Bharat versus India – Open letter to Rajdeep Sardesai

published on January 6, 2013

Dear Rajdeep,

I watched your program on Bharat versus India (Jan.4.2013) and was deeply shocked by your treatment of Shri Sheshadri Chari of the BJP and by your own approach to the question. You seemed to literally spit on the words bharat, bharatiya and bharatiya culture. I recall your saying once that you were a proud Hindu and also a proud citizen of the world. Fair enough. But I saw little of that in your words and body language and instead witnessed what seemed to be virulent, contemptuous references to the above words( whether you were aware of it or not, that is how it came across). It is as bad as the ignorance of the Madhya Pradesh minister who obviously has not read the Ramayana and spoke about Sita crossing the lakshman rekha and therefore being punished by Ravana’s abduction.

I hope the BJP will send out a strict reprimand against this ignoramus. Sita is the unblemished hero of the Ramayana. She did not cross any lakshman rekha and was a victim of the wickedness of Ravana who abducted her.

Likewise, all Hindus consider the word Bharat as sacred. I would like to believe that this conduct on your part was
simply a blip. I have heard people talk about boycotting CNN. That would surely be a pity. In the short time that I have watched your programs I saw no reason for such an approach. But I must confess that I too was shaken by your manner and words. Perhaps a word of apology to all Hindus both in India and in the diaspora is due. I regret having to say to this to an editor who so far, in the short time I have watched CNNIBN, has done good work as a journalist and has not shown any communal bias, and whom I hold in a certain degree of esteem.

Now to the larger question of the panelists’ discussion. It is understandable that in the aftermath of the heinous crime committed against the young woman from Delhi all women, all over the world, are agitated (or should be). However, since the question was framed as a discussion on Bharat versus India, the message got lost.

The women panelists were joined by a male sociologist (Sanjay Shrivastava) who, a few days ago, wrote a shallow article on the subject of masculinity in India (‘ Taking the aggression out of masculinity’ published in The Hindu,
Jan. 3,2013). Here he castigated Swami Vivekananda on the basis of a well known photo(with arms folded) taken in Chicago by American admirers and held him up as an emblem of the false sense of masculinity that Indians have adopted. Never mind that the good Swami was earnest in his advocacy of women’s rights or that there are may Indian photos of him clad as a simple sannyasin with staff, and so on and so forth. It may be mentioned in passing that he is not the only one who has tried to brand the Swami as some sort of a male chauvinist ! There are other Indian male scholars who have attempted to do so, unsuccessfully, I may add.

This male sociologist Shrivastava also castigated Hindu women for celebrating the karva chauth, or the festival of lights on behalf of their husbands. This is a beautiful ceremony. One wonders whether he expects these women and their husbands to spend their nights at discos as a show of women’s liberation ! It might interest the sociologist to know that in states like Kerala the highest incidents of motor accidents are caused by drunk drivers. And the liquor industry has targeted young women in places like Mangalore to get drunk in these out of the way parlours (according to reports). The sale of liquor in Kerala is said to be disproportionately high. It should also be pointed out that the women of Kerala have been celebrating a woman’s pongal both as a celebration of their womanhood and as a counter to this pernicious habits encouraged by the liquor industry whose profits have soared !

Article after article the world over shows that rape is not unique to India.

Let us now turn to the women panelists : the young woman from the north east was justified in her anger at the plight of women there, especially when rapes are committed by the paramilitary stationed there. However, there have been innumerable programs on national television (CNNIBN included) where similar questions have been raised concerning the army in Kashmir. The Indian Army has gone on record as having taken strict disciplinary action against offenders. This could well be undertaken in the north east also. While on this topic of military indiscipline, the harassment of women in the army is also a problem in the West.

Her understanding of Manusrmiti is limited and she quotes a well known sentence from Manusmriti showing him in a negative light. However, she omits to say that Manu called for capital CAPITAL PUNISHMENT for rape. She should also be informed that scholars are now of the opinion that there have been late interpolations which deliberately sought to portray Manu as a misogynist. It might be useful for her to read the excellent article by
Dr.Surendra Kumar ‘The Position of Women in the Manusmriti’ (Viveka Jyoti, Feb.21,2012).

The point that is being made by me is that this sort of ill informed bias( and ignorance of Bharatiya culture) does not help the cause of women.

It was not clear what the sociologist Nandini Sundar meant by saying that Shoorpanaka was punished for expressing her self identity in the Ramayana. Perhaps Ms Sundar should also go back and read the Ramayana.
Shoorpanaka had expressely come to seduce Lakshmana at the behest of her brother Ravana, so that Laskmana could be distracted from his task of guarding Sita in the forest. He was doing exactly what the young man did at the Delhi attack recently. He tried to defend the young woman from the assailants, he too was guarding her. There was
a recent report, a few days ago, on the man who was killed for defending a woman who was being attacked by a rapist. Women should be taught to defend themselves and I understand that classes have already started in New Delhi. Meanwhile, the young man did the right thing, he defended her against the assailants, by attacking them. But since he was unarmed he too was felled down by the assailants, who were armed.

Ravana functioned as an asuric force that tried to violate Sita and Lakshmana happened to be armed and did what was his duty under the circumstances. This had nothing to do with any expressions of self identity by Shoorpanaka.
As a woman, I would not like to undertake a sinister mission to abduct another man’s wife ! Nor, I can say with absolute certainty, that any brother of mine would send me on such a mission !

It is this consistent failure to understand the Hindu tradition called Bharatiya which makes one suspect that this program was, in my opinion, a contrived one. And the women, despite their show of anger, did not advance any suggestions as to what should be done. They spent time merely in fulminating. In my opinion, they too were complicit in simply sounding off !

As for Shri Sheshadri’s attempts to convey his meaning, it was a hopeless task. You would not let the man speak, you interrupted him violently and frequently without allowing him to complete his sentences. You distorted what he was saying, you put words in his mouth.He was, in effect, saying that men are to blame in what is happening to women in today’s India. Part of the reason is the mindless aping of the West, and that includes the complete surrender to market forces where many Indians have lost their bearings. He emphasised the word ‘part’.

There is nothing un Hindu in seeking material prosperity, provided that this is kept within limits. But what one witnesses today is a diabolic seeking for material wealth and mindless hedonism. It is an aping of the worst aspects of modernisation or of the West. An intelligent observer remarked : India has lost its moral compass. The head of Infosystem has called for a value based education. Voices therefore are rising to indicate that something has gone wrong horribly in the endless chase for non Bharatiya values.

I want to conclude with two comments after this disappointing program :

Soon after the heinous crime some intrepid reporter from one of the channels went to the basti where Raman Singh the ring leader had been living. The father of one of the assailants said bluntly : if he has committed a crime then he must hang. Some of the women went on to say that they always knew that Raman Singh was a violent man who would do something terrible.

These people showed an exemplary sense of what is right and what is wrong, although they were slum dwellers, who had no education or upper class manners (that slums should even exist in the capital city is a related question for another discussion!).

Lastly, in response to what appeared to be your baiting (I am deeply sorry to have to use this word) Sheshadri Chari concluded by quoting from Mahatma Gandhi who had said that he welcomed good influences from all cultures but he would not be swept away by them. This is also what Mohan Bhagawat meant in his pronouncements. This is also what the Dalai Lama also meant when he said (soon after the crime happened) that material progress is important, but that Bharat should not forget its spiritual values. This is also what Manusmriti meant when it talked about the ten fold path. These are clear messages to men to conduct themselves righteously. It is a clarion call to MEN to observe Dharma.

Contemporary Hindus are shy of using such words as Dharma, but that does not lessen the reality of Dharma.

While I believe that immediate action should be taken after the court verdict to punish the criminals who committed this heinous crime (rape and murder) against a woman and more stringent legislation undertaken against rape and programs must be initiated to sensitise the police force and hospital authorities, it is also time for Bharat to take a deep look at the processes that are going on today to undermine our Vedic culture, an inheritance that had the highest regard and respect for women.

It is also imperative (and this is addressed specifically to Hindu women) that they do not lose their nerve in these trying times where every attempt is being made to defeat their culture and civilisation and that they will continue to uphold that high Vedic ideal of demanding respect for women. But in fighting for women’s rights Hindu women have to be vigilant against the asuric forces that are seeking to undermine Bharatiya culture and civilisation.

I hope Rajdeep that as a Hindu you will join this project. Your concluding editorial comment was a fine one about Indian democracy. Adding the word Dharma might have compensated for the seemingly hostile attitude towards Bharatiya culture.


Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

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