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History of Dissent

Narayani Gupta

Edited by S.C. Malik
Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, 1977, pp. 391, price not stated.

VOLUME III NUMBER 2 September/October 1978

Most seminars based on a broad theme shed some light and create some obscu­rity. This one is no exception. Planned as an open-ended discussion, it studies movements of protest and reform in India over the centuries, directed against things as disparate as ‘slavery, untouch­ability and colonialism’ (in the words of a participant). The essays are arranged chronologically, but can be grouped under four broad categories—protest by social groups or classes, dissent or reform expressed through the medium of the arts, protests in the sphere of religion, and Gandhi, who is sui generis. The first few essays discuss the theme­-terms in an interesting but highly abstract manner, and their bearing on India is at best marginal. Badrinath, in a characteristically provocative piece, points out that the theme-words are European in origin, and were initially used in the context of religion. He is sceptical about their utility in any study of an Indian subject. By the end of the seminar we have progressed so far as to be dissatisfied with the use of the word 'religion' S.C. Dube states that there is no equivalent in any Indian language for the word 'religion' as used in the West. The discussions are generally more stimulating and illuminating than the prepared papers. Some of the contri­butors find the attempt to mould their raw material into the necessary format an unequal struggle. There are frequent ­and perhaps unnecessary—attempts to interrelate the papers and see issues against an All-India and an all-time perspective. But the points thrown out by Dube about the Great and the Little Traditions and the coexistence of various religions which characterizes India are not developed because the Buddha, Kabir, Nanak and the Arya Samaj are, too widely separated in time and place to make this possible. One valuable by­product is that because the discussion of religious dissent is chiefly in the situation of a Hindu society, stereotype like 'the Hindu' are realized as being as unsatis­factory as ‘the Indian’. Gandhi gets somewhat inadequate treatment in the three essays that deal with him—a simplistic one on untouch­ability, one on satyagraha which does not have anything new to contribute, and one comparing him with the Buddha on the question of ahimsa; this last does not rise above the level of stating that the difference between them is ‘a difference between a person devoted to ...

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