Saturday, July 30, 2011

Guha bats for Heehs

BAN THE BAN Calcutta Telegraph - Saturday , July 30 , 2011 Politics and play: Ramachandra Guha. The republic of India bans books with a depressing frequency.
Gandhi scholars in particular, and Indians in general, owe Rajmohan and Gopalkrishna a debt of gratitude, for pressurizing the government to allow the free circulation of Joseph Lelyveld’s The Great Soul in 27 states of the country. It remains illegal to own or possess a copy of the book in the 28th state of the Union, which happens to be Gandhi’s own. […]
Sadly, the bravery (and decency) of Gandhi’s grandsons has not been emulated by defenders or descendants of some other great men of modern India. Consider the fate, within India, of a biography of Sri Aurobindo written by Peter Heehs. Heehs is a real scholar, the author of several substantial works of history (among them The Bomb in Bengal). What’s more, he was for many years in charge of the archives in the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry.
In 2008, Columbia University Press in New York published Peter Heehs’s The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. The product of a lifetime of scholarship, its empirical depth and analytical sharpness is unlikely to be surpassed. For Heehs knows the documentary evidence on and around Aurobindo’s life better than anyone else. He has a deep knowledge of the political and spiritual worlds in which his subject moved and by which he was shaped.
Alas, this remarkable life of a remarkable Indian cannot be read in India. This is because of an injunction on its sale asked for by self-professed devotees of Aurobindo, and granted by a hyper-active high court in Orissa. Heehs’s book is respectful but not reverential. He salutes Aurobindo for his contributions to the freedom struggle. Before Aurobindo, writes Heehs, “no one dared to speak openly of independence; twenty years later, it became the movement’s accepted goal”. He praises Aurobindo’s contributions to literature and philosophy. However, Heehs is gently sceptical of the claim that Aurobindo possessed supernatural powers. “To accept Sri Aurobindo as an avatar is necessarily a matter of faith,” he writes, adding that “matters of faith quickly become matters of dogma”.
This understated, unexceptionable statement drove the dogmatic followers of Aurobindo bananas. Some devotees filed a case in the Orissa High Court, restraining the Indian publisher from circulating the book in India. Other devotees filed a case in a Tamil Nadu court, seeking the revocation of Peter Heehs’s visa and his extradition from this country. By these (and other) acts, the contemporary keepers of Aurobindo’s flame showed themselves to be far less courageous than the grandsons of Gandhi. Is their icon so fragile that he can be destroyed or even damaged by a single, scholarly, book? […]
As these cases illustrate, the republic of India bans books with a depressing frequency. Three factors promote this culture of banning. First, the descendants or devotees of biographical subjects are often too nervous or insecure to have them discussed with objectivity and rigour. Second, these fanatical or insecure followers have found an ally in the courts. Although the Supreme Court has tended to act on the side of the freedom of expression, lower courts have been less wise. Judges who are malleable or publicity-hungry pass injunctions forbidding the free circulation of books and works of art. Few petitioners have the time, or money, or energy, to wait and fight till the case reaches the Supreme Court (a process that can take years). A ban once invoked is therefore rarely revoked. […]
Lower courts and even some high courts have been accomplices in this process of the stifling of free speech. So too have been politicians of all parties and governments. Indian democrats may take solace in the few exceptions: these being the institution of the Supreme Court, and those public-spirited public figures, Rajmohan and Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

We move on to Aurobindo, who, again, at times propagated ideas uncannily similar to Islam, as in the wish to return to a Golden Age where all was truth and righteousness. Then we come to Vivekananda, to this writer the most ambivalent, and hence most appealing, of the four. Ramachandra Guha The Telegraph Saturday, April 17, 2004  10:12 AM,  7:30 AM

Bowl for past, bat for change Calcutta Telegraph - Samhita Chakraborty Lahiri 16 Dec 2010
One thing you can't accuse Ramachandra Guha of is mincing his words. ... “I found the views of Vivekananda and Aurobindo archaic and stiff,” was the reply to a variation of the question that he is asked the most about his book.  9:40 AM, 6:18 PM, 7:30 AM

Sri Aurobindo’s Opposition Why the Indian establishment resisted him MANGESH V. NADKARNI Indian Express  EDITORIALS & ANALYSIS Thursday, March 21, 2002
The Gandhian establishment was not entirely happy with Sri Aurobindo because of his insistence that India must cultivate the kshatriya spirit, not merely Bhakti and Jnana.
The reason why the academic establishment in India was opposed to Sri Aurobindo is that he rejected the colonial-missionary model of history, which regarded the Aryan invasion theory as its crown-jewel. Sri Aurobindo was probably the first to issue a warning against the invasion theory in his book On the Vedas, written nearly 80 years ago. Nor was Sri Aurobindo an uncritical admirer of the Western liberal-humanistic tradition.

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