Sunday, January 28, 2007

Republic day, Dr. BR Ambedkar & Tasleema Nasreen

Republic day & Dr. B R Ambedkar is fine; but how did Tasleema Nasreen come to the picture, that must be the first doubt right? I read this article by Tasleema Nasreen called “Lets burn the burqa” recently. The essence of the article can be summarized from her following statement- “women too have sexual urges. So why didn't Allah start the purdah for men? Clearly, He treated them on unequal terms”. Tasleema Nasreen has been fighting sexual discrimination in Islam for decades now. She was ostracized from Bangladesh, Fatwas were issued but nothing deterred her from continuing her fight. And, she still is in the system & fighting. And that takes us to the next question, how is it vis-à-vis with Dr. Ambedkar?

Jan 26th was our Republic day; surely everyone must remember Dr. Ambedkar for his contribution in drafting our constitution. It is different question altogether that how suitable is our constitution to our country? I remember Shri Gurumurthy saying - It is a respectable document alright, but not necessarily the most suitable one. Because section by section was taken as it is from the constitution of the West. What suits the West does not necessarily suit India. Nevertheless, Dr. Ambedkar is the father of our constitution & he must be revered. But how many of us know that he was against the Independence of India? Yes, he was!! Reason – If India gets the independence, his community will suffer from caste based discrimination. India government will not do as much as English men to prevent it. To know more about this read “Worshipping False Gods” by Arun Shourie.

Its history now that Dr. Ambedkar completed the drafting of our constitution & we had our first Republic day on Jan 26th, 1950. Later in 1956 Ambedkar, in the name of fighting discrimination, got converted to Buddhism along with his 400000 followers. Now that is the difference between staying within the system & fighting, and running away from the system. Ambedkar might have suffered lot more from the society than Tasleema Nasreen. In spite of that, my respect would have gone up hundred times had he stayed within Hinduism. Even then I have reverence for him because he got converted to Buddhism & not to Christianity or Islam. Surely he knew the difference. In a country where sword is used by Islam to convert & luring is used by Christianity, conversion of Ambedkar to any one of these religions would have led to mayhem. Thousands of so called backward classes would no longer have been Hindus. This is what they must understand clearly. Why did Dr. Ambedkar chose Buddhism over Christianity or Islam? When the answer to this is understood, problems of conversion subside on its own.

And thanks to my friend Karthik, he sent some more facts & corrections. Here they are

Dear Ananda,

A quick observation: Ambedkar did not have a huge following in his own time. Even in 1946, he needed Muslim support to fight elections. He was merely a leader of the Mahar community. He did not matter to other Harijans. He considered converting to Christianity, and toured the churches in Kerala. Inexplicably, he embraced Buddhism in death bed.


The clue comes from who backs the conversions to "Buddhism" today: the Christian missionaries - to be precise, American missionaries. It was a perfect script written by the American missionaries and executed by Ambedkar. What could have been the reason?

Since Ambedkar did not enjoy much support among Harijans, his conversion to Christianity would not have brought a harvest. It would have actually eliminated a potential weapon, Dalits, from being deployed against Hinduism. But his conversion to pseudo-Buddhism would have been a long-term investment in destabilizing Hinduism.


After knowing this, even the little reverence that I had for Ambedkar is gone !!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Dharma- Individual Collectivism

The cold war conflict between capitalism represented by US and communism represented by Russia may be a twentieth century phenomenon, but the conflict of the ideas each were representing was not. The conflict between individualism and collectivism is probably as old as the human history.

On one side is the extreme form of individualism where an individual’s interests hold supreme even at the cost of others in the society; where an individual can amass as much resources as he can just coz he is more capable/lucky than others. On the other side is the extreme form of collectivism where the individual is nothing but a social animal; where the individual has to blindly follow the whims of the mob.

On one side the challenge is excessive selfishness which will lead in constant conflict between various groups. On the other side the challenge is how to motivate the person to aspire for excellence when the returns he gets are anyway the same and when you are pulled down when you try to raise above the mediocre.

Which one of these should we then choose. The answer everyone will give is balance both of them. True, the secret is the balance. But the thousand dollar question is how to strike it. How to create a model where these two aspects of individual good and collective good are accommodated in harmony with each other?

It is in this context the eastern concept of Dharma comes to our rescue. The simplest definition is “Dharma is that which connects, relates effectively and harmoniously an individual to the collectivities” (like family, community, society, nation, humanity and the whole world and beyond). Thus bringing harmony with all others around is Dharma. Dharma holds things together. As Kumari Nivedita in a talk observes “When I think of others' rights, it is Dharma. See the beauty, we did not start by asserting our rights. Rather we started by talking about duties. If each starts asserting rights, there will be only fights as we are seeing now. So each one is told to follow his/her Dharma. The husband’s Dharma becomes the right of the wife and wife's Dharma becomes the right of the husband. The mother's Dharma becomes the right of the children. The children's Dharma becomes the right of the parents.”

The motive is internal, not external; therefore we need extraneous stimuli. Unlike the communist nations, we did not need an external state to force us to be responsible towards the society. At the same, the collective has been made part of the individuals thinking.

Let me illustrate my point further by using Prisoner’s dilemma situation. The classical prisoner's dilemma (PD) is as follows (I am reproducing the wikipedia article on PD here): Two suspects, A and B, are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal: if one testifies for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both stay silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a two-year sentence. Each prisoner must make the choice of whether to betray the other or to remain silent. However, neither prisoner knows for sure what choice the other prisoner will make. So this dilemma poses the question: How should the prisoners act?

The dilemma can be summarized thus:

Prisoner B Stays Silent

Prisoner B Betrays

Prisoner A Stays Silent

Both serve six months

Prisoner A serves ten years
Prisoner B goes free

Prisoner A Betrays

Prisoner A goes free
Prisoner B serves ten years

Both serve two years

Let's assume the protagonist prisoner is working out his best move. If his partner stays quiet, his best move is to betray as he then walks free instead of receiving the minor sentence. If his partner betrays, his best move is still to betray, as by doing it he receives a relatively lesser sentence than staying silent. At the same time, the other prisoner's thinking would also have arrived at the same conclusion and would therefore also betray.

If reasoned from the perspective of the optimal outcome for the group (of two prisoners), the correct choice would be for both prisoners to cooperate with each other, as this would reduce the total jail time served by the group to one year total. Any other decision would be worse for the two prisoners considered together. When the prisoners both betray each other, each prisoner achieves a worse outcome than if they had cooperated.

We can observe that the apparent rational path (ie., to betray) and the real rational path (ie., not to betray) are different. We may enlarge this phenomenon to a larger scale with multiple players. Here again the apparent rational path and the real rational path are different.

This demonstrates very elegantly the moral dilemmas we face everyday- whether to stick to the rules even though they may some times be “apparently” unfavorable, or seek the path of immediate self-interest. How can we make the individuals align their individual good with collective good without any special effort? It is here that the concept of duty-centric dharma comes in.

There is a famous dialogue which comes in Mahabharata. Draupadi, obviously fed up with her suffering, once asked Yudhishthira, “What have you got by following Dharma? You have been only suffering in your life.” Yudhishthira replies, “Draupadi, I know you say this not because you really mean it but because of the extreme sufferings and humiliations you underwent. I follow Dharma not because by following it I get something. I follow it because it is to be followed.”

We are no longer bothered whether others follow a righteous path or not. Hundred people may not follow their dharma, but that is no reason for me to be unrighteous. I follow the right path, for its own sake, immaterial of what others do.

Thus the focus shifts from “are others following right path?” to “am I following the right path?” …And to the Hindus, thanks to the concept of Karma this line of thinking comes much easily as concept of Karma ensures that no good or bad action ever goes waste without producing the results. If I follow the path of Dharma, I may not be able to get the results immediately or in a way I expected them, but it is bound to give good results.

Let me conclude by quoting Pirsig in a book on Hindu-Buddhist Dharma “Dharma is duty. It is not external duty which is arbitrarily imposed by others. It is not any artificial set of conventions which can be amended or repealed by legislation. Neither is it internal duty which is arbitrarily decided by one's own conscience. Dharma is beyond all questions of what is internal and what is external. Dharma is Quality itself, the principle of "rightness" which gives structure and purpose to the evolution of all life and to the evolving understanding of the universe which life has created."

This will be the ancient Hindu response to the challenges thrown up by the 19th and 20th century ideologies.

PS: My approach here was based on utilitarian grounds. However, lemme clarify that utility is not the test of truth. The path of Dharma has to be followed, irrespective of the considerations whether it is beneficial or not. My only idea was to point out that even on the utilitarian grounds following one’s Dharma makes sense.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hinduism and Linux

One can sometimes find very interesting analogies for Religion in the geek world.

First, Windows came up with its 98 version. The users of this version claimed it to be the best version. Then after some time came the NT version of windows. Again the same claim by its users that this version is the best and the last. Later came XP. Once again the same claim repeated by its users that this is the best and last one. All the users of each windows version have been trying to monopolize all the users of the world to their own version.

On the other hand we have Linux. It is not monopolized by one seller or creator, but different users have added to it. And each user can create a module which suits his requirements. It gives a lot of scope for the user to improve, and does not claim exclusive privileges.

Does it ring any bells...if not try reading the above statements by replacing 98 by Jews, NT by Christians, and XP by Islam. Each claiming that the previous was also a prophet, but theirs the best and last.

In windows, everything is fixed and the user has negligible freedom. All the commands and user systems are readymade by a builder who they assume knows better the needs of the users. In the same manner in Abrahamic religions, there are set of dos/donots given by the god for the sake of humans and it is assumed that humans are not mature enough to decide, and which we humans have to accept without any choice.

Hinduism on the other hand can be compared with Linux. There is no specific OS that can be defined as Linux. There may be many versions and forms of it and each individual can custom make it to suit his temperament.

But then not all may be good at programming and making their own custom made version of Linux. Hence , some good programmers (Saints) may make some simplified versions like redhat (rituals, beliefs) for non technical users (masses) to use. It is open and free for all and does not necessarily negate other OS. Various versions are not a matter of superiority but a matter of one’s temperament.

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