KABIR MEMORIAL LECTURE BY JUSTICE RAJINDAR SACHAR (RETD) ON THURSDAY, 25TH FEBRUARY 2010 AT CENTRE OF INDIAN LANGUAGES JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY, NEW DELHI. In this Century to all tell any nation that all religions can peacefully coexist might be a tolerable question. But to ask or even advise that question in our country, is to insult our nation where the ancients always maintained “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” meaning the whole world is one family.
Our Vedas said thousands of years back Ekam Sat Viprah Budhah Vadanti (The Truth is one, wise men describe it differently). Similarly thousands of years back, Atharva Veda said; “as the cow protects her new born even at the risk of her own life so one should enlarge one’s heart infinitely with compassion for all sentient beings”. The words of Christ are equally apposite when he said, “Do not do unto others what is hateful to you. God will know. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Similarly in the Holy Koran, there is an injunction that all men are brothers and that non-Muslims should be treated with no less dignity and respect for their personality than Muslims. The Koran prohibits discrimination against all persons whether white or black.
U.N. Human Development Report 2004 repudiates the arrogant claim that acceptance of cultural diversity and religious tolerance are unique features of western civilization extending back into history is particularly hard to sustain. Rather it praises history of India for its championing religious and says for example, “Emperor Ashoka’s dedicated championing of religious and other kinds of tolerance in India in the third century BCE (arguing that “the sects of other people all deserve reverence for one reason or another”) is certainly among the earliest political defences of tolerance any-where. Similarly, when a later Indian emperor- Akbar, the Great Moghal, was making comparable pronouncements on religious tolerance at the end of the 16th century (such as; “no one should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is to be allowed to go over to a religion that pleases him”), the Inquisition was in full swing in Europe”.
Even earlier ground had been laid in India for recognition of tolerance amongst various religions – by Bhakti and Sufi movements of which Sant Kabir is one of the finest examples. It would be presumptuous for me to dwell on Kabir’s contribution to the development of synthesis of religion and composite culture of people of India in the 15th Century. I may briefly borrow from authentic sources. Thus Sahitya Akademy book on Kabir has this to say, “Kabir tried to bring both of them closer to each other by criticizing and attacking the meaningless rituals and customs of both and by preaching the ultimate goal of both as one and identical. He was a staunch devotee of Rama who, according to him, is neither an incarnation of Vishnu nor has any attributes or personal form. His “Rama” was not at all different from the ‘Rahim’ of the Muslims.”
Kabir ridiculed the orthodoxy of both Hindus and Muslims and challenged them, like any later scientific rationalist, to justify their sham and hypocrisy.
His love for the poor, common factor in all religious group’s was brought out forcibly when he sang
“The hungry cannot be devout,
please take back this rosary……….
I want a half seer of cereal,
to fill the belly twice a day,
I want a cot to sleep in,
Be my pillow a wooden frame.
I utter no lies or hyperboles,
I only take thy name, O God !
‘Neither the Brahmin is high-caste, nor is the Shudra low. Why hate one
another? Hatred is folly.’
Ah, both of them have lost the way,
Hindus call themselves superior
and do not let others touch their water-pot;
The same Hindu sleeps at the feet of the prostitute –
look at their Hinduism……..
The Pir and Auliya of Muslims eat chicken,
I have seen the Hinduism of Hindus
and the Turkism of Turks,
Kabir says, listen, O sadhus,
which way shall one follow?
Hindu and Turk, each has renounced his mercy in his heart.
One kills by halal, one kills by jhatka; but fire is kindled in both their houses.
For Hindu and for Turk there is one path; so the Sat Guru has taught;
Says Kabir, Listen, O Sants: cry ‘Rama’; cry ‘Khuda’ – it is all one!
O mind, you make your gods and goddesses, and kill living creatures to make offerings to them,
But if your gods are true, why do they not take them when grazing in the fields?
If God dwells only in the mosque, to whom belongeth the rest of the country?
They who are called Hindus say that God dwelleth in an idol: I see not the truth in either sect.
Adam, who was first, did not know
Whence came mother Eve.
Then there was no Turk nor Hindu.”
Let me also give a quote from Kabir By Vaudeville Book, which indicated how Sufi mysticism had impregnated the religious sensibility of the elite as well as the whole composite culture of the time. Kabir’s own religious ideas and representations could not but be somewhat influenced by Sufi thought and
imagery, as is suggested by many of his sayings. Such thoughts and imagery were already part of the warp and woof of the religious consciousness of the Indian masses, and a fortiori of the Islamized weavers known as Julahas, living in the Muslim kingdom of Jaunpur. On the metaphysical plane, these saints owe much to Vedantic monism, yet they are not smarti Hindus: their monotheism is rather strict and they are opposed to Brahmanical ritualism to idol-worship, and also, on the social plane, to the caste distinctions – a position which brings them closer to Islam than to traditional Hinduism.
Of course my favorite songs sending of Kabir are as follows;
Bura Jo Dhaken Mae Chala , Bura Na Miliya Koyae
Jab Dil Khoja Aapana, Muj Sa Bura Na Koyae
Mathi Kahye Kumahar sae, Khou Rondhay Hai Moyae
Ek Din Aasha Aayae Ga, Mae Rondhu Gee Thoyea
Most of Hindus readily accept the definition of Hinduism, as a way of life, as propounded by Sir Radhakrishanan. Thus “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (the world is one family) was proudly proclaimed by Hindus to show the spirit of tolerance. Of course unbiased knowledgeable people also accept that the same message of humanity and common good runs through all religions. Thus Holy Quran proclaims, “All the created ones belong to the family of God…….so, an Arab has no precedence over a non-Arab, a White over a Black”. And Christ said succinctly, “All are children of God.”
But there is no denying that there are mischievous groups, even though very small, amongst Hindus who try to sow disaffection between the two major communities. Thus they put forward their discredited theory that Islam was spread in India by sword. But this false premise is repudiated by no less than Vivekanand, the greatest exponent of Hinduism thus – “The Mohammedan conquest of India came as a salvation to the downtrodden, to the poor. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Mohammedans”. He denied that it was all the work of sword and fire and said that to call it so was “the height of madness”. He also told Hindus not to talk of the superiority of one religion over another. Even toleration of other faiths was not right; it smacked of blasphemy. He pointed out that his guru, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, had accepted all religions as true.
Vivekanand in fact profusely praised Islam and remarked that “without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind. For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam – Vedanta brain and Islam body – is the only hope”.
Vivekanand castigated the orthodoxy thus; “No man, no nation, my son, can hate others and live; India’s doom was sealed the very day they invented the word melacha and stopped from communion with others.”
Some mischievous elements rail against Christians because they are against idolatry. But then Christians are not the only ones against idolatry. There have been and are great souls amongst Hindus and also many intellectuals who speak against the practice of idolatry. This is what Swami Dayanand one of the greatest exponents of Vedas and Hinduism in the 19th century, (though born into a priestly family and brought up to worship the idol of Shiva) has to say “that there is not a single verse in the Vedas to sanction the invocation of the Deity, and likewise there is nothing to indicate that it is right to invoke idols”. He also said, “Idol worship is a sin.” His remedy, in his own words: “Under a righteous government, these lovers of idols (priest) would have been compelled to earn their living by breaking stones; making bricks and carrying materials for building purposes or doing the like work.”
In any country, the faith and the confidence of the minorities in the impartial and even functioning of the State is the acid test of being a civilized State. This is accepted wisdom, and was expressed succinctly by Lord Acton as follows;
“A state which is incompetent to satisfy different races condemns itself; a state which labours to neutralize, to absorb or to expel them is destitute of the chief basis of self-government”.
In the report of working group on Minorities formed by U.N. Sub-Commission on the protection of Minorities, it was the unanimous view that the assimilative approach was not one promoted by the United Nations, and that formal recognition of minorities is the first crucial step towards their effective participation in society. This means not only participation in governance, but also involvement in the economy. Also accepted was the need for multi-lingual education and respect for cultural identity of minorities and the need to ensure fair representation of minorities within the law enforcement system and the workplace. The basic task is to reconcile the pluralism which then exists in that State, and the need to respect the identity of the various groups, with the overall concerns of non-discrimination, equality, national security, territorial integrity, and political independence.
The Muslims have as much claim to the wealth, and fruits of India as any one. Simply because they belong to the minority religion of Islam in no way makes their status less equal to the majority population belonging to Hindu religion. This country is not and will never be a Hindu state. Of course, battle against obscurantism will have to be fought continuously. But that should in no way create apprehension amongst the minorities that their guaranteed rights will be curtailed or that Indian state in any way will discriminate against minorities.
In our country great men have always emphasized the close proximity and the composite culture developed amongst Hindus and Muslims. Thus the most eminent Muslim leader of the nineteenth century, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, had pointed our; “Both of us have shed off our former dress and habits, and while Muslims have adopted numerous customs belonging to the Hindus, the Hindus have been vastly influenced by Muslim manners and customs. I say with conviction that if we were to disregard for a moment our conception of God-head, then in all matters of everyday life, the Hindus and Muslims really belong to one nation (qaum)…. And the progress of the country is possible only if we have a union of hearts, mutual sympathy and love…..I have always said that our land of “India is like a newly-wedded bride whose two beautiful and luscious eyes are Hindus and Musalmans; if the two exist in mutual concord the bride will remain forever resplendent and becoming, while if they make up their mind to see in different directions the bride is bound to become squinted and even partially blind.”
Similarly Gandhiji echoed the same sentiment when he was addressing a women ‘s meeting at Dadar on October 27, 1920; that “the Hindus and Muslims are like the two eyes of the country, there should be no enmity between them (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, 18:342).
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in his oratorical speech at Ramgarh 1940 had spoken the ground reality. He said; I am firm in my conviction that any attempt to dilute the composite culture and inclusive democracy of our country can only bring harm.
I am a Muslim and proud of the fact. I am indispensable to this noble edifice. Without me this splendid structure of India is incomplete.
I was India’s historic destiny that many human races and cultures and religions should flow to her, and that many a caravan should find rest here….One of the last of these caravans was that of the followers of Islam. This came here and settled here for good.
We brought our treasures with us, and India too was full of the riches of her own precious heritage. We gave her what she needed most, the message of human equality. Full eleven centuries have passed by since and Islam now has as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism, and that applies to Christianity also..
Everything bears the stamp of our joint endeavour. Our languages were different, but we grew to use a common language. Our manners and customs were different, but they produced a new synthesis….No fantasy or artificial scheming to separate and divide can break this unity.
I am firm in my conviction that any attempt to dilute the composite culture and inclusive democracy of our country can only bring harm. In that search, the stirring and songs of Sant Kabir is a powerful instrument in the hands of those who believe that composite culture of our country is the bedrock on which rests the stirring call of the Preamble of our Constitution to build sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.