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Monday 4 February 2013

Republic of Fear : II By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Republic of Fear : II
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
The third day of our Humanize India ended up with a pleasant surprise when two journalists came to our place in the Buddha Vihara in Kushinagar and sought an interview with me about the initiative. After our talks he wondered as why we were not putting our thoughts in a college or degree college. I mentioned that the colleges here have already decided that they would not listen to us. My young colleagues had spoken to several teachers and principals in the college here who pointed out various mistakes in our pamphlets yet felt that what we can do with it as it was not possible to dismantle caste system. The Kushwaha Budddhist Bikhus had already warned us that it is impossible to break the nexus of caste system and we were doing an impossible journey to dismantle the caste system.

Our local organizers and some of the friends of always afraid of the points we would possible raise and that is one reason why the two important colleges in Kushingar did not listen to us. It was clear that they felt that we would speak the language which would 'hurt' the students. But the talks with the principle of Buddha Degree College, which was established as a primary school in 1934 really encouraged us and despite the early morning timings, we decided to go and share our thoughts with the students.

It was a dense fog morning and visibility was nearly zero when we started from the Buddha Vihara we were staying. All of us got up early to make it to the college despite the fact that we knew that most of the students would not be able to make it due to severe cold and deeply dense fog. As we reached the college, the staff took us to the principle and finally he agreed that we meet at the college prayer ground. Over 500 students had gathered up that time to listen to us in the open. After our live performances of miracle exposure and humanist songs, I spoke and the children listened carefully. ' We do not speak against corruption around us because our daily engagements with caste and other forms of discriminations are very high. A very high number of our children are suffering in malnutrition and have no milk to drink yet every day we see millions of liters of milk being poured to keep Lord Shiva Happy.  We offer banana to the God but keep our children hungry', I said. There was a great deal of happiness among the children when we spoke against caste discrimination and Untouchability when we mentioned Article 51A of Indian constitution which talks of promoting scientific temperament and humanism.

After the show was over, the principle invited us to his room. He thanked us for a wonderful awareness programme. Many teachers came and appreciated the initiative. They discussed our contents. ' Your programme is absolutely fantastic and must be carried forward as it is promoting scientific temperament, said an old teacher and added that it need some modification and correction. We are always ready to admit to our mistakes, I said. No, you are doing a great service but you need to be careful of making statements. You should know that we have a great cultural heritage and you have directly attacked it. Why are you targeting people fasting or offering milk to Shiva. This is India's greatest strength, he said. You should respect 'freedom of expression', said the teacher and allow the others to do so. Another one joined to give me more knowledge as why Soviet Union collapsed because they did not allow 'freedom of religion' to people. Then he went on to say as why Marxists lost Bengal because they did not allow freedom of religion in West Bengal.

Interestingly, all these statements are absurd as Russia is still the biggest country of the world and the reality is that it did not want to carry the burden of so many ill economies along with it. It crumbled economically carrying the burden of all other nations otherwise the mighty Russia would not have allowed the country to secede but its constitutions had allowed that. Secondly, the notion that Marxists in India are anti-religion is as farce as to say that the saffron gangs are 'spiritual'. They did not touch any social issues and Bengal remains one of the most religious societies of our time despite all the claims of enlightenments.

It was interesting to see how a few teachers at the degree college felt offended. What is freedom of expression, I asked.  'You do not speak about Muslims', he said.  'Do I need to condemn Muslims every time, if I am speaking about the social evils in our society', I asked. Is condemning Muslims is the certificate of honesty of ideology. 'No, we do not speak against terrorism', one of them said. I am sorry sir, I said, please organise a seminar and I am ready for a one to one dialogue.  'But you should know that Gandhi never condemn religion. In fact, he has asked everyone to study Gita and Ramayana but still he is the greatest one of the world, he said. 'I am sorry sir, I said respectfully. Gandhi lead India's freedom movement and I respect his contribution but I do not want to take his 'spiritualism' with me which is nothing but entrenched in deeply flawed conservative ideas which are superfluous in today's age.  But Gandhi is a world icon, said one of them. Yes Sir, Gandhi Jayanti is celebrated officially and that is why people do not attend it. Children do not read him. I would suggest you to attend any function on Ambedkar Jayanti and only then you will realize the difference between the two leaders and how people perceive them at the people's level.

It was an irony that this debate was happening at a place which was the centre of Buddha's preaching and where legendary Rahul Sanrktyayan had got stopped the play of Ramleela in 1930s. The most surprising thing is that the teaching staff felt that we are not respecting people's right to offer milk and right to fasting without giving us right to critique religious dogmas. Why is this fear from critiquing religion? Have we stopped any one from keeping fast or going to temples? Have we stopped any one from celebrating festivities? Yes, we condemn all kind of fundamentalism and we are not enamoured with Muslim or Christian fanatics and have always spoken against all forms of oppression without any conditionality's. Who are the people denying us freedom of expressions?

The questions that we are raising are uncomfortable but we know it is also strengthening those who have kept quiet for years. At places we spoke against internal untouchability and brought people together. In the colleges we are speaking for women's right and mind your language. We are in a society which needed a complete overhaul. It needs people of great convictions to speak up against these evils. It is not an easy task. Speaking with freedom in Delhi is easier then throwing open the challenge at the den of oppressions where feudal enjoyed their social power. The satisfying thing was that some of these teachers who always stood on the sidelines came to congratulate me for 'successful' mission. The principle of the college was silently smiling and nodding in appreciation. We had realized the dynamics of caste and how powerful it was. The positive thing is that we became the voice for those who wanted to speak the same things but perhaps keeping things in their heart. They were happy with the fact that we are talking of the great Indian cultural heritage of carvak, Buddha, Kabir, Nanaka, Ravidas, Rahul Sankrityayan, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Periyar, Phule, Bhagat Singh, Sahir, Faiz, Firaq, Shailendra and thousands of those who wanted this country to be an enlightened one where each one of us enjoy our individuality without any reference to caste and religion.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
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