Saturday, February 16, 2008

Kosambi on Aryanisation

Hinduism: From Text to Context by Nayanjot Lahiri Hindustan Times, 17 Sept 2007)

India is a land of legends and traditions. Every Indian, Hindu or non-Hindu, educated or illiterate, rich or poor, wants to know when the epic heroes Rama and Krishna lived. In his imagination, he associates certain places and objects with these heroes. When these people meet an archaeologist they naturally ask him about the antiquity of these heroes and the places like Nasik and Dwarka associated with them. Frankly, to such queries no answer can be given, unless we have proved the antiquity of these places and found some objects or writings of the times of Rama and Krishna.”

These are the words of Hansmukh Dhirajlal Sankalia, the ‘father’, if there was one, of post-Independence Indian archaeology. Sankalia is remembered as a teacher and an institution builder of formidable repute in relation to the Deccan College in Pune. However, as his words emphasise, he was very much part of an academic tradition that saw archaeology as a means of testing the veracity of Hindu religious texts.

This is not surprising since post-Independence India, especially the 1960s, saw many field archaeologists and historians use this approach in their writings. D.D. Kosambi, for instance, was one of them. This icon of Marxist scholarship on ancient India, in 1964, offered an interpretation of ‘Aryanisation’ that he believed received archaeological support from what had emerged from the diggings at Hastinapura. For him, the pottery in the lowest stratum (‘ochre-coloured pottery culture’) represented the original inhabitants mentioned in the Mahabharata, while that epic’s allusions to Kuru land clearing and occupation could be correlated with the succeeding culture, marked by Painted Grey Ware.

But the reason why Sankalia — at a time when Indian archaeology’s ‘failure’ to provide proof to support the believer’s perspective about the Rama katha, once more, is grabbing national headlines — is worth remembering is because his work reveals how a scholar with such a strong sympathy and desire to ‘prove’ the existence of traditional accounts, was unable to do so through his own field investigations.

In his autobiography, Born for Archaeology, Sankalia provides us with a background that helps in explaining his fascination with this line of research. Having studied for an undergraduate degree in Sanskrit (and ‘Voluntary English’), he developed an early interest in co-relating Indian literature with archaeology. In his own words: “Long before I joined the Deccan College, I had planned to reconstruct the history of India by a study of the Puranas and also of Sanskrit literature testing my conclusions in the light of archaeology.” In 1962, Sankalia began excavations outside the compound wall of the Dvarkadhisha temple in Gujarat, based on the idea of archaeologically testing out Puranic legends. What he found, though, was that while the tradition about the submergence of Dwarka in the sea was well-founded, the association of the site with Krishna and the Yadavas remained unproved. This must no doubt have disappointed his local patron, Jayantilal Jamnadas Thakar who was intensely interested in the Dwarka of Mahabharata fame. Thakar was a doctor by profession and an amateur explorer by choice. He had collected coins and pottery from Dwarka, Bet Dwarka and many other places and surely this was the reason he persuaded Sankalia to search out the antiquity of Dwarka. It is another matter that Sankalia’s work did not provide the kind of ‘proof’ that Thakar was looking for.

Sankalia undertook other excavations which were textually driven but his reports are remembered as studies in archaeology and not as examples of archaeology-literature correlations.

Nevasa, for instance, is a classic site of the Old Stone Age, as Sankalia’s report shows. However, the reason why it came to be excavated is because Sant Jnanesvara, the Marathi saint poet, is supposed to have stayed there for some time. The first chief minister of Bombay, B.G. Kher, apparently felt that if an archaeologist dug at Nevasa, he might find some objects belonging to the time of Jnanesvara. The excavation, of course, revealed that the mound of Nevasa was much older than the saint poet. In fact, nothing specific which would clarify the association of Nevasa with Jnanesvara was found at all.

Again, in the case of Maheshwar-Navdatoli, the Puranic legends figured in Sankalia’s fascination for it. Apparently, he “had read, while young, that here ruled King Sahasrarjuna of the Haihayas who alone among all other kings defeated Ravana.” In the field, though, Sankalia was a thorough professional. Therefore, once excavations began, it was what emerged out of the ground that took precedence over any preconceived notions that he may have had. The three seasons of work that he directed there ensured that their character as places with a long history of occupation rather than the connection with a Puranic cause celebre, became the focus of his published work. The Deccan College has been singularly ‘unsuccessful’ in providing proof of the kind that the faithful look for.

The past may be big business and an arena to score political points, but it is time that we recognised that archaeology, as a discipline which investigates the past, is not a theological but a scientific one. It has rarely succeeded in furnishing proof to the faithful about haloed events and personages valorised in traditional accounts.

Nayanjot Lahiri teaches archaeology at the Department of History, Delhi University.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Histories and Memories

Desi Knitter writes on working with Arvind N Das on the documentaries (that have been linked earlier at this blog):
I have been knitting a bit on the cardigan, but have nothing but a green blob to show. February is the Month of endless blather and boredom Job Candidate Seminars, Conferences and Symposia. It has also been a challenging month for various other reasons, among them being an unwieldy and quite exhausting course I am teaching on South Asian civilization. I call it “India from the Indus Valley to the Silicon Valley” because it begins in Harappa c.2500 BC and ends with the Indian tech boom in the early 21st century. 4500 years in 16 weeks is dizzying, and not merely because in the first few weeks I am well outside my comfort zone of the 18th century and onward. I am enjoying catching up on new research on the previous eras and finding interesting ways to link up this longue duree with the present, without making it seem like a literal longue duree in the classroom. Dynasties? Out. Battles? Out. Everyday life? In. Material culture and trade? Yeah. Social relations and religious practices? Sure. But this excitement comes with the slightly nauseating feeling of being on a roller-coaster for a bit too long. I want to get off, because it’s only the 8th century and I’m already sick of talking about long-distance trade and pottery.

This emphasis on everyday life reminded me of a documentary film series on South Asian history by Arvind Das, a journalist and historian with tremendous energy, verve and humour who drew on the Marxist historian D.D. Kosambi’s approach to South Asian history, but added a good dose of his own polemic. With very, very few material resources of his own, Das just set off with a camera team to capture on film Kosambi’s argument about the material practices of the South Asian past discernible in the present, and put together a remarkable set of episodes about Indian history. Most of these are now available on Google video. Fresh out of my master’s, I worked briefly on the project during its initial stages as a basic research assistant, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I like to think that it was there that I began formulating some ideas about historical memory that I examined later in my doctoral work.

The link above is to one of the episodes on the Mauryans and the Iron age. Suddenly coming across these files on the web after more than a decade, I spent hours poring over them. Some of it is so clunky and informal, and some of it absolutely inspired. It is delightful to see Arvind again in his familiar blue shirt and oversized glasses facing the camera, and remembering bygone times when we argued fiercely over everything from Buddhism to Maoism. My flood of memories reminds me how my own historical thinking has changed and sharpened over the years, but also how eagerly, and how much, he taught me. I miss him, and like to think that if he had not died so young, so soon, we would have continued to argue, over lots of Glenfiddich and Classic Milds.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Officer to be deputed to look into dilapidated Kosambi samadhi: CM

PANJIM, FEB 4 – Paying rich tributes to a Goan intellect and Marxist historian, Dr Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi, Chief Minister Digambar Kamat said an officer would be deputed to Wardha in Maharashtra soon to look into the dilapidated ‘samadhi’ (memorial) of the great son of the soil.

Kamat, who was speaking at the inauguration of the first D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas (Birth centenary memorial lecture series) on Monday, said, “We will see to it that the ‘samadhi’ is, henceforth, renovated and well maintained.”

The CM, who was addressing a gathering at Dinanath Mangueshkar Hall of Kala Academy in the presence of the Vice President of India Hamid Ansari, further said that he had doubts the younger generation in Goa were even aware of this great scholar and intellect.

“It is important that they know about this great personality and his contribution to society. We will introduce the life of Kosambi in Goa’s school curriculum,” he revealed.

Kamat said the contribution of Goan greats could be seen in so many spheres and to name a few he cited examples of Dr Raghunath Mashelkar, Dr Anil Kakodkar (scientists), Lata Mangeshkar (playback singer) and Kishori Amonkar (vocalist).

Dr Kosambi’s daughter, the eminent Indian sociologist, Dr Meera Kosambi, in her speech ‘D D Kosambi the Scholar and the Man’ confessed that as a third-generation Kosambi she had found it difficult to match with the legacy of her father and grandfather Acharya Dharmananda Damodar Kosambi, who was a Buddhist scholar of repute.

Recalling her father’s life, she went on to describe his fascination for Harvard and spoke about the intellectual’s works and his books.

She also recalled how Dr Kosambi travelled from Pune to Mumbai everyday on the Deccan Queen train carrying his books and other paraphernalia. He was one of the few during those days to travel so far everyday, so much so that the Deccan Queen came to be known as his official address, she narrated much to the amusement of the gathering.

Chairperson of the D D Kosambi Birth Centenary Celebration Committee, Dr Maria Aurora Couto, referring to Damodar’s father Dharmananda, said, “It is an honour as we are celebrating two great Goan minds today. The lecture series will serve as a platform for an intellectual treat, Couto assured.

Governor S C Jamir also spoke on the occasion. Speaker of Goa Legislative Assembly Pratapsing Rane also made his presence felt and was seen sitting in the front row of the hall.

Source: Goa Herald

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Subscribe to DD Kosambi Blog

You can now subscribe to this blog via RSS feeds (click here), email (click here) or access it via your mobile phone via this site (click here).

You can also click on this chicklet on the right column to access the mobile version of the blog via the url to the main blog:

Saturday, February 9, 2008

‘Science has a role in tackling communalism’

PANAJI: Vivek Monteiro, scientist and trade unionist, has called for a “systematic and scientific use” of science right from the primary level of schooling to undermine the influence of fundamentalism.

Delivering the last lecture on the topic of “Science is the cognition of necessity” in the four-lecture series of the D.D. Kosambi Festival of Ideas here on Thursday, Mr. Monteiro said that considering the fact that growth of communalism was one of the major problems confronting society today, undoubtedly science had to play a role by spreading scientific temper among people.

Elaborating on the role of science in combating communalism, Mr. Monteiro said, “It is not enough if intellectuals debate these issues in academic seminars. The real battle has to be fought and won in the minds of the common man.”

Analysing scientific writings of Kosambi, Mr. Monteiro expressed surprise that there seems to be no writing in Kosambi’s available works on the subject of communalism while there is evidence to suggest that he was active in post-riot relief works in Benares during his teaching days. Stating that Kosambi has written critically about the influence of religion on Indian people, including scientists, particularly in his articles on the subject of scientific attitude and religion, Mr. Monteiro said there was no discussion on communalism.


Portrait of a Historian

Noted painter Shridhar Kamat Bambolkar seen presenting a portrait of late D D Kosambi to Kosambi's daughter Dr Meera Kosambi during the concluding function of the D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas at the Dinanath Mangueshkar auditorium at Kala Academy here

Mathematical physicist Dr Viveck Monteiro seen delivering his lecture during the D D Kosambi feestival of ideas in the Dinanath Mangueshkar auditorium at Kala Academy here


Friday, February 8, 2008

Thapar praises Kosambi for changing course of studying Indian history

PANJIM, Feb 6: Prominent Indian historian who principal area of study is ancient India, Romila Thapar, took time off a lecture-visit to Goa to look at hero-stones at the NIO, visit the village of Sancoale, and take a look at "what little is left" of Goa's commonlands.

But later on Wednesday evening, the 77-year-old historian delivered the Goan intellectual D.D.Kosambi's 'festival of ideas' lecture where she focussed on some ideas of the man "whose work provoked me into thinking beyodn the obvious in my work on ancient Indian history".

Thapar, in an erudite if academic lecture, touched on the work of Marxist historian Kosambi's in diverse spheres -- the relationship between tribe and caste, the links between Buddhism and trade, and the nature of feudalism in India.

Speaking to introduce Thapar, who has worked on the decline of the Mauryas and early India among other topics, businessman-social campaigner Datta Naik said she was an impressive thinker to interprete South Asia's past along with the Goan-origin Kosambi and Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya.

Naik stressed that Thapar played a key role in shifting the study of Indian hstory away from the "communal interpretation". It was she who had point out that there was a 'selective memory' and 'selective forgetting' of history.

Speaking earlier, author and academic Maria Aurora Couto of Aldona, who has played a key role in this 'festival of ideas', praised the intellectual honesty of Thapar.

She said Thapar had given her the nudge to go ahead with talking about contentious and today-politicised issues like religious conversions, when she (Couto) was writing her book "A Daughter's Story".

Couto said that Thapar was keen to visit the ancestral Kosambi visit of Sancoale which has "undergone radical demographic transformation in the past few years".

She said there was an idea to promote a regional research programme for Goa, and part of this would probably focus on the area of Sancoale too -- where Kosambi and his equally-prominent father, Dharmanand D. Kosambi, came from.

Incidentally, the Kosambi home has been largely forgotten in its ancestral village, and the achievements of its intellectuals recognised more across India and internationally rather than at home, a fate shared by many of the other intellectuals that tiny Goa has produced in big number.

Thapar stressed Kosambi's role in understanding India beyond just "dynastic history" and looking at the crucial social and economic history of the vast region. He had deployed archaeology, technology and even coins to interprete the past.

She expounded on the controversy of understanding varna, class and caste, besides tribal concerns. She said the 'hero-stones' in Goa may not focus so much on those defending villages against cattle-raiders (as in other parts of India), but those who had fought back "pirates in sea-battles".

She referred to Kosambi's views and her own on the gotra system among Brahmins, and the trade-Buddhism link which was not just coincidental.

The 'festival of ideas' is being held to mark the birth centenary of Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi (1907-1966), the Goan-origin mathematician, statistician, and polymath, who contributed to genetics by introducing Kosambi's map function.

He is well-known for his work in numismatics and for compiling critical editions of ancient Sanskrit texts. He was also a historian of ancient India who employed the historical materialist approach in his work.

Incidentally, Kosambi was critical of the policies of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru which he believed promoted capitalism in the guise of democratic socialism. He was an enthusiast of the Chinese revolution and its ideals, and a peace movement activist. (*)

Source: [Goanet] NEWS: Romila Thapar praises Kosambi for changing course of studying Indian history Goanet News

Thursday, February 7, 2008

DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas: a Video

Vice President MH Ansari and Dr Meera Kosambi in a news coverage from Goa News (video at Youtube). The coverage starts about 60s into the video.

Pictures and Video from DD Kosmabi: A Festival of Ideas

Vice-President of India Mohammad Hamid Ansari is seen along with Goa governor S C Jamir, chief minister Digambar Kamat, Dr Meera Kosambi and Dr Maria Aurora Couto during the inauguration of the D D Kosambi Festival of Idea's in the Dinanath Mangueshkar auditorium at Kala Academy here

Vice President of India Mohammad Hamid Ansari seen delivering his key note address after inaugurating the D D Kosambi Festival of Idea's in the Dinanath Mangueshkar auditorium at Kala Academy here

Chief ministerDigambar Kamat seen honouring Vice-President of India, Mohammad Hamid Ansari during the D D Kosambi Festival of Idea's in the Dinanath Mangueshkar auditorium at Kala Academy here. Also seen are governor S C Jamir, Dr Meera Kosambi and others

Source: Daijiworld

Kosambi on The Gita

Makarand Paranjpe analyzes Kosambi's writings on the Gita in his book Myth and Reality.
D. D. Kosambi attempted precisely such a reading of one of India’s most enduring literary texts, the Bhagawad Gita. In an essay called “Social and Economic Aspects of the Bhagawad-Gita,” published as the inaugural essay in Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture (1962), he argues at great length that the Gita is a text of “slippery opportunism” whose utility “derives from its peculiar fundamental defect, namely dexterity in seeming to reconcile the irreconcilable.” Composed between 150-350 A.D. and inserted into the Mahabharata corpus later, the Gita, according to Kosambi, served a peculiar class function which made so many leading exponents of Indian culture, including Sankara, Ramanuja, Jnanesvar, Gandhi, Tilak, Aurobindo, and others, return to it again and again. Kosambi believes that:


In other words, the Gita is a synthetic text that manages to incorporate a wide diversity of complex and, often, contradictory doctrines. Kosambi believes that such a text could only be written at a certain period during which the competition over the surpluses produced wasn’t so intolerable as to result in class conflict:


Analyzing the career of Jnanesvar, the author of influential commentary Jnanesvari, Kosambi says:

The conglomerate Gita philosophy might provide a loophole for innovation, but never the analytical tools necessary to make a way out of the social impasse. Jnanesvar's life and tragic career illustrate this in full measure. In other words, though the Gita provided Jnanesvar with some ammunition against the ills of his times, it could not afford him a full-fledged blue print for revolutionary action. That is why, according to Kosambi, “there was nothing left for him [Jnanesvar] except suicide.” Kosambi concludes his paper with the following observations:

Modern life is founded upon science and freedom. That is, modern production rests in the final analysis upon accurate cognition of material reality (science), and recognition of necessity (freedom). A myth may grip us by its imagery, and may indeed have portrayed some natural phenomenon or process at a time when mankind had not learned to probe nature's secrets or to discover the endless properties of matter. Religion clothes some myth in dogma. "Science needs religion" is a poor way of saying that the scientists and those who utilize his discoveries must not dispense with social ethics. There is no need to dig into the Gita or the Bible for an ethical system sandwiched with pure superstition. Such books can still be enjoyed for their aesthetic value. Those who claim more usually try to shackle the minds of other people, and to impede man's progress, under the most specious claims.

It is interesting how this conclusion is built upon a whole series of binary oppositions such as science vs. religion, modern vs. traditional, reality vs. myth, progress vs. superstition, and so on. The cure for all social ills for Kosambi lies not in “theology but in socialism.” The essay ends with a ringing reaffirmation of the revolutionary doctrine: “the material needs could, certainly be satisfied for all, if the relations of production did not hinder it.”

I have chosen Kosambi’s essay on the Gita not because it is especially “exasperating”—as the title of another collection of his work suggests—but because it is symptomatic of both the benefits and pitfalls of a particular approach to art. Kosambi’s rigorous materialist and historicist analysis certainly adds something to our understanding of the Gita, but, as I have argued earlier, it does not exhaust the possibilities of that text. A few years after Kosambi’s death in 1966, Western India, where he himself lived for several years, witnessed a widespread peaceful social upheaval triggered by a movement called Svadhyaya. It is no surprise to me that this social movement, about which I have written elsewhere, was inspired by the same complex and heterogeneous text that Kosambi considered incapable of guiding any genuine social change. The slogan of this movement is “Jai Yogeshwar,” one of the many names of Krishna that we find in the Gita, and which is also enshrined in the very last verse of the Gita:

Where there is Krsna, the Lord of yogas, and where there is Partha, the wielder of the bow, there are fortune, victory, prosperity and unfailing prudence. Such is my conviction.

(18.78 Swami Gambhiranda’s translation from the Gita Supersite)

Also known as the “ekashloki Gita,” or Gita in one shloka, this verse is supposed to bestow the benefits of reading the whole scripture. The Svadhyayis, with their notion of kriti bhakti or an activist devotion, have fanned out in thousands upon thousands, on bhakti pheris reordering human relationships and social organization on an unprecedented scale. The idea that God is both within me and beside me in my struggles has become a living reality for several million Svadhyayis who give their time and talent to this cause. This assurance, contained in the Gita, has been convincingly conveyed to large masses of people by the inspirer of the Svadhyaya movement, Pandurang Shastri Athavale. I heard him myself in a very large gathering of about 250,000 people at Kurukshetra a few years back. I had never experienced anyone expound the Gita in that fashion and, for the first time in my life, the text came alive to me in a unique and moving manner.

I have deliberately chosen a sacred text to illustrate the point that while a materialist reading may be very illuminating, it need not rob the text of its aesthetic, even scriptural, affects.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

P. Sainath's Lecture at DD Kosambi Meet in Goa- A Report

A report from The Hindu on P. Sainath's Lecture at the DD Kosambi Festival of Arts in Goa. (05 Feb 2008)

PANAJI: Expressing deep concern over entrenched structural inequalities in the country, P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, on Tuesday called for conscious efforts to address them lest they pose a major threat to democracy.

Mr. Sainath was delivering the second lecture at the four-day “D.D. Kosambi festival of ideas” organised here by the Art and Culture Department of the Goa government to commemorate the birth centenary of the renowned historian, mathematician and polymath.
The stark reality

Taking the audience through the great economic divide that was being perpetuated in the country, which boasts of a few billionaires whose additions to wealth could be an envy of the world’s leading economies, the Magsaysay award winner contrasted it with the stark reality — according to the National Sample Survey’s situational report on farmer households, the average expenditure of farm households is Rs.17 a month.

He said the wages of the agricultural labourer had not gone up by Rs. 40 in a decade and contrasted the situation where India had fallen further from the 124 to 128th position in the world human development index in the last 15 years.

Tracing the problem of structural inequalities in the last 15 years, which coincide with the process of liberalisation, Mr. Sainath said what was stunning was not the inequality and growth witnessed side by side, but the withdrawal of the state from the sectors that mattered to the poor. He expressed alarm at the systematic and rapid transfer of resources from the poor to the rich through steps such as slashing subsidies.

“The state is intervening more and more, but very clearly and blatantly on behalf of the corporates and rich,” he said adding the share of development expenditure of the government had gone down from 14.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product to 5.9 in recent years. He also referred to the unprecedented rise of the corporate power across the world including in India in the last decade.

Mr. Sainath was concerned at the continued rise in indebtedness among the poor — 82 per cent of the farm households in the country are in perennial debt. More worrying was the fact that as a direct consequence of entrenched inequalities, millions were moving to towns and cities in pursuit of jobs that were simply not there, eventually ending up as neither farmers nor workers.
Dig at media

Speaking about the moral matrix of inequality, the senior journalist took a dig at the media for the “growing disconnect between the reality in the country and the media’s functioning.”

Noting that resistance to the process of globalisation was going to be local, he called upon the people not to feel helpless or be passive in raising doubts about their complicity in the situation.

He lauded the people of Goa for showing a remarkable capacity to resist, standing up during their recent struggle (against special economic zones).

Maria aurora Couto, chairperson, D.D. Kosambi centenary celebrations committee, welcomed the guest, while Savia Viegas, writer and social activist, introduced Mr. Sainath.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Kosambi and the Quest for Peace

Following is the text of the address of the Vice President of India Mohd. Hamid Ansari at the inauguration of the “Dr. D.D. Kosambi Festival of Ideas” at Goa today :

“It is a pleasure to be in the salubrious surroundings of Goa and be honoured by being invited to participate in the D.D. Kosambi Festival of Ideas. The encyclopaedic personality of Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi endeared him to scholars beyond the fields of mathematics and numismatics. Amongst them was the historian A.L. Basham, author of The Wonder that was India, who became a lifelong friend. On Kosambi’s death, Basham wrote a personal tribute and said his initial impression was that his friend had only three interests in life – ancient India, mathematics and preservation of peace; for all of them, he added, ‘he worked hard and with devotion, according to his deep convictions’. This was also the view of President V.V. Giri who chaired the Kosambi Commemoration Committee and wrote a foreword to a commemoration volume of essays published in 1974.

Kosambi was an active fighter for peace and, in the hay days of the Cold War, spent time analysing the causes that prevented peace. He held the view that peace was a prerequisite for development and that true peace required ‘true democracy’ where all men are truly equal and no one claims any superiority. His focus was on peace in the global community. There is little evidence to suggest that peaceful resolution of conflicts within societies was amongst his priorities. His thought process was driven by his ideological orientation; that, in fairness, would deserve a separate discourse.

My quest today would be to explore the passion for peace, and its relevance to the world in our own times. We are confronted with a contradiction of serious dimensions. A look at human history makes evident the role of violence. At the same time the passion for peace is a perennial in human history. The philosopher Lao Tzu summed up its pre-requisites in the 5th century BC:

If there is to be peace in the world,

There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbours.

If there is to be peace between neighbours,

There must be peace at home.

If there is to be peace at home,

There must be peace in the heart.

The impulse was the same elsewhere, in another age. The medieval Italian scholar Marsilius of Padua commenced Defensor Pacis with a quotation, on the meaning of peace, from the sixth century Roman statesman Flavius Cassiodorus:

‘Tranquillity, wherein peoples prosper and the welfare of nations is preserved, must certainly be the desire of every state. For it is the noble mother of the good arts. Permitting the steady increase of the race of mortals, it extends their power and enhances their customs. And he who is perceived not to have sought for it is recognised to be ignorant of such important concerns’.

Marsilius concluded that ‘we ought to wish for peace, to seek it if we do not already have it, to conserve it once it is attained, to repel with all our strength the strife which is opposed to it’.

The quest for peace, as a human trait, is not synonymous with peace amongst human groups. The latter is characterised by conflict and the resultant need, through force or compact, to enforce order. The need for a final authority was felt in all groupings; the sanction for it was at times human, at others attributed to an extra-human impulse. Sovereignty in this form existed before it was conceptualised.

While peace among members of a group – society or state – was sought to be achieved through a compact or a final authority, harmony between groups or states was perceived to be a qualitatively different exercise. Domination was one form of achieving it; hence the expressions Pax Romana, Pax Brittanica etc. that crept into political vocabulary. This was not found to be perpetual or all embracing. Hence the need for conflict management or resolution through rules of behaviour that came to be known as international law of peace and war.

A methodology for conflict resolution is to be found in all societies. Kautilya refers to six methods of seeking conciliation. In modern times, the conceptual and the practical endeavour to seek peace between nations took shape in post-Renaissance Europe. Publicists like Grotius pioneered it; theoretical depth was added by philosophers like Immanuel Kant in his tract on Perpetual Peace wherein he argued that peace must be established through conscious effort based on a mutuality of interest. The Kantian perception of this interest is worth recalling:

‘The spirit of commerce, which is incompatible with war, sooner or later gains the upper hand. As the power of money is perhaps the most dependable of all powers included under the state, states see themselves forced, without any moral courage, to promote honourable peace and by mediation to prevent war wherever it threatens to break out’.

Kant was ahead of his times in considering commerce as a promoter of peace. The dominant impulse in the 18th and 19th centuries was promotion of commerce through domination and war. The other viewpoint, nevertheless, had its votaries. In 1909, Sir Norman Angell published The Great Illusion wherein he argued that modern commerce made war necessarily unprofitable, even for the technically victorious country; success in war, he added, was an illusion.

Serious thinking on the futility of war, however, had to await the experience and blood letting of World Wars I and II. In August 1945 Prime Minister Atlee committed Britain to utilise atomic energy ‘not for our own ends but as trustees for humanity in the interest of all people in order to promote peace and justice in the world’. President Truman did likewise. The Preamble of the UN Charter begins by expressing a determination ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’. Removal of threats to peace thus became a primary purpose of the United Nations. Five decades later only partial success can be attributed to it and war, defined as organised violence between states, is still considered an instrument of policy to achieve objectives.

In a seminal study published in 1987, the historian Paul Kennedy surveyed the interaction between economics and strategy to study the manner in which great powers in modern history grappled with economic growth, technological innovations, the spiraling cost of weapons, and changes in the international scene and power equations. He concluded that:

‘Whatever the likelihood of nuclear or conventional clashes between the major states, it is clear that important transformations in the balances are occurring, and will continue to occur, probably at a faster pace than before. What is more, they are occurring at the two separate but interacting levels of economic production and strategic power…

‘The present large powers in the international system are thus compelled to grapple with the twin challenges that have confronted all their predecessors: first with the uneven pattern of economic growth, which causes some of them to become wealthier (and, usually, stronger), relative to others; and second, with the competitive and occasionally dangerous scene abroad, which forces them to choose between a more immediate military security and a longer-term economic security’.

In such a context, the effort necessarily remains confined to the management of global insecurity. Boutros Ghali’s Agenda for Peace was structured on that premise. Much work has been done in the past decade and a half to develop the framework for peace keeping, peace building, and conflict prevention. The approach, however, is riveted on prevention rather than cure.

In 1988 Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi told the United Nations that ‘in consequence of doctrines of deterrence, international relations have been gravely militarised’ and that ‘peace which rests on the search for a parity of power is a precarious peace’. He proposed a time-bound Action Programme for a Nuclear-Free World and the initiation of negotiations to establish a Comprehensive Global Security System under the aegis of the United Nations.

After having ignored this and other suggestions for nuclear disarmament, an initiative has recently been taken by some establishment personalities in the United States. Concerned over nuclear weapons ‘falling into dangerous hands’, they have ‘called for a global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately to end them as a threat to the world’. A world without nuclear weapons requires ‘the necessary political will to build an international consensus on priorities’. This, they concede, cannot be done ‘without the vision of moving towards zero, we will not find the essential cooperation required to stop our downward spiral’. These views were most recently articulated in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on January 18 this year.

The strategic paradigm, as hitherto understood, offers no escape from the possibility of states resorting to war. This necessitates a qualitatively different approach if perpetual peace is to be made a human objective.

A new framework for world peace must begin with conceptual clarity about the meaning of words in our vocabulary. Can peace be defined as absence of conflict? If so, it could be no more than a tactical happening of a transitory nature involving no value judgment or commitment to such a judgement. A study of the semantic history of the term itself is revealing. The impression of contention, hostility, conflict (armed or unarmed) is ever present; so is its acceptability in a certain sense. A cynical observation by Oscar Wilde is perhaps an apt reflection on human perceptions: ‘As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular’.

Early in the twentieth century the philosopher William James had recognised the obstacles confronting a pacifist approach. ‘The war against war’, he wrote in 1906, ‘is going to be no holiday or camping party. The military feelings are too deeply grounded to abdicate their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered than the glory and shame that come to nations as well as to individuals from the ups and downs of politics and the vicissitudes of trade’.

A century later Robert Fisk has referred to the same problem in his monumental work The Great War for Civilisation:

‘Governments like it that way. They want their people to see war as a drama of opposites, good and evil, ‘them’ and ‘us’, victory or defeat. But war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit.’

The truth is that, in the realm of world politics, the avoidance of war is perceived, as Hedley Bull put it, ‘as a goal subordinate to that of the preservation of the state system itself…and as subordinate also to the preservation of the sovereignty or independence of individual states…the subordinate status of peace in relation to these other goals is reflected in the phrase “peace and security” which occurs in the United Nations Charter’.

So how do we go about demonstrating the vulgarity of war and war-like activities, erasing the association of ideas that lend it credibility, and exposing its implications for humanity? Can a war be waged against war? The challenge is a formidable one.

In order to develop a rational approach, it is essential to consider the matter from four perspectives:

· The impracticality of war in the nuclear age;

· The inefficacy of power politics;

· The emergence of new imperatives for conflicts, and their implications;

. The unavoidability of inducting a sense of justice in the conduct of relations between individuals, groups and nations.

War in the nuclear age has become inconceivable. Its implications were spelt out, among others, by George Kennan in The Nuclear Delusion published in 1982. The impulse to acquire nuclear weapons, as a currency of power, is nevertheless pervasive and, as with all new technologies, becoming easier by the day. According to Dr. Mohamad El Baradai of IAEA, ‘soon there could be 30 virtual nuclear weapon states on the horizon’. The only rational option, therefore, is to move for universal, comprehensive, nuclear disarmament through international agreements of the type already concluded with regard to biological weapons (1972) and chemical weapons (1997). In such a scheme of things, there can be no exceptions.

Power politics and the quest for dominance, hegemony or primacy would inevitably be a recipe for instability that, in the global system, cannot but induce states to resort to arms. Patterns of these may wary; the National Intelligence Council of the United States has assessed that ‘the likelihood of great power conflict escalating into total war in the next 15 years is lower than at any time in the past century, unlike during previous centuries when local conflicts sparked world wars’. Local or regional wars would nevertheless continue to erupt. Every such conflict would be disruptive of development and enhance human misery. A new mechanism for conflict prevention is thus essential.

A new, and hitherto unexplored, area for future conflicts resides in the imperatives of the current and future competition for resources, of climate change and of wider environmental questions. Economic historian Angus Matterson has noted that humanity’s average real income per head has risen 10-fold since 1820. The increases however have been widely divergent. Technology and resource availability have been critical to the effort. At the same time, an emerging contradiction is also becoming evident. Technology continues to improve but declining availability of resources is generating fear, and responses bordering on panic.

The UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook published in October 2007 pointed out that ‘we are living beyond our means’ and need to consider environment, development and energy crises as one rather than separate issues. It stressed that while governments are expected to take the lead, other stake holders are just as important to ensure success in achieving in sustainable development: ‘Our common future depends on our action today, not tomorrow or sometime in the future’.

The conclusion of the UNEP report shifts the focus from the state to the public: ‘while governments are expected to take the lead, other stake holders are just as important to ensure success in achieving sustainable development. The need couldn’t be more urgent and the time couldn’t be more opportune, with our enhanced understanding of the challenges we face, to act now to safeguard our own survival and that of future generations’.

The picture that emerges can be summed up in a set of eight prepositions:

· The new paradigm of human existence has to be premised on comprehensive security, covering both conventional and non-conventional security.

· Experience indicates that competitive security results in confrontation and conflict.

· The prospect, and intensity, of conflicts can be controlled and lessened through a globally applicable scheme of disarmament beginning with nuclear disarmament.

· The alternative is cooperative security premised on accommodation of competing requirements.

· Such accommodation would require a point of reference, a principle that can help reconcile differences and disagreements and impede their aggravation.

· Such a principle can only be based on the concept of justice which enables us to choose between different possible arrangements that determine the division of advantages on an equitable basis, and assign rights and duties. ‘When justice is destroyed’, said Manu, ‘it destroys; when justice is protected, it protects’.

· A global society based on justice has no place for war since both greed and aggression would be curtailed by its operative principle.

· The actualisation of such an objective cannot be left solely to state action and must involve active participation of ‘other stake holders’ in the civil society

There would be many who would consider such an approach utopian and impractical and would contrast it with the realistic and practical. The answer would lie in working out the implications of such ‘realism’ – namely, a steady march by humankind towards self-destruction. In other words, peace must be demonstrated to be good in value terms as also in practical term since war can be demonstrated to be genuinely harmful.

In the final analysis, then, we see merit in Kosambi’s vision that peace was a pre-requisite for development and that true peace required true democracy where all human beings are equal.

The struggle for world peace must therefore be a quest for equality, justice and democracy. The modalities of furthering it would inevitably be conditioned by public awareness, and public action. ”


Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Discovery of Kosambi

I am not sure I am comfortable with the term 'Marxist approach to Indian History', primarily of the idelogical images the word brings. It makes me feel like I am seeing a small labelled box locked with limitations.

But thanks to reader's words and the D.D.Kosambi blog,it is almost like I am looking at history with new eyes. History is not about looking at a series of events but it is also about power, economics and other interconnected elements. When I read Kosambi's versions, texts like The Discovery of India seem to pale and full of lifeless verbiage. Kosambi's history and accounts seem to be filled with living breathing real people and I find these accounts full of life.

The man is brilliant and original,in say his interpretation of the Urvashi myth. However, in one of his writings he equates the need of land-ownership with the origin of patriarchy. My contention is that there were always matrilinear groups but never truly matriarchy. Also many of the matrilinear families in Kerala did have land ownership.So beyond that nitpicking, his views on the economy, power and class struggles, structures are spot on. The videos of Arvind N Das linked on the blog are also a must watch.


Friday, February 1, 2008

D.D. Kosambi Festival of Ideas

4th February :
1. Hamid Ansari , Vice President : Inaugural Lecture – DDK's Thoughts on Peace
2. Meera Kosambi : DDK - the scholar and the man.

5th .
P. Sainath "Rising inequality & the danger to democracy"

Romila Thapar : D.D. Kosambi's Legacy to the Study of Ancient Indian History.

Vivek Monteiro : Science as the cognition of necessity.

A prizewinning exhibition of photographs by Sainath VISIBLE WORK, INVISIBLE WOMEN will remain open from 4th till noon 7th.

All lectures are at DM auditorium, Kala Academy at 5.30pm

But on 4th it will start at 5pm and seating will be requested much earlier; security will be tight on that day.

Please spread the word and bring all your friends.

(Thanks to Vivek for the email tip).