DISSENT AND TOLERANCE

SERVICE: Fr. Antonio Rodrigues, C.Ss.R., Founder Director pf Dasya is seen here with a batch of Dasya nursing graduates, along with Verabai, Chairperson – Dasya Society, and Jeanette Menezes, Principal – Home Nursing Institute

 India has been blessed to have the wisdom of ages available through the Vedas, Upanishads and  other texts. Unfortunately, the India of today is fogetting the basic tenets of our culture and turning into something unrecognizable

By Fr Antonio Rodrigues

Last year as the 70th Independence Day came along, the nation rejoiced and spent much time in thanking and praising itself for all sorts of achievements. And now that three years have passed since the ruling party is in power, more praises have been generously showered. NO doubt there was place for such. But what about some big failures which also happened to be there, are we to ignore them? Does our maturity allow such behaviour?

The first principle for which I worked during my teaching days for years and in different places to imbue students with was that our national ‘ethos or character’, or our national culture, is and always was “dissent and tolerance” and this was true right from the time of the Vedas and Upanishads.

Our very Indian people, the Rishis, who gave us the Upanishads, criticised or rather corrected the Vedas, regarding important points like the number of Devas. They said the Vedas say Devas are over three thousand etc and the Rishis in the Upanishads taught that the Supreme God is actually ‘ekam eva’, ‘one only’. They even condemned the sacrifices of ‘dosas’ and ‘purodosas’ offered to gods saying they were meaningless. The Chandogya Upanishad openly criticises the behaviour of the Purohits and goes as far as comparing them to the dogs seeking food.

Here is a satire found in the Chandogya and translated by dr. S. Radhakrishnan (p.357,of his famous book ‘The Principal Upanishads’) “Now next, the udgitha of the dogs. Baka Dalbhia or Glava Maitreia went for study of the Veda. Unto him there appeared a white dog. Other dogs gathered round this one and said ‘obtain food for us by singing. Verily we are hungry’. Then he said to them: ‘Come to me here tomorrow morning’. So Baka Dalbhya or Glava Maitreya kept watch.

Just as priests when they are about to chant the Bahia Pavamana hymn (the introductory hymn) of praise, move along, joined to one another, so did the dogs move along. Then they sat down together and made the noise ‘him’. (They sang) Aum, let us eat. Aum let us drink. Aum. May the god Varuna, Praja-pati and Savit bring back food here, yea bring it here. Aum.

The Upanishadic authors were not condemned. All these older Upanishads were taken as part of Veda and called Vedanta as we have it today, showing us modern Indians our real character or culture is “dissent and tolerance”. But what do we see today? A student of JNU, Delhi spoke out an opinion either through ignorance or malice. That opinion should to be debated at the University so that the student is not confirmed in his stand if found wrong, but that is not what was done. Instead the police took the boy to the court to seek justice and an advocate with his lawyer’s paraphernalia attacked him physically! Neither dissent nor tolerance is shown to be part of modern Indians’ ethos!

COW CONTROVERSY

Never before in India have authorities interfered with what people eat! There was always respect for dissent and tolerance but today people are criticized, condemned and even killed because of what is on their menu.

And one unexpected effect of such a policy was seen when our athletes went to compete among other athletes at the Rio Olympics, (athletes from nations where nobody interferes with their food). Our athletes could not win even a single gold medal although we sent a large contingent. Gold medals were won by other nations even much smaller than ours! We have ignored the fact that different types of food have a different supply of calories. Apparently Usain Bolt, who wins gold at the Olympics, declared that he eats beef twice a day!

Are we to do nothing about this situation of interference? The cow has been honoured in India through the ages, but humans weren’t ill-treated because of the cow or cattle. Today humans are beaten up and killed to protect these animals. Such behaviour never took place in India of old, where there were 700 Hindu states even when the British left India. I ask, ‘weren’t they practicing their Hindu religion?’

As a boy, I remember how great flocks of cattle were periodically made to march along all the way from Maharashtra to Panjim market and nobody in great Maharashtra or elsewhere objected.

Are we to say today’s Hindus or Bharatas are better Hindus than our centuries old ancestors? Actually our ancestors were both wise and real Indians who knew our culture of “dissent and tolerance”. Is the State to tolerate today the behaviour of so called “cow vigilantes’ and the policies” of those supporting them, unheard of for centuries in our vast Bharat?

IN NAME ONLY

I further ask ‘are the Prime Minister’s Yojnas announced to help humans in old age to be extended to the cattle and cows, for these too to be fed and cared for in their old age? Or are the animals be left in misery? Already there are reports of cows dying unattended in our streets and no body doing anything about it even when the carcass is rotting. 30 cattle, including cows, starved to death at a shelter in Andhra Pradesh just this week. Those that survived were skin and bones.

KASHMIR

Then there’s the problem of Kashmir. Our beautiful Kashmir, where we used to go for relaxation, is in trouble and is on the agenda for a solution. But what is being dealt with is only superficial — the real problem is not being dealt with. What is it? The old occupants or inhabitants of Kashmir have been displaced. And the displaced are in misery, while others want to be happy! Is this aspect, fundamental to the problem of Kashmir, being dealt with?

In my long-ago teaching days in two colleges at Bengaluru, preparing students for B.A., and at St. John’s, Hyderabad, and at Morning Star College, Barrackpore, near Kolkota, also examining some for M.A., at Mysore University and at Paloti Institute of Philosophy, Assagao, Goa, I often had to correct or evaluate papers on Kashmir Shaivism and I knew there were Pandits there carrying out their work. Where are they now? Why not deal with their situation first to solve this fundamental problem. God is ekam eva, the real (sat) “satyasya Satyam”, who gives meaning to everything. He is father of all and concerned for all.

Our old, ancestral, centuries old culture of “dissent and tolerance” — to be tolerant while having to dissent — is being ignored not just by ignorant vigilantes, but even by some authorities today. We must re-learn the wisom of ‘dissent and tolerance’ if we are to grow as a nation. Of course there are other important lessons the Upanishads teach but we can’t deal with them just now.

(Fr Antonio Rodrigues of the Redemptorist Congregation is a PhD Sanskrit scholar residing at the Redemptorist’s House at Alto-Porvorim in Goa. He is the founder-director of Dasya Holistic Counselling Centre, the Dasya Home Nursing Geriatrics Institute, and now MADONNA—Haven for Elders), and a keen observer of changing times in his beloved home state of Goa.)

 

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