5 December 2016

Anthems as Means and Ends

    Respected Supreme Court Judges,
    I use the word ‘respected’ in earnest. No one has ordered me to respect you, at the threat of arrest or punishment; yet I feel respect for you, even though I am seated and not standing or saluting. As judges, you are educated intellectuals who have accepted an important responsibility in society, and I value that. But sirs, please note this: you have earned my respect by simply being human beings, that is sufficient. Your being in important positions only strengthens my expectations from you, of responsible guidance and wise counsel. And when there is a shortage in the fulfillment of those expectations, there will naturally be letters addressed to you, and this is one such.
    Since the workload at courts is excessive, you may have missed reading about many foolish acts perpetrated by state and non-state actors in recent times with very negative consequences. Let me give you three examples: A great resurgence of yoga and ayurvedic holistic treatment has been underway in this country (and outside) for more than a decade now, in a very organic way. Suddenly, the ministry of HRD orders that yoga shall be made compulsory in schools, and immediately, we have a completely avoidable confrontation, which took away the shine from something good which was flowering. A second example: did you see the tremendous, spontaneous, cross-religious crowds at Anna Hazare’s aandolan a few years ago? It was a defining moment in this country’s social-political movement, and every meeting began and ended with patriotic slogans, including ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, as a matter of course. Suddenly, some politicians began to say that this should be compulsory, everyone must chant this slogan when demanded, thus generating conflict and nullifying what society had achieved organically on its own steam. And a third example: the knowledge base which is part of the movement of Indian tradition, which drives the livelihoods of farmers, artisans, vaids, etc., is something which hundreds of researchers, experts, NGOs and alternate schools have been gathering data on and publicizing for the benefit of everyone. Suddenly, a few ministers with no knowledge on these matters start to make fantastic claims of India having an aeroplane a thousand years ago. And with this nonsense, they mix up other perfectly legitimate things such as the pioneering Indian work in mathematics and astronomy, the Indian experience with plastic surgery, and the great uses of cow urine in plant, animal and human disease treatment. The flippant and foolish way in which these ignorant people made these claims has actually set back the work of the people doing real work on the important subject of traditional Indian knowledge systems.
    Surely, if you had been aware of these foolishly reckless acts and their very negative consequences – all in the name of patriotism and nationalism – you would have provided us better counsel than to force the national anthem to be played in movie halls, and for those present to compulsorily stand, to ‘show respect’. This has lit an unnecessary fire. Sirs, respect, when understood, simply happens, it is not demanded or enforced. If you feel that a large section of the population has not understood what respect is, then that is the work of education, not of the courts. As a partial resident of Mumbai, let me tell you that movie halls in this city have had such a practice for many years now. The national anthem is played before every show – most people quieten down and stand, voluntarily, and are seen to be respectful. And now your order is going to have its negative consequences, because the voluntary spirit has great value, the dominated and fearful spirit has none.
    If you truly wish that others should follow the physical act of standing up, please do so yourself with full feeling for the country. Even if only a handful of people are inspired by that, please do not think that is less. The truly important changes in society happen when one’s behaviour inspires others – that is the Indian way – and not through forcible law, which is the colonial way of thinking. So regretfully, your ruling, though done with ‘patriotic’ motive, is actually a most non-Indian act, because it simply imitates the Roman-law method of crime and punishment. This bring us to an important Gandhian principle of means and ends. You cannot use foreign means to achieve an Indian end, you cannot use dictatorial means to achieve republican ends, you cannot use the means of domination to achieve the ends of harmony. You cannot imitate Trump and make India great again. By these means, you can only make India an imitator of the west, a clone of the west. The means decides the ends.
    It may interest you to know, sirs, that in India, the concept of nation or ‘rashtra’, ascertained through geographical boundary, has never been important; it is desh and samaj, recognised through its spiritual, cultural and aesthetic content, which have been the keystone principles. Your order has strengthened a foreign concept of ‘nation’ and this is of great concern to us, because after our economists and politicians, it appears that even our judges are trapped in a foreign mindset.
    Hey Ram, I pray for the onset of wisdom in this beautiful land.
    Rajan Venkatesh/.

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