OF TEMPLES AND WOMEN

The utter implausibility of exclusion of women from temples can be illustrated through two examples – Gargi’s debate with Yajnavalkya & the story of Satyakama Jabala – each of which has immense signification in Hindu tradition which, paradoxically, is being used to justify the exclusion.The dialogue between Yajnavalkya and Gargi shows that the status of a Brahmin has nothing to do with gender and the story of Satykama Jabala shows that being a Brahmin has nothing also to do with family lineage. If being a priest or teacher has nothing to do with gender or status how can gender or status alone be made the reason for exclusion by any priest or teacher from the pursuit of devotion or knowledge?

Answering Gargi’s second question Yajnavalkya said, “If someone in this world makes offerings, performs sacrifices and practices austerities for many thousands of years without knowing the imperishable, Gargi, his work comes to an end. He who departs from this world without knowing the imperishable is miserable, Gargi. But if someone passes from this world , Gargi, knowing the imperishable he is a brahmin.” Thus the status of brahmin befits only those who have knowledge of the imperishable and gender is irrelevant – if a Gargi knows the imperishable she can also be a brahmin. And those who merely perform the traditional sacrifices and practices cannot only for that reason be brahmins nor consequently deny a Gargi the right which is her’s of a legitimate pursuit.

Similarly Satyakama’s story shows that any honest seeker of truth can be a Brahmin. Satyakama did not know his family lineage. His mother had told him she became pregnant when she was a servant and moved around alot. But she said, “My name is Jabala and yours is Satykama. You should merely say you are Satykama Jabala.” When Satyakama approached his teacher he said precisely that. And his teacher replied, “Bring firewood, my boy. I will initiate you. You have not abandoned the truth.” No honest seeker of truth can thus be kept out of any temple.

Apart from tradition the significance in Hindu philosophy of Kama (the experience generated through interaction with senses) which is celebrated as one of the four goals of life along with Dharma, Artha and Moksha is equally relevant to the issue of exclusion of women. According to Hinduism the mere danger that may come in the wake of the pursuit of sensory enjoyments  cannot be the cause for giving them up altogether. Tempered with Dharma, Kama has to be kept in harmony with mind and soul and if this balance which is a necessary condition of legitimate human pursuit is not innate to the priests they stand disqualified for being unfaithful to the philosophy they claim to preach. God is nothing but unity in the apparent diversity, the unifying principle and ultimate cause and bringing in notions of gender in this spiritual quest entails attachment to the very things liberation from which is being pursued in one’s endeavour of self-realisation. Purity or impurity is only be in the mind.

And most importantly the symbolic significance of a liberated consciousness (which has nothing to do either with gender. position or status) apparent in the spire (shikhar) above the garbha-griha of a temple which itself manifests the incarnation of God as a universal essence ignores the physical aspect of a devotee looking instead to the metaphysical spirituality of the exercise of devotion. A seeker of enlightenment in Hinduism cannot ever be identified by gender or status.

Neither religion nor tradition justifies exclusion of women from temples.

PRESIDENT’S RULE & FRENCH REVOLUTION

The locking of Arunachal Pradesh Assembly premises compelling thirty three legislators to hold a meeting at a make-shift venue, Techi Takar Community Hall, is reminiscent a significant event in the early days of the French Revolution.

The Third Estate (commoners) were locked out of the meeting of the Estates General (comprising the clergy, nobles and commoners). They then congregated at an indoor tennis court where they took the oath “not to separate and to reassemble wherever circumstances require until the constitution of the kingdom is established.” The pledge is known as Tennis Court Pledge and was intended to convey that political authority was derived from the people not the monarch.

Whatever the grievance the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh may have to the preponing of the session of the Assembly in locking the Assembly premises, the Chief Minister and Speaker behaved more like Kings rather than a constitutional functionaries.

Co-incidentally, the Estates General (from which the Commoners were locked out), like the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly which did not meet within the requisite time, was itself convened after a long lapse of time.In its meeting, again as in the case of Arunachal Pradesh Assembly, there was a dispute about the procedure to be followed in the meeting. And locking out lead eventually to Storming of Bastille – a prison which was a symbol of abuse of monarchy and ignited the French revolution. The equivalent of the “storming” is imposition of the President’s Rule in the instant case.

It is indeed a coincidence that we had the French Premier as our chief-guest on the day President’s Rule was imposed on Arunachal Pradesh.

I will take the usual banal comments of “murder of democracy” with a pinch of salt. The locking of the Assembly is a direct attack on a parliamentary system which has been recognised as a wholesome constitutional value. Coupled with the delay between two sessions of the Assembly it also clearly indicates a method of governance independent of the control of the constitution – unknown to our constitutional scheme – and consequential lapse into lawlessness which is the breakdown contemplated by Article 356. And the use of proceedings in court first to delay proving majority on the floor of the house and thereafter to insulate itself against any action warranted by subsequent conduct no matter how egregious it might be is itself subversion of the Constitution attacking as it does both democratic spirit and the conventions underlying the Constitution.

 

 

 

CONFESSIONS OF A POLITICIAN

There is no difference between today and yesterday and no promise of a different tomorrow.

“Good” and “evil” are not normative concepts – understood in the context of some standard of conduct – as they have become partisan ideas, good if it is an affiliate ideology and evil if it is not.

Speech has displaced ideology and relative convenience of an immediate position has replaced commitment to any principle.

And there is just empty noise in the silence of barren nothingness.

There is more manipulation of people than any movement by them.

The alternative choices which control decision-making are narrow and selfish concerns of those who continue to stake claim to the authority to take decisions even after forsaking the right to take them having betrayed the trust of those for whom they claim to act.

Hard decisions are politically impractical even if correct or needed. The competition for political space eliminates finding common ground for public good as each actor in the arena knows public interest will not motivate the other and maximising self-interest alone is the best strategy.

Stances harden even while views become polarised and the resultant logjam of chaos congests all saneness and lucidity. Issues are framed but not for resolution; they get a life of their own perpetuated by politics which becomes the only prop for their protagonists who fears losing his identity with their resolution thus appealing only to the lowest common denominator of his group.

There are no rights and wrongs just competing rights and competing wrongs.

Even history is constructed through revision or negation and without a past to guide the present loses a context and is confined to the skirmishes of the day and backlash of tomorrow.

A state of hysteria is created through a deliberately provocative discourse as to imprison reason and manoeuvre emotions to eliminate the need for deliberation and discussion within the charade of democracy.

Captive interest groups are made to masquerade as learned societies and circulation of information has less to do with distribution than direction.

Reality belongs to one who can best choreograph it. And in this reality illusions become beliefs. And the belief which sustains the politician is that people are sovereign.

 

 

INTOLERANCE-TRUTHINESS &WIKIALITY

Two words which the American television comedian Stephen Colbert coined – Truthiness and Wikiality -are very appropriate to the political discourse in India.

Truthiness means a claim which feels right without regard to facts. And Wikiality means, in the words of Colbert himself, a concept that together we can create a reality that we agree on. Any user could change any entry on Wikipedia and if enough users agree it becomes true.

The constant refrain today is:”India is intolerant and discriminates against minorities.” Considering the close proximity in time to the incidents which provoke such comments the allegation may not feel wrong but that does not mean it is true. The comment only has truthiness to it without being the truth.  This is because of the bias implicit in the comment. I refer to “confirmation bias” – seeking information that confirms one’s belief without paying as much attention to alternative possibilities which may be relevant for a complete assessment. Thus Muzaffarnagar, Dadri, Hyderabad dominate discourse not Kashmiri Pandits, Malda, nor attack on students singing Vande Matram, nor the Kawarias injured for taking Lord Shiva’s name while passing through a Muslim locality nor  even the poor dog who was hanged to mark the death anniversary of an RSS functionary.

This happens because of Wikiality. Gather people and make their consensus the reality. Repeated mentioning of one set of wrongs is meant suggest it exhausts the whole list of wrongs and then conclude these are the only wrongs in the country. So a reality which is created is actually an invented lie. And in this reality death of Yakub Memon is more potent than the life of T.J.Joseph who had his hand chopped off by members of Popular Front of India for allegedly insulting the Prophet nor even the lives of the 16 Hindu leaders who were killed in 18 months in Tamil Nadu.

Any kind of crime is bad. No intolerance is acceptable. But to unperson some and exclude them altogether from consideration recognising only a category of incidents and individuals as worthy of attention is creating new Dalits in national discourse, the new Pariahs of modern India.

WOMEN IN ANCIENT INDIA

“The spirit of Indian culture”, said Radhakrishnan, “does not deny to Indian women the opportunity for spiritual development and intellectual eminence.” There has yet been much misinformed criticism of the position of women in Indian society. The issue has been beautifully addressed in a delightful book Great Women of India. The book, amongst other topics, examines the early Vedic and the Brahman-Upanishadic Age that is till about 500BC.

In early Vedic period writes R.C.Majumdar girls like boys underwent upanayana ceremony at an early age, perhaps about eight, and began Vedic studies.The Ashwalayana Grihya-sutra says that on namakarana or christening both boy and girl should be given two names – an ordinary name to be revealed to all and a secret name to be revealed to the teacher at the time of upanayana. The Atharva Veda says that a maiden wins a young husband through brahmcharya or Vedic studentship! And the White Yajur Veda there is what Roma Chaudhuri says, “a beautiful and catholic message which permits all equally to receive Vedic knowledge.”

Women performed the Harvest Sacrifice – Sitayajna as also the Rudra sacrifice (to ensure fecundity among cattle) where many vedic verses were recited and Harihar in the commentary Agrahayanikarma said men and women all are equally entitled to utter mantras. Even while taking part in daily and periodical sacrifices along with her husband said Anant Sadashiv Altekar “the duty to chant the Saman hymns fell on the wife who made the first brick for the sacrificial altar and participated in the consecration of the fire and offering of the oblations.” When Bali went to fight Sugriva Tara (wife of Bali) performed sacrifices to secure his victory.

Teaching by women was also common. Gargi was one of the eight scholars who challenged Yajnavalkya and the only one amongst them who had the courage to question him twice. Arundhati, the wife of the sage Vasishtha was an acharya. Acharya and Upadhyaya were terms specially coined for women teachers. During the daily rishitarpan – offering of water-libation to sages, water is offered to three women sages too – Gargi, Vadava and Sulabh.

Women were of two types sadyovadhus or those who were to become brides soon or brahmavadinis or those who discourse about Brahman and were entitled to initiation, sacrifice to Fire and study of Vedas. They like the boys wore the external signs of studentship and performed the daily prescribed duties. The Rig Veda has hymns composed by as many as twenty seven brahmavadinis.

Interestingly there also were women warriors. Vadhrimati and Vishpal are mentioned by the female seer Ghosha in the Rig Veda. And Mudgalani drove her husband’s chariot in battle chasing the enemies out.

Women had a role in the political sphere too apparent in sage Vasishtha trying to dissuade Sita from accompanying Lord Ram to the forest with the proposal that she should reign over the kingdom in the Lord’s absence. And in Mahabharat Gandhari showed she was very well versed in philosophy implicit in what Chaudhuri described as the “immortal saying”-Yato Dharmastato Jayah (victory pertains only to the side of the right) refusing to wish success even to her own son Duryodhana in battle.

The equality provided to women with men in all spheres of life from the Rig-Vedic age itself makes it ludicrous and indeed illogical to suggest as came to suggested subsequently that Hinduism warranted treating them as being inferior to or in any way and in any field less than men.

 

To be or not to be!

The comic quest made the comedian the quarry. Mimicry in evolutionary biology uses similarity in behaviour as a protection. The convergent resemblance in a comic show however led to detention! The adaptation far from turning out to be anti-predator in fact invited an attack and all that the mimicking prey could then do was to pray for deliverance. Evolution records  a common descent of life from the last universal ancestor. Descent, it seems, is truly an appropriate expression considering the declivity in levity and the jostling that follows jest. Kiku’s arrest is definitely both literally and metaphorically development – arrested development. And lest I be in trouble for suggesting that anyone is lamebrained I will prefer to quote Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises where Harvey talking to Cohn says , “I misjudged you. You are not a moron. You are only a case of arrested development.” Those who act as comedians just pretend to be dolts. There are however many some who are naturally comic and the mimic after “suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” is bound to realise he was only second best!!

Jallikattu – Not sporting at all!

I am happy the Supreme Court restrained the Tamil Nadu Government from conducting the bull-taming “sport” Jallikattu.

Bentham, comparing slavery and sadism in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, said: The question is not can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but Can they suffer? The fact that the bulls are not human does not mean they cannot suffer. In Jallikattu the bulls are deliberately disoriented, punched, dragged and jabbed and subjected to pain and suffering. It is not unreasonable to contend that the possibility of causing pain should be a deterrent to a proposed action unless the actor suffers  from a personality disorder revelling in suffering over better alternatives in which event he would not be the rational being humans pride in being. And if one yet acts so one is worse than the non-human one claims superiority over!

Bentham, however, was talking of conscious experience. What about humans in coma? Physical abuse will yet not be justified merely because they are comatose. The bulls are conscious when they are prepared for and then involved in the “sport”. How then does one justify this duplicity?

And what about humane treatment to humans lacking in intelligence and understanding? Will cruelty be justified against those of unsound mind and impaired understanding merely because they do not have the capacity to reason and suffer from mental disabilities? The obvious answer is an emphatic no. Can lack of human intelligence then justify the bulls being treated as “sport”?

The very sense of our being bound into moral community is lost in this hypocrisy negating the very qualities on which we rely to claim superiority over non-human beings.

In Hinduism animals as much as humans are baddha jivas in different stages on consciousness being temporarily being bound by karma which causes them to transmigrate through different bodies in various realms of existence. They are manifestations of God though at a lower level of creation yet containing spark of the Divine.

The fact that animals have an inherent worth apart from their utilitarian benefits is recognised by contemporary ecological philosophy Deep Ecology which, very much like Hindu philosophy, moves away from an anthropocentric thought that human beings alone are the most important species on the planet.

The revival of the sport was clearly unnecessary.

Unless reason and intellect have an ethical foundation the very capacity to act and articulate which humans possess can only lead to tyranny. We have bulls as sport today. We will next revive “superior races” enslaving “inferior” ones tomorrow.