Saturday, April 12, 2008

Don't die for a Cause, Live for it.....

After my earlier writings on Bhagat Singh, a friend of mine sent in a link to a recent article on Periyar's stance on Bhagat Singh in those days. The article is based on a recently published book on Bhagat Singh. I should have discussed it after reading the book but I think the contents of the article, even when taken alone, has stuff enough for a blog post, particularly since it mentions an essay written by Bhagat Singh "Why I am an atheist".

I wouldn't ask someone to give up his life by engaging in violent action in the cause of something that is dear to his heart, even against an oppressor. Not that I value Life more than the Cause, but because I think it is better to
use Life to further that cause, rather than to give it away on a quick-fix route. Don't say "I'll die for this cause", but say, "I'll live to show how to live for this cause". I called Bhagat Singh a martyr in comparison with Nathuram, because Bhagat Singh gave up his life in acting against an external 200-year-old oppressor, not on a skirmish of money transfer. It's how a spouse or a kid who is oppressively abused at his/her home wanting to break away from the family is different from the kid who thinks of running away because his Dad scolded him. But after Bhagat Singh chose to offer his life (which I think is not always the best thing to do), I would always differentiate such an offering as martyrdom given the context, zeal, selflessness, external oppressor and the awareness wave it created , as against other flimsier reasons for murder of oneself or others. This is not to say that such martyrdom should be replicated (as if it's that easy), but the zeal behind, selflessness and singlepointedness should be replicated towards a cause that is as noble and supreme as the ideal was to the martyr.

There are probably a couple of points in the article where I agree, where Periyar laments that nobody, no leader even condoled the hanging of Bhagat Singh and many senior leaders didn't try to take up the matter with the British in any way. That was real bad, how thankless !

I also agree on Bhagat Singh's general exhortation that exploitation of man by man and nation by nation should end.

That said, would I agree with Bhagat Singh's other views or beliefs ? Oh hardly, which is why I put the agreement first. Here are those where I disagree and most of these disagreements are in the outdated utility of his views in the current times, not on their backdated relevance.

Belief in socialism and communism as a panacea for all the evils of the society was a belief wave of those times, not because of their proven intrinsic healing properties, but more because of the frustrations of imperial colonialism. This would soon get proven by time with, if not the crumbling of such institutions, atleast with the wane in the fascination for these schools and increasing disillusionment about their healing properties. They were definitely worth the try, though.

Among the governance schools that mankind has tried out, Democracy seems to be the one that is working out the best in the current phase of civilization and Man's search for happiness in society. While I personally have a fascination of benevolent autocracy at times, I think, democracy, with all its demerits, will hold the fort as Mankind moves towards better and better forms of this school, hopefully plugging its loopholes on the way. So is the case with free markets, with whatever little freedom it might mean in the actual sense of practice, under democratic intervention through regulation.

"Till people live without unequal status, our struggle will continue. It cannot be brought to an end by killing us..." Oh come on, flip this argument around, will inequality come to an end by killing yourself or others ? How do you define inequality ? How do you define a Utopian possibility of a single equal society where everyone is somehow equally endowed and happy ? Or should we endeavour for the equality of opportunity to make choices and rise ? How about people using the same equality of opportunity to make choices and fall ? Or befall others ? Assuming you define equality successfully, is it something you can achieve ? Even if you were to achieve all equality of the material (which by itself, is an infinitely complex problem), Man would still be unhappy about inequalities in his mind. This is not to say we should glorify the absurd inequalities, but we should pursue the endeavour to remove the absurdity acknowledging the fact that such a pursuit can span civilizations and no single hammer can quickly rest the hall to peace forever.

"only Bhagat Singh’s principle is needed in India" ? That's just Periyar's political wand. Just ignore. We are anyway discussing here why it may not be as fascinating. Among others, He justifies the "use of force in terrible necessity" and non-violence as an indispensable policy for mass movements. I think while it might have had some relevance in relation to abuse by an external oppressor, but it might create utter chaos if individual citizens subscribe to this idea and use force depending on their view of terrible necessity. Leave it to the law enforcers, please.

While some responses to the article have praised his humanism, other online responses the article have handled the fallacious comparison between caste system and economics, untouchability and povery, so I won't go into it. I also won't go into the possible "political" reasons for Periyar to vociferously align with Bhagat Singh or even Bhagat Singh to align with atheism. I would rather look at the reasons for their value and not for their motive.

The other reasons of Bhagat Singh to align with atheism are mentioned in his essay, "Why I am an Atheist", referred to in the article in the context of religion being a tool of exploitation. For one, the essay is definitely a great stirring read, but the meat isn't new, it's as old as God, just the dialogues are different. I wanted to discuss this after I read The God Delusion, but let's have a primer.

If you cut out the part where Bhagat Singh explains that vanity, upbringing etc are not among the reasons, the other main reasons are :

1. He studied a lot on the subject and then found his atheism. He doesn't mention what his studies revealed, I think probably the other reasons mentioned here are the ones. Moreover, Bhagat Singh himself admits that he did a detailed study of the "negative" side, that is, how to deconstruct the God concept, he didn't study much on the "positive" side. Oh, thats bad study, but I will credit him for his open admission.

2. Some of the stuff is rhetoric, hey look at this, hey look at that, don't you know this, aren't you looking and so on. So cut that out too, but I should say, even after cutting, he does go on to some core reasons.

3. "Religion is the cause of a lot of evils and
therefore, I don't believe in God": The earlier misconceptions about communism would get disproven by time, but this one still persists. What about other things that cause evil, is that a good reason to say their underlying substratum doesn't exist ? Cobwebs are a good reason to clean the house, but is that a good, (apparaently analytical) reason to deny that the house exists or not to have a house anymore ? Why can't we all stop using petrol and go back to stone age because it causes pollution ? Okay, if religion caused inequalities by caste, which religion caused inequalities by colour in some other part of the earth ? What about inequalities in skill sets, in food, in lotteries and a hundred other variants of inequality. Religion is a major force, and oh we have inequality all over, so we think all inequality must have been caused by religion. People wearing yellow t-shirts eat more apples than those wearing blue ones so there is something about yellow.

We shouldn't admit the evil offshoots of religion, and there are many, but thats a reason we should practise
better religion if we believe in God, and even if we don't believe in God, we should find out what causes evil/suffering irrespective of whether God existed or not. As to my take on what's the root cause of all evil, I would turn to one religion that studied this as one of its tenets. Turns out, it has nothing much to do with God.

4. "The God concept was created because of human weakness" : Even if this were true, it hardly gives a reason to prove or disprove the existence of God or otherwise. Since you are the one claiming to be on the side of reason, you got to come up with a better one.

5. "Why did God create the world ? " : If this question was discussed at length, it would have been a different angle, but Bhagat Singh seems to focus on the "Suffering" aspect of creation. He asks the creation question in the context of "Why did God create a world that has so much suffering in it ?". The question presupposes that God should keep the world happy, otherwise he is no God. Look around the world, you won't require God to cause suffering, Man himself is more than capable of it. Moreover, you should first prove God caused it in the first place. Or may be find out, who causes any suffering to whom. And after you find out, you can say, so-and-so is causing it. There are some schools that ask the question "Is there suffering ?" from a particular plane, and, to be fair to the study of the subject, you should ask the question too and find the answer. In fact, if you answer that, quite possible you may not have much questions left.

6. "Who created the world ?": The "Ask Darwin" and "Chemical Accident" arguments aren't new. But if you have to use them effectively as a persuasive argument for atheism, these alternatives should first provide a
complete explanation of creation. You might go on pointing out that School A is incomplete and foolish, but to get the point across, you should have School B in your hand and say, here it is, this one answers all your questions. It's well known even in scientific circles that the various disciplines delve most on the How of creation and science, as a discipline by itself, will not be able to provide a complete explanation on the why and who, atleast for a lot of time to come. We are still very far away even from asking these questions in our labs, so come up with something concrete and complete, I'll wait.

I liked the part towards the end of the essay, where Bhagat Singh stays an atheist till the end. Tough job. "You have enough fires, you find God..." - Ladder 49. But I have a faint thought : did he stay so just because he didn't want to roll back ? What if, just what if he was wrong, particularly since he had not found complete correct answers to the God questions he was asking. I am just speculating here, I am sure you can speculate about my being wrong too.

Does that make you curious on what are my arguments in favour of theism ? Thats another thread some day. Frankly, I don't know God well enough to qualify to comment on Him. I like Him though :) . I thought atheists are the ones who knew everything !!


  1. A great article, worth reading, but bit long. Let me start with what I know best. My eyes goes to catch mistakes first. The word at least - there is a space between at and least, and not as written.
    I am nobody to comment on Bhagat Singh's views. He was a martyr, he might not have got that recognition then. He was opposed to Mahatma Gandhi's views on non-violence, as you say, he wanted eye for an eye, but his cause did not give any results for us. Equality can never come on social standing. It is always as George Orwell says, "Some men are more equal than others." And his view that religion is the cause of this evil. Yes, those days it was true. Lot of inequalities.

  2. "i think if the cause is worth dying for then it is better to die"--anonymous

    i would only like to bring to your notice as to why so many of our people from punjab join the armed forces. The simple reason is that they feel sacrificing their life for a noble cause will give them name on this earth and probably take them to heaven after death.

  3. These are my views...

    1- Why is that we differentiate "dying for a cause" from "living for one"? Why cant it be seen as dying for a cause in retrospect a way to live for it. And in Bhagat Singh's time the only other alternative was to fight as a Moderate in Gandhi's camp. Bhagat Singh chose the extremist way where numerous martyrs before him like Khudiram Bose et al had been hanged. And he made a perfectly rational choice. Can we conclude that he prefered death not because he loved the cause more than his life but he was so frustrated with his own existence that he needed his anhilation. Frustration can be due to "gulami" of the Empire, or family matter etc. From the info we have we can conclude that the frustration may be due to Empire, yet was it hatred for his life or hatred for the Empire that drove him to choose this path, is a matter to be debated.

    2- Democracy works? Among the developing nations, its India alone which qualifies for a functional democracy. Our neighbours (Pak, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal) throw light on how unstable democracy can be and how unstable democracy can be potentially dangerous. Everytime a millitary take over happens, the country has to litterally start from square one. A serious study has to be undertaken to find the best practices of Indian democracy and why the model has been sustainable for 60 odd years though Mrs Gandhi did try to play her game in between.

    3- Regarding equality - I do agree..Equality is a Mirage ! An equilibrium gets the entire system to a standstill. Somewhere there must be a high pressure and somewhere there must be a low pressure for air to circulate. Somewhere there must be a demand to be countered by a supply for economics and trade to occur. Fundamentally man HAS been created different from woman and despite every effort by Women Commission and Mahila Morchas, this cannot be deleted. Bhagat Singh's equality argument was an emotional outburst..but I appreciate the fact he felt for the underpriveledged. It requires a tremendous character to overlook your own disadvantage and think of irradicating the disadvantage of others...

    4- Now this is my favorite topic - Athiesm :-). I feel one with it for once upon a time I considered myself as one! Today too I am an athiest but with a difference. Athiesm is more of a "no religion" stand. It equates God and religion as equal while they are dimensionally and conceptually different. Religion is a path while God is an end. Religion is a set of norms while God is attributeless. Today I understood atheism in proper light. It is strictly a "no-religion" policy. But that does not mean it is a "no God" policy! It actually unites people and fosters love and brotherhood. Today I am proud to be atheist in a right religion only God..thanx to Swami !

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THANK YOU: These reflections draw sometimes from readers and friends who initiate ideas, build up discussions, post comments and mention interesting links, some online and some over a cup of coffee or during a riverside walk. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this blog are the blogger's personal opinions and made in his individual capacity, sometimes have a story-type approach, mixing facts with imagination and should not be construed as arising from a professional position or a counselling intention.