The Childishness of So-Called Rationalists Like KS Bhagavan

These people are stuck with the idea that religious texts have to be accepted or rejected in toto. Why is that? Why can’t you take stuff which you think is good, and leave out the rest? Why act as if it’s take-all or leave-all? Why act like children?

There seems to be something wrong with those who call themselves rationalists in Tamil Nadu and their friends in Karnataka. Today, I was shocked to read what Prof KS Bhagavan and others had to say during a meeting organized on Periyar’s birthday celebration in Bengaluru (Udayavani, 19 Sept 2015).

In short, they seem to equate rationalism with rejecting everything Hindu.

If you’ve read The Pyramid of Corruption or some of my articles on Hinduism, you know that I am myself a critic of how Hinduism handles society – the caste system in particular. But that doesn’t mean I hate everything Hindu. For example, I have always considered the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita, etc., as the leading lights of human life. Even that doesn’t mean I take everything they say literally. I always put them to my own tests – both spiritual and worldly – before accepting or rejecting them.

In fact, I shouldn’t say “accepting or rejecting them” because true learners don’t simply accept or reject anything in its entirety. If you’re open to learning, everything and everyone has something to teach. Therefore, I should only say “accepting or rejecting what you read in them”.

I’m stressing on this because this is exactly where, I think, the so-called rationalists are going totally wrong. By making statements such as “Rama wasn’t born to his father, so don’t worship Rama” (attributed to KS Bhagavan by the Kannada daily Udayavani), these people are making a mockery of their own religion: atheism.

A good atheist would never make such a statement. He’d question who Rama is, why he should be called God, who God is, and so on and so forth, and if he can’t reconcile the data using the scientific method, he’d walk away saying it’s all nonsense.

But this is not what these so-called rationalists are doing. They’ve reduced atheism to hatred of everything Hindu – a hatred they’re willing to spread by making stupid statements like the one above. Why is it stupid? Because it makes no difference who Rama was born to, or even whether he was born at all.

I’m reminded of the Kannada hymn “Neenyaako ninna hangyaako” in which Purandara Dasa sings, so beautifully, that the name of the Lord suffices for the devotee; the Lord himself is redundant. None of this, of course, makes sense to people who don’t understand or who haven’t experienced first-hand the psychological power of chanting.

The living Guru of all atheists, Richard Dawkins, doesn’t go about asking people to stop following Jesus because he was supposedly born to a virgin. He asks them not to follow because the whole theory about God as put forth in the Bible doesn’t fit together according to Dawkins. I’m saying ‘as put forth in the Bible’ on purpose, because it’s completely different in the Upanishads, the Gita, etc.

I asked Richard Dawkins once on twitter what he thinks of the concept of God in these texts, and he had no answer. It ended up bolstering my feeling that what they call as atheism is nothing but the denial of the Christian and Islamic idea of God.

The God of the Upanishads and the Gita cannot be denied. That’s because that which you’d have to deny is everything, including the denier and the act of denial. I wrote about this in an article titled The Irrelevance of Atheism for the Upanishadist.

By the way, I don’t think Rama is worth worshipping either, but that’s for a completely different reason: there’s nothing to learn from him and I can’t imagine worshipping someone I can’t learn from. If you haven’t realized, there’s no such thing called Rama’s teaching. Unless, of course, you include in that term the teaching given to Rama in various places including the Ramayana itself and the Yogavasishtha.

Krishna I do consider worth worshipping (which is another big word, by the way), and that’s again because he’s a great teacher. He’s the teacher (not the taught) in that great text, the Bhagavadgita. I don’t mean to say Krishna was an actual person – it doesn’t matter. What matters is his teaching. Nor do I mean that I accept everything Krishna says – even this doesn’t matter. Does he teach stuff which is worth learning? Yes, yes, yes, much more than anyone else from my point of view, and so I find him worthy of worship.

Coming back to KS Bhagavan & Co, the problem with them, in summary, is that they’re stuck with the idea that religious texts have to be accepted or rejected in toto. Why is that? Why can’t you take stuff which you think is good, and leave out the rest? Why act as if it’s take-all or leave-all? Why act like children?

A Point-By-Point Rebuttal of Mr. Hitesh Shankar’s Editorial in the Panchajanya

Mr. Shankar says those who oppose Hindi (imposition) are creating vaimanasya about Hindi – and I read it as difference of opinion about Hindi. If his point is that there was an existing opinion about Hindi which the anti-impositionists want changed, he’s absolutely right. Yes, we want to change what people are thinking about Hindi, because they’re thinking wrong. For example, they — and that includes Mr. Shankar — think Hindi is India’s national language (rashtrabhasha) but that’s incorrect, even unconstitutional. We want to fix this misunderstanding in people. Yes, we want to bring this vaimanasya about.

It was quite an effort for me to understand Mr. Hitesh Shankar’s editorial in the RSS’s Hindi-language mouthpiece panchajanya. I hadn’t read any Hindi in some twenty years. It’s a foreign language for me and some 65 million people around me, so I couldn’t exactly call up someone and ask what words like labaadaa or aguaa mean. With whatever Hindi I’ve been force-fed at school (as third language) and what I’ve managed to gratefully learn from my friends when I was at IIT Delhi, it took some ten hours for me to say ‘I think I know where this is going’.

Before I comment on where I think it’s going, I’d like to explain something obvious, viz., why this article is in English, another foreign language. I have to do this because I’m sure to get asked.

First, I’m writing in English because you’re reading this, and it’s you who I want to reach out to with this article. Even those who think it’s hypocritical to call Hindi foreign from within an English article are reading this. Second, if I write this only in my mother tongue, Kannada, I’ll lose 95% of my readership in India (Kannada speakers are roughly 5% in India). Third, if I write this in Hindi, you won’t (or rather can’t) read it: it’d be close to Greek to you. Is the train male or female? What about animals? Do they have gender? All of them? But let me still make an offer for anyone willing to publish a Hindi version of this article from me: just let me know. I’d love to take up the challenge on condition that publication is certain.

These are the facts. There’s close to four hundred years of history of English imposition on Kanandigas. It’s deeply entrenched in education and employment. Hindi imposition, unfortunately for Hindiwallahs like Mr. Shankar, is too recent. What’s worse, it’s being tried in a free country. Independence, as Mr. Shankar would tend to agree, has come.

Let me come to the editorial in question.

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Right off the bat, Mr. Shankar makes it clear that he cannot differentiate between Hindi imposition and Hindi. Non-Hindi speakers are opposed to the former, Mr. Shankar, not the latter. Why would anyone oppose Hindi, or Greek or Zulu or whatever? But come knocking on my door and tell me your language is more national or official than mine, and I oppose that with all my might. So my humble request to Mr. Shankar is that he should understand what non-Hindi speakers are opposed to. Not keep going on and on about what he thinks they oppose because it’s easier to tackle.

Mr. Shankar says those who oppose Hindi (from now on, I take it as those who oppose Hindi imposition) are creating vaimanasya about Hindi – and I read it as difference of opinion about Hindi. If his point is that there was an existing opinion about Hindi which the anti-impositionists want changed, he’s absolutely right. Yes, we want to change what people are thinking about Hindi, because they’re thinking wrong.

For example, they — and that includes Mr. Shankar — think Hindi is India’s national language (rashtrabhasha) but that’s incorrect, even unconstitutional. We want to fix this misunderstanding in people. Yes, we want to bring this vaimanasya about.

Next, Mr. Shankar’s thinks those who oppose Hindi imposition are proponents of English who want to make Indian languages fight amongst themselves and ensure that the position of rashtrabhasha is left empty. Both these allegations are false.

First, those who oppose Hindi imposition don’t do it to promote English. As a Kannadiga, I don’t even want to use a language other than Kannada. It’s India and its political and economic policies which force me to use another language.

If Kannadiga politics and economics didn’t have non-Kannadiga stake-holders like Mr. Shankar, I wouldn’t give a damn about any language other than Kannada. Yes, there’d even be IIT Dharwads which run entirely in Kannada. The foreign language I’m forced to use is English and not Hindi because, as I said earlier, it’s been imposed on my people for some three or four centuries more than Hindi.

Theoretically, it’s possible to convert Kannadigas like me over to Hindi with another three or four centuries of Hindi imposition. But theoretically, Kannadigas are not colonial subjects anymore.

Second, it’s outrageous to think that those who tweeted #StopHindiImposition want to make Indian languages fight with each other. In fact, those who tweeted that hashtag illustrated an idea of India which the RSS is alien to: Indians speaking multiple languages coming together without wiping off their own linguistic identities and, in fact, asking for linguistic equality.

I think it’s a pity that they had to come together for something negative such as “stop” this or that, but hey, how about “quit” as in Quit India?

Finally, even the allegation that anti Hindi-impositionists want the position of rashtrabhasha to be empty is wrong. No. They want every Indian language mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to take this position. Since wiping off diversity is central to the ideology of his school, Mr. Shankar speaks as if the question of language in India is a bipolar one involving only Hindi and English. But that is exactly what it isn’t from the point of view of the anti-impositionists. For them, the question is of every language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

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Moving on, Mr. Shankar claims that the anti-impositionists are afraid of some strange power of Hindi. Which power? The power to bind India together (with one rope or whatever it is). Why are they afraid of this? Because they want to imprison (not bind) India using the chains (not rope) of the language of dependence, viz., English. Wow.

First of all, Hindi has no such power. It is this kind of Hindi chauvinism which is creating fights within India, not those who oppose it. Let me repeat this: Hindi is foreign to most of India. The Gujarat High Court recently made it very clear that Hindi is foreign in Gujarat. By induction, that applies to most of India. If Hindi continues to be imposed on non-Hindi people, that by itself has the power to destroy India. The more people like Mr. Shankar think Hindi can unite India, the more division actually happens on the ground.

Secondly, I’ve already made it clear that anti-impositionists use English not because they want to replace Hindi with English but because they want their language to get the same status as Hindi. They use English for the reasons that I’m writing this article in English (which I’ve already explained).

Also, Mr. Shankar’s metaphorical statement that anti-impositionists want to imprison India using the chains of the language of dependence, English, is a very serious allegation on them. Metaphors make the mind imagine. When those minds are allowed to imagine in only one direction, they imagine a lot of wrong things in that direction including, for example, that the anti-impositionists are funded by the Western Church. It’s so easy for numbed minds in Mr. Shankar’s audience to come to this utterly false conclusion. His metaphorical language hasn’t ruled it out.

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Next, Mr. Shankar claims that English cannot fight with Hindi head on. That bloody language of General Dyer doesn’t have an iota of the courage. It’s kabaddi time now, so remember Bharat must win.

Here, of course, Mr. Shankar is on the right path inasmuch as some parts of North India, which speak Hindi, are concerned. It would be idiotic to think English can win the kabaddi match against Hindi there.

But Mr. Shankar displays the exact same idiocy when he talks as if he can cover all of India by mentioning one language, Hindi. No, Mr. Shankar, Hindi is not the language of all of India. If Hindi and English are the only two languages allowed to play the kabaddi match in (say) Karnataka, I’d even go to the extent of saying that Bhaiyya migrants in Bengaluru suffice to destroy English. But hello, who said only Hindi and English are allowed to play the match?

There’s this thing called Kannada, remember? If Kannada is allowed to play the match, which is what the anti-impositionists are campaigning for, farmers in Bidadi suffice to destroy English (and the Bhaiyyas would be happy to join in with the farmers, speaking in Kannada themselves).

But Mr. Shankar isn’t ideologically open to the possibility of Kannada attaining adolescence in Karnataka (or Tamil in Tamil Nadu, and so on) so he moves on to talk of how the language of those cowards who ruled us for three centuries, English, trembles in front of the “family of Indian languages whose aguaa is Hindi”. What’s an aguaa? I googled. According to The Telegraph of Kolkata, that means leader or patriarch. Nice on the swayamsevak’s ears, but outrageous in reality.

First of all, there isn’t one family of Indian languages. There are at least four: Indo Aryan, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, and Austro-Asiatic. Hindi sits in the Indo Aryan and my language, Kannada, in the Dravidian. We should really talk about families, not family.

But let’s relax the rules here a bit. Since families can be imagined across matrimonial lines in metaphorese, let me also use the term “family of Indian languages”. Okay, now what? How did this family suddenly get an aguaa called Hindi? With about three hundred years of history, Hindi is more like the bollywood-softporn-intoxicated new kid on the block compared to Kannada, Tamil, etc. Writing in these languages has a history of some one and a half thousand years. Now imagine speech. With such languages in India, how did Hindi become the aguaa? By the power of the imposer’s imagination, of course.

In reality, English trembles not in front of Mr. Shankar’s imagined aguaa but the multiple real aguaas already listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Needless to say, his next point that those who oppose his pet imagined aguaa want to divide “the Indian language family” by way of using English should now appear meaningless to the reader.

We don’t want to divide “the Indian language family”. We want to constitutionally uplift every member of that family to the status of rashtrabhasha where now an imagined aguaa sits after having entered it through the back door.

*

The metaphor thickens. Mr. Shankar moves on to point out that Hindi cannot become an opponent of Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, or Bengali. In which way? In exactly the same way as Ganga cannot become an opponent of Yamuna, Kaveri, Godavari, Narmada or Teesta.

Nice try, Mr. Shankar, but your metaphor is badly chosen. Rivers don’t oppose each other, of course, but rivers don’t flow into each other’s homes either. Given that your idea of India requires one particular language to flow into the home of every other language, you should’ve been more careful.

If the Ganga comes to Karnataka claiming it’s home, it’s a disaster Karnataka can’t recover from. You’re advocating for the Ganga of Hindi coming to Karnataka (it’s a disaster in progress) but do you realize that the Kaveri of Kannada isn’t welcome in Delhi? Do you realize that if this continues, Kannada will have no home? You might realize but not care because you think it’s a small price for Bharat Mata’s children to pay, but we don’t think like that. We think that idea of India which requires us to sacrifice our language must lose.

When you mess with the natural boundaries of languages, there’s opposition. You get mountains on the way. You get deserts, forests on the way. Every stone, every grain of sand, every thorn tells you to back off, but if one is blinded by a false ideology like that of Mr. Shankar, one tends to continue with brute force.

Continuing with the editorial, Mr. Shankar writes, redundantly, that there’s no hatred for her sister languages in “Hindi’s mind”. Needless to point out, the idea that languages have minds is mindless. It’s people who have minds, and it’s people who have the power to make one language take over its sisters’ homes and make them die a slow death.

And you know what, Hindi is spoken all over India. Suddenly. Just like that. To hell with the census and all that. Mr. Shankar just knows these things off the top of his topi. And this aguaa is so good to its sister languages that it happily borrows from — and this is his full list — Gujarati, Bengali, and Marathi. Even assuming it does, why should Kannadigas and Tamils feel happy if one foreign language borrows from three other? In fact, why should even Gujaratis, Bengalis and Marathis feel happy that Hindi uses words from their languages? Does that help their own languages grow, or does it help Mr. Shankar’s aguaa grow? Which one should they care for?

Now this generous-borrower aguaa, says Mr. Shankar, is very powerful. Bow, ye young men, power cometh. It’s so powerful that it’s beaten English black and blue when it comes to news, advertisements, market, politics, etc.

What Mr. Shankar conveniently stops short of mentioning is where. Where does Hindi beat English in these fields? In Karnataka? In Tamil Nadu? In Kerala? In West Bengal? In Gujarat? In Maharashtra? Aren’t these states part of India? Does Mr. Shankar have even a glimpse of ground realities in non-Hindi states? It’s surprising that such an empty narrative passes off as intelligent in the alma mater of the party running the central government today.

To set the record straight, let it be known to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that it’s Kannada in Karnataka, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, Bengali in West Bengal, and so on, which beat English black and blue, not Hindi. The language of the common man is winning the kabaddi match against English in the states, but Mr. Shankar’s aguaa theory won’t change just because there’s data. In fact, he doesn’t seem to differentiate between “language of the common man” and Hindi. It’s a sort of blindness.

*

Now comes the policy guideline. If Hindi is so powerful, as you’ve already learnt by now, then why should anyone fear for it? Mr. Shankar answers his own question by returning to his two-language theory: we should fear because English still lurks in colonial institutions such as the judiciary. Therefore, says Mr. Shankar, the work in front of us is to get rid of English in all those colonial institutions and posit Hindi everywhere. Fine prescription except for the fact that the anti-impositionists want their languages to take English’s position in their respective states. Not another foreign language. Not again. Not in a free nation.

But of course, the plural in “languages” is antinational for Mr. Shankar. He didn’t salute the Sangh’s flag shaakhaa after shaakaa to talk plural. So he claims that the constitution had originally intended to end English’s career in India by replacing it with “the svabhaashaa” by 1965. The words in quotes, of course, mean “our own language”, and one tends to think that means “our own language”. But Mr. Shankar means Hindi. Yes, after all else has failed, Mr. Shankar seems to be left with no option but to simply inject the meaning “our own language” into the word Hindi. By just calling Hindi as the svabhaasha, he hopes it becomes that. If only it were that simple!

To set the record straight, the constitution had intended to use Hindi everywhere instead of English, no doubt, but it didn’t call Hindi everyone’s svabhaashaa. Not that the anti-impositionists agree with what the constitution wanted to do, though.

Finally, Mr. Shankar openly calls the anti-impositionists as anti-nationals who remain even 68 years after independence. They’re Britishers who must go, that is. These elements have to be identified and “the problem solved”, he says. Why? Because strengthening Hindi is strengthening India. In fact, other Indian languages (like Kannada) tremble in front of English but find solace in Hindi, so it’s all the more important to give Hindi a “place of pride” in policymaking.

I’m like: “Hello! In which world do you live?”