Om Agyanaya Namah
Posted on 13-October-2019
Speaking at Mathura recently at a function to launch the distribution of kits for dealing with the foot and mouth disease, Narendra Modi quite unrelatedly to the subject of animal husbandry on which he expatiated, said that there were people in India who said uttering the mantra om or mentioning the animal cow meant going back to the 16th century. It is difficult to understand why he created such a straw man to attack except if it was for the purpose of encouraging his followers to think of a section of the Indian intelligentsia as enemies of Hinduism.
No one living in the plains of India can escape hearing the phoneme--mantra as many would prefer to call it--om. Every stanza of ritual verse, at a temple, at a private puja or at a ritual at birth, marriage or death begins and ends with this phoneme. People paint the the letter representing the sound of om at house entrances and all kinds of other places, and now even cut it into people's hair, as in the case of many of the semi-literate, under-employed directionless youth who throng an RSS or BJP gathering, that seeing the sign or hearing the sound hardly evokes any emotional response, let alone become a subject of any discourse. But if Indian universities started producing scores of doctoral dissertations on the mystical and metaphysical significance of om, or if students of science for example decided to try and prove that om and CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background radiation) were one and the same thing, that would be intellectually retrograde. It is not known if such things are already happening, but given the fact that in present day India there is no dearth of people who believe and claim that there is nothing in modern science that was not already known to and that had not already been proven by ancient Hindu rishis, and given the fact that many university positions are beginning to be filled by people who hold such beliefs but whose scholarship is dubious, it is very probable that such things might happen.
Likewise anyone living in the plains of India knows that slaughter of a cow or its progeny is not only not acceptable to but arouses strong emotions among non-dalit Hindus. Anyone with an even superficial knowledge of rural India, knows that any rural household that can afford it, keeps one or two cows or buffaloes for milk and ghee for personal consumption. It is also known that, with the slow disappearance of the bullock cart and of the ox-drawn plough, the male of the species are sold to cattle traders because it is not economical to keep them. Again for people by and large, these are part of ambient reality which no one feels uncomfortable with. But when groups of essentially lawless people, pretend Hindu zealots, attack, severely injure or kill people on the basis of rumours about beef consumption, or others transporting cattle for reasons completely unrelated to slaughter, and when the victims of such violence are invariably poor muslims--or dalits in some cases-- many Indians, many Hindus, as patriotic as any follower of BJP or RSS who proclaims his attachment to mother India at every street corner, are shocked and they express their outrage. This is not bristling at the mention of a cow but opposition to gratuitous violence against fellow human beings.
Since on the above occasion, Narendra Modi was holding forth on animal husbandry, it is necessary to mention two minor facts. Over the past few decades dairy industry in India has seen a resurgence--yet it is not as important a part of the Indian economy as in Christian France, Christian Holland or Christian Switzerland. The impetus came about five decades ago from Verghese Kurien who started his milk producers' union in Kheda district of Gujarat and his operation flood. His AMUL industry became a brand that has been replicated elsewhere in India either under the name of AMUL or Mother Dairy or other brands in other states of India. All this happened long before the rise of Narendra Modi to political power in the federal government of India and cow protection became such a fetish. Secondly, despite all the loudly proclaimed love for the cow since 2014, the number of sickly, starving, wounded cattle on the streets of India even in a state governed by a yogi has not declined. Clearly these poor sickly animals, just like the poor of the human species, go unnoticed as much by the mighty as by the holy.
In saying what he did about some people being provoked into saying that India was being taken back to the 16th century whenever they heard om or cow mentioned he was indulging in one of his usual distortions in order to make a point. One obvious purpose was to please his support base. But the other equally evident purpose was to target those individuals who habitually look at and talk about some of the dark forces that have been unleashed in India since 2014 when Narendra Modi became prime minister. For a politician whose main aim since 2014 has been to acquire ever more power, it does not matter what harm his and his followers' attitudes cause to the intellectual life of India. Within a few days of Modi's speech in Mathura, one of the vice-presidents of the BJP spoke of the need to de-Macaulayise India.
On the enemies' list of modern day votaries of BJP/RSS's hindutva, Thomas Babington Macaulay, member of the council of Governor General William Bentinck of India, is very high. A minute he recorded arguing in favour of supporting the teaching of modern subjects in Indian educational establishments became the basis of the Education Act of 1835 of the East India Company. Macaulay also argued that since at that time modern learning, acquired over the previous three hundred years, particularly in areas of knowledge dealing with facts--meaning the sciences--was accessible in the English language and not in any Indian language, English should be the medium of instruction. As a result, government budget started being spent only on educational establishments imparting modern learning in the English language. Very few people know that Ram Mohun Roy had before Macaulay put forward almost identical proposals just as he had argued for the abolition of the practice of sati--a ban made into law by the same William Bentinck.
The least that the policy of 1835 did was that it brought up in India people who inculcated the habit of dispassionate inquiry, rational thought and free thinking. As a result there were many Indians, become aware of political thought in Europe, who started asking questions about the legitimacy of British rule in India. Others took to modern science. For the first time since Brahmagupta II in the 13th century, Indian scientists burst out on world stage in the persons of Jagdish Chandra Bose, C.V. Raman, Meghnad Saha, Satyendranath Bose, S.Chandrashekhar and others less well known. In spite of the relative stagnation of science from the middle of the last century, science in India continues to flourish in areas such as nuclear energy, astrophysics, astronomy, space science and space technology. Without the opening of the mind and the cultivation of rationalist thought that started happening in the 19th century, these advances would not have been possible. Nor would the muscular Hinduism of the RSS have acquired nuclear muscles, nor would it have been possible for Narendra Modi to engage in the absurd theatrics of announcing in the middle of a busy election campaign that India had succeeded in shooting down a satellite in flight.
Followers of the RSS/BJP routinely denounce people they call Macaulay's children. If by that they only meant the thin layer of English knowing Indians, they would have some reason for denouncing them, for a very large number of English knowing Indians are sadly just mimic men. If by denouncing Macaulay's children they meant to criticise the fact that Indian schools and colleges have failed to adopt the pedagogically sound practice of teaching, including all the modern disciplines, in a child's native tongue while teaching them English as a foreign language to a degree of high proficiency starting from around the age of 12--this is what major countries like, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, Russia and others do--they would be justified. But by denouncing Macaulay's children they really mean to denounce free thinkers, critics and those intellectuals who cherish and uphold basic values of society, people who, unafraid, speak out against wielders of power when they err, people who act as conscience keepers of society. People who create and propagate myths about the past and present, people who make false claims about achievements of their government all the time--Narendra Modi was reported to have said at Sabarmati on 2nd October that India had become open defecation free--cannot possibly like critics who expose their bluff. The child who cried that the emperor had no clothes could not have endeared himself to the emperor or his courtiers. What unfortunately is happening is a concerted attack on the critical spirit, freedom of thought and on any form of creative work which questions the BJP/RSS world view. In the second millennium of the Christian era Brahmanical orthodoxy killed science and the spirit of inquiry in India. In our days the votaries of Hindutva risk taking India towards ignorance and superstition. Nothing suits those in power at present in India better than the ignorance that helps promote false historical knowledge, thereby nurturing hatred and anger towards those they claim to be enemies of Hindus and Hinduism.