Monthly Archives: November 2010

Osho: A fresh breeze

“Why is so much sex needed? Because you are tense, sex becomes a release. Your tensions are released through it — you feel relaxed, you can go to sleep; if you repress it, you remain tense. And if you repress sex — the only release, the only possibility of release — what will happen? You will go mad. Where will you release your tensions then?” – Sex to Super-consciousness, by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (also known as Osho) a twentieth century Indian mystic.

These words made Osho notorious. When religious leaders from all faiths were condemning ‘Sex’ and advised strict discipline, Osho stood up to declare that, the fault does not lie in sex but in our perception, and rather, preoccupation towards it. He stated that repression of Sex is not a healthy option. This revolutionary view was like a breath of fresh air and won him many disciples. But in a self-professed conservative society like India his book ‘From Sex to super-consciousness’ was a scandal.

Osho was also the most misunderstood man of his time. His philosophy is not limited to sex. For him sex, if properly understood can be a liberating experience. He emphasized the importance of creativity, awareness, meditation, love and most importantly, the celebration of the existence itself. His famous quote “do not fall in love, rise in it” reflects his ideology. He criticized any attempt to stifle the natural growth of a being, because of social and religious traditions.

He was a prolific orator. His discourses, given over a period of time, are published as his works. In these discourses, he re-interpreted all the major religious and spiritual traditions of the world. He usually went against the traditional interpretations, and many times he subjected Gods and Prophets to critical evaluation. During the last phase of his life he concentrated more on Zen Buddhism, about which he declared, “God is dead- Now Zen is the only living Truth.”

Osho taught that every human has a potential to become a Buddha. Every person is also capable of unconditional love, his ego usually does not allow him to acknowledge and enjoy this experience. To encourage the removal of this undesirable Ego, and to attain Buddha-hood, he devised new ways of meditation which encouraged catharsis in the practitioner. Many of his disciples swear by these methods.

When most of the religious leaders form India were criticizing the material pursuit of the industrialized nations and preached renunciation as an essential condition for spiritual deliverance, Osho said that material success is not an hindrance for attaining Buddha-hood, to explain this he borrowed the concept of Zorba the Greek, and put forth the theory of Zorba the Buddha, merging the western ideas with the eastern. The western new age thought is influenced by this concept.

The notion that material success is not inimical to the spiritual development, encouraged many westerners to flock around Osho, as his Neo-Sannyasins. By 1981 itself, Osho’s Pune ashram hosted 30,000 visitors per year. His popularity was rapidly increasing. At the peak of his popularity, Osho’s Oregon, USA ashram boasted a fleet of 93 Rolls-Royce cars and private jets.

But this indulgence with the wealth, as well as controversies, proved to be Osho’s undoing. Along with gaining followers he, alienated many people. Osho and his followers were accused of grave charges like drug abuse and prostitution (Even today his Pune ashram is viewed with a mix of aversion and suspicion by the local populace). He was arrested and deported from America, and was denied permission even to set foot upon their land, by most of the liberal countries.

Last days of this great man were confined to the Pune ashram. His doctors suspected that, his deteriorating health was a result of poisoning by radiation and thallium, when he was in prison in America. His death on 19th Jan 1990 was attributed to the heart failure. Osho was much demonized while he was alive but after his death, his philosophy started gaining greater popularity and acceptance.

“Osho”, which means a high ranking Buddhist monk in Japanese, is a title adopted by Chandra Mohan Jain at the fag end of his life. He was also affectionately called as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh by his followers. Born in to a Jain family of Taranpanthi sect, in Kuchwada, Madhya Pradesh, on 11 Dec 1931, he was the eldest of 11 children. Osho’s childhood is relatively less known, much of what is known, comes from his own discourses. He lived with his Maternal Grand mother. During this time he witnessed two tragedies, deaths of his grand father when he was seven, whom he adored, and later when he was fifteen, of his childhood sweet heart and cousin Shashi. These two deaths lead him to be preoccupied by the thought of death throughout his life.

Osho was a self-taught man, even as he went to college and studied logic, he refused to accept the laid down text book knowledge, resulting in frequent arguments with professors. Because of this notoriety he was allowed to write exams without attending the classes. Osho utilized free time by reading large number of books. It was during this period, Osho’s thought process crystallized, leading him to interpret various religious and philosophical texts in his own peculiar way. He claimed that, he got spiritually enlightened on 21March 1953, when he was 21, and remained unmarried.

One of the strengths of Osho was his analytical abilities. He would deliberately provoke people. With his radical reinterpretation, he would shock the people out of their complacency. People who understood this usually appreciated him, but who could not understand the same started hating him. Unfortunately the later make the majority. His failure in procuring land for a bigger ashram, as Pune ashram was proving congested, was a result of this bad image.

Zen masters of Japan also relied on provoking people to come to the realization. But they never spoon fed their pupil. Osho by way of excessive intellectualization deprived the opportunity of self realization to his students. This was evident when his students were repeatedly involved in controversies, ranging from drug abuse, to Bio-terror attack on the citizens of The Dallas, Oregon using salmonella bacteria.

Going by the depth and range of his teachings along with his unique re-interpretation of existing religious texts, it is impossible to deny that Osho realized some of the profound truths in his life. He is also the most profound thinker of his age, whose influence can be felt even after his death. But allowing some of the close disciples to gain a free hand, in the organization and running of his ashram, proved detrimental to his reputation. Particularly the conduct of the ashram in Oregon, USA, and later arrest of Osho damaged his reputation to such an extant, that 21 countries have not only just denied him the visa, but did not allow him even the permission to enter their land. No modern day religious teacher was humiliated and feared in such a way. On the contrary Indian thinker Jiddu Krishnamurthy, his contemporary and who was not controversial, was given permission to continue his religious work in USA, and was offered permanent citizenship there.

The opulent manner, in which he lived, also did not go well with his reputation. The image of 93 Rolls-Royce cars lined up in Oregon, earned him a nick name of ‘Rolls-Royce guru’ in America. In his later days, particularly after coming back to India, Osho primarily talked on Zen Buddhism, but he violated the very teachings he so often preached, the ‘Middle Path’, avoiding of extremes, by these opulent indulgences.

Controversies not with standing, Osho’s impact on the society can not be under estimated. He produced some of the seminal works and popularized ideas like, ‘Here and now’, ‘Power of Unconscious’ etc. the fact that during his life time Osho was harassed by the governments all over world does not diminish his stature as a profound thinker. A person no less than Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh has said that, ‘Osho will long be remembered as a great philosopher – saint and mystic of twentieth century.’ During last election campaign, leader of BJP Mr. L.K. Advani, in an interview given to a national TV, said that he is reading an Osho’s book when ever he gets a time between his election campaigns. This shows that Osho is no more an untouchable. This is also attested by an influential Indian news paper, which counted Osho, along with Buddha and Gandhi, as one of the ten people who changed the destiny of India.

It is a classic case of hating a teacher but loving his teachings. But it also shows that Osho was far ahead of his times, that his teachings will be better understood in an Ideal enlightened society, than in a society that is fragmented, and embittered in its own contradictions and conflicts. Osho’s legacy has a profound effect on the human thought process.

Clipped friendship

September 5, 2010 saw me all eager and ready to write my first (ever) exam (after 15 years) at ACJ. Since it was an open book exam, some of us thought we would beat the system by pooling our class notes. A friend of mine, one of the conspirators, had the habit of taking notes on loose sheets, and she brought them into the hall, all neatly segregated as per different topics. I was impressed with her arrangement. She used different coloured gem clips for different topics. I was pretty sure that it was easy to figure out different topics that way.

Gem clips, I thought, was the best way of holding together all those loose sheets, just like the fear of exams that was holding us together. But trouble started when we started passing her notes around. Since gem clip just holds the paper together, and does not tie them up, the sheets started slipping off. This resulted in a jumble of papers on the floor, and soon most of the exam time was spent on segregating her notes rather than writing the paper.

Gem clips are useful when there are few sheets involved. They are also useful when we have to keep rearranging the papers. The innocuous bent wire that has served us as a paper clip has seen many innovations since 1867, when it was first patented. Gem clips were also used in many uncanny ways, as symbols of protest to open door locks; it is used in various interesting ways. With the advent of plastic coating, now the clips have become colourful and attractive. It was so ubiquitous in the offices, that even Microsoft thought it to be prudent to use it as a symbol of an office assistant in MS word.

But after the day of my first exam, I must confess I have understood the paperclip’s downside. My friend too has learnt her lesson well. The next day she had got her notes stapled, which meant that we could never borrow her notes or pass the loose sheets around. Our wings were clipped indeed. Unfortunately, our friendship also resembled those loose notes, held by clip. As soon as the common factor of exam fear vanished we also slipped off from contact. We could not staple our friendship. Obviously our friendships and relationships too are sometimes crooked.

[Special Thanks to my instructor Gita Abraham for making me realise the fun part of editing as well as writing about such a innocuous everyday item like a paperclip. This Article was given a better shape by her expertise.]

Grim Politics of Hunger- Food Security in India, Part – 2

Nemmani Sreedhar

Chennai: In my previous post on the same topic, I provided a brief background for the ongoing debate. National Advisory Committee’s (NAC) proposals for the

A food grains vendor in Hyderabad

Food Security Bill, envisaged supply of 35 kg of food grains at subsidised prices for 75 per cent of the population (nearly 800 million people) and 20 kg for the remaining 25 per cent of the population. But the draft bill that was cleared by Empowered Group of Ministers (eGoM) for cabinet consideration led to serious debate. The problem was solved by a compromise between the NAC and government. Government retained some of the proposals by NAC, and NAC in its turn, owing largely to drop in food grain production, accepted pruned draft bill. With this India is set to become the first country in the world to enact legislation that gives a guarantee of food grain supply to people in Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, but bill has its detractors.

NAC council member and development economist Jean Drèze issued a dissent note saying that “an opportunity [had] been missed to initiate a radical departure in this field.” Dr. Drèze who played a critical role in the formulation of two of NAC’s most important programmes — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the path-breaking Right to Information Act—said, “The NAC began its deliberations on a visionary note, but later came under a lot of pressure to accommodate constraints imposed by the government.” The final result, he says, is “a minimalist proposal that misses many important elements of food security.” Neelabh Mishra, in an opinion piece in Outlook objects to the wording of the bill. His objection pertains to a passage in the draft bill: “The definition of food security should be limited to the specific issue of food grains security (wheat and rice) and be delinked from the larger issue of nutritional security.” He says that 33 percent of Indians have Body Mass Index (BMI) less than 18.5 and barely misses 40 percent benchmark according to which WHO considers a society to be famine affected. Mishra argues that the proposed draft bill is fundamentally flawed and falls short of expectations and requirements.

Criticism of the Draft bill and NAC’s proposal is not restricted to the food grain entitlement alone. The mode of delivery also came under sharp attack. Whereas the NAC proposed a greater role for PDS, in a paper circulated within the government, Chief Economic Adviser to the Finance Ministry Kaushik Basu has argued that, the need of the hour is a reduced role for the Food Corporation of India, winding up of the Public Distribution System (PDS) and interventions in the food market. He refers to a study that currently 70% of wheat under BPL does not reach beneficiaries.

His contention is reinforced by Justice Wadhwa Committee, appointed by Supreme Court of India, which concluded that PDS is corrupt, inefficient and a majority of the poor people do not have BPL cards. As a solution, Basu says that instead of the reliance on PDS, food coupons could be given to adult woman members of a household, to ensure that food grains reach family members in a more reliable manner. The food coupon system could be dovetailed into the Unique Identity Number (UID) or Aadhaar system and eventually coupons could be replaced by smart cards linked to a mobile banking system.

His idea may have been inspired by American system of food coupons, but with a Gini co-efficient (which measures the inequality of wealth distribution in a country) higher than India can American system be taken as a role model is a question that needs to be answered. With the doubts that are being expressed about UID scheme it will be worthwhile for government to consider all issues in a comprehensive manner and arrive at a solution to alleviate hunger in the country, rather than resort to some ad hoc measures for temporary political gains.

WikiLeaks: The world’s most ambivalent response to stark truth

Nemmani Sreedhar

Chennai: Later part of July 2010 saw unprecedented activity in the world media, and set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. Wikileaks– a relatively unknown organization till then- released 92,201 internal records of actions by the U.S. military in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2009, into the public domain. Dubbed as ‘the biggest leak in intelligence history’ it graphically represented the way Americans conducted their “war to liberate Afghanistan from Taliban.”  The situation was exacerbated when Wikileaks, undeterred by pentagon’s warning not to publish any more papers, released 391,832 similar reports called ‘Significant Action in the war (SIGACT),’ this time about the American war in Iraq.

The content of Wikileaks’ revelation contradicts the statements made by

A road side bombing in Iraq

American officials through the years, that they did not have any information about civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports which were written by solders from war field, describes shootings, roadside bombings, and the execution-style killings and targeted assassinations that left bodies in the streets of Baghdad at the height of sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war. What is also exposed in these disclosures is the fact, that suspects were deliberately handed over to the Iraqi torture squads, and their plight was conveniently over looked.

Curiously though, the response of the media ranged from a mooted coverage of war crimes, inspiring a well intentioned and helpless silence at the best, to a derisive yawn of insensitivity at the worst. The world failed to even acknowledge the America’s dubious conduct in the war, particularly when it claims that it is never an aggressor, but is always a defender of liberty and equality along with other virtues, and never tires of preaching to the whole world about the sanctity of human rights. The media is now engrossed with the ridiculous debate of whether it was ethical to publish those records.

The ongoing debate is structured as if the very act of violence on a flimsy pretext is less heinous than the act of releasing the papers which chronicle those acts into the public domain. Pentagon’s contention is that because of these exposed documents lives of American soldiers are in peril. In an opinion piece on the Fox News site, Christian Whiton while calling upon US president to declare people associated with Wikileaks as enemy combatants, expressed his dismay by saying “How much will our information-collection capabilities have to be diminished, and how many of our friends and collaborators around the world must die, before President Obama and his friends on Capitol Hill start caring more about national security?” Will Mr. Whiton elaborate, about who those friends are and what they collaborate on? Perhaps they may be collaborating in some subversive plots in the greater interest of democracy and liberty for rest of the world.

In an article in Guardian, Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked confidential Pentagon papers chronicling Vietnam war, contends that information revealed by Wikileaks does not endanger the safety of any American either in Iraq or in Afghanistan, and since July 2010 not a single life was lost owing to the publishing of secret documents. Instead, he says, that Pentagon should be held accountable for its activities and if 15000 American lives were lost instead of Iraqi lives the response of American government would have been different.

One more notable development of these expose is the role being played by media in character assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. In an article in Salon, Glenn Greenwald says that Assange is being victimized just like Daniel Ellsberg during President Nixon’s time.

Even though the New York Times defended itself against the criticism of its coverage of the issue and also on the issue of attacking Assange, one issue remains unanswered. Does Pentagon want the whole world to believe that there was no violation of all the principles that America stands for, by its army in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did anyone really belive that Uncle Sam invaded these countries to distribute chocolate candy? War is a dirty business, and even America should not have unreasonable expectations, that in this age of instant information its atrocities can be camouflaged. Once the juggernaut of war machine starts to roll, collateral damage is unavoidable. It is the responsibility of the government, to keep the objective of the war on track, and to hold accountable the people responsible for their lapses. Rather than trying to gag the media it will be in the larger interest of civil society that American government takes some corrective measures.

Media houses, whose influence is disproportionate, should not fall into the trap of jingoism and should sensitise the societies so that proper checks and balances remain in the system.

Grim Politics of Hunger: Food Security in India

Nemmani Sreedhar

Chennai: India, the land of paradoxes, has yet another paradox in its long list. But this one is not pleasant; government does not advertise it for tourism development. It could as well have swept this issue under the carpet, and pretend that it never existed. The paradox, of ‘Huge stock of food grains rotting in government controlled Food Corporation of India’s (FCI) warehouses while masses of poor people go to sleep hungry,’ represents the soft underbelly of the thriving economy, slated to grow at 9% or more annually. According to an estimate, a staggering 25 percentage of people in India (with a population of 1.173 billion) go hungry everyday.

Challenging this insensitivity on government’s part, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan held a petition in the Supreme Court (SC) in April 2001 (PUCL Vs Union of India and Others, Writ Petition [Civil] 196 of 2001), demanding that ‘the country’s gigantic food stocks should be used without delay to protect people from hunger and starvation.’ This writ petition led to series of prolonged public interest litigation, and after may other petitions concerning corruption in Public Distribution System (PDS) and other food security related issues, SC on 31 Aug 2010 gave a directive to the Ministry of Agriculture, that rotting grains be given freely to the poor people. Reacting to the directive, Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh said, “The government will do all it can to provide affordable food to those below the poverty line but cannot implement the Supreme Court’s order to give free food grains to the poor,” and advised SC not to enter into ‘the realm of policy formulation.’ PM’s response triggered a huge outcry from the public as well as media, blaming the government for skirting its responsibilities and as being insensitive to the plight of poor people.

Judicial activism apart, owing to the sensitivity of the issue, United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) National Advisory Committee (NAC) headed by Sonia Gandhi decided to work out the feasibility of utilizing the vast food grain stock amassed at the FCI warehouses to address the issue of hunger. It also sent a draft Food Security bill to Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as early as June 2009, but the bill that was approved by the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) failed to meet the expectations of not only people but also NAC Chairperson. With this a huge debate started between Government of India and NAC, along with debates in the public sphere. The proposals that the NAC had put forward were termed infeasible by the Government. Even Planning Commission along with government said, (to name an example) that no legal guarantees can be give to people in above poverty line (APL) regarding food security. But the grim reality of the food security debate is that with all this legal and political wrangling, the fate of poor people is still precarious. The pace at which Indian government moves during the course of taking a critical decision is well known. We can only hope that good sense prevails in the government for the benefit of poor people.

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