Hindu Scriptures Encouraged Dissent– Why Call Us ‘Anti-National’?

In a democratic state, ensuring transparency is the duty of the elected ‘rulers’. That's why the rulers are subjected to scrutiny, and for the proper functioning of the state, it is necessary for the rulers to be ready for scrutiny. Part of the process of scrutiny is asking questions to the elected government. However, the questions which merit a response, should be based on reasoning.

Today’s ‘rulers’ are not ready to be questioned or challenged or criticised. Questioning the status-quo earns one the title of ‘anti-national’. What the representatives of the people forget is that, answering the questions actually clear the air, whereas refusing to answer, solidifies the doubts raised. After all, doubts can be strong, and need only winds to spread like rapid fire.

Spirit of Inquiry

In reality, asking questions is a good habit, and must be encouraged. In fact, in ancient Indian culture, asking questions – based on reasoning – was considered to be a fundamental principle of human life. In the Vedic era, the spirit of debate flourished. Often, those highly-regarded in society, used to face questions to prove their knowledge and intelligence in front of an assembly (sabha). One such debate can be found in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, where Gargi, one of the learned women of the Vedic age, asks questions to Yajnavalkya, a great sage of the Vedic era credited to have authored the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the first Upanishad.

Yajnavalkya decisively answered all the questions posed by Gargi, without labeling any charges against her for questioning his authority. As a result, the debate actually turned out to be a significant discussion with details about the Brahman, the ‘Ultimate Reality’ in the universe, according to Hinduism.

The ‘Gargi and Yajnavalkya’ debate shows how Indian tradition has always been tolerant to questions. An important point to be noted is that Gargi was not labeled as a traitor or as a woman with bad intentions for asking questions to Yajnavalkya, even when she questioned the origin of all existence. Rather, the ancient Hindu texts celebrate Gargi as a great learned woman.

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Rejection of Dogma & Spirit of Questioning, In Our Hindu Texts

The Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda, the first religious scripture of Hinduism, questions the knowledge of God regarding the origin of the universe. The Upanishads question the authority of the priests in society, which was later followed by Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and Mahavir Jain, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. Mahavir also inquired about the existence of God. Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, raises questions on renunciation of society to live a life of a wanderer, a key aspect in Buddhism and Jainism.

The six schools of Hinduism — Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Mimansa, Vaisheshika and Vedanta — formulated their theories, asking questions based on reasoning, just like Buddhism, Jainism and other prevalent schools, by rejecting the prevalent dogmas of society.

There was Ajivika, a heterodox school of Indian philosophy, which questioned the concept of karma, one of the key aspects in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Not to forget the Charvaka, India's early atheistic school of thought, which rejected karma, religious rites and reincarnation — another important belief of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.

These clearly tell us that asking questions, whether challenging the authority of the priests or the prevalent dogmas in society, or the existence of God, have always been a tradition in India. Moreover, questioning and debate had immensely contributed to the progress of ancient Indian society.

Considering that questioning and debate were an integral part of ancient Indian society, it is surprising that we are regressing today, by crushing the spirit of inquiry. Asking relevant questions don't amount to treason, and they should always be encouraged for the development of society and the state.

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(Sagarneel Sinha is a freelance writer from Tripura who writes on politics, foreign affairs and Indian mythology. He tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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