Bhrigu's question

कभी जो याद भी आता हूँ मैं तो कहते हैं के आज बज़्म में कुछ फ़ित्ना-ओ-फ़साद नहीं - मिर्ज़ा ग़ालिब

Location: the valley, California, United States

Bay Area, Strategy Manager, Haas- U. C. Berkeley, Marathons

Friday, October 21, 2005

IIPM-gate and a quiet revolution

A bigger picture emerges from the IIPM-gate affair. My reading may be overtly optimistic, but I want to get it off my chest.

IIPM-gate - and I use that cliched suffix carefully - is an important landmark in Indian democracy. The voluntary efforts of unaffected individuals to better the lives of their fellow citizens is creditable. Even if one student drops IIPM from his/her list of prospective colleges, it will have bettered his/her life.

The spoken word has been quite powerful in India. But never has the power of the written word been utilised more effectively, so rapidly, and with such little effort.

This movement symbolizes a change in perspective with regard to how complete strangers bound by similar moral antennae can collude without a central coordinating authority to affect change. It also continues to bring to attention two glaring facts, viz; news related to urban areas get more prominence primarily due to the ease of access. Ergo, change will occur principally in those areas. Two, where change is not directed centrally, people will adapt.

I had exchanged a mail with Amit Varma after the Mumbai flood and labeled it 'Apres Deluge, Vox Populi'. I'm 38 years old, arguably one of the oldest-farts in the Indian blogosphere. One of the more pleasing aspects of the evolution of Indian blogdom has been the complete, unhindered, optimistic can-do attitude of younger members. For those of us who were raised in the 1970s on a baggage of apathy caused by central planning, nothing could be more wonderful to us than this ability to witness what I can only term a revolution.

Quite surprisingly, Indians have been leading the charge in some fields. Yes, we may not have had a Dan Rather like scandal, but we've had our victories in voluntary efforts, especially in post-disaster scenarios.

From people running marathons to raise funds in order to educate underprivileged children in India, to working actively during the Tsunami, or covering their neighbourhood during the floods, Indians have, without much fuss, without many slogans, without taking to the streets, succeeded in creating a quiet revolution.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The genesis of secularism III

After the schism, it was only a matter of time, before religion and governance got intermingled. In fact, a constituent assembly debate centred around the preamble of the constitution, during which, Mr. M. V. Kamath moved to add a sentence to the preamble:

In the name of God, We, the people of India, Having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign democratic republic, and to secure to all her citizens [..]'

This move and others like them were rejected. But the notion of religion as an inherent part of a non-theocratic state stood. As a writ petition to the Supreme Court of India noted as recently as 2002, reproduced here verbatim since it is very insightful:

===relevant excerpt begins====

Article 30 and Secularism

The word 'secular' is commonly understood in contradistinction to the word 'religious'. The political philosophy of a secular Government has been developed in the west in the historical context of the pre-eminence of the established church and the exercise of power by it over society and its institutions. With the burgeoning presence of diverse religious groups and the growth of liberal and democratic ideas, religious intolerance and the attendant violence and persecution of "non-believers" was replaced by a growing awareness of the right of the individual to profession of faith, or non-profession of any faith. The democratic State gradually replaced and marginalised the influence of the church. But the meaning of the word 'secular State' in its political context can and has assumed different meanings in different countries, depending broadly on historical and social circumstances, the political philosophy and the felt needs of a particular country. In one country, secularism may mean an actively negative attitude to all religions and religious institutions; in another it may mean a strict "wall of separation" between the State and religion and religious institutions. In India the State is secular in that there is no official religion. India is not a theocratic State. However the Constitution does envisage the involvement of the State in matters associated with religion and religious institutions, and even indeed with the practice, profession and propagation of religion in its most limited and distilled meaning.

Although the idea of secularism may have been borrowed in the Indian Constitution from the west, It has adopted its own unique brand of secularism based on its particular history and exigencies which are far removed in many ways from secularism as it is defined and followed in European countries, the United States of America and Australia.

The First Amendment to the American Constitution is as follows:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State'. 'Reynolds v. United States', (1878) 98 U S 145 at p.164. The Australian Constitution has adopted the First Amendment in S.116 which is based on that Amendment. It reads: "The Commonwealth shall not make any laws for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth".

Under the Indian Constitution there is no such "wall of separation" between the State and religious institutions. Article 16 (5) recognises the validity of laws relating to management of religious and denominational institutions. Art. 28 (2) contemplates the State itself managing educational institutions wherein religious instructions are to be imparted. And among the subjects over which both the Union and the States have legislative competence as set out in List No. III of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution Entry No.28 are:

"Charitable and charitable institutions, charitable and religious endowments and religious institutions".

Although like other secular Governments, the Indian Constitution in Article 25(1) provides for freedom of conscience and the individual's right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion, the right is expressly subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions in Part III of the Constitution. The involvement of the State with even the individual's right under Article 25(1) is exemplified by Article 25(2) by which the State is empowered to make any law.

"a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;

(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.

As a result the courts have upheld laws which may regulate or restrict matters associated with religious practices if such practice does not form an integral part of the particular religion .
Freedom of religious groups or collective religious rights are provided for under Article 26 which says that: "Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right

(a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.
(b) To manage its own affairs in matters of religion;
(c) To own and acquire movable and immovable property; and
(d) To administer such property in accordance with law.

The phrase "matters of religion" has been strictly construed so that matters not falling strictly within that phrase may be subject to control and regulation by the State. The phrase 'subject to public order, morality and health' and "in accordance with law" also envisages extensive State control over religious institutions. Article 26 (a) allows all persons of any religious denomination to set up an institution for a charitable purpose, and undisputedly the advancement of education is a charitable purpose. Further, the right to practise, profess and propagate religion under Article 25 if read with Article 26(a) would allow all citizens to exercise such rights through an educational institution. These rights are not limited to minorities and are available to 'all persons'. Therefore, the Constitution does not consider the setting up of educational institutions by religious denominations or sects to impart the theology of that particular denomination as anti- secular. Having regard to the structure of the Constitution and its approach to 'Secularism', the observation in St. Stephens noted earlier is clearly not in keeping with 'Secularism' as provided under the Indian Constitution. The Constitution as it stands does not proceed on the 'melting pot' theory. The Indian Constitution, rather represents a 'salad bowl' where there is homogeneity without an obliteration of identity.

The ostensible separation of religion and the State in the field of the States' revenue provided by Article 27 (which prohibits compulsion of an individual to pay any taxes which are specifically appropriated for the expenses for promoting or maintaining any particular religious or religious denomination) does not, however, in terms prevent the State from making payment out of the proceeds of taxes generally collected towards the promotion or maintenance of any particular religious or religious denomination. Indeed, Article 290(A) of the Constitution provides for annual payment to certain Devaswom funds in the following terms: "A sum of forty-six lakhs and fifty thousand rupees shall be charged on, and paid out of the Consolidated Fund of the State of Kerala every year to the Travancore Devaswom fund; and a sum of thirteen lakhs and fifty thousand rupees shall be charged on, and paid out of the Consolidated Fund of the State of Tamil Nadu every year to the Devaswom Fund established in that State for the maintenance of Hindu temples and shrines in the territories transferred to that State on the 1st day of November, 1956, from the State of Travancore- Cochin." This may be compared with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Everson V. Board of Education (330 IUS 1) where it was held that the State could not reimburse transportation charges of children attending a Roman Catholic School.

Article 28 in fact brings to the fore the nature of the word 'secular' used in the preamble to the Constitution and indicates clearly that there is no wall of separation between the State and religious institutions under the Indian Constitution. No doubt Article 28(1) provides that if the institution is an educational one and it is wholly maintained by the State funds, religious instruction cannot be provided in such institution. However, Article 28(1) does not forbid the setting up of an institution for charitable purposes by any religious denomination nor does it prohibit the running of such institution even though it may be wholly maintained by the State. What it prohibits is the giving of religious instruction. Even, this prohibition is not absolute. It is subject to the extent of sub-Article (2) of Article 28 which provides that if the educational institution has been established under any endowment or trust which requires that religious instruction shall be imparted in such institution, then despite the prohibition in Article 28(1) and despite the fact that the education institution is in fact administered by the State, religious instruction can be imparted in such institution. Article 28(2) thus in no uncertain terms envisages that an educational institution administered by the State and wholly maintained by the State can impart religious instruction. It recognises in Article 28(3) that there may be educational institutions imparting religious instruction according to whichever faith and conducting religious worship which can be recognised by the State and which can also receive aid out of State funds. Similarly, Article 28(3) provides that no individual attending any educational institution which may have been recognised by the State or is receiving State aid can be compelled to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in such institution without such person's consent. Implicit in this prohibition is the acknowledgement that the State can recognize and aid an educational institution giving religious instruction or conducting religious worship. In the United States, on the other hand it has been held that State maintained institutions cannot give religious instruction even if such instruction is not compulsory. (See. Tllinois V. Board of Education 1947 (82) Law Ed.649).

In the ultimate analysis the Indian Constitution does not unlike the United States, subscribe to the principle of non- interference of the State in religious organisations but it remains secular in that it strives to respect all religions equally, the equality being understood in its substantive sense as is discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.

==excerpt concluded====

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The genesis of secularism - II

The constituent assembly decided upon a civil code based on religions. I will comment on more of this later. My original intention was to write on this aspect and then write on the reactions thereof. However, I would like to preempt the debate on secularism in the constituent assembly by presenting the viewpoint of a great intellectual once again, a liberal Indian who was appalled by the onset of a faith based state.

Many years ago, I read Mr. Mohammedali Carim Chagla's autobiography, 'Roses in December' Mr. M.C.Chagla was an eminent lawyer who worked for Jinnah and the Muslim League (Bombay) before it became separatist. He became the Chief Justice of the Bombay High court, Ambassador to the USA, Mexico, Cuba, Vice- chancellor University of Bombay, High Commissioner to England, Minister of Education (UGC pay scales etc. were his creation) and so on. This book was written in 1973-74. and published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. This is an excerpt from Roses in December, one of the truly great autobiographies written by an eminent Indian.

Excerpt begins
The Congress government has also often followed what I can only call the old British policy of communalism. In my view, if it is communalism to pass over and ignore a man with merit simply because he happens to be a Muslim or a Christian or a Parsi, it is also communalism to appoint a person merely because he happens to be a Muslim or a member of some other minority community. It is injurious to the interests of the minorities themselves to have posts and offices filled by men who have no merit, merely because they want representation in high offices. The minorities come to expect that they will get certain posts whether the men deserve to get them or not. It is much better that they learnt to work hard and deserve the post.

When I'm told that there is no minority representation in any particular post, I often ask the question; Is there any deserving person who has been passed over? If so, it is injustice, and we must fight against it. But if there is no deserving person, then to clamor for a post is really to be communal. And to yield to that clamour is also to betray a communal spirit. It amounts to a reproduction to the bad old days of discredited British policies. Such policies result in bitterness between majority and minority communities, and lead to a sense of frustration on the part of a member of the majority community, where legitimate claims were overlooked in favor of a less deserving member of a minority community.

Consider the attitude of the government to the question of a Uniform Civil Code. Although the Directive Principles of the State enjoins such a code, Government has refused to do anything about it on the plea that the minorities will resent any attempt at imposition. Unless they are agreeable it would not be fair and proper to make the law applicable to them. I wholly and emphatically disagree with this view. The Constitution is binding on everyone, majority and minority; and if the Constitution contains a directive that directive must be accepted and implemented. Jawaharlal showed great strength and courage in getting the Hindu Reform Bill passed, but he accepted the policy of *laissez-faire* where the Muslims and other minorities were concerned. I am horrified to find that in my country, while monogamy has been made the law for the Hindus, Muslims can still indulge in the luxury of polygamy. It is an insult to womanhood; and Muslim women, I know, resent this discrimination between Muslim women and Hindu women.

I believe in democracy as an article of faith. To me, it is much more than the general elections, adult franchise, parliamentary forms of government, cabinet responsibility, and so on. These are all very important, and they have to be maintained, but more than that, one must have an outlook on life and an attitude which is democratic. I believe in democracy because democracy means freedom, not unbridled freedom but freedom consistent with order and security of the State. It also means respect for the individual and his right to think his own thoughts, to express his thoughts freely and to experiment with his own life in a way that does no harm to others.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The genesis of secularism in India -1

This essay is my effort to understand the roots of secularism in India. It was inspired by Uma's prize-winning essay. I believe that in order to 'rethink secularism', one must understand how it came to be originally defined.

Secular adj. 1 not concerned with religion; not sacred; worldly (secular education, secular music). 2 (of clerics) not monastic. [Oxford English Dictionary]

This, the original meaning of secularism bears little resemblance to the secularism as practiced by the Indian state today. The state in fact, is the primary driver that concerns itself with all matters relating to religion. From college admissions to the rule of law, the state has based its decisions purely on religious motivations. To understand how these things came to pass, one must turn the clock back to the early decades of the previous century and examine the thought-process that preoccupied the philosophical patriarch of Pakistan, Muhammad Iqbal.

Iqbal, a descendant of a Kashmiri Brahmin, was a notable example of the conversion process that Naipaul refers to in ‘Beyond Belief’. His writings bear witness to the success of Arabic imperialism. In Shikwa, Iqbal wrote (1):

But sanamKhaanoan mein kehte hain musalmaan gaye
hai khushi unki ki Kaabe ke nigahbaan gaye
manzil-daher se untoan ke hudekhvan gaye
apni bagloan me dabayehue Quran gaye
khan jan kufr hai, ehsaas tujhe hai ki nahin?
apni tauheed ka kuch paas tujhe hai ki nahin?

In the temples of idolatory, the idols say, ‘The Muslims are gone!’
They rejoice that the guardians of the Kaaba have withdrawn.
From the world’s caravanserais singing camel-drivers have vanished;
The Koran tucked under their arms they have departed.
These infidels smirk and snigger at us, are You aware?
For the message of Your oneness, do You anymore care?


Mushkilein ummate marhum ki aasaan kar de
mur bemaya ko hum-desho-suleman kar de
jis-nayaab muhabba ko phir arjaan kar de
hind ke dair-nasheenoan ko musalmaan kar de
jue-khoon me-cakad aj hasrate-daireen-e-ma
me tapad naal: ba nashtarkda seen-e-ma

A people You had blessed, lighten the burdens they bear,
Raise the poor down-trodden and make it Solomon’s peer.
Make abundant that rare commodity love, so that all may buy and sell,
Convert to Islam India’s millions who still in temples dwell.
Long have we suffered, see how grief’s blood flows down the drain,
From a heart pierced by the scalpel, hear this cry of pain

Iqbal’s lament was governed by failure – one real and one imagined. Firstly, he saw the existence of Hinduism as an affront to the faith that his forefathers had adopted. Clearly, this caused him consternation. Secondly, in spite of Arab/Turk/Mughal rule in India lasting over eight centuries, he imagines that it is they (the Muslims) who have suffered. In other words, it is the cry of one who believes that the right to rule over non-believers is an Islamic birthright.

Iqbal’s beliefs soon turned into a genuine movement among the intelligentsia to prevent majority rule. Living under Hindu rule, however democratic, was unthinkable. They were kufr – infidels, hence impure. Ergo, the new state that they wanted to establish was the pure one, Pak-istan. Of course, the presiding dieties of the new states ignored the linguistic and cultural commonality of Indian muslims with their regional counterparts belonging to other religions. And they ignored liberal muslims altogether.

Thus India was defined by religion right at the outset. The schism was accompanied by bloodlust. And how the poets lamented! They, who were quite responsible for the romantic notions of a homeland based on sectarian considerations, expressed dismay at the course of events. Faiz’s lament was akin to Pablo Neruda’s who stands perplexed on hearing the death of Mario Ruoppolo in ‘Il postino’ - one for which he is responsible:

ye daaG daaG ujaalaa, ye shab_gaziidaa sahar
wo intazaar thaa jis kaa, ye wo sahar to nahii.n

This stained stained dawn, this biting hurtful night
This is not the dawn that we envisaged.

But then, what was the surprise here? Dr. Ambedkar had questioned whether the Hindus and Muslims were united in the first place, by detailing the atrocities committed by the invading hordes, thus giving it a historical context [2].

Once the idea of this schism was in place, there was no stopping it. The Congress itself was an active promoter of division. Its idea of division was based not on religion, but on linguistic differences. Dr. Ambedkar wrote:

Be that as it may, the fact remains that separation on linguistic basis is now an accepted principle with the Congress. It is no use saying that the separation of Karnatak and Andhra is based on a linguistic difference and that the claim to separation of Pakistan is based on a cultural difference. This is a distinction without difference. Linguistic difference is simply another name for cultural difference.

If there is nothing shocking in the separation of Karnatak and Andhra, what is there to shock in the demand for the separation of Pakistan? If it is disruptive in its effect, it is no more disruptive than the separation of Hindu provinces such as Karnatak from Maharashtra or Andhra from Madras. Pakistan is merely another manifestation of a cultural unit demanding freedom for the growth of its own distinctive culture.

Once the basis for division was set, the cat was truly among the pigeons.

[to be continued. Next part on the constitution, defining secularism, and its effect on liberal Indian muslims]

1. Shikwa and Jawab-i-Shikwa - translated by Khushwant Singh.
2. The Partition of India - Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Akhtar dearest

The current edition of the Annual of Urdu Studies has translations of intimate letters written by Safiya Akhtar to her husband Jan Nisar in the period 1952-53. The link to the PDF file is here.

These letters refer to the period when he moved from Bhopal to Mumbai to try his luck as a film lyricist. She suffered arthritis and an unknown disease (probably cancer) during this period and died in 1953. Although she is known as "the wife of Jan Nisar, sister of Majaz and mother of Javed Akhtar", she had a Master's degree in Education, had progressive views and was a woman of independent means.

The letters made me admire her more than JNA. She seems to come across as very strong-willed and single minded, who undertook may sacrifices for his sake as well as for their children. It is quite clear that she forsook an opportunity to continue her studies in the US. Clearly, she consistently asks him to be strong - not the other way around. It is rather apparent that he had to submit to indignities in the Mumbai film world in order to gain employment. She comes across as a much better person than him.

While I tend to believe that personal letters should remain personal, letters written by/to famous personalities are often published in the west for reasons that have much to do with historical documentation. We often get a glimpse of the real person behind the printed/televised-persona that we have easy access to. Hence, for the sake of history these letters are interesting. [Not that JNA was a towering historical figure.]