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Not the devil’s advocate

Sir — A certain public prosecutor from Gujarat has given people reason to believe that there are still a few people who stand up for the truth (“Government loses Godhra voice and face”, Feb 25). P.P. Panchal’s refusal to fight the case for Narendra Modi’s government against Maulana Hussain Umarji is a landmark in the recent history of Indian administration. Not because Panchal acted as an upright man, but because he had the guts to tell Modi and his cronies that they did not have a case against the chief maulvi of Godhra. Not that his act will change the course of things. Modi commands too many resources to be scared by the good work of either Umarji or Panchal. If the chief minister of Gujarat has decided — after he failed to nail either the Inter-Services Intelligence or the Students’ Islamic Movement of India — that Umarji will have to bear the cross, then there is little that a public prosecutor, with only honesty in his armour, can do to cure his unscrupulous ways.

Yours faithfully,
Sudeshna Sarkar, Calcutta


For god’s sake

Sir — When a respected sociologist like André Béteille talks about the need for a sociological approach to the understanding of religion (“Religion and society”, Feb 15), then one has to pay serious attention to it. Such an approach brings out the sharp contrast between the theological or the “book-view” and the sociological or the “field-view” of religion. In fact, empirical studies on Hinduism have revealed that all kinds of ambiguities and inconsistencies exist in the field, which go to show that the religion is, as most religions are, neither invariant nor indivisible.

There is also another important aspect allied with this, which needs to be mentioned here. While the canonical religion assumes, in local or regional societies, forms that may be quite contrary to its canon, such religious forms and practices at the local levels also in their turn influence and transform the original theology, tenets and practices of the main religion. This is particularly true of Hinduism; its long history illustrates how local practices, which formed part of folk culture, played a major role in shaping the main religion. In fact, the precious life-blood of folk culture has always been the primary source of its nourishment.

Take the influence of south Indian devotional cults, for instance, the forerunners of the later Bhakti movement, on mainstream Brahminism of the time. The prevailing beliefs were Upanishadic or “transcendental” in nature, while the local cults were inspired by a kind of theism which was antithetical to the prevalent concept of divinity. Yet, the orthodox Brahmins had no problems accepting them as a part of their theology. Thus a mode of worship predominantly based on sacrificial rituals, meditation and realization transformed itself into a theistic form of impassioned devotion; the concept of an impersonal and transcendent “essence” turned into that of a personal and a merciful deity.

From its original Indo-European core, Hinduism developed through the Vedic, Upanishadic and Puranic periods, by assimilating numerous indigenous cults and beliefs and by responding to various societal factors. It is this constant interaction that determined its nature and shape at different times. For an in-depth and comprehensive study of Hinduism, it is, therefore, imperative to examine it from the sociological angle.

Yours faithfully,
P.C. Banerji, Calcutta


Sir — André Béteille’s views are of much relevance now, in the context of the politics of Hindutva. While there is no dearth of rational, unbiased and tolerant Hindus, it is matter of great pity that not a single national leader tried to promote tolerance, other than resorting to some empty rhetoric.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge


Smoke signal

Sir — Every cigarette packet contains the statutory warning: “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health.” The government too is spending crores on campaigns to raise awareness about health hazards posed by smoking. There is even a proposal to ban all cigarette advertisments. Most of the state governments have also banned smoking in public places and transport.

But in Indian films, actors and actresses are shown smoking with gay abandon. Rajnikanth’s “macho” way of lighting cigarettes has become a legend. This has adverse effects on teenagers, more so since television has become popular even in remote villages. Private TV channels have turned a blind eye to the revelations about the relationship between smoking and cancer, heart diseases, hypertension and so on. In the name of private freedom, TV producers encourage health hazards through ambush advertisements.

The government is no less guilty of allowing the flourishing of the tobacco industry by granting them subsidies through cheap fertilizers, water and electricity. Even if it accounts for considerable excise duties, the government should not play with the health of the people. Films showing smoking should be banned, and so should the cultivation of tobacco.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta


Sir — Hindi film heroes like Shah Rukh Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Ajay Devgan and others are often shown smoking cigarettes before bashing up villains (“Now the good guys also puff away in Bollywood”, Feb 18). There used to be a time when only the evil men were shown smoking. Now, of course, smoking is shown to aid deep thinking before some serious action. It is sad that directors like Mahesh Bhatt should choose to blame it all on the tobacco companies, evading their own responsibility. The recent World Health Organization seminar brings home the bitter truth that the statutory warning on cigarette packs have had little impact on smokers around the world.

Yours faithfully,
T.R. Anand, Calcutta


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