It was shocking to read an article in the Sunday magazine of a major Kannada daily. As I have been travelling I got to know about this article quite late. It was a friend who drew my attention to this article which softly defends the ritual of ‘made snana’ where devotees roll on the left over food, in the name of right to belief.
Few weeks ago I had read an article on the same lines on the same issue in the blog of a ‘research’ centre in Karnataka. But that was quite an expected stand from that ‘school’ of thought which thinks its path is that of de-schooling. But this article came as a shock because this was written by a sensible and respected author.
I must accept that I am not too familiar with the ritual of ‘made snana’ but from whatever I know I have come to a conclusion that it shames human dignity. I am told, by one of the most respected progressive thinkers in Kannada, that this ritual is not imposed by Brahmins on the lower caste people and that even the upper caste people practice this ritual.
The author of the article says that any action becomes oppressive or below human dignity only if the body and mind involved in the action feels so and argues that such a ritual should not be questioned as it is a matter of belief and this belief system appears oppressive and regressive only to the observers and not the practitioners.
Very interestingly the author juxtaposes the ritual of ‘made snana’ with the auctioning of IPL players and says that the media and minds which oppose ‘made snana’ did not oppose the auctioning of human beings because of a colonial after-effect which makes us look at the local cultures as oppressive and regressive and not the ones driven by market and capitalist forces. I wonder why the author looks both the examples as different! To me both are below human dignity and both need to be opposed and banned. But the author, don’t know why, chose to look at the two examples as different and silently and softly attempts to convince that the ritual is acceptable as it is associated with the belief of the practitioners.
There is a tribal community named Koraga. There is a ritual where the Koraga people are made to eat rice mixed with the hair, phlegm, urine and saliva of the upper caste people. This is to transfer the diseases of the upper caste to the lower caste. Sadly the Koraga people believe that they were born to eat rice mixed with the waste of the upper caste and liberate them from their diseases. It is, no doubt, a ritual which is slaughters human dignity even when the Koraga people do not think or feel so. They think it is their duty and the very cause of their birth. They believe so, I believe, because they have been, over the years, made to believe so. Do we defend such a ritual in the name of belief? Or do we oppose it because it is as inhumane as the IPL auction and the ‘made snana’ ritual?
An activist friend once told me that he came across a child who was seriously unwell and needed quick medical help. The life itself was under threat. But the parents were taking the child to a temple and not to the doctor. When my friend insisted that the child be taken to the hospital and not to a temple the parents asked who was more concerned about the child, they- the parents- or the activist friend of mine. Do we defend the decision of the parents because it stems from their belief system? And let the child lose its life? Do we neglect the arguments of my friend just because he is an outsider and a non participant in the action?
Another activist friend of mine narrated an incident where he and his team of youths mobilized the ‘untouchable’ people and finalized on a date for temple entry. The ‘untouchable’ were charged up and all set to enter the temple. But on the decided date the ‘untouchables’ stopped when they all neared the temple because they, suddenly, felt that the God would feel offended if they entered the temple. They, deep from inside, believed that they were ‘untouchables’ and God created them so and hence they were not supposed to enter the temple. Do we let them be outside the temple (for now let us park aside the argument whether the untouchables are a part of Hinduism and related issues) because they themselves feel and believe that they are not supposed to enter the temple? If yes, then would any reformation any revolution possible? Isn’t such a stand supporting and protecting the existing system which is too oppressive in nature?
Few months ago when I met a friend of mine after a long time she asked me what was the ‘thread’ that was tied on my right forehand. I said it was, ‘raakhi’ associated with the ritual of ‘raksha bandhan’. My friend asked me, “Don’t you think it is quite a patriarchal thing?” I had smiled and said, “The emotions of my sister is associated and I am quite attached to my sister and don’t want to hurt her emotions by not letting her tie the raakhi.” Listening to my explanation and justification my friend said, “Because you are attached to your sister and respect her emotions don’t you think you must make her understand that this ritual is patriarchic in nature?” I had no answer, as I felt that my friend made sense.
In one of his poems the man from Lebanon, Kahlil Gibran has the following beautiful lines-
They tell me: if you see a slave sleeping
Wake him not lest he be dreaming of freedom.
I tell them: If you see a slave sleeping
Wake him up and explain to him freedom.
During the freedom movement while opposing the Colonial regime many went back to the so called great Indian culture, reinvented it, reinterpreted it to mobilize people and motivate them to fight the colonial power. But such a stream of thought made us blind to the darkness under the ‘bright’ lamp of the great Indian culture. Today while trying to oppose the colonial viewpoint of ‘self’ we are trying to repeat the same, in different ways and through different arguments, to justify everything that is native. This would be nothing but a self defeating step, as I see it, which will dehumanize ourselves and our society by strengthening the existing regressive forces.
Few weeks ago there was an intellectual debate and discussion in Mangalore where S.N. Balagangadhara presented his viewpoints, about which we all know. Opposing his take Pattabhirama Somayaji, then and there, said that Balagangadhar’s thesis had words and arguments which did not consider the lives of human beings and human experience. What would knowledge and words be if divorced from human experience be but inhumane?
The rebel musician Hanns Eliser while speaking of popular music and culture, in one of his writings, says that these popular music and culture serve as narcotics to the working class. While understanding that the working class finds a need for such an opium, Eisler draws our attention to what this opium final serves. It only energizes the working class to refuel themselves for the work next morning and help the oppressive class to make profit. Isn’t religion also an opium, as Marx said? Aren’t rituals and belief systems attached to religion also such narcotics? Should the slave be left to dream of freedom in his sleep? Or should he be woken up and explained freedom?