While Propagating Rationalism

Datta Desai

Why were Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Comrade Govind Pansare gunned down? Not because they had adopted an insular, narrow-minded stand against another such equally insular and narrow minded position; what angered the orthodox parochial people who wanted to eliminate them, on the contrary, was the comprehensive liberal stand that they adopted and propagated.  In order to understand this trend, one has to examine the tendency to vertically divide as rationalists or a rationalist tradition on one side and non-rationalists on the other while trying to understand the vast nature of Bharateeya Rationalism. This kind of division only helps the traditionalists. The vertical divider is of course erected by the traditionalists themselves. It is therefore necessary to explore the fundamental nature of the broad Indian Rationalism as also the altercations as well as the give and take between rationalists and dogmatists/traditionalists.

The following three points will help us understand it. The first: The legacy of Indian rationalism is not restricted to India but has a worldwide dimension. Even prior to the rationalism enunciated by Ajit Keshkambal or Gautam Buddha there was regular exchange of thought and goods between the Greeks and Indians as well as between the Chinese and the Indians. The Indians borrowed Astrology and sculpture from the Greeks. Similarly the Indian Philosophy contributed to Greek philosophy and borrowed the theory of Atomism from the Greeks. In modern times, however, the process of bringing together the fundamental science of philosophy and Rationalism, science and culture and rationalism and sentiments as also separating them began on a large scale.

Science is then said to be value neutral i.e. independent of values, it does not discriminate between right and wrong or good and bad, it is also indifferent towards emotions and sentiments; but reason is considered part of philosophical thinking as well as emotions, sentiments and human art and culture; and in the same breath it is maintained that -reason should have priority over emotions and science should be accompanied by reason. This is a big predicament. It occurred because as science evolved in Europe in the modern times, it was accompanied by rationalism also, and the first war it had to fight with was the Christian Religion. Ironically Science, itself evolved within the Church. The Church therefore had to pronounce science to be autonomous later, as, it was not possible for the Church to call it secular. This concept later proved very helpful for the development of capitalism. Capitalism needs non-ethical ideas and views. In reality science cannot remain indifferent to ethics or devoid of any philosophy. When one considers the way science has progressed during the last two and a half centuries and especially the modern science of the 20th, the hidden fundamental philosophical principles and values become obvious which one has to extract out. Considering this fact, it has now become necessary to redefine the concepts of science, scientific outlook and rationalism and while doing so, we will have to stress the approach that is inclusive of human emotions sentiments and values. Such efforts are being made all over the world. In the Indian traditions too this tendency of thinking is always noticed. Of course one has to look for it rationally   and with scientific outlook. For, traditions are contaminated with mysticism, casteism and male prejudice and bigotry. While achieving inclusivity, one has to be also cautious of the fact that science is affected by rationalism; culture affects science and rationalism and they both affect culture. Thus culture is constantly under the pressure of this confrontation as well as give and take. Something creative can develop as a result. This is important, for, otherwise we may get stuck into our niche adopting a negative approach.

Culture that is part of our thought and deeds now needs to be minutely scrutinised. We are already at it; yet it needs to be properly examined also at cerebral level. Let us take the example of the Indian festivals. These festivals fulfil various human needs. One is human urge to rejoice festivity, second is the material component related to the cycle of agricultural produce, the third is faith and rituals and the forth is the need of an outlet for the human creativity, excitement and enthusiasm. Taking these aspects of festivals into consideration one should refrain from outright condemnation of the festivals and think how to remove the mystic, constrained and unwise – also exploitative – portion of it. Or else we will have to find rational alternatives for them. We should be concerned with all this and it should be the main objective of our care, contemplation and action. For example, the position ‘ANiS’ adopted to stop throwing Puranpoli into the Holi Fire and also discontinue the traditional immersion of Ganesh idols into water polluting the water resources.  Similarly ‘Bharat Dnyan Vidnyan’ adopted a stand ‘Books instead of Crackers’ in order to see how the harmful unnecessary, polluting and irrational part of ‘Diwali Celebrations’ can be discontinued helping people to enjoy much more the remaining lot of it.

We need in short to start discriminating, observing minutely and thinking profoundly. We need to go beyond simply emphasizing the difference between Reason and Unreason. What we need is a fresh outlook on religion. The stand taken by Mahatma Phule, Nyayamoorti  Ranade, Mahatma Gandhi, V. R. Shinde, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Pandit Neharu and Bhagat Singh regarding religion needs to be minutely appraised. To divide vertically into categories as Fanatics, irrational religionists and secularists is neither reasonable enough nor scientific. While considering the socio-cultural life on a vast scale, it is necessary to reach beyond these divisions.

Religion can be divided into 4/5 streams. Those belonging to the first stream are religious, believers or ‘Sanatani’ (Orthodox) as Gandhiji called them. (They, of course, are not the ‘Sanatan Prabhat’ type.) They respect ancient, orthodox values. They are religious revivalist. The second stream consists of religious reformers and propagators of new religion. The religion they propagate may be ‘Sarvajanik Satyadharma’ of Mahatma Phule or ‘Navabauddha Dharma’ of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Although these two are not popular in India today, they may become prominent tomorrow. They are Liberation Theology as is witnessed in Latin America. Pope Francis occasionally uses their idiom. It means liberating, confronting or reforming society with the help of religion. The third stream is of secular, non-religionists, atheists or Humanists going beyond religion. They are not just atheist but they go beyond atheism and claim that they are humanist who want to enhance the values stipulated by religion. In the fourth stream are religious fanatics, terrorists and extremists. It is extremely necessary to take a firm stand against their leaders and their bases. Yet many among them need awakening of their reason. But the crux of the problem is how to establish contact with them. The latest example is the four youth who were trying to escape from here and join the ISIS but were arrested by the Mumbai police.

It is extremely important to establish communication with such youths, of any religion, who are turning towards fanatic organizations and reform them awakening their reason. This cannot be achieved through force. But it is evident that the police are not able to find and arrest them as they have not yet found the killers of Dr. Dabholkar and Comrade Pansare. They should instead wean away these wayward youth through dialogue from their chosen path of violence in the name of religion. In an advanced society the function of the police should be not just maintaining law and order but to act as a guides and counselors. Social organizations too ought to address this problem.

Crores of people belong to the first three streams and they offer tremendous scope for social reformers. The social reformers should try to relate to these crores of people, teach them to use their own faculty of discretion, find which paths in religiosity can lead them to reason, and also befriend all organizations and movements that are engaged in awakening reason. How to lead these misled youth more and more towards secularism and rationalism should be our constant concern and endeavour. Many doubt whether we should dream big in such dire state of affairs prevalent today. A long period where the small dreams of the toiling masses, and of the common people making a big dream and realising that big dream with the help of rational and scientific outlook is just round the corner when  reason and scientific outlook will be awakened, our culture will progress and advance and our dreams will materialize.

Translated by Ms Suman Oak