Hang in there!

I am listening to radio, amid all those Saturday-worries, sitting in my room. It is a great sunny day fortunately. I am really hopeful today of finishing my long-pending tasks. The anchors just used a phrase "hold on to". When it reached my ears, I couldn't understand its meaning. I was completely new to me. So I looked into my dictionary for its meaning. There I found a lot of other phrases that use the word hold. Hang on to something means " to hold firmly and not let it go". A related phrase is "hang it up" which means "to quit". It actually makes sense - when you say I am going to hang it up - it sounds more like hanging your clothes on the line. I am trying to make sense of it by its literal meaning. Another one related to it is "let it all hang out" which means to be completely relaxed. As you know hang out means to go out to enjoy and relax, away from your routine activities. So let it all hang out means - let everything relax. There is another one, generally used in informal conversation. It wasn't new for me and that is - hang on there! -- actually it is hang in there! It is used normally to say stay there and face the difficulties that you have to and I will be there to help in a while. Hang together means to be together in a times when the family or group is facing a danger or difficulty. When you say hang on, during your telephonic conversation, it means that you want the person to stay online, and wait for you until you come back.

Ramayan, Mahabharat historical sources, West dubs them myth

Y Sudershan Rao, chairperson, Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), says colonial and Marxist historians have dominated history writing in India for long. He feels there is a need to "Indianise" history and, for that, our epics and itihasas including Ramayana and Mahabharata should be treated as historical sources. Rao tells ET that he does not need any certification from the likes of Romila Thapar. Excerpts:

Mughal era depiction of Rama going into battle

The first event that you organized, the Abul Kalam Azad Memorial Lecture, saw frayed tempers with former VC of MG University, Kerala, Rajan Gurukkal, openly challenging keynote speaker Dr SN Balagangandhara...

Professor Balagandhara is a very well known philosopher and theoretician. I invited him to speak because he's neither Marxist nor Rightist in his approach. His question to Indian historians was that do Indians need a history or a past and whether historiographical methods can be applied to our Itihasas and Puranas. According to him, our history-writing is influenced by Christian theology. His ideas are ahead of his time. Gurukkal, who was the commentator at the memorial lecture, called him intellectually shallow. Perhaps he has not read any of Balagangadhar's works. Rajan just wasn't prepared to accept any criticism.

But many historians were unhappy you invited a philosopher to talk about history...

Is history the domain of only professional historians? Marx was not a historian. Was (DD) Kosambi a historian? But they wrote history and gave us tools of analysis and historiographical procedures. These disciplinary borders only exist in India. Nowhere else in the world would people ask you if you have a Masters in History before you, say, deliver a talk on Ashoka. Philosophy is one area where all sciences or social sciences ultimately merge. This is why we award a doctorate of philosophy in all subjects.

So does India, according to you, need a history or a past?

History writing in India is just about 300 years old and is not exactly reflective of our past. The first generation of history writers in India was European, the second generation was nationalist and the third generation in the post-Independence era was dominated by Marxists, who use European tools of analysis. The Europeans have not considered Puranas and Itihasas as historical sources and simply called them myths. If Rama's story is not true then how has he survived in the collective memory for so long? People do not care whether Ram is historical or not. He is truth for them. India's need is a special study of its past and the truth of its past cannot be denied. We need to Indianise our history writing.

You say Ramayana and Mahabharata are "truths", but we have many versions of both in our country. So what is the real truth?

I am not here to question the beliefs of people. The content of one Ramayana may be different from the other but the existence of Ram, Sita and Ravan is consistent. That's the truth. I might not know anything about my great great grandfather but I can't deny his existence for lack of evidence or how else would I be here? Similarly Rama's existence need not be proved by historical procedure. What benefit are you (historians) going to get if you deny the existence of Rama? Why do you want to try to prove he is not there?

History writing in India has always been a Left Vs Right debate. Will you try to change it?

ICHR is willing to debate all issues but historians participating should have a scientific temper. They should not get emotional. (Rajan) Gurukkal, for instance, was emotional in his comments and he wanted to condemn everything. Adi Shankaracharya and Mandana Misra once participated in a debate on Veda and Karma where the adjudicator was Misra's wife herself. She declared Shankaracharya as the winner knowing well that her husband would have to renounce the world and be Shankaracharya's disciple. That should be the scientific spirit.

RSS reiterates that India is a Hindu country. How would you define a Hindu?

Hinduism is a term that has been coined recently. In ancient literature, we called it Sanatan Dharma. We didn't have a name for our religion because we had none. Perhaps we didn't have any religion before Buddhism. It was after Buddha's death that books were written on Buddhism and it became a cult or religion. Hindu in ancient times was a name given to people who were living to the east of the Indus river up to Kanyakumari. Hindus were religious, nonreligious and irreligious. As a historian, I look at it that way.

Would you want to reopen the debate on whether Aryans were invaders/settlers or indigenous?

Aryans are called outsiders only by colonial and Marxist writers. We have evidence that points to indigenous origin of Aryans. Scholars in India have been aware of it, but are they (Marxist historians) ready to accept it? One needs a scientific spirit for that. Even if we organize a debate here in ICHR, will those people (Marxist historians) be part of the discussion? For instance, it's a known finding that the city of Dwarka exists under water. Inspite of recent archaeological evidences historians are still following colonial theories with regard to Hindu culture or Aryan debate.

What about suggestions that modern medical science was there in ancient India. For instance, Lord Ganesha and plastic surgery?

I don't think so. I think scientific concepts could have been there in ancient times but not actual examples of, say, plastic surgery.

Your appointment has is seen as a political decision. Historian Romila Thapar has said you haven't published in any peer reviewed journal. 

That's her opinion. 

But have these questions been posed to any other chairperson before?

Were these questions posed to Irfan Habib. He enjoyed two terms at ICHR. No media questioned him whether he was Marxist or with the Congress then. Romila Thapar is a historian and so am I. Do I need a certification from other historians to become the ICHR chairman? I have been appointed by the government and not a political party

Source: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/interviews/ramayan-mahabharat-historical-sources-west-dubs-them-myth-y-sudershan-rao/articleshow/45171587.cms?curpg=2

The Great Stink in London

In the summer of 1858, the city of London came to a standstill. Government could barely function; people resisted the urge to leave their homes, but demanded action from the government. What had brought London to its knees was the overwhelming stench that radiated from the surface of the River Thames.

supporters of Thames reform was an English chemist and physicist named Michael Faraday. He staunchly supported a complete reformation of the toxic river, so much so that after a boat ride along its surface, he composed and sent a letter to the editor of The Times newspaper. The letter, entitled ‘Observations on the Filth of the Thames,’ would soon become the public’s rallying point for an overall restoration of the Thames. Faraday wrote a blunt dissection of the situation regarding the polluted river. He described how he had tossed pieces of paper into the water which had almost immediately disappeared proving that ‘the whole of the river was an opaque pale brown fluid’ and that the river was nothing more than ‘a real sewer.’ Faraday also made it very clear when he cautioned that ‘if we neglect this subject, we cannot expect to do so with impunity; nor ought we to be surprised if, ere many years are over, a hot season give us sad proof of the folly of our carelessness.’

For centuries, England’s most famous river played the role of dumping ground for all of London’s various wastes—human, animal, and industrial. As the population of London grew from a tiny Roman fort into a large, metropolitan city, the amount of waste it produced expanded exponentially. By the 1600’s, many people began to recognise that the pollution of the city’s most vital water source was becoming a problem. Yet with no comprehensive idea on how to fix the issue, no action was taken and the people of London continued to use the Thames as both a water source and a rubbish bin. By the arrival of the 19th century, the problem had been left to stew for too long. Enough waste and pollution had accumulated in the Thames to make it the most contaminated and unhygienic river in the world.

Though the situation with the Thames was noticeable before the onset of England’s Industrial Age, it was the summer of 1858 that finally brought it to the attention of lawmakers. That particular summer, all of London was feeling the affects of an oppressive heat wave and as a result, all the sewage in the Thames began to ferment in the scorching sun—centuries of waste was literally cooking in the monstrous heat. The result was a smell as offensive and disgusting as can ever be imagined. It spawned accounts such as the following: there were “stories flying of men struck down with the stench, and of all kinds of fatal diseases, up-springing on the river’s banks.”

Luckily enough for the denizens of London, even the elite were not exempt from such an odious odour: ‘The intense heat had driven our legislators from those portions of their buildings which overlook the river. A few members, indeed, bent upon investigating the matter to its very depth, ventured into the library, but they were instantaneously driven to retreat, each man with a handkerchief to his nose.’

Members of Parliament tried at first to stay the course and continue their sessions without agreeing to any drastic plans of reform. They knew that any action taken in regards to ridding the stench would involve an arduous overhauling of the entire infrastructure of the Thames. Many lawmakers were hesitant to make such a commitment and tried instead to relieve their own battered senses.

Their first attempt to quench the stench involved dousing the curtains of Parliament in a mixture of chloride and lime. When that didn’t work, they even considered removing the entire government from the Westminster area—despite the newly constructed building they had only recently acquired. That idea was quickly dropped and soon, days had passed without the formation of a solid resolution. Eventually, the stench simply began to overpower the staunch sensibilities of many of the Members, some who could even be ‘seen fleeing from the Chamber, handkerchief to nose, complaining loudly about the “Stygian Pool” that the Thames had become.’

Thankfully, through a combination of pubic pressure and abject nasal suffering, Parliament finally chose to act instead of leaving the issue for another “hot season.” They also began to realize that simply relocating the seat of government would not do anything to alleviate the suffering of the people who could not move away from the toxic Thames.

Within a record of eighteen days, a bill was created, passed, and signed into law that would refurbish the entirety of the River Thames. Indeed, many found the situation ironic, as this passage illustrates:
‘In 1855 the condition of the Thames appalled the eminent scientist but three yeas later, in 1858, the hottest summer on record reduced it to a state in which it offended a more influential body: the politicians whose recently rebuilt hoses of Parliament stood upon its banks. This proximity to the source of the stench concentrated their attention on its causes in a way that many years of argument and campaigning had failed to do and prompted them to authorise actions which they had previously shunned.’

Disregarding the motives behind the renovation, London’s most important river was finally getting the care it so rightfully deserved. The reformation of the Thames included not only the implementation of a sewage system—to be designed by the English civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette—but also a construction of embankments along its sides. With these reforms, the Great Stink slowly began to dissipate and Londoners could breathe proper sighs of relief—not only for the clear air, but also for the other benefits that accompanied the integration of change. Not only did the Thames gradually evolve into one of the cleanest rivers in the world but the implementation of a functioning sewage system also aided in the elimination of several waterborne illnesses that had plagued London for centuries.

So while the Great Stink might have been deplorable and hideously offensive to everyone’s delicate senses it nonetheless helped to push forward a reform that had been waiting to be realized for centuries.

Healthcare in India

It is a daunting task to erect an efficient and well-functioning publicly-funded health system in low-resource settings such as India. Although India has a vast system of publicly-funded health facilities, most of them are under-resourced. Even basic amenities, such as electricity and running water, are non-existent in a number of health facilities. Health system strengthening in India was never really based on "Health for All" principle. WHO and the likes always focused on result oriented primary care interventions. Consequently, the health system that we have today is fragmented and unable to respond to crises appropriately in time. However, in 2005, the central government of India took another step towards strengthening publicly-funded health system by introducing a nationwide program. The program has been extended to 2017. The most important thing to remember while analyzing Indian context is that Health is basically a state subject. Some states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala have well-functioning publicly-funded health systems. It is up to the state government how it responds and acts when the Center offers financial and technical assistance. For most of the northern Indian states, health has never been a political priority. Health systems in these states are dysfunctional and corruption is rife everywhere. A lot of states are now slowly trying to develop capacities so that they can have good health system in place but they still have a long way to go. As far as Modi is concerned, his main thrust is on getting country's economy back on track as early as possible. A happy economy means having enough money for the implementation of health system reforms. I don't see substantial changes taking place in the health systems of North Indian states, especially Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, for next 5 years or so. 

BTW, I was born and bred in rural Uttar Pradesh. I lost a 3-month old sister in the year 1985 just because there were no health facilities around my village. The nearest private/public doctor was 15 kilometers away from my home. My father and grandfather both were out of station. For a young Indian mother whose social behavior and freedom of movement was constrained by several cultural and economic factors, the thought of traveling 15 kilometers on her own, roaming around in an unknown city, looking for a child specialist in the district hospital was unimaginable and scary. My mother did not go and waited for my father to come back. By the time, my father came home, my sister had already taken her last breath. Very little has changed over last 3 decades in my state. There was one midwife per 5000 people in 1990. Today, it is less than 1 midwife per 8000 people. Most of them are in their 50s and will soon retire from the job. The state centers for midwife training have not produced a single midwife since 1990. The whole system is in shambles, but who cares? Not even people!!! :(

RSS’ written Constitution – A response to Vidya Subramaniam

Vidya Subramaniam’s article titled “The Forgotten Promise of 1949″ in the Hindu (08th October, 2013), is premised on two historical assertions. First is that the RSS was banned in February, 1948 not because of complicity in Gandhiji’s murder but because of its involvement in “violence and subversion” that created the atmosphere for Gandhji’s death. The second claim is that the RSS’s written constitution and its commitment to be non-political are a result of M.S. Golwalakar’s acceptance of Sardar Patel’s firm precondition for lifting the ban. Both these statements are factually incorrect.

The most serious deficiency in Ms. Subramaniam’s article is that it quotes selectively from communications from the Government and Sardar Patel without any reference to how the RSS and Golwalkar reacted to these communications and the allegations contained in them.
It needs to be emphasized at the very outset that the ban on RSS was lifted by the Government unconditionally and this was the official position of the Government itself.
On 14th October, 1949, a member of the Bombay Legislature, Mr. Lallubhai Makanji Patel, asked the Home Minister Morarji Desai on the floor of the house- “Whether the lifting of the ban is condition or unconditional? (and) Whether the leader of the R.S.S. has given any undertaking to the Government?
Answering on behalf of Morarji Desai, Mr. Dinkarrao Desai said “it was unconditional” for the first question and “No” for the second one. Having accused RSS of the most heinous crimes including dacoity and arson, Congressmen all across the country were finding it difficult to explain sudden lifting of the ban. Purely as a face-saver, rumor was spread that the ban was lifted only because RSS gave some kind of an undertaking to control its activities within the framework of a constitution, whose terms were set by the Government.
Sardar Patel has never acknowledged the existence of any such undertaking and, more importantly, Golwalkar stoutly denied it. When asked by a journalist if there was any secret undertaking, Golwalkar replied-”I would have preferred to lay down my life than do anything derogatory to this great organization. There was no compromise, there was no undertaking…” If Sardar Patel had indeed “won out” in securing an undertaking before lifting the ban, as Ms. Subramaniam claims, wouldn’t he have contradicted such an assertion from Golwalkar?
Also, would a government which justified the ban with such grave charges as “arson, robbery, dacoity, and murder” be so meekly satisfied that it would lift the ban on the basis of some undertaking?
So let us consider why exactly the government lifted the ban.
This is what the Government Communiqué, which banned RSS on 04thFebruary 1948, said:
It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity, and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunitions.  They have been found circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect fire arms, to create disaffection against the Government and suborn the Police and the Military.”
This was five days after Gandhiji’s assassination. Just three weeks before the assassination, on 06th Jan 1948, Sardar Patel issued a statement that was directly contrary to what was mentioned about the Sangh in the ban-communiqué. Targeting his own party men, he said:
“In the Congress those who are in power feel that by virtue of their authority they will be able to crush the RSS by danda(force)…danda is meant for dacoits and thieves…The RSS men are not thieves and dacoits. They are patriots…only their trend of thought is diverted” (“The Hindu”, Madras dated 7th Jan. 1948.).
It was clear that of these Congress men “in power”, Nehru was foremost in wanting to use the danda against the RSS. Even just before Gandhiji’s assassination, on 29th Jan at Amritsar, Nehru had vowed to “demolish” the RSS. Gandhiji’s assassination was just an excuse. The charged atmosphere following the assassination strengthened the hands of those who had been against the RSS from much before.
The recently published compilation of correspondences between Nehru and Patel titled “Nehru-Patel: Agreement within Differences” reveals the serious differences that existed between the two leaders regarding the RSS. Some correspondences also reveal that Patel was miffed with Nehru’s interference with Home Ministry affairs.
Therefore it is highly likely that the ban was a result of only Nehru’s instigation as Sardar Patel, who said “RSS men are not thieves and dacoits” just weeks before, could not have been party to a communiqué which describes the RSS as exactly that- thieves and dacoits.
It needs to be pointed out that soon after the ban Golwalkar issued a statement disbanding the RSS in abidance of the law. Right from the date of the ban and his subsequent arrest, Golwalkar had been writing letters after letters challenging the government to prove any of the allegations contained in the ban-communiqué.
In a letter dated 03rd Nov, he told Nehru that it is most unfair to “level charges…allow private individuals and parties to carry on a campaign of vilification against us under cover of the Government bail and at the same time gag us by use of Emergency Legislations like Public Safety Acts.”
He repeatedly challenged Nehru and Patel to either provide evidence in support of the allegations or lift the ban. In a letter addressed to Nehru, Golwalkar pointedly asked “if really the Central and Provincial Government are in possession of incriminating evidence against the R.S.S. or certain of its members, is it not right to expect at least a few successful prosecutions against the alleged wrong-doers?”
After initially refusing to respond to several letters, Nehru wrote to Golwalkar on 10th Nov, 1948 shifting the entire responsibility to the Home Ministry and declining Golwalkar’s request to meet him. It was therefore left entirely to Patel to defend the continuance of the ban. Patel did write a scathing letter to Golwalkar on 11th August- the letter which forms the cornerstone of Vidya Subramaniam’s piece.
However in a letter written soon thereafter Patel claimed that the ban was only a result of feedback from provincial governments and urged the Sangh “to adopt fresh lines of technique and policy (which) can be only according to the rules of the Congress.” Patel was reiterating his old demand that the RSS should merge with the Congress.
As months passed, the inability of the Government to prove anything substantial against the Sangh made the case for continuance of the ban extremely tenuous. The enthusiasm with which RSS workers recommenced activities for the brief period that Golwalkar decided defy the ban convinced the Government that the ban had made no dent to the morale of the Swayamsevaks.
Eminent personalities from various fields began to speak against the ban. Bharat Ratna awardee Dr. Bhagawan Das wrote on 16th October, 1948:
“I have been reliably informed that a number of youths of the R.S.S… were able to inform Sardar Patel and Nehruji in the very nick of time of the Leaguers’ intended ‘coup’ on September 10, 1947, ….If these…self-sacrificing boys had not given the very timely information ….there would have been no Government of India today, the whole country would have changed its name into Pakistan…what is the net result of all this long story?  Simply this-that our Government should utilise, and not sterilise, the patriotic energies of the lakhs of R.S.S. youths.”
Another eminent person, T.R. Venkatarama Shastri, former Advocate General of Madras, decided to play a more active part in convincing the Government about the unreasonableness of the ban. He went to Delhi and met Sardar Patel.
It was to Shastri that the Government first broached the issue of a written constitution for the Sangh. While Golwalkar did feel that this requirement was unnecessary and even unfair, in principle he did not have any difficulty in accepting the suggestion.
The constitution was drafted by the RSS leadership, not based on any terms set by the Government, but based on a note prepared by the founder, Dr. Hedgewar. The Government began to dither on the issue. First HVR Iyengar, Secretary to the Government of India, objected to the manner in which the draft was sent. Then he objected to the language used by Golwalkar in answering the objections raised by the Government to some provisions of the Draft.
Finally when it became clear that the Government was not serious on lifting the ban, Shastri decided to write a detailed statement indicting the Government for its duplicity. This statement, which was given to the press on 09th July, was scheduled to be published in “the Hindu” on 13thJuly. On the night of 12th July, 1949 news flashed on the All India Radio that ban on RSS was lifted.
The Government did raise some objections to the content of the draft Constitution sent by Golwalkar. However the commitment to remain out of politics was never a bone of contention because the stipulation was very much a part of the original draft sent on behalf of the RSS.
The RSS was envisaged by Dr. Hedgewar as a non-political outfit right from inception and any stipulation to this effect in the written constitution had nothing to do with Sardar Patel’s insistence. In fact when Dr. Hedgewar chose to take part in Congress’s Non-Cooperation movement in 1931 he did so only after formally resigning from the RSS.
Therefore the ‘condition’ that the RSS should have a written constitution was only a face saver for a government which was facing an insurmountable task in justifying the ban. More importantly, the non-political nature of the Sangh was part of its founding principles and had nothing to do with Patel’s insistence. Vidya Subramaniam’s article is one-sided and is factually incorrect.

~ Aditya Reddy