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

Impact of state repression? Kashmir's 65% people prefer independence: Cambridge study

By Rajiv Shah 
Even as the Government of India’s controversial move to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two union territories is not only refusing to down die but has acquired international dimensions, a recent study, published by the Cambridge University Press, has claimed “pro-independence attitudes” among that 65% of Kashmiris, warning, this sentiment worsens when the state machinery resorts “repressive violence”.

Hindus to be 'sent' to Kashmir? Despite Israeli settlements, peace eludes the region

By Anand K Sahay*
Curfew, news and communications blackout, transportation shut-down... News reports from Kashmir are worrying. So are the views relayed through the media, especially television. Old-fashioned repression seems to be consorting comfortably with expressions of concern “for our Kashmiri brethren”. We are looking at Orwell’s 1984 in the making.

Dholera 'inundated': Gujarat govt tries selling low lying area as top smart city site

Counterview Desk
Even as the Dholera Special Investment Region Regional Development Authority (DSIRDA) of the Gujarat government was busy organising a junket for Gujarat-based journalists for the area sought to be sold as an ideal special investment region (SIR) for industrialists, well-known farmers' activist Sagar Rabari has wondered why no investor has so far agreed to put in money in an area situated in Ahmedabad district along the Gulf of Khambhat.

Congress' anti-democratic laws led to Modi govt's 'Constitutional' changes: Scholars

Counterview Desk
A large number of academics* said to be belonging to several Indian and international institutions, even as taking strong exception to the Narendra Modi government's alleged move to amend the Constitution through "illegitimate" means, have taken strong exception to their colleagues in academia who we have become "all too accustomed to adopting a calculated silence in the face of such indignities."

Kashmir normal? Schoolboys, teenagers being arbitrarily picked up, detained: Report

Counterview Desk
A four-person team, consisting of Jean Dr├Ęze, well-known development economist; Kavita Krishnan, who is with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist); Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA); and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), back from a five-day fact-finding mission (August 9-13) from Kashmir, has said that people they spoke to “expressed their pain, anger, and sense of betrayal against the Government of India.”
In a report, “Kashmir Caged”, released along with a short eight-minute film, they said, the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, dissolution of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and bifurcating it into two Union Territories, is not being supported by anyone they met, except for BJP spokesperson on Kashmir affairs Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, who claimed 46% vote share in J&K.
Excerpts from the report: When our flight landed, and the airlines staff announced that passeng…

Modi's Gujarati mind? Why govt move to 'sell-off' defence PSUs isn't in national interest

By Sandeep Pandey*
The Standing Committee on Defence, 2017-18, of the 16th Lok Sabha highlights the idea of Buy Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured). The Committee expressed concern over the import content of equipments produced and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories (OFs) and defence Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) because of the dependence it creates for military hardware on foreign suppliers.

Central Gujarat effluent channel 'releasing' highly polluted industrial wastewater: PM told

Counterview Desk
Senior environmentalists of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), Vadodara, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Gujarat chief minister, the Gujarat chief secretary, and senior Government of India and Gujarat government officials dealing with environment, pollution and climate change have said that the authorities’ response their pleas to take action against the leakages and flow of polluted wastewater from the effluent channels of Central Gujarat industrial areas has met with complete inertia.

Can't go to court with RTI information, rule Ahmedabad authorities: Kankaria accident

By Pankti Jog*
In a shocking reply to an application filed by me, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) authorities have said that the information provided under the Right to Information (RT) Act should be used in court or in a judicial process. The Act is known to be a major tool that enables citizens to seek certified copies of documents, records from any public authority of state and Central government within 30 days, as per provisions of the Act.

Quit India Movement 'betrayal' and dubious role of Hindu Mahasabha, RSS leaders

By Shamsul Islam*
After the recent guillotine of Article 370, Hindutva ideologue Ram Madhav, while celebrating the occasion stated that it was honouring of the sacrifices of Dr Shyam Prasad Mukherjee and thousands others who laid down their lives for its removal. It is to be noted that Dr Mukherjee was a cadre of RSS and was groomed into a Hindutva leader by another Hindutva icon, VD Savarkar.

Strategy for united struggle against Hindutva 'fascism': Ideological silence is 'no option'

By Dr Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
Electoral alliance and opportunism of national and regional political parties, neoliberal economic marginalisation and soft secular Hindutva line pandering to Hindu majoritarianism laid the foundation of Hindutva fascism in post-colonial India.