BV Kakkilaya Inspired Oration 2015 was held on January 21, 2015 at Raveendra Kalabhavana, University College, Mangaluru. Prof. Romila Thapar, eminent historian, author and Prof. Emerita, JNU, Delhi, delivered the oration titled Indian Society and Secularism. It was presided over by Prof. Surendra Rao, former Professor of History, Mangalore Univeristy.
The video recording of the oration is available here:
Some salient excerpts from the oration are given below:
Secularism and democracy cannot be separated, democracy cannot exist without secularism.
Secularism means keeping all religions away from the government, most importantly from the judiciary and the laws, as well as from public life. There cannot be mlechs or kafirs in a secular democracy. For a democracy it is essential to understand that the universe functions without any divine intervention and religion must not enter civic society. Laws are made by men and women without the need for any divine sanction.
Vedic religion has been evolving and the gods have also been changing – from Indra and Agni to Vishnu and Shiva to many other. The temples emerged by 5th century CE. Before that there were no places marked for worship. Sacrifices and yagas could be performed anywhere. As temples grew, wealth accumulated and they became landlords and businesses. Royal sponsored temples also became centres of power. Conflict between Brahmanism and Shravanism- the worshiping and the working castes existed from pre colonial times. Then came the Bhakti movements which took the gods to the people and worship was in the language of common people. Hinduism has no central dogma, no authority, no central book. Can religion be applied to all aspects of life when different forms of worship exist in different castes?
Hindutva is a 20th century invention- the first mention of which is in Anandmath, a novel by Bankim Chand Chatterjee. Today it is being used to create a new paradigm, so to control and can manipulate the religion and to use it for the benefit of a set of people or forces.
Islam did not arrive in India through the invading Kings. It first came into India, particularly the west coast and Sind, through trade and administrators- Bohras, Khojas and Moplahs are examples of these. They were appointed as ministers by the local kings and there are recorded instances of such ministers providing land to Brahmins for Temple Agraharas. Turks and other Muslims came in as invaders later and they did loot and destroy.
Looting of temples was for their wealth and that is why the richest temples were chosen. After the loot, it was claimed to be part of religious action so as to justify it. Temples were looted by Hindu Kings also. Kalhana’s Rajatarangini of 12th century CE mentions of King Harsha Deva of Kashmir, who appointed officials called as Deva Utpatana Nayakas who were responsible for looting money from the temples to be added to the treasury of the king.
Conversions into Hinduism came into practice only in the 20th century, until then one could only be born as a Hindu.
The identity of castes, or such discrimination, is prevalent in all the religions in India. In fact, it is the caste system that is dividing the people of India more than the religions. When conversions took place, only the subject of worship changed – the converts carried their castes into the new religion to which they were converted. Reconversion is not addressing this issue at all and the discrimination is bound to continue.
How can we encourage secularism – particularly in the society which experiences extremism of religions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs and that all religions have a male dominated attitude towards freedom of women?
No religious state can be democratic. Secular India means all citizens are governed by the constitution with equal rights and equal status under law. One is free to practice any religion, but that should be personal and private and no religion can be allowed to interfere in the basic fundamental rights of the citizen. There is a need for change in the civil laws; all religions must be kept away from civil laws; the laws of marriage and inheritance should be common for all communities. Secularizing the society is not a process of making it anti religion but making it a society where social and political identities are based on citizenship and not on community, religion, language or ethnicity. Secularism is not just keeping religions away, but also abolishing untouchability and discrimination of people in the name of caste. We have to uphold the rights of the judiciary to be independent.
Modern education must empower our minds to be secular. If the curriculum is filled with religious and obscurantist ideas, our next generation will find it hard to assimilate with the modern world and their future will be at stake.
BV Kakkilaya Oration 2016: The Idea of India – The Vision and The Challenges
Prof. Adiya Mukherjee
I am from JNU, and do I look like a teacher of terrorists? We have had enough of these baseless accusations over the past 6 months.
India’s struggle for freedom was no less than any revolution, but sadly we don’t call it as Indian revolution.
It was a long drawn struggle of more than a century and was the biggest mass movement for freedom, anywhere, anytime in the history of mankind. Unlike the revolutions in Europe and Latin America, our revolution did not involve a handful of leaders taking to arms and overthrowing govts, but involved the mass of Indians, the poor, the workers, the peasants and all, participating in the freedom movement. The armed revolutions that happened elsewhere resulted in monolithic nations of one language, one religion, one ideology etc., that in turn led to internal strife and even civil wars in which millions died and such nations aspired for domination on others. Our freedom struggle included the masses, of every language, every region, every religion, and all of them together fought for liberation. The greatest poets of Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Assamese and all else were the greatest nationalists as well. The best of intellectuals were the greatest leaders of the masses, and it was the school teachers who encouraged their students to join the freedom struggle.
Three ideas defined our freedom struggle and defined our nation and every freedom fighter, Congress to the left, agreed on these:
1. Freedom from colonialism
2. Democracy, inclusiveness and secularism
3. Pro poor policies
Before the British, India was a multi religious, multi linguistic, multi cultural society. Islam came here during the life time of the Prophet, and Christianity came soon after the foundation of that religion, and both entered India through the neighbouring Kerala. And at that time, Hindu religion, as it is being defined today, did not exist. What existed was the different customs and traditions of our people, some would worship the neem, some the peepal, some the snake and some the cow, and some others the stones and some others the idols. All of them co-existed, and these symbols were not matters of quarrels. Argument or Tarka or honouring the diversity of opinions has been at the heart of our discourse for five thousand years of our existence. Therefore, the idea of India had to be inclusive of all these customs and traditions and diversities, and we have indeed proved to the world that we can fight for freedom as one nation and live as one nation.
The idea of democracy is also not borrowed from Europe, as some argue. Tilak, in late 19th century, wrote about adult franchise when the idea did not exist anywhere. We brought it into practice soon after in the form of provincial assemblies under the British and when the USA and UK were grappling with slavery and equality in the sixties, we had already established our democratic governance. And that was possible only with inclusiveness and secularism.
And our freedom struggle had poverty alleviation at its core. From Gokhale to Ranade to Gandhi to the leaders of the left, everyone who led the freedom struggle had poverty alleviation as the most important agenda for the nation. Even the capitalist class at the time could not subvert this idea.
The vision of our leaders was exemplary. Gandhiji stayed in Noakhali when the Hindus were massacred and the entire cabinet of Nehru’s interim govt camped in Bihar when there were revenge killings. During the early days of independence, Nehru spent more time in Punjab than in Delhi, trying to calm down the situation that arose after the partition. Today we have ministers abetting riots and lynching.
On this background, the murder of Gandhiji was an attempt to bring about a coup, to subvert the three ideas that made India – of freedom, democracy and poverty alleviation. But it failed. The only election ever to have been fought on the issue of secularism was the first election of free India – and the referendum of the people of India was strongly in favour of secularism, the communal parties together polled less than 6% and got less than 10 seats in the parliament.
Nehru’s govt had much bigger task at hand. Today, some so called commentators claim that the first 40 years of India were wasted. Far from it. When we became independent, we had no food, no machines, no technology, nothing, and had to grapple with the venom that was spread by the communal forces. Nehru’s govt managed all these. We imported food and medicines, and everything else essential. If everything from a needle had to be imported in 1947, by 60s, more than 45% was indigenous and by 70s, almost 90% was indigenously produced. The first five year plan established the best institutions of science and technology, the Sahitya Academy and the Lalit Kala Academy and all else and the second one laid the foundation for the best of industries. The economic policies of 1991 could not have come without the achievements of 1947 to 1990. And most importantly, we did all these as a free, democratic nation, a very unique achievement for any country in the world. British industrial revolution happened with men, money and materials brought in from the colonies; American development happened with slave labour. Japan developed by being semi sovereign to the American govt and the Korean development happened by semi authoritarianism and the Russian and Chinese happened by forced collectivism. But we developed our nation as a free democracy, by allowing trade unions, by allowing freedom of speech, by allowing free media. This did not happen anywhere in the world. And we have remained free and sovereign, we led the 100 nations against US hegemony as leader of the non aligned movement, we refused to sign the non proliferation treaty when even countries like Canada had to sign it and we have not succumbed to colonial powers as the African nations had to.
The challenges are many and very clear. If we have to save our nation and build it, we have to stand up to these challenges.
Communal fascist movement is already targeting intelligentsia; street power and state power are working together to lynch the opposition. Attempts are underway to pull people back from secular, free, rational sphere to obscurantism, communalism and narrow mindedness. We do not yet have a school of thought of our own, we are yet to decolonize ourselves fully. In the last 2 decades, we have been witnessing the obscenity of inequality, we are losing on the ideals of pro poor India; 40% don’t have enough to eat and 30% don’t go to school, more so among the Dalits. Therefore, the poor are now demanding food, and education. Abdication of responsibility by the intellectuals is a major challenge; they are doing the opposite of what happened during the independence struggle, when the best brains led from the front. Gandhiji gave a call to everyone to turn their faces to the poor, time has come to call upon the intellectuals to turn their faces towards the country.