August 21, 2018
10 months

What is the issue?

  • Hindu rightwing groups tend to portray rationalism as a western concept which is alien to Indian ethos and way of life.
  • But a look at India’s deep rooted philosophical tradition reveals that there has been a vibrant spirit of rationalist throughout.

 How has the rationalist tradition shaped up in India?

  • It is believed that faith rules in India and that the number of Indians who didn’t state their religion was only 3 million in the 2011 census.
  • Nonetheless, this is a massive increase from the 2001 census where just about 700,000 had not declared a religion.

Ancient India:

  • Rationalists and sceptics who held out for scientific ideas have been a part of the Indian tradition since at least the 6th century BC.
  •  “Ajita Kesakambalin”, a contemporary of the Buddha, was the earliest known teacher of complete materialism (stripped of any spiritual pursuit in life).
  • The “Charvakas Philosophical Tradition”, is largely a product of his thinking that prioritised empiricism and scepticism over Vedic ritualism.
  • The original texts of the Charvakas have not survived, but references to their rationalist tradition are found in Buddhist and Jain works.
  • The Buddha himself cautioned against accepting “what has been acquired by repeated hearing”, and encouraged independent study and thinking.
  • Even within the wider Brahminical tradition, shades of opinion prevailed between the Brahmanas and the Shramanas, and active debate prevailed.
  • Notably, even in Chhandogya Upanishad, one Uddalaka Aruni speaks of the importance observing the surrounding rather than being superstitious.

Modern Times:

  • In the early modern period in Bengal, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the Brahmo Samaj led the charge against regressive tradition.
  • The regions of present day Maharashtra has a long history of radical thought that challenged several ideas embedded in the caste hierarchies.
  • It was here that Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism, and the Republican parties carry forward his legacy in their own ways.
  • Jyotiba Phule and Savitri Phule rejected caste and gender inequalities.
  • The first recorded reservation in educational institutes for backward castes was in Maharashtra by Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur (1894-1922).
  • Narayana Guru in Kerala and E V Ramasamy (Periyar) in Tamil Nadu were early advocates of progress, and their ideas impacted politics deeply. 
  • The Self-Respect movement in Tamil Nadu and the Leftist movement in Kerala and West Bengal made a strong case for rationalism and egalitarianism.

What is the way ahead?

  • Article 51A (H) of the Constitution of India gives a call “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”.
  • The leaders of the national movement hoped that the lofty ideals of the emerging Indian state would encourage a modern and progressive outlook.
  • Rationalism would also help in undoing the feudal setup that has been in place since long and put us strongly on a path towards social and economic equality.
  • In this context, it is important for the state to ensure that vested interests don’t succeed in stifling the voices of progressivism.


Source: Indian Express


Login or Register to Post Comments
There are no reviews yet. Be the first one to review.
UPSC Admissions 2019