Thursday January 18, 2018

Hinduism is about love, unity, not divisive ideas: Author Mani Rao


New Delhi: With attacks by fringe Hindu outfits on writers and intellectuals for their views and assaults and murders of those with different religious and cultural practices, author Mani Rao, who has done extensive research on Hindu holy scriptures and classical texts, says Hinduism is about “love and unity” and not “divisive ideas”.

Speaking about her recent book “Bhagavad Gita” (Fingerprint, Rs.250, 176 pp), a translation of the Gita in the present day context , Rao said the current day’s “intolerance” needs many more people – and not just writers – to speak up against it.

“We seem to have sunk to a new low in intolerance; it does seem specifically ideological but is (in reality) religion-misunderstood. Those who believe in a Hinduism that is based on love must speak up against these divisive ideas,” Rao told IANS in an interview.

“‘Pundits see unity in all: a humble scholar priest, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-cooking person,'” Rao repeated a line from the Gita as she spoke of the intolerance in society.

Rao should know what she is talking about because otherwise she would not have been able to tweak the Bhagavad Gita in the manner she has. The sacred scripture, as translated by a majority of authors, takes a masculine line, and some even say “women are of a lower birth”. But not so for Rao, whose translation has a ‘she’ and ‘her’ – and adds a feminist perspective to the text.

“When we read an ancient text, we must be aware of the change of context and adjust our understanding. This is why I use ‘she’ and ‘her’ in my Gita instead of ‘he’ and ‘him’ – I am Arjuna, and I am a woman. My Gita cannot ignore the fact that I live in today,” Rao told IANS.

With a scripture like the Gita, considered the holiest, many translators, she said, are wary of adding or deleting even a word. “For instance, the style is different in Kalidasa’s Meghadutam and Raghuvamsham. But most translators will translate both these works in the same style!”

Studying previous translations, she could not help but feel that “the Gita’s status as a holy book has held back the translator’s hand, making him hesitant to delete even a rhetorical space filler such as ‘indeed’,” Rao notes in her book.

Having read many classical texts, there are no “authoritative texts”, and no text has dictated what people should or should not do, Rao said, when asked about the current day debate Hindu outfits raised that “Vedas ordered killing of sinners who killed cows”.

“In fact we do not have authoritative texts that dictate what people should do, we have always been a culture of dialogue … there are many contradictions in our vedas and shastras, and hence are interpreted by the ‘Apta purushas’ or wise people,” she told IANS.

In a country with a long history, “how can one make sweeping statements about what was or was not done by all of Indian society” across thousands of years, Rao questioned.

Asked how relevant the Gita, which elaborates on Brahminical concepts like Dharma, is in today’s world, Rao said: “It is possible to pick out one shloka from one part of the text and use it in a debate against another shloka. But it must be read as a whole, and not just one part of it followed, for that will be distortion,” Rao said.

Being a poet herself, Rao has also translated some of Kalidasa’s works, apart from the Gita. But a translation can never be denuded of the interpretations that the author adds to the book, she said.

“No translation is devoid of interpretation, especially for a text that discusses so much philosophy. There were many challenges while writing – terms are not easy to translate; previous translations and commentaries contradict each other sometimes,” said Rao about the process involved.

(Bhavana Akella, IANS)


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Triple Talaq: Are the concerns and efforts real?

It cannot be deied that BJP is outlawing triple talaq to gain political mileage both from sections of Muslim women and from those Hindus who will see it as Modi's distress over the sufferings of Muslim women and as a message to Muslims that the days when they were given excessive leeway by less assertive governments are now gone.

Triple Talaq continues to plague lives of Muslim women, VOA News
Triple Talaq continues to plague lives of Muslim women, VOA News
  • Triple Talaq has been seen as way of BJP gaining popularity among Muslims, and not as a real concern for the distressed women of the community.
  • BJP leaders are often accused of Anti-Muslim statements, which further proves the point.
  • However, if the law is passed, it will be a step towards empowerment of the Muslim women.

Only the naive will believe that deep concern for the welfare of Muslim “sisters” and for the maintenance of the “dignity of women” and “gender equality” persuaded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to introduce the bill in parliament to ban the practice of triple talaq.

For a party whose founder in its previous incarnation, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, thought that only a civil war can solve the Hindu-Muslim problem, as Tripura’s Governor, Tathagata Roy of the BJP, reminded us recently, and a BJP candidate in the Gujarat elections sought a reduction in the numbers of “topi and dadhiwalas” (sartorial allusion to Muslims), it strains credulity to believe that it has been guided solely by laudable motives to put an end to an admittedly reprehensible custom.

The belief will persist, therefore, that it is a desire to “garner votes” which is behind the decision, notwithstanding Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad’s disavowal of such an intention.

Few will deny, of course, that the practice itself is highly condemnable, not least because it is illegal even in Islamic countries. For a secular country, therefore, to allow it to prevail will point to a flawed outlook whose roots lie deep in the political calculations.

It cannot be gainsaid that the BJP is outlawing triple talaq to gain political mileage both from sections of Muslim women and from those Hindus who will see the proposed law, first, as an example of “brother” Modi’s distress over the sufferings of Muslim women and, secondly, as a message to Muslims in general that the days are gone when they were given excessive leeway by less assertive governments.

The “secular” rulers of the past, on the other hand, also thought that they will gain votes by pandering to the predilections of the obscurantists among the minorities.

The worst example of this regressive attitude was the Shah Bano episode, when the Rajiv Gandhi government negated a Supreme Court verdict in favour of alimony for a divorced Muslim woman on the advice of Muslim fundamentalists.

Shayara Bano case was one of the biggest milestone cases in history of India which intensified the previously buried matter. Wikipedia Common
Shayara Bano case was one of the biggest milestone cases in history of India which intensified the previously buried matter. Wikipedia Common

The BJP’s rise from the sidelines of politics to the mainstream, can be traced through that event in the mid-1980s. The Congress will have to tread carefully in deciding on its stance on the bill which has followed the Supreme Court’s recent declaration of triple talaq as unconstitutional in a case involving the litigant, Shayara Bano.

The difficulty for the Congress is that it has given secularism a bad name by making the concept virtually synonymous with minority appeasement. While the BJP will not mind being closely associated with Hinduism, the Congress has been trying to shed the impression that it has become “mussalmanon ki party” or a party of Muslims, as the Congress leader, Ashok Gehlot, has said, ever since the 2014 defeat made him aware of this unwelcome image, as the A.K. Antony report pointed out.

The triple talaq bill gives it an opportunity to refurbish its reputation by articulating a rational position on drafting the law, aiming at protecting Muslim women from cruel and whimsical divorces and at the same time ensuring that the legislation does not lead to a police witch-hunt targeting men. Since the bill has to still pass through the Rajya Sabha, Parliament’s upper house, there is ample scope for fine-tuning it for smoothing out the rough edges, the most egregious of which is to introduce an element of criminality in a civil legal procedure.

If the Congress and other “secular” parties play a leading role in ensuring that the new law will unequivocally serve the ends of justice where no one — neither the women, nor the men, nor the children of divorced parents — will suffer, then these parties will be able to retrieve much of their lost reputation about cynical kowtowing to bigots in the Muslim community and reassure the country in general that politics can rise above partisan and opportunistic considerations.

From this standpoint, the bill provides a golden opportunity to the secular outfits even if the BJP runs away with much of the credit for introducing it.

Outside of politics, what is noteworthy is the failure of the Muslims to deal with the problem on their own. But ever since partition robbed the community of bold, educated leaders and self-confidence by inducing the minority complex of being forever under siege under the numerically superior Hindus — unlike other minorities like Sikhs and Parsis who have retained their poise and self-belief — the Muslims have come under the retrogressive influence of the mullahs with the result that they have remained stuck in the past.

Not all Muslim have the freedom to do whatever they want. They are still in the clutches of Triple Talaq.
Not all Muslim have the freedom to do whatever they want. They are still in the clutches of Triple Talaq.

Triple talaq is one manifestation of such backwardness along with polygamy and the veiling of women as they reinforce the age-old patriarchal norms. Only a small section of upper middle class women — film stars and sports personnel being prominent among them — has been able to extricate themselves from the grasp of medievalism and enter the modern world. But the majority of the poor and lower middle class women have been denied the opportunity of advancement by orthodox Muslim society. The new law offers them a ray of hope. IANS Live