21 Jul 2018 06:30am IST
Teotonio R. de Souza
I feel honoured to accept the invitation of the Herald Group to resume the publication of my OpEds in the Herald as its veteran columnist after a break of about a year and half. I had started writing fortnightly columns for Herald in November 2008. The break came in August 2016 due to my refusal to write exclusively for Herald. My contention was and continues to be: without competition there is little chance of quality control.
The only interest in writing in newspapers or serial journals was to make the results of my research and the research of other scholars reach beyond scholarly books which will always have a limited readership. Even after much research and scholarly publications for several decades since mid 70s of the last century, I found it discouraging to witness that the general public continues to be fed by half-baked journalistic narratives made palatable with sauce of sensationalism to suit political tastes.
My urge to neutralise this tendency had to get over the feelings of the academia which is probably happy to bask in the aura of scholarship as something above and beyond the ken of popular intelligence. However, any scholar who is committed to social issues and well-being of the society cannot watch being sidelined by what only recently and very timely, the American President Trump has classified as Fake-News.
It is an old phenomenon that goes back to the rise of journalism which served for the propaganda of the ideals of Liberal Politics in the first quarter of the nineteenth century Europe, but the ongoing digital globalisation and its impact upon the recent American presidential elections has made us further aware of the propaganda power of the media.
We must admit that President Trump has a method in his madness. He has tweeted successfully his way through the prevailing media dominance of the Democrats and almost announced their doom. This new reality was partly responsible to make me withdraw and reflect during the past one year upon my earlier conviction of sharing research scholarship with the general public.
As a professional historian and committed to public welfare, I continue to believe that I need to strike a balance between academic research publications and sharing my knowledge with the common folk, who cannot be left to be prey of the fake-reconstructions by fundamentalist bhakts and female Hindu jihadists who wish to vent their personal frustrations or to create a media niche for themselves through YouTubes for instigating ignorant masses by citing some conveniently selected tit-bits from paperback history.
In the introduction to his edition of The Bhagvadgita (reprint of Orient Paperbacks: Delhi, 1980) MK Gandhi tells us that in the last 19 stanzas of Chapter 2 he found the essence of dharma. He calls them the embodiment of the highest knowledge based upon immutable principles, a knowledge based upon experience, and a key for the understanding of the Gita.
Mahatma Gandhi adds several caveats to ensure a credible reading and understanding of shastras, stating that it is not enough to be learned to read them, but should also be virtuous to understand them. Gandhi tells us: “Those who are devoid of the spirit and lack even faith, are not qualified to explain the meaning of the Shastras”.
The Christians, who are conversant with the New Testament of the Bible, will agree that also the devil quoted Holy Scriptures to suit his evil intentions and lead Jesus into displaying his divine powers. It was a temptation to assume political leadership with a display of feeding miraculously the hungry masses.
Jawaharlal Nehru was not an historian, but his The Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History can be considered masterpieces of historiography and can be presented as model for any professional historian. I would suggest to some of the self-styled experts on Goa Inquisition to read some chapters of these books. They will find that there is no tolerance there for any religious bigots, whichever the religion.
Jesus refused to start his mission by betraying it at the very start. Suffering and death were not to be shunned as the only means of redemption for a humanity tainted with greed and material pleasures. His existential choice meant a disappointment to the radical Jews who believed in a Messiah who would lead the people of Israel against the Roman political yoke.
There is no denying the fact that the present is a product of historical evolution, and many of the historical developments were made possible by collaboration of the natives who were victims of exploration by class and caste structures. All cultures imply manipulation of masses by the dominant groups to promote and ensure their group interests. In ancient India they organised the caste system and defined the dharma for the faceless and helpless masses. These were left to face their karma to pay for their helplessness.
The author is the Founder-Director of the Xavier Centre of Historical Research, Goa (1979-1994) and Fellow of the Portuguese Academy of History (1983- )