It is an absolute Goddamn pleasure and honour to have been invited to be here as a writer and opinion-ator at BrownPundits.com!
As you may have seen my tweets, I have been commenting in-depth about my native Pakistan for a decade now. I’m from the city by the sea, Karachi, and I am a happy partisan for that over-grown beach-hole. I’m not a big genetics or phrenology fan. However, I love talking politics, I love talking some culture, I love history, and I enjoy getting the chance to write.
But let’s not make this intro long-winded. Snappy posts are fine, but some effort later at longer posts, will come later.
For now, here’s where the catch-phrase my title is based on is from. Do read what I write; you’ll always learn something worth knowing 😉
I see one of the main differences between India and west is of breaking down of the illusion of religious harmony in the west. The inter christian violence between catholics and protestants in 30 yr war led to westphalian peace. It was here that leaders in west accepted that there was no choice but to accept the reality of heresy/bigotry .It also meant over time that they realized no stable peace could be built on religion but only by transcending it through effective political and civic institutions. There is a strange argument nowadays where values gained from transcending religion is also being credited to religion. This reminds me of “everything comes from India” man in the comedy series of Goodness Gracious me.
In India , because among dharmic religions, the degree of violence was low without full scale wars with millions dead, the belief among Indian and Hindu elites has been to continue to pursue this path of compromise among various communities under the goal of religious harmony. Even now, many use slogans of “sarv dharma sambhav” , all these create illusions that brings much heartache and sense of betrayal among people when they dont come true now with evangelical monotheism. One hence feels cheated by the elites rhetoric and it is here congress has to break away from this. Had one been realistic about this, much of the violence during partition could have been avoided . This illusion needs to be broken. In the west it took violence in large numbers to get over the idea that solution could be found within Christianity itself . In India one must get over this before much violence happens and that can only happen if people move away from naive Gandhian view of religious harmony so that it would become embarrassing to even say that.
Much of the problem I see in Indian religions ,society and civilization to me is merely the willingness to compromise or to solve issues through syncretism to avoid larger violence. This leads to low optimal solution at local level rather than to scaling the powers of state and political institutions and upgrading the civics of the people and their understanding of it. The same is true for caste violence as well. I dont believe there ever was large scale mobilized caste wars. Had this happened the society would have no choice but to address it as well. The illusion now is carried over by Hindu atheists as well, a willingness to just let things be.Here is where I think even atheists are going wrong as well. Their belief that answer to problem of religion lies in atheism.Their denial of the religious nature of man is the issue. This is a reality irrespective of whether they be theistic religions or atheistic ones like marxism. They too are better off insisting on good polity,civic institutions as a solution. A model in order to work must work for extreme cases and not merely local ones where compromise is possible. Until this illusion of compromise remains there is no value placed on political realism and India will remain under threat of significant violence in its future. It is important therefore to make the case for impossibility of religious harmony and compromise and let people know there is no getting around the issue of religious bigotry on all sides. No answer to the issues of religious bigotry can be found inside dharma. And in general I think it is true that we forge ahead better in a sure footed way when our idealistic illusions are seen to be broken. Indian liberals,left and atheists must abandon the denial of religious bigotry and simply accept that there are bound to be religious bigots even among minorities and constitution protects that as well. They need to make this absolutely clear for otherwise they are seen to be either cheating the people with false illusions of harmony or engaging in what is termed as minority appeasement. To me, the most charitable view of their behavior is idealistic delusion. Enlightenment ensues as a result of breaking down of such illusions.
Most Hindu believers don’t have problems with bowing down before the next idol/guru in addition to their existing ones. One only has to visit Goan Churches to see devout and traditional Hindus praying to Jesus with all their devotion without any dichotomy. There appears to be no conflict between going back to their traditional lives while asking favors/ paying respects to the supposed Son of God. The violent history of how Christianity got into Goa has very little bearing on how Hindus interact with Christian pockets of Goa in contrast with the case with Islam. (This may not be the case in other areas where there is more active proselytization). While this pluralism which is a salient part of Hinduism is often traced to the Rgvedic “एकम सत विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति” form the First Mandala. However, as Michael Witzel points out in his analysis of Rgveda, pluralism can be found even in the Rgvedic family books (mandala 2-7 which is often to be earlier texts, with scholars putting them as at least 1500BCE), especially the 7th Mandala attributed to Vashishta. Thus it’s safe to argue that Plurality is a quintessential attribute of Hinduism.
From ages 22-25 I was hooked with the New Atheism worldview – which rarely had the representation of Ex-Hindus or Hindu-Atheists. Even then I could not fully agree with New Atheist criticism of Eastern Faith systems (I found the chapter in Hitchens book to be a strawman). More reading of history and politics since then has meant that I have come out of what Razib Khan calls the Nerd understanding of Religion. While the number of Ex-Muslims in the New-Atheist movement was low in the early 2010s, by 2020 the Ex-Muslim movement has gained a lot of momentum with many names becoming popular. I had avoided the whole Ex-Muslim internet sphere which seems to have exploded these last few years as I did not want to enforce my own confirmation bias about the ills of Islam. However, this Armin- KaliMaa fracas has meant that I have followed the works of these Ex-Muslims a lot over the last week.
Having read and listened to these guys, I can’t ignore the glaring differences between Hindu Atheists like myself and Ex-Muslim or Ex-Christian atheists. While surveys point to less than 1% of Indians self designating as atheists, I really doubt the number as most Hindu atheists continue to identify as Hindu unlike atheists coming from other faiths. In my experience, Hindu atheists spend less time arguing in the abstract about belief in the supernatural or the validity of scriptures and are more focused on concrete problems – viz rituals/traditions which they find illogical or abhorrent. This may be a function of Hinduism, which is less scriptural and much more ritualistic (at least this is true for the Brahminism which I am most familiar with). Over these particular issues, there is only a minor difference between the positions of the Reformist yet believing Hindus and Hindu Atheists. On the other hand, the New-Atheist position is glaringly similar to the Monotheistic position – with all the certainty and condescension but no coercion and violence.
This difference could be for two reasons:
For most Hindus being atheist is not a big deal. There is very little penalty on being non-conformist as long as atheism isn’t confrontational. As a result, Hindu atheists don’t feel like aggravated victims and are reciprocally less confrontational. This neutral feedback cycle keeps most Atheists in the larger Hindu fold.
Being exposed to numerous faiths and worship systems since childhood, Hindu atheists like Hindus don’t find it tough to respect the behaviors of other believers (however ridiculous) which New Atheists condescend at much more polemically.
That being said, a lot of unnecessary condescension at Hindu practices does exist in India – particularly on the left. But even that doesn’t necessarily overlap with Atheism but with the Indian “Secular” framework. I don’t mean to imply that all Hindu atheists are plural or even liberal. But for most Hindus, atheism is an epistemological position and not an absolutist belief system. Finding a Hindu atheist being as confrontational as an atheist from Monotheism is rare thought there must be numerically significant exceptions.
I personally would rather spend most of my energies fighting Homeopathy than religion. IMO both are demonstrably false but only one of them pretends to be scientific.
I finally completed Dr Ambedkar’s fascinating book on Pakistan after reading it on and off for years. Though he comes across as an essentialist in some of his arguments, many fault-lines Dr. Ambedkar points out hold true even 70 years after the publication of the book.
(I plan to write about that book sometime later – but especially for those who don’t identify with Hindutva I will highly recommend that book)
Dr. Ambedkar says the following in this book PAKISTAN OR THE PARTITION OF INDIA during his polemic against Purdah.
The evil consequences of purdah are not confined to the Muslim community only. It is responsible for the social segregation of Hindus from Muslims which is the bane of public life in India. This argument may appear far fetched and one is inclined to attribute this segregation to the unsociability of the Hindus rather than to purdah among the Muslims. But the Hindus are right when they say that it is not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims because such contact can only mean contact between women from one side and men from the other
This is the core motivation that has lead to the popularization of term Love-Jihad. The anxieties of Hindus are not motivated largely by the fear that “Muslims will abduct their daughters and sisters and forcibly convert them”. That exists largely in the straw-man.
It is hard to always point out one’s own turning. When do we change our views, why, are there personal reasons, reflections to why we do what we do. How does the abstract knowledge changes our views and when is it that our personal experience changes our views and consequently us. How much do each of us remember in how we change our views regarding anything at all.
I come from a telugu speaking state, I am an introvert. The fact that I could personally experience these data points to me implies that many others have seen much more than this and it isnt one reads in newspapers. And hence the accusation of fake news by liberals, for they believe or rather hope that people dont gather information horizontally within communities.
Charles Cameron, a contributor to this weblog, and an early guest on our podcast has died after an illness. I do not know any details (I saw a Facebook post), but I felt that it was important to mention his passing since his contribution to this forum was appreciated, and from what I knew of him he seemed a man with a great heart and boundless curiosity.
Death is inevitable, and a part of life. We too shall pass in our own time. All we can hope for in this one life is to leave memories that honor what we stood for after we leave.
Language wars are a constant feature of Indian public life. Most recently there was much discussion on Language on Indian twitter triggered by the National Education Policy (NEP 2020). But amidst the language squabbles, we tend to reflect less on the root cause of all the language schisms – The rise of the Vernacular. A relatively recent phenomenon in Indian history.
Back in 1000 CE, Sanskrit reigned supreme as the primary literary tongue of India. There was some Prakrit literature and considerable literature in some of the older Southern languages – Tamil and Kannada in particular. But for the most part Vernaculars had a position secondary to Sanskrit.
The language of prestige and literary expression was undoubtedly Sanskrit, though it was hardly the mother tongue for a large percentage of Indians. Vernaculars reigned at home, and in common speech. Yet in an age of limited literacy, they never competed with Sanskrit for “prestige”. This was very much the case not just in India, but in much of the western world as well. In Europe, as late as 15th century, 70% of the printed literature was in Latin!
While any discussion of Partition tends to focus a lot on the migrations and violence circa 1947, we tend to forget the mayhem that followed in Bengal with a lag. As late as 1950! In Bengal the violence peaked in late 1949 – 1950 unlike in Punjab. Particularly in East Pakistan.
The discussion of these riots and the agreements that ensued in 1950 in TCA Raghavan’s book “The People Next Door” make an interesting read.
The partition in 1947 had left both sides of Bengal with similar proportions of minority populations. West Bengal had five million Muslims in a population of twenty one million. East Pakistan was left with eleven million Hindus in a population of thirty nine million.
Unlike in the Punjab, a full-fledged ethnic cleansing did not occur in Bengal. Perhaps in part because of the presence of Gandhi in Bengal for a couple of crucial months in 1947. There could be other reasons that can explain why Bengal didn’t start with a blank slate unlike Punjab. I can only think of the Gandhi-factor as of now
The violence festered in Bengal right up to 1950, but it peaked in the month of February that year, particularly in East Pakistan. The violence against Hindus provoked much political unrest in India, causing Nehru to assume stances that seem very hawkish to us today.
Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the Parliament on Feb 23rd of 1950, expressing outrage at the East Pakistan riots
Then he went on to suggest a possible military action against East Pakistan while concluding his speech – Note the words – “We shall have to adopt other methods”
But then the invasion idea was dropped. It was not just a question of Nehru being pusillanimous. The President of India, Rajendra Prasad, a supposed right winger, wrote a letter to Nehru, suggesting that he drop the idea of attacking / annexing East Pakistan!
I find this curious.
An interesting example of a “conservative” voice in India (Rajendra Prasad) persuading the supposedly more dovish and liberal Nehru to drop the idea of military action against East Pakistan
Another thing that I find curious about this episode is that the very large scale migrations that ensued in early 1950, were mostly undone by the end of the year by reverse migrations, following the Nehru-Liaquat agreement in April 1950.
Between February 7th and April 8th 1950, 1.5 million people crossed the borders! 850K Hindus from East Pakistan to West Bengal, and 650K Muslims from West Bengal to East Pakistan.
The agreement was signed on 8th April 1950, but it did not reverse the migration tide immediately. Between 9th April and 25th July, 1.2 million more Hindus left East Pakistan for India, while only 600K returned back to Pakistan prompted by the agreement. That’s roughly a return-ratio of 1 in 2.
But it appears the ratio was much better for Muslims for exactly the same period (9th April to 25th July) following the treaty. In this timeframe, 450K Muslims left West Bengal for East Pakistan, but 300K returned back. That’s a ratio of 2 in 3.
So it appears the agreement reassured the Muslims more than it did the Hindus. But nevertheless it did prompt Hindus to return back to East Pakistan in larger numbers by the end of the year. A million Hindus had returned back to East Pakistan by December of that year.
One wonders if we could’ve had a more peaceful subcontinent in later decades, had the powers that be sat down and planned a more systematic population transfer, instead of idealistic reassurances to minorities, which did help stall the large scale transfer in the short run, but kept communal tensions simmering for several more decades.
In my previous two posts, I traced the roots of India as a civilization state and proposed a framework which would seek to retain modern India’s classical Anglo-liberal framework but embellish it with Dharmic values. In this third and final post, I will seek to demonstrate how these seemingly contradictory systems could be reconciled in a coherent Anglo-Dharmic liberal conservative framework. I will also analyse Indian domestic and foreign policy from a liberal conservative perspective. Before doing that, it is worth examining how liberal conservatism would deal with the third great tradition that has influenced Indian history: Islam.
The Muslim Question
The ledger of the Nehruvian state’s interactions with and treatment of Indian Muslims is decidedly a mixed bag. On the positive side, it is to the Nehruvian state’s credit that Indian Muslims were able to see themselves as full and equal participants and stakeholders in the Indian Republic. It is easy to underestimate today how difficult and challenging this would have been in the immediate aftermath of the partition and vivisection of India in 1947. It would have been easy to let hatred and vengeance take over in the aftermath of a bloody division. The Congress party under the stewardship of Pandit Nehru ensured that the better angels of our nature prevailed and the Muslims who remained in India were treated with tolerance and compassion. The basic framework of the Indian Constitution, in particular the golden triangle of equality, freedom and liberty, ensured full and equal citizenship and freedom of worship for Indian Muslims. The wisdom and sagacity of the founding fathers of the modern Indian Republic who were the architects of this framework must be applauded.