Retrograde. Bamboozlement! More Bamboozlement!

About Sati practice in India

I read an essay by Ashis Nandy that contends that the epidemic of sati in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- century was mainly a product of British colonial intrusion into Indian society. The popularity of the rite and its abolition in response to a reform movement were two phases in Indian society’s attempt to cope with large-scale environmental and cultural changes; that both these changes involved the invalidation and distortion of traditional attitude to women and femininity.
It was prevalent mostly in Bengal and was partly a primitive Malthusian means of population control in famine-ridden Bengal.
The author (Ashis Nandy) of the essay was not concerned with the origins of the practice but with its sudden revival in the Bengali society in the face of changes brought in the society due to British rule. Secondly, in Bengal and some parts of eastern India, we have dayabhaga system of Hindu law so; Sati was a way of solving property disputes.
I think these two still are the main reasons for sati. In place of British Raj, we have so called ‘modernization/westernization’. And in response- instead of Sati, we have Hindutva.
The essay provides psychological reasons for revival of sati and the whole reform process associated with it. Try to get you hands on the essay. It might be useful for understanding Sati and whole lot of other issues.
Ever wondered why most of the widows in Banaras are from Bengal. Why they have great love for Female Deity and yet don’t treat women as equals? Man is corrupted by his fear of the female. Diodorus Siculus in 314 B.C. presents one of the early and not so popular myths associated with Sati. It speaks of a Rajput wife who poisoned her husband. For this crime, the ‘institution took its rise’.
All pro-sati literature (including Manu and concept of Jauhar that involved mass burning so that they don’t get raped etc) repeatedly mentions the frailty of women, their ‘subjection to passion’, lack of understanding and quarrelsomeness and their ‘want of virtuous knowledge’. All three all allegedly made them untrustworthy and fickle.

An Excerpt from the essay:
A large number of Bengali Brahmans did claim sacred sanction for sati; indeed, sati was seen by many observers of Indian society as a conspiracy of Brahmans. Infact Rammohun himself in a general way believed in this conspiracy theory (see his English Works, Vol 2 pp43-4, 48-9)
It went unnoticed by most of these observers that the Bengali Brahmans, unlike Brahmans in some other parts of India, were not merely religious leaders and interpreters of texts, traditions and rites but major landholders and financiers who were increasingly co-opted by the colonial system. Also, they were the caste most exposed to westernization and the growing conflicts between the old and the new. As already noted, in the new set-up many had to maintain their traditional status on the grounds of a new set of values and not on the grounds of their old , more internally consistent, life style. As a result, material and status gains were often associated with moral anxiety and some free-floating rage at adaptive problems. And they began to see all restrictions on ritualized expression of these feelings as further threats to life style. The opposition to sati constituted such a threat for them. In their desperate defense of the rite they were also trying to defend their traditional self-esteem and self-definition(A.F. Salahuddin, Social Ideas and Social Changes in Bengal,1818-1835, p.126, mentions pride and economic discontent as two possible causes of support far sati.
This article is Sati from his book At the edge of Psychology. It can be found in the Book Exiled at HomeSati Burning women , comprising At the Edge of Psychology, The Intimate Enemy and Creating a Nationality.
You can find some help on the topic at Datafoundation
A Sketch by Georges Bess from Leela et Krishna

Idealist Pandit Nehru

Jawahar Lal Nehru kashmir
On May 9, 1947 Brigadier Cariappa (he was yet to become a General) suggested at a private meeting that once the British had left there should be a military dictatorship. The force, ‘with either Nehru or Jinnah as Commander-in-Chief should take over power’. Mountbatten replied that such a course of action would be ‘not only wholly impractical but highly dangerous’.
From-‘Divide and Quit’ by Penderel Moon, London 1961 page 755
As you might have observed it were two men with army background talking about a possible solution to India’s problem.
What purpose would have been served if India had taken control of the whole of Kashmir in Military action (which sorry to break your heart would have been impossibility then and is even now unless we want to create our own Afghanistan?), we still would have had to deal with the Kashmir problem. The problem in Kashmir was of political nature and Nehru was trying to find a political solution when he agreed to the pleblicite.
Kashmir is today part of India thanks to Nehru and Patel both.
Nehru’s personal feelings were an important determinant in the state’s future. Mountbatten regarded Kashmir as the ‘one subject on which he could not get Nehru to see sense ’. The retiring Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan, General Sir Frank Messervy, commented after a private conversation with Nehru in February 1948: ‘he said that he quite appreciates my arguments [in favor of Kashmir joining Pakistan] but
“As Calais was written on Queen Mary’s heart, so Kashmir is written on mine.”
In other words, sentiments overcame reason on this particular issue. What a tragedy.’
-Letter from Frank Messervy to Roy Bucher, 4 March 1969.
Although Nehru’s role in the military takeover of Kashmir was, as might be expected, more propitiatory than that of Patel, the fact that Nehru remained as India’s Prime Minister into the 1960s made the chance of any subsequent concession unlikely.
On 26 October, V.P. Menon supposedly flew to Jammu and persuaded the Maharajah to sign an instrument of accession to the Indian union, enabling the Indian army to formally intervene and oust ‘raiders’. According to one Indian army officer who was present at a meeting of the defense committee in New Delhi later that day, Nehru still had doubts about intervention, and ‘talked about the united nations, Russia, Africa, god almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lot temper. He said
“Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away.” Nehru said. “Of course I want Kashmir”…
and before he could say anything Sardar Patel turned to me and said, “You have got your order.”’

Interview with Sam Manekshaw in “Kashmir, 1947: Rival Versions of History” by Prem Shankar Jha p.135, New Delhi 1996.
If you can’t buy these books, then buy Liberty or Death India’s Journey to Independence and Division by Patrick French. All these books have been quoted in the said book.

Karl Marx said so. So…

Family man MarxIn a speech Marx gave in London in 1856, he startled his audience by concluding with this story:
To revenge the misdeeds of the ruling class, there existed in the Middle Ages, in Germany, a secret tribunal called the vehmgericht (secret court). If a red cross was seen marked on a house, people knew that its owner was doomed by the ‘Vehm.’
Marx ended his speech ominously:
All the houses of Europe are now marked with the mysterious red cross. History is the judge-its executioner, the proletarians.
That would have been one helluva performance. A lot of people would be interested to know if they used silver in house.

The Elitist called Pandit nehru

Jawahar lal Nehru Elitist snob
About elitism of Nehru, let me tell you about the incident that took place during his arrest at the start of Quit India movement.

Nehru, who was arrested at a family flat in Bombay, later described the start of the Quit India movement as ‘the zero hour of the world’. According to one of his biographers,’the household staff was hardly unfamiliar with arrests. They quickly laid out a breakfast, which Jawaharlal loved: a bowl of cornflakes, eggs, bacon, toast, coffee. the inspector saw the spread and said there was no time for breakfast.” shut up!” said Nehru.” I intend having breakfast before I go.” India’s future prime minister was to be kept in prison for 1040 days.

Later as the train, reached Poona, instead of being whistled through as planned, the stationmaster had arranged for some urgent shunting to take place, and the train had to stop. Seeing a crowd of congress supporters on the platform being charged by lath-wielding police, Nehru jumped out of the corridor window’ with remarkable agility’, closely followed by Sharp, who tried to coax him back onto the train.
Nehru struggled violently’, insisting that the beating of his comrades should cease, and shouting ‘I don’t care for your bloody orders’ at the inspector. ‘He is a big man,’ wrote Sharp inspector general in command) in his police report.’ And was having a fair share of the struggle with Me.’ with the aid of two constables and a sub-inspectors, the eminent nationalist was dragged back on board the train. One policeman ‘as proof of the violence’ suffered a kick in the leg and a small scratch on the wrist. As for sharp, ‘I myself am feeling the effects of a sprained finger.’

About the image:
The picture of laughing Nehru and Edwina was taken by the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1948.

Saintly Sinner: Mahatma gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi Saintly Sinner
Gandhi was visibly depressed during his last days.

According to political psychologist Ashis Nandy:
“If Gandhi in his depression connived at it, he also perhaps felt- being the shrewd, practical idealist he was-that he had become somewhat of an anachronism in post-partition, independent India; and in violent death he might be more relevant to the living than he could be in life. As not a few have sensed, like Socrates and Christ before him. Gandhi knew how to use man’s sense of guilt creatively.”
Did Gandhi know what he was doing?

He once said:

“I find no parallel in history for a body of converts and their descendants claiming to be a nation apart from the parent stock. If India was one nation before the advent of Islam, it must remain one in spite of the change of faith of a very large body of her children”

Gandhi in “Jinnah of Pakistan” by Stanley Wolpert, New Delhi 1985(1st edn 1984) page 232-3.

Ironically, the same line became a battle cry for BJP in the 90s.

The Assassin named Nathuram Godse

Story of Nathu ram Godse
Gandhi’s assassin was born in 1910, in a small village in the margin of the Bombay-Poona conurbation. He was the eldest son and the second child in a family of four sons and two daughters. His father was Vinayak R .Godse, a petty government official who worked in the postal department and had a transferable job, which took him to small urban settlements over the years. Three sons had been born to him before Nathuram and all three had died in infancy. Both Vinayak and his wife were devoted and orthodox Brahmans and, understandably, they sought a religious solution to the problem of the survival of their newborn son. The result was the use of a time-honored technique: Nathuram was brought up as a girl. His nose was pierced and he was made to wear a nath or nose ring. It is thus that he came to acquire the name Nathuram, even though his original name was Ram Chandra. Such experiences often go with a heightened religiosity and a sense of being chosen. In this instance, too, the child soon enough became a devotee of the family gods. He sang bhajans before the deities and, according to his family, acquired the ability to occasionally go into a trance and speak as an oracle.
However, as the span of his social interests widened, his oracular abilities declined.
According to his brother, by the age of sixteen he had lost his concentration and ceased to be the medium between the family deity and the family. Nonetheless, a certain natural intellectual brightness persisted in spite of the absence of formal higher, education, and so did-as a biographer puts it-a certain natural dignity. In a religious family, even a lapsed oracle cannot fail to acquire a sense of being chosen.
Though he had failed to matriculate, Godse was a self-educated man with first-hand knowledge of the traditional religious texts. He knew for instance the entire Bhagavad-Gita by heart and had read texts such as Patanjali Yogasutra, Gnyaneshwari and Tukaram Gatha. In addition, he had a good command over written and spoken Marathi and Hindi and was widely read in history, politics, sociology and particularly in Gandhi’s writings. He was well acquainted with the works of some of the major figures of nineteenth-and twentieth-century India, including Vivekananda, Aurobindo, tilak and Gokhale.
Well-built, soft-spoken and like most Chitpavans fair-complexioned, nathuram thus projected the image of a typical member of the traditional social elite. But there was a clear discrepancy between this image and his life story till the day of the assassination. The Godses may not actually have been poor, but they were haunted with the fear of it throughout Nathuram’s younger days. So much so that at the early age of sixteen he had to open a cloth shop to earn his livelihood. This is less innocuous than it may at first seem: business was not merely considered highly demeaning for a Brahman; in lower middle-class Brahman families entry into business was an almost sure indicator of academic failure. To make things worse, Nathuram’s shop failed and he had to turn to tailoring, traditionally an even more lowly caste profession than business.
In sum, there was an enormous gap between Nathuram’s membership of a traditionally privileged sector of the Indian society on the one hand and his actual socio-economic status and experiences in adolescence on the other.
It is from this kind of background that the cadres of violent, extremist and revivalist political groups come. Not surprisingly, after a brief period in Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement in 1929-30, Nathuram became at about the age of twenty an active and ardent member of the Hindu Mahasabha, a small political party, and of the RSS, at that time virtually a paramilitary wing of the Mahasabha with all its key posts occupied by Maharashtrian Brahmans. Predictably, in the ardent politics of the Mahasabha he found a more legitimate expression of the Hindu search for political potency. Predictably, too, he did well in the party, becoming within a few years the secretary of its Poona branch. However, he did not find RSS militant enough, so, within a year or so, severing his links with RSS, Godse formed a new organization, the Hindu Rashtra Dal.
In 1944, Godse purchased the newspaper Agrani, with the help of donations given by sympathizers, to propagate his political views. But soon government proscribed the paper because of its fiery tone. Godse revived the paper under a new name, Hindu Rashtra.
>This time he took financial help from Narayan Apte, who became the papers managing editor. Hindu Rashtra was even more violently anti-Gandhi than its predecessor and it articulated the belief popular among some sections of Indians, particularly among the Bengali and Maharashtrian middle-income upper caste elements, that Gandhism was ‘emasculating’ the Hindus.
Whatever else Hindu Rashtra did or did not, it helped crystallize some of Godse’s main difference with Gandhi at the level of manifest political style.

Excerpts from the essay “The Politics of the Assassination of Gandhi” by Ashis Nandy. The essay appears in his book “At the Edge of Psychology: Essays in Politics And Culture” .
Buy more Books by Ashis Nandy.
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