When removal of superstition becomes an assault

When removal of superstition becomes an assault

Note: The following article is a translation of Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh's piece in Kannada that appeared in Vijaya Vani published on 10 November 2013. This translation also incorporates several points that occurred to the author after his piece was published.

There has been a widespread deluge of protests emanating from various quarters against the proposed Anti-Superstition Bill to be shortly introduced by the Government of Karnataka. After thoroughly reading the draft of the Bill, it is clear that all of these protests are completely justified because as the protesters point out, the Bill is motivated by arrogance, ignorance, and deceit. I would like to jot down a few misgivings of my own in this regard.

1. First, we need to examine this question: are there any specific and clear characteristics that define the difference between belief (or faith) and blind belief (blind faith)? Realistically speaking, what is belief? Isn't it simply a case of willingly accepting something that renders itself impossible to direct perception and inference? Thus, when we apply cold logic, it is clear that all beliefs are blind beliefs and all faiths are blind faiths. Therefore, religion itself is a blind belief. It follows that the proposed Bill should prohibit religion itself! More importantly, all Theological Schools, Prophetic Cults, Messenger-Messianic Cults, God's Word, Gospels, and Scriptures, which are based purely on blind faith must come under the ambit of this Bill, must be prohibited and liable for punishment!

However, the state of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism does not rest on the edifice of blind belief. It rests on the foundation of impersonal universal experience. Thus we have sects like Sankhya and Mimamsa which do not recognize the existence of a God. We have Vedanta which says that things like Holy Books are merely external aids in an individual's spiritual evolution, and that these Holy Books must be discarded as the individual progresses higher. What's more, a personal God who has a name and form is not the ultimate truth; the heart of Sanatana Dharma lies in the fact that its conception of God is something that is genderless, nameless, formless, spaceless, and timeless. It is the continual and conscious awareness of the essential and inseparable unity of an individual's Self (existence of the Self) with that of the universe. Thus, the conception of discerning the unity of the indescribable trio of jiva (life/self)-jagat (world)-ishwara (God) is the bedrock of Hinduism.

It is evident that such highly abstract, deep, and impersonal philosophical concepts are not easily understandable by everybody. To make abstract, formless and timeless concepts available to everyday human experience requires making them accessible to people within the time-space realm. This accessibility also involves taking into account people's tastes, their spiritual evolution, interest, and preparedness. It is for this reason that Sanatana Dharma has provided a huge, and ever-expandable framework that recognizes, respects, and incorporates various practices, beliefs, customs, and traditions so it can cater to spiritual aspirants endowed with different capacities. It doesn't stop at that. Hinduism provides full freedom to every individual to choose his/her own God and his/her own way of worship, and has recognized and respected all of them as valid. What's more, it has not exerted any force on atheists who don't believe in any of these.

However these maybe, whether these are beliefs, faiths, blind beliefs or blind faiths, all of these aren't the essential aspects, but are desirable aspects of Hinduism. In the words of Adi Shankara, beliefs fall in the domain of the individual's subjective perception of the ultimate philosophical reality (called Kartrutantra). However, Sanatana Dharma is based on the direct perception and inference of the ultimate philosophical reality (called Vastutantra).

Ironically, Islam and Christianity which don't have the concept of Vastutantra but rely wholly on Katrutantra are religions based purely on a set of blind beliefs. The proposed Anti Superstition Bill devised by a despicable mentality has totally excluded these two religions from its ambit and has determinedly targeted a compassionate and inclusive religion like Sanatana Dharma.

2. Our country is a democracy. One of the greatest values of the modern world in democracies is the conception of freedom. Sanatana Dharma is perhaps the only religion in the world today which has nurtured, fostered and preserved the democratic values of freedom, tolerance, and assimilation of diversity for thousands of years by respecting diversity of beliefs and practices. The draft of the proposed Bill seems to consider it its pious duty to attack this pluralist religion. It seeks to stifle Hinduism by doing just the opposite: by using democratic means to stifle democracy, and by denying freedom, diversity of expression, and tolerance. Whereas on the other side, it says nothing about life-stifling creeds like Islam and Christianity, a move that seeks to give state sanction to thuggery against Hinduism.

3. It is true that beliefs of a certain period will be regarded as distasteful in another period; some beliefs will remain distasteful forever. However, Hinduism's long tradition of sadhus-saints-reformers have shown that reform in certain unhealthy beliefs can be effected. Further, in Hinduism, this reform can also emanate from common people. This tradition has ensured contemporaneity and has kept alive Hinduism as a vibrant religion till date. In other words, this self-correction occurs without the intervention of a Prophet or Priest or some other divinely ordained person. A good example is the plight of widows. The ugly practices of tonsuring a widow's head, prohibiting remarriage, and regarding them as inauspicious is almost dead in the Hindu society now. The pontiffs of almost all major Hindu mutts now bless widows just the way they do other devotees. This reform happened internally, without the need for any legislation or divine intervention.

Equally, there's no dearth of superstitious beliefs and practices both in Islam and Christianity. Wearing amulets (taayath/talismath) to ward off evil/ensure good auspices, praying at dargahs, self-flagellation during festivals like Muharram, keeping the roza….indeed, even offering Namaz every Friday in a mosque….all of these fulfill the critieria defined for treating something as a blind belief and/or superstition. Similarly, wearing the Cross, faith healing, lighting candles for Jesus and/or Mary, the Passion of Christ, and such assorted practices too qualify as blind belief.

It is significant that reform in Christianity occurred due to external forces–primarily due to the flowering of science, and a growth of enlightened social discourse. It did not occur from within the Christian fold. The Church remains as irrational, dogmatic, and superstitious as ever notwithstanding its claims to the contrary. And it is clear that no reform has ever occurred so far in Islam.

The proposed Bill mentions the names of Buddha, Basava, and Gandhi. These men were neither outsiders to Hinduism nor did they seek to uproot established and prevailing beliefs and traditions. It is impossible to “secularize” these noble personages. Buddha and Basava were spiritualist primarily. The discourse by the ilk of the purveyors of this Bill have sought to delink them from spirtualism and refashion them as mere social reformers. If anything, their social reform was a byproduct of their spirituality. Indeed, there is plentiful evidence available on this front but paucity of space restricts me from listing them here. Interested parties may contact me; I shall gladly provide the evidence.

4. The drafters of this Bill are mostly Communists who are endowed with singular hatred towards matters of religion-tradition-beliefs. Whereas they regard religion as the opium of the masses elsewhere in the world, in India, they display an intense attachment towards Islam and Christianity; Hinduism is their mortal enemy. Even there, they reveal their transactional charlatanism by trying to appropriate the Buddha and Basava as one of their own. The reason is simple: (at least in Karnataka), they need the numerical strength and support of the Neo Buddhists and the Lingayats (followers of Basava). Let's not live under any illusion: they will dump these saints and denigrate them once they attain political power. China, which was almost wholly Buddhist is now a Communist wasteland, is a good illustration of this.

These Leftists who call themselves “intellectuals” and “rationalists” had at one time spread worldwide superstitions about the awesome achievements of their erstwhile Dream State, the Communist USSR. Given this, it is curious about the nature of superstition-eradication these Leftists will undertake in India.

5. The truth is that this anti-superstition Bill is itself unilaterally based on a presumptuous superstition that it has all the answers to eradicate superstition. This is because it is evident that the group that prepared the draft does not include even one practicing Hindu.

In a democracy, it is important and essential to consider, debate, and discuss expert viewpoints of all parties–both for and against–before drafting any law. The draft of the Bill makes it clear that it is the product of a mindset that shows no concern for an inclusive debate and decency, and is shrill in its arrogance. It seems to have been prepared solely for the purpose of cornering and targeting Hindus, their society, traditions, and way of life. It also has the seeds of divisiveness: its provisions are intended to create fear and loathing in the minds of Hindus against their Muslim and Christian brethren, which in turn, have the potential to lead to communal riots. Thus, it is clear that the current Government has mooted this macabre Bill in order to pursue its cynical vote bank politics till eternity. It will take an entire book to examine the kind of evil that has worked behind every point in this draft Bill. As a sample, just one instance should suffice.

Biting an animal's neck (chicken, goat, etc) and allowing it to bleed to death is held up as an instance of superstition-inspired cruelty towards animals, and the Bill recommends its prohibition and punishment. However, the same Bill assumes a posture of convenient deafness and blindness towards Halaal where the throat of live animals is slit, and the animal is allowed to bleed slowly, painfully to death. It is superfluous to say that the practice of Halaal occurs everyday across the world including in Karnataka. Equally, the Bill is also silent on the mass slaughter of sheep and goat on the occasion of the Bakrid festival. The same silence also applies to Thanksgiving where turkeys are similarly slaughtered.

Indeed, there already exist laws that deal with the prevention of cruelty to animals. One wonders why this Bill calls for a separate law for the same purpose under the guise of eradication of superstition.

6. When we examine the draft of the proposed Bill, it's clear where the sights of its purveyors–the self-proclaimed intellectuals and progressives, are set.

Once the Bill becomes a law, it will require crores of funding for its propagation in the form of seminars, speeches, lectures, books, videos, street plays, posters…Of course, the draft Bill has included all of these “requirements.” Needless, these noble propagation activities must be undertaken by the drafters of this Bill and their associates and compatriots, the selfsame intellectuals. What this means is that the taxpayer money of devout practitioners of Hinduism will be used to fund the jollies of these Government Intellectuals, a breed that has been carefully cultivated since Nehru's time. A perfunctory read of Arun Shourie's Eminent Historians reveals a brief glimpse of the nature of the corruption practiced by these worthies.

7. Be it beliefs or life, man's life is ultimately based on and related to feelings. It is thus both impossible and inadvisable to either change or uproot them overnight. Any change in this direction requires patience, understanding, humility, compassion, love, and affection. This is not a domain of black and white but a complex world with various shades of grey. It is essential to take all sections of the society into confidence first before we even think of taking another step forward. Instead, these Bill-drafters have proceeded from hubris, lack of vision, egotism, avarice, and extreme prejudice. The consequences will be the destruction of culture, values, society, and ultimately, their own downfall.

Any reform must be done from within. External pressure or arrogant diktats is certainly not the way forward. The flower of life will not bloom without having an mentality of acceptance.

The pinnacle of Hinduism was attained as a result of being harmonious with nature. One needs to first accept it with humility before trying to reform its defects. However, the cruelty of the draft Bill proceeds exactly from the opposite standpoint.

8. Although I am a Hindu, none of the practices and beliefs mentioned in this Bill torment me. The reason is the poise and the culture that Sanatana Dharma's vastutantra has given me. That however doesn't mean that I am opposed to the pujas performed in Government offices, the puja offered to the Earth before any new construction starts, Saraswati prayers in schools and colleges, gruhapravesham ceremonies, ayudha puja, and so on. Neither do I ignore them. What's more, the infinite facets of expression, which form the heart of our folk tradition–dolls, art, dance, music, rangoli etc–are all the fruits of the selfsame “superstition.” Tragically, a whole array of these rich facets of folk tradition have dried up thanks to the past and continuing “services” of the purveyors of the anti-Superstition Bill. If the Bill becomes law, it is a given that even the names of these folk forms will be erased completely.

Would Thyagaraja have gifted us such a colossal repository of awe-inspiring lyrics and musical compositions without the inspiration provided by his singleminded devotion to Rama? If Basava had not completely surrendered his soul to his Ishtalinga (Shiva), would he give us such elevating vachanas (lyrical poetry), would he have developed such an expansive heart that admitted everyone from emperor to pauper? It is true that some people have done outstanding work without these. However, it is impossible to refute the fact that a certain feeling, an unshakable faith in a higher principle is the primary motive force that enables such accomplishments. And there are millions who sincerely accept the truth of this–that such faith is a powerful catalyst, an incredible inspiration to do great things. The draft of this Bill seeks to punish precisely such believers. As Adi Shankara said, nobody can completely deny the truth of another person's individual experience.

Therefore, no one should envisage such a society-wrecking law without first practicing what the Buddha called Vinaya (humility). Indeed, if anything, this Bill is itself an epitome of dishonesty.

Indeed, the people of Karnataka seem to have voted for Chief Minister Siddaramaiah out of a blind belief that his Government would provide them jobs, eradicate corruption, improve education, develop resources, and offer healthcare. The fact that he is eradicating their voting superstition in this manner makes me wonder whether we need to praise him or feel very scared.