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Religion, Power and Violence/A view from India [Ram Puniyani]

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  • shaji john
    =============[Ram Puniyani]========= Religion, Power and Violence/A view from India Religion, Power and Violence A view from India Ram Puniyani The world scene
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 30, 2004
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      =============[Ram Puniyani]=========
      Religion, Power and Violence/A view from India

      Religion, Power and Violence

      A view from India

      Ram Puniyani

      The world scene has seen immense and horrific violence
      in recent times. Two planes ram into the World trade
      center, nearly three thousand people perish into
      oblivion, an "Islamic terrorist" Osama bin Laden thanks
      Allah for this act. US President George W. Bush launches
      an attack on Afghanistan to catch hold of Osama bin Laden
      and call this attack as crusade.

      Separated by thousands of kilometers, in another part
      of the World, Gujarat, India, a train coach is burned.
      Instant investigation by the Chief minister of that
      state gives him the insight that this was an act of
      Islamic terrorists in collaboration with local
      Muslims. His associates give the call that Hindus are
      in danger and he signals that revenge process will not
      be disturbed. He instructs his staff to sit back. His
      administration goes a step further and assists the
      rampaging marauders out to kill Muslims. Two thousand
      people loose their life. The plight of women and
      children is beyond description. What these victims
      share in common is the religion called Islam. Just a
      few years ago people in Bosnia and Rwanda died in
      thousands for belonging to the `wrong' religion.

      Last three decades have seen the violence world over
      under the flag of religions. Is this violence done to
      save some religion or its followers? Is it done to
      protect the moral values, din, ethics, and dharma of
      the particular religions? Is this violence done to
      save the traditions and communitarian ethos of the
      followers of those religions? How are religions
      related to the massive violence, which goes on in
      their name?

      One recalls that even in medieval times the phenomenon
      of crusades, jihads and dharmayudhs, which, kings
      undertook on the pretext of religion. Were these meant
      to expand religion or were they meant to expand their
      empires. One recalls that the identity of religions is
      associated more with the clergy and less with the
      moral values of the religions. It does not require too
      much of knowledge to realize that in pre-industrial
      society the clergy, the most visible part of religions
      was associated with the landlords and the kings in
      different forms. Somewhere in direct collaboration
      from top to bottom, somewhere in fragmented form. Also
      there was another set of people associated with
      religions, the saints, who were away from the power
      centers. These were the saints, the bhakti saints in
      Hindu tradition, the Sufi saints in Islamic tradition
      and mystiques and later liberation theologian in
      Christian tradition, were away from the centers of
      power and were close to the poor, exploited and
      oppressed sections of society.

      The rulers did not tolerate the saints. The clergy,
      the official upholders of the religion, were hostile
      to bhakti saints, who were killed in various ways. The
      two facets of religion were always counter-posed to
      each other. Since the traditions close to power are
      more dominant, the Church, Olema and Brahmins are
      presented as the vehicles of religion. The parallel
      traditions of saint's remains on the margins, snubbed
      by the social and political powers.

      A sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya refused to receive the
      emperor in his dargah, Tukaram was done to death,
      Chokhamela reprimands God himself for the plight of
      the poor. These traditions emphasize on the message of
      love and amity in contrast to the clergy, which gives
      importance to rituals and the written word. In India
      the saints, mostly came from low caste and did
      proclaim that they have no capacity to learn the heavy
      tomes of their religion written in Devbhasha (language
      of Gods, upper caste) Sanskrit, which was denied to
      them anyway, because of their low caste status.

      During the process of secularization the role of
      clergy declined from the social and political space.
      The structural hierarchies of caste and gender, which
      this clergy legitimized in the name of religion
      started getting challenged, got abolished in countries
      where industrialization took place in the early
      period. These societies strove for the values of
      Liberty Equality and Fraternity (community). In
      colonies the nexus between colonial powers and the
      landlords, kings blocked the secularization process.
      And in country like India these declining classes,
      Landlord-Clergy, threw up the politics in the name of
      religion, known as communal politics. For example in
      India it came up as Muslim league and Hindu
      Mahasabha-RSS, but these were marginal streams. At
      World level the politics was dominated by the colonial
      powers. Later US emerged as the major World power and
      national liberation struggles in the colonies took the
      inspiration from Russian and Chinese revolutions, at
      many places under the flag of socialism. During this
      era the global violence was presented as the struggle
      between the `free world' and communism.

      After the cold war era, the decline of socialist
      economies, the hegemony of US started becoming
      indisputable. Its machinations in the oil zone where
      Islam was the dominant religion, the new offensive of
      Imperialism took the garb of religious language and
      the `backward Islam' started being targeted by the US
      and its cohorts. It is to support this imperialist
      ambition that the theory of Clash of Civilizations
      (Samuel Huntington) came up as a cover for US
      policies. This theory very cleverly counter poses the
      advanced Western Civilization against backward Islamic
      civilization. Here the Western civilization is not
      Christian, and the Middle East Muslims and others are
      clubbed to be having the backward Islamic
      civilization. The wars launched by US against the
      people of Afghanistan and Iraq is presented as a
      logical extension of this thesis, to set right the
      wrongs of backward Muslims.

      Around this time in India the rise of Hindutva
      politics has goals similar to the ones of the US as
      far as targeting Muslims and Islam are concerned. This
      Hindutva ideology is a politics based on Brahminical
      stream of Hinduism and had base earlier in the
      declining classes of Landlords and clergy (Jamindar,
      Brahmin, Bania) and now it flourishes amongst the new
      middle class thrown up by the so called development
      process. This middle class, affluent and the core of
      `Shining India' has gained immensely from the process
      of industrialization and also from the mindless
      globalization from eighties onwards. It is this middle
      class, which sustains a new breed of religious people,
      in saffron or any other color. This new set of Gurus
      and Acharyas, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Asaram Bapu,
      Pandurang Shastri Athwale, Sudhanshu Mahraj, Aniruddh
      Bapu and the like, are the nerve soothers for the
      existential tensions of the middle class. These Gurus
      are pushing the Manusmsirit and the feudal values of
      caste and gender hierarchies in a new language, the
      language laced with modernity, so to say.

      Globally and locally various phenomenon are
      overlapping. Now as the offensive of power seekers at
      world level is masked in the language of religion,
      particularly anti-Islam, those aspiring for control on
      social and political power at home are also using this
      Hindutva, religion based politics.

      The language of religion is deceptive. It gives it a
      type of moral sanctity, it creates a sort of mass
      hysteria, and it offers a sort of platform for the
      retrograde ideology. The goals of power are creating
      violence, condoned by those who should have different
      types of social power. Violence is the superficial
      layer of this politics of power in the name of
      religion. It is more than a coincidence that while,
      religion targeted by US at the level of the World and
      the one targeted in India by Hindutva are the same.
      The camaraderie of those using religion for their
      political goals cannot be missed.

      Religion has diverse functions in society. The way it
      is being used (! abused) by Hindutva and US and its
      cohorts, is its most dominant face. The clergy at many
      times plays diverse roles as well. At times it has
      played the role of projecting the religion, which is
      the opiate of the masses, it has also been the sigh of
      the oppressed in this heartless world. The Sufis and
      saints had particularly played the latter role. While
      the opiate role has been played by the section of
      clergy tied to the apron strings of those in political
      and social power, acting as legitimizers of their
      exploitative and oppressive role. One sees the Church
      of old times associating with Kings, and the one
      currently, which is opposing the US offensives as the
      same institution playing diverse role with change of
      time. One can see in Indian context the fleet of gurus
      with immense wealth under their control serving as the
      base for creating the opinion and opium for Hindutva
      politics. One also sees the saffron clad sadhus of
      Vishwa Hindu Parishad asking for revenge against

      Religion, if one regards moral values as its core,
      should not be associated with power. Different types
      of people associated with religion have at times
      played as handmaiden to the power centers,
      legitimizing their violence in turn. The triad of
      religion power and violence gets connected once we see
      the ambitions of those using religion for their narrow
      goals. If the people of religion cannot be associated
      with the plight of poor and oppressed they are
      handmaidens of the powerful. And in turn then they are
      legitimsers of violence. The examples of these abound.

      It is time that the people associated with religion
      realize the abuse to which religion has been put. Some
      streams of religion are for this goal in a blatant
      fashion. Than there are other streams of religion
      which play a soothing role for the exploited sections
      of society. This section of religious people, true to
      the moral values of religions, can live their religion
      only by associating themselves with the plight of the
      poor, oppressed and the underdogs. Association of
      religion with power is the crux of its negative role
      in society. A severance of this will surely put
      religion more as the vehicle of sigh of the oppressed
      and this can only be achieved by firm advocacy of the
      causes of this section, this can be achieved by
      associating with their struggles for the justice,
      gender, economic, social and political.

      (Excerpts from the talk delivered at 6th W.A. Vissert
      Hooft Memorial Consultation, Ecumenical Institute
      Bossey, June 2004)

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