, a ten day conference ‘Sanangalin Saamigal’ was conducted. Those ten days were a turning point in my life. It gave a new perspective about gods and deities. Observe http://satamilselvan.blogspot.com/2009/04/blog-post_04.html
See who has to come and present these intellectuals with the history of their own society and their own deities.

These intellectuals failed to ask just one thing to the organisers of this conference. Does the religion of the organisers permit the worship of local deities? did it allow those who converted before that to continue their worship of their communal deity? What happened to the communal deities of those who converted before this? Hence which is truly the subjugating religion that  suppresses smaller deities? Only one student stood up and asked this, and he was removed from the room.

This question that you ask has been planted in you without your knowledge and has been grown with continued propaganda. I am pointing out that those behind it are proselytising forces. An educated person like you may have this doubt and misgivings, your illiterate father would not have had. He would never have doubted whether he was a Hindu or not. I had to tell this since I could not have answered your question without explaining this background.

The basis for your question lies in your definition of religion. You consider that a religion consists of firm principles of divinity, a definite organisation structure and well defined practices and rituals. Most of the religions that we see today are like this. But this is not applicable to all religions. Only if we understand religion from a broader and less rigid definition will we be able to understand not only Indian history, but also Asian and African histories.

Two kinds of religions have a firm center with surrounding structures. One is religions based on race like Judaism. Jews are a race. The faith of the Jews is Judaism. Outsiders cannot convert to it. Several African minor religions are like this. These religions have clear boundaries. The boundary of race based religions is the racial identity. For them, those outside this boundary are others or aliens. Race based religions do not proselytize.

The other kind are the religions of Prophets. The Prophet who founded the religion would have clearly defined the religions center and its boundaries. In the Abrahamic religions, the Prophet would have said that ‘I am the true Prophet, all else are false’, or it would be written that he said so. Christianity, Islam, Manichaen, Bahai, Ahamedia – these religions can be listed in this category. These kind of religions keep appearing even today.

These religions would demand complete faith from its followers on its founder prophet and its book. All those who do not accept this would have been defined as aliens or others. It will insist that these others have to entirely give up their own beliefs and customs and join them. These religions will do all that is necessary to this end. This duty would have been preached to all of its faithful. It’s on this basis that they grow.

Other than these two kinds of religions, there are another two. One – religions based on philosophy. Examples, Buddhism and Jainism. They were founded by prophet too. But they do not preach faith, they advocate their philosophy. Even the God that they preach is a philosophical construct. Their description of the universe is not based on faith, but on philosophy. They do not say that this philosophy has to be entirely believed and accepted. Instead they call for debate with that philosophy. Even Confucianism and Taoism belong to this category.

There are basic differences between how the two religions spread – the religions of the Prophets and the religions based on philosophy. The religions of the prophets ask the others to come to them casting off entirely their older beliefs and customs. They command that what they say be accepted with complete faith. If you become a Christian or a Muslim, you cannot retain any aspect of your old religion, communal deity or customs. You cannot doubt Christian or Muslim beliefs even a little.

But religions based on philosophy do not say so. They only teach that the philosophy be imbibed in your thoughts and your lifestyle. By only accepting the five customs of a Jain, and the basic principle of the Universal cycle, one can become a Jain. Standing within that boundary, one can worship his own community’s deity and practise his customs. In other words, they do not propagate their religion, but their philosophy.

If we consider Buddhism, this is why Sri Lankan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are different in customs and beliefs. A follower of Taoism can also be a Buddhist. The Japanese are able to use Shintoism for material life and Buddhism for spirituality. But its the Buddhist philosophy that remains as the essence. What Buddhism does is not proselytisation, but transmission of philosophy.

Another category of religions can be called aggregate religions in general. Hinduism is the best example of this in the world. Shintoism is a smaller example of the same. They do not have a central vision of divinity or a central philosophy. These emerge at a particular juncture in history and continue to grow.

We usually compare these religions to Abrahamic religions, religions of the Prophets. Hence we start asking what is the central vision? what is its holy book? and who are the ‘others’? We ourselves decide that these are the central points and boundaries of this religion. Soon we are confused who else is within this boundary along with us. The same confusion exists in your question.

What is the difference between aggregate religions and the other religions mentioned before ? religions based on race, religions of the Prophets and philosophy based religions. It is that the other three originate at a point and start expanding outwards. Religions based on race have a self identity based on race as their core. Prophet’s religions have the philosophy of their prophets as their core . Religions based on philosophy have their perspective of that philosophy as the basis.

They make this core interact with several other beliefs and thoughts. Prophetic religions defeat these other beliefs and thoughts and establish themselves over them after destroying them. Religions based on philosophy penetrate the other beliefs and thoughts at the level of philosophy, modify their core and carry them along. In other words, in both these categories, a core that already existed in the religion starts moving towards the fringes.

For example, when Jainism came to South India, it spread among the Nagars who worshipped Nagas.  It made them accept the Jain philosophy. Nagar’s worship of the Naga became a part of Jainism. The five headed serpent over the head of Parsavnath is the god of the Nagars. The Nagaraja temple at Nagarkoil is their temple.

But aggregate religions do not have a pre-defined central principle or core. Since they are ancient, it is not easy to point out their source or where they originated. It can be said that aggregate religions are formed when the ancestral customs and beliefs of a set of people living in a landmass combine over a period of time.

Tribes living over a vast expanse of land develop individual forms of worship out of their lives. It cannot be called religion. When those people start relating with another group of people over a long period of time, there is a dialogue between their belief systems. They grow by give and take. A common ground is discovered between the two. In other words, by conjoining the cores, a new one is created. When it merges with a third form of worship, a new common point is discovered.

Like this, over hundreds of years, hundreds of forms of worship come together to form an aggregate religion. Most of these aggregate religions still continue to be in this process of aggregation. Hence their central core continues to change and grow. This core moves towards whichever group of people within that population that has the largest intellectual influence or authority.

The structure that we call Hinduism today has been in this aggregate form since the beginning. Even the most ancient book of Hinduism, the Rig Veda is an example of this aggregate nature. It does not preach a particular faith, custom or a philosophy. In it, there are several forms of worship, beliefs and philosophies. We can see them in dialogue with each other and joining with each other in the Rig Veda.

In the ending part of the Rig Veda, there is this approximate central core that arose out of this aggregation. It can be called ‘Brahmam’. That is to say, the essence of this universe or power is envisaged as unfathomable and realizing the universe as its expression. As soon a core like this is created, dialogue begins between this and the other cores. This we can see in the period of the Upanishads.

This dialogue continues till today. A few Leftists explained that this structure called Hinduism pulls in smaller components towards itself. Several people keep saying the same thing. Any form of worship which they claim was sucked into Hinduism has not lost its self-identity. Even philosophies and beliefs which came in like this two thousand years ago continue to remain so. It’s the new  comers that have modified what the Leftists called as the core. Hence it is not swallowing in. It’s dialogue and reconciliation alone. 

If we see history, we can notice that the central course of Hinduism has changed entirely once in every two or three hundred years. If a new population arrives or a new thought comes in, it changes itself after reconciling with them. Almost like a river. Our Ganges is not a river, it is an aggregation of rivers. Its course and shape are all determined by the rivers that merge into it. Every group within Hinduism may claim that they are the core; but the core is always all-containing.

*

(to be contd.)

The World’s Longest Fence

30 Sep

This is a translation of a blog post from Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=21029

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The Great Wall of China stands till today as a historical achievement. There was another in India in the 18th century which was comparable to that. A grand hedge – starting from Maharashtra’s Barhanpur passing via Madhyapradesh, via Uttarpradesh via Punjab, via the Sindh province of Pakistan and ending almost in the Kashmir border.

It was a living fence. Grown from shrubs and tied together so that nobody can cross it. It was almost 12 feet in height. It was the largest fence in the history of the world. It almost split northern India in half. It ran across 4000 kms of vacant land, agriculture land, villages, cities and deserts. At its height, in 1872, it had 14000 full time British officers guarding and maintaining it. It lasted as a symbol of British-Indian Government’s authority for almost three-fourths of a century.

None of India’s historians have mentioned this great structure. It has not been mentioned in any book on India. There is no record of it in the official records of independent India. Even in India, no sociologist or economist had even heard about it – till 1995.

A travel writer and record-keeper of the London Library, Mr. Roy Moxham bought Major General W.H. Sleeman’s ‘Memoirs of a British Soldier’ from an old book shop in London. It was published in 1893. Sleeman had travelled across India as a British Army officer in the 1850s. In his travel notes, there were records and descriptions of kings, chieftains, robbers, holy cities, temples and the taxation system of the then British Indian Government. In this, Sleeman speaks about the great living fence.

Roy Moxham is surprised. He wonders if this were an imagination. He examines British records. Most of them were from the post-1870’s. There was no information about the great fence. He patiently searches in the well-maintained British Library in London. The fact that he is a librarian for historical documents by profession helps him. Finally, he gets information on the survey details of  the fence and about its establishment and maintenance.

Initially thinking of it as insanity on the part of the British, Roy Moxham slowly identifies the horrible exploitation behind it. After extensive research, he describes it in his book ‘The Great Hedge of India’.Great Hedge Of India

The Great Hedge of India

It had the objective of controlling salt trade within the nation. It was even called the Customs Hedge. The customs duty on salt was the major source of income of the then British Government. Since the time they gained ground in India, 1803, the British started building this to bring salt distribution under their control to levy taxes. In stages, it was completed in 40 years. In 1843, this hedge was completed and brought under the control of the Inland Customs department.

To understand this, we need to understand Indian geography and the place of salt in it. India’s northern regions are widely distributed. It has enormous plains which are distant from the sea. Northeastern states, the Himalayan regions, well-populated Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh were all dependent on southern coastal regions for salt.

It was in Gujarat’s Kutch peninsula that salt was produced the most. In this region, there are no major rivers meeting the sea. Hence salt is in abundance. For most part of the year, there is abundant sun. In summer, salt lakes like the Sambar dry up naturally into salt beds. Hence traditionally, salt went from Gujarat to the northern states. There were long salt trade routes for this purpose. Maharashtra and Orissa coasts too produced salt. These too went to the northern states and the Himalayan regions through the land route.

Okay, if so, then why a hedge till Kashmir? In today’s Pakistan, the Himalayan regions contain the world’s largest salt mountains. Its pristine pure and cheap as well. For the Himalayan regions including Tibet, it was this salt that was being transported. To block it, this hedge was built there.

Is salt such an important commercial good? Yes, says Roy Moxham. Most of the villages in the India of those times were self-sufficient. The needs of the people like grains, vegetables, ghee and other consumer needs like clothes, weapons were all produced from within the village communities. Salt was the only commodity which had to come from outside. Hence at that time, it was the most
important traded commodity.

Was salt so indispensable? Salt is not considered an essential need today. This is because nowadays it is contained in several food products which are processed, stored and consumed. Meat contains salt. But in those days, a farmer’s usual food was made of grains and vegetables alone. He had to include salt in his food. Also, the Indian farmer lost a lot of salt labouring in the sun – this loss he had to remedy with salt intake. Also, in the northern states, salt was in shortage.
Animals cannot consume salt from the earth – they too have to be fed with salt.

We can estimate the requirement of salt by considering the population of the northern states. For a trade of that much quantity of salt – what a market it was! We can guess the price it would have acquired as multiples of the cost by the time the salt came from Gujarat and Orissa over thousands of kilometers through bullock-carts and donkeys.

Roy Moxham estimates the cost of salt per annum for an Bihari farmer to be around his monthly income. The people from the hills spent roughly the same amount on salt that they spent on food grains!

Salt has been a scarce good. In some places, it has been even used as currency. Since it had to be saved through the rainy season, lending salt was considered a great aid. Promising over salt was considered a very serious thing.

Was salt thus essential? Everyday around 1500 to 2500 milligrams of sodium is required for every human. He mentions on the basis of research studies that in a tropical region like India where salt leaves the body during the day, a minimum of two ounces of salt is required. Failing which they fall prey to a disease called Hyponatremia. Children are affected the most. The biggest problem with salt deficiency diseases are that the patient or the physician do not easily realise that this is caused by deficiency of salt.

Salt helps maintain the equilibrium of liquids in the body. When it is deficient, blood loses its weight. Hence the body loses liquids and hence blood pressure reduces. Patients experience nausea, faintness and loss of equilibrium. Faintness of breath and giddiness ensues. Death happens if these continue. In India which suffered from hunger, salt deficiency diseases were considered as loss of strength due to hunger. Hence it easily consumed lives.

This enormous trade was under control of the Mughals as well. But their taxes were perfunctory and minimal. They didn’t attempt to control the distribution of salt. The British accomplished it through the customs hedge.

Roy Moxham tells the history of how it was created. In the beginning, the British annexed Bengal. In Bengal, it is difficult to produce salt. Because of the inflow of the Ganges, salt is scarce there. Hence people extracted salt by making it evaporate and then by boiling it using firewood. This was done by people who lived at the lowest strata of society. It costed too much as well.

Since it was boiled, Bengali Brahins wouldn’t consume it. It was equivalent to cooked food. Hence sun-dried salt from Orissa was procured. Clive won over the Nawab of Bengal in the Battle of Plassey and established a comprehensive taxation system all over Bengal. He multipled the taxes on salt factories. It became an important source of income.

This made the price of salt higher than the salt coming from Orissa. Hence it became necessary to heavily tax the salt coming in from Orissa. This is how the British came to establish customs check-posts along the banks of the Mahanadhi in the Orissa-Bengal border. The first check-post came up in Orissa’s Sonapur. From it till Chandrapur, a customs fence was created.

Slowly, British authority spread to Bihar and Uttarpradesh. Hence they extended the customs check-posts till Burhanpur. The British identified the gains through customs duty on salt. They were willing to invest lots of money for it. It was difficult to keep the vast expanse of Madhya Pradesh’s plains under customs purview. Hence came the idea of a massive fence. This is how the customs hedge appeared till Burhanpur.

At the same time, in 1823, the customs commissioner of Agra, George Saunders established a hedge from Mirzapur till Allahabad via the banks of the Ganges and the Yamuna. From Allahabad till Nepal and from there till the Sindh, G. H. Smith established a hedge in 1834. They went on setting up customs checkpoints along the roads and connecting the checkpoints with this hedge. This is how the customs hedge was established.

In the beginning, this hedge was made up of dried wood and bamboo. Deep trenches were dug up on either side of the hedge. But it was difficult to protect this hedge. Every year, it was destroyed by catching fire or by rotting. It was expensive to maintain. It was then that Hume came to power as Commissioner of Customs. Staying on in power for three years, he analysed the cost of maintaining this hedge. He discovered that though converting it into a living fence was expensive to setup, it will become unnecessary to maintain it within a few years. He created this living hedge by identifying thorny bushes which will grow easily to a height and then by planting them.

Alan Octavian Hume is an important personage in curtailing the first Indian Independence revolt, namely the Sepoy Revolt. It is surprising that he was instrumental in setting up the greatest exploitation machinery of the British over India. Because, in later years, he became involved in Indian philosophy and spirituality. He insisted on greater right of self-determination for Indians.
He argued for higher representation for Indians in administration and attempted to create an organisation towards that end. The Congress, which went on to win India independence under Gandhi was created in 1885 like this.

The details provided by Roy Moxham are enough to depress us. Firstly, Roy Moxham describes how rampant corruption was the natural course of administration from the days when the British government took shape in India. Clive won over India through corruption. Coming to India as an ordinary British clerk, he became one of the top ten richest in Britain through corrupt monies. At that time most British officials became rich through extensive corruption within very short times.

Also, the Company made low rung employees work for very low wages or for no wages. It encouraged them to earn through corruption. This is how thousands of Indians eagerly came to work for the British East India company. This is how the British created the bureaucratic setup they needed within a few years itself. In other words, our bureaucracy that exists till today is a setup that was created by corruption for corruption.

Whenever officials indulged in corruption like this, the most affected were the poorest of people. These taxes were levied such that they affected only the Indian poor who lived without any protection of aggregate strength while carefully not causing losses to the landlords who supported the British. Thats why the importance to the customs duty on salt. The British government was not the savior of the depressed and dalit classes like a few write today – it was one that pushed them towards destruction by exploiting them.

Of the great famines that came in India due to the British rule, in the Second Great Famine during 1876-78, around six and a half crore people starved to death. This was around one fourth of the then Indian population. Of that around 30 lakh people died in the then united Bengal. This was the greated famine in world history. This book describes accurately that this was not merely a famine,
but a massacre caused by economic exploitation. It can only be considered as surprising that this portion of history which our foreign-worshipping historians gloss over, has been depicted thus decisively by an English researcher and a grandson of a British Indian officer.

What are the factors which caused the Famine?
The author states that British records state that the years before the famine started, 1874 and 1875 saw great harvests all across northern India. Usually a good harvest in India has the capacity to withstand famine for up to five years. Because the consumption of the average Indian was less as it is today. If so, how did the famine happen?

This was because of the railways laid in India. All these railways were laid to connect the midlands to the ports. Through them, the harvests of India were collected and exported through ships out of India. These went to feed the endless food requirements of the British Empire which was involved in imperial expansionist wars all over the world. Before that, the harvest would be stored in that place itself, for use during famines. Through the railways a situation arose where there was no surplus.

Secondly, the great hedge of the British. In these years, Punjab had record harvests. Andhra and Maharashtra too had decent harvests. This hedge disconnected these regions from the Bengal completely. When lakhs of people were dying in Bengal, shiploads of grains were being exported from
Bombay and Madras.

Lastly, Roy Moxham mentions the salt tax. Even during these great famines, the British did not revoke the salt tax. Even in united Bengal and the north east, salt was expensive. Hence people who couldn’t even buy grains, avoided salt completely. Children and animals died due to salt deficiency. From the medical reports of those who died during the famine, medical experts later on found out
that lakhs of them died due to salt deficiency.

Thus the great hedge handcuffed India. It served as a very real basis for British authority over India. It was sucking the life of India like a cancer.

After establishing ports and railways,when the British gained complete economic control over India, they were able to levy taxes on all goods. Hence the salt tax lost its importance. Moroever, the direct tax on Southern salt factories yielded more income than the customs levies on salt through the great hedge. Hence Viceroy Lord Litton revoked the customs duty on salt in 1879. The restrictions on salt distribution were relaxed. The great hedge created for salt was given up and was destroyed.

I have been reading about Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha since my childhood days. It has been written about from several perspectives. Why did Gandhi take the decision to oppose the Salt Law when there were several burning issues, several oppressive laws in India?

Till today, this has been the explanation given. That when the British imported clothes to India, they filled up the lower part of their ships with salt for weight. It was expensive. To sell it, they had to levy tax on local salt and make it equally expensive. Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha since the salt tax was affecting all the deprived classes of people.

It is only partly true. That is to say – only in Bengal. Salt in Bengal was already expensive. Brahmins wanted to buy salt that was not cooked over a fire. The British sold sea salt in its place. To maintain parity, they levied high taxes on locally produced salt. But it is not true on a pan-India basis.

The details provided in this book reveal instantly the entire sociological background of the Salt Satyagraha movement. These have never been discussed in the Indian environment till now. The Salt Satyagraha has been described as one of Gandhi’s quirks of insanity here. Marxist socialist historians have ridiculed the Salt Satyagraha from Gandhian times till today in their writings.

This information background shows us how Gandhi stood at an unreachable height in his knowledge of history and broad social understanding above his contemporary politicians and our contemporary historians. None of them – then and today had idea of what salt meant in Indian history. They hadn’t  realised the place of salt in culture and social psychology.

This is because none of them knew the lowest classes of society. Even when fighting for them, these people considered themselves as their leaders and guides and never as one among them. For instance, the ridiculing essays written by Marxist luminary M. N. Roy on the Salt Satyagraha. M. N. Roy was not conversant with the Indian poor by travelling across India. Gandhi was forever one among them.  Hence the true history that was hidden to M. N. Roy was evident to Gandhi.

Roy Moxham points out something subtle. India has always had this duality of land tax x salt tax. Land tax affected the owners of the land. Salt tax affected the lowest classes of society. The British government was always forced to increase the salt tax by the upper classes in India.

When the Salt Satyagraha was launched on 12 March 1930, even in the memories of the next generation villagers, the former oppression of the salt tax disappeared. Comparatively, the tax on salt was lower. It was not even a problem in the southern states.

But salt had deep moorings in language and culture. Even the word salt evoked strong emotions. This Gandhi had known travelling and living with these people in third class railway compartments. Gokhale, Tilak, Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose or Ambedkar didn’t know this. Hence they could only understand the Salt Satyagraha as the quirk of an unavoidable old man. When it gave inexplicable
results, nor were they able to provide explanations.

Roy Moxham mentions how Congress leaders around Gandhi suggested to him to protest against the Land tax or against customs when Gandhi announced his Salt Satyagraha. Gandhi rejected these suggestions. The reason he gave them was that his inner soul commanded him to start the Salt Satyagraha. Land was
a problem for the upper classes and castes. Salt was a problem for the lower classes and dalits. His inner soul knew more history than any intellectual today who ridicules his inner soul.

This book exposes the lack of basis of the research of our sociologists who have written several thousand books in the last sixty years of academic activity in India. In 1996, almost after half a century of Indian Independence, after three fourths of a century after the Salt Satyagraha – Roy Moxham visits India to meet Indian historians, sociologists and political commentators to enquire about this hedge. He is surprised that nobody has any knowledge of it.

How will they have? Here, the facility to travel and to examine records is available only to those who research according to our education. They have a firm belief that modern research lies only in quoting western researchers. Those who research with a little bit of method are those who have received degrees from abroad. They come here after almost religiously believing the principle that the backward Indian plains were built into a modern nation only through the British.

Roy Moxham’s book is interesting and eminently readable. Truly it is a travelogue. Roy who comes to India searching for the Great Hedge travels within India. He sleeps in a village on the banks of the Yamuna on coir cots with buffaloes breathing on his nape. Travels in unreserved compartments with
the bulging crowds. He prays to Lord Shiva in Omakareswar and in Kashi to show him the hedge. Feeling that it is a bit too much, he also asks for his family’s wellbeing.

Several things make one smile. Roy Moxham thinks of those who travel in the first class coupe in India as uncivilised and arrogant. They constantly scream into mobile phones. It is impossible to watch the scenery outside. In the second class compartments, there is a sociable atmosphere. My experience has been so too. The slight humor in his notes about his travel make this book an interesting read.

Finally Roy Moxham identifies the remnants of the hedge in Sambal. From the help of a former brigand-cum-current-priest-of-a-Hanuman-temple. In most other places, modernisation has destroyed this hedge. The reason is simple. Most highways came up along this hedge. The roads expanded and swallowed the hedge.

This is an important book that provokes us to examine ourselves. The customs hedge is the mark of a whiplash on our backs.  Even if it disappears, it will remain in our language and our dreams.

Education and Insight

18 Sep

This is a translation of a blog post from Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=20616

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J,
You had explained the difference between learning and insight beautifully. The words synonymous with insight themselves are exciting: wisdom, realisation. But synonyms of knowledge are flat: intelligence, brilliance etc. These operate on the logical platform of the mind. Our education too works with this objective. (…)

Ramalingam Natarajan

Dear Ramalingam Natarajan,

I believe ‘education’ in our tradition has always been above mere knowledge.

In Thirukkural, all the lines which talk about education have been used in this subtle sense. Doesn’t Kural declare in the very beginning that education is not just about knowing – but also in attempting to live according to that.

எண் என்ப ஏனை எழுத்தென்ப இவ்விரண்டும்

கண்ணென்ப வாழும் உயிர்க்கு

The meaning of this Kural is not that education is as important as one’s eyes. Eyes are mere devices. They are the doors to the sixth sense of the mind. What we see through them is important. Education too is merely a device.

J

Anna Hazare and Casteism

7 Sep

This is a translation of a blog post from Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=20487

Translated by:  Siva-Houston

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Is Anna Hazare Casteist?

In our Google group discussions one of the members raised the accusations some Leftists make about Anna Hazare – that there was a ban on eating meat for Dalits in Anna Hazare’s Ralegan Siddhi village organization and Dalits who continued to eat meat were tied up and flogged. And secondly, there was no democracy, and not even Panchayat elections were allowed. He is therefore a Brahminical fundamentalist and a dictator. These accusations were made by a Leftist writer who wrote as if he had visited the place. Here is my reply…

The comments the critic made about Anna Hazare were lifted from Ramachandra Guha’s essay on Anna Hazare http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110827/jsp/opinion/story_14423092.jsp. A It is a completely broken and slanderous image that resulted from reading that essay alone, without being able to visualize the total picture. 

In his essay Guha quotes from an upcoming book on Anna Hazare by Mukul Sharma.

“The strengths and limitations of Anna Hazare are identified in Green and Saffron, a book by Mukul Sharma that shall appear later this year. Sharma is an admired environmental journalist, who did extensive fieldwork in Ralegan Siddhi. He was greatly impressed by much of what he saw. Careful management of water had improved crop yields, increased incomes, and reduced indebtedness. On the other hand, he found the approach of Anna Hazare “deeply brahminical”. Liquor, tobacco, even cable TV were forbidden. Dalit families were compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet. Those who violated these rules — or orders — were tied to a post and flogged.”

The smears by the Leftists were lifted from this paragraph. There is really no evidence to support it and therefore the critic lies about visiting the place. This is a very dangerous trick used in the area of general discussion. The critic had not said anything about Anna Hazare before Guha’s essay came out. If he had read Mukul Sharma’s essay http://kafila.org/2011/04/12/the-making-of-anna-hazare/, he could have found out a little bit of the truth. Mukul Sharma is an American researcher with a capitalist outlook. We can see how he will perceive Anna’s efforts in creating a self sufficient Gandhian organization. Nevertheless, what Mukul Sharma wrote is not the picture painted by the Leftists.

He writes how Anna Hazara eradicated untouchability and brought about caste equality in a very casteist and backward village.

“In Ralegan, there are a few Mahars, Chamars, Matangs, Nhavi, Bharhadi and Sutars. Since the beginning of his work, Anna has been particularly emphasizing the removal of approachability and discrimination on caste basis meted out to people, who are popularly referred to as Harijans here. The concept of ‘village as a joint family’, or all inhabitants of the village as ‘almighty God’, has prompted the villagers to pay attention to the problems of Harijans. The integration of Dalits into an ideal village has two components in Ralegan. One is to assume that they were always there to perform some duties and necessary services and that their usefulness justifies their existence in the present. The other component is hegemonic, designed to get Dalits into a brahaminical fold. It is not only manifested in the way food or dress habits are propagated; it is prevalent in several other forms.”

That was the battle that Anna Hazare waged single-handedly against the mistreatment of lower castes in this village. He abolished untouchability and got equal rights for Dalits in village councils and helped them gain economic independence. Shouldn’t our Leftists accomplish this in villages around Madurai before accusing Anna Hazare? With Dalits cast aside and living separated by the village / cheri divide  in front of our eyes, ignored for fifty years by those talking politics, what rights have they to talk about Anna?

The upper castes used the eating of beef by Dalits as an excuse to shun them. Anna Hazare’s tactic to stop that was to make the Dalits resolve by themselves not to eat beef. Everyone among them had to abide by that caste restriction. It is slander to say that Anna punished them.

In reality, eating meat is not common in North India. A majority in Maharashtrian villages follow a vegetarian diet made up of chappati, yogurt, onion, sabji, dal and some rice. Dalits very rarely eat the meat of dead cattle, and even more rarely fish from ponds.

Even today, North Indian villages have different castes living separately (Isn’t it the same in villages here?) and there is no possibility of dialogue between the groups. The self-governing village organization that Anna Hazare tried to create was a single economic zone. Everyone had to live together in the same structure dependent on each other. The upper caste majority had hatred for the Dalits who lived in the bottom most economic strata.

Mukul Sharma himself writes that Anna Hazare used two approaches to integrate the Dalits. One was by pointing out the necessary services they perform and that the village cannot function without them. The second was by eliminating their consumption of beef. This caste restriction has been distorted as a ban imposed on eating meat.

Even when Mukul Sharma takes a critical tone against Anna Hazare, he writes that Anna’s doctrine was one of  ‘Village as God’. Anna found a way to bring Dalits into that organization as people with equal rights by giving Brahminical qualities to them.

Anna did not do that to suppress the Dalits. It was a clever technique he invented to bring about equality and economic independence. It is fraudulent to call him casteist for this.

Some would say that Anna was wrong in making the Dalits take a vow that they won’t eat beef. That is of course a strong and valid argument (It is similar to Subramanya Bharathi wanting Dalits to wear the Hindu sacred thread). It could have been necessary in the 1970’s. (That was not the situation in 1986 when I was there. In my personal experience fish from ponds were readily available for eating). I won’t accept what he did as well, but Anna Hazare had created equality and economic advancement for the Dalits in the village councils. That’s the reason he became their irrefutable leader, even to the extent of calling him their savior.

What Anna Hazare wanted to create was not an idealistic democratic community, but a practical village society. He could only undertake what can be achieved immediately. He is not someone who talks about lofty democratic ideals and does nothing. He tried to change Ralegaon Siddhi straightaway, from a village of illicit arrack into a self sufficient agricultural village.

To slander the achievement of Dalits getting equal rights in village councils, how honest is it to slander Anna by questioning his methods? From a society consumed by untouchability, in a society that would not even touch a statute of Ambedkar? One can acknowledge his goals and reject the methods he employed, but even his goals are being belittled here. Will they accept it if this was done to their leaders?

Anna Hazare made sure that political parties did not enter the village and there is a reason for that. That village was known for making ilicit arrack and he did not want that to make a come back along with the politics. There are severl model villages in Tamilnadu that do not allow politics even now. Anna Hazare did not create despotism, but rather, he brought back the old Panchayat system.

The Panchayat structures he created were fully democratic.  Along with the election of the leader,  all decisions were voted on. It is also the only Maharashtrian village organization with voting rights for Dalits.

Are Anna’s methods precedents? Could they be carried over to the national level? I too doubt it along with Ramachandra Guha.  I am even more doubtful about Gandhian Gram Swarajya (Village self-governance). Anna believes in it and tries to achieve that. I would consider such a society as best which possesses modern education, modern global communication and modern technology. I consider village society as a closed chapter.

Hence, I too will criticize Anna Hazare’s dream of gram swarajya (village self governance), but calling him a casteist and a dictator reveals a petty mind that scorns idealistic dreams.

Just the fact that they cannot criticize Anna Hazare without slander is proof as to what kind of person he is.