The Hyderabad police have registered a case against renowned social scientist Kancha Ilaiah, after Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists complained that an opinion piece he wrote in the Telugu newspaper Andhra Jyothi had hurt their religious sentiments.

They filed their complaint at Hyderabad’s Sultan Bazar Station was filed on May 9, the day Ilaiah’s article titled Devudu Prajasamya Vada Kada? (Is God a democrat?) was published.

VHP activists Pagudakula Balaswamy, Thirupathi Naik and two others accused Ilaiah of comparing Hinduism with Islam and Christianity, insulting Hindu Gods by comparing them to mortals, mocking their worship, and for attempting to trigger clashes between upper and lower classes (by which they presumably meant castes).

On the basis of their complaint, Inspector P. Shiva Shankar Rao wrote a letter to the Senior Assistant Public Prosecutor, who advised the police to register a case under Section 153 (A) and Section 295 (A), which empower the authorities to act against people who commit deliberate and malicious acts aiming at outraging religious sentiment and spreading enmity between groups.

Case under investigation

The public prosecutor’s legal opinion led to a case being filed on May 15 against Ilaiah, the management of the Andhra Jyothi newspaper, its editor and publisher. The case is currently under investigation, at the completion of which a decision will be taken to whether to chargesheet them.

A police officer at the station told Scroll that Ilaiah is in the habit of articulating provocative views in his articles, which can and do hurt the sentiments of people. “Why does he have to make comments against practices which are dear to people?” the officer said, declining to give his name.

The central thesis of the article is that a society’s social and political structures are profoundly influenced by its conception of God and by its religious beliefs.

Three conceptions of God

Ilaiah delineates three types of Gods: an Abstract God, one who is shapeless and eternal; individuals who were prophets but were transformed into Gods; and Gods imagined as humans. Each category conveys certain ideas through their attributes, Ilaiah claims.

The Abstract God has democratic qualities, he contended. The first of these characteristics, as expressed in the Bible and the Koran, is that God “has created all human beings equal”. The second democratic character of this kind of God is that humans are created superior to all animals (including the cow), and “nature and its creatures have been created for food and other human purposes”.

Both Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammad propounded these ideas, he said. However, in contrast to the Prophet Mohammad, Christ acquired the status of God, as did Gautam Buddha, he writes. “Buddha and Jesus are against violence,” he wrote. “Their teaching inspired hopes for equality across the whole human race. Both their life stories have extended discussions on societal construction, change in man-woman relationships, desired forms of rule and democratic values.”

However, Ilaiah rates Jesus Christ ahead of Buddha in espousing democratic ideals. “His fight for the freedom of Samaritans (Dalits over there), women, Gentile men and women, slaves and prostitutes, seem to be one step ahead of the Buddha’s democratic values,” he claimed.  “He is the one who clearly stated about the necessity of separating state and religion.”

Separating religion and state

The social scientist wrote that Christ’s teachings have helped Christian countries to evolve democratic principles. By contrast, despite the great emphasis in the Koran on the equality of all humans, there was no separation of religion and state during the life of Prophet Mohammad and during the reign of the four Caliphs. This may be why dictatorships have dominated Muslim countries, which have feeble democratic traditions, Ilaiah suggested.

Next, Ilaiah turns to the third category – God as imagined as humans. Though this type of Gods is found around the world, he says it is only in India they are divided into two entities: “Vishnu and his clan of incarnations” and “Shiva and the divine powers created around him”. The Saiva school’s impact on contemporary India was limited, he writes. It did not really create social-political principles. By contrast, institutions and political parties in India have declared “spiritual and political allegiance to Vaishnavism and its Gods”.

Ilaiah, therefore, suggests that it is more important to study the impact of Vaishnavism on Indian society. The narratives and imagery around Rama and Krishna, who are incarnations of Vishnu, involved violence and weaponry such as the chakram, bow and arrow and the trishul (trident), he writes. This has a bearing on human relations, he contends.

Caste identities

Ilaiah also alleges that these narratives contain what he calls the “counter-democratic process”. The fact that these Gods have identities rooted in the Kshatriya caste “has greatly helped in building an undemocratic system”, he wrote.

The article ends with a few questions: “If the God believed by a person doesn’t have democratic values, where will this person get those democratic values from? In fact, shouldn’t they explain why they create such Gods who are violent, undemocratic and anti-women?”

Ilaiah told Scroll that he was not perturbed by the case. “I am into transforming thought,” he said. “Such pressure is expected. I am not scared. My motive is to make the nation rethink its uncivilised conduct.”

Statement of support

He is not without his supporters. On May 27, Andhra Jyothi  carried a statement by 76 Telugu writers, intellectuals and artists  backing Ilaiah. The statement said, “Prof. Kancha Ilaiah wrote an article by describing the democratic values and showing how negative spiritual values come in the way of development of national economic, social and political future.”

His supporters urged his opponents to counter his arguments in articles of their own. “Instead, in order to control Prof. Ilaiah’s ideas, some forces are resorting to legal and coercive methods, which cannot be supported by anybody,” the statement said.

The statement concludes, “Today, Kancha Ilaiah’s writings are making the world think afresh. Only the communal bigots are unable to understand those ideas.”

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, published by HarperCollins, is available in bookstores.