Be prepared for a mild shock, yes you are going to get a glimpse of an amazing change in the outlook from the most unexpected of quarters.
When years ago literary critics, and those who were interested in rationalism in their zeal for social reformation, analysed epics and legends and gave new, bold and rational interpretations, there arose a storm of protest from, everywhere.
Abuses were hurled. Curses were showered, and those who dared to be rational, were dubbed atheists.
Ramayana being the most widely understood of epics, has been critically analysed – but the orthodox section of society generated a storm of protest against those who were presenting an entirely new point of view.
Epics and legends were considered to be sacred literature, and as such a doubt expressed was considered an affront. "It is unflinching faith that should be the guiding force, not dissecting the doctrines enshrined in those goldly – books.
If something appears ludicrous, one should console himself with the thought that his mental equipment is not powerful enough to unravel the real meaning.
If some of the activities of legendary figures appear atrocious one should not be rash enough to condemn, for behind what appears to be an atrocity there might be lurking some sacred secret."
Thus argued the orthodox, and they held sway for a long time.
Now and then would arise a bold critic to evaluate the epics, and instantly there would be an outburst of opposition from the orthodox section of society. He would be silenced into submission!! Scared into submission. His motives would be doubted; scholarship ridiculed,
"Rama might be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, but some of the characters attributed to him are not noble. Some of his activities are atrocious."
When rationalists came forward with such opinions, a hue and cry would be raised, Such critics would be ridiculed – may more than that, they would be dubbed as atheists.
The rationalist had to bear the burnt of attack and sometimes the 'attack' was brutal too. But the rationalists they were of course a handful refused to submit, for they were convinced, that despite fanatic opposition, the principle of rationalism is bound to win, making adversaries become adherants.
Journals that are happy and proud in claiming kinship with the ruling party, were all along championing the cause of the orthodox section, for that section had the power in its hands to annihilate such journals. Just a stare was enough!
In the name of religion and basing their arguments on facts called from epics and legends, many were the atrocities and absurdities committed. To question was top become unpopular!
Such critics would be hounded from society.
The masses especially the illiterate would raise up their hands to high heavens and exclaim "Oh! God! Why do you allow such atheists to exist? How depraved these people are? They are impudent enough to question the Lord!"
Those who were well educated, thought that to spend one's thought over problems connected with the legends and epics and such other sacred books, was mere waste of time and energy. So they thought that those who talk and propagate rationalism are to be ignored.
"Whoever believes in what all is said in these books? To take them up as scriptures and guides, is due to ignorance and to analyse and criticise these books is foolish. The real problem of importance is, political and economic. One should be interested in the problem of the rupee, not that of Rama!" was the way of argument of the educated.
Ignored by the educated, insulted by the illiterate, it was because of their conviction that the rationalists maintained their stand unmindful of the consequences. The crusaders for social reform were abused as traitors, renegades and what not. They had to suffer many a woe and found themselves surrounded on all sides by antagonists.
If only anyone takes the trouble of analysing the trends and times, the troubles and tribulations, the tumults and taunts to be found in the public life of this state, during the last two decades, one could understand how the social reformers were engaged in a thankless job, nay a task beset with dangers, an uphill task.
Oxonians waxed eloquent about Hobbes and Lock, Rousseau and Voltaire, unfolded before assemblages the march of science and marvels of human achievement, but when they were face to face with the actualities here, they faltered, their voice became feeble, and to save their faces they simply brushed aside the problem nonohalantly.
Cantabs there were in scores, but not with the guts to expose the kant and hypocrisy committed in the name of religion.
While new and newer colleges were started throughout the length and breadth of the country, the masses and an alarming percentage of the educated classes too maintained the maxims and modes of conduct which the epics and legends advocated.
It was in such a tense atmosphere that the social reformers of the past two decades, had to grapple with problems, and get the burnt of attack. They of course did not lose heart never deviated, but carried on the cross unmindful of the jeers of the so called educated and the sneers and curses of the masses.
Many of the tenets and principles and codes of conduct urged on by epics and legends did not remain on, parchtments; alone, to be read and debated about. A host of institutions arose based on these tenets and a motley mass of rituals were to be found built up on the code of conduct enunciated in the epics.
Society itself was compartmentalised. Because of this. Castes and communities were ox'ganised, not as complementary to one another, but to fight out a battle of rivalry and mastery. Unity was jeopardised..
If only those so called 'national leaders' and the 'educated' had given their helping hand to the rationalists, their efforts would have borne fruit already and to a great extent.
But there the national leaders and educated elite failed to realise their responsibility and so we find today the bane of casteism and communalism active and mischievous; taking ugly and terrific shapes as in Jabalpur and Alighar.
On analysis dear brother, you will find a curious fact in most of the countries", nationalism becomes strong only after annihilating casteism and communalism. The case here was not so. Curiously enough, after the attainment of political freedom we find nationalism so weak, that forces of casteism and communalism have become dominant and dangerous forces to be reckoned with.
Fourteen years after the advent of Independence, we find the pitiable plight of the so called national leaders ,meeting in conference to formulate ways and means for combating communal and caste forces. Leaders of eminence have met at New Delhi, to formulate schemes for national integration.
That by itsel flaughable, but the conclusions arrived at and the suggestions advanced are more so. There is such a poverty of ideas about this problem of national integration that they thought it fit to suggest that national integration could be achieved through community singing!!
If we go through some of the remarks of, not those who do not advocate interested in national integration, we would find what a poor opinion many have got about this conference and its outcome.
Mr. V.P. Menon a civilian of out – standing eminence, Sardar Patel's sword – arm so to say, says about this conference that, Inspite of an unprecedented fanfare of publicity, its deliberations took sunk into oblivion.
Thus writes the 'Caravan' and mind you dear brother, Caravan carries no other stuff than nationalism, pure and unadulterated – yet it has to write that the conference has sunk into oblivion.
Dewan Beriadranath writing under the caption 'The Integration Conference disintegrate' in the current issue of Caravan says:
"It is all very well to 'ask every distinguished personality to speak on issues like National Integration. But it is seldom realized that just as a physics specialist can hardly pronounce judgement on biological complications, it was too much to expect men of medicine and industry to pronounce their views on main issues before the conference.
As laymen all of us have ideas on subjects ranging from rockets to romanticism. But the more distinguished we may be in our field, 'the more ludicruous ideas we are likely to have about the rest.
Unfortunately this conference to fell a victim to the half – baked ideas on specialists on subjects other than what they know. Just to accomodate this galaxy of invitees, too main issue got conveniently pushed to the background."
Dear brother; have you noted the words employed by this critic.
Half – baked ideas!
The writer has more to say:
'For nearly three and half days speaker after speaker went on diagnosing and prescribing cure for India's ills, except the one for which the conference was primarily called.'
This article, written remember, in support of National Integration points out, how woefully the sponsors, have failed to come to grips with the real problem.
"Endless verbiage was poured out, futile" 'discussions carried on, empty resolutions passed, but nothing_worth the name achieved in the process.
That is how the Editor summarise!
I was surprised and slightly elated at one of the suggestions mooted at the conference, and it was this:
"Students and teachers should be urged to propagate and practise rationalism."I am glad and any one interested in rationalism' is sure to be happy, when he is told that leaders of importance and eminence have given their support to rationalism.
Sure! But, the suggestion though sweet is slippery, for they have not made any concrete proposal for making rationalism triumphant – Without that, it is only a pious wish to be read and enjoyed wish to be read and enjoyed but not capable of yielding and tangible results.
Why they confined this mission propagation and practise of rationalism to the student world only, I am not able to understand. Why should they leave out the national leaders is, I think a pertinent and significant question.
What is to be their attitude towards the problem of rationalism? Do they not have responsibility enough to practise rationalism? Are they ? How could they dare say, they are practising rationalism. The tallest and the boldest amongst them, Pandit Nehru, attends Kumbha Melas, take part in their millions take part. in the fond hope of getting bliss conferred.
Should not Nehru correct this impression? Is it not his duty as one directing to tell them frankly that fanaticism and orthodoxy are let loose during such festivities? Should he not shun such functions, in order to make the people realise the worthlessness of such rivalries?
Pandit Nehru not only attends, but becomes jubliant and more than that he advances, aesthetic, philosophic arguments in support of such activities. How there could orthodoxy be combated?
"Ah! these DMK men would advance such fantastic views! There is no stronger rationalist than Nehru, in spite of the fact that he attends Ram Leela's and Holis." that would be the remark that any member of the ruling party would pass.
But fortunately, we happen to be in very good company, in holding this view,. The Caravan which propagates nationalism, holds a view similar to the one we hold, and writes thus,
"The celebration of Ramlila in the present form must be viewed in the context of national integration."
Why should the journal look at Ramlila with disdain. Note, dear brother, the words, Ramlila in the present form that is the point, for during Ramlila, they delight in burning the effigy of Ravana. And this, Caravan argues is an insult to a section of the people and helps to wound racial susceptibilities.
Now we are not much concerned with that argument based on race; but are immensely interested in the problem of rationalism. Should we take a legend or an epic, as a guide to out opinions and actions? No! Certainly not.
But what is Ramlila and the burning of the effigy of Ravana? The hold that epics and legends have got over the minds of the people even during the modern set up, does that show that rationalism has become triumphant? None could say so! And what does the National Integration Conference say? To propagate and practise rationalism.
Is Ramlila the proper course for making rationalism triumph? No sane man or woman would say, yes. Yet, Ramlila is celebrated, effigy of Ravan burnt, and what is worse, Pandit Nehru, the rationalist, the head of the secular state, takes part in it. It is this that the Caravan wants to be put down. Let me quote Caravan again:
If section 295 of the Indian Penal Code could be applied against the DMK in the South for burning effigies of Rama as hurting some people's religious susceptibilities, it should also be applicable to the burning of Ravan's effigies as hurting other people's racial susceptibilities. In any case Pandit Nehru's participation in Ramlila is deplorable."
Thus you find, dear brother, a remarkable change in the out – look, in the most unexpected quarters, and on the most delicate subjects. You would not have believed that arguments in defence of Ravana could be advanced from quarters other than the Self – Respect movement.
But the facts, that slowly but surely and step by step rationalism is marching along, despite marshes and mires, dangers and troubles. In fact you will be surprised to learn that the journal referred to is carrying on through its columns, a debate about the ethics of Rama's action in banishing Sita.
I am sure that the remnant of the clan, the fanatics of orthodoxy would be terrified to find out, that the pioneers of rationalism though jeered at do find today support springing up from the most unexpected quarters too.
To us too, dear brother, it causes a mild shock, for who would have expected a journal like Caravan would write.
Ravan's crime was no greater than that of Rama. What possible justification could there be to disfigure a princess (Shurpanaka, Ravan's sister) who came asking for love? Even when Ravana took away Sita as a measure of retaliation, he treated her very honorably as compared to Rama's own treatment of Sita!"
Your affectionate brother,
C. N. Annadurai
From ‘Homeland’ 26th November 1961