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Updated: December 20, 2010 00:33 IST

Fight superstition with science

S. Viswanathan
Comment (19)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

“India is a curious mixture of scientific advance and traditional superstitions. Superstitions are deeply ingrained and cannot be eliminated overnight. They cannot be removed by diktat, but can be countered by rational arguments…” — Jayant V. Narlikar.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has taken strong exception to a ritual performed at a temple in southern Karnataka on December 10, 2010. After watching the telecast of the ritual on a news channel, the Chief Minister demanded an immediate ban on the practice which drove Dalits to roll on used plantain leaves with leftovers of the food eaten by “upper caste” people. Dalits did so believing that the ritual would cure them of skin diseases. Characterising the practice as “inhuman, humiliating, and derogatory,” Ms Mayawati added that “it was quite apparent that the objective behind the practice was only to humiliate the socially downtrodden,” because Dalits constitute the majority of the participants

The temple at the centre of the controversy is the Kukke Subramanya temple in Subramanya village in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka. The village is about 100 km from the port town of Mangalore. The “urulu seve” (rolling ritual) was held after appeals from several progressive organisations to the government, the temple authorities, and math heads to put an end to the “unhygienic and unwanted” ritual failed. When the police denied them permission to stage a demonstration, the protesters left the temple premises.

Inhuman ritual

Many newspapers have published detailed accounts of the performance of the rituals by hundreds of people from different regions of the State. A number of TV channels, including popular ones, have given wide coverage. Most reporters of the print and broadcast media did a commendable job, not concealing their disapproval of the inhuman ritual. The extensive and sensitive coverage took the issue to a larger audience.

The temple authorities repeatedly “clarified” that not only Dalits, but also people from other castes, including Brahmins, performed the ritual and did so of their own accord. Journalists on the scene confirmed that the participants in the “urulu seve” included non-Dalits but pointed out that Dalit participants accounted for the majority of the participants in the ritual. Another point made in the reports was that apart from the indignity caused to Dalits on caste grounds, all participants would run the risk of getting infected. In short, the practice was depicted as inhuman as well as anti-science.

Taking on superstition

Others on the scene included activists such as social reformer G.K. Govinda Rao and folklorist Kale Gowda Nagawara. They did not succeed in stopping the performance of the ritual, or in dissuading the participants but they had struck a blow for humanity and for science. Such interventions generally take time to show results.

A curtain raiser, published in the Mysore edition of The Hindu on December 8, noted that significantly the ritual perhaps for the first time in its 400 years of existence had to confront a protest from Dalit and backward class organisations. On December 7 the activists of these organisations from Mysore, Kodagu, and Sulia arrived in substantial numbers at Subramanya village to persuade the temple authorities to stop this undesirable ritual, and advise the devotees who were inclined to participate to keep off. Just how many of the participants responded is yet to be known. The activists met the seer of the Kukke Subramanya math, who has reportedly agreed that the ritual was “a social evil” but could not go further because, in his view, a 400-year-old ritual could not be stopped “immediately.”

Taking on age-old superstition is a strenuous process and demands a lot of dedication and dogged patience. What is needed to end such practices is a multi-pronged campaign by the media but also by teachers, doctors and scientists. Science journalists have the potential to educate the readers on developing a scientific temper. The government, of course, has a big responsibility in this regard. Article 51-A (h) of the Constitution of India states: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.” The government should take this message to larger sections of the people, especially in the countryside.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

The only institution in the country perpetuating castes and casteist divides is the Government of India. Abolish all the caste based quotas or at least lay out a plan to gradually do away with Quotas, you will find people will have no incentives to identify with castes and there will be no castes in few decades. You can impose caste quotas in govt run IITs and Engg colleges. But it is a shame and a crime to impose caste quotas on private higher educational institutes.

from:  Maaran
Posted on: Jan 2, 2011 at 11:31 IST

It feels so strange to see people who are the so called literates speaking in support of caste and rituals like this. If you want to practice and uphold these rituals, collect the leftover leaves from which ever places you want and roll over it in your house. The moment it comes to public places (including temples), its no more just your belief! Its an public issue. We have the same right to condemn it as you have to follow it!

from:  Chockalingam
Posted on: Jan 1, 2011 at 12:36 IST

It seems so weird.
Instead of taking the caste-system and the politically-encouraged tactics of the upper-caste Hindus to charge and speak against them, people here are blaming the media and even arguing that abolishing the caste system would have 'unforeseen'(?) effects on Indian society.
This suffices to show how much deep-rooted has the evil of caste system become in our nation.
This proves that there is a greater need to tackle this social evil and migrate to better ideologies in life.

from:  Harish Harsoor
Posted on: Dec 27, 2010 at 09:31 IST

The credit for all such supertitious activities goes to our very own 'MEDIA' and its roots lie deep in our so called 'TRADITION'. First let us confront the problem with our media which is stupendously busy in covering all the garbage and spillover from celebs, politicians, TV serials and giving less priority to the issues concerning social awareness. Just look at the recent hype created for a stupid song like SHEELA KI JAWANI. What can one expect from the people who are so obliged with this content. Secondly, let us talk about our tradition. Do we really apply our own mind while performing a religious ritual? As to how all the customs and rituals came into existence? There are so many activities in are daily mundane life that we take for granted without giving it a thought. The elderly people have their own sets of belief ,which may be out of ignorance or mass following, which they will ensure should be followed by their descendents. If someone is to stop all this non sense it is media which istead of serving as an agent to impart knowledge, awareness & information, is busy in other useless activities showcasing all dirt and filth in front of the 'illiterate' viewers.

from:  Sanket Sancheti
Posted on: Dec 24, 2010 at 20:56 IST

The belief that the lower castes are inferior to and born to serve their betters is an intrinsic part of Indian culture. The origins of this might have been an attempt to create a sub-class to serve the others and to keep them in thrall by internalized value systems and beliefs rather than force. Force would cause reaction and social upheaval, while this ingrained belief in one's inferiority and God-ordained duty to serve one's betters would make the lower castes police themselves. This is one of the reasons why Indian culture still preserves its basic structures after ages of existence, while other cultures have been destroyed by new ideas. This is not to say that other cultures treat all their members as equal, but there is always a feeling of oppression and violence in the control measures, which we in India have managed mostly to do without - sporadic, well-organized uses of violence to "teach 'em a lesson" notwithstanding. This is unparalleled in the world except, perhaps, by the universal subservience of women. Even now, we find apologists for the system who, while insisting that caste has no scriptural sanction, say that it was (and is) a way of bringing forth the full potential of the people. Discourses by spiritual leaders which state the fact that we would not entrust the controls of an aircraft to a bullock-cart driver and somehow link it to an inborn talent in the air-craft pilot are quite popular. So, since the majority of Indians, including lower castes, do believe in the merits (and benefits) of the caste system, should we chip away at this vital cement of Indian society? Questioning of age-old rituals might have an unforeseen effect. So it actually is a question of whether we would prefer an intricately ordered existence which is a time-tested model or chaos and waiting for a better model to evolve.

from:  Jayadevan
Posted on: Dec 24, 2010 at 04:47 IST

I was absolutely appalled when I read Mr.Chandrasekhar's comment. So what if Brahmins participate in similar rituals...it still sounds quite uncivilised to most of us. Even if our whole city is filthy we still try and keep our homes clean, don't we? So there's nothing wrong with people wanting to stop unhygienic practices even when there are slums and roadside vendors around. As fellows humans we do have the right to interfere in religious practices and beliefs if they go against basic human dignity.

from:  Anjchita
Posted on: Dec 23, 2010 at 20:30 IST

Kudos to Mr. Viswanathan for his coverage of the issue. It should be condemned. I have also read the comments. I believe that the government should maintain minimal interference in religious issues. The attention and interest of the government is better spent on improving the abysmal social infrastructure. We need to educate our masses and have a social dialogue on all superstitions and religious practices. While I would not wish this fate on anyone, I don't think that this practice is an affront to humanity it is being made to be. I'll be curious to know how many people were actually injured or suffered any health consequences from the practice. >To my co-commenters, I think Mr. Chandrasekhar and Mr. Saint are both wrong. @ Chandrasekhar, religion should evolve with time and find relevance. @ Saint, If people indulge in ignorant practices, your interference will not help the issue. You need to educate people why it is harmful.

from:  Uday Kanakadandi
Posted on: Dec 23, 2010 at 11:16 IST

By instilling in the minds of dalits to roll over the eaten leaves of Brahmins to show extreme devotion to God is another way of demonstrating the supremacy of Brahmins. This is nothing but following the inhuman doctrine of Manusmriti (the Hindu law of code of conduct), which always proclaims that Brahmins are superior and Shudras (dalits) and women are the most inferior. Even a non-deserving Brahmin needs to be shown utmost respect while the most deserving dalit the utmost disrespect. This is Hinduism, which stands on the principle of caste and gender discrimination. So when atleast one Dalit i.e. Mayawati has raised objection to this discriminatory practice of Hinduism, there a hue and cry!! The motive behind the hue and cry is to subvert the voices and let the dehumanizing practices in the name of religion continue to maintain the age old supremacy of Brahmins. Is this progress of a nation? For India to progress every one needs to be considered as equals. I fully agree with Saint (comment on Dec 22,2010 at 15:59 IST) - there is a need for cleaning the mindset.

from:  Dr. Pravin H Khobragade
Posted on: Dec 23, 2010 at 10:17 IST

If there is any doubt as to how terrible the mindset of Indians or those caste hindus, the readers comments to this very hindu news article is a great example. Pretty much 90% of them argue that why interfere with the religious beliefs, many of these guys are also bad mouth UP Chief Minister Mayawati and they also further argue that if individuals wanted to roll over leftovers, why not let them do, it is their rights and their birth rights. Sure, let them practice the most dangerous things that will bring disease and take India back to 400 years to the animal world, but no govt, no press or writers or social activists should interfere, not even chief minister should interfere. That's quite scientific and rational thoughts of many of these guys who made comments here!! If the educated (supposed to be, who knows how many of these educated commenter's are in fact illiterates)individuals can say that such unhygienic and ill minded practices should let go and no one should interfere, it would be simply impossible to change the uneducated mass. The problem in India is not just the rural or urban uneducated mass, but more broadely the educated in all spectrum of life are the reason too. For Indians to civilize and to behave to be better humans with rational/scientific behaviors, a change and some cleaning up of the mindset of educated people is needed now. Most of the educated Indians regardless of Doctors, Engg, scientists or whatever their qualifications, they never seems to grow or gone far beyond their mythical, irrational hindu religious beliefs. A sustained, knowledge driven nation wide cleaning up of mindset is the need of the hour, or else India has to pass many more decades and centuries in the same ancient and uncivilized world with caste divisions and discrimination of one human against another in all the inhumane ways as it has been.

from:  Saint
Posted on: Dec 22, 2010 at 15:59 IST

I agree in totality with Harish. How do these rituals which are man-made for their own benefits please any of the Gods that are prayed to? Do you think that God needs a recommendation from a middle man? Man, he hears us upfront. Lets talk to Him directly and ask from Him directly. For He is One True God.

from:  Vinod Shamannan Rao
Posted on: Dec 22, 2010 at 11:38 IST

Extending this argument, we can conclude religion in itself is superstition. The above ritual is derogatory & unfortunate. But, if concerned individuals do it on their own accord, its their religious right. Others have no right to interfere in it.

from:  R. Sridhar
Posted on: Dec 22, 2010 at 00:42 IST

Hear in Kukke Subrahmany no dalits are performing this urule seva, because of no entry to the dalits in to temples in olden days.

from:  Venkatesh
Posted on: Dec 21, 2010 at 20:21 IST

Such rituals only depict the deep-rooted caste system in the country. It's high time we spell an end to such rituals for they help not anymore the Integrity of this wonderful nation.

from:  Harish Harsoor
Posted on: Dec 21, 2010 at 10:09 IST

There remains not an iota of doubt regarding how the Hindus of the Upper caste designed their Religious Rituals in a way that their superiority was always held high and all rituals included them and were hence void without their "middle-manship". This is how they gained control over the backward,downtrodden classes and made them their slaves. Its time that people look on to better ideologies. Its not just banning a few rituals that will help;its actually about changing the way people think and exposing them to better,more rational ideologies that can liberate them from their slavish mentalities.

from:  Harish Harsoor
Posted on: Dec 21, 2010 at 09:59 IST

The article prescribes the correct remedy. People have a constitutional right to roll over whatever filth they want. Banning it is not the way to go. The best way to eradicate such archaic practices is to shine the light of knowledge and education on the dark corners of our society. I salute the media for stepping up to the challenge.

from:  logan
Posted on: Dec 21, 2010 at 03:20 IST

One is not against spirituality. Rituals which do not change with time and social values should be revisited to validate if they are relevant. In today's time rolling over plantain leaves of someone else's leftover does not sound good and does not support cause of any spirituality. Let us not get angry with someone who points this out.

from:  Krishna Kumar
Posted on: Dec 20, 2010 at 23:18 IST


Dear sir,
I fully agree with you. The current mediamen are after sensational and person-centric news. I congratulate the Hindu for taking an initiative in this regard. Public issues are plenty but the managements of the media houses are misusing the journalist forces for thier selfish motives.
Let us hope that the people develop scientific temper in years to come.

from:  Ramakrishna Ogirala
Posted on: Dec 20, 2010 at 17:38 IST

It is the stupid and irresponsible media that is creating unnecessary tensions and divisions in the country. This misfortune is further complicated by the ignorant and egoistic people like Mayavati. All this happens because in this country children have been denied religious education in the schools and as a result, today's intelligentsia thinks that everything it cannot understand is superstition. On top of that, Dalit name is invoked to gain sympathy. Fools! understand that people rolling on the eaten food leaves is considered sacred and signifies extreme devotion to God. If any of you have witnessed "Akhanda Bhajan" and "Radha Kalyanam" (i.e. Radha's marraige to Lord Krishna), food is first served to holy Brahmins and after they have eaten their food, the performers of Bhajan who themselves are Brahmins and others roll over the left over leaves and proceed to the nearby river or tank (wherever it exists) to take bath and return to join other guests to betake their food. None of you have any right to talk about hygiene when you cannot stop road side vendors and food stalls from cooking and selling the most unhygienic food. Don't the authorities know the squalor and filth surrounding the slums. What have you done? Stop interfering in religious beliefs and practices!

from:  Chandrasekhar
Posted on: Dec 20, 2010 at 14:08 IST

Religion as such can not exist without superstition. But to fight against these kind of practices some kind of mass campaign has to be done. People science movements and other progressive movements should mobilize public opinion against such a kind of inhuman,unscientific acts in the name of tradition and religion.

from:  P.Sahasranamam
Posted on: Dec 20, 2010 at 07:28 IST
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