If You See A Slave Sleeping…

January 22, 2011 at 9:15 PMJan (Activism, Friends, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Theater)

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?


  1. ಜಿ.ಎನ್.ಅಶೋಕವರ್ಧನ said,

    ಎಲ್ಲಾ (ಪ್ರಜಾವಾಣಿ, ಅವಧಿ) ಒಳ್ಳೇ ತಪ್ಪಂಗಾಯಿ ಆಡ್ತಿದ್ದಾರೆ. ನನಗೆ ತಿಳಿದಂತೆ ಅಕ್ಷರ ಮಡೆಸ್ನಾನವನ್ನು ಸಮರ್ಥಿಸಿದ್ದಲ್ಲ ಅಥವಾ ಅದನ್ನು ಸಣ್ಣ ಮಾಡಿದ್ದೂ ಅಲ್ಲ. ಎರಡು ಹೀನಾಯಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಮಾಧ್ಯಮ ಕೇವಲ ಮಡೆಸ್ನಾನವನ್ನು ಹಿಡಿದುಕೊಂಡು ಮೆಲುಕಾಡಿಸುತ್ತಿದೆ. ಕ್ರಿಕೆಟ್ ಹರಾಜಿನ ಬಗ್ಗೆ (ಮಾಧ್ಯಮಕ್ಕೆ ಭಾರೀ ದೊಡ್ಡ stake ಉಂಟಲ್ಲ ಅಲ್ಲಿ. ಸುದ್ದಿ, ಜಾಹೀರಾತುಗಳ, ಭಯಂಕರ ಹಣದ ತಳಕಾಣದ ಖಜಾನೆ ಇಂದು ಕ್ರಿಕೆಟ್ ಅಲ್ಲವೆ?) ಯಾಕಿಲ್ಲ ಎನ್ನುವುದನ್ನು ಮಾಧ್ಯಮಗಳೂ ಉತ್ತರಿಸಲಾರವು, ಪ್ರತಿಕ್ರಿಯಾವೀರರೂ ಮುಟ್ಟಲಾರರು ಎಂದು ನನಗೆ ಅನ್ನಿಸುತ್ತಿದೆ. et too brute?

  2. Pushpa Surendra said,

    I was shocked to read the prajavani article by K.V. Akshara. I am happy to read your response to your article except that I would not take the Raakhi to be such a symbol of patriarchy. The custom is not oppressive to anyone except that the brother promises protection to his beloved sister. I know too many quarrelsome brothers who do not care at all for sisters but yet appropriate all the ancestral property as their own and believe it is theirs alone.

    The point is many people are beginning too now think that oppressive customs need to be defended in the name of tradition as if there are no standards of universal human behaviour. This is the argument of many in relation to human rights as well. Lee Kwan Yew used to say that Human rights is not an Asian concept. Quite often authoritarianism is justified in this manner too.

    I would be circulating your response to Akshara to people who found the article very upsetting.
    Pushpa Surendra

  3. anilpinto said,

    Sam, liked your concern, argument as well the style with which you have put forth the ideas. You are a master (sorry, this too is patriarchal) craftsman of language- a wordsmith with critical insights. I agree with and support your analysis and stand. Balagangadhara is a new phenomenon and influential one at that, both because of his academic abilities as well as economical capital he carries from EU. (If i am wrong about the economic capital, I stand corrected).

    The problem I notice is the the way they, Balagangadhara and now Akshara, (i have not had the decency to read his article yet – why don’t you provide a link to the article in your post? ) think of culture. The notion they seem to participate in is that culture is static. That there is and can be a continuous homogeity in culture of a community. This understanding is pretty my anthropological in its worldview. As opposed to their inherited notion of culture which their views reflect – which is strangely common to both colonisers as well as nationalists – it would be useful to borrow notions of culture that Tagore and Gandhi (both were similar in their notion) proposed as dynamic, responsive.

  4. Suresh Bhat said,


  5. Anil Pinto said,

    liked it

  6. suma embar said,

    I liked your article, Dear Samvartha. (fwd by pushpa surendra)
    Especially the quote by Gibran.
    I feel that dehumanising rituals should be banned or made punishable by law, however unpalatable it might be to the revivalists/ tradition upholders in the society.
    Thinkers like Akshara and BAlagangadhar seek (and sadly,get it , too) intellectual and cultural legitimacy by using borrowed tools of cultual discourse. There is nothing indigenous in their ‘vision’. They have no ear to the ground.
    It is unfortunate that the spirit and identity of kannada naadu is now a- days being represented by such thinkers. The intellectual tradition of karnataka and kannada has always upheld equality ,humanity and justice, and protested against any kind of exploitation or hegemony. The opinions of intellectuals mean nothing to the suffering people .
    -suma embar, mysore.

  7. venkataraya bhandary said,

    Dear samvartha,
    Happy to see your blog with original name back.this article is very good.u have mentioned about ‘ajalu’ system of koragas also and your friends experiences to get them into temples.see this is all because of the fact that untouchability is still practiced in a veiled way in our society.there are temples were even now food is served to one community first then others.there are’ upper caste’people(?)Who exploit the masses by giving alcohol makingthem work deny their wages ,practice ajalu and I wonder how this continues in civilized world.very good article .

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