By Somesh Katyayan:
“What is piety?” asks Socrates of Euthyphron. “Piety“, replies Euthyphron, “means acting as I am acting.” Euthyphron had never before analysed his own words nor did he understand the necessity for it. Cross-examination made him contradict himself over and over again. Euthyphron had like many of his compatriots been proved to be utterly ignorant of what he professed to be a master of. I write this, not to glorify the importance of critical examination, scientific temperament or reasoned truth in our everyday lives. I write this with an anguished heart to draw out the remarkable semblance that our so-called mature democracy bears to the Athenian society of 400 BC. Socrates was conscious of his own ignorance and in the pursuit of true knowledge despised pretence. In this process he confronted many inflated egos and this cost him his life.
And then with the chimes of the clock, we evolved in time and space, to stand some twenty-five centuries later in a different dimension, the ‘holy’ India. Alas! The verdict remained the same. Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Professor MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare are all dead. Padma Shri Dr Narendra Dabholkar, a doctor by profession dedicated his life to the cause of rationalism. He was instrumental in getting Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Bill passed. An ardent advocate of Dalit rights, he was known for his involvement in annihilating the caste system. Govind Pansare, a veteran leftist leader of the Communist Party of India, was involved in several social movements, be it fighting for the rights of labour force, supporting inter-caste marriages or women’s empowerment. Professor MM Kalburgi, a Sahitya Akademi Award recipient was, besides being a renowned academician, a meliorist who dedicated his life to social reforms, and the fight against orthodoxy.
I dare not speculate whether it was their support for the Anti-Superstition law, inter-caste marriage, women’s empowerment or their opposition to regressive cult practices, idol worship and voodooism that irked some of our most ‘pious’ Indian minds. While they critically debated on issues and campaigned for reforms in public domain, the self-professed guardians of ‘our’ Indian culture threatened, coerced and manhandled them, and we kept our moral compass blissfully dysfunctional.
We often take immense pride in quoting ancient scriptures, invoking seers and singing psalms of our inclusiveness. But this fascination of ours with ancient India falls short in our reminiscence of its plural identity. Be it Vedic philosophy or Caravaka, Bhakti movement or Sufism, idolatry or atheism, spirituality or scientific fervour, all were shaped after years of dedicated deliberations on views from differing schools of thought. While contrary notions have been at loggerheads, it is in their long-lasting engagement that the essence to a progressive argumentative India lies.
Our nation today has become a safe haven for vigilante groups. Our freedom of expression today, lies at the behest of these ‘higher’ mortals who take offence at the slightest implication of noncompliance. Intolerance seems to have taken precedence over dialogue. Grisly murders, such as these, are only humble manifestations of a cataclysm that we have been fuelling around for years. Even though this scientific age warrants us to ask questions, it has become rather common place to harbour partisan following and blind faith. What’s even disconcerting has been the failure of the state to protect its progressive voices amid prevalent hostility and brewing fascism.
Socrates at the end of the trial addresses the crowd, “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways – I to die and you to live. Which to the better fate is known only to god.” The perpetual decline in the spirit of reason and intellect, culminated in the execution of Socrates. The jurors having sided with the wrong lot brought remorse and shame to Athens. Today it is we who stand at trial. This hour implores us, as a society to collectively decide. If we don’t choose our leaders wisely we would be doomed to remain a land of snake charmers.