Monday, August 22, 2011

Rama faith, not fact for Sharma

NALIN VERMA

Vishwas se Ram milenge, itihas nahin (Faith can earn you Rama, not history),” R.S. Sharma told me when I visited him for the first time in 1996 to find out if the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP’s) claim that Lord Rama was born at the same place where the Babri mosque was erected was right.

It was ahead of the 1996 Lok Sabha polls when L.K. Advani was strongly backing the VHP-sponsored movement for construction of a Ram temple at site of demolished Babri mosque.

The raging debate on the streets about the Ram Janmabhoomi row in the run-up to the polls goaded me to reach out to the most renowned authority on ancient Indian history at his Boring Canal Road home here. Sharma, in his 70s then, was looking quite robust and also willing to speak.



Unable to fully comprehend what he meant by “vishwas”, I asked him to explain a bit. Sharma questioned me: “What subject have you studied and what do you do?” With a sense of trepidation I told him, “I have studied history and I am a reporter looking for an answer to a debate raging on the streets.”

Sharma, after a long pause, said: “Look, you have come to a historian who deals with facts. I have not found any historical evidence suggesting Rama actually existed and that he was born where some people are claiming to be his birthplace.”

However, he was quick to add: “I do not deny the existence of Rama. In my opinion he exists in the faith of the people. But you have come to a historian who does not deal with faith but facts.” Sharma then suggested to me sarcastically: “You should visit a spiritual leader or a faithful if you want to discuss Ram Janmabhoomi.”

The historian, while asking me in his commanding voice to have tea, went to another room and brought a book on the Vedic period written by him. “You first read this book to clear your concept and then come to me.” But the moment I picked up the book, he took it away from my hands saying, “I have not gifted you the book. Buy it from a bookshop and read. I am not a trader in books, I am an author.”

A bit embarrassed, I asked him if he did not believe in the existence of God or Rama. The author of 115 books on ancient Indian history remarked: “Your conception on faith and history is not very clear. See, all the festivals are celebrated in my family. As an individual I have nothing against my family members, relatives and friends worshipping Rama.

“But you have come to historian Ram Sharan. And the historian in Ram Sharan is yet to find any evidence to support the claim of Rama’s existence and his birth at a particular place and to particular parents.”

Sharma had a strong sense of humour. He once told me: “You might have got more bylines than Kalidas, Vanbhatt and even Chanakya.” Despite my insistence, Sharma refused to speak for or against the BJP or the VHP. Despite the notion that he was a staunch Marxist historian, Sharma refused to speak in the favour of the Communist parties either.

“See, the political parties are doing their work. I am not a politician. I am a historian and I will speak only on the subject that I have studied and taught. History and historians cannot always be politically correct,” he said.


Sharma was quite satisfied to read what I had written after talking to him. He was quite affable in my later encounters with him. But the teacher in Sharma always came to the fore when I met him. He always said, “Journalists must read. I find the current crop of young reporters woefully lacking in their sense of history. And the most appalling aspect is they don’t read but write in volumes.”

(Renowned historian and an authority on ancient Indian history, prof R S Sharma died on August 20. I paid my tribute to the great man through this story that appeared first in The Telegraph. Its copyright is reserved with The Telegraph)



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Spontaneous protest? Guess their age




NALIN VERMA


( Children of a playschool in Patna don ‘I am Anna’ caps while one dresses up as Gandhi to express solidarity with civil activist Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption, on the institution premises on Wednesday. Picture by Deepak Kumar)


Patna, Aug. 17: Three-year-old Guddu (name changed), barely out of his nappies and still unable to handle his tiffin box, wobbled as he tried to clutch on to a placard that read, “Gandhi is the greatest, Anna is the latest”.

Guddu was among the 60 and odd kids made to line up outside the premises of a playschool today and protest with the placard — a “plaything” for them — showing solidarity with Anna Hazare.

The children, all from the same playschool, were hardly aware of the “big cause” they were made to champion. But the school management officials, who also run a bookstore nearby, insisted the “protest” was “spontaneous”. “Look, it is a spontaneous movement against corruption… kids and women are hitting the streets,” said a management official.

The “protest”, said sources, was fine-tuned by members of various RSS wings.

Several local news channels were there to capture the “rare scene” of tiny tots coming out “spontaneously” in support of the Hazare-sponsored campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill that is being projected as the “brahmastra (ultimate weapon)” to liberate India from the scourge of corruption.

Razi Ahmad, a Gandhian and secretary of the Gandhi Sangrahalaya here, was furious when some organisations — mostly associated with right wing parties — approached him to “guide” the school kids about the Lokpal Bill and corruption. “I have lived life following the footsteps of Gandhi and JP (Jai Prakash Narayan). I hate the un-Gandhian way of doing things. I am sure Gandhi and JP would have been ashamed to see the way you people are using their name for your politics,” the octogenarian Gandhian told some of the people who claimed to be Hazare’s followers.

Asked the reason for his angst against a campaign sponsored by a fellow Gandhian, the octogenarian Razi told The Telegraph: “Have you ever fathomed the hazard of roping in innocent school kids in such activities? Schoolchildren are the future of India. They should be handled with care. But some people are using the kids to achieve their political goals. Civil society should be aware of such dangerous elements.”

The scenes today resembled those at Kargil Chowk yesterday. Tots from different schools — most of them private ones — wore Anna Hazare masks. Members of the Rashtriya Pragati Party and Chintan, which described themselves as “apolitical” organisations, looked out for Muslim children.

Asked why they were looking for Muslim kids for a movement against corruption, a Pragati Party leader said: “The roza (fast) is on. Kids on fast will generate more sympathy for the cause,” he said.

Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly and a JP movement activist, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, too strongly objected to school kids being roped in for the campaign and accused the organisations doing so of “orchestrating spontaneity”. “The most pernicious thing is they are operating in the karmbhoomi of Gandhi and JP,” said Siddiqui.

Both Razi and Siddiqui, however, said Hazare’s arrest was wrong. “Be it Anna or even RSS or other outfit members, it is the people’s right to stage a dharna or protest. But we should know that the Lokpal or any other law has to be enacted by Parliament and not by any extra-constitutional authority. We can only give our opinion. Parliament stands mandated by the people to make the laws, not us,” said Siddiqui. (Courtesy The Telegraph).

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