Wednesday, February 29, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Are We Ready For Spiritual Democracy? (Kancha Ilaiah)

Are We Ready For Spiritual Democracy? – OpEd

Written by: Eurasia Review
February 29, 2012

By Kancha Ilaiah

Whether the concept "spiritual democracy" is tenable and has the
potential to reform the spiritual systems that are locked up in caste
cultures is being debated in certain intellectual circles in India of
late. In my view this debate has global implications as well.

The concept of democracy came into play with the notion that power
relations cannot be stagnant and hereditary. Though the concept of
republic has its roots in the tribal socio-spiritual and political
set-up, it had something to do with the notion of creating collective
consent around the hereditary spiritual, social and political power of
tribal heads. Democracy and republicanism, though, are interrelated:
one relates to the question of power rotations and the other basically
relates to the process of electing the power wielder.

Once the spiritual system transformed from the totemic worship stage
and moved on to become a largely organised priesthood in the spiritual
realm and monarchy in the political realm, what laid the foundation
for authoritarianism in the entire socio-spiritual and political
domain was spiritual dynasticism, casteism and authoritarianism. The
masses, for the most part of human history, feared spiritual authority
more than political authority. Spiritual authority always invoked the
power of a supernatural entity in one form or the other. It is that
which made people unnaturally obedient.

For a long time in the history of human power relations, spiritual
power controlled political power and social power. The debate on the
centralised, hegemonic Roman Catholic papacy is all too well known.
The stranglehold of that most powerful papacy was shattered by Martin
Luther King's spiritual reformation revolt.. Earlier, Machiavelli's
secular-theoretical revolt and Henry VIII's rebellion had led to
separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church.
Buddhist spiritual thought held sway from the days of King Ashoka to
Pusyamitra Sunga's (the first Brahmin ruler, 185-151 BCE) violent
overthrow of the Buddhist Mauryan dynasty. The real Kautilyan state,
with Manu dharma as its legal code, came into existence during
Pusyamitra Sunga's regime.

In this period, the Vedic spiritual agency was kept above the king. As
Kautilya himself suggested, in every Hindu (at that time, Brahminic)
state, the priest should be above the king. Neither Indian Buddhism
nor Hinduism could produce a secular revolutionary of the stature of
Machiavelli or Henry VIII in the political realm at any time.

In the pre-Christian era, one could notice a major difference between
the European and Indian processes of power relations. In the
Greco-Roman systems there does not appear to be any firmly established
spiritual power structure and hence the state operated on its own. But
in India, since the days of Vedic authority, spiritual
authoritarianism established a very hegemonic control over the
political authority. Buddhism tried to weaken the Vedic hegemony,
leading to constant conflicts between Vedism and Buddhism. But that
conflict never unsettled the caste hierarchy.

After 900 years of Muslim and British rule, a modern Indian, Pandit
Jawaharlal Nehru, became the first ruler playing a very modern
Machiavellian role and created an Indian secular state within the
Hindu spiritual system. This was done in many nuanced ways, and that
is what has moulded Indian democracy into a semi-secular system.

In the Islamic world also, the spiritual power controlled the
political power, and that continues even now. Hence, separation of the
mosque from the state through the subordination of religious power to
state power remains an unresolved problem. All the Muslim nations that
encountered the Arab Spring are in a philosophical crisis of
separating spiritual power and political power. It's difficult to say
what kind of secularism will come into operation in these nations.

The modern Buddhist world — of course, India now is outside of it —
hangs between Marxist democracies (China, Vietnam and North Korea) and
monarchical democracies (Japan and South Korea). The state in those
countries controls religion more than in any other political system.

Political systems where the spiritual system faced ideological
upheavals transformed along with the spiritual system. Christian
spiritual societies in the West have shown this inter-relationship,
where spiritual reformation and political revolutions went hand in
hand. The Islamic world is now undergoing spiritual and political
transformation. In India, now that democracy combines in itself the
power shift from colonial authority to the common citizen, that too
through elections, the spiritual system will have to transform in a
commensurate manner.

The Brahminic intelligentsia is facing that challenge seriously. Hindu
religion and Catholic Christianity in India have not yet become
individually mobile or caste-wise transformative. If the Hindu
spiritual hierarchy is in the firm grip of Brahmins, the Catholic
hierarchy is in the grip of Brahmin-Sudra upper castes. While the
Hindu temple system is under the government endowments department, the
Catholic diocese are run by autonomous bodies.

The only way to democratise caste-controlled spiritual institutions is
to introduce reservations into these structures to break the monopoly
of castes, and train spiritual personnel through an open, transparent
admission into theological schools and colleges. One definite
condition that should be followed when one seeks admission into such
schools is that candidates should belong to that religion. In this
case religion should be treated like nationality.

History shows us that unless religion gets de-casteised, the caste
system does not go. Western Christianity got democratised by creating
structures of mobility of classes within the spiritual system. It
helped, of course, that there was no caste system. But in India, caste
and class are so intertwined that we need to strike at the base of
caste immobility.

The introduction of measures for mobility of caste in political,
educational and employment spheres is not changing the social value of
caste because its spiritual value has not been changed. Even in Indian
Islam there is influence of caste culture. Christianity and Indian
Buddhism (the Navayana Buddhism is essentially Dalit Buddhism now)
also suffer from it though this is not as visible as it is in
Hinduism. Such mobility of castes and individuals within the spiritual
system, in my view, is part of spiritual democracy.

Spiritual democracy would change the basic relation between God on the
one head and caste and individual on the other. It would address
frozen modes of dress codes, food culture and man-woman relations. It
would address, more fundamentally, the notions of purity and
pollution. The role of the Indian democratic state in this sphere is

One significant thing that happened during colonial and post-colonial
political reform was that religion was institutionally subordinated to
the state. This is a great change that took place in India. The credit
for putting that course firmly on track goes to B.R. Ambedkar and
Nehru. But from here on, we need to push democratic mobility into
institutionalised spiritual structures. This is not an impossible

The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and
Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad

This article appeared at The Asian Age and is reprinted with permission.


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