The task of giving sound foundations to economic, political, social and familial democracy cannot be carried out successfully if we fail to understand and give due weight to the characteristic features of own society, its civilizational heritage as well as the cultural aspirations of our own people. This requires a close and respectful understanding of the actual life situation of India’s diverse communities, as well as the value systems they cherish and hold dear. Unfortunately, the education system pursued in post Independence India bears a strong colonial imprint. Therefore, most of us educated elites who join the ranks of the intellectual and power elites tend to be alienated from the lives and aspirations of our own people, who have not had the opportunity to get English language based western style education. Most of us tend to treat all such people as ‘Backward’ and their value system as inherently flawed and opposed to progress. This is a major reason that most social and political reform measures tend to be top down by design and come in the form of coercive and punitive laws imposed on people without as much as informing the vast majority about new laws, leave alone building a genuine social consensus around those laws.
While many highly regarded universities in various parts of the world contain well-developed departments for the study of Indic religions, hardly any university in India has established similar departments for rigorous programs of religious and cultural studies. One of the consequences of this failure is the continuing hold of misleading stereotypes about vital aspects of Indic religious thought and cultural practices and the interrelations of ethno-religious communities living in the sub continent.
The resultant cultural impoverishment has allowed confused ideologues to manipulate cultural and religious sentiments to enflame strife and conflict between communities and impose self-hating forms of politics in their struggle for political power. They continue to use the vocabulary and worldview derived from 19th century European nationalism to define Indian reality. The ugly battles and stalemate over the writing of history textbooks for school children, for example, illustrates the superficial understanding of our common culture among the educated elite.
Therefore, it is vital to promote and encourage genuine study of our religion and culture to understand why we have neglected issues that have a profound bearing on the well being of our society. Foreign universities, despite all the resources at their command, cannot do this work as effectively as we can here because they study Indic civilization in a museum atmosphere. By contrast, studying our civilizational history within India, amidst people for whom their inherited faith systems and cultural values are a living reality, is likely to result in more relevant and deeper forms of scholarship.
From its inception Manushi has been in the forefront of promoting a serious engagement with the cultures and religions in the Indic civilization. This includes:
1) Getting reputed national and international scholars to present their studies in Manushi journal in a reader friendly manner so that this knowledge pool becomes accessible to specialists and non specialists alike. An example of this is our Tenth Anniversary Volume on Women Bhakta Poets –a first time compilation of the Lives and Poetry of Women Mystics from 6th to 17th Century India.
2) Two major international conferences in 203 and 2005 “Religions and Cultures in the Indic Civilization” in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies where Madhu Kishwar is a Professor and Director, Indic Studies Project.