ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Response to Meera Nanda’s Article

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Meera Nanda’s article on “Ambedkar’s Gita” (EPW, 3 December 2016) is written in the context of some misguided calls to declare the Bhagavad Gita as a “national book,” whatever that means. Though a student of the Gita and also its admirer, I do not share this enthusiasm, nor do I endorse any call to make it an exclusive textbook for moral education. But the Gita does contain many positive features just like scriptures of other religions. The scriptures of every religion have both plus and minus points, which need to be interpreted in the light of ethical values of justice and also rational reasoning as Ambedkar pointed out, and as reiterated by Meera Nanda. Up to this point I agree with her. But I do not agree with her in her broad-brush condemnation of it, particularly with her conclusion that if the test of justice and reason is applied to it, “nothing much is left of it” (p 44).

On the one hand, she seems to insist on a literal interpretation of all scriptures, which, however, amounts to “religious fundamentalism” according to Karen Armstrong (1999, 2001). On the other, she does not want to go by the text of the Gita but imputes her own prejudiced interpretation to it. This is particularly evident in her explanation of the famous verse on chaturvarnyam mayaa srishtam guna-karma-vibhagashah (4.13), which occupies much of the space of her article. Guna actually means only merit or aptitude or qualification, and karma means only work, and the verse only means that the division of varnas was created or emerged only on the basis of qualification and work, and there is no reference to birth. P V Kane has observed that if Krishna wanted to say that the system is based on birth, he could have straightaway used the words, janma-karma-vibhagashah, or jaata/jaati-karma vibhagashah. That would not have violated the metre either (Kane 1990: V–II: 1635–6). Meera Nanda, however, insists on interpreting it to mean that what is referred is the caste system based on birth, and considers karma as determined biologically (“biological determinism”). This amounts to twisting the Gita to suit her prejudice and purpose.

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Updated On : 20th Jan, 2017

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