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

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

India sees 62 journo deaths, 4th highest, amidst pandemic: Swiss media rights body

By Our Representative The Switzerland-based media rights body Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) has noted that India is the fourth most affected country as far as mediapersons’ death on account of Covid-19 is concerned. According to Blaise Lempen, secretary-general of PEC, the global tally of casualties among media persons in the Covid-19 pandemic has reached 1,036 journalists in 73 countries till date.

Liberating Bengal Hindus? Worst flames of communal division, lessons from the past

By Shamsul Islam*  The whole thrust of the RSS-BJP election campaign for 2021 state assembly elections in West Bengal has been to save Bengal from the rule of Mamata Bannerjee who is allegedly not a ‘Hindu’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, as usual set the polarizing agenda. While addressing the first election rally, he called upon the electorate to overthrow the ‘nirmam’ (cruel) rule of Mamata by showing a ‘Ram Card’. He did not name Hindus directly but there was no confusion about the religious identity of the electorate Indian PM was addressing to.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Modi's Hindutva 'ensuring' empowerment of rich, disenfranchisement of poor

Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The Hindutva socio-psychopaths are neither nationalists nor patriotic people. These medieval reactionary forces don’t understand the idea of citizenship, justice, liberty, equality and humanism. Indian democracy is merely an electoral transaction for the Hindutva forces. Hindutva forces neither follow science nor understand the sufferings of fellow human beings. These core qualities are common among the Hindutva forces in India.

Rs 5 crore 'demand' for India Today anchor: What about 52 lesser souls who died in April?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  A well known Hindutva protagonist masquerading as journalist passed away recently resulting in messages of condolences and tribute right from the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to progressive liberals expressing grief of his untimely death. It is said that he passed away due to cardiac arrest, though the fact is, he was also Covid infected. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister termed him a ‘brave’ journalist, insisting, his passing away has left a big ‘vacuum’.

Communal rhetoric? Hindutva preached by RSS-BJP is 'monolithic', not Hinduism

By Prem Verma*  I am a devout Hindu but not a believer of RSS Hindutva form of Hinduism which brings about hatred of other religions. My Hindu religion has not taught me to look down on other religions and neither has it instilled in me to go about converting others to my religion because my religion is superior.

India's Covid-19 'nightmare': A product of majoritarian Hindutva ideological praxis?

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  Indians struggle to find place and time to bury their dead due to the devastating effects of the second wave of Covid-19 in India. The crematoriums in the capital cities are overflowing with dead bodies. People are dying without oxygen and basic medical support. The cities like Delhi and Mumbai are struggling to cope with the rising number of infections and COVID-19 led deaths. The deaths and destitutions are products of a defunct BJP government led by Narendra Modi.

Indian media persons collapsing to Covid disease as fast as 3 per day, third highest

Yogesh Sharma, Shailesh Rawal  By Our Representative  The Switzerland based media rights and safety body, Press Emblem Campaign ( PEC ) has said that it is “alarming for Indian journalists”, who have lost at least 107 colleagues to Covid-19”, noting, Indian “journo-colleagues” have been collapsing to the Covid-19 complications now as fast as three scribes per day. In a statement, PEC said, “India with 107 media corona-casualties has already placed itself on the third position just below Brazil (181 dead) and Peru (140) in the list of Covid-19 victims among journalist.”

Pradeep Bhattacharya, who spent his life for the cause of working masses, rational thinking

By YS Gill*  At 11:30 pm on May 3, 2021, I lost my best friend and comrade Pradeep Bhattacharya. He spent his life dedicated to the cause of the working masses and rational thinking. A person of thorough scientific outlook and a well-read student of Marxian thought, he was a walking encyclopedia and could speak on a wide variety of topics from art and culture to science, philosophy, history and politics.