Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why Gandhi had to be killed

Mahatma Gandhi has not been rendered obsolete yet.  Hence his birth anniversary is sure to get some attention.  The Congress Party is sure to remember him.  The ruling BJP may pay lip service unless it can conjure up the lexicon that can create a new discourse on the palimpsest of the country’s history and thus absorb Gandhi into its crowded pantheon.

Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin and a member of the RSS, said in his defence during the trial that what he could not stomach was Gandhi’s “infallibility” to which the Congress had capitulated helplessly.  Godse went on to describe that infallibility as “eccentricity, whimsicality, metaphysics and primitive vision.”

And Godse was right! 

Gandhi was on a relentless pursuit of the truth.  The more he pursued it, the more convinced he became of the correctness of his approach.  Hence he imposed his will on many people.  Didn’t every prophet, every messiah, impose his will on his followers?

Gandhi was a messiah.  He was a saint.  He was not a mere statesman.  Not at all a politician.  This is what sets Gandhi apart from the other freedom fighters.  This is what made him a martyr.  The cross was the natural end for Jesus.  And the bullet was the natural end for Gandhi.  Every messiah has to be killed so that the people are saved.  Saved from the messiah.  Saved from the messiah’s impositions.  Saved from the messiah’s will, the power of his truth, the ominous charm of the light he brings, and most of all the infinite demands he makes on the frail human beings.

Truth will set you free, every messiah said that with some variations.  But such freedom is unbearable for the ordinary people.  Such freedom brings what Milan Kundera called “the unbearable lightness of being.”  It is a freedom to be just what you are.  Without attachments.  Without clinging to the truths manufactured by organised religions, political parties and various ideologies.  That freedom is the infallibility that Gandhi possessed. 

Gandhi had equated truth with God.  Satya is derived from Sat, he said in one of his articles, and sat means being, reality.  Truth is the reality.  What is not truth is not real.  Hence he said that where there is no truth, there is no knowledge or Chit.  Where there is truth and knowledge, there is also bliss, Ananda.

For those who have achieved that stage in personal growth, for those who have raised their consciousness to the realms of Satchitananda, “all other rules of correct living will come without effort, and obedience to them (the rules) will be instinctive.”

Gandhi’s life was a committed pursuit of the Satchitananda.  That’s why he called his biography My Experiments with Truth.  He could boldly assert that there was no discrepancy between what he thought, said and did.  It is such concordance between thought, speech and action that Gandhi demanded from people.  That is a tough demand.  If we are to abide by that demand, we have to be saints.  And who wants to be a saint?

“These childish insanities and obstinacies,” said Nathuram Godse in his defence speech at his trial, “coupled with a most severe austerity of life, ceaseless work and lofty character made Gandhi formidable and irresistible.”

Gandhi was too good to live, in short.  That’s what Godse said.  That’s what his followers in the contemporary India say in different words.

Gandhi’s God was Satchitananda, the perfected consciousness.  Such a God sees everything clearly, understands the reality from all possible angles, and hence cannot hate anyone.  Rather, such a God understands why people behave the way they do.  Such a God has no enemies.  That’s why Gandhi could not accept the Rama of the Ramayana and the Krishna of the Mahabharata as gods.  And Godse could not forgive Gandhi for that too.  “It is my firm belief that in dubbing Rama, Krishna, and Arjuna as guilty of violence, the Mahatma betrayed a total ignorance of the springs of human action,” said Godse. 

No, Godse, you betrayed a total ignorance of Gandhi’s greatness.  You displayed your sheer inability to understand what “the Mahatma” was.  You hated him for loving people other than the Hindus.  You hated him for refusing to imprison the human spirit within the straitjackets of nationalism, religion and culture.  You hated him for being too good.  I hope the two of you share a lot of smiles up there in case there is such a place and it offers you better lessons than here where the ordinary mortals are condemned to grapple with the inevitable heaviness of being.

Happy Gandhi Jayanti to all those for whom Gandhi makes sense. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Politics of Vegetarianism

In a recent article in the Economic and Political Weekly, the authors argue that vegetarianism in India is more a cultural and political phenomenon than a conscious choice that stems from any concern for the well-being of animals.

The article starts with the basic premise that “in India, vegetarianism, and particularly the advocacy of the same, is seen as the product of conservative, often right-wing, beliefs and attitudes.”  However, there is a sizeable section of the country’s population that does not want to be seen as conservative and much less right-wing.  The world is becoming increasingly globalised and people’s choices and preferences are guided by what is perceived as chic beyond the narrow confines of one’s national and/or religious culture.  Dining out in a multinational eatery like KFC or McDonald’s is not merely a matter of the palate or the belly, but a statement of one’s social and economic status.  Indians belonging to the upper economic classes do not want to be seen as conservative.  They see themselves as progressive and belonging to the wider global culture.

There was a time in the holy cow’s India (until recently) when non-vegetarianism was associated with the lower castes and the economically backward.  The authors of the above article argue that the recent shift to non-vegetarianism among many people who were vegetarians earlier is due to the fact that non-vegetarianism is losing its cultural bias in the country.  In other words, these new non-vegetarians are opting for the global culture.

Such a transition from vegetarianism would not have occurred if the vegetarianism was founded on any solid ideology like concern for the well-being of the animals.  The naked truth is that the vegetarians never had any qualms about wearing leather shoes, leather jackets and other leather products while they shunned non-vegetarian food.  What they actually shunned was the lower caste/class associations that non-vegetarianism was polluted with.  The authors of the above-mentioned article also point out that the vegetarians in India relied heavily on dairy products to meet their protein requirements. 

Today we have a union government that goes out of the way to protect certain animals particularly of the bovine family.  Is the move motivated by any noble ideology or by sheer politics?

People in the west are increasingly moving towards vegetarianism because of their concern for animals as well as the environment.  Their transition is an informed choice that comes from an elevated consciousness level.  Can the government of India bring about such a transition in the country?  Can it alter the consciousness level of the people?  Can it instil genuine sensitivity in the minds of the people?

Can a government that has not revealed much sensitivity for many sections of the citizens on account of their religious affiliations actually generate sensitivity towards animals?

In another and more scholarly article in the same issue of the EPW [Marginality and Historiography], Amit Kumar and Fayaz Dar tell us that shaping the history of any country is “a deeply political act”.  Politics impels the creators of history to ignore some people.  “Everything is not said in our stories,” the authors tell us.  “There are certain silences; some forgetting and some remembering is continuously at work...”

Such selective forgetting and remembering may be inevitable in the manufacture of history.  Nevertheless, if the selectivity of our remembering and forgetting can be restricted as much as possible, we can usher in an era of informed choices.  There will be no need to ban anything then.  Vegetarianism will be an ideological choice then rather than a political one.  

Pessimism of the gods

There is a romantic at sleep in my heart who likes to believe that people were better in the good old days. The people I saw as a child we...