Irfan Engineer

(Secular Perspective June 1-15, 2021)

Mahatma Gandhi once profoundly stated – Truth is God. Truth is used in many senses – one being a philosophical statement or a doctrine which has evolved from pursuit of knowledge. We gain (or attain) knowledge which has universal application through practical incidences and events, studied observations, life experiences, meditation, research, or even revelations from God. When Gandhiji said “Truth is God”, he meant it in philosophical sense. To know and realize God, one has to relentlessly pursue knowledge. Pursuit of knowledge entails exploring new frontiers, knowing the laws of nature, searching doctrines having even more universal application, and even questioning the prevailing beliefs and truths. Pursuit of knowledge is opposite of acceptance of, and submission to prevailing beliefs; submission to authorities and institutions that enforce the prevailing beliefs. Affirming God as Truth is affirming knowledge and accepting rebellion of sorts, exploring new truths and higher truths. Various philosophical and theological schools are an example of the truth in this sense. For example, the doctrine – ekam sat; vipra bahuda vadanti – truth is one, wise people have described it differently.

Truth in this sense is not opposite of lies and falsehoods, but that of untruths – ignorance, knee jerk and lazy conclusions that do not have universal application, acceptance of half-truths, prejudices or simply put, unknowledge. Few people stand up for the truth they believe in, fewer still have conviction strong enough to suffer and even die for it. Nelson Mandela suffered imprisonment for 27 years. There were five attempts on the life of Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer by the orthodox sections and his home and office were completely destroyed, but he did not budge from his convictions. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Jotiba Phule, and many others suffered immensely for their conviction in social justice, equality of all human beings and the liberation from oppression of the most marginalized sections.

Truth in another sense means to be factual or to be correct, i.e., minus the falsehoods. Lies is the exact opposite of truth in this sense. One speaks lies when one knowingly and deliberately makes incorrect and false statements or claims, with an intention to mislead someone; or to personally gain something unfairly and without deserving it; or to escape an inconvenient situation. At times lies are spoken not for a personal gain, but for a greater good that harms no one. For example, we give a (false) hope to a suffering patient that s/he will be alright. Such hope harms no one, it only helps the sufferer to cope with her suffering. Another instance of lies is to save someone’s life without harming anybody else’s interests, e.g., anyone who tells a patient in ICU of a hospital that her (patient’s) relative and co-traveller in the accident is alive when s/he is not; or when during the freedom movement one lied to a British official regarding the whereabouts of a revolutionary.

Most ordinary and humble human beings may have lied some time or the other for his/her gain, even when it does not harm anyone else. For example, a child not admitting to having stolen a cookie or a chocolate. Over consumption of the stolen cookie harms the child’s health and hence the restrictions enforced by the parents. It may not unfairly deprive anyone else. Cookies are replaced by alcohol and smoking as one grows up to be an adult. However, lies may be resorted to in order to gain personally (or gain for someone else s/he is interested in, or a group s/he belongs to) and simultaneously harm the interests of a person or a social group unfairly. They seek to deprive deserving people of fair treatment in terms of family properties, inheritance, economic resources, government welfare schemes, job opportunities, livelihoods, or their fair share in common resources of the country or in representation in political and other institutional offices. All right-thinking persons should oppose such lies, an indeed Mahatma Gandhi did. Such lies or falsehood become not only undesirable, they amount to structural violence in a broader sense, as it is calculated to harm someone, deprive or cause pain to someone, although not physically. For example, prejudices against the weaker sections – Dalits, women, adivasis, ethnic and religious minorities, etc.

When anyone says that women are physically and mentally weaker, or that God has made them only to bear and care for children, to serve menfolk and cook in the kitchen, it is a lie which deprives them of educational opportunities, many job opportunities, inheritance, participation in sporting events, and helps to keep them confined to home. In order to avail these opportunities, women have to surmount huge barriers – mental barriers, constructed by lies and cultural-structural barriers of social prejudices against them. Likewise, the lies that the Dalits are mentally weak, meant only for physical labour and menial jobs, helps to deprive them of education and decent salaried jobs. Similar lies are being spread about the adivasis, religious and linguistic minorities by a very small but highly organized and resourceful coterie of right-wing ideologies. Those who hold such beliefs may be believing in it although mistakenly. However, the right-wing coterie knows that the stereo-types they are spreading are incorrect. They are cultural gate-keepers and want to get rid of – what they think are – impurities, viz. the targeted marginalized group, and to achieve uniform culture. Else, seek privileges and superior rights for their community and ensure that other cultures are marginalized and do not pose any threat. Spreading lies far and wide through powerful media, organizations and platforms they create and control is an instrument in their hands to achieve their objective. They spin clever negative discourses that appeal to the emotions of their subjects whom they wish to unite and mobilize and arouse hatred in their hearts against their targets. The cultural gate-keepers who seek to maintain purity of their community exists in almost all countries in the name of religion, nationality, race, ethnicity and language.

Truth as a journey, not destiny

Truth in the philosophical sense which Mahatma Gandhi referred to is not a destiny, but a journey. Human beings are incapable of comprehending the whole truth, the ultimate truth and the absolute truth. The universe is so infinitely and incomprehensibly vast with trillions of micro and macro processes, laws and nature that the human mind with all its limitations would utterly fail. Therefore, to believe that anyone has grasped and fully comprehended the whole, entire and absolute truth or The Truth and there is nothing else to know, is either misguided or misguiding others. Followers of religion often believe that their religion is the only true religion. Others are false or misguided. That they know The Truth and have arrived at their destiny. Others must also likewise realize and accept The Truth or be punished for not accepting it or even eliminated. Hitler propagated superiority of the Aryan race. The Truth for him was that Aryans are destined to rule the world.

V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar propagated that the Hindu race or Hindu nation was most tolerant and that all The Truth was in the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures. The Hindu nation should be purged, according to them, of Muslims and Christians whom they called foreign races and Islam and Christianity as foreign religions. Else the Muslims and Christians should live as second-class citizens without any rights and think only of the glory of Hindu nation. Mohammed Ali Jinnah propagated his “truth”. That Muslims were a separate nation, that Islam was entirely separate system and way of life – not merely a different religion. Muslims and Hindus therefore could not co-exist in any arrangement within one state. Jinnah, through his powerful speeches, petitions, and political party – All India Muslim League – convinced a section of the Muslim community that they would be oppressed by the Hindus. The fact is that except ways of worship and some differences in religious observances, Hindus and Muslims shared common culture – language, traditions, customs, performing arts, food and dress, history, heroes and many other things. Jinnah whipped communal feelings on these lies.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India, that he believed all religions were true, including the Quran and the Bible. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad likewise believed that every Muslim is obligated to accept that all religions are true. However, human understanding of these scriptures may fail them. Truth is therefore not a destiny, but a journey which every seeker must undertake. It is not enough to have true scriptures. The truth seekers task is to strive to understand the true import of the scriptures in their context, and the context continuously evolves along with human knowledge and developments. The seeker is humble enough to know that she alone is not capable of understanding the true meaning of the scriptures. She must therefore dialogue with other seekers to try to grasp a fuller aspect of the truth. It is somewhat similar to the story of the elephant and the 7 blind persons called upon to describe the elephant. The elephant is akin to the higher truth and the blind persons compare with the seekers. Together alone they can comprehend what an elephant is.  However, even together their comprehension of the elephant will be very limited. To know more, they will have to dissect it to understand trillions of processes in various organs of the elephant that make an elephant. No matter from which scripture one starts the journey to seek truth, if one’s attempts are honest, genuine and less prejudicial, less circumscribed by prevailing understanding, the farther one may be able to reach transcending all the preset limitations of understanding. The new stations of knowledge one may arrive at may be only a temporary station to be in turn transcended. Other religious scriptures and seekers of other traditions are not a hurdles in this journey, they are co-pilgrims, comrades and support.

However, more one is convinced of possessing The Truth, and the more one is sure of the destiny, less the importance s/he gives to the means to reach the destiny. Every means – fair and foul, peaceful or violent, harmonious or destructive and harmful – are justified. The means is chosen not for its fairness, but for the pace at which it would take the follower to the destiny. The quicker the better. Lies, deceit, falsehood, violence, destruction, all are fair so long as it takes to the utopian destiny in fastest possible time. For the truth seeker on the other hand, it would not be possible to seek truth without fair and just means that do not harm anyone.

Those motivated by political ideologies of superior rights of one section of people or superiority of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, language or nationalism, seldom value truth. They believe in establishing superiority on the basis of might and ideology backed by all sorts of lies. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister believed that if a lie was repeated often and backed by the powers that be, people would start believing it as a truth. The Jews were demonized and falsely blamed for the misery of German people. Nazis propagated that the Jews had begun a war of extermination against Germany when they were less than 1% of German population in the year 1933. A big lie is a propaganda technique which believes that a gross distortion and misrepresentation of the facts is so colossal that no one will believe that someone could have the impudence to so distort the truth. In other words, if the lie spoken is big enough, people believe that it has to be true because no one would dare to distort the truth that much. His other big lie was that Germany was not defeated in the First World War in 1918, it was betrayed by an internal group – the Jews. Germany therefore had a right to annihilate the Jews in self-defense. No one asked for any proof as the lie spoken of was big enough.

Hitler believed that the people should be continuously bombarded with (false) propaganda and never allowed them to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it (Wikipedia, n.d.). The lies about Jews were proclaimed in their radio broadcasts. Truth, Goebbels believed, was the enemy of lies and therefore it has to be strongly suppressed and any dissent repressed.

Donald Trump attempted his big lie that he had won the US Presidential elections in 2020. Though his loyal followers were convinced of his victory and attacked the Capitol Hill to stall the electoral college voting process, he failed in convincing the people with his big lie as the same had to be tested in the US courts of law which required evidence. Trump’s gamble in proclaiming the big lie about his victory was that he would be supported by a section in the US Army who would refuse to accept the results of the US Presidential elections in 2020 and he would be able to continue for the second term in the office.

The political ideology of Zionism is unfortunately employing the same technique of big lie. They in the past claimed that Palestine was not inhabited and was land without people and the Jews were people without land. That Palestine was their promised land to which only they had the rights. That they are a democratic country, that they are victims of terrorism of Palestinian people, that there is an existential threat to them, that they their precision bombs target Hamas fighters and not the schools and hospitals of the Palestinians in Gaza. Do we in India hear similar big lies being propagated?

Bigger the lies, greater the gains to those propagating it and more destructive it is causing harm to the interests of a large number of people, depriving them substantially, even pauperizing them. If there ever was a method to measure the violence involved in falsehoods and lies, perhaps they would reach the conclusion that lies are becoming more and more violent and harmful. Big lies would not be possible without the power and might of the state and its institutions, including media, educational institutions, security apparatus, submissive judiciary and suppression of human rights. Big lie supports, and is in turn supported by, the belief in The Truth. More popular the belief in and submission to The Truth in the form of religious or political ideology more destructive the big lie can become. Big lie also needs centralization of authority in a charismatic leader. Lies are being weaponized and used as an instrument to subjugate the section targeted by it and dominate over them. Inventing and spreading lies continuously leads to prejudicing the minds and hearts of members of the dominant section against the targeted community leading to a feeling of disgust against them.

Situation in India

We are living in the age of the internet and the age of information. However, big lies pervade our lives and make most of us live in a falsely constructed world with the help of lies. If you fall for these lies, you will believe that Hindus are a nation (not civilization) since times immemorial, that India had invented aircrafts, plastic surgery, nuclear weapons and all the advancements achieved by science today, and Hindus had already invented 5,000 years ago. That Ramayana and Mahabharata are not only our epics that guide us, they are our history and enacted just as Ramanand Sagar depicted it on the TV screens. There is no explanation why then we lost to the invading foreign armies, including the British. That the Hindus were enslaved by the Muslim rulers who tried to destroy their culture completely and demolished their temples and places of worship, their literature etc. and converted them by force to Islam. Do not ask why they utterly failed in destroying major temples and in converting such a small section of population even after more than 10 centuries of their rule. That the Muslim rulers are responsible for the caste system. That Muslims are terrorists, have a separatist mentality, they cow slaughterers, love jihadists, Corona jihadists, that their places of worship were constructed after and over the destruction of Hindu places of worship. There are many such lies being invented quite frequently and blame for everything that goes wrong in the country is laid at their doors.

Sudarshan TV wanted to telecast a series of episodes on Muslims who succeed in the UPSC examination terming it “UPSC Jihad” of Muslims, some sort of fraud through which they were entering the civil services. The propaganda of “Corona jihad” had a widespread influence. Many who till then had not been affected by the anti-Muslim propaganda also started blaming Muslims for the spread of Covid-19. People did not question the laxity in allowing large number of foreigners to come unchecked and without quarantining them into India until 24th March 2020. The opposition was warning, yet Government sponsored gatherings were allowed without any restrictions, including gathering of over a lakh people to welcome Donald Trump, the then President of the US. To divert attention, only one gathering of about 3,000 people in the Markaz in Nizamuddin was targeted. When people were dying in the second wave of Corona without hospital beds and without oxygen concentrators and ventilators, even after the Prime Minister claimed success in the war against the Covid-19 pandemic, it was being claimed that there was no oxygen shortage. We could cite many such examples of the big lies method which is increasingly being practiced and now with the aid of social media and IT cells through fake videos.

The Jews of coursed suffered in Nazi Germany. However, did non-Jews not suffer? Muslims and Christians are being targeted through big lies. However, are the non-Muslim and non-Christians doing very well and remain unaffected by the big lies? Let us try to empower ourselves and keep ourselves properly informed and let us all keep our eyes open to all sources of information and knowledge. As Gandhiji said, Truth is God.

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