VIVEK JAGAR: DEBATE ON CONSCIOUS AWAKENING
On-stage Debates are organized in various parts of Maharashtra regularly where Shriram Lagoo a well-known dramatist and staunch atheist speaks on rationalism and strongly stresses on 'Retirement of God'. Dr. Dabholkar speaks of ANS's views on religion and God and suggests audience to accept or reject God and religion since it is a personal choice. The main contention is whether we are thinking critically and opposing the exploitations due to these concepts. These debates are quite popular and thought provoking among the masses and attract a very large crowd. These debates have received greater response and at times they had to face severe opposition. Whether God exists or not, the debate certainly makes people think about Him.
But it is not always the rural people who fall prey to superstition. Sometimes even the educated ones, knowing that there is no scientific basis for their beliefs feel complete to follow certain practices. What is the psychological reason behind this blind faith? "Sometimes it is the misconceived notions of religion and sometimes deliberate encouragement by vested interest" says Dr. Dabholkar. When the man stops reasoning and trying to find practical solutions to his difficulties he becomes superstitious. He begins to find supernatural reasons for his difficulties and takes shelter in unscientific beliefs. He goes to quacks, Godmen and witch doctors in search of instant remedies, unwilling to analyse the situation or face realities. This not only causes a drain as his money and time but also has the danger of making the society lethargic with belief in destiny instead of action.
Time to Retire God
Dr. Shri Ram Lagoo a noted rationalist and an actor and performer by profession wrote an article ‘Time to Retire God’ which provoked hot discussions in the print media and other public platforms. In fact this article was written as an introduction to a book on Dr. Abraham Kovoor . In the article Dr. Lagoo logically came to the conclusion that the concept of God is defunct. In fact I also wrote an article in response to Dr. Lagoo’s argument and mentioned that we should be pragmatic, though I fully agree with the views expressed by Dr. Lagoo.
We are very close during our fund raising program for our activists working all over Maharashtra who needed financial help. The fund is termed as ‘Samajik Kritadnyata Nidhi’. During the discussions Dr. Lagoo mentioned that he would like to express views about God publicly even though he knew that it may create ill will among the society. I was very happy to associate him during the debates. This, I thought will initiate dialogue with the people and act as a catalyst to the process of critical thinking instead of blind faith. Though I also do not believe in God personally, I abide by the collective decision taken by ANS that we should be neutral in this case with freedom to express critically about the existence of God. In fact I too realized that this neutral stand will enable ANS to associate closely with the people. Otherwise the organization will be distancing itself from the society, which may be a stumbling block to the growth of organization. It is immaterial whether an activist believes in God or not as long as he/she works whole-heartedly for the organization. However, there are two written rules that each and every activist has to adhere to:
- No religious ritual will be performed on ANS platform, and
- ANS will not participate in any of the religious rituals practiced by the society.
These rules are also consistent with the fundamental rights mentioned in our constitution about freedom of worship. But this freedom also has certain constraints since national integrity, law and order, moral values, public health etc. will take precedence over freedom of worship. ANS appreciates and supports this stand of our constitution. Constitution clearly mentions that all our day-to-day materialistic motives and works should have a base of secularism.
Though newspapers conveniently forgot arguments put up by Dr. Lagoo, I requested him to spare at least two days in a month to participate in the debate on this subject. It was planned that Dr. Lagoo and I myself would publicly express our views in an arranged program. I thought that this would certainly help ANS to spread its message against superstitions practiced by majority of the people. I suggested that this will be ANS program and ANS activists would take lead to finalise the venue time and date. In fact our experience showed that audience had number of doubts about the whole thing and they wanted clarifications from us. However, it is humanly impossible to answer each and every question raised by people in the given time. Sometimes, most of them are repetitive. However, we suggested that audience should forward questions in writing well in advance and hand them over to local organizers. This will enable us to sort out the questions related to public interest.
Organizers have been instructed not to waste time on introduction of guests and other preliminaries. Since the program was liked by people and attracted large crowds, various institutions and organizations were requesting us to arrange our programs. But we were not interested in programs arranged by other people since our aim is to strengthen local ANS branches. Sometimes our branches were not even able to pay the petrol charges to Dr. Lagoo. But he used to be very happy to associate with us. The gist of his lecture will be generally of following nature:
“I do not believe in God and I feel it is now time to retire God. Concept of God is a very beautiful product of poet’s imagination and was essential during the initial stages of civilization but the time has come when one should face the world with a completely rational attitude. For the past five thousand years, there has been no proof of the existence of God and faith in a phenomenon, which cannot be proved scientifically, is nothing short of superstition. Many inhuman practices, atrocities and wars have taken place in the name of ‘God’. It is not only necessary, but also our duty to abolish the concept of God to end these consequences because it is a great injustice committed against humanity.
Only rational thinking has the capacity which places person above all living beings but when he / she believes in God he/she gives up this ability and blindly accepts what has been told. He /she submits his/her intellect to passive conditioning and then there is no difference between him/her and an animal.
In the early stages of civilization, when human beings began to live in a society, the concept of superior being was necessary to maintain morality, which came out of fear. Also many of the natural phenomena which scared human beings and to which they could not attribute any reason, came to be regarded as manifestations of the divine power. But today when man has the mastery over nature and accepts any theory only after verifying it on a scientific basis, there is no need for the concept of a supreme being. What is needed is a broad based value system of humanity.”
While tracing the history of anti-superstition movement, Dr. Lagoo used to mention that nobody would claim that he is superstitious. Every one of us thinks that we are rational. It has become a sort of fashion to declare that we are anti-superstitious. But in practice we try to think that there are good superstitions and bad superstitions. Charvak fought against Vedic philosophy and insisted that we should be materialistic and enjoy the life within our means. Saints and persons like Kapil, Kanad, Buddha, Mahaveer, Tukaram, Phule, Agarkar, Ambedkar, Hameed Dalwai etc. in fact expressed their views strongly against superstition. In spite of such a long history, the society is still not able to shed its age-old traditions of superstitions. In fact all superstitions are harmful whether good or bad. Hence superstitions lead to exploitation and mortgage thinking capacity of the human beings. Listening to Dr. Lagoo’s lecture is itself an experience since his command over voice is excellent. The audience experiences a sort of thrill while listening to his lecture.
After his presentation, I would present my views. In fact I had to defend our neutral stand on this concept. It is our experience that majority of public thinks that ANS movement is trying its best to destroy all that is good in religion, rituals and the concept of God. The concept of God is very complicated. We do not believe in God as the creator or controller of Universe. But if God is the source of sublime happiness or strength to fight evil, then ANS has no objection to believe such God at a personal level. In fact every believer in God has his own definition of God. For some people, the belief in God brings happiness. For a few it acts as a supporter and sympathiser in distress. ANS does not believe in a God who performs miracles or a God who will bless only after the offers were made. Even the idea of an abstract and shapeless image of God is absurd. But if the idea brings happiness or the idea acts as a support in their life, ANS will not snatch their happiness, it will try to advise not to believe in such ideas. ANS will be sympathetic to such people. In fact if some try to seek moral values from this concept, we appreciate it. As such I will not agree 100 percent with what Dr. Lagoo is trying to advocate.
In fact the belief or non-belief in God does not have any effect on the movement. I do not attribute all the superstitions to concept of God and I don’t consider it essential to attack this concept to eradicate the age-old superstitions, which are generally based on ignorance. Most of the time it is all pseudo-philosophy. In fact superstitions are related to innate fear or aimed at exploiting gullible public. As such to fulfill our mission this concept is irrelevant. I conclude my presentation with broad objectives of ANS to cultivate scientific attitude and skepticism, critical thinking, to examine supernatural and miraculous claims, to agitate against such superstitions and cultivate the rationalistic moral values.
After this debate we both try to answer questions related to our presentations. Generally most of the questions are stereotypes like
- If you retire God what will happen to moral values?
- Who will support during our tragic movements. What is your experience?
- You act in films, which encourage superstitions. How do you justify?
- Most of the creativity in arts is attributed to God’s blessing. What is your reaction?
- How did you feel your role of Gadge Baba in a Marathi film ‘Devaki Nandan Gopala’?
- If you do not believe in God why your name starts with Shriram – a name of God?
- The names of your son sound like a Muslim name. What is the reason behind this?
This complete program takes about 90 minutes. Dr. Lagoo is very punctual in this respect and never allows any delay. It is quite surprising that a thought-provoking debate should attract a large crowd even from remote places in
Maharashtra since for all the 90 minutes there is nothing to entertain the crowd. The debate is full of thought provoking discussions and audience appreciation every moment of it.
But on one occasion we both had to face the wrath of some party workers who had vested interest and did not like that people should be made aware of a systematic exploitation. A fundamentalist organization threatened the organizers that if the program was to take place as scheduled, their activists would damage the properties and this could warrant police intervention. Organizers were warned about our safe return. But I took a stand not to heed to their threats and face the consequences. This was a surprise to the organizers. With renewed interest they also planned their strategy to face the rowdy activists. Considering the mood of the gathered audience, those party workers were forced to change their attitude, withdraw their threats and were lost in the crowd. At
Aurangabad some one who did not like the attack on God started beating me. The party workers of Bajarang Dal and Patit Pawan Snghatana were behind the attack and they gathered around me and threatened to harm me physically. Some citizens who were among the audience came forward and tried to convince these workers not to resort to such extreme means. But the workers were not in a mood to listen to any such advice. Meanwhile police intervened and we were able to escape from this ugly situation. But next day one of the local newspapers twisted the real story to justify the rowdy behavior of these party workers. As a headline it printed that Dr. Lagoo used bad language against the historical figure Shivaji. As such their workers protested peacefully. But ANS activists started beating the protesters. Workers were forced to these measures for their self-defence. In fact the report was a cooked up story. We insisted that the paper should publish the facts as they had happened. But the paper was quite adamant. We took this case to Press Council of India, which ordered that newspaper to publish an apology.
We conducted more than 120 such debating program all over
Maharashtra except Vidarbha region. We received tremendous response. The number of audiences varies from 300 to 3000 per program. Thus even a simple debate had a very good effect and threatens the very existence of people with vested interests. Programs receive great response and at times we have to face severe opposition. Whether God exists or not the program certainly makes people review their stand on God.