Archive for मई, 2012

India that is Bharat is a great repository of literary, oral and cultural tradition. It is a veritable Darwin’s Galapagos for an anthropologist, linguist, archeologist, etymologist and historian. The greatness of India does not rests in the sacred dimension alone (as predominantly held by Indians), though rightly it is held as the keystone for its right understanding; in sheer antiquity, diversity and colossal magnitude of experience it remains indispensible. India despite innumerable contradictions, insurmountable divides, overlapping time lines, varied space matrices etc. all bound by an ever elusive ‘otherworldly’ unity, yet holds something very crucial for human beings.
The concept of history for such geography, culture, civilization (or more recent construct) Nation is bound to have some peculiarities. Diverse space, time and causations that India offers is too great to ignore and too difficult to compartmentalize and digest. It challenges that very notion of history which (as we shall see later) is an extrapolation of a narrow exclusivist ideology to a universal scale. By questioning the identity, India poses nothing less than an existential threat to it.
That history as a discipline is culture dependent. It is not possible to have some ‘objective’, ‘universal’ historical narrative. Neither is it possible for history to remain unaffected from contemporary power structures and their appendages. During renaissance and industrialization there arose a strong bias towards ‘scientific’ treatment of history. It was peculiar to that age. Man, who had never ever enjoyed such powers, brimming with a confidence endowed by science was out to play God. This man subscribed to Abrahamic faith, which has some very typical views about man and history. As a result a narrow -Universalist, linear, unidirectional conception of history came into global currency. At its core this history was an outcome of queer intersections of polity, colonial expansionism, philosophy, church and academics.
The reasons behind success of this thought were historical, geo-political, social, and religious; that made them eminently fit to take a position of dominance. This historical perspective was powered by the colonial battery. A worldwide network of missionary school, college and universities, governmental archives, museums, books, periodicals, newspapers and popular culture that was working round the clock to popularize these new thoughts among natives across the globe. New beliefs, values and social realities together were out to create ‘new, rational and enlightened’ beings out of ancient people. The native was to undergo a necessary metamorphosis.
Prior to renaissance, man used to live in multiple histories; Histories that were multi-layered, textured, varied and often with conflicting versions. The universalist-exclusivist claims of Abrahamic religions were restricted to theology and jurisprudence. Such claims were often balanced by realities of internal divides and differences with external ‘others’. These shaped the roots for people. These histories were often not free from the mythical content. Histories and myths were closely interwoven. There was a happy marriage of Magic and rationalism, custom and sacred laws and so on. And of course at that time there was no universal category in force; no unique homo-sapiens or anything called human civilization.
While the values were deeply attached to the Abrahamic roots the science that freely took from the Indian, Greek, Chinese, Iranian and other tradition sources on the other hand was secular in its approach. Thus science came as a rude shock to these religious traditions as it concerned about the truth in no less an exclusivist manner than what these religions claimed about religious truths. Thus the clash between the church and the state was natural.
With renaissance two processes started simultaneously. 1.) There was a codification if systematization of science and other subjects in a non-local hybrid sense. 2.) On religious-cultural level, a new universal civilization narrative was under creation that was typical and peculiar to the Abrahamic religious understanding of history and creation.
Thus came into being a permanent divide in the psyche of people of Abrahamic religions, adversely affecting the moral and spiritual dimensions of their personality. Its effect on art, culture and life is yet to come under scanner but eventually it will have to. The people of non Abrahamic religions also had their own share of misery in this development. The modern state/nation that came into being among the non-abrahamic religious people was based on alien assumptions and values that were often antagonistic to the local region, people and religious traditions.
History, Governance and the Word Order
The fault lines inherent within Abrahamic religions and their dissonance with science and modernity are crucial for understanding of the civilizational conflicts. Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ with ultimate triumph and universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of government is as exclusivist and totalitarian a category as any other from Abrahamic religions, for example Islamic concept of Ummah or Marxism. Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ is more extreme (but not unlikely) reading into outcome of this sort of exclusivism. We would have to discount the role of ‘other’ civilizations in this mega clash, a role that appears artificial and accidental.
The narrow-universalized-exclusivistic Abrahamic religious identity derives material benefits from science universals which by the way also question’s the very identity itself. Man is now habitual of thinking in these terms of dissonance. The concern with the form or structure of governance, its primacy and the world order is a manifestation of conflict in self-identity and social structure.
Past broadly works on two levels – personal and collective. Together these two levels constitute history. At personal level an individual needs the past and roots for identity, relevance and connection. The past thus recorded in oral and written traditions, family hero exploits bardic tales, and folklore, genealogical database, and church records etc. more intimately connects the self to his identity; at collective level these things concretize in records of dynasties, kingdoms, sects, religions and so on.
There exists a complex relationship between the individual and societal historical narrative. Regions that have undergone long spell of politico-cultural dominion of other people (including those where native populations were converted to new cultural, religious and political thoughts) show tendencies, desperate attempts to cling to their roots. For instance Indian sub-continent, where the region’s social life had been greatly disturbed 6-7th century onwards due to constant invasions and later with establishment of political empire based on alien-antagonistic religious and cultural values lead to collapse of internal mechanisms society. The local historical narrative was also a casualty as the sanguine polity and culture came under severe strain. Even dynastic identities lost their socio-political importance in such a scenario. The alien and antagonistic foreign rule badly affected the complex cohesive and interdependent order of the various communities of India. The ruling communities lost their power and were reduced to vassals and mercenaries; there was a general disincentive for education and Brahmin community especially in region under more direct rule lost touch with sciences and other secular subjects. They turned to philosophy and rituals for sustenance. Result was a general decline in education across communities. Then social instability, introduction of slave trade, Jazia and pilgrimage tax etc. added to downfall of the socio-cultural life of the country.
Thus for instance in 16th century we come across the interesting incidence in the life of Shivaji, who by the way was attempting to reverse the trend by creating a Hndwi Swrajya on lines of ancient kings of the country. When Shivaji wanted to establish such rule, his right to coronation was denied by Brahmins, who questioned his Varna (Kshtriya) status and right to ascend a throne and rule. He had to hire services of a stalwart orthodox Brahmin of Kashi named Gaga Bhatt who traced his links to the famed solar dynasty of the House of Sisodiya of Mewar. He convinced the opposing Brahmins and cleared Shivaji’s way to become Chhatrapati.
In era characterized by failing states/dynasties, mass migrations; communities invented novel ways to keep track of their identities and roots. It was again the Varn-ashrama system that was summoned to rescue. (No wonder that all local kings irrespective of local situation took oath to maintain and strengthen the Varna-Ashrama system). Need of Family genealogical records for Samskaras/rituals of life made Brahmins to record the histories of their Yajmanas. It should not be forgot that that these rituals associated with birth, death and marriage etc. were repetitive in nature. (For importance of repetition in Indian culture Ramanujan’s essay ‘Repetitions in Mahabharat’ is a good introduction). It made the connection of an individual with the ancients’ sacred order instant and palpable. And thus in tortured times past and present, secular and religious, historical and Vedic/Puranic narratives grew together to complete the hologram called India.
I would hazard to guess that importance and function of Tirtha grew with weakening of Sanatana culture in general and Varna-Ashrama system in particular. Varna-Ashrama system failed to assimilate diverse peoples (tribes, communities, Jaatis etc.) their life style and culture etc in the grand Sanatana Dharma narrative that joined the sacred with state. Ashwamedha/Rajasuyas Yajnas were losing their place in and the overall conception was also undergoing a change in sense that the difference between socio-political situation and sacred order was widening. Buddhism and Jainism (and later bhakti, Nath movements etc. with overall decline of Vedic tradition clearly lead to the divorce of the state and religion. (How real has been the Varna-Ashrama system- how was its grip on the society and how the Vedic tradition stood in such development, I shall share some thoughts on this in post later) Thus Jaati identity came to be another reality, perhaps stronger than Varna identity. The former was practical, accessible and flexible; the later was (Smriti-based) Shastric, inflexible but more codified thus amenable to politico-legal structure. Reasons for this could be like – inward and outward migration of people, evolution and proliferation of new Jaati identities, localization, introduction to new religious thoughts and so on. The religious identity of Indians is through Varna – Ashrama system and Jaati.
The genealogical records were necessary for ritual and mundane purposes. Brahmins especially the Tirthas-panda and Tirth-Upadhyaya who were custodian of such ritual functions started maintaining family tree records of their Yajmanas. There is a huge genealogical database of Varnas, alive and growing in Tirtha Kshetras like Gaya, Prayag, Harwar, Nasik etc. even today. This was not something that was taking place in Tirtha alone. Family priests and Bhats were also maintaining records of their patron families/communities since such records were necessary for marriages, shraddha and other Samskaras that Dharmashastras had enjoined for particular Varna. Even today Bhats from Jaipur Rajasthan travel with their Vahees (record books) to their Yajmanas in remote villages of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh; sharing, updating and correcting records and receive gifts and money in return of these services. Their role was duly appreciated by the Jaati Panchayats.
In pre-British era also, Jaatis (communities) Panchayats held crucial roles within and without the communities. In absence of a local, sympathizing or understanding political order these Panchayats (which had traditionally provided support to the governance since Janpad days) took responsibility of socio-cultural affairs of their own community and relations with the others. This was convenient for the foreign rulers also who needed order and prosperity for their own survival. The British rule also recognized their importance and role in social fabric of the country. That was the reason decisions of such Panchayats especially in areas of personal law were always respected. The British were confounded by the diversity of people and that of the Dharmashatras. The Manu Smriti that found such a great recognition in legal circles about the Hindu Personal law had scant following even among the most conservative Brahmin communities!
Now these Jaati Panchayats have lost their role and relevance. There are ubiquitous courts that administer justice in personal-family disputes based on the Hindu Personal Law. Now disconnects of the Jaati Panchayats within and without and with the wider Varna – system (represented by the Smriti-Dharmashastras) has lead to strange claims and myths. There is no scholarly tradition or control over these narratives. This leads to a mix up the traditional historical narratives with the half baked often racist theories of colonial historians. The story gets further complicated by the constitutional sop of reservation and results are strange! These Jaatis claim connections with (1) Mythic dynasties/Heros and Gods- like Surya Vamsha, Chandra Vamsha, Puranic characters like Sahasrarjuna, Vishwakarma, Agrasena etc.; Historical dynasties Maurya, Rashtrakutas, Kadambas, Pallavas, Hoysala ( often multiple connections) and often many of them also claim for some constitutionally ‘backward caste’ status simultaneously. (1)
I would like to argue that such narratives of ‘history’ are more intimately related to the life of people as it gives an identity, sense of belonging and connection with the environment. The standard history book narrative taught in classrooms starting with Harappa –Aryan invasion, Maurya, Gupta period through sultanate-Mughal period to British rule and independence has more to do with the (nation-myth!) narrative. It lacks the existential worth.

But the unity of India is based in sacred tradition. This sacred-geography has now elicited scholarly attention in the West (ref. India: A sacred geography, by Diana l. Eck). But there was never any doubt about this in India. The concept of Indian landscape is glued by sacredness and the Order (rta), that has origin in Shruti texts. Pilgrimage, Yagna, Kumbha-Simhastha mela and events like wars, coronations etc. were set in the sacred connected cosmos. The much touted political, social and even cultural unity is but a byproduct of it. The flow of ascetic and lay pilgrims over millennia to various Tirthas on auspicious astronomical conjunctions or seasons, under some vow, some holy men together have created what we see as India today. In this way knowledge in some delta region riverbed like network has traversed across time, space and consciousness on tools like rituals, oral traditions, literature, language, Darshana and science etc. India has nothing equivalent to the concept of homogenous monolithic political state that appears so easy and natural to the West.

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A Path from the Alleys of Histories

The socio-political values and structures of the current world order are greatly influenced by Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) religious thought. The defining characteristics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have followed a progressive pattern that can be summarized as under:
Judaism – Concept of exclusivity
Christianity – Concept of exclusivity + Universalism and
Islam – Concept of exclusivity + Universalism + Close-endedness

While the influence of Zoroastrianism on early Christian thought is evident, the universalism in religious thought as an outcome of early Christian interaction with the Buddhist thought remains an important hypothesis. But the fact remains that Abrahamic religious thought has impelled people towards a coherent, straight-jacketed version of history. The role and scope of prophets in Christianity and Islam follow this trend. The role of the history as a tool for compartmentalization and validation of linear prophetic truths is similar in all three religions. No wonder the ancient histories which with few exceptions always survive in mythic formats have to undergo infinite cycles of dissected and stitched for creating a coherent historical narrative.

Abrahmic religions for historical reasons have allowed the religious identity to take preponderance over ethno-cultural identities. And this venture of religious identity in polity and statecraft has sown seeds of perpetual social strife in these societies. Such strife when united and projected toward other/outsider it became perfect strategy for spread of thought and successful colonial ventures. But make a small scratch and beneath surface depicting order and unity, a complicated working of ethnic connections becomes visible.

Non- religious layers of identities are now becoming important due to democratic and scientific reasons. No wonder that scientific thought face most dogged and unrelenting opposition in Abrahamic religions. Though great leveler and liberator, scientific education pushes orthodox further into the shell. Even today the theory of Evolution is fighting hard to get due recognition; and traditional religious structures are fighting hard to retain the power created by the science, like technology, social and economic thoughts. But none the less a globalised media and communication technology is also molding the new man in the land of ancient history. How the evolving Human thought across the globe in complex web of academics, research, corporate structures and strategies and globalization policies would act in and interact with the new crystallizing religious identities? This question would be central to any student of modern history.
Mutual interactions of adherents of these religions, their cooperation and antipathies, harmonies and contradictions, understandings and mistrusts, sincere efforts and deceits etc. have exercised disproportionately high influence on collective human thought. This proved even truer in post industrialization era, when more than 60 percent of the world population is connected to the Abrahamic world-view by virtue of religious affiliation. Along with that, a large population of people belonging to other religions and civilization are influenced by thoughts emanating from Abrahamic world due to intellectual, technological, occupational, socio-political and economic considerations.
The unique nation-state conception based upon religious homogeneity has allowed states to act in unduly intolerant, suspicious and repressive fashion, to its minorities. Apart from routine discrimination by the states, rampant misuse of blasphemy laws against minorities is not uncommon. In such a scenario rising clout of tribal and clannish identities and role are on rise in Middle-East, if is not allowed to settle properly in political structures, this is a perfect recipe of disaster.
That Huntington’s idea of clash of civilizations suffers from errors in its classification of countries under civilization. The primary clash is internecine; it’s amongst religions of Abrahamic faiths. The Classification of civilization would be on broader religious line following Abrahamic/Dharmic/Pagans/ animist type classification. Other cultural-civiliational inheritance like Iranian, Arabic, Indic, Chinese, African, European, Nordic, American etc. would play more of indirect and subtler roles.
The implications of Independent Kurdistan to put mildly would be, immense. Some effects and questions that would be relevant are freely speculated here:
– This may mark a start of ultimate weakening of the religious-historical narrative/understanding in Abrahamic civilizations. Thus this can give religious fundamentalists a strong reason to fight, the internecine clash of Abrahamic Faith.
– The ripple effect of Kurdistan will be felt by immediate neighbors Persian, Syrian, Turk, Arab, Balloch, Tajik and the Pashto people and on regions like South Azerbaijan, Afghanistan (excluding its Turkic Northwest), FATA and Baluchistan of Pakistan.
– Independent Kurdistan should be seen in juxtaposition of the populist rebellion of local population against the regimes of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. These have been more or less civil resistances with some obvious touch of Islam. What one cannot ignore is the ethnic and nationalist overtones, which are more democratic in nature. It would call for a sincere accommodative framework for the region.
– Issues determining the current power equilibrium are- situation in Iraq, US-Iranian standoff, Israel – Palestinian issue, future of Saudi monarchy (which is getting more susceptible to new emerging Sunni orthodoxy of Al Qaeda and Muslim brotherhood kind) and energy politics. Other countries more concerned by their energy security issues would work hard for a stable order in the region. This will be their motive in engagement. But the question is that with such an easy availability of weapons and religious motive, how much feasible and lasting such interventions would be?
– Turkey’s in some spheres at least, would be a destabilizing regional power. Reason being its peculiar position as a NATO member, prospective EU member, Middle East issues and Islamic aspirations. How will the things in Middle-East settle if increasingly Islamist and ambitious Turk identity finds favorable grounds in central Asian republics? Islamist Turk identity would find relevance in China would touch Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (indirectly), and rub its shoulders with Iranian and Arabs for leadership in the region.
– One another trail of development that is to be looked at is the reactionary chain of radicalism. The West has made a peace with its past in the classical divorce of the Church and the State. It was taken as a role model by majority of countries around the world. As this didn’t happen in Islamic countries that way and energy need, cold war etc. ensured no such developments in the Middle-East, the religious fundamentalism has steadily grown in Islamic world in 21st Century. In many ways Islamic societies and government policies have become more conservative and orthodox today than what they were 50 years back. And the glorious past of the Islamic dominance always propel the Islamist to find his deserving role and place in destiny.
– This hardening religious identity in Islamic world has started affecting non-Islamic societies also. Issues like non-integration of immigrants, opposition to Sharia laws, Halal and Hizaab etc. are increasing temperatures in European, African and Asian countries. Chancellor Merkel’s obituary of Multiculturalism can safely be assumed as the referral point for this phenomenon.
– Alternately, Islamic civilizations are plagued by numerous difficulties to retain its unity amidst widening divides of – Arab/ Iranian, Shia-Sunni, Wahhabi-Non-Wahhabi, monarchical and civil-political, African – Asian identities. Any inability to come-up with a collective Islamic response at times could destabilize the whole order and the threat is very real. OIC has a herculean task ahead namely rebuilding the Islamic Ummah amongst politician and lay faithful, in this age of science. If things go this way the religious fault-lines are bound to widen and the internecine clash of civilization would not be that far.
Now, Kurds can be the change agents. With indigenous (Hurrian) root, Iranian and Islamic legacy and strong collective binding if they succeed in achieving independent Kurdistan, it can make a new opening.
– If the Independent state of the Kurds will come into being? Would the disturbed order make people face and challenge religious identity based world view? – is far too speculative right now. Whatever may be the case the Historical issue of Kurds is going to be a very important and it deserved greater attention. Histories are open again in identities and thinking. As to Kurds, they can’t disown their past for therein only lies their future.

(… Speculation concludes)

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The Geo-political power equations today appear conducive for independent Kurdish state. Sitting on huge oil reserve, Iraqi Kurdistan has already become a power center in Iraq. The political situation in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria all together appear amenable for a Kurdistan.
Independent Kurdistan would prove a defining event in the region and the world. This will bring many changes in the existing formats of engagements. An important possibility would be opening up of the societies of the region, to non-religious nuanced social perspectives in polity and governance.

Kurds in History
The Kurd history is strange and important. These are ancient people of Indo-Iranian ethnic stock, who have lived in mountain ranges (between Iranian plateau and Euphrates), that spread into Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. The population of Kurds is between 30 – 50 Millions. Like other ancient people Kurds are heterogeneous with diverse groups, histories, roots, cultures, languages and religious beliefs. Again, like any other ancient people they appear trapped in homogenous religious people-nation-state conception. Kurds are bound by a fluid yet strong Kurdish identity, something that has withstood the onslaught of Arab, Iranian and Turk forces for centuries. While identities and fate of their tormentors have changed over time, Kurds have remained deeply rooted in their heterogeneous identity.
Kurds, with roots in mountainous regions are closely knit in their indigenous complex network of religious, societal life and cultural tradition. They have survived on a cultural fault line of Arab-Iranian divide. Perhaps the hoary past links and mountain for refuge helped them in survival strategy. There long experience with other players in the region has helped them in evolving a complex and mulch-layered response and understanding in dealings with dominant exclusivist religious ideas. No wonder Shia or Sunni, a Kurd, unlike other orthodox Muslims is invariably strongly attached to some Sufi order. It won’t be farfetched to recollect here nomadic pastoral Van Gujjars of Northern Himalayan region who are Sunni Muslims and socially divided in clans and gotras like Hindu ancestry and are strict vegetarian!
Kurds speak various languages. These languages are classified in dialect groups like Northern Kurmanji (dialect group), Central (Sorani dialect group) and Southern group (Part of the Sorani dialect group) including Kermanshahi, Ardalani and Laki etc.
Majority of Kurds are Muslim followers of Sunni and Shia schools. The rest Kurdish people follow diverse ancient faiths like Yezidism, Yarsanism, Alevism and also Christianity. Kurds have ancient Hurrian roots; that connects them to Kassite and Hittite people of mid- second millennium BC who, as increasing evidence indicates, were connected to the Vedic Aryans.
Kurds succumbed to Islamic forces in the 7th century; assimilation into Islamic fold was as often as were the revolts against the Caliphate.
Kurds came under Ottoman Empire around 13th century AD. In 1920, after World War I, with the dissolution of Ottoman Empire, the Treaty of Sevres was signed. It proposed an independent Kurdistan out of the Ottoman territory. This treaty was rejected shortly.
When the state of Turkey came into being in 1923 and the treaty of Lausanne was signed, it refused the autonomous Kurdish state and in years to follow, armed uprising of the Kurds for independence was suppressed.
Kurds have been persecuted by Iraq, Iran and Turkey singly or in unison. Stateless Kurds have been cynically used (for destabilizing other country) by one and all. They were used by the Turks in Armenian genocide with brutal effect. Kurds have been fighting for their independence often changing sides and partners. The mass gas poisoning of Kurds by Iraq (with support of countries like US, Germany, Britain and France etc.) has been a cornerstone Kurdish history. Kurds remain what they often repeat – the largest nation in Middle East without a State. Today when political stability of many countries is on a slippery ground, Independent Kurdistan can be start point for new alignments.
Then who is afraid of Independent Kurdistan? – Almost ‘Everyone’! Why? Because on the stake is our modern understanding of concept of nation and state that constitute the bedrock of world order.
The modern concept of nation and state is based on a religious, ethnic-racial homogeneity. Homogeneity is considered as the unifying force for a nation. More homogenous a nation is, more focused, decisive and efficient and powerful government will be – the argument goes. It was this premise upon which American and British diplomats wrote-off India and bet upon Pakistan, as potential successful state, in 1947. The insidious aspect of this argument namely the status of minority in such a state is now rarely spoken of today. Countries and UN has surrendered humanistic values for petty diplomatic and political benefits. No wonder OIC in garb of religious rights is arguing on issues that were plainly impossible a couple of decades ago.

( to be concluded)

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