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Indian Press on Madrasas and Sanskrit Tols, Karl Marx and Facebook: New Age Islam's Selection, 17 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

17 December 2020

• All The Same: Madrasa, Sanskrit Tols

The Telegraph Editorial

• 49 Years On, India, Bangladesh Should Deal With Unresolved Issues

By Syed Munir Khasru

• What Did Karl Marx Say About Religion

17th December 2020

• Facebook ‘Committed’ To India’s Growth. What About ‘Hate Speech’?

By Sarada Mahesh


All the Same: Madrasa, Sanskrit Tols

The Telegraph Editorial


The multiple connotations of the word ‘secularism’ sometimes contradict one another — in effect even if not semantically. The Assam government has decided to repeal the laws regarding state-run madrasas and Sanskrit tols and turn madrasas into regular high schools. Theological subjects will be withdrawn; only Arabic will continue to be taught as a language. Tols, however, will pass to the Kumar Bhaskar Varma Sanskrit and Ancient Studies University as research centres for Indian civilization, culture and nationalism.

The reason announced for the decision is secularism. The Assam government cannot be faulted: in the S.R. Bommai versus Union of India case of 1994, the Supreme Court had pronounced that state-owned educational institutions were prohibited from imparting religious instruction. But it has to be asked why there were state laws permitting madrasas under the government’s auspices that must be repealed now. Were they constitutional? Or does the definition of secularism chosen by Assam’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government now wish to ignore Articles 28, 29 and 30 of the Constitution that permit — however confusingly — government aid for minority education?

Since privately-run madrasas have so far escaped the state government’s passion for its favoured secularism, it may be a stretch to criticize its decision as communally biased. What cannot be denied is differential treatment.

Even if it is possible to overlook the assumption that tols impart religious education — the BJP may be unaware of Sanskrit literature, aesthetics and philosophy — it seems strange that they should graduate into centres for Indian civilizational studies. Assam promises to be the first to have degrees on this subject.

Sceptics may see in the government’s desire to appear even-handed a deeper purpose: propagating one-sided views of Indian culture and nationalism. The education minister clarified there would be no history. Naturally: history would overturn BJP-directed ideas of civilization. In the S.R. Bommai case, the Supreme Court had also said that politics and religion cannot be mixed. More pointedly, it said that when the Constitution requires the State to be secular in thought and action, it applies to political parties as well. Indian secularism is far from simple. That is indicated by the constitutional provisions for the education of religious and linguistic minorities. But it is no surprise that a BJP-led government would decide to be secular in its chosen way.


 49 Years On, India, Bangladesh Should Deal With Unresolved Issues

By Syed Munir Khasru

Dec 16, 2020

As Bangladesh marks its liberation war victory day on December 16, it is a good time to look at a crucial question that was both central to that era and is relevant even in the present day: where do Delhi-Dhaka ties stand now?

Vikram Doraiswami, the Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, said in his first press briefing in Dhaka, “There is not, and will never be, a diminution of the highest level of importance that Bangladesh holds in India.” The leaders of the two nations, Prime Ministers (PMs) Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina, meet virtually on December 17, and it is clear that relations need a serious reboot.

On the economic front, Bangladesh is India’s largest trading partner in South Asia. Between 2009-10 and 2015-16, the trade deficit grew in India’s favour at a staggering 164.4%. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from India to Bangladesh is $3.11 billion, including Reliance’s $642-million 745 MW gas-fired project and Adani’s $400 million in Mirsarai Economic Zone. Despite India-Bangladesh relations being referred to as a “role model”, the irony is that in India’s Consolidated FDI policy 2017, Bangladesh is put in the same category as Pakistan. The FDI policy’s para 3.1.1 says, “A non-resident entity can invest in India…However, a citizen of Bangladesh/Pakistan or an entity incorporated in Bangladesh/Pakistan can invest only under the Government route.”

But there is good news too. Today, India and Bangladesh are better connected and goods are transported by road, rail and river routes using Bangladeshi vessels, trucks and railway. Recent agreements allow India to ship goods through Mongla port road, rail, and water routes.

The border remains sensitive. In spite of Section 11 (11) of the India-Bangladesh Coordinated Border Management Plan --- which says, “Neither side will resort to the use of lethal weapons except in self-defence against terrorists or smugglers” --- at least 25 Bangladeshi civilians were killed by the Border Security Force (BSF) in the first six months of this year. On the United States (US)-Mexico border, infamous for the narcotics trade, 111 were killed by the US border patrol force since 2010. In that period, 294 Bangladeshis were killed on the Indo-Bangla border.

Water remains another difficult issue. Bangladeshis have observed the tug-of-war on the Teesta water-sharing issue between the Centre and state. Indian PMs are sometimes accompanied by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee during state visits to Dhaka; sometimes the CM has visited on her own. But all that has transpired are empty promises, as rivers run dry and farmers are cut off from their livelihood. However, during PM Sheikh Hasina’s India tour, an MoU was signed allowing India 1.82 cusecs of water from the Feni River.

India’s controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) have created a negative impression in Bangladesh of India’s intent, which the Bangladesh Prime Minister termed “unnecessary”. Syed Muazzem Ali, the late Bangladesh high commissioner to India and recipient of the Padma Bhushan, once said, “Bangladeshis are not interested to migrate to India; they would rather go to Italy.” The CAA excludes Muslims from being granted citizenship as persecuted minorities, while the NRC in Assam excluded 1.9 million people, majority of them Muslims. The NRC and CAA can’t be brushed aside as “internal matters” when they have ramifications across the border.

The China factor also adds another dimension to the ties. Bangladesh is China’s second-largest arms export destination. Chinese firms have been outbidding their Indian counterparts in infrastructure projects. Bangladesh is deftly navigating relations with its two biggest neighbours in a neighbourhood in flux. Nepal is increasingly becoming closer to China; Bhutan has withdrawn from the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) initiative, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are playing a balancing act, both rooted in Chinese investments; Afghanistan is increasingly under the Taliban’s sphere of influence as the US withdraws troops. In a thaw in relations, Pakistan’s high commissioner to Bangladesh recently met the Bangladesh PM as both sides pledged to improve bilateral relations.

If Indo-Bangla relations are to move to “newer heights”, then unresolved issues have to be dealt with soon. Any dithering on this, with the region’s only trusted partner, may prove costly for India if it wants to avoid the kind of catch-up diplomacy it has been doing in the neighbourhood in the wake of the growing Chinese threat and Beijing’s widening influence in South Asia.


Syed Munir Khasru is chairman of the international think tank, The Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG) with a presence in Dhaka, Delhi, Melbourne, Vienna, and Dubai. The views expressed are personal.


What Did Karl Marx Say About Religion

By Paul Zacharia

17th December 2020

It’s a fact that no one reads Karl Marx, except a few determined souls. Most people go by hearsay. The reason is simple: You can’t read him for fun; he is demanding. One of the most circulated hearsays about Marx is what he said about religion. His extraordinary, original vision of man’s helpless entrapment in religion has been reduced by opponents and proponents both into the one short, shabby cliché: “religion is the opium of the people”.

When Marx wrote the introduction to A Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right in 1843—the year of his marriage to Jenny von Westphalen—he was 25, a young man impatient with the philosophies and politics of his times. It is in this work of hardcore, abstruse polemics—unpublished during his lifetime—that Marx presents, in the space of a couple of short paragraphs, an examination of religion that is surpassed by little else before or after him.

It is also the translation of Marx’s text by Joseph O’Malley, the most profoundly poetic vision of all his massive body of work—except the few lyrical flights in the Communist Manifesto. References to religion are so scant in the pages of his theoretical work that it seems he accorded no importance to it except in its role as a lackey of the oppressor and a deluder of the oppressed.

About Christianity, the then dominant religion of Europe, he said: “The social principles of Christianity declare all the vile acts of the oppressors to be either a just punishment for original sin and other sins, or trials which the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, ordains for the redeemed.” True, the Marxian scenario of a proletarian revolution did not play out in Europe. Instead it was a bourgeoisie-driven capitalist upsurge that created Europe’s economic (read colonial) domination of the world—as also its post-Second World War democracies.

The often neglected fact is that the grassroots energy that spurred this transformation was the boundless power released by the secular deconstruction of Christianity that set millions of minds free. European societies who chose to get rid of the religious delusion, to firmly separate state from religion and governance from faith, raced to the top of the ladder of material and cultural progress. The portrait of religion unfurled by Marx in the introduction to his critique of Hegel is nothing less than stunning. He does it with a deft and sure hand, with bold, broad sweeps. It takes him only a few sentences to create this definitive summary of man’s religious reality.

After a quick reference to the situation of religion in Germany, he declares: “...the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism”. Religion disappoints because it offers man only a heavenly reflection of himself, not his true reality. He states: “The foundation of irreligious criticism is: man makes religion, religion does not make man.” Because, “religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again.” Religion is an alter ego created by man.  “Man,” he clarifies, “is no abstract being squatting outside the world.

Man is the world of man—state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world.” It is the topsy-turvy world of the state and society that creates religion and its topsy-turvy world view. “Religion,” he continues, “is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its solemn compliment, and its universal basis of consolation and justification.”  It is, he says, a fantastic realisation of the human essence in place of a true realisation.

The struggle against religion therefore is a struggle against a world whose spirit is consumed by religion. But there’s a contradiction because religious suffering is the expression of real suffering and at the same time a protest against suffering. Now, in a few—startlingly moving—words, Marx goes to the heart of the matter. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” Religion, he continues, therefore is the illusory happiness of the people.

To ask them to give up the illusion is to ask them to give up the condition that requires illusions. It is asking them, in effect, to change the conditions that addicts them to the opium that is religion. “The criticism of religion is, therefore,” he writes, “the embryonic criticism of this vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” He argues that religion is like a chain of imaginary flowers man wears. Criticism plucks away those flowers and enables man to throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.

It empowers him to discard his illusions and regain his senses “so that he will move around himself as his own Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself”. He continues with a statement that is dazzling in its unerring understanding of the primary tasks of history and philosophy. “It is therefore, the task of history,” Marx writes, “once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world.

It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of self-estrangement has been unmasked.” History and philosophy must help people behold the truth about the real world they live in and to recognise their true alienation, which is of this world and not of an illusory heaven. 

“Thus,” Marx concludes, “the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.” One wonders if this young 25-year-old knew he had uttered the last word on the charade that religion and politics, masquerading as each other, use to enslave nations.


(Thanks to Oxford University Press for the extracts used here from Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843), 1970, translated by Joseph O’Malley)

Paul Zacharia  is an Award-winning fiction writer


Facebook ‘Committed’ To India’s Growth. What about ‘Hate Speech’?

By Sarada Mahesh

16 Dec 2020

On 13 December 2020, the Wall Street Journal released a report, the findings of which should not have really surprised anyone. According to this, Facebook was reluctant to remove posts or ban groups belonging to the Bajrang Dal. They feared actual physical retaliation from the Hindu nationalist group and members of the Bajrang Dal, a group they classified as ‘dangerous’. The Bajrang Dal shrugged this off as being an ‘irrational fear’ as “its members don’t take part in illegal activities” and “it doesn’t have conflicts with other religious groups”.

Two days later, on 15 December, Mark Zuckerberg gushed at the thought of his company investing in the Indian economy.

It is hard not to see how contradictory the two situations are.

The past couple of years, and more so, the last few months has seen India descend from a democracy to a mobocracy. Undoubtedly, Facebook has been one of the active contributors to this transition.

Facebook’s Hold In India

It would be unfair to say that Indian legislations are unprepared for instances of hate speech. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) is armed with provisions that cover almost every type of speech that attempts to disrupt communal harmony in India. Some examples include Section 124 A (Sedition), Section 153 A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), Section 295 A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), Section 298 (Uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person).

But as constitutional law scholars have pointed out, outcomes of judgments now depend more on the judge who hears the matter, and less on the judicial philosophy.

The same judicial system that gave a 128 page judgment on hate speech, warning those in powerful positions to be mindful of the impact of their words, turned a blind eye to the submission by the Delhi Police of the absence of evidence to prove the role of three ministers in the 2020 northeast Delhi communal violence.

Facebook’s ‘Selective’ ‘Community Standards’

Facebook is no stranger to controversy – the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018 being the best evidence of this.

The Indian offices of Facebook have constantly been under the radar for failing to curb mis and disinformation on the platform. In his book ‘How to Win an Indian Election’, Shivam Shankar Singh minces no words in his explanation about how the social media teams of political parties make full use of social media platforms to assert fake news and propaganda.

This issue extends beyond election season, leading to deaths of numerous people in India. Internationally, the company has even admitted to being used to incite violence like the atrocities against minorities in Myanmar.

The ‘Ankhi Das’ Facebook Controversy

In 2020 it was revealed that Ms Ankhi Das, the now former public policy head of Facebook India, chose to prioritise her loyalty to the current government over the interests of vulnerable communities. Not surprisingly, this revelation was met with standard responses like “there will be scrutiny on what really went down.” The government as usual chose to keep a stoic silence, refusing to comment on the issue. And of course, Ms Das “stepped down” to “pursue her interest in public service”.

Ironically, around the same time, Facebook received a strongly-worded letter from the Union Minister, accusing it of making ‘concerted efforts’ to ‘reduce the reach of people supportive of right-of-centre ideology’. A clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Why Is Zuckerberg Interested In Investing In Indian Economy?

In an environment as uncertain as this, it becomes difficult to demand accountability from an international social media giant. Unlike India however, other jurisdictions are going on record to voice their concerns against Facebook. In the US for instance, there have been demands of breaking up the company. Hearings were set up where US senators questioned Facebook’s content moderation policies. Europe’s strict GDPR policy regulates the company’s data collection and use practices. The Courts in the EU are also issuing landmark rulings that force the company to take a step back and think before making any decision.

The active participation by the government through its deafening silence makes it a conducive space for the company to work in.

Civil society activists in the other jurisdictions have it easier because to some extent, they have the backing of the State. Even if the State has its own vested interests in the entire situation, of course. Already, authorities are openly violating rulings of the judiciary – research has shown that section 66A is still being used despite the highest Court of the land declaring it unconstitutional.

In a utilitarian world, companies like Facebook would be ideologically neutral. But 2020 has shown us that we are far from this sort of a world.

Well-drafted and thought-out judgments and legislations are useless in the face of a society that is being controlled by religious groups. The faces running these platforms are prejudiced, and this reflects in their decision-making process.

The judiciary should consider diverting its energy from the innumerable contempt petitions, and instead reprimand authorities for not following the law of the land. To use Mukesh Ambani’s words: “a crisis is too precious to be wasted” – we have to use this crisis to fight for systemic changes.


Sarada Mahesh is a lawyer based in Bangalore. She works as a legal researcher and aims to make the law more simple and accessible.



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