Interviews and Articles

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS - Times of India: 28th March 2002

Javed Akhtar speaks to Ms.Lalita Panicker

Q: Do you see a pattern in all the developments which have taken place in recent times, the Ayodhya, the Gujarat carnage and now POTO?

Answer: Yes, I do because there is an attempt to marginalize and terrorize political dissidents, adversaries and minorities. I share the fears of all liberal and secular people about POTO. The government says it needs a stronger law to fight terrorism but shies away from defining terrorism. Why because any definition of terrorism will make it obvious that VHP and Bajrang Dal indulge in terrorism against minorities. Obviously a government that wants to hide this reality will use this draconian law against minorities.

It is no longer a matter of apprehension, it has already happened. In Gujrat only Muslims were arrested under POTO while in case of others who committed the same kind of heinous crimes not even an FIR was registered! The subsequent withdrawal of POTO in Gujrat and Maharashtra shows how callously this law was used. The withdrawal at either place is not caused by any sudden attack of conscience! Mr. Narendra Modi was forced to step back because his discriminatory actions were becoming a great source of embarrassement to BJP in Centre and its allies. In Maharashtra, those opposing POTO have been accused of double standards, and withdrawal of POTO is nothing but political expediency. We have seen what had happened to another POTO like law called TADA which, thankfully, was ultimately withdrawn.77,571 people were arrested under TADA, out of which about 72,000 were let go because they did not even have a case against them. The conviction rate was less than 2%.

Q: Why do think Gujrat is so prone to this kind of violence?

Answer: Gujrat is the citadel of the sangh. Given an opportunity, they would like nothing better than to turn the whole country into Gujrat. They would love that. Imagine a chief Minister Narender Modi who has drawn a distinction between secular violence and terrorism! What kind of a new term is secular violence?

Q: Do you think it will succeed?

Answer: No, it will not. There is a world of difference between 1992 and 2002. People outside Gujrat today are deeply repulsed and disgusted by what has happened. They are ashamed. I have spoken to people in six different cities after Gujrat. There is a strong sense of disenchantment among different strata of people. I am convinced that their game is over. Now it's a matter of time.

Q: We have reports that Narender Modi is something of a hero in the Sangh.

Answer: That should tell you about the morality and aspirations of the Sang Parivar!

Q: In a recent discussion on TV, you mentioned that the RSS ideologues believe that ultimately the minorities should not be given even the basic right to vote. This was immediately refuted by Uma Bharati, who was also on the same panel with you. Do you still stand by your statement?

Answer: I do. I wish I had my copy of Mr. Golwalkar's book 'We - or our Nationhood Defined' at that moment. Mr. Golwalkar who was the second supremo of RSS and is referred to as Guruji even by Mr. L.k. Advani, published this book in 1939. I came back and verified it again. In Chapter 5, page 48 Mr. Golwalkar says that the minorities may stay in the country, and I quote," wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no priviledges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen's rights.' Uma Bharti's denial was no surprise to me. Truth has always been a dispensable commodity for the members of Sangh Parivar.

Q: What in your view is the ideal formula to solve Ayodhya? We have seen many plans put forward in recent times.

Answer: The government should understand that the fundamentalists of both communities are the part of the problem, and can never be the part of a solution. The government has to understand that the particular plot in Ayodhya does not belong to either the VHP or the Babri Masjid Action Committee. It belongs to the nation. Civil society must involve itself in this issue. Educated, secular and liberal people should come forward to find the solution.

Q: Would you say that this class has abdicated from the process?

Answer: No, the government prefers to talk to fundamentalists. When has it ever talked to any sensible person? My opinion is that civil society should get together and campaign that a national monument be built in that place.

Q: Do you think that 9/11 has had an impact on the way people view Muslims across the world?

Answer: It has nothing to do with what has happened here. These are excuses. The Sangh Parivar's obsessive hatred for the minorities was not born on 9/11. It is much older. We must understand one thing, ultimately their attack is not on secularism but on democracy and it's institutions. This is pure fascism. Look at how Slobodan Milosevic started his cleansing campaign. He dug up the grave of a king called Salazar who had died 800 years ago, and put it in a coffin that was paraded on a chariot through every city. His message was: the Turks came and killed him and now you must take revenge. The concept of time vanished and people reacted as though the incident happened only yesterday. You need an imaginary myth to propagate hatred, and a poor auto rickshaw driver on the streets of Ahmedabad starts looking like the first son of Babar to the violent mob. By the way, Milosevic had used a chariot, in our country they are called ' raths '.

Q: How long do you think this kind of ugliness will last?

Answer: This is the beginning of the end. The Sangh and it's affiliates have exposed themselves. An average Indian cannot stomach such ugliness of thought and deeds. There is tremendous frustration in the Sangh today. It is seeing political power slipping out of it's hands. It's slogans are not creating euphoria anymore.

Q: Do you see a distinction between the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal etc?

Answer: I am not so sure. In Rajisthan where the state administration moved quickly to prevent any copycat violence, we see the spectacle of the state unit president of the BJP sitting in dharna protesting against the Rajisthan police. On the other hand, in Gujrat, where an unprecedented genocide has taken place, the BJP has expressed it's total satisfaction with the police force, except for some police officers who dared to mention BJP, VHP or Bajrang Dal in their reports. Now, what does that tell you? What kind of police force and what kind of law and order situation suits BJP?

Q: What explains the change in society, this revulsion?

Answer: People change, priorities change, aspirations change. The sangh Parivar is like a mediocre film producer who had given one hit and wants to remake it. The lost and found formula doesn't work indefinitely.

Q: To what extent has minority fundamentalism contributed to the events which have happened?

Answer: The sangh has every reason to thank minority fundamentalists. Their vitriolic and aggressive propaganda has been of the greatest help to the sangh. What have organizations like SIMI achieved besides inviting violence on poor Muslims?

Q: What should ordinary muslims do?

Answer: They are really in an unenviable position. All they can really do is hope to survive in places like Gujrat. Muslims must understand that though many have been butchered in Gujrat, this is not a Hindu/Muslim problem. They must understand that it is a clash of secularism and democracy vs fascism and intolerance. They have to improve their lot by lending strength to secular forces and by becoming more and more secular themselves.

Q: What clout do Muslims fundamentalists have within the community?

Answer: In recent years they have lost a lot of their clout. But what ever clout is left should be fought by the liberal and secular muslims. We must understand that like Sangh parivar represents a miniscule proportion of Hindus, Muslim fundamentalists are also the mad fringe of the socieity. Let us learn to differentiate between the Sangh Parivar and Hindus, and Muslim Fundamentalists and Muslims.

Q: What explains the inaction of the BJP's NDA allies in the face of Gujrat?

Answer: The NDA's allies behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. Did they react to the Christian bashing we saw earlier? Did they react when Murli Manohar Joshi tried to saffronize and irrationalize education? They make a hue and cry even as they assure the government that it is in no danger of being toppled. NDA has kept issues like Personal Law, Article 370 and Ayodhya out of their agenda, but the allies cannot hide behind this fig leaf! The fact is that they have failed to play the role of a secular force. The BJP is using them to further it's own ends and if they go along with this, then they will lose any credibility that they have left. When the BJP eventually drops them, they will have no place to go.

JAVED AKHTAR'S ARTICLE - Indian Express: Monday, 6th May, 2002

For over 17 hours on April 30, I stayed glued to my seat in the Visitors' Gallery of the Lok Sabha because unlike earlier debates, including the recent one on POTA, this time it was decided not to telecast the debate on Gujarat as it was 'not commercially viable'. Sceptics say the government was worried about th embarrassment the debate would cause them.

The Opposition said what it was supposed to say. Most of the allies made the right noises but they remained supportive of the government. Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan was one exception who walked out of the NDA and voted against the government. But the TDP confined its protest to walking out of the Lok Sabha at the time of voting.

The government chose its opening speaker well for Ms. Uma Bharati is the perfect representative of the BJP's intellectual refinement. What happened in Gujarat was a great national tragedy which should not be politicised, said Ms. Uma Bharti in one breath but proceeded to launch a blistering attack on the Opposition, targeting Ms. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav in particular. This was expected of her. What was sad, however, was the fact that despite being a woman she showed no remorse or anguish at the large-scale sexual violence against women across Gujarat. For her such incidents simply did not happen because Mr. Narendra Modi and his officials had told her so.

No body, she protested, could name the woman who was raped before her stomach was ripped apart, the foetus pulled out and flung into the fire, and she herself mutilated and killed. (For her information, according to eyewitness Amina of Husain Nagar, the scene of this gruesome crime was Naroda Patiya and the victim's name was Kausar Bano). Ms. Bharti would concede no more than two incidents of sexual violence because the police had lodged only two FIRs. She conveniently ignored the findings of the National Human Rights Commission, the National Minorities Commission, the National Commission for Women and several independent fact-finding teams that the police had been refusing in registering FIRs. So much for the sanyasin's compassion for women. But the real pearls of wisdom came from her senior ministerial colleague, Mr. George Fernandes.

The defence minister declared that the gang-rape, mutilation and burning of women of the minority community was 'nothing new' but was in fact something that had gone on for the last 54 years in this country. What greater consolation could he offer to the traumatised women victims of Gujarat than to tell them that they are not alone but a part of a 54-year-old tradition.

Mr. Fernandes then proceeded to claim that minorities had been consistently been killed in riots under Congress rule. (Claps from the BJP benches!). He argued that Muslims had been deliberately kept backward by the Congress. (Claps from the BJP benches!) He even cited some circular issued by the Congress government in 1971, directing that no Muslim should be given any sensitive posting. (Shame! Shame! From the BJP benches).

I was aghast. The BJP, I thought, had all these years accused the Congress of 'Muslim appeasement.' And here were members of the same party cheering lustily as Mr Fernandes pronounced the Congress guilty of Muslim-baiting, without any sense of self-contradiction. But then no body blames the BJP for any pursuit of truth.

Mr. Fernandes then proceeded to narrate with great pride how paramilitary forces and the army had successfully resisted three attempts to demolish a dargah in Ahmedabad. But he did not tell the Lok Sabha who the assailants were and why they were not apprehended. Perhaps Mr Fernandes does not subscribe to the doctrine of 'hot pursuit'. Why violence continued despite the police, paramilitary forces and the army was a mystery that was solved for us by his ministerial colleague from Gujarat, Mr. Hiren Pathak.

(If my memory serves me right, he is the same gentleman who along with a BJP minister from Gujarat, is implicated in instigating the murder of a policeman during the 1985 riots. I wonder what is happening to that case).

Boasting that he knew the social topography of Ahmedabad better than anyone else, Mr. Pathak pinpointed five areas of the city -- Kalupur, Dariyapur, Juhapura, Jamalpur and Gomtipur -- as the five locales of continuing violence after the first 72 hours. Mr. Pathak informed the house about the demography of these areas: Kalupur (80 % Muslims), Juhapura (90 %) and Jamalpur (100%). Identifying the people of these places as the root of the problem, he simply added: "It is the name of these five places that you keep hearing on TV again and again."

I remember the mention of Panipat in history books again and again in my school years. In the light of Mr. Pathak's revelations, I now wonder whether the people of Panipat were a particularly quarrelsome type. Or is it that they were attacked again and again and that is why the name Panipat figures again and again in history books? According to Mr. Pathak, after the first 72 hours there has been peace in Ahmedabad except for these five 'problem areas'. He is right. There is peace in places like Naroda Patiya and Gulbarga society. Would he suggest a similar peace plan for the 'problem areas'?

Expert though he is on the geography of Ahmedabad, I doubt if he even has a clue on the location of the various relief camps where tens of thousands of Muslims are today forced to live in sub-human conditions. But to be fair to Mr. Pathak he was quite appreciative of the Prime Minister's visit to the Shah Alam relief camp some weeks ago. His words were quite instructive: "It is our tradition to dress in white while visiting the relatives of the dead and irrespective of the character of the deceased we always say that whatever happened should not have happened". That, according to Mr Pathak, is what the Prime Minister's visit was all about.

Mr. Advani who spoke just before the Prime Minister, was pain and anguish personified. He believed that what had happened in Gujarat was terrible, a blot on the nation, an undoing of four years of good governance by the BJP. But he warned the Opposition that to suggest that Godhra or no Godhra, Gujarat was waiting to happen would be providing ammunition to 'our enemies'. (I still fail to appreciate the logic behind the Home Minister's warning. Besides, I would also like to ask the Home Minister whether those who had for months been organising weapons' training camps and distributing trishuls and swords among people knew in advance that Godhra was going to happen.

Mr Advani said not a single word about who was responsible for all the shameful deeds and what he, the Home Minister of India charged with the maintenance of law and order, intends to do with mass killers, rapists, looters and arsonists. He may be clueless as to who the guilty are but he knows for sure who is not guilty. For him, therefore, the question of a state-sponsored genocide led by Mr. Modi simply does not arise.

The Prime Minister was as pained and anguished as Mr. Advani was. And like Mr Advani, he too had nothing to say about the identity of those responsible for the carnage. Nevertheless, he was deeply upset with the gang rapes, mutilation and burning to death of women but was quick to point out this did not happen 'to the extent it was being made out to be'. The masterstroke in his speech was when very hesitantly and reluctantly he quoted some newspaper that had written that Muslims deserve such treatment for after all they have taught us to behave like this. Having shared this logic with the House, Mr Vajpayee commented in a most righteous tone that such things should never be written or spoken.

In any case, Mr Vajpayee was very unhappy with the media for identifying the community of the victims in Gujarat. He would have preferred them to have remained nameless and faceless. Such revelations must obviously be inconvenient and embarrassing for his government.

Mr Vajpayee had started his speech bemoaning the fact that he was a much misunderstood man. Here, I must admit, he was totally right. In recent years, a lot many people had misunderstood him. I am one of them and for this I plead guilty. He said that because of his one speech at Goa, people have forgotten his 50 years of public life. Here I beg to differ. On the contrary, his Goa speech has reminded us of his 50 years of public life that is littered with anti-minority statements, something we were trying hard to forget. We thought people grow with time, their visions change, they become wiser, they rise above prejudices. Mr. Vajpayee proved us wrong.

Thus spoke the tallest leaders of the BJP about the worst communal carnage in independent India's history.

It is almost four in the morning as I came out of the Parliament building, sad and depressed. After hearing these speeches I am trying to understand what makes people so unfeeling, so ruthless, so callous, so cynical, so devoid of any sense of justice, fairness and compassion. As I am moving away its still dark all around. But some inner voice tells me this darkness is not forever; sooner or later the sun will rise. It always does.

-- Javed Akhtar

FUNDAMENTALS OF AYODHYA - Mid-Day, July 13, 2003

Poet and Lyricist Javed Akhtar covers holy ground and discovers that
India's religious extremists are nothing but mirror-images of each other.

I don't think the Ram Janmabhoomi or the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya is a problem. It is a manifestation of a problem. You can solve problems. You cannot solve manifestations.

Nobody can deny that Ayodhya is historically and mythologically Ram's abode. Nobody in his or her right mind can say that a Ram Temple should not be built there. The bone of the contention is not Ayodhya, but a particular plot. Not even a particular plot but an area of a mere 80/40 square feet. Not even that. If the 80/40 square feet 'sanctum sanctorum' of the proposed Ram Temple could be located a mere 30 feet away the dispute could be resolved. The problem is that while no one is sure of the exact millennium of the Ram's birth, the Sangh Parivar is absolutely certain about the precise spot of his birth. Leave alone 30 feet, they will not agree to move even by three inches to solve the problem plaguing all of Indian society.

On the other hand, the 'once a mosque, always a mosque' claim of Maulvis and Mullahs is nothing but a lie. They cannot deny that in many Muslim Countries mosques have often been shifted even to broaden highways. So the insistence that a mosque must be rebuilt in the exact spot is anything but religious.

That a solution is the last thing on the mind of the contestants on either side is obvious. The moment newspapers reported that the Shankaracharya of Kanchi Peeth is in touch with All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) for a mutually acceptable solution, some Urdu papers published unsubstantiated news that some members among the AIMPLB had been paid Rs. 20 crore by the Government. On the other hand, the VHP leader Giriraj Kishore wasted no time in declaring that being a Shaivite, the Shankarachrya had no locus standi on the Ayodhya issue. (The VHP regained its reverence for the Shankaracharya the moment it became known that his proposed formula was no different from what the Sangh Parivar wants.) So much for these leaders 'desire for solution and their claims for religious unity!

Since nothing in the world is done on such scale and with such consistency without a grand plan, the question that arises is, why are fundamentalists from both sides doing this? The controversy cannot be understood in isolation for it is just a bit act of a marathon drama that is being played in the sub-continent for around 150 years. It all began in the 1850s, when on the one hand nationalist forces were awakening to the growing power of the British Colonialists and had started coming together to resist it. On the other hand the British realized that they would not be able to control the 'natives' without creating a schism between them along communal lines. (I wonder if it is a coincidence that the Ayodhya controversy, too, surfaced for the first time in 1853).

For the British, the mutiny of 1857 was their worst fears come true. From the record of correspondence available with India office (London), it is clear that the British conjured up, preached and propagated the two-nation theory in a deliberate and consistent manner. In 1859, the British colonial administration erected a fence to separate the Babri Masjid and Ram Chabutra in Ayaodhya, allowing the inner court to be used by Muslims and the outer court by Hindus. Perhaps another coincidence!

All those who helped the British in promoting and propagating the notion that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and cannot live together, cannot be called anything but collaborators. And there is no doubt that the Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS belong to this category. Some people may be shocked and outraged at the RSS being called collaborators of colonial power. But I would like to ask why from its birth from 1925 till the country's Independence in 1947, the RSS did not issue a single statement, did not organize a single rally and did not court a single arrest protesting colonial rule. The same is true for the Muslim League. Not a single member of these organizations that succeeded in dividing this nation and creating Pakistan, went to jail even for a day at the peak of the freedom movement. There is an unbelievable similarity in the political stands of the Muslim League and the RSS. The Muslim League asked its followers to boycott the Quit India Movement, the RSS did the same. M.S Golwalkar, called guruji by RSS followers, said such movements create chaos and law and order problems, so they should be avoided and ignored. Ultimately, one set of British collaborators, the Muslim League, was rewarded with Pakistan, a Muslim state. But the Hindu proponents of the two-nation theory were deprived of their dream because of genuine nationalists who fought for the independence, filled the jails, went to the gallows, gave the country a Constitution based not on the two-nation theory but the vision of composite India.

At this point we need to ask ourselves who a fundamentalist is? The fundamentalist has his own version of history, his own definition of culture, his own interpretation of religion and his own brand of nationalism. Behind all the impassioned sloganeering and pretensions of defending culture, religion and nation, the real agenda is to legitimize an unjust and an exploitative system where it exists, or to create one where it does not.

Gujrat is called the laboratory of Hindutva but in my view its biggest laboratory is Pakistan, which was founded on those very principles on which the Sangh Parivar wants to rebuild this country. In Pakistan, Islamic fundamentalism is but a convenient cover for an exploitative economic system. And the 'parivar's' ultimate fantasy is a Hindu Pakistan. In Pakistan whose population is around 15 crore, nearly 75 percent, that is around 11 crore, are directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture. Some 200 families own most of the agricultural land. Even assuming each of these extended families comprise 1,000 members, some 2,00,000 people control all the agricultural property. What is the status of remaining 10 crore and 98 Lakh people dependent on agriculture for their livelihood? The fact is that they are landless and even bonded labourers living in abysmal conditions. These people are at the total mercy of these landlords. In many places no schools are permitted; the police dare not enter these areas.

To make such a system viable, it is necessary that all civil liberties be denied to the people. To deny civil liberties, you need an undemocratic system. And to justify and legitimize an undemocratic system, you need religious fundamentalism and majoritarianism pretending to be nationalism. This use of fundamentalism is also evident in those Muslim countries where a few control all national wealth. Though the elite holds out crumbs to the ordinary citizen in these countries, no civil rights exist.

Incidentally, fascism and fundamentalism (theocracy) have one thing in common: both believe in the total usurpation of the basic rights and civil liberties of citizens. Nazi Germany and Talibani Afghanistan are eloquent testimonies of this. Interestingly the Sangh Parivar has from the very beginning been enamoured by Nazi ideology as is evident from the writings of the stalwarts of Hindutva. Given half a chance, like the Taliban, the Sangh Parivar will start putting women in their place. This gives us an insight into their mindset and their agenda of total control over society.

It is not that every fundamentalist sees his worldview as a mere political instrument. On the contrary, the large majority of those who subscribe to such views are sincerely committed to them. But these are mere pawns and minions who have been brainwashed. And among them, those from the economically weaker sections are often used as cannon fodder. But for those who are pulling the invisible strings, fundamentalism remains a political strategy. To think that it was reverence for Ram that made L.K.Advani launch his Rath Yatra is like believing that actually Jinnah wanted to save Islam in the sub-continent. The fact is that Jinnah was a cold-blooded, calculating, unscrupulous, over ambitious, manipulative, power hungry politician who hardly had any religious beliefs. The same can be said of L.K. Advani.

What should not be forgotten is that when Advani and is party picked up the Ayodhya gauntlet Muslim fundamentalists provided a perfect foil to him. We also need to understand the Muslim fundamentalist agenda. In post-partition India, the Muslim fundamentalist can no longer aspire to gain control of the State; but his political ambition intact he does seek to be a state within a state. He is interested in Democracy and secularism only to the extent that in the name of these principles his fundamentalism is tolerated. He wants tolerance and democracy in the country because that serves his interest, but he is not prepared to tolerate any freedom or democracy within his own community. He wants total control over the country's largest minority the same way as the Sangh Parivar wants total control over the entire country. To be able to exert pressure on the state, the Muslim fundamentalist would like to be seen as the sole representative of his community. He wants to use Muslims as bargaining chips to do as he pleases. I hang my head in shame every time I recall how at the time of Shah Bano, the Muslim fundamentalists were allowed to force secular India to bend to their diktats.

He who speaks out against the Muslim fundamentalists is anti-Islam, he who speaks against the Sangh Parivar is anti-national. Both of them have no tolerance for any opinion other than their own.

So, the choice is not between fundamentalists of two communities, for they are the mirror images of each other. The choice is not even between a temple and a mosque. The choice is between democracy and a totalitarian regime. Liberal and restrictive society. Freedom of expression and repression.

Let us make all fundamentalist organizations defunct and irrelevant by telling them in no uncertain terms that it is not Ayodhya, but they are the problem.

As told to Mayank Shekhar.

INDIA TODAY CONCLAVE - Saturday, February 26, 2005

session: spirituality, halo or hoax.

I am quite sure ladies and gentlemen, that in this august assembly nobody would envy my position at this moment. Speaking after such a charismatic and formidable personality like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is like coming out of the pavilion to play after Tendulkar has made a sparkling century. But in some weak moment I had committed myself.

There are certain things that I would like to make very clear at the very outset. Don't get carried away by my name - Javed Akhtar. I am not revealing a secret, I am saying something that I have said many times, in writing or on TV, in public... I am an atheist, I have no religious beliefs. And obviously I don't believe in spirituality of some kind. Some kind.

Another thing. I am not standing here to criticize, analyze, or attack this gentleman who is sitting here. We have a very pleasant, civilized relation. I have always found him to be an extremely courteous person.

One is talking about an idea, an attitude, a mindset. Not any individual.

I must tell you that when Rajeev opened this session, for a moment I felt that I have come to the wrong place. Because, if we are discussing the philosophy of Krishan and Gautam and Kabir, Vivekanand, then I have nothing to say. I can sit down right now. I am not here to discuss a glorious past of which I suppose every Indian is proud, and rightly so. I am here to discuss a dubious present.

India Today has invited me and I have come here to talk of spirituality today. Let's not be confused by this word spirituality, you can find two people with the same name and they can be totally different people. Ram Charit Manas was written by Tulsidas. And the television film has been made by Ramanand Sagar. Ramayan is common but I don't think it would be very wise to club Tulsidas with Ramanand Sagar. I remember, when he had written Ramcharit Manas, he had faced a kind of a social boycott. How could he write a holy book in such a language like Avadhi? Sometimes I wonder fundamentalists of all hues and all colors, religions and communities... how similar they are. In 1798, a gentleman called Shah Abdul Qadir, in this very city, for the first time translated Quran in Urdu, and all the ulemas of that time gave fatwa against him that how could he translate this holy book in such a heathen language.

When Tulsi wrote Ramcharit Manas and he was boycotted, I remember a chowpai that he had written.

"Dhut kaho abdhut kaho rajput kaho ki julawa kohu

Kohu ki beti se beta na biahab, kohu ki jaat bigaar na chahu

Mang ke khaibo, mehjid ma raihbo, lebe ka ek na debe ka dohu"

Ramanand Sagar, when he made his television serial, he made millions. I am not undermining him, but obviously he is much lower in the rung.

I will give you another example. Perhaps it would be more direct and more appropriate. Gautam came out of a palace and went into wilderness to find the truth. But nowadays we see, the modern age gurus, come out of the wilderness and wind up in the palaces. They are moving in the opposite direction. We can't talk of them in the same breath. So let us not hide behind names which are dear and respectable for every Indian.

When I was invited to give this talk, I felt that yes, I am an atheist, try to be a rationalist in any given situation, Maybe that's why I have been called. But suddenly I have realized that there is another quality that I share with Modern Age gurus. I work in films. We have lot in common. Both of us, sell dreams, both of us create illusions, both of us create icons, but with a difference. After three hours we put a placard - the end. Go back to reality. They don't.

So ladies and gentlemen, let me make it very clear that I have come to talk of this spirituality that has a supermarket in the world. Arms, drugs and spirituality - these are the three big businesses in the world. But in arms and drugs you really have to do something, give something. That's the difference. Here you don't have to give anything.

In this supermarket you get instant Nirvana, Moksha by mail, a crash course in self realization, cosmic consciousness in four easy lessons. This supermarket has its chain all over the world, where the restless elite buy spiritual fast food. I am talking about this spirituality.

Plato in his dialogues has said many a wise thing, and one of them is - before starting any discussion decide on the meanings of words. Let us try to decide on the meaning of this word spirituality. Does it mean love for mankind that transcends all religion, caste, creed, race? Is that so? Then I have no problem. Except that I call it humanity. Does it mean love of plants, trees, mountains, oceans, rivers, animals? The non-human world? If that is so, again I have no problem at all. Except that I call it environmental consciousness. Does spirituality mean heartfelt regard for social institutions like marriage, parenthood, fine arts, judiciary, freedom of expression. I have no problem again sir, how can I disagree here? I call it civil responsibility. Does spirituality mean going into your own world trying to understand the meaning of your own life? Who can object on that? I call it self-introspection, self assessment. Does spirituality mean Yoga? Thanks to Patanjali, who has given us the details of Yoga, Yam, Yatam, aasan, pranayam... We may do it under any name, but if we are doing pranayam, wonderful. I call it healthcare. Physical fitness.

Now is it a matter of only semantics. If all this is spirituality, then what is the discussion. All these words that I have used are extremely respectable and totally acceptable words. There is nothing abstract or intangible about them. So why stick to this word spirituality? What is there in spirituality that has not been covered by all these words? Is there something? If that is so then what is that?

Somebody in return can ask me what is my problem with this word. I am asking to change it, leave it, drop it, make it obsolete but why so? I will tell you what is my reservation. If spirituality means all this then there is no discussion. But there is something else which makes me uneasy. In a dictionary, the meaning of spirituality is rooted in a word called "spirit". When mankind didn't know whether this earth is round or flat, he had decided that human beings are actually the combination of two things. Body and spirit. Body is temporary, it dies. But the spirit is, shall I say, non-biodegradable. In your body you have a liver and heart and intestines and the brain, but since the brain is a part of the body, and mind lies within the brain, it is inferior because ultimately the brain too shall die with the body, but don't worry, you are not going to die, because you are your spirit, and the spirit has the supreme consciousness that will remain, and whatever problem you have is because you listen to your mind. Stop listening to your mind. Listen to your spirit - the supreme consciousness that knows the cosmic truth. All right. It's not surprising that in Pune there is an ashram and I used to go there. I loved the oratory. On the gate of the lecture hall there was a placard. Leave your shoes and minds here. There are other gurus who don't mind if you carry your shoes. But minds?... sorry.

Now, if you leave your mind what do you do? You need the Guru to find the next station of consciousness. That hides somewhere in the spirit. He has reached the supreme consciousness, he knows the supreme truth. But can he tell you. No sir, he cannot tell you. So can you find out on your own? No sir, you need the guru for that. You need him but he cannot guarantee that you will know the ultimate truth... and what is that ultimate truth? What is the cosmic truth? Relating to cosmos? I have really not been able to understand that. The moment we step out of the solar system the first star is Alpha.Centueri It is just four light years away. How do I relate to that!! What do I do!!

So the emperor is wearing robes that only the wise can see. And the emperor is becoming bigger and bigger. And there are more and more wise people who are appreciating the robe.

I used to think that actually spirituality is the second line of defence for the religious people. When they get embarrassed about traditional religion, when it starts looking too down-market, they hide behind this smokescreen of cosmos and super consciousness. But that is not the complete truth. Because the clientele of traditional religion and spirituality is different. You take the map of the world, you start marking places which are extremely religious, within India or outside India, Asia, Latin America, Europe... wherever. You will find that wherever there is lot of religion there is lack of human rights. There is repression. Anywhere. Our Marxist friends used to say that religion is the opium of poor masses, the sigh of the oppressed. I don't want to get into that discussion. But spirituality nowadays is definitely the tranquilizer of the rich.

You see that the clientele is well heeled, it is the affluent class. Alright, so the guru gets power, high self esteem, status, wealth... (which is not that important), power... and lot of wealth too. What does the disciple get? When I looked at them carefully I realized that there are categories and categories of these disciples. It's not a monolith. There are different kinds of followers. Different kinds of disciples. One, who is rich, successful, doing extremely well in his life, making money, gaining property. Now, since he has everything he wants absolution too. So guru tells him - whatever you are doing, is "niskaam karma" - you are playing a role, this is all "Maya", the money that you are making everyday and the property that you are acquiring, you are not emotionally involved with it. You are just playing a role. You come to me because you are in search of eternal truth. Maybe your hands are dirty, but your spirit and soul are pure. And this man, he starts feeling wonderful about himself. For seven days he is exploiting the world, and at the end of the seven days when he goes and sits at the feet of the guru, he feels - I am a sensitive person.

There is another category. That too comes from the affluent class. But he is not the winner like the first one. You know winning or losing that is also relative. A rickshaw-wallah if he is gambling on the pavement and wins hundred rupees will feel victorious, and if a corporate man makes only 300 million dollars, while his brother is a billionaire, he will feel like a failure. Now, what does this rich failure do? He needs a guru to tell him - who says that you have failed? You have other worlds, you have another vision, you have other sensibility that your brother doesn't have. He thinks that he is successful... wrong. The world is very cruel, you know. The world tells you honestly, no sir, you have got three out of ten. The other person has seven out of ten. Fair. They will treat you that way and they will meet you that way. There he gets compassion. There he plays another game.

Another category. And I will talk about this category not with contempt or with any sense of superiority, not any bitterness, but all the compassion available one that is a very big client of this modern day guru and today's spirituality, is the unhappy rich wife.

Here is a person who put all her individuality, aspirations and dreams, and her being at the altar of marriage and in return she got an indifferent husband. Who at the most gave her a couple of children. Who is rather busy with his work, or busy with other women. This woman needs a shoulder. She knows that she is an existential failure. There is nothing to look forward to. She has a vacuous, empty, comfortable yet purposeless life. It's sad, but it is true.

Then there are other people. Who are suddenly traumatized. They lose a child. The wife dies. The husband dies. Or they lose the property, they lose their business. Something happens that shocks them and they ask - why me? So who do they ask? They go to the Guru. And the guru tells him that this is Karma. But there is another world if you follow me. Where there is no pain. Where there is no death. Where there is immortality. Where there is only bliss. He tells all these unhappy souls - follow me and I will take you to the heaven, to the paradise, where there is no pain. I am sorry sir, it is disappointing but true that there is no such paradise. Life will always have a certain quota of pain, of hurts, a possibility of defeats. But they do get some satisfaction.

Somebody may ask me if they are feeling better, if they are getting peace then what is your problem. It reminds me of a story that I have read. It's an old Indian story told by a sage, that a hungry dog finds a dry bone and tries to eat it and in the process bites its own tongue. And the tongue is bleeding and the dog feels that he is getting nourishment from the bone.

I feel sad. I don't want them, these adults, to behave like this because I respect them. Drugs and alcohol are also supposed to give mental peace and serenity, but is that kind of piece or serenity desirable or advisable? The answer is no. Any mental peace that is not anchored in rational thoughts is nothing but self-deception. Any serenity that takes you away from truth is just an illusion - a mirage. I know that there is a kind of a security in this which is like the security of a tri-cycle. If you are riding a tri-cycle you can't fall. But adults do not ride tricycles. They ride bi-cycles. They can even fall. It is a part of life.

There is one more kind. Like everybody who is the member of the golf club is not fond of golf. In the same way everybody who is seen in an ashram is not a spiritual person. A film producer who is an ardent follower of a guru, whose ashram is about two hours from Delhi once told me that you must go to my Guru. You will see the who's who of Delhi there. Let me tell you my Guruji is another Chandraswami in the making. Now this is a contact point for networking.

I have great respect for people who are spiritual, or religious, and in spite of this they are good people. And I have a reason. I believe that like every emotion or feeling, you have a limitation.

I am feeling slightly pressurized about time, can I get another five six minutes please... may I sir... Rajiv Mehrotra "yes you can"

You can see upto a point. And you can't see further. You can hear upto a point, but beyond that you won't be able to register sounds. You can mourn upto a point and then you will get over your mourning. You will feel happy upto a point and then you will be through with your happiness. Same way, I am sure that you have a certain capacity for nobility also. You can be as noble and no more. Now suppose if we count this capacity for nobility in the average man as ten units, now anybody who goes to pray in a mosque five times is consuming his five units, there anybody who goes to the temple or sits in the feet of the Guru, he is consuming his quota of nobility there. And in a totally non-productive manner. I don't go to pray. I don't pray. If I don't go to any guru, or mosque or temple or church, what do I do with my quota of nobility. I will have to help somebody, feed somebody, give shelter to somebody. People who use their quota in worshipping, praying, adoring religious figures and spiritual figures, in spite of that, if they are left with some nobility, hats off to them.

You may ask me, that if I have this kind of ideas about religious people, why should I show such reverence for Krishan and Kabir and Gautam? You can ask me. I'll tell you why I respect them. These were the great contributors in the human civilization. They were born in different points of time in history, in different situations. But one thing is common in them. They stood up against injustice. They fought for the downtrodden. Whether it was Ravana, or Kansha or the pharaoh or the high priests or the British Samrajya in front of Gandhi - or the communal empire of Firoze Tughlaq in the times of Kabir, they stood against that.

And what surprises me, and confirms my worst feelings, that today, the enlightened people who know the cosmic truth, none of them stand up against the powers that be. None of them raises his voice against the ruling classes and the privileged classes. Charity, yes, when it is approved and cleared by the establishment and the powers that be. But I want to know which was that guru which took the dalits to those temples which are still closed to them. I want to know which was that guru who stood for the rights of the Adivasis against the thekedaars and contractors. I want to know which was that guru who spoke about the victims of Gujarat and went to their relief camps. They are human beings.

Sir... It is not enough to teach the rich how to breathe. It is the rich mans recreation. It is the hypocrites' pretension. It is a mischievous deception. And you know that in the oxford dictionary, mischievous deception is a term that is used for a word, and that word is... HOAX.

Thank you.

Javed Akhtar

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