The intellectual scene in Post-independence India

via A speech of S. Gurumurthy given to IIT Chennai published on September 21, 2008





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… Defeat and anger go together. Abuse and defeat
go together. So, it is in this norm and with this understanding of what an
intellectual debate means, I would like to place before you some of my thoughts
today. Some of may find it provocative. I am confident that the audience is
competent enough to absorb this and think rather than get into the mood which
all of us have got used to in the last 30-40 years abuse.

Background: India before Independence

Let us see the pre-independence background, the intellectual content of India.
See the kind of personalities who led the Indian mind Swami Vivekananda, Sri
Aurobindo, Gandhiji, Tilak- giants in their own way. Most of them were involved
in politics, active politics, day-to-day politics, handling men, walking on the
road, addressing meetings, solving problems between their followers. And,
meeting the challenges posed by the enemy, the conspiracies hatched against
them. They were handling everything, yet, they were maintaining an intellectual
supremacy, and an originality which history has recorded.

Let us look at the academic side. Whether it is a P.C. Ray who wrote on Indian Chemistry
in 1905 or Sir C.V. Raman who wrote about mridangam, tabala, and violin, and
saw the physics in it (this was in 1913); whether it was R.C. Majumdar or Radhakumud
Mukherjee who saw greatness in the Indian civilization; trying to bring up points,
instances, historical evidence to mirror the greatness of India to the defeated
Indian race, they were all building the Indian mind brick by brick.

Sri Aurobindo spoke of Sanatana Dharma as the nationalism of India. He didn’t
rank it as a philosophy. He brought it down to the level of emotional
consciousness. Swami Vivekananda spoke of spiritual nationalism; it was the
same Swami who spoke of Universal brotherhood. For them philosophy was not
removed from the ground reality. The nation was at the core of their
philosophy. Swami Vivekananda was called the “patriot monk”.

Mahatma Gandhi spoke of Rama Rajya. Bankim Chandra wrote Bande Maataram. The song,
the slogans in it, the mantra in it made hundreds of people kiss the gallows smilingly
and many others went to jail. It transformed the life of the people. This was the
intellectual scene, this was the content. This is what powered the intellectual
as well as the mass movement in India. This was the core of India, the soul of
the Indian freedom movement.

The symptoms: India immediately after Independence

Imagine what happened in 1947 and after, India was able to intellectually lead
not only Indians but also the whole world because of the intellectual assertion
that the freedom movement brought about. Let us look at post Independence
India. The persons who led post-Independence India were also trained in the
same freedom movement. They went to jail, but they were not rooted in the
intellectual content of the Freedom movement!

The first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru was in jail for 7 years. He
was a great  intellectual, purely in the
sense of his capacity to reason, understand, read, and expound a thought. He
told Galbrieth once, “I would be regarded as the last English Prime Minister
of India.” See the intellectual capability of the man, the enormously
competent mind.

But intellectualism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It has to be rooted in something
concrete. Swami Vivekananda’s universal brotherhood was rooted in India’s greatness
as a civilization. The concept of “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” cannot exist
without a living form, a population which believes in it and believes in
itself. You need to have a society which believes in it.

That is why India could invite the Jews who were butchered, raped, all over the
world. In 107 out of 108 countries, this race was butchered. At least they had
the courtesy and the gratitude to publish a book. The Israeli government
published a book that out of 108 countries that we sought refuge, the only
civilization, the only country, the only people, the only ideology that gave us
refuge was the Indian civilization. They published a book, which most Indians
are unaware of.

And we invited the Muslims. The refugee Muslims first landed in Kutch. And they
are called the Kutchy Memons even today but not the Memons who bomb Mumbai. But
the Memons who lived with us.

In the year 1917, many of you might be aware, a case went to the Prey Council, equivalent
to the Supreme Court now. The Kutchy Memons went and told the Prey Council that
we are Muslims for namesake, but we follow only the Hindu law. Please don’t
impose the Shariat on us. The Prey Council ruled that they are Muslims but the only
sacred book they have is called “Dasaavathaara”, it is not Koran. In
fact they knew no language other than the Kutchy language.

And in the “Dasaavathaara”, nine avatharas were common between Hindus
and Kutchy Memons. We call the tenth avathaara “Kalki” and they call
him “Ali”. The Prey Council ruled that the Shariyat law is not
applicable to them. The All India Muslim League took up the case, went to the
British and told them that this finding is dangerous to Islam and requested
them to pass a law which will overrule this judgment. The British government
passed a law in 1923 which was called the “The Kutchy Memons Act” declaring,
“If a Kutchy Memon wants to follow the Shariat, allow him to do so”. It
doesn’t mean a Muslim must follow the Shariat. Between 1923-1937, before the
All India Shariat Act was passed not a single Kutchy Memon filed an affidavit
with the plea
that he wants to follow the Shariaat. That was the integration prevalent in
India. In 1937, when the All India Shariat Act was passed, the preamble to the
act mentioned that this was being passed by a demand made by the AIML leader
Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Today, the Shariat has become a part of Muslim

The purpose behind making you aware of this background is that 99% of the
people who speak about the constitutional rights of the minorities or the
distinctiveness of Muslim life are unaware of the facts. Till the year 1980, in
Cooch Behar district, the Shariat law was not applicable. In 32 instances
between 1923 and 1947 by legislation, the Shariyat law was not applicable to
the Muslims. This is the extent of the intellectual gap in India.

Secularism: A Reversal and perversion of the Indian mind.

And now, coming to what is the position today. Everything that drove the
freedom movement – everything that constituted the soul of the freedom
movement, whether it is the Ram rajya of Gandhiji or Sanaatana Dharma of Sri
Aurobindo or the spiritual patriotism of Vivekananda or the soul stirring Vande
Maataram song, came to be regarded not only as unsecular but as sectarian,
communal and even as something harmful to the country.

Thus, there was a reversal, a perversion of the Indian mind. How did it occur?
Today, the intellectualism of India means to denigrate India. There are mobile
citizens and there are non- citizens deriding India. Go to the Indian Airlines
counter you will find people deriding India. Go to a post office they will
deride India. Go to a railway station, they will deride India. It is the
English educated Indian’s privilege to deride India. When I was talking to
postal employees in the GPO, Chennai (a majority of them were women). I told
them the basic facts about the post office. I said it is one of the most efficient
postal systems in the world, one of the cheapest in the world, one of the most delivery
perfect postal systems in the world. For one rupee, you are able to transport information
from one end of the country to the other.

And you have a postman, no where in the world this happens the postman goes to
the illiterate mother and reads out the letter, he is asked to sit there and
shares a cup of coffee and comes away. Money orders are delivered to the last
rupee. It is an amazing system, one of the largest postal systems linking one
of the most populous nations, one of the most complicated nations with so many

Somebody writes the address in Tamil and it gets delivered in Patna! It gets
delivered to Jawaan at warfront! When I completed my speech many of the women
were wiping their tears. I asked why are you crying I have only praised you.
They said, “Sir, this is the first time we’ve been praised, otherwise
we’ve only been abused!”

You know how many people use the railways in India? A million people and that
is equivalent to the population of Australia! And we have only abuses for them!
Have we any idea of what this country is? India has been compared with
Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. You can walk across many of
these countries in one night (laughs)! The best politicians, intellectuals,
sociologists in India have compared us with them because, we have never
understood what we are and unless you do that, you can never relate us with

Demonising India: Projecting a negative image.

This enormous intellectual failure, to the extent of being intellectually
bankrupt, did not occur overnight, it was no accident. There is a history
behind this enormous erosion. And I told you about these mobile citizens, what
they have done to us. Every country has problems. There is no country without
any problem. Are you aware of what is one of the most pressing problems in
America today? It is incurable according to the American sociologists; even
American economists have begun to agree with them. American politicians are
shaken, one third of the pregnant women are school going children. And mothers
mix the anti-pregnancy pill in the food without daughter’s knowledge everyday.

But this is not the image of America. The image of America is a technologically
advanced country etc. etc. Ours is the only country where the mobile citizens
of India have transformed the problems of India into the image of India -its
identity is inherently related with its problems.

Go to any country and the same negative stereotype is echoed that India is
suffering from poverty and malnutrition. India has no drinking water. Indian
women are burnt. If they are married, they are burnt, if they are widows, they
are burnt. See the image that has been built about this country. Who did this?
The English educated Indian.

And one Kaluraam Meena (have you ever heard of him? Asks the audience to raise
their hands if they have), only a small fraction of this large audience has
heard of him. When Clinton came to India, he went to a village called Nayla
where the villagers interacted with him. And one of the panchayat board members
asked him, “Sir, I am told that in the West, all of you believe that this
country is a rotten country, a backward country, a poor, hungry country. Do you
also think like that?”

Clinton was shaken, because he might have thought that this person might be approaching
him for some favour. I will relate my experience when I went to the Carter Centre
in 1993. They were talking about dispute resolution and all that. I went there
to meet somebody, if not Carter, somebody else at least. His Deputy, a lady,
was very hesitant to receive me. “Mr. Gurumurthy”, she said,
“Mr. Carter is not around, anyway, I can spare seven-eight minutes for
you.” I said three or four minutes of your time would do. Even before I
could start, she said, “Mr.Gurumurthy, we don’t have funds, we will not be
able to help” (laug

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