This weekly blog was started on 23/11/2020 to seed discussions among the participants of our online courses. Since we have gone through a full year of regular blog posts, it is time to give you a 2-week break. 🙂
The next post will be up here on 13th December 2021. See you all then!
The 100th birth anniversary of Shri Dharampalji is being celebrated this year with various programs. We at SIDH have been fortunate to have spent quality time with him over the years and have had the privilege to publish some of his works.
Under the ‘Dharampal project’ we are looking at ways in which we can: – build on and disseminate his hugely influential and perception-correcting work and – to undertake further research into understanding the mind of the ordinary Indian, as suggested by Dharampalji.
Take a look at the proposal below and share it with people who can help make it happen.
Get in touch at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 9633983530 if you are interested in funding the project. Namaste!
A new book by S.N. Balagangadhara, Balu to his many admirers, has been published recently. Prof Balu is an original thinker and this new book presents his ideas in a manner accessible to a lay audience. Every time I listen to a video or read something written by him, I come away with important new perspectives that clarify my understanding. Given below are some excerpts that may get you interested in buying and reading the book. I highly recommend that you do!
I think our culture is going to see a renaissance. Such a renaissance is of importance not just to us, Indians, but also to all of humankind. Because this is going to lay the real foundation for the sciences of the social, it will provide a surprising answer to the question, ‘what does it mean to be ‘Indian’?’ This process is going to take place – sooner, if we accelerate the pace; later, if we do nothing about it. In the latter case, this may not happen in your lifetime or mine; but happen it shall. Of this, I am utterly convinced. It is this conviction that has kept me going all these years; it is the same conviction that has made me want to reach out to you.
Any group that survives as a culture would thus have built two extremely rich storehouses containing two things: linguistic items and actionable items. Even though this distinction appears simple, their diversity and complexity are enormous: human languages and human institutions are extraordinarily varied. The latter – whether family, marriage, rituals, child rearing, schools, clubs, legal and political organizations-are congealed human actions. Poems, stories, theories, hypotheses, speeches, and talks are embodied in languages. As we grow up, our elders draw upon these multiple storehouses to educate us. Through education, we learn to make our environments habitable, i.e., learning is a way of creating a habitat. As we learn, we also draw upon the treasure chests that our teachers use.
Not only do we draw upon these resources, but we also learn how to use them both to learn and to go about with things in our two environments. The same consideration applies to those who teach us. They too use this reservoir of knowledge to teach us to use it better. Because these resources used by both teachers and their pupils help us to relate to others, we could call them the ‘resources of socialization’.
In simple terms: human beings are socialized using the resources of socialization. As I indicated earlier, in this process, we also learn how to use these different resources. In the broadest terms, this is what a ‘culture’ is: the available resources for socialization and their uses.
I suggested above that religion produces and reproduces a configuration. In that case, how do we understand the role of Christianity and Islam in India? Are not the followers of these religions socialized differently because of their religion, and is not their presence a disturbing factor for Indian culture? Why would these religions not produce their configurations of learning and adapt instead to the Indian configuration of learning? My answer will be simplified here again: when these religions entered India, they met a culture that was already formed as a stable configuration of learning. As a result, these religions had to adapt themselves to this culture to survive. That is, these religions could continue to hold their beliefs and practice their religious activities only by adapting to Indian uses of the resources of socialization. Thus, Indian Christianity and Indian Islam remain Indian irrespective of their religious beliefs and practices. The specificities of their religions are given a space to survive and flourish in Indian culture as one of the many diversities present within it. In this process, these religions themselves undergo modifications and changes in how the believers live their daily life, which does not affect their beliefs (say about Christ or Mohammed) or their places of worship. It is this kind of adoption of and adaptation into Indian culture that many Madrassa schools fight. It is this adaptation to India that Catholicism and Protestantism in India have undergone which the Evangelical Christians militate against. Whether such resistance has any effect at all or not depends not on their militancy but on the vibrancy of Indian culture. A vibrant Indian culture (because it is a culture) allows a place for these religions and absorbs their drive to create other configurations of learning within its own multiplicities that constitute a configuration of learning. These religions, on their own, cannot do what the military, economic and administrative powers that supported them, viz., colonialism, could not do, which is to destroy Indian culture. However, this does not mean that the two colonialisms did not damage Indian culture. They did, and their effects are still visible. We will discover what these are in later chapters.
Reflection on experience is sensible only in relation to non-introspective thinking. Introspection does not make experience accessible; instead, it takes us away from experience. It creates a self-sustaining loop by sending us to a place where experience is impossible but results only in an endless series of imaginary thoughts. When we think, all we do is blame ourselves: recrimination, beating ourselves up endlessly, feeling guilty, etc.
The first step in thinking about experience the Indian way, as I see it, is to break free from introspection and desist from reflecting on thoughts and feelings, etc., as being unique and individual. Then we can come to an understanding of ourselves and our psychologies by discovering how human we are. To understand why human beings react in specific ways is to understand them; we must see our own reactions and responses as ‘facts’ of a hypothesis. This is also an activity: we actively learn how to deal with our idiosyncrasies. Growing up as an Indian is to learn these things and to transmit them as well.
“In order to restore India to its pristine condition, we have to return to it. In our own civilization there will naturally be progress, retrogression, reforms, and reactions; but one effort is required, and that is to drive out Western civilization. All else will follow.” – Hind Swaraj, M.K. Gandhi
Our long education brainwashes us into not seeing the ‘satanic’ nature (as Gandhiji calls it in Hind Swaraj) of western civilization and its British envoys who completed the task of destroying India. ‘The white sahibs in India’ is a very good eye-opener.
The full book is available online here and given below are some hard-hitting excerpts.
Following the [Jalianwala bagh] massacre, which has often been excused as an act of panic, a deliberate and diabolical regime of terror was established in the city. No Indian will ever forget General Dyer’s “crawling order” by which all Indians who passed along a particular street were made to crawl on their bellies, on pain of instant death. For the slightest indication of “disrespect” to their British masters Indians were publicly flogged, while military tribunals sat daily, dealing out summary “justice” against which there was no appeal. Water supplies were cut off from Indian houses and prisoners were kept in open cages under the scorching sun.
Throughout the whole of the Punjab martial law was imposed. Eighteen death sentences were passed and immediately carried out, while twenty-eight persons were sentenced to transportation for life. To prevent news from reaching the outside world, no one was allowed to enter or leave the Province. Meanwhile an inestimable number of people were killed by the bombing of Punjab villages from the air, and armoured trains which pulled up in these villages massacred all inhabitants within range by indiscriminate firing from machine guns. In one town the biggest schoolboys were flogged, apparently to encourage the others, and at Lahore all students were forced to attend a roll-call four times a day.
Dyer justified his action on the ground that he saved India from revolution. Whether this was the case or not, he certainly did more than any other man to arouse a revolutionary mentality in the Indian people. All over the country meetings of protest were held as the news of the Punjab horrors gradually became known. Festivities organised by the Government to celebrate the Allied victory were boycotted, and the Government’s processions passed down empty streets, where the shops were closed in token of national mourning.
The last act of the Amritsar tragedy was the virtual endorsement of all the actions of the military by a Government which clearly deplored the clumsiness rather than the crime.
The Government’s official publication ‘India in 1929-30’ spoke of poverty as “the most characteristic feature of the rural classes of India.” According to this authority:
“A large proportion of the inhabitants of India are still beset with poverty of a kind which finds no parallel in Western lands, and are living on the very margin of subsistence.”
This poverty is the result of 150 years of extortion. It began in Bengal with the robberies described in the early chapters of this book and a steady rise in the land tax assessment to double or treble the amount exacted by the Indian rulers. It progressed with the policy of annexation, whereby the revenues of Indian States were plundered on the pretext of defence. It was systematised in some of the Provinces by the creation of an Indian land-owning class, which by the year 1900 was paying only 28 per cent of its rents to the Government and keeping the rest of the plunder as a reward for its loyalty.
In the ryotwari provinces a standard levy of 45 per cent to 50 per cent on the gross produce of the peasant, and in some cases of a revenue assessment actually exceeding the gross produce, drove the helpless villagers into permanent indebtedness.
“India had been populous and flourishing, the people thriving and happy,” wrote Horace Wilson of the conditions “for centuries prior to the introduction of European agency.” Unlike previous conquerors, the British, till force of circumstances compelled them to make terms with the reactionary elements of Indian society, excluded the conquered people from all positions of responsibility.
“There is probably,” wrote Holt Mackenzie, “no example of a Government carrying the principles of absolutism so completely through the civil administration of the country, if that can be called civil which is in spirit so military.”
Under such a system, embryonic of modern fascism, Indians were for years “excluded from every honour, dignity or office which the lowest Englishman could be prevailed upon to accept.” By the end of the nineteenth century the villagers, powerless to protect themselves either from the Government or the native parasites whom it shielded, were paralysed with poverty. The results of an enquiry made in 1888 by the Government were so frightful that the authorities kept them secret; but we have the authority of Sir William Hunter that in his time forty millions passed through life with only one meal a day. Another eminent official stated that half of the agricultural population did not get a square meal during the whole course of the year, the standard of “squareness” being the food supplied in the Indian prisons.
The following excerpts are from ‘The white sahibs in India’ by Reginald Reynolds, a book that we want to re-publish and popularize. The full book is available online here.
Reference has already been made to the antiquity of this panchayat system. Megasthenes, who visited India three centuries before Christ, described the village communities as “republics” which were “almost independent of any outside relations.” The village originally owned the land on which the villagers lived and worked; so that before the dislocation of the peasant industries many of these communities had remained, right up to the time of British rule, economically self-contained units. In the North of India, however, a previous succession of rapacious conquerors had already done much to destroy this economic independence, and the zemindars or rent collectors of the Moslem rulers were already acquiring something like feudal power in pre-British days.
The zemindari system hardened rapidly under British rule. In Bengal the “Permanent Settlement” of 1793 turned these revenue collectors into owners of the soil and confirmed their status as a landed aristocracy. For a hundred and forty years since that time, while the value of money has fallen steadily and the rents of the Bengal peasants have risen in proportion, the tax paid, by the zemindars to the Government has remained stationary, fixed for all time by the settlement of 1793. This far-sighted piece of legislation has enabled the landlord class which it created to squeeze enormous sums from the peasants by the payment of a light tax on the proceeds. The effect of this is that whilst the Government gets a smaller share of the spoils than it might expect by direct taxation of the peasantry, it gains a powerful ally in a landlord class the very existence of which is bound up with the continuation of British rule.
“…to take the ordinary acts of husbandry, nowhere would one find better instances of keeping land scrupulously clean from weeds, of ingenuity in the device of water-raising appliances, of knowledge of soils and their capabilities, as well as the exact time to sow and to reap, as one would in Indian agriculture, and this not at its best alone, but at its ordinary level. It is wonderful, too, how much is known of rotation, the system of mixed crops and of fallowing. Certain it is that I, at least, have never seen a more perfect picture of careful cultivation, combined with hard labour, perseverance, and fertility of resource, than I have seen in many of the halting places in my tour.”
This quotation brings us back once more to the fact that it is from no lack of knowledge or skill, but from the conditions under which he lives that the Indian peasant suffers. An instance indicated by Dr. Voelcker is that of manure, of which there is a great shortage, owing to the prevalence among Indian peasants of the habit of using cow-dung for fuel. This is not, as is commonly supposed, a matter of ignorance or wilful waste, but a matter of necessity. The value of cow-dung as manure is about three times its value as fuel; but as the Forest Laws make it illegal for the peasant even to collect a few twigs from the forests, his manure is the only fuel available. However near he may be to forest land, he must pay for wood, and this he cannot afford to do. Consequently he burns his cow-dung, though he knows its value, simply because it is the only fuel that he can obtain without paying for it.
There is a true story of India that is also a parable of British rule. It is to be found in the history of the Sal forests of the Gangetic Plain.
For fifty years British forestry experts protected these forests from fire, and it was only a few years ago that they made an interesting discovery. It appeared that, after all, these Sal forests, unlike resinous forests, required an occasional fire to stimulate their growth. Fire destroys the undergrowth, leaving an ash which forms an alkaline mould and makes good soil for the young saplings.
Fifty years of protection produced a thick undergrowth, damp and heavy in the rainy season. It kept the light from the young shoots and covered them with a poisonous acid mould which killed them. Such shoots as survived were eaten by deer, which multiplied under British forestry laws. For while deer were protected by law, white sahibs on safari had greatly reduced the number of tigers which (regardless of law) might otherwise have kept down the number of deer.
A few years before, the protection of India’s forests had been considered indisputable evidence of the success of British administration in this sphere. By 1930, though it was not (and will not be) publicly admitted, the experts knew that British efficiency had been misplaced. They were humbly learning from a natural, unprotected forest how sal regenerates itself when freed from interference.
At SIDH we are thinking of publishing some books that we consider very important, that are not very well known and are currently out of print. ‘The white sahibs in India’ by Reginald Reynolds, first published in 1937, is the first one we hope to publish in this series. The author in the preface dedicates the book to – “all who have suffered in Indian jails for the crime of patriotism.”
Pearl S. Buck says about the book:
“It tells the story of English officialdom in India, not from the government point of view, nor from the the Indian, but from the point of view of an incorruptibly just and honest man, and one thoroughly humane. The facts he presents make a picture of imperialism which does not pale before Italy in Ethiopia or before Hitler and the Jews. It would be interesting to know if there can possibly be another side to the question than the one here given.
Reginald Reynolds has written a bold, brave book. One hopes he will not suffer for it. In some other country than England he would.”
Here is what the dust jacket of one of the versions says:
“India is in the headlines again. The year 1937 sees the inauguration of the new Constitution in the Indian Provinces. Behind the latest constitutional developments lie over three hundred years of history since the formation of the East India Company. The story, so little known in England, is told in this book, with special chapters to explain such problems as those created by the Depressed Classes and Hindu-Moslem differences.
The author traces the economic influences which moulded Indian history from the fall of the Mughals to the present day. Inevitably this involves the explosion of many popular myths regarding individuals and incidents. The “Black Hole,” Clive and Hastings, the Mutiny, Lord Irwin and the Round Table Conference, are all subjected to the same merciless scrutiny. Less familiar subjects, such as the administration of village communities in pre-British times, and the rule of the Indian Princes, receive equally close attention.”
Next week I will share some excerpts from the book to highlight its relevance and importance to present day India.
Under the post titled ‘Science delusion’, last week we looked at Dr Rupert Sheldrake’s list of ten dogmas that an educated modern individual religiously believes. Today, across the world, the dogma of the mechanistic and non-conscious nature of the universe is propagated with our education systems. In traditional or not-yet-fully-modern societies like India, our upbringing with the emphasis on the sanaatana, is in direct conflict with the dogmas pushed by the modern education system. Most people seem to make an uneasy, schizophrenic truce and manage to live their lives with, for example, a traditional home-life and a modern work-life.
(The following is an excerpt from the first part of the talk…)
The science delusion is the belief that science already understands the nature of reality in principle, leaving only the details to be filled in. This is a very widespread belief in our society. It’s the kind of belief system of people who say “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science.” It’s a belief system which has now been spread to the entire world.
But there’s a conflict in the heart of science, between science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis and collective investigation, and science as a belief system or a world view. And unfortunately the world view aspect of science has come to inhibit and constrict the free inquiry which is the very lifeblood of the scientific endeavor.
Since the late 19th century, science has been conducted under the aspect of a belief system or a world view which is essentially that of materialism — philosophical materialism. And the sciences are now wholly owned subsidiaries of the materialist worldview. I think that as we break out of it, the sciences will be regenerated.
What I do in my book The Science Delusion is take the ten dogmas, or assumptions of science, and turn them into questions. Seeing how well they stand up if you look at them scientifically. None of them stand up very well.
The ten dogmas, which are the default worldview of most educated people all over the world are:
First, that nature’s mechanical or machine-like. The universe is like a machine, animals and plants are like machines, we’re like machines. In fact, we are machines. We are lumbering robots, in Richard Dawkins’ vivid phrase. With brains that are genetically programmed computers.
Second, matter is unconscious. The whole universe is made up of unconscious matter. There’s no consciousness in stars, in galaxies, in planets, in animals, in plants, and there ought not in any of us either, if this theory’s true.
The laws of nature are fixed. This is dogma three. The laws of nature are the same now as they were at the time of the Big Bang and they’ll be the same forever. Not just the laws; but the constants of nature are fixed, which is why they are called constants.
Dogma four: The total amount of matter and energy is always the same. It never changes in total quantity, except at the moment of the Big Bang when it all sprang into existence from nowhere in a single instant.
The fifth dogma is that nature’s purposeless. There are no purposes in all nature and the evolutionary process has no purpose or direction.
Dogma six, the biological heredity is material. Everything you inherit is in your genes, or in epigenetic modifications of the genes, or in cytoplasmic inheritance. It’s material.
Dogma seven, memories are stored inside your brain as material traces. Somehow everything you remember is in your brain in modified nerve endings, phosphorylated proteins, no one knows how it works. But nevertheless almost everyone in the scientific world believes it must be in the brain.
Dogma eight, your mind is inside your head. All your consciousness is the activity of your brain, and nothing more.
Dogma nine, which follows from dogma eight, psychic phenomena like telepathy are impossible. Your thoughts and intentions cannot have any effect at a distance because your mind’s inside your head. Therefore all the apparent evidence for telepathy and other psychic phenomena is illusory. People believe these things happen, but it’s just because they don’t know enough about statistics, or they’re deceived by coincidences, or it’s wishful thinking.
And dogma ten, mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works. That’s why governments only fund research into mechanistic medicine and ignore complementary and alternative therapies. Those can’t possibly really work because they’re not mechanistic. They may appear to work because people would have got better anyway, or because of the placebo effect. But the only kind that really works is mechanistic medicine.
Well this is the default worldview which is held by almost all educated people all over the world. It’s the basis of the educational system, the national health service, the medical research council, governments and it’s just the default worldview of educated people.
—–End of excerpt—–
The talk goes on into the details of two of these dogmas and there was such a backlash from the dogmatic end of the scientific establishment that TED had to remove this talk from their site. I think the talk is very interesting and I encourage you to listen to it.
Pawanji says that he sometimes wonders how the illiterate see the world, because he finds himself forced to read everything he comes across – Billboards, road signs, shop names, books etc. We appear to largely live in a mental world created by words and images that we confuse with reality.
To see things as they are, we need to come out of the brain fog of manufactured narratives. When our observation or lived experience contradicts a narrative we believe, the result is a cognitive dissonance that can, if we pay attention, lead us towards the truth. Here are some examples to show you what I mean. The first one follows from the previous week’s post.
The narrative: India was a very poor country. Crack in the narrative: Where did our uneducated, ‘uncivilized’, tribal women get so much silver from? Especially since there are no silver mines here. (Also, what did the colonizers come here for? To improve our lives?)
The above graph is from: Maddison A (2007), Contours of the World Economy 1-2003 AD. Note that from 1 AD to 1700 AD India and China together accounted for over 40% of the world’s GDP. (More information here)
The narrative: India has a largely oral and not a written tradition. Crack in the narrative: India possesses an estimate of ten million manuscripts, probably the largest collection in the world. (Ref: National mission for manuscripts)
The narrative: For centuries, the Indian social system is primarily defined by an evil caste system. Crack in the narrative: Would not such an autonomous, decentralized, stable, adaptive, dynamic, self-reproducing social organization, also neutral to all political, economic, and religious doctrines and environments be the most ideal system if one really existed as such? (This is a direct quote from here)
One can go on and on. Science and math and social science will all have many areas that will lend itself to this type of analysis. If our children spent time looking at all their school textbooks with a critical eye, would they have a better education? What do you think?
This week we look at some excerpts from a SIDH publication, Learning at Bodhshala, that chronicles a unique educational experiment. I think that, in times to come, this book may become required reading for anyone trying to re-imagine a truly Indian education.
Excerpt 1: (The eye of commonality, page 1)
I soon realised that, with children, it is not difficult to introduce farming or any useful productive work in the classroom. However, when a child goes through a mainstream school, he emerges 12 or 15 years later as a young adult, who will resist any out-of-the-textbook, real-life learning. This is indeed something amazing about modern schooling – it makes us uniformly useless in a productive environment. Urban society has accomplished this efficiently and the same model is being thrust on rural schools.
Excerpt 2: (The eye of commonality, page 29)
Our reading of Gandhiji and his vision of buniyadi shiksha, i.e., basic education, also provided direction. Soon our farm produce activity grew into a full fledged Production-Integrated Basic Education programme. It ran for three years, during which the learning activities at Bodhshala school resulted in the production of recycled hand-made paper, value-added food items, ayurvedic medicines, soaps and creams, cloth bags, paper bags and envelopes, and learning material such as number rods and the abacus.
Excerpt 3: (Food and health, page 34)
Mandua began to be regularly cooked in our kitchen, and so was jhingora as and when it was available. This had an unexpected effect on both parents and children. Visitors from the community would be pleasantly surprised and were prone to say, ‘oh, so you eat mandua too!’ This went a long way in bridging the gap between home and school.
Our teachers, too, rediscovered the joys of traditional Garhwali cooking, which they remembered from their childhood. Some of them were eating this at home, but joylessly, because schooling and the modern systems made the millets appear inferior. I then realised how detrimental schooling is to health.
The cruelty is now global; governance and science are both subservient to business, there is no ethics. The minimum and adequate response is to take farming back into our own hands. Every family must grow some of its food, not only the village family, which must be encouraged and supported to continue doing so, but the urban family as well, who must be educated about the significance of regaining this lost independence.
In that sense, I believe that natural farming or rishi kheti is the modern-day charkha. I also feel that Gandhiji, if he were here today, would approve of this; he would wholeheartedly encourage the self-production of food in a sustainable way.
The paper industry, in particular, is a double villain because apart from creating pollution at the output end of the process, it is also destroying forests at the input end. Our students were shocked to learn all this, and said that these polluting industries ought to be shut down. ‘What will we do for paper?’ asked a teacher. ‘We will find a way,’ they replied, with the new-found confidence from having made their own paper and notebook. It would be tempting to dismiss this as innocent bravado, but the important point is that these children were willing to face a truth which adult society has been evading.
(The list of SIDH publications is available here. If you want copies of ‘Learning at Bodhshala’ or any other publication, please use the contact form on the SIDH site to place your order. If you face any problems, please write to me at email@example.com)