M. N. Srinivas on ‘social change in moden India’ : Religion and people

Following was posted on IIT Bombay newsgroup in response to a post on ‘Promotion of scientific temper’ where the author was pained by the behavior of a senior scientist at ISRO. This particular scientist went to some religious place to offer worship and seeked blessings for a successful launch of ISRO’s satellite. His entry can be found here http://www.carvaka4india.com/2012/09/promoting-scientific-temper-letter-to.html.

You may find this link useful http://www.epw.in/editorials/grip-irrationality.html

Here, EPW speaks of damages Sai Baba

‘ideas and influence have done to the larger texture of Indian society. By   continuously stressing blind faith and belief in superstitious practices, Sai  Baba was a tireless worker against the scientic spirit and the idea of  scepticism. This also has a direct bearing on democracy and democratic  culture, which foregrounds critique and questioning of authority while the  message of this godman was unquestioning submission.  Democracy in India, despite all its infirmities, has been one of the strongest weapons for attacking privilege, status and the status quo. It may well be argued that Sai Baba managed to become primus inter pares among godmen in India precisely   because his message was so subtly anti-democratic while he himself kept a safe distance from particular political afliations. Is this why his death united Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ashok Singhal and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in common grief with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister   Manmohan Singh?  The real test before us is to challenge this legacy of blind  faith and superstition that he has left behind.’

I was going through the book ‘The best of Quest’. If you can get the copy, do read the article ‘Sex and Samadhi’ by D (its on Osho, the 80s phenomenon). I don’t have access to it in lab.

I am not sure if the situation is different fron the time of the doyen of Indian anthropology, M. N. Srinivan. He has commented on it briefly. Although he is not considered to be a great writer, the ease with which he communicates social realities to his readers (at least to this one) is amazing. Following is what he wrote on the issue at hand in his work ‘Social Change in Modern India’,

A recent and significant development is the coming together of the politician and the ‘renouncer: or man in ochre robes. (The politician is indeed versatile: he moves from the company of criminals of all kinds at one end to
that of godmen and sanyasis at the other.) Here, a distinction needs to be made between different kinds of ‘renouncers’: renouncers who engage themselves in welfare activities, renouncers who are reputed to possess ‘powers’to effect cures and performother miracles, and finally, pure contemplatives (like the late Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi). Those who are engaged in welfare activities such as starting schools, colleges, hostels, orphanages, hospitals and old people’s homes need to cultivate politicians to obtain grants of land and money, and various kinds of permits, even favours.  Politicians know that it is good for their image to be seen close to renouncers, and there is always the hope that at some point closeness might yield votes. ‘Godmen’ command large followings and their support is not only politically beneficial but provides a shield against the insecurities of the high risk profession of politics. Finally, the reclusive renouncer is contacted only rarely, for his ‘blessings’. It is in the Indian tradition that the temporal realm acknowledges, though only rarely, the supremacy of the spiritual.

Anything disapproving on politicians is easily diegestable in any part of this world. They easily become the victim of intellectual wrath. I am not sure if our intellectuals have entirely different social profile. For Srinivas also noticed,

An inevitable result of enhanced opportunities for a large number of people and the prevalence of acute competition for obtaining access to resources such as education, employment and a comfortable standard of living is the spread of stress and stress-related ailments among the people. High blood pressure, nervous tension, hyperacidity and insomnia are  becoming indicators of middle and upper class status. When neglected they may lead to inefficiency in work, inability to cope with the many demands made on one, and in extreme cases, nervous breakdown. Not only are there not enough psychiatrists to  cope with these maladies, but the culture  of going to psychiatrists and counsellors is simply not there. Under these circumstances, prayer and meditation, and visits to temples and pilgrimage-centres offer  some relief to people though rationalists may scoff at such practices (emphasis mine). People in all walks of life consult astrologers, though it is likely that the middle and upper   classes nowadays resort to them more than the others as their lives are coming under increasing strain. (It is not that the lives of the poor are stress-free but they also  have their temples, oracles, amulets, exorcists, and holy men.) Incidentally, consulting astrologers is not peculiar to  Indians or Asians for that matter. It is prevalent in the west too, the Reagans consulted three astrologers, Princess Diana has an astrologer and we do not know about the other VIPs in the west who consult astrologers.  While consulting astrologers is  widespread in India there is a reluctance to acknowledge the fact particularly among the educated.  Intellectuals do not hesitate to pour scorn on astrology though it is not certain that  they themselves do not consult astrologers when in trouble. Politicians do not have a monopoly on hypocrisy.

One can see this point by noticing the almost all newspapers (except the Hindu, the Telegraph) have a section devoted entirely to astrology. These words were written in 1993.


About Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.
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