Holding on the Shoulders the Flag of Prudence

Anil Pundlik Gokhale

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”

Bertrand Russell

Journey of an Investigator of Truth

Vivekachi Pataka Gheu Khandyavari, by Dr. Narendra Dabholkar (hence onwards: ND) identifies this book as journey or pilgrimage of investigation. A March by holding on the shoulders the flag of prudence. March through a thickest dark forest of blind faith with no light around. He and his fighting organization ANIS have assumed the role of torch bearers holding prudence as its flag and courage as its only arsenal and weapon to fight. Practiced Religion, the sum total of rituals and practices couched in Blind Faith was the target of this relentlessly working Rationalist-Activist and above all social scientist’s campaign. ND as investigator was firmly entrenched in to rebellious and devotional ethos of saint movement and guided by rationalist tradition of Vitthal Ramji Shinde, Mahatma Phule, M.G. Ranade and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Review of this book is dedicated to the courage of this investigator who in his fight against blind faith discovered that this path leads into fight against the close collusion between Religious and Political Power.

He was a lucid writer and courageous logician and both these qualities are visible on every page and paragraph of this book. The intellectual means of argumentation and tools he used to counter the blind faith in open public confrontations with the opponents were devised by himself and were sourced from experimental advances in Natural and social sciences. ND’s imagined pilgrimage in the book in each chapter delivers intellectual impact and blows through quotes by Saint Tukaram & Dr. Ambedkar.

Aims, Objectives and Structure of the Book

The book begins with ND’s Introduction to 36 chapters and packed in 166 pages. ND identifies this as ‘Chatusutri’ i.e. with four pronged objectives. One – Fight against Exploitative and misguiding Superstitions. Two – Awakening and pursuit of Scientific Views and investigation of events; Three –Practical, constructive and positive Diagnosis of religion, fourthly, awakening trans-religious awareness.

This journey includes articles on cruel and crudest events of Nandosa, exposure of Balumama’s claims of milking the Male Goat to camouflage extortions. The journey passes through the denser subjects of modern forms of blind faith such as extravagantly blinding claims of Vastushastra and rise of modern Godmen blessed by Politically Powerful. Suddenly he reaches into the ground work of Blind Faith, victimhood of women, the most vulnerable section of society and easiest carriers of Blind Faith. He discovers the victim, the gentle, simpleton, helpless woman enslaved through reinforcement of repressive layers of patriarchal rituals of primitive origins and unable to question the mountainous weight of the rituals. He spurs them to rise from within every mind and every household. Last few segments are introspective. They demonstrate ND’s secular commitment to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar to carry forward diagnosis of religion. It aims at exposing the collusion between Dharmasatta & Rajyasatta and focused agenda of ANIS the enlightened organization for mass awakening which ND built brick despite fiery resistance from revivalist organizations like ‘Hindu Jagaran Samiti’. The last couple of articles are painful skepticism about the VARKARI movement which were expected to act as harbinger of change and counter to revivalism! Nevertheless the Book ends with hopeful note- “Kelyane Hot Ahere, mhanun Kelechi Pahije’.

Upward structure of the book is entirely and fully devoted to exploration and exposure of blind faith. Chapter after Chapter’ reaches out to invoke prudence of readers and highlights the urgent and effective need to build public opinion in favor of implementation of comprehensive Bill dedicated to ‘Anti Superstition and Black Magic Act’. While taking on the right wing Hindu Revivalists organizations like ‘Hindu Jagran Samiti’ and even the political secularists, he knew very well that his life was at risk all the time. He confronted secularists who so easily surrendered to Rule of ‘Religious Power (Dharmasatta).

However sub-structure of the book is significant. Every chapter is woven together by the sub plot, which takes the readers upward through the critical evaluation and diagnosis of socially ruling Hindu Religion and its repressive ideology inherited from ages of caste rule. ND’s journey is inspired, guided and is intertwining of rebellion and philosophical analysis of Saint Tukaram and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s life long desire and relentless struggles to enlighten the mass of people with spirit of scientific thought and push forward for the diagnosis of Religion to build secular & just social order.

‘My Secularism’ and Rationalism

Article, ‘My Secularism’ was written on the background of Gujarat genocide of 2002 and ANIS’s peaceful demonstrations against the dictates (Fatwa) to prevent a woman ( Chief Minister’s wife) from stepping on to the temple’s plinth (Shingnapur) met with outrageous protests and violent attacks from Right wing Hindu organizations.

As a secularist ND reiterates his commitment to adhere to the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar and differentiate himself from other rationalist traditions including Marxism since it considers influence of Religion on working masses as the resultant of helplessness to free themselves from material exploitation (page 139). For him Marxists have ignored the mighty power of the religion over masses and left it open for the ultra right wing to exploit the space fully. He does not consider that religious exploitation can neither be prevented with extensive and persuasive efforts made towards enlightenment nor with ‘people’s politics’. Since building up of secular society cannot be left to the ‘state governance’. “We have seen how ruthlessly the state can turn itself into ‘bigot’ / fanatic’ in Gujarat in recent times”. Secondly while “making the critical evaluation of religion it must also be seen that religion is simultaneously a manifested expression of human indebtedness & gratefulness to each subject and to all”. Hence awakening of prudence is our aim and our secularism is firmly tied to umbilical cord of Saints tradition and the value system which inspired Mahatma Phule and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.

ND had immense faith in European civilization and its current achievements even though ND’s writings do not provide references to European Rationalism and Rationalists like Bertrand Russell, Robert G Ingersoll and Charles Bradlaugh and others. But this relation is well and firmly established, perhaps via the influence of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar’s writings. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had close association with European Rationalists, particularly Bertrand Russell. Dr’s personal discussions and readings of Russell’s ‘Principles of social reconstruction’ and other writings on critical evaluation of religion impacted Dr. Ambedkar’s own writings.

ND defines his secularism as “Thought process of how every individual and his religion, individual and state, individual and groups and dissimilar religious groups should relate to each other. This will lead to rationalization of ‘own religion’ and end the uncalled for hate and fear of other’s religion”. Since Religion not only enables individuals to conquer internal enemies, lusts and disorders but helps to achieve self control”

Maharashtra’s treading on the path of Illusions and Modern Forms of Blind Faith

Blind Faith is highly seductive and overpowers even the ‘secularists’ in their personal and social life. ND provides several illustrations of it. The chapter ‘ Dharmadandachya Nimittane’ deals with an influential Godman Narendra Maharaj who had kept thousands of people in Maharshtra under his magical fold, turned them into his blind followers, intolerant towards questioning of his authority. Prevention of his entry into Air Flight and confiscation of his Dharmadand or Bramhadand , a four-feet-long staff, adorned with a saffron cloth symbolizing his spiritual authority, for security reasons not only was resisted by this Religious Leader but sparked riots at various locations across Maharashtra and at Air Ports. The protests marked hysteric outbursts which spread like wild fire. Narendra Dabholkar and ANIS confronted this Godman with an open challenge in Godman’s Hermitage, over his claims made in a Books and propaganda literature spreading lies about his Black Magical powers of Treatments of diseases and several other miracles. Naredra Dabholkar’s superb admirable technique of questioning, so direct and unveiling that the Godman, ‘Narendra Maharaj’ meekly surrendered, accepted his rout. He took to his heals and migrated permanently to New Mumbai and escaped to Ratnangiri. Amongst his followers were secularist politicians and even the then Chief Minister of Maharsashatra visited his Ashram for blessings. The visit was marked by protest demonstrations by ANIS and blistering criticism by ND and despite the chief minister visited the hermitage for blessings and spiritual guidance. The event made him to understand, how difficult is the fight against Blind Faith which has Royal patronage.

“Maharashtra on the path over shadowed by Illusion” is an article in which he once again deals with illusions of ‘Vastushastra” again a version of blind faith associated with Architecture, Building Construction and Location positioning. The article is stinging critique of multi purpose (Zodiacal), Vixon Yadnya’ conducted throughout Maharashtra and made astounding claims purposes, to quell the threat of war proliferation, to overpower terrorism, to prevent farmers suicides, maintain the law and order situation, to prevent spread of cancer, to carry out transformation of bankrupts, broke and paupers into wealthy individuals, to give blessings to childless couples to beget child, for blessings to those severely affected by specter-demon, pishacha brahmarakshasbadha. The social impact of the Yadna was so overwhelming that Maharashtra State provided full- fledged support to it. Ruling Congress and Nationalist Congress party leaders in Maharashtra Ministry termed this Yadnya as progressive and appropriate for eradicating faults in Government buildings as per ‘Vastushastra’. This reveals how “Rajasatta” becomes victim of blind faith and ‘Dharmasatta’. The ash generated by the Yadnya, on instructions from Agricultural Minister to shower on agricultural fields to improve agricultural productivity. ND says, “The empire of illusion has overshadowed and defeated the path shown by Shahu Maharaj and the two powers will coerce the questioning of blind faith together”.

Fight from within-‘Every mind’ and ‘Every Household’

This article Ladha Ladhuya, Mana Manatoon, Ghara Gharatoon remains the most impressive, insightful, penetrative, thought provoking chapter in the book and can be identified as one of the finest one in Marathi socio psychological literature on Women’s enslavement and culture. He understood Women as the worst victims of superstations and blind faith and religious bigotry over thousands of years of Hindu Brahminical rule in India. At the same time, the victims become the easiest carriers and agents of perpetuations of superstitions and blind faith . As a reformer and social activist he considered the need to fight for woman against blind faith and her victimhood as highest priority. It is to be fought by her in each and every mind and house hold. Virtually every Indian woman falls prey to archaic rituals, myths, mythology and becomes pray of religious corruption.

Socially and culturally women have become extremely vulnerable to blind faith despite the compelling force of modernity and enormous progress. On one hand, women in tribal (Adivasi) dominated districts are being haunted and tortured and stamped as witches but ND finds women in general also imprisoned in the cobweb of most primitive age old surviving rituals and customs under Indian version of coercive and repressive patriarchic social order. Childlessness is accounted as women’s infertility, widowed attract social shame, during pregnancies women’s patience is tested severally. Shared coexistence of male- female is mutilated through regimen of rituals and cultural demand to have male child, distrust towards widow remarriage, ‘haldi- kunkum’ ceremony, vows to obey husband for next generations. Women are extremely sensitive and vulnerable to vows and vaikalya (test of Loyalty). Several such rituals, customs and practices in everyday life anchors their life firmly to ‘blind faith’ and makes them subservient to men at every moment of her life. In turn women get satisfaction that they are obeying the ancestral faith disciplining tradition. The steady fast holding on to outdated scriptures and regressive superstitions provides women illusory stability, safety and protection and sense of belonging to community life in the name of culture and put women in conflict with the urge for freedom and modernity.

In last few decades, the religious faiths, practices have spread like wild fire and moral and ethical values have now been hardened and ossified. What adds to it in 21 st century male domination and sense of sexual inferiority is that majority of women live under tensions of varied nature, mother in law’s tortures, loss of Husband’s love, ignored in family life and experiences lack of prestige, Family discords and disagreement all lead to sexual dissatisfaction and causes conditions of schizophrenia (NB terms it as psychological break up in to two minds). The unfulfilled sexual- love desires further add to the strains, particularly affect women since they remain inexpressible and impossible to express!

Is earlier chapter ND distinguishes between two forms of mental disorders, commonly found in Indian women, as resultant of intensified conflict between love yearnings and ossified ‘Blind Faith’. One seen in backward areas and other rampantly visible in urbanized, semi urbanized and rural areas. Both completely overshadow modernity.

On one hand, women possessed by unknown spirits, witches and female deities are persecuted and even killed on doubts on suggestions by ‘Bhagats’. ‘Angat yene’, a self hypnotic state of mind, Circulation of female deities in women’s body, are events manifesting different forms of hysteria, leading to catharsis of sexual energies, relaxations of tensions. Practitioners of ‘Bhanamati’ (witchcraft) use this state of woman’s mind for exploitations. In modern times, spiritual Charlatanry and quackery performed by Godmen and religious leaders in different religious functions and gatherings show astonishingly highest participation of women who are treated by these quacks for childlessness, incurable and terminal diseases and sorts of unimaginable things. These illustrations of modern forms of expressions of blind faith have been exhaustively treated by ND. In another Article from this collection he throws light on the fact that these sects founded by spiritual Gurus enjoy mammoth following of women and any investigative exposure of these sects has led to turmoil and mass rebellion, collective hysteric outburst on the streets particularly by women followers.

Like a social psychoanalyst he attempts to grapple this modern phenomena (As opposed to rural and centuries old problems of ‘Bhagats’ and Bhanamati) and comprehend this phenomena of modern Godmen differently. He attempts to penetrate into the deeper layers of the instinctual desires. He says, “In our society, the numbers in which women so easily turn themselves into devotees of Godmen and surrender is stunning and makes one dumbfound! …… Can it be true that so called influence of Godmen (Babas) lure the women and drags them into sex scandals or is it that the intense unsatisfied unconscious sexual lusts contribute to it? This has been subject of discussions”. Probable reasons for following Godmen with extravagant publicity could be to get spiritual consolation and to gain collective relief from daily encountered agonies and pains. Worshiping, counting and chanting beads etc. may be the means used to repress or gain and acquire control over the outrageous and turbulent love-sexual desires. His analysis takes him close to what psychoanalysis understands by ‘Hysterical Identification’. The deadly psychic disorders- collective hysteria manifests itself when blind faiths are questioned.

Psychical state of Indian women has been fully and tightly held down by ‘Blind Faith’ and woman is completely deprived of any ‘critical reason’ to question the relevance of rituals and customs which are dictates of religion. Thus eradication of ‘blind faith’ is integral part of empowerment of women to question the entrenched repressive rituals and practices in the personal and social life of women. The critical thought process of aspiring for change can challenge the established ossified relationship between women and blind faith. This chapter runs like a social psychoanalytic piece of writing depicting the repressed world of Hindu woman whose social perceptions and urges have been jammed by the Hindu rituals and customs s he follows. It is clear that this Chapter is pivot and groundwork of the Book. Through the layers of the rituals he could reach to the concept of sexual repression and which is manifested in Hysteria of multiple varieties. He depicts the reciprocal correlation between women’s enslavement and Religious Bigotry ‘Dharmasatta’, as the universal expression of collective socio-psychological disorder.

Rajyasatta & Dharmasatta

With this analysis ND reaches to the bottom of the bottom of the domination of the patriarchal family system and the domination of religious power. Here he exposes the domain on which the Religious Authority and Political Authority both stand together. ND’s concept of hobnobbing of the two systems reminds me of the analysis made by psychoanalyst Willium Reich, who demonstrated how Dharmasatta strengthens Authoritarian family System’ on patriarchal lines.

The enormous proliferation of Dharmasatta and its hegemonic powers over urban and rural masses despite strides and growth in urban and rural scientific education and scientific advances is frightening since it shows sinking of the critical spirits of reason and courage to fight! Hence in article ‘Family institution and Eradication of Blind faith’ ND evokes quote by Reformist Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, “Accumulation of Knowledge is of scarce use if your behavior is not courageous”. ND feels that one more reason of gaining strength of Dharmasatta is that it has simultaneously garnered enormous financial strength. Again in his Article, “Blind Faith Eradication- A most difficult, Challenge” he reiterates how Dharmasatta for its own benefits fosters and supports ‘Public & General festivals’ to expand its horizons beyond all bounds. The majestic, grandeur and glorious festival celebrated over long durations, are impossible to roll out without complete controls by Black Money and No. 2 Economy. Godmen in different garbs, Bapus, Babas, Swamis and Maharaja’s who have utterly no concern for the socially burning issues and human-value systems are attracting lakhs and lakhs of people as ardent followers. Audits conducted by ANIS of Funds collection in last ten years in rural and urban areas reveals and exposes that restoration of old temples, construction of caste based new temples are the exclusive aims of raising wealth and health and education of common people are completely pushed into oblivion!

In face of such collusion, he and ANIS faces darkening of horizons and almost hopeless future for the mass of working people and oppressed womanhood. This is since, struggle launched by him and ANIS from 1988 faced toughest challenge from the alliance between Dharmasatta and Rajasatta. As seen earlier in Nagar district at Shingnapur women are prohibited from stepping on to the plinth of temple to offer prayers. ANIS staged Protests March and was met with violent attacks by a dozen or more right wing organizations defending the ‘faith’. Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh mutely surrendered to dictates, visited the place to offer his vow on assuming CM’s office and prayed alone by leaving his wife in lurch. He considered it more appropriate to surrender before blind religious faith than to respect Constitution and Mahatma Phule’s teachings and his courage. It is painful that attempt of diagnosis and critical evaluation of religion has extinguished once and for all after Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s demise.

ND, throughout his life banked on the only arsenals and provisions of the saint traditions and the modern intellectual tradition, of Ranade, Mahatma Phule and Dr. Ambedkar. But his intellectual- emotional discourse of prudence and his experience proved that rebellion and fight against ‘Blind faith’ inevitably results into encounter with collusion between Rajyasatta and Dharmasatta and became his theoretical postulate. The march by Holding On the Shoulders the Flag of Prudence is comparable to Light of a small candle struggling against a darkening super cyclone!

The last chapters critically evaluate role of ‘pilgrimage to Pandharpur’, (VARKARI Movement) in Maharashtra, as the torch bearer of prudence. His trust in it as an ally and unflinching support to the movement against ‘Blind faith’ seems to have been shaken up or fractured by the influence and infiltration of followers of blind faith. His skepticism springs from the infiltration of undesirable-unwarranted trends in VARI, their dithering approach towards critical teachings of Saint Tukaram. For him it makes the struggle against ‘Blind Faith’ more formidable and difficult! Nevertheless majority of the participation has retained its secular character to large extent and still owe allegiance to tradition and teachings of saints. By itself VARI it is not an organized fighting force but is infused with values of affections, trust and faith and hatred of ‘other’ has not gripped it. Hardened chunks of lumpens- have become active thorns and there are no means available to isolate them and defeat their venomous propaganda fostering blind faith and ND unable to accept it!

Narendra Dabholkar as ‘Social Psychoanalyst’

The valued quality of this book lies in its remarkably simple, easily understood and at the same time rigorous language. The language is investigative in every sense and exposes not only the bearers of Blind Faith but like his oratory it reaches into the core of the ‘weakened reason’, waiting for helping hand. ND appeals to readers to uphold the Flag of Rationality and march forward irrespective of complete gloom and darkness around. The movement offers resistance but shuns violence. It is the discourse of the feeble voice of rationality repressed under the weight of ‘blind faith’ which has t o work through the internal resistances under the guidance of ‘prudence’ in search of truth. It is Rigorous and innovative in usage and coining of the Marathi words. ‘Blind Faith’ for him was a process of ‘ossification’, hardening and reification and he uses the Marathi word and as concept ‘ Kathinikaran’ to represent the integration of all three processes. Similarly, in order to blunt the offensive from his opponents or to develop comprehensive understanding, ND sharpens the differentiation of ‘Blind Faith’ from ‘Faith’ to enlighten the readers and listeners. In his article- ‘Youth and Eradication of Blind Faith’ he defines blind faith as ‘Faith which does not obey the cause and effect relationship’. Again he redefines it at other place as. “Blind Faith is not just ‘non-knowledge’ but is “personal subjective ignorance which has acquired sacredness and having developed vested interests”(Page 106). On another occasion he distinguishes the two, “Which elevates the prudence of Human value system can be called as faith and which contributes to its degeneration is termed as ‘Blind faith’. Again in the chapter, The definition of Blind Faith acquires greater rigor “as ‘non knowledge’ or ignorance couched in (which has acquired ) holiness or sacredness, sanctified and toughened and hardened through reification of blinding social practices”. His language in Book, in his Lectures and in experimental assaults on the leaders of Blind Faith, was aimed at awakening the rationality in repressed state of spectators and listeners.

At the end of his investigative journey ND emerges not only as a Rationalist but as ‘Social Psychoanalyst’ who reached to the bottom of the phenomena and the ‘material’ exploited by the exploiters or modern ‘Godmen’ the inexpressible but unfulfilled’ wishes, prominently the sexual or procreation of the mass of the poor and oppressed people, for their own ‘enrichment’ and which socially results into collusion between ‘political’ and ‘Religious’ Powers. In this process he could foresee an advancing steps of Fascism. He emerges as an ardent follower, admirer of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and his never lasting determination to carry out ‘diagnosis of Religion’ by upholding the Flag of prudence.

In certain sense his death was written on the walls of religious blind intolerance. His gruesome killing and clueless search for last three months proves his theoretical postulate that “fight against ‘Blind faith’ inevitably results into encounter with collusion between Rajyasatta and Dharmasatta”.

Vivekachi Pataka Gheu Khandyavari,

By Dr. Narendra Dabholkar

Dilipraj Publishers, (2009), pp 166

Courtesy: Countercurrents.org, 29 November, 2013