Saturday, August 02, 2008

Sethu Samudram Project - Building Bridges

The Centre, the ASI and their legal outfits are fighting to clear the way for the Sethu Samudram Canal Project which proposes to connect India and Sri Lanka with a tunnel. The project has become highly controversial as it involves the destruction of Ram Sethu, an undersea formation, believed to have been made by Rama. This structure is sacred to the Hindus.

The government is being extremely insensitive and foolish – insensitive to the religious sentiments of the majority, already smarting under the appeasement given to the minorities. Surely there cannot be any world-shaking economic gain to warrant the building of the Sethu Samudram that might let loose another Rath Yatra, culminating in another Barbri Masjid and Godhra and post Godhra carnage and bomb blasts? Is the centre out to create issues and test the secular fabric of india? Don’t we have enough already on our hands?

During the trust motion. the PM accused Advani of triggering off terrorism in India by masterminding the demolition of Babri Masjid. Why does he forget that the issue was reopened by Rajiv Gandhi by permitting worship in a long defunct place of worship? Isn’t the Congress once again indulging in the same mischief with Sethu Samudram bridge?

Or, does the congress have a clandestine arrangement with the BJP? Is it a double edged strategy to provide an issue that will land BJP in New Delhi in the 2009 elections, and the Congress too but 5 years hence, by creating a situation where it can cash in on the minorities' sense of insecurity, and play the secularism card? Anything is possible in the present political scenario peopled by self seeking men and criminals, totally divorced from their conscience. We live in days when principles and ideals have only political utility.

And so, coming back to Ramasamudram controversy, it is immaterial whether Rama or Budha or Christ or Mohammed are historical figures or not. Cultures and religions have grown around them and their teachings. All of them are close to our hearts and minds and spirits. Myths, conventions, customs and rituals constitute the stuff that identities are made of. Our consciousness is pervaded by them and what they represent. Our value systems on which theories of social coexistence are based, come from them. In short, they have become inextricable part of our identity. Challenging them amounts to subverting that which gives us our identities, and therefore, our identities per se.

Nothing can be more foolish than using scientific opinions as trump cards to negate the religious sentiments of the the Hindus regarding the Ram Samudra. Faith and belief are not things that can be put under the microscope. By its very definition, faith is something that transcends reason. If something can be proved scientifically, what is the need for faith? And which scientists, or which organization or society can dismiss faith as superstition on the grounds that there is no proven ‘ truth “ in it. What is truth? Scientific truth? Is there no truth other than what is confirmed by science? True, science searches for truth; but can TRUTH be contained within the limits of science? Are there not truths which lie beyond the reach of science, outside its frontiers?

How plain and poor life would be if ‘yes’ was the answer to the last query. How insipid life would be if it is totally demystified. How incomplete life would be without the Scriptures, the myths, the rituals and cunstoms which hold forth truths of their own that science have not succeeded in annihilating. Perhaps, over a period of time, science has been theoretically challenging these truths - but has not driven them out of the hearts and minds of the people. For faith is rooted in the sixth sense which still remains a grey area for science.

The state must be sensitive to the faith of its people. It should not offend their religious sensibilities. The alternative path for Sethu Samudram is the answer, no matter how much more expensive it might prove. If the government can divert some of the mammoth funds it has in its custody that enables the type of horse trading we saw recently, ten bridges, I am sure, can be built across the Palk Straits.


  1. I don't think this will make much difference, but I have to do this.

    About the Sethu Samudram Project - I don't know how much environmental damage or economic value this project entails. So I won't make a judgment on that. However, if it is found favourable on both these counts then the government should go ahead with it. People are just waiting for an excuse for their 'religious sensibilities' to get outraged. Mollycoddling them any more would only add to the tendency. Religion has absolutely no place in public policy making. I elected my government to make rational choices for improving the life of me and my countrymen - not to pander to the 'sensibilities' of some deluded people.

    Such an attitude will create conflicts for sure, but such conflicts are necessary. We cannot simply walk away from the problem (yes, there is a problem!) and assume that everything will be in doing so we are ensuring that we are slide further down. If we had been so afraid of hurting the religious sensibilities of people, we would have still gone on believing that earth is the centre of the universe and that the world is flat.

    I agree that our value systems are based on religion. That doesn't mean that it is right. It also doesn't mean that it can't be made better. Civilizations have progressed only because they dared to challenge widely-held beliefs. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ himself offended the religious sensibilities of a lot of people with his teachings and so did Budha and Mohammed - why doesn't that seem wrong now? Our value systems can be made better by ensuring that religion remains a private matter of an individual and not a defining factor in public decision-making.

    The ancients Greeks (or was it the Romans?) believed that the stars were pinpricks on the heavenly fabric through which the light of the heavens filtered through. It sounds very poetic and beautiful. But our knowledge of what stars really are and the mechanisms behind their twinkle-twinkle hasn't diminished the beauty or the child-like wonder that stars evoke. If anything, it has only opened up more vistas for wonderment and imagination.

    Science is the study of the world as it is - so there is nothing beyond the scope of science. But science has not got anywhere near answering all the questions. There is also no truth beyond the reach of science - it's only a matter of time. And this doesn't make life poor or plain - in fact, it's when somebody says 'And this is how god made everything' that life becomes plain and meaningless. This understanding only enriches us and provides a gazillion more reasons to seek and understand. We may never get to the ultimate pinnacle of knowledge, but it promises to be one hell of a journey!

  2. @ Philip
    great post!

    but let’s agree to disagree.

    the demolition of ram sethu is believed by environmentalist to expose keala coast to tsunamis but that is not the issue here.

    ‘However, if it is found favourable on both these counts then the government should go ahead with it’
    At what cost? guess u were too young to know the sense of insecurity we went thru when ayodhya crisis reached it peak. after the babri masjid demolition, we were petrified. that generation which were traumatized by the govt’s populist move to open babri masjid always prefer to take the attitude of let sleeping dogs lie.

    ‘I elected my government to make rational choices for improving the life of me and my countrymen ‘– do u think u will get an improved life if this project is pushed thru ignoring the protests? besides, i have s different definition for 'rational'.

    ‘Religion has absolutely no place in public policy’
    – agreed, but perhaps in a country like the pre-90s USSR or people’s republic China. In India it cannot be wished or willed away.

    ‘Religion has absolutely no place in public policy making.’
    what if we substitute religion with culture? is it possible not to factor in that? are we going to be happy with a dispensation that does not provide for our culture/identities? could USSR suppress it despite all its 60+ years efforts? does man live by roti kapda alone?

    my point was if sethu samudram project is going to trigger off another wave of communal trouble that’ll disrupt normal life , look for an alternative- leave the formation as it is, and look for the alternatives that they say exist. look at the way karunanidhi is politicizing it.

    All I am saying is. I elected my govt. to ensure a safe and secure life for me. if respecting entrenched beliefs is necessary for it, the govt. must show the maturity and common sense to do it – as long as there is no violation of human rights in these beliefs, let them alone.(that's a rational decision - best to allow situations to decide what is rational vis a vis good governance). beliefs cannot be done away by the stroke of a pen. man must eveolve out of them. someday it’ll happen – till then let things be.

    nevertheless, I appreciate your idealism.

    regarding science – true, the knowledge it opens out enriches life. I appreciate its quest for truth – but not its high handedness. it’s foolish and arrogance for science to say that what lies beyond its scope is not’s unscientific to say that. I believe there are truths which lie beyond the the cognative, rational and intellectual faculties of man. but I cannot give microscopic evidence to prove that.:-) till science proves me wrong, I happy to continue believing it.

    thank you for giving me a chance to sort these issues to myself.

  3. Excellent comments from both of you..Unlike other topical blogs the discussion is very mature and constructive here..

    I empathise with both yours and Philip's ..

    Sethu Samudhram project is just one of the many projects are we going to shelve based on sentiments..? Religious or the otherwise..I dont mean disrespect to religion, what i mean is contorting of sentiments by political parties to cater their selfish intentions..We are a country that cannot afford to have reigion based politics and any such attempts have resulted in disastrous results.

    "sethu samudram project is going to trigger off another wave of communal trouble that’ll disrupt normal life " Who creates the trouble here? Who instigates those?Those are the answers that trouble me.

    Am not aware of the scriptures..But if this project shakes the faith of millions of people I would say its not worth it!!


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