On 31st October Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi of the charges of blasphemy. She was on the death row from last eight years on this charge. The bench found that the charges cannot be sustained in law. The penalty for blasphemy in Pakistan is death. Bibi; A Christian is a farm laborer and her family had been under great stress, running from pillar to post to save her life. The judgment has come as a good respite. One recalls that in the same case. Salman Taseer, the then Governor of Punjab, had met Bibi, had opposed the blasphemy laws, had pleaded for clemency for her and talked of protection of minorities in Pakistan. Taseer, for voicing these sentiments, was done to death. His murderer, Malki Mumtaz Hussain Kadri, was made a hero and the maulanas refused to perform the last prayers for Taseer.

Now in the aftermath of the judgment, Pakistan is on the boil. Fundamentalist elements have indulged in violence at places. Disturbed by the insane reaction, Prime Minster of Pakistan, Imran Khan appealed to the nation to honor the verdict of Court. At the same time he signed an agreement with Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, the party behind the protests and violence, in which Khan conceded their demands of not letting Asia Bibi leave Pakistan. Imran Khan appealed that judges who acquitted Bibi should not be targeted. Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook has already left Pakistan out of fear of violence against him. 

On 28th September 2018 Supreme Court of India gave the verdict that not permitting women of all age groups into Sabrimala Temple is discriminatory against women and that they should be permitted to enter the shrine. While most parties and particularly RSS initially welcomed the judgment, immediately they made an about turn. With Hindu right wing organizations, VHP in the lead, came forward to ‘Save Sabrimala’ and stopped the women of menstruating age group from entering the shrine. The matters got heated up. Barring the ruling CPM led left front other parties, including Congress, buckled under the emotive storm and supported the protests against temple entry by women of particular age group. Interestingly many of these formations had supported the entry of women in the holy temple of Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra. The RSS affiliates were particularly jubilant when women were permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum of Haji Ali Dargah for Muslim women.

As such many scholarly articles have come on the Sabrimala shrine. These tell us that women of all age groups were permitted in the shrine till 1991. When after another court verdict’s warped implementation created the situation of not letting the menstrual age group women to enter the temple. This judgment was based on the assumption that women of menstruating age group will not be able to follow the austerity of 41 days which is required for temple visit. Incidentally that Court order also notes that earlier women of all age group were permitted in the temple. There are studies showing that the shrine has tribal and Buddhist antecedents, the tribes for who menstruation was not a taboo, and they used to throng the shrine till 1960s. There is also evidence of women of all age groups entering temple till 1980s. The rigidification of these norms begins after 1991 judgment. Now the communal forces are seeing this as an opportunity to make electoral base in the state as they did in Karnataka in the name of Baba Budan Giri Dargah or in MP in the name of Kamal Maula Masjid. Vacillation of is very disturbing.

So two neighboring countries are showing similar response to the judgments of the apex court. Courts in both cases have gone by the respective books and tried to give equality to all religions (in case of Pakistan) and genders (in India). In India most political parties backed out after seeing the response to fanatic religious groups. In Pakistan, Imran Khan despite showing the brave face in the beginning to support the acquittal of Bibi, has come down to compromise with the fundamentalist group, by not letting Bibi leave the country. At one point of time, when asked about what is the great challenge he faces as the Prime Minster of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru told Andre Maraloux that creating secular state in a religious country is the primary one (1958).

The journey which Nehru envisaged was mired by many hiccups, ups and downs. Since 1980s, after Shah Bano case, the pretext of Muslim appeasement been used to jack up the Ram Temple movement in a frightening manner. The religiosity is being used by communal organizations to polarize the society, while weak secular organizations are capitulating for electoral calculations.

The journey in Pakistan has been much worse. Jinnah’s 11th August 1947 Speech in Pakistan upheld secular society, but it was not to last for long. The communal feudal elements came to command soon enough to trample on the secular values. With Islamization of Pakistan during Zai Ul Haq regime, the country has seen a further downward turn towards fanaticism. So today despite Imran Khan not supporting the fanatics ideologically is forced to compromise with them to prevent the sheer unleashing of violence Both neighbors have many things common now. Till few decades earlier India was much ahead on the path for liberal democratic ethos with secular values, since the decades of 1990s India is trying to emulate Pakistan, in the orthodoxy and intensity of politics in the name of religion.

In Pakistan the religious minorities Hindus and Muslims were relegated to margins much early, now even Shias, Ahmadis are on the target. So the laws are in place as in the case of Asia Bibi and Sabarimala shrine, but the section of society is trying to resist the march towards secularism. Had Nehru been alive, he would have revised his formulation to say the laws are secular but section of society is resisting them to remain in the cocoon of retrograde values! 

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Words unheard


A broad-brush history of the last thousand years for the subcontinent that we now recognize A as India, whatever else it may or may not choose to recall, will look deficient if it does not mention the emergence of the modern Indian languages, the bhashas. Such a history is bound to talk of our transition from the feudal economy and political order to industrial economy and democracy. It will no doubt devote space to narrating the colonial experience, the clash between tradition and modernity and the shift from conventional rural forms of sense and sentiment to semi-urban order of civics and ethics. But no history of India over the last millennia can be conceived or completed without pointing to the birth and the pervasive spread of the bhashas.


The dates of their origin vary quite substantially. If the history of Marathi can be traced back to the seventh century AD, that of Odia can go back to the 11th century. Tamil may have a good two-and-ahalf millennia of existence to claim while Malayalam may have but a third of that span to its claim. However, in spite of having different dates of the first known use of these languages, what is common for all of them is that they had more or less replaced the previously used prakrits and apabhramshas and started acquiring a new energy at the beginning of the second millennium.

These were many languages: Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Tulu and Malayalam in the south; Assamiya, Boro, Manipuri, Bangla, Odia in the northeast and the east; Kashmiri, Dogri and Punjabi in the northwest; Gujarati, Marathi and Konkani in the west and Hindi, Magahi, Maithili, Urdu and Bhojpuri in central India. This is not the complete list of languages that sprung up during the first half of the last millennium. There were, additionally, Santali, Gondi and Bhilli, the languages that we now call `tribal languages'. There were also languages of nomadic communities such as the Bhantu of the Sansis and Gormati of the Banjaras, and many more.

The rise of the bhashas in India is historically comparable with the rise of the modern European languages. As Latin declined, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish sprung up; and, more or less in the same period, English, German, Russian, Czech, Polish and Swiss gained currency. One may almost read the rise of the modern languages all over the world as a necessary historical prelude to the rise of the modern world. Of course, establishing causality be- tween the rise of a given language and the condition of the society that uses it is not easy. Yet, the status of a given language can safely be taken as a necessary condition for the rise or the fall of the society using it.

Linguists describe the languages such as the European French or Indian Kannada in terms of a chronology made of the ancient, the middle and the modern. Though mindful of this scholarly convention, let me use the term `modern languages' for all of these millennial languages. These modern languages received the benefits of the technologies contributing to their growth more or less at the same time. Thus, the use of paper for writing spread in Asia and Europe between the 12th century and the 14th century. China was an exception in that it had hit upon the idea much earlier. The use of printing for multiple copies of what was written came to be known to the modern languages beginning with the 15th century to the 18th century. By the beginning of the 19th century, to speak metaphorically, `the world was in print'. Given the command over paper-making and printing, the modern languages began production of written and printed literature all over the world. The Indian bhashas made big strides in that direction during the 19th century.

The modern languages, combined with the paper and print technology, created knowledge institutions for their perpetuation. Although the histories of the struggle for creation of language-related institutions have dissimilar chronologies in different modern languages, they all had entered the phase of localized knowledge production by the end of the 19th century. This was true of the bhashas as well. The range of new subjects and disciplines they explored during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century is truly impressive, even unprecedented. Beginning with history, the social sciences, linguistics and philosophy up to physics, mathematics, cosmology, environment-study and medicine, the pre-Independence writers and scholars contributed to the bhashas. The number of books produced in them, theatre, music and cinema activity in them and their widespread use for speaking, reading and writing by a decidedly large number of persons created for the bhashas a promise of gaining stature as languages of knowledge.

Today, that promise lies broken. As India became ready to experience independence, the constituent assembly proposed a list of 14 Indian languages as the languages of modern India. It is true that the list had Sanskrit included in it for complicated historical and emotional reasons and Sindhi got included in response to the trauma of Partition. But, the 12 other languages had indeed been thought of as the potential languages of not only governance but also of knowledge.

It is sad that the bhashas spoken by a larger part of India's 130 crore are nowhere in the reckoning of the world. Not one of them is seen even by its speakers as a language of knowledge. Not one is considered the language of opportunities, not one as the language of India's future. The bhashas survive today merely because they have not been officially replaced by a modern language like English. Of course, there has been no shortage of linguistic chauvinism in our country. There have been some memorable language movements; and there have been numerous other, not so memorable, initiatives twining identity and language. They all deserved the political space. Yet, where is at least one notable institution of learning in any of the bhashas that has truly made a global mark? Where is the Indian writer, leaving aside Ghalib of the 19th century, Tagore and Premchand of the 20th century, who writes in a bhasha and is read or respected all over the world? After Tagore, not one of them was ever found worthy of a Nobel. Where are the science journals in the bhashas that the scientific community outside may want to consult? Of course, we have great cinema and greater music in Indian languages. But, cinema and music alone do not make a language a great language.

It is really time for us to think as to why in the century described as the knowledge century India is a `failed' nation. The ability of intellectual classes to use the English language as the language of our lived knowledge is no compensation for what we lose when the bhashas are severely eclipsed. Enriching bhashas does not mean learning to hate English. Forced replacement of English with Hindi is no solution either. That would be the case of a medicine deadlier than the disease. It is both civilized and prudent to love the bhashas as well as the modern languages of knowledge. But it will be visionary to start thinking of how to empower the bhashas, how to bring to them contemporary knowledge in every possible discipline, how to revitalize them. Governments and formal patronage cannot accomplish this. All that formal patronage can do is to multiply mediocrity. Revitalization of the partially paralyzed bhashas will be possible when we understand that the bhashas laid the foundation of Indian modernity, and that `progress' in another language-ecology is an intellectual mirage. One wonders if we ever will, or if it is already too late in the day.

e.mail : ganesh_devy@yahoo.com

courtesy : “The Telegraph”, 02 November 2018


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features