In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, well-known retired IPS officer RB Sreekumar has asked him to to uphold the preeminence and sanctity of the Constitution of India and conserve identity of Bhagvad Gita by rejecting any move to turn the holy scripture into a national book. Here is what the letter says:
Recently media reported about plans of Union Government to proclaim the holy scripture of Hindu Community, Bhagvad Gita (BG), as National Book of India. This ill-conceived move propelled by pseudo-fundamentalist enthusiasts of majority community, is adverse to our motherland’s syncretistic symbiotic heritage and unamendable foundational ideals of the Indian Constitution, “Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual” and secularism. This super imposition of official status to BG would also erode its distinct religious, conceptual and philosophical identity.
Grounds against bestowing to Bhagvad Gita, the State authorized eminence of National Book are numerous.
They are :-
BG occupies the third position in the scriptural trinity (Prasthanatrayam) of Hindus – the first and second being the Upanishads and Brahmasutra respectively. Primarily, by bestowing political and legal status of National Book to BG, the government functionaries from political and administrative executive are violating their oath of allegiance to the Constitution of India, the basic law of the land. As in the case of National Bird, National Animal, National Flag, National Anthem and so on, any alleged criticism against contents of BG (once it is made the National Book) could invite penal action and such an eventuality would amount to invoking the concept of blasphemy in India. My apprehension is that such a trend would relegate Indian Nation to the condemnable depth of theocratic Nations like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, in the long run.
Dilution of religious freedom :
Indian citizens following single founder-centric religions like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Islam would experience emotional deprivation of degrading their scriptures. This would be damaging to the right to freedom of religions, guaranteed in Article 25 to 28 of the Constitution.
Danger of Caste admixture :
The message of BG was interpreted differently by many and utilized for contradictory purposes – for violent freedom struggle and non-violent movement against the British by Mahatma Gandhi. Though this scripture contains many lofty exhortations and guidance for crisis management, stress relief, value-addition to an individual to whole society and humanity, freedom from material, physical, emotional and intellectual bondage and so on, there are slokas justifying the discriminative caste order – the primary causative factor for Indian degeneration and degradation from 4th Century of the Christian Era (CE) and non-performance in the fields of acquisition and production of new knowledge, discoveries, inventions, military strategy, science and technology, in comparison to other Countries. Let us not forget that Indians were defeated by all foreign invaders from the time of Alexander the Great of 3rd Century Before Christian Era (BCE) to modern times. Caste-based social order has been sanctified in BG, which treats “Caste admixture” (Varnasankarah – see sloka 41 of chapter-1) as an abominable danger.
Perpetuation of inequality :
BG forbids any vertical and horizontal mobility in society – an imperative ingredient of any vibrant and pulsating society. Sloka 35 of chapter-3 counsels “One’s own dharma (Caste related duties), though imperfect, is better than the dharma of another better discharged. Better death in one’s own dharma; the dharma of another is full of fear”. Thus, Gita wants a person born as Sudra (the word literally means an individual kept away from knowledge – Shrutat Dooraha Shudraha – by etymologist Yaskan – should live as a servant of the upper castes and he has no right and opportunity to go up in the caste ladder by skill acquisition or through in-born and trained talent. Though sloka 13 of chapter-4 claims “The four-fold caste was created by Me (God) by the different distribution of Guna and Karma”, this dictum was never practiced from the days of Mahabharata. The illustrative case is of Maharathi and great archer Karna, who had been denied the status of Kshatriya as he was nurtured by a low caste Soota, since his mother Queen Kunti did not reveal Karna’s real identity. Even Lord Krishna did not do anything to counter, correct and remedy this anomaly. Consequently, there was no merit based recruitment in government services, defence forces and higher bureaucracy, till the advent of British rule. Independent India has to remedy this malady through system of reservation in services, but still disproportionately higher number of caste-Hindus is visible at elite levels of government service, socio-economic, cultural, educational, political and religious fields in India. In short, the above noted slokas in Gita are repugnant to Articles 14, 15, 16, 17, 21 and 51A of our Constitution.
Graded inequality :
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar clamouring for creation of a casteless society (Book ‘Annihilation of Caste’) demolished the scriptural and religious foundations of birth based caste (Jayatae Iti Jati) as hierarchically ‘graded inequality’ of Hindu caste system. Sanctification of higher castes through Purushasukta of Rigveda was deemed by Ambedkar as a clever trap and organicist logic by making social groups holier than the individual, since they were born out of the single divine being (Purusha). The role of BG to create an ambience in Hindu society for ensuring enjoyment of all good things in life for upper caste in general and priestocracy in particular, by depriving legitimate opportunities to Shudras and those outside caste order, through scriptural stipulation, is condemnable.
Contradictions in BG :
There are many inexplicable contradictions and confusing concepts in BG. In Sloka 34 of chapter-2, Lord Krishna warned Arjuna about adverse consequences of not fighting the war thus “people will ever recount your infamy. To the honoured, infamy is surely worse than death”. But in Sloka 47 of same chapter, emphasis was on doing duty without any expectation – Nishkama Karma. “Seek to perform your duty; but lay not claim to its fruits. Be you not the producer of the fruits of Karma; neither shall you lean towards inaction”. The instruction of, “surrendering all actions to Me (God), with your thoughts resting on Self, freed from hope and selfishness and cured of mental fever, engage in battle”, (chapter-3-30) was nullified in the direction of Sloka 33 of chapter-11. “You therefore arise and obtain fame. Conquer the enemies and enjoy the unrivalled Kingdom. By Me have they been verily slain already. You be merely an outward cause, Oh Savyasachin”. Further, BG had not been successful in reconciling the relative merit of different ways to God realization, viz.; paths of knowledge (Gnana), action (Karma), devotion (Bhakti), but recognition and submission to caste-based social order, Varnasramadharma, has ever remained an inalterable postulate. This factor would explain monopolization priesthood in temples by the Brahmin community, even in government managed temples of Tirupati, Shabarimala, Somnath and Jagannathpuri, in violation of Constitutional provisions in Articles 14, 15 & 16.
Gender prejudice :
BG had reflected retrogressive anti-women socio-religious conventions glorified in the Smruties, particularly of Manu, Vyasa, Parasara and Vashishtha. Manusmruti denigrated women, in chapter-IX – Sloka 2 & 3, to slavish depth, as part of imperative divine order – Varna Linga Dharma. Even a mythological character – Parashurama, who killed his own mother, Renuka/Konkana, on the orders of his father, Muni Jamadagmi, is worshiped as a deity in many temples. Hypothesis of Gita in Sloka-32 of chapter-IX is obvious “for those who take refuge in Me, Oh Partha, though they be of inferior birth – women, Vaishyas and Shudras, even they attain Supreme Goal”. Gender based prejudice is quite pronounced in this Sloka. Even those women who are born in Brahmin and Kshatriya castes are also treated as low-born.
No role in religious rites :
This bias is reflected in observance of 16 socio-religious and cultural rites (shodasa samskar) of Hindus. Marginalization and degradation of women in most of these 16 observances, prescribed by Smrutis and Dharmshastras, is repulsively heinous. Girl child is not even entitled to Upanayan (investiture of sacred thread), Vedarambba (initiation to study) and Samavartan (convocation ceremonies), while Namakaran (naming) is conventionally avoided in many places for girls. Strangely, the father or senior male member do all auspicious rituals in most of the 16 Samskaras, particularly Namakaran, Annaprashana (giving first cereal food), – though biology makes mother to be the food provider (Annadata) from the time of conception of the child – Vedarambba, Samavartan and so on. In Antyesti (funeral), son, nephew or male kith and kin of the deceased are alone permitted to do rituals.
No priesthood :
This sloka, however, does not confer any authority or rights to women to be appointed as even assistants to priests in Devi temples – Shaktipeethams – due to economics and commerce. Tokenist and insincere exhibitionism of gender equality by depicting Goddesses as symbolic custodians of knowledge (Saraswati), wealth (Lakshmi) and power (Amba/Parvati) is not practiced in real life, where women are kept away, as far as possible from knowledge, wealth and power. In most religious bodies, Mathas and Ashrams, no suitable female cadre is raised or nurtured for assuming positions of leadership and authority. Though Lord Buddha permitted women in the Buddhist Sanghams, that tradition was neglected by male monks later.
Commodification of women :
Commodification of women is conspicuous in dowry structure, despite its legal ban and culpability. In India, any material including carcass of animals and cow-dung can fetch money but families of even highly qualified, employed and well-educated girls have “to bribe” a prospective bride-groom’s family to take away the girl after marriage!!!. This BG sloka must have prompted Goswami Tulsidas in his “Ramcharitmanas (Story of Rama)”, to write “Dhol, Gawar, Shudra, Pashu, Nari, Sakal Tadan ke Adhikari – Drum, rustic, low-born and women are liable to be beaten, (Sundarakanda). Naturally, hundreds of offenders including women are prosecuted for perpetration of domestic violence on women.
Unscientific contentions :
Significantly, as in the case of Bible – Old Testament, there are a few holy assertions contrary to established scientific truths in BG. The Moon is not producing any light, but this satellite of earth is equated with the Sun in sloka-8 of chapter-7. Sacrificial offers to Gods (Yagna) has been shown as a milch cow (Kamadhenu) of desires (chapter-3, 10-11). But there are no instances of Yagna bringing rains, blocking droughts and predicting or preventing natural calamities. But modern science has devised method of creating rains through cloud seeding. Similar is ill-founded claim of Moon as nourisher of herbs (chapter-15-13).
BG – not the creation of God :
Like all scriptures of semetic religions, concepts in Gita about origin of Universe, Plants, Animals and Humans are conditioned by level of knowledge of the writer and it would be unfair to expect from Gita the latest findings of modern science. But this fact should establish that BG is not creation of an omniscient God Almighty though as a belief, anybody is free to hold such a contention.
Against scientific temper :
Once Gita is made the National Book, many would accept ideals and theories about material world described in this book, as scientific truths and such a tendency is against Article 51A, sub clause H of the Constitution- It shall be the duty of every citizen of India, inter-alia, “To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform”.
Demolition of Babri Masjid – violative of BG :
Paradoxically, the demolition of the 16th Century Prayer Hall of Muslims – Babri Masjid – in 1992, by a mob of misguided brigands, was in total violation of a few of the lofty ideals emphasized in BG for followers of Hindu religion, directing all to recognize and accept various forms of worship and pursuits of God. Illustrative slokas are, (i) “To whatever way men identify with Me, in the same way do I carry out their desires; men pursue my path, Oh Partha in all ways”. (chap. 4-11), (ii) “He, who sees Me everywhere and sees all in Me, he never becomes lost to Me, nor do I become lost to him” (chapter-6-30), (iii) “Whatever form any devotee with faith wishes to worship, I make that faith of his steady” (chapter-7-21). Those who celebrate and support the demolition of Babri Masjid,whose existence was not objected by great Hindu saints, who lived in India from date of its construction in 1520s, have no justifiable moral authority or right to ask for elevating BG to the level of the National Book of India.
BG – no motivator of social reforms :
BG and its interpreters like Ramanuja, Madhava, Adi Shankaracharya and Saint Gnaneshwar did not and could not motivate anybody for launching any movement of renaissance or enlightenment in India. No important pioneer of Bhakti movement of 16th Century like Guru Nanak did quote from BG. In ‘Guru Granth Saheb’ – the holy book of Sikhism – utterances of 36 saints, poets and bards including Kabir, Farid, Namdev, Ravidas, Jaydev, Surdas and so on, were included but none from BG.
No inspiration to progressive movements :
The pioneers of modern Indian renaissance like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the morning star of the movement, whose efforts resulted in removal of many social vices particularly abolition of widow burning (Sati) by Governor General of East India Company, Lord William Bendick in 1830s, also did not utilize BG for creating social awareness among people. Even Mahatma Gandhi, who adored BG as his mother, which would help him to tide over difficulties, had not recommended for making BG, the National Book of India, though Mahatma Gandhi had translated BG and re-christened it as ‘Yoga of detachment’ – Anasakti Yoga. None of the progressive writers like Premchand (Hindi), Mulk Raj Anand (English), Kumaran Ashan (Malayalam) etc. and social reformers like Narayana Guru (Kerala) also did not hold BG in high esteem. D. D. Kosambi wrote that BG had 700 fratricidal slokas.
BG against violation of law :
Union Government would be violating instruction of Lord Krishna in sloka-24 of chapter-16, which directs all thus: “Therefore, let the law/scriptures be your authority in deciding what ought to be done and what ought not to be done. Having known what is said in the ordinance of the scriptures/law, you should act here”. The letter, spirit and ethos of the basic law of the nation, the Constitution, is against giving any official rank to any religious scriptures. Such an act would be detrimental and hurtful to both the European perspective of secularism (Total separation of religion and the State) and Indian secular view of equal respect to all religions – Sarva Dharma Samabhava.
Freedom of choice in BG :
One of the uniquely magnanimous and progressive aspects of BG is the total freedom given to readers and followers by Lord Krishna to accept or reject whatever he had explained in this holy book. Sloka-63 of chapter-18 is unambiguous “Thus has wisdom more profound than all profundities been declared to you by Me. Reflect upon it fully and act as you choose”. Such a freedom of choice is not given to followers of any of the Semitic religions. In this context, one can be apprehensive that, the elevated position of Gita as National Book could be misused by interested parties by selectively quoting slokas out of context, even by-passing the tone and thrust of above sloka.
Demands for status to other scriptures :
Making BG as National Book could open a Pandora’s box of demands for granting some distinctive rank to other scriptures in Muslim majority State of Jammu & Kashmir for the Holy Quran, for Bible in Nagaland and Mizoram by Christian sections and for Guru Granth Saheb by Sikhs in the State of Punjab.
Religion – a personal matter :
Liberty to choose any religion or part or full text of any scripture should be left to individuals. The government should not meddle in this matter. There are many Hindus who may not accept BG but still claim to be practicing Hindus.
The Constitution of India has the pith and substance of all religions:
The conceptual base of our Constitution had absorbed and internalized the quintessential kernel of 11 major religions of the world – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Confusianism, Shintoism, Zorastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, reflected thus “Speak truth and act righteously, do not do anything to others which you do not want to be done to you” – Satyam Vada, Dharmam Chara; Atmana Pratikoolani Paresham na Samacharat. The Preamble, the Fundamental Rights, and the Directive Principles of State Policy of our Constitution, reaffirm the above philosophy. So, the ideal stand of the Union government in this matter should be to treat the Constitution of India as the National Book of Indian State, formally or informally.
BG – an energizer :
I would like to proudly submit that some exhortations in BG energisingly empowered me to boldly overcome obstacles created by unscrupulous seniors from political and administrative executive, in enforcing the rule of law, in my 36 years of police service. Two such slokas are (1) “Yield not, Oh Partha, to feebleness. It does not befit you. Cast off this petty faint-heartedness. Wake up, Oh vanquisher of foes!” (chapter-2, sloka-3), (2) “Treating alike pain and pleasure, gain and loss, victory and defeat, engage yourself in the battle. Thus, you will incur no sin” (chapter-2, sloka-38). For me, “the battle” mentioned here was my dharma of performing charter of duties as per law.
Proposal is against Rigveda :
Further, the move of the government would go against the spirit of one of the most ennobling shuktas of Rigveda ((I/89-1) “Let noble thoughts come to us from everywhere” (Aano Bhadrah ritava yantu viswathaha). In short, through the proposed act, the government is deleteriously undermining the historically evolved and time-tested ideals of modernism, creativity, democracy, diversity, secularism and scientific temper, scrupulously pursued by founders and makers of Indian Republic – Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose nd so on.
Disapproval by a leading writer :
In an article, captioned “Dangerous Dogma – an official ‘National Book’ cachet emasculate the Bhagvad Gita’s uniqueness”, the leading writer and journalist, Dilip Padagonkar in Times of India, dtd. December 13, 2014, concluded his article with the following words :
“So, the move to decree the Gita as a ‘National Book’ not only transgresses the letter and spirit of the Constitution but it also runs counter to what holds India together – a refusal of One Book, One Culture, One Language, One Leader. These have been the talismans of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes throughout history – and the legacy, as cruel irony would have it of East India Company”.
Giving an official status to a religious book by a secular State would also adversely affect the exclusive and distinctive identity of BG, enunciating a set of philosophical concepts and faith-oriented assertions and affirmations. So, the proposal is equally detrimental to both the Constitution of India and Bhagvad Gita.
In the light of the above, I humbly request for your kind intervention in this matter and move for rescinding the proposal to proclaim BG as the National Book of India.