November 08, 2012

Promote a spirit of genuine intellectual enquiry

Indic Studies About ISP
An important fallout of this neglect is that in India people’s ignorance about their past heritage makes it easy for unscrupulous politicians to manipulate religious sentiments. Just as India’s Partition on religious lines was the handiwork of secular politicians like Jinnah and not of religious leaders, so also issues such as the Babri Masjid Ram Mandir came to be raised by politicians of the Sangh Parivar for electoral purposes rather than by religious leaders. Ignorance about the history of Indic religions and cultures is widespread even among the so-called educated elite. Politicians and bureaucrats run most important Hindu temples and Sikh gurudwaras. Imams have been reduced to the status of government employees. And yet these statist political encroachments on religious institutions are not the subject of study or discussion in India, even among those who believe in the separation of religion from State.
In order to fill this vacuum, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, in collaboration with Manushi, has initiated the Indic Studies Project. Our endeavour is to encourage rigorous, study of diverse cultures and religious traditions in India and their associated: Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Bahaii, Jainism, Buddhism, Neo-Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, including their various sects and branches. Our aim is to promote and encourage study of vital but neglected issues, which have a profound bearing on the well being of our society. We believe it is imperative to situate the study of Indic religions at the interface of politics and culture.
The Indic Studies Project has so far organised two International Conferences on Religions and Cultures in the Indic Civilisation. This is the beginning of an important new process, which has far reaching implications for the political, cultural and intellectual future of India.
The most important contribution of this Project is that it brings together on one platform a diverse range of views and perspectives from otherwise often hostile camps. Those who are familiar with the academic scene in India recognise that in practically all disciplines a sharp divide has come to exist between those who see themselves as leftists and all those who are dubbed as rightists. They seldom meet for dialogue on a common platform and tend to attack each other either through newspapers or in their respective enclaves where the ‘other’ is critiqued in absentia. This division of academics into two permanently hostile camps has proved very harmful for academic institutions in India; it even affects recruitment choices. In order to get a job, scholars are forced to belong to one group or the other, promoting a herd mentality. Each group is aligned, openly or covertly, to either a national party or a regional party. The consequent battle for control over academic institutions through patronised appointments has played an important role in destroying the academic health of our educational institutions. Even academic issues are debated on party lines rather than on intellectual merit.
This polarised situation must change if we are to promote a spirit of genuine intellectual enquiry. Our ability to deal with complex issues and find meaningful solutions to many contentious problems will remain impaired if we do not learn to engage with issues and academic pursuits in a non-partisan manner… These tasks can be performed effectively only if a wide community of scholars and students participates actively in formulating and guiding its agenda and course of action.
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Does this have to do with religion or with the way religion is mobilised politically with religious organisations becoming the agencies of political ideologies? Are Hindus by nature more given to killing, despite all the hype about belonging to a non-violent and tolerant culture? Or, why is it that the agencies of law and order — the police and administration — seem not to protect those attacked when they are members of a religious minority, or Dalits or women? Are they so infiltrated by religious extremist influence — Hindus in the main — that they do not bother to defend those attacked?
Or, does nationalism define ‘Indian’ now to mean ‘Hindu’, and therefore the Hindu has primacy as citizen? Does this make non-Hindus dispensable? One wonders what has happened to the earlier concept of being Indian, a category inclusive of all communities; a concept that my generation of Indians stood by? If the violence is spontaneous, and in the name of a religion, then it is a blot on the religion of the community that perpetrates the violence, be it Hindu, Muslim or Sikh… The assault on women is particularly vicious. Women are the most devastated victims because the attack on them cuts both ways.

The Vaishnava path of Hinduism provides the first glimmer of a positive sense to existence, by proposing that life is a divine play of the divine Being and the goal is to manifest and experience that divine Bliss. Sri Aurobindo finds this positive affirmation to be both powerful and insightful. At the same time, he indicates that it has not gone quite far enough: “There is more here in the world than a play of secret delight; there is knowledge, there is power, there is a will and a mighty labour. Rebirth so looked at becomes too much of a divine caprice with no object but its playing, and ours is too great and strenuous a world to be so accounted for.”

A festival of music and dance to celebrate the lives and poetic compositions of women bhaktas and sufis (6th to 18th Century AD) 6, 7, 8, 9 November 2012. Daily 6 p.m to 9 pm ICCR audotorium, Azad Bhavan IP Estate, Behind ITO, New Delhi Program 7th Nov 2012:
5. Arati Ankalikar (North Indian classical music)
6. Manpreet Akhtar (Sufi/Punjabi music)
7. Vanashree Rao (Kuchipudi)
8. Dhananjay Kaul (Kashmir sufi music)

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