Skip to main content

#UrbanNaxals: Efforts on to "undermine" right to dissent that existed in ancient India


Counterview Desk
Well-known historian Romila Thapar delivered a video message at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris last year on how the Maharashtra government authorities’ effort to discredit five activists as #UrbanNaxals actually undermines the right to dissent in India. This was followed by police action against academic and public intellectual Anand Teltumbde, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, retired professor and poet Varavara Rao, human rights lawyer Arun Ferreira, activist Vernon Gonsalves, and human rights activist Gautam Navalakha,
Suggesting that the country’s rulers, by undermining dissent are actually refusing to see how dissent was part of ancient Indian Indian civilization, Thapar says, there existed orthodox Vedic Brahmanical tradition, the Upanishadic thought, which was not entirely in conformity with Vedic Brahmanism, and what is called the Shramanic thinking, which included the Buddhists, the Jains, the Ajivikas, the Charvakas, all of whom were opposed to Vedic Brahmanism.
“Vedic Brahmanism referred to them as the ‘nastikas’ or the non-believers and in turn opposed them”, she says in the speech, which was delivered on November 15, 2018, adding, however, the fact remains that “there was a strong tradition of dissent, conflicting with conventional Brahmanical thought”, something that is not being taken note of by India’s present rulers.

Text of the speech:

Let me try to explain the most recent term of abuse that is current in certain circles in India. Liberals and intellectuals are now labeled as “Urban Naxals”.
It goes back to the Naxalite movement of the late 1960s, which was organised by a break-off group of the Communist party and it worked among the peasants of Bengal. Peasants and tribals were mobilised. Those in the movement said that we disapprove of the current state and we would like to replace it with a better state that ensures social justice and the rights of citizens.
The movement died down after a while in Bengal, and then came up again in a big way in Central India. It was essentially a village and tribal movement with some students who joined in. So, the term Urban Naxal for those that are urbanites is an oxymoron.
It started with when, quite suddenly, the police of the state of Maharashtra arrested five activists and said that they were indulging in terrorists activities of various kinds, were organising riots, and were associated with the Naxal underground in Central India which was part of terrorist and anti-state activities.
The police cooked up a story about their plotting to assassinate the prime minister. A few of us petitioned the Supreme Court of India, arguing that the matter should be reconsidered because there was absolutely no evidence for these charges.
Unfortunately our petition was set aside, and the activists are now in jail. They are lawyers, academics, writers, poets… people like you and me. And the frightening part of it is that we now have a situation where presumably the police can enter any of our homes any time and arrest us for activities that we know nothing about.
So there is an agitation. Some people are naturally very frightened by this development, and others want to publicly declare their opposition to it. It is a matter of great concern for liberals and intellectuals and particularly for those who are known to be opposed to the religious right-wing political ideologies that are prevalent today.
The fault of these five activists is that they are people who consistently supported the cause of social justice and defended the rights of the lower castes, Dalits and people who generally get pushed aside. It was actually very commendable that there were people who were concerned with human rights and civil rights issues. And these are the people who are now being attacked as “Urban Naxals”.
The other, much more insidious change that is increasing, is the attack on educational institutions and more particularly their departments and faculty in the social sciences and the humanities. This is because of what is taught and the books that are written and read.
There is a demand that some of these books be banned or at least be taken off the reading lists. The demand is always from lesser known organisations, which claim to be religious but are, in fact, highly political. The claim is always that the books are “hurting the sentiments of a particular group of people”.
Recently, there was a demand that the books of the Dalit author Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd be removed from the reading list of the Delhi University. The academic council agreed to do so although there was much resistance to it.
His books were asked to be removed because it was said that they were anti-Hindu. Now, how can anyone organisation claim that it represents the “entire” Hindu community, and that the “entire” Hindu community says that these books are not to be taught because they are anti-Hindu?
The attack on the social sciences is more systematic. The universities that are strong in social sciences, such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, have been subjected to changes that have virtually destroyed the purpose and functioning of a high quality university such as it had been four years ago.
Many recent appointments to faculty positions, made arbitrarily, are of academically substandard people, but such people can be more easily controlled by those that have the right ideological connections. If the quality of learning at university level is reduced to the lowest possible, then I fear that we are going to end up with a generation or two of virtually illiterate people.
The essence of university education is to teach students to ask questions, to enable them to question existing knowledge, and through this process of questioning, to advance knowledge. If you are going to deny that right and instead provide information in the form of predetermined questions and their answers, and that too on topics irrelevant to what is being studied, as is the absurdity of objective-type questions in literary and historical studies, then education becomes a mockery.
One may also ask why the discipline of history has become such a prime target. Those who oppose reasoned and logical analyses of the past are people who have been nurtured, on a particular view of Indian history that they use as a foundation to construct their ideology.
Their argument is that history has to demonstrate the greatness of Hindu civilisation and it has to show that the Hindu has primacy in being described as Indian. They are not very happy with those historians who refer to incidents of Hindu intolerance and violence between groups in the past, because their theory has always been that Hindus were entirely tolerant and non-violent and it was the non-Hindus that were violent and intolerant.
The other thing that they are obsessed with is the belief that Hindu civilisation or Hindu culture has to be entirely indigenous, and that the people who created this civilisation have to be born and descended from people belonging to the territory that is called India, geographically ill-defined, and seen largely as British India. Recent DNA analyses which are proving, apart from anything else, that the population of India from the earliest Harappan times, was a mixed population – some locally born and some migrants from beyond the sub-continent – is causing great grief to such thinking.
Dissent from such views is also condemned and this is not in accordance with the early Indian tradition where dissent may not have been appreciated by the orthodox but was prevalent. When one looks at the earliest philosophical tradition and the history of philosophy through the centuries, one finds that the initial turning point was in the 5th century BC or so, in the middle of the first millennium, when two traditions evolved.
There was on the one side the orthodox Vedic Brahmanical tradition that incidentally also included the somewhat questioning Upanishadic thought, not entirely in conformity with Vedic Brahmanism. And on the other side there was the anti-thesis as it were of what is called the Shramanic thinking, which included the Buddhists, the Jains, the Ajivikas, the Charvakas, all of whom were opposed to Vedic Brahmanism.
Vedic Brahmanism referred to them as the “nastikas” or the non-believers and in turn opposed them. We have to concede that there was a strong tradition of dissent, conflicting with conventional Brahmanical thought although it is the latter that has been highlighted in histories of early India.
This questioning then led to further kinds of thinking and the development of various schools of Indian philosophical thought. The fear today of what might happen to the Indian social fabric arises from the tampering with the educational system, not only in terms of the kind of people who are appointed as faculty, but also the contents of education. The tampering with the textbooks of history that is going on right now, is startling.
There are whole periods that are being quietly marginalised or misrepresented because they do not suit the ideology of those who are currently in power. This is a very serious matter. As far as we, the liberals, are concerned, it is absolutely essential that the right to dissent cannot be discarded.

Comments

TRENDING

Bharat Ratna nominee ‘joined hands’ with British masters to 'crush' Quit India

By Shamsul Islam*
The Quit India Movement (QIM), also known as ‘August Kranti' (August Revolution), was a nation-wide Civil Disobedience Movement for which a call was given on August 7, 1942 by the Bombay session of the All-India Congress Committee. It was to begin on August 9 as per Gandhi's call to 'Do or Die' in his Quit India speech delivered in Bombay at the Gowalia Tank Maidan on August 8. Since then August 9 is celebrated as August Kranti Divas.

132 Gujarat citizens, including IIM-A faculty, others declare solidarity with Kashmiris

Counterview Desk
A week after it was floated, 132 activists, academics, students, artists and other concerned citizens of Gujarat, backed by 118 living in different parts of India and the world, have signed a "solidarity letter" supporting the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), who, it claims, have been silenced and held captive in their own land. The signatories include faculty members and scholars of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A).

Plebiscite in J&K? Delhi meet demands implementation of UN 'commitment'

Counterview Desk
A citizens’ protest, organised on October 19 at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, to protest against the 75 days of “oppression” of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) saw over 200 activists, academics, intellectuals, prominent citizens, students, citizens from a large number of groups controversially appeared to suggest holding plebiscite in order to decide the future of the state.

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Without tribal consent? 1,000 of 1,700 acres 'acquired' off Statue of Unity, Narmada dam

By Our Representative 
The Gujarat government has already acquired 1,100 acres out of 1,700 acres of the tribal land of six villages – Navagam, Limdi, Gora, Vagadia, Kevadia and Mithi – for developing tourism next to the 182-metre high Statue of Unity, the world's tallest, putting at risk the livelihood option of their 8,000 residents, and is all set to acquire rest of the land, representatives of the villagers have alleged in Ahmedabad.

Cess for Gujarat construction workers: Spending less than 10%; no 'direct help' to beneficiaries

By Our Representative
While the Gujarat government’s Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, set up in 2004, as of March 31, 2019, has collected a total cess of Rs 2,097.62 crore from the the builders, it has spent less than 10% -- Rs 197.17 crore. And, as on May 31, 2019, the total cess collection has reached Rs 2,583.16 crore, said a statement issued by Bandhkam Majur Sagathan general secretary Vipul Pandya.
Pointing out that just about 6.5 lakh out of 20 lakh workers have been registered under the board, Pandya said, vis-à-vis other states, Gujarat ranks No 13th in the amount spent on the welfare of the construction workers, while 11th in the amount collected.
And while the builders are obliged to pay just about 1% of the total cost of their project, the calculation of the cess is flawed: It is Rs 3,000 per square yard; accordingly, Rs 30 per square yard is collected. “Had the cess been collected on the real construction cost, it would have been at least Rs 7,000 cr…