Views and Reviews of a Rationalist

Prabhakar Nanawaty

First of all we must appreciate the efforts put up by publishers – Rationalist Foundation – for bringing out the Anthology of articles on Rationalism, Humanism and Secularism written by an ardent rationalist Justice R A Jahagirdar (Retd). It is surprising to know that except for a few booklets, there were no books to his credit till date though he is writing for last 25-30 years for journals like Radical Humanist, Freedom First etc regularly. Though late than never, this book, Memoirs of a Rationalist, brings out rationalistic views on various burning issues like terrorism, Darwinism, law and order issues, judicial activism etc in a single book. In fact, the issues that were hoisted in the book by the author are not going to vanish as soon as they were raised and commented upon. But they will go on lingering from time to time and it is the duty of thinkers and rationalists to air their views to educate the readers.  

The book contains in all 34 articles covering the subjects like biographies, judiciary aspects, science, superstitions, secularism, Indian policing, etc which appears to have been written in last 2-3 years and are still fresh in the minds of the readers. The book covers author’s observations on subjects like freedom of press, national anthem, judicial activism, democracy in India, human right issues and United Nation’s action, religious conversions, etc. Readers might remember the commentaries made by various experts while these issues were raised. However RA Jahagirdar has something else to say and most of the time reader will feel that he is right. For example, ordinary readers are perplexed when somebody raises the issue of judicial activism. No one is able to give correct definition of judicial activism. As author puts it rightly “The question must be properly understood by all the persons who extol and who criticize judicial activism. It is unfortunate that some people praise judicial activism while some say the judges are acting smart. This is partly because these persons have not understood the system of government envisaged by the constitution and prevalent in the country”. While commenting on national anthems in general and Indian national anthem in particular author traces the historical aspects of the anthem sung by Indians. In fact there should not have been any controversies whether it is Vande Mataram… written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee or Jana Gana Mana…by Rabindranath Tagore. Both songs have some positive as well as negative aspects. In fact author confirms that “the Constitution of India does not mention anything about national anthem. The law does not say Jana Gana Mana…. is the national anthem. It is recognized as the national anthem on a statement made by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly on 15 Aug 1948.” In fact to dissolve the issue he suggests Zenda Uncha Rahe Hamara would have been an apt anthem which may satisfy both BJP and Muslim community.  

While reading articles on Shias and Sunnis, or Caliphate, or Portrait of Prophet by the author, one will appreciate his scholarship on Muslim history, detailing and interpretation of Quran etc. Author is wondering about this unnecessary great divide which results into inhuman and heartless act and bloodshed. “Even now after 1300 years, the Muslim community stands divided worldwide into two communities. Both the communities believe in one God; both believe in Muhammad as the lat prophet. But the hatred between the two communities is deep and permanent”. He comments that the effort to bring all Muslims and Muslim countries under Pan-Islam has not found a leader or organization. Apart from Osama, the world faces no danger or design from Islam. His opinion punctures the bogey raised by the Western countries and Christian community about the imaginary threat posed if all the Muslim communities joined together. In fact author feels that Osama’s efforts for the cause of Islamic unity and his organization Al Quida has alienated the rest of humanity from Islam. ‘Majority of Islamic countries are opposed to the type of terrorism Osama has indulged in’.  

The three articles on evolution – Charles Darwin, Evolution, Creation and Intelligent Design and The “Monkey Trials” – sum up the pseudo-scientific arguments of ID supporters to oppose the theory of evolution and Darwin. In fact the article, The “Monkey” Trials, brings out the opposition faced by Charles Darwin during his life time for putting forth the theory. Surprisingly even till today the controversy has not yet died down.  

While remarking upon the necessity of scientific attitude, author comments that “Science nurtures inquiry; the superstition stifles it. The two are obviously incompatible. To suppress inquiry, freedom of thought, quest for truth is itself immoral and unethical. Supernatural is a foe of science; so also superstition. Every superstition has a shade of supernatural in it; every supernatural is a superstition. To a humanist who believes in autonomy of man both are dangerous”.   

While commenting upon Secularism, author wonders that “more than 60 years have gone by, yet the meaning of secularism is neither understood nor clear in meaning to politicians and citizens”. Like water which takes the colour of the thing it mixed with, secularism takes the meaning of the political party which assigns it. Congress claims it is the secular party; Advani insists that Hinduism, being tolerant is the secular religion; communists say that communism being atheist is secular.  

As mentioned in the introduction to book, Justice RA Jahagirdar is a voracious reader and a prolific writer whose articles touch all aspects of life. Being a student of history and philosophy, in addition to law and economics and with an added ability of penetrating logical thinking he throws light on issues and happenings. The articles in the book highlight this aspect.  Justice Jahagirdar puts every issue in its proper perspective by exposing and highlighting the facts hidden from the public by interested parties. The book makes a very interesting reading to penetrate the rationalistic attitude of the author. 

Memoirs of a Rationalist

– Justice RA Jahagirdar (Retd)

Published by Rationalist Foundation, Mumbai,

2009, pp 192, (Not for Sale)

Prabhakar Nanawaty