Saturday, 22 February 2014

Humanist Politics - 1

Humanist Politics - 1

1. Radical Humanist Democracy 

If we are to consider the powers and ideas that are at work in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. it is easy to understand that they are not stable democracies.  The present global scenario gives us some idea regarding the new wave of Islamo-fascism taking root in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey etc. They are astonishingly successful either in capturing power or remaining as the dominant threat to individual liberty from the democratic point of view. From the Humanist, Rationalist, Skeptical and Atheistic perspectives, genuine democrats are always marginalized individuals or communities in these countries. The situation poses the grave problem of the role of humanists before, during and after elections as also the ‘how’ of their work as agencies for change. It must be possible for secular democrats  to create telling impact upon the political losers as well as winners , even while their  work is perhaps limited to the cultural field . Radical Humanists have long back considered this aspect.  The enquiries have led to the concept of  ‘Partyless Democracy’ (ie., political activity without parties )in which activists will go on working to create and spread democratic values among the voters, continually pressurizing the political groups and parties . Initially starting as study groups and discussion groups, the initiatives can take the form of ‘Citizens for Democracy’ , ‘Peoples’ Committees’ etc.. These are not intended as bodies striving to capture power. Though hoping for Radical changes, these groups won’t form political parties. The terms ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’ become unnecessary. The fact is that the work of education for enlightenment is not a temporary make shift arrangement, but a continued effort for creative development. This idea is sure to be dismissed at the first instance itself by totalitarian forces. For them such endeavors are scoffers, construed as counter revolutionary. However, historical experiences have taught the human race very many things. The Radical Democratic idea put forward by M N Roy deserves to be put to test in the unstable democracies.  This necessitates a clear understanding of how our notions of democracy and governance sprouted and developed and whether they actually are concepts that satisfy the requirements connoted by their definitions. The entire practice in the western world remains open before us which can be critically assessed.  Perhaps it is better not to re-phrase the original ideas of Roy and his comrades in my own words. Hence, I am giving below the relevant sections in Roy’s own words which I believe will contribute to the clarification of related concepts.

2.  Education for an Ideal State

1.     “One of the oldest sages, Plato, attempted to visualize the possibility of an ideal State. He was the first to formulate a democratic theory based on the experience of the practice of direct Democracy in the Greek City States. On the basis of that experience of the politics in the market place of Periclean Athens, he came to the conclusion that Democracy presupposes education. Even when democracies were composed only of a few thousand people, voters could be misled, unless they were educated. This ancient wisdom is even more true in our time. Those who are trying to give democracy a chance to be practised  must realize that without education democracy is not possible.”  (1. P.58,)
2.     “But experience has proved that education measured in terms of literacy alone does not create guarantees for democratic government. What is needed is a different kind of education, an education which will not be imparted with the purpose of maintaining any given status quo, but with the sole purpose of making the individuals of a community conscious of their potentialities, help them to think rationally and judge for themselves, and promote their critical faculties by applying it to all problems confronting them. No government promotes that kind of education. The purpose of government education is to create mental conformism.  You have to sing patriotic songs, salute national flags and read patriotic history as compiled and edited by governments, so that all people be merged in to a homogenous collectivity and forget that they are individuals endowed with certain sovereign faculties and entitled to be free. Hence there is danger in the demand that governments provide all education, especially in backward and largely illiterate countries. Because, Democracy will not be possible until people are taught to remember precisely their critical faculties which governments naturally fear, and apply them for the administration of their community. And this is not taught under government- sponsored systems of national education.” (2
3.      “Other ways and means must be found to create that atmosphere of intellectual awakening which is the precondition for democratic practice. Such an intellectual resurgence of the people will take place together with the resurrection of the individual from the grave of the mass. Only when the monster called the mass is decomposed in to its component men and women, will an atmosphere be created in which democratic practice  becomes possible, in which there can be established governments of the people and by the people. In such an atmosphere, it will become possible  to practice direct Democracy in smaller social groups, because to make individuals self reliant, they must be freed from the feeling of being helpless cogs in the wheels of the gigantic machines of modern states, which allow them no other function than to cast a vote once in several years, and give them no idea of how governments function, so that they cannot even effectively help their government, if they wanted to.” (3.
4.     But once the precondition is created, that every citizen and voter will have a minimum degree of intelligent understanding and the ability to think and judge for himself, then this  helplessness and hopelessness of the individuals will disappear; they can create local democracies of their own. The  voters need  no longer remain scattered like isolated atoms. They can organize themselves on a local scale into peoples’ committees, and function as local republics, in which direct democracy is possible. Then at the time of elections, these people will no longer have to vote for anybody coming from outside; they will not only discuss in their committees the merits of candidates presented to them for taking or leaving, but nominate their own candidates from among themselves. To create this condition is the most important political activity.” (4)

               (to be continued)
1.      P.58, ‘ Politics Power And Parties’,
M N Roy,
AjantaPublications, Jawahar Nagar, Delhi,110007
2.     Pp. 58- 59, ibid
3.     P. 59, , ibid
4.     Pp. 59- 60, ibid

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Anachronism We Call Saudi Arabia -1

1. Driving While Female 

One might think these are stories made up by idiots. Many do not take such stories seriously. What if they are true? I am telling you about the struggle of Arabian women for the right to drive their cars! The clerics, the police and the state in Saudi Arabia are anxiously at war against women. Literally they are!

Women are banned from driving because the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam has found out that if allowed, the deviation would undermine the very structure of Saudi Arabian Islam. The country has no written law banning women from driving. Some of them possess International Driving licenses. The Saudi authorities do not issue drivers’ licenses to women.

Arabian Human Rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider challenged the ban. The video showing her driving is available on the internet. (1). This was a message for women to drive on Women’s day 2008.

There were reports of an arrest of a woman in her 20s in Mecca in 2009.

On Saturday, November 07, 2009 , Saudi Gazette reported detention of two female professors of King Abdul Aziz University the previous day.(2).

It is guessed that there can be very many cases which were never reported anywhere. Even a Saudi princess made public statement to the effect that she had driven outside and wanted to drive in her country. (3).

Rym Ghazal writing for National Geographic  says there were protests in 1990 and 2011 and dozens of women participated in driving opposing the ban. A CNN report mentions that 47 women drove through Riyadh in the first demonstration.  Some were fined and jailed, some lost jobs and status in society,  (4) and were shunned by a superstitious society. (5) . In the “Women2Drive” campaign of 2011, dozens of women drove through streets of their cities, it reports.

A petition signed by more than 12,000 on the website,

asked the authorities to lift the ban. The online movement urging women to drive cars on October 26th  gained popularity within and without the country.

 It is said that the site was blocked on Friday afternoon and was replaced by a message, “Drop the leadership of Saudi women”. A leading cleric had issued a scientific fatwa to the effect that driving could cause damage to the ovaries and pelvises! He warned of clinical problems. (link5 above).

On the eve of the planned protest, Turki al-Faisal, the interior ministry spokesman warned that even online support for the campaign could invite arrest. By Friday night the campaign organizers dropped the October 26th specification.

France 24 reported that at least 16 women had been fined for defying the ban. The campaign was entitled “Women’s driving is a choice”. They not only were fined but had to sign a pledge to the effect that they would respect the kingdom’s laws. (6). France 24 notes that this discriminatory policy is against ‘UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against women’ which Saudi Arabia had ratified in 2000.

According to TIME World, “On Saturday, more than 60 women said they defied the ban, although they faced little action from police.” It notes that men , most of them in their 20s and 30s were active in the campaign. The help provided by men seems to be crucial: “In the run-up to the weekend protest, men played a key role in helping wives, sisters and female friends to enjoy what they believe is a fundamental right.

Since the campaign was launched in September, they have produced videos of women driving and put them on social networks.

They have helped protect the female drivers by forming packs of two or three cars to surround them and ward off potential harassment.

And some have simply ridden as passengers with the women as they run their daily errands.”(7). From their views quoted, it is clear that they have the right perspective. This source further tells us about the now popular, “No Woman, No Drive” video: “Alaa Wardi of Riyadh, who says he is not involved in the campaign, has produced an online video called “No Woman, No Drive,” using a Bob Marley song to mock comments by a prominent sheik who said driving can harm a woman’s ovaries. It has had more than 8 million views since Saturday.” (8).

It is gratifying to note that several men knowing that their help in this respect might end up in risking jobs, getting detained and jailed, not to speak of social ostracizing, quietly helped to gather momentum for the movement. They know perfectly well that women are an essential part of social revolution.

Human Rights watch observes: "After more than 100clerics visited the Royal Court, the office of the king, to protest “the conspiracy of women driving,” as one cleric called it, the Interior Ministry issued a statement on October 23 warning that officials would enforce the law on October 26, when women were to drive. Saudi activists said that on October 24 a man who said he was from the Interior Ministry individually phoned women activists behind the “Women2Drive” campaign, warning them not to drive. He told them that officials would take measures against all women who defied the driving ban, and that women caught driving could be taken into custody. Some women who had planned to drive on October 26 decided against it, they said.” In spite of warnings, intimidations, harassments and obstructions, the campaign gets strengthened with the call to ‘normalize driving’.  The authorities are out to go to any extreme. The movement proposes to continue driving in public and posting videos or photos of themselves online.
(9). Twelve films have been posted on You Tube. The Guardian reports from activists: some other women had also driven but without recording their exploits on video or in photographs. (10). According to the activists more than 60 took part which means October 26 demonstration is the biggest of all the ban demonstrations held in Saudi Arabia. They also report that they have succeeded in garnering 16,600 signatures on the online petition demanding change. One of the positive features of the campaign is the effective use of social media especially Twitter.

Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch said: “Saudi authorities are retaliating against people who want a very basic right for women, the right to get behind the wheel and drive themselves where they want to go. The authorities should end the driving ban and stop harassing people for supporting women’s rights.”(11).

On 30, October 2013 (Wednesday), The Guardian reported the news of detention of Tariq al-Mubarak who was an active supporter of the campaign. A school teacher, he used to write in a daily, ‘Ashraq al-Awsat’. Though he was contacted regarding a stolen car, the criminal investigation department was interrogating about his activity in the campaign. His friends  who went to the investigator’s  office in the hope of  bringing him back were also detained for hours and interrogated. The Guardian says: “He said the courts in Saudi Arabia did not have sufficient provisions to deter those who threatened others against exercising their freedoms because "rights and freedoms … are not instilled in our culture, nor our interpretation of religion".

Mubarak, who also works as a schoolteacher, was among a core group of Saudis calling for women's right to drive. Around 60 women claimed they got behind the wheel on Saturday to oppose the ban. The campaign angered the kingdom's ultra-conservative religious establishment.”

Global Voices has correctly pointed out the unmistakable part played by the Saudi Government in the ban. Tariq al-Mubarak had been in detention since 3 p.m.,October 27th  without access to relatives or legal help . (12) Tariq has since been released. The success of the campaign has angered the clerics and the bureaucracy.

Post Scripts:


Tariq Al Mubarak has been allowed to return home. We thank all members and readers who co-operated and did what they could to end his detention.



The Courageous women continue driving- 1

The Courageous Women continue driving- 2

(Originally published in the blog,'New Humanism' on November 3, 2013)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Radical Humanism, M.N. Roy and The Movement - 3

3. The Man

The Revolutionary Philosopher of Freedom

Perhaps the assessment of Prof. G.D.Parikh gave us the true picture of M.N.Roy : “He was unique in the universality of his experience. A dozen different countries spread over three major continents provide the background of his chequered career. He occupied leading positions in the great movements of Nationalism, Communism, and Humanism, continuing to grow throughout, in his understanding aided and enriched by his rare intellectual gifts and vast experience. While holding positions of authority and influence and rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest figures of contemporary history, he did not hesitate in choosing the path of wilderness whenever his convictions, in the context of the situations he faced, seemed to demand the choice. He combined firmness of commitment to the basic value of freedom and truth with a remarkable open-mindedness, capable of absorbing new ideas and learning from fresh experience. Indeed, his life was a great quest, a steady and purposeful march; the movement had its moments of slowing down or setbacks, but it knew no failures or defeats. It had no room whatever for frustration or bitterness of any kind. That his life, no less than his ideas, is his bequest for future generations is the real measure of his greatness.”Prof. Parikh was not eulogizing Roy when he wrote : “There was something of the universal man in him, whose company made even the most mediocre of his comrades feel that life, with all its ugly patches, was exciting and beautiful and that they, too, had an important place in its ever renewing procession. Few leaders have been able to release men’s creativity as Roy could do without resorting to shamanism of any kind.”
It is impossible to sketch all events in the life of M.N.Roy. Below is an attempt made to note the most important phases and happenings as contained in Prof. Parikh's book:

M.N.Roy  (Narendranath Bhattacharya)

 – Important Events

1887, March 21           Birth at Urbalia, 24 Parganas, Bengal

                                         Father - Dinabandhu Bhattacharya, Head Pandit of Local  School

                                         Mother - Basantha Kumari of Kodalia, 24 Parganas

1888 -  1908                 Jnan Vikasini School of Arbalia,

                                         Harinabhi Anglo-Sanskrit School of Kodalia,
                                         Passed Entrance Examination of Bengal NationalCollege  and studied  at  Bengal Technical Institute.                                             

1905                              Organised free social service among rural poor

Joined Underground  movement (leaders: Aurobindo and Barin Ghosh)

Organised close-knit group at Changripota

1907                              First Political dacoity at Changripota Railway Station.

1908                              Arrest and Release

1909                             Dacoity together with Hari Kumar Chakravarthy

1910 – 11                    Howrah- Sibpur Conspiracy Case – arrested and discharged

1911 – 13                    Reorganised revolutionary movement under Jatin Mukherji

1914                             Theft of 50 Mauser Pistols and 46 000 rounds of ammunition

1915                               Garden Reach Robbery

Left for Batevia  as Charles A. Martin to negotiate with Germans for supply of arms

Left India again in search of arms – travelled through China, Japan and Far East on way to Germany

1916                                Reached San Fransisco

                                          Met Evelyn Trent

 Moved to New York, Met Lala Lajpat Rai, adopted the name of 

“Manavendra Nath Roy”.

1917 – 1918                Arrested by American Police – Released on bail – Escaped to Mexico with Evelyn(now married to Roy) with a letter of introduction of President of Stanford University Mr. David Starr Jordan to General Salvador Alvarado, Governor of Yucatan in Mexico

                                    Contacted German Embassy in Mexico,  got funds to buy arms  in China – sent money to Rash Behari Bose in Japan and to Indian Revolutionaries in U.S.A.

                                    Was introduced to President Carranza and soon became his friend

                                    Published in Spanish: ‘The way to Durable World Peace’, Open letter to Woodrow Wilson , ‘Voice of India’.

                                    Published: ‘India – Her Past, Present and Future’ (First major work)

                                    Organised a conference of Socialist Party of Mexico – was elected its General Scretary.

1919                           Founding of El Partido Communista de Mexico – Elected as delegate to Second Congress of the communist Inter-national – Met Michael Barodin in Mexico .

                                    Left for Europe with Evelyn – Carried Mexican diplomatic passports [as Segnor and Segnora Robert Alleny Villa Garcia]

1920                              In Berlin- Met several communist leaders of different countries of Europe

            May – October

                                       Reached Moscow (May), meeting  with Lenin

                                       Second congress of Communist international

                                       Membership of Mali Bureau of C.I., Mission to Tashkent

                                       Establishment of India House and Military School.
                                       Formation of Communist Party of India in Tahkent

1921 April                  Establishment of University of toilers of the East.

            May                  Closure of Military School

            June – July      Third Congress of Comm.Int.

            Sept.                 Manifesto to Ahmedabad session of Indian National Congress

            Dec.                  Publication of  ‘India in Transition’, Russian Edition ( Eng. Edition

                                       middle  of 1922.)

1922 April                  Shifting of Head Quarters to Berlin.

            May                   Publication of  “Vanguard

                                       Peshawar  Communist  Conspiracy Cases; live upto 1927.

            Nov.                  Fourth Congress of C.I. Elected to Executive Committee of C.I.

            Dec.                  Manifesto to Gaya Session of Congress.

1924 June – July        Fifth Congress of C.I. Election to C.I. bodies, Kanpur Communist  Conspiracy Case. 


1927 Jan. -  Aug.        Mission to China.

           Aug.                    Returned from China to Moscow.

            Oct.                    In Berlin to resume activities relating to India

1928 Feb.                    In  Moscow  to attend 7th  plena. m of ECCI.

          April                   Flight from Moscow.

1929 march               Meerut Communist Conspiracy Case.

           Dec.                    Expulsion from C.I.

1930 Dec.                   Unlawful return to India.

1931 March               Attended Karachi Session of Congress

1931 July                    Arrested in Bombay after seven months of Under ground activity.

          Aug. – Dec.       Trial in Kanpur.

1933 Jan.                    Sentence of transportation for twelve years. Later reduced in appeal to six years’ rigorous imprisonment.

1936 Nov.                  Release from Dehra Dun Jail.

           Dec.                  Attended Faizpur Session of the Congress.

1937 April                  Publication of  “Independent India.”

1939 March               Attended INC  Session in Tripuri.

                                      Formation of League of Radical Congressmen.

1940 March               Contested election to INC presidentship.

           May                   First study Camp in Dehra Dun.

           Oct.                    Resigned from INC on the issue of the World War II.

           Dec.                   Formation of Radical Democratic Party. 

                                      Formation of National Democratic Union.

1941 Nov.                  Establishment of Indian Federation of   Labour.

1942 Dec.                   Second Conference of RDP.

1944 April                  Publication of Peoples’ Plan.

           Dec.                   Third Conference of RDP.

1945                           Publication of Draft Constitution .

1946 Aug.                   Establishment of Indian Renaissance Institute at Dehra Dun.

            Dec.                  Fourth RDP Conference and adoption of Twenty-Two Thesis.

1947 May                   Study Camp in Dehra Dun.

1948 Dec.                   Dissolution of RDP at the fifth conference of the Party.

1952 June                  Accident at Mussoorie leading to prolonged illness.

1954 Jan.                    Death in Dehra Dun