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Re-configuring and Re-defining the motto of today's NLS



The Law and Society Committee conducted a talk on “Re-configuring and Re-defining the Motto of today’s NLS” on 9th October, 2021. Over the course of the talk, Prof. (Dr.) V.S. Elizabeth and Prof. (Dr.) V. Vijayakumar presented their views on the motto, with Prof. Shraddha Chaudhary moderating the session. The following piece is a transcript of the talk, edited for clarity and the illustration is by Kajal Jamdare (BA LLB 2025). Transcription of the talk is by the Quirk Team, with Chiranth S (BA LLB 2025) as Editor-in-Charge.


Anchal: Thanks a lot for spending your Saturday morning for this. It’s something really important. It’s our motto. It defines us and it is meant to guide us, even today. “dharmo rakshati rakshitah” means protector protects the one who protects it. However, it has been borrowed from the Manu Smriti which has a casteist connotation to it and it is on us to redefine and reconfigure it. Today we have Professor Vijaykumar, who is a founding faculty of NLSIU. He has taught at NLS and has also been a registrar at NLS. He knows NLS inside and out. He is one of the best people to speak about what NLS stood for when it was founded. Then we have with us, Professor Elizabeth, who has taught us all history, she has taught us dharma, about what it means and the implications of the same. She has broadened our horizons when it comes to understanding gender and caste. Since she has been associated with NLS for so long and has defined, and changed the evolution of NLS in so many ways we thought of also having her perspective in today’s discussion regarding what our motto means to us today. And then finally, we have with us Ms. Shraddha Chaudhary, a student of NLS, who is very interested in history and very much capable of bringing her own perspective on the table regarding what NLS should mean to today’s generation and what a motto that was adopted back in the 1980s, should mean for us today in 2021. She is presently pursuing her PhD at Cambridge University and she will be moderating this session.


Shraddha: ‘dharmo rakshati rakshitah’ as Anchal has already mentioned, is drawn from the Manu Smriti, verse 815. It translates to, as she said, ‘those who protect dharma are protected by dharma’. And the context is that when dharma is attacked or destroyed, it destroys and when it is preserved then it preserves. That is the context behind the entire verse. There is a lot of debate about what the term dharma means, whether it has a purely ritualistic context or whether it has a more universal, abstract concept in terms of duty or justice. And we look at other texts, such as the Mahabharata where it is also quoted, then we get some sense of how it might be used in a more abstract sense. But even when in some contexts dharma might appear to be used in a broader sense as an ethical duty, or the right thing to do in a situation, that itself does not itself tell us everything that we would like to know and it doesn’t absolve the term of the context in which it emerges, i.e. a casteist context or an unjust context. The idea of ethics or duties is not value neutral and is informed by context. They vary based on who these ethics are meant for, what situations they are meant for, and that can then change the meaning quite a bit. This is true not just for philosophies that draw from ancient texts in the Indian subcontinent but perhaps for all philosophical traditions and especially religious philosophy, because of the change of context of religious philosophy from the time when they originally emerged. Even if you consider ethical traditions whose roots are overtly religious, the contestations over their meanings are inevitable. Across the world, you see people debating and discussing what certain terms in different religious texts might mean and how they apply to our context today. Through these discussions and through this dialectic, to go ‘Hegalian’ here, I think some synergistic consensus can emerge and therefore it is valuable to be having these discussions.


Professor Vijayakumar, we would like to know how far the idea of justice featured in this vision, what exactly it was and how the interplay between the ideas of justice and dharma were thought about and articulated. We would also like to hear from you on whether this motto needs a relook, given its origins, and especially its source. And if so, what are some of the principles that we should keep in mind as we do look at this afresh as we are today? And with that, Professor, I cede my time to you – please go ahead.


Prof. Vijayakumar: Thank you, Shraddha. Good morning to everyone present here. Why do we have to think in terms of reconfiguring and redefining the motor of today's NLS? And is it possible for you to do it? I would simply observe because whatever I say is my own understanding, my own way of life and my own way of behaviour — both in public and private domains. If I say something which you may not accept my sincere apologies for that. With that rider, I would like to just begin.


As a student of law and political science, I do not attach any sort of religious connotation to this motto of dharmo rakshati rakshitaha. As Shraddha very clearly mentioned, we have taken only one particular portion of that dharmo rakshati rakshitaha. But there is something before that – dharma eva hato hanti dharmo – which literally means that dharma only destroys those who destroy it, and dharma also protects those that seek to protect it. Now, I don't see anything called a Hindu religious connotation in this statement. Of course, when you look at it, coming from the ancient saints, and therefore, it is all Hindus and, then I think that is the way that we look at it. If you look at it as a text, it seeks to improve the status of the individual thinking, individual approach to oneself, to his immediate family members, to the extended family and to the community. So, these are all the levels with which the human being continues to interact. And therefore, I do not see any sort of religious connotation. I may be pardoned if somebody says, no, it is out and out Hindu. I think they are free to hold their view, and I'm not going to question that.


Now, having said that, if these are all lived philosophies, for centuries, it has some sort of ethical value; it has some sort of moral value. Therefore, it seeks to upgrade and promote the code of conduct of each and every individual. I think that's the way I look at it. In that context, if it is ethical, moral, and code of conduct for each and every individual, I would rather call this as a universal principle. It is a value. As it is a value, some people may accept it, some people may not, and those who did not accept it, I think the statement is very clear. It will destroy them. Are we here to see whether somebody is destroyed or somebody is protected? These are all,notions to keep individuals on the path of righteousness – nothing more than that. Ultimately, the value is how to lead a righteous life.


Therefore, in my 44 years of public life, as a teacher, with the students, I always believed that a person who is able to behave the same way that he behaves without a supervisor or with a supervisor, I think that is the best level of one's ethical conduct or behaviour. Am I capable of behaving in the absence of a supervisor, the way that I behave in the presence of a supervisor?


I just give an instance – in NLS, Bangalore, you will be surprised that when we had the first batch of students when the examination was on, we used to walk out of the examination hall to get a cup of tea and something to munch. And people never used to bother that in the meantime, the students would copy or they would exchange notes, or they would speak to each other. Because that was the element of trust, the code of ethics that we built. There were not four teachers and five academics, and administrative staff, supervising the students, as it happens today in the Law School, which is painful for me to look at. I think that speaks volumes about the change to behaviour if any, right? It all started off with one student trying to copy in the examination. With that student that trust is gone, and ethical behaviour also gets diluted. So, we need to mend our ways and impose supervision and punishments. And that is a place where we tinker with our ethical or moral code of conduct. I think that is why I said, it is universal in nature, if everything is pristine and clear like this, that I can leave everything in the examination hall, walk out for five minutes, right, and nothing is going to happen – I would observe that as the best part of the human behaviour, collectively, both as a supervisor and as the subjects, the students taking the examination. And that gives us what to call it as the ethical code of behaviour.


If that ethical code of behaviour comes through, I don't think anybody is hurt by this value. But on the contrary, if you look at somebody who would like to manipulate and copy something from some material, that person is doing injustice to others. He may be doing justice to himself, if that is what he thinks as justice, and therefore the connotation of justice itself has different dimensions. For that individual, he has to somehow clear the exam – that is very, very important for him. But is that doing injustice to others? I would say yes.


I would like to give a brief anecdote to you. I was teaching in Presidency College. I was not very happy in the initial stages. So, I constantly took the class on public service exams. At some point in time, I was one of the toppers in the Public Service Commission Examination Class I service. In that examination, when I went to the examination hall, I took law as a subject and constitutional law as a course – there were more than 300 students in the hall. There were a number of invigilators and others. Every individual was carrying a newspaper, some written notes or somebody even was carrying a book. And to my surprise, nobody regulated it. And I was the only one carrying nothing! Not because I'm boasting of myself, but this is what happened. The invigilator took pity on me – after half an hour he went round and came to me. Sir, everyone is copying, if you have any book outside why don’t you go and bring it and do it. I said: “Thank you. I'm a teacher. And thank you very much for your concern, you want to universalize malpractice, which I don't want to subject myself to. And I thanked him and I continued my examination. When the result came out of all those 300 people in the examination hall, I was the only one to have passed. And I call that as the end of justice, not the means. The end of justice, right?


But, this is what is regulating my behaviour as an individual. Therefore, if I'm able to work with a supervisor, the same way that I'm able to work without a supervisor, I think I stand up to the test of the statement, and I expect them to protect me. And that's the only way, right?


Is it a possible thing, that may be there are violations because all human beings do not have the same wavelength, right? And therefore, every individual is likely to behave differently from others. As another example, there was a student who was brilliant, and she was from a Scheduled Caste. And we never had any sort of distinction at the National Law School in these cases. I'll come to that development little later. Because of her background, she was the first one to have taken 8 years to complete a 5 year course at Law School. Whenever she took a repeat, failed, or re-registered, she never approached anyone, any teacher and said “Sir, I have come up to this level, will you please give me some grace marks, I have to clear the exam to go to the next year”. I would consider her as a role model and say that she stood up to the ethical value of dharmo rakshati rakshatah. Even though she struggled with all the costs, and had to spend an extra three years in the law school, I think she stood the test. And she was able to complete the course, at the Law School, which I think is the best example of this principle that I could ever give, irrespective of whether they were Schedule Caste or Schedule Tribe, or whoever it is.


With the third episode that I am about to mention, I am trying to give an episode so that people can understand the journey of law school over a period of time. And, as, when we did the first examination, the general category students were published, and then Scheduled Caste and then Scheduled Tribe. That year, the attendance was also carried out in the same format. So, everyone could know that the first 55 students belong to the general category, some of them belong to Scheduled Caste and some of them belong to Scheduled Tribe, though they might not have known who belongs to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.


Now, at some point of time, when we moved to the new campus – the present campus, a question was raised in one of the faculty meetings, “Why should we put the names of the students according to their merit in the attendance register, so that they can easily identify who belongs Schedule Caste or Schedule Tribe?” The response was quick and immediate, and a unanimous decision was taken. Dr. Menon was really marvellous in that sense, he did not say anything against it, and immediately issued orders from the next academic year. Once the admission was over, all the students' names would be organised alphabetically and the roll call would be called in alphabetical order so that they would not distinguish between those who belonged to different castes or tribes. I think this is a marvellous procedure, which I am seeking to introduce in NLIU Bhopal. And from this year onwards, we have regrouped everyone, and then put them in alphabetical order. Therefore, are we doing justice? The answer is yes, of course, this is also an element of justice, right? We do not want any of these people belonging to these categories, to be looked down upon by anybody else, be it his own peers, seniors or juniors or who are the faculty or the staff.


There is also another value that I would like to end with. The modern-day contemporary world is marred with material interest, functional interest, and so on and so forth. Everybody wants to be the gold medalist, everyone wants to top the class. I think this competition will continue, that is unavoidable. But within that competition, look at some of the people right – I still look at the student who is working at the World Bank right and who has very beautifully guided one of the students from Gujarat. So, you have to introspect as a school, the past and more so ever the present. The past has to go back, revisit the Law School and tell the students what the situation was like earlier and why it has improved or deteriorated. If improved, appreciate it, if deteriorated, tell them what is the right way of behaving. Then the element of moral behaviour will automatically come into the picture in the long run or in the years to come.


This shloka, which says ‘dharmo rakshati rakshitah’ is the universal rule of law, the universal principle of rule of law because nobody is above the law. Even in the Indian context, the king was not above the dharma, he was also subject to dharma. Therefore, today, we are talking in terms of rule of law principles, and global rule of law principles. I would rather say, this has emanated long ago, the king was not about the law, but he was also subject to law, which is an ideal principle of the international or global rule of law. I will stop here. I would say that there is no need to reconfigure or redefine the motto of the law school, right? But we have to ask the question, can we keep the motto alive and kicking and keep it so that the future generation could also understand and appreciate the central value of the NLS culture, as we have accordingly.


Shraddha: Thank you, Professor. Before I move on and invite Dr. Elizabeth, I would just like to very briefly go over some of the key points that I felt that Professor conveyed to us. Some of the things that I thought Dr. Vijaykumar was saying was that first, the place of dharma is, he stressed the place of dharma as an ethical value or a universal guiding principle for us, and the impact that it can have if it is appropriately adopted and applied as personal and institutional values. The second point that emerged was the idea of ethical conduct, as a means instead of focusing on the ends, as, a guiding light for how one should behave without considering what ends are going to be achieved by it. Thirdly, what I got was that dharma and justice are intrinsically linked, especially towards the end of his discussion Professor stressed on this – that what one's dharma is would depend on one situation and position, whether as a student or a teacher, and so on, so that can determine and govern what one's dharma is, in that situation, what ethical principles should guide us in that situation. Finally, Professor concluded by equating the idea of dharma with the larger idea of the idealized principle of rule of law or global rule of law, and Professor stressed also on the adaptation of the principle and applying it to our context now, rather than a reconfiguration.


Professor Elizabeth, could I please ask you to give us your insights as a historian here, and especially weigh in on the context of this, of this quotation, especially on whether there are, as Professor Vijaykumar also mentioned, whether there are strong Hindu links or not, especially considering I think the idea of communities having been fluid for a very long time until colonisation sort of set them in stone a lot more than they used to be. The other thing that Professor we'd like to hear from you is whether and to what extent concepts can be abstracted and removed from their contexts and across the world, we're seeing symbols of colonisation and oppression being quite literally torn down. If you see the civil rights movement in the USA, we have statues of white supremacists being torn down quite literally. And in that sense history is being reclaimed as well. And so sometimes what happens in this is that there is a conscious decision to remove that entire legacy, whether anything good is in it or not. So, in this context, Professor, as we come together to reconfigure the motto or discuss reconfiguration of the motto of NLS, what are some things that we should consider and keep in mind? And especially, I think what role the specific ideas of caste and gender justice should play in this discussion.


Prof Elizabeth – Thank you. Shraddha. Professor Vijaykumar is one of the founding faculty. He was here before even NLS actually came into existence, whereas I joined NLS some three years after it came into existence. It was when the third batch was in its second year that I actually joined NLS, yeah, and always this particular motto got me because of the fact that one, it is in Sanskrit and two, that it has its origins in brahmanical texts were two things that got me. First, while probably Vijaykumar is right in saying this principle of justice is a universal principle, the question is, why did the founding faculty or, why are people who have a particular class, caste context in India, looking to these brahmanical texts, and the knowledge contained in them as the source for inspiring and motivating people in India. The fact that India, as we know it, the India that has come into existence on 15th, August 1947, never existed prior to that. It's important to take note of that, because often times, all young nations tend to do this – draw from the past connections, which are extremely uncomfortable. This always reminds me of something that Jesus said. You don't put new wine into old bottles, you don't patch up an old cloth with a piece of new material, because the new material will shrink and the old cloth will tear. You put new wine into old bottles, the new wine will ferment, and the bottle will burst. So, keeping that in mind, it's like when you create a new nation, why do we try to draw upon the legacy of a people of the states, which did not think of themselves as India or Indians, whose imaginations were very different in terms of what they wanted for themselves and for the future, compared to, the nation that came into existence on 15th August 1947. Because, the Constitution which came into existence after that, the values enshrined in the Constitution, the debates in the Constituent Assembly, all of them tell you that the nation makers, the ones who came together to create this nation, the ones who made the sacrifices to create this nation did not think about recovering from the past, did not think in terms of reviving something from the past. Rather, when you look at the preamble to the Constitution, it tells you they were ushering in a new era, a new society with new values, and which is why I constantly questioned it. This is where, among one of few things I'm grateful to Professor Mohan Gopal for - is his insistence that our judicial officers understand that the values that they need to uphold are not their religious values, cultural values, or family's values and traditions, but the constitutional values. Because the moment we go into our own specific past, we will be recovering those things which do not synchronise with the constitutional values, the Constitutional values of justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, and dignity of the individual, it's very important to keep that in mind.

In a bid to legitimise many things, and as students of law and of history, we all know that the word is subject to interpretation, there are several meanings and several ways in which you can see it, and the way you interpret it is yours, it is not the meaning that everyone subscribes to, maybe you will have divisions based upon, our caste, class, gender, region, culture, and background. As I used to say, in the classroom in the first year, you can possibly have as many interpretations of a word as there are people in this world, but you will not have that many interpretations, what you will have are interpretations, which will fall in line with our caste, class, gender, regional, educational, and other backgrounds. Take the word dharma – dharma itself doesn't have one meaning, you can interpret it as religion, as law, as duty, and as justice. One of the things that I found interesting as I was reading up in preparation for today's discussion, is the commentary on this particular verse in the eighth chapter, and 15th verse of Manusmriti. So Manu has interpreted it as judgement, as justice. He is not seeing it as a duty, law, or religion. He says, judgement should not be perverted through fear, because justice when violated blights prosperity, as also the prosperity of the sinful party and his helpers. Similarly, when preserved, justice removes dangers from all sources, so that even though angered the party that is defeated, cannot do any harm. Hence, it must be noted that happiness and unhappiness are based upon morality, one should not violate morality, or justice, if you violate justice, justice shall like an enraged serpent strike back at us. So, lest justice blight us, that is, with a view to saving ourselves, we should preserve justice right. So that is the way in which Medhātithi saw it and therefore, the interpretation that he’s given it.


Another interesting thing is that the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of India also has the same motto dharmo rakshati rakshitaha. And for a while now I have been very uncomfortable because I'm very anti-communal. I remember walking around Nagpur, several years ago, and I found this on the top part of the gate to the headquarters of, this organisation and it was up there, and I'm like, “What did we do?” We picked up the motto that the artisan has inscribed on that arch even when we understood where it came from. It's a brahminical organisation largely consisting of Brahmins and wanting to promote a brahminical world viewpoint. And therefore, one understands why they have taken it, I can understand why the Research and Analysis Wing of the government of India took it and with the founding faculty of NLS – I'm not very surprised that they took this given the composition of the founding faculty at that time, and also keeping in mind if Professor Devidas was there at that time, if I'm not wrong, he probably was in that discussion, then I'm not surprised at all, as to the reason why this was taken.


But as students of history, it's absolutely important to not take something out of context. This is the reason why I'm such a strong advocate for an interdisciplinary approach to the study of law, because otherwise, you look at law out of context, and you can give meanings to it and interpret it in ways in which it doesn't promote justice. And we can of course, in a very abstract sense, talk about justice being done, but for me as a feminist, justice has to be practical; these abstract ideas, I cannot comprehend. Maybe it is that, but for me, it is about whether it makes sense in practice? Does it make a difference? Which is why, I say you need to look at what is the impact of what we do, what we select, what we say and what we write about because it is that which makes a difference. In an abstract sense, it may be there is justice, but as we know, our society is not equal. We are in the 75th year of India's independence, and we are still grappling with issues of gender injustice, the oppression of women, the discrimination against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the religious minorities, people from different regions and cultures in India.


I respect the women and men who drafted our Constitution, because they were absolutely clear that declaring everyone is equal under the Constitution isn't going to produce that equality. They were absolutely certain that abolishing untouchability under Article 17 isn't going to result in the abolition of untouchability. That's the reason why we have Articles 15 (3), 15 (4) etc. You just have to read the Constituent Assembly debates to understand the foresight, the farsightedness, the sensitivity with which those people drew up the Constitution and keep in mind that they were not all women, they were not all coming from very enlightened viewpoints, they were largely upper caste, upper class, educated men, largely Hindu. And in spite of it, they were conscious.


That is the reason why, when I used to teach history in the first course, I used to say refer to Carr – where he says, objectivity can be achieved when you can rise above your subjective position in time and place, which means you have to recognize you are subjective. That's the reason why when I used to come into the classroom, I would say I'm teaching history as a South Indian Christian woman. Because those things inform the way I see the world – which is why I started off with the fact that the word “dharma” is referred to as “Dharam” by, those of you who speak from the languages derived from Sanskrit, whereas, in South India, we say, Rama, not Ram, we say, Krishna, not Krishn. Because those are the kinds of things which inform the way I see things, the way in which I understand things, and therefore, the way in which I dream for India and the future.


So, when we take a phrase and keep in mind that we have picked up one part of a phrase from a whole verse, this is only one phrase in that 15th verse, which was taken out of a text, right. It is composed by several brahmanical writers, between 200 BC and 200 AD. So, 400 years of time, different people contributed to that book, which we now call the Manusmriti, or the Manu-dharmashastra, or the Manava dharmashastra, different names that are given to it, with the idea that it's somehow, the original man, or the first brahminical scholar who composed it. The fact is, it's written over, composed over 400 years, it was composed in verse form, right? Therefore, that book, that composition, composed about 2000 years ago, was composed in a period of time when Brahmins were not the dominating section of society, because this was the Mauryan and post-Mauryan period when you have Jainism and Buddhism widely prevalent throughout the Indian subcontinent, that is, again something that we know so little about, because our history texts, which have been largely composed again, by North Indian upper caste men talks about the glory of the Vedas and the Gupta period and completely ignores the widespread popularity of Buddhism and Jainism in South India till about the eighth or ninth century AD. So, you have a small group of Brahmins, who envision a society in a particular way, which is what is contained in the Smritis and the dharmasutras which were composed in 600 BC. So, the dharmasutras were composed in 600 BC, and the Smritis were composed from about 200 BC, till about the end of the Gupta period, which is about 600 AD. From then on, you have commentaries written on them, we have no other Smritis, no dharmasutras written. Commentaries were written in different periods of time reflecting the time period in which the commentators lived, and therefore, the way in which their social context informed them is the way they interpreted even these texts, even though they are so much closer in time to this text, which is composed in that time period. So, it is important to contextualize, right? So, this is written in a period of time when the Brahmins are not dominant. It is only after the establishment of the Gupta dynasty, that Sanskrit becomes the language of the court. Till this period, Sanskrit is not the language of the court.

Now, for me, these are the things that matter. The source; we pick out a motto, which is contained in a brahminical text, which is over 2000 years old. I totally agree with Professor Vijaykumar, in terms of certain values. As a Christian, I believe that the values that God gives are values that are eternal, everlasting – and justice and righteousness are definitely eternal values. I don't think any of us can say that unrighteousness should triumph. I don't think any of us are going to say injustice is right. So, it doesn't matter which time period we are in, those values are eternal. I'm not in conflict with the idea that one should do justice, that one should administer justice and righteousness without fear of punishment, or of favour, one should be able to do that. But for a motto, should we derive that motto from a text, which is absolutely casteist, and very patriarchal? And because it was written over 400 years by different scholars, there are verses which uphold women and say, wherever a woman is respected, that nation will prosper; you will have on the other hand, (verses) which say no woman should be given independence and autonomy. Actually, a lot of those kinds of contradictory verses. And I don't want to give you a lecture on the Manu dharmashastra right now, but to only give you an idea of what the Manu dharmashastra is all about, that it is a casteist text, because it contains within it the dharma, for every caste, and at every stage of life, and it varies. If dharma is universal, then why should there be a different dharma for women, for the Brahmin, for the Kshatriya, for the Vaishya, the Shudra, and of course, one doesn't even consider the untouchable? So, the people who call themselves Dalits today, are beyond the pale of that Varnashrama society. But even the Shudras who are mentioned there, right, even they are seen (as) inherently immoral, inherently thieves, inherently liars, just as women are inherently deceitful, inherently seducers, so how is a phrase picked out of that text to be considered as a motto for today’s society?


What did the composers of that verse, referred to as Manu by some, mean by justice? Is it justice in the sense in which we understand justice today? Because when you look at these brahmanical texts, justice differed according to one's caste and gender. That's the reason why no Brahmin could be given capital punishment, which is a reason why there is so much focus on that Nandakumar case from Warren Hastings's time. Otherwise, so many other people were hanged at that time. But, why is this called judicial murder? We still commit judicial murder in this country and elsewhere in the world. But why is that considered as something wrong, because it was a Brahmin who was put to death, because these brahmanical texts very categorically state that Brahmins cannot be put to death – you can give them other kinds of punishment. The trial for discovering if somebody killed another – because they did not have the kind of CPC or CRPC that we have – so they had trials by ordeal and even these differed according to one's caste. So, I remember reading in these texts, which say that justice for killing a Brahmin was dependent upon the caste of the defendant as well as the gender. And the punishment for killing a shudra and a woman was equal to the punishment to be given for killing a dog and a peacock. That tells you the value of life that was there. The reason I'm giving you that example is to make abundantly clear that the notion of justice as it prevailed in that period of time in all these Smritis, not just the Manav dharma Shastra. But all the other texts as well, which we refer to together as the Smritis, are caste based, and are based on gender. And therefore, you cannot take that meaning where it says justice being preserved preserves. Justice must not be violated, lest justice violated destroys.


The other thing that I'm concerned with is the language. Why Sanskrit? This is very problematic for me because Sanskrit is not a universal language. It's the language of the people who composed the Vedas, they themselves went on borrowing, and, the language kept on changing right, even the later Vedas themselves contain words, which are not in fact Sanskrit. The Sanskrit of the later Vedas is very different from the Sanskrit in which the Rigveda was itself composed. And there are so many of what are called Dravidian words or Munda words, which are there in the later Vedic texts. Sanskrit was not a language of the state, in either the post-Vedic Period, that is the time of what we call the Mahajanapadas. The 16 Mahajanapadas that both the Buddhist as well as, the Brahmanical texts refer to the court of Magadha. Under the Guptas, Brahmanical power was growing and brahminical domination in terms of their knowledge, the monopoly that they exercised over knowledge, and the brahmanical texts - because this was a period of time when the Vedas were reduced to writing. Till then you must remember that they were only orally transmitted from generation to generation, through a strict, method of memorising, and it is the mnemonic method that they were using. And that is the reason why, one can just keep uttering it even if the mind is not actually there during all these performances of the various pujas and rituals that we do, and it is a time period when the Mahabharata from the 8000 shlokas, with which it began, had expanded to one lakh. So, it originally it was about 8800 verses, it had expanded to about one lakh verses and then today of course, it consists of about 78,000 verses. It is in the Gupta period that the Mahabharata itself was reduced to writing in the form in which we see it. In fact, the Gita as a separate text also emerged in this time period, because of the simple fact that the Brahmanical texts categorically state that the shudras and women. ( Do not compare untouchables to shudras. Shudras are your backward castes, they are the OBC if they are not the Dalits because Dalits are nowhere within the reckoning and understanding or consciousness of the brahmanical writers, they are outside the pale of that society.) should not only not utter the verses they should not even hear these verses – the punishment for that was to cut off their tongue and pour molten lead into their ears. But how do you then teach them values, which will make them conform to the brahmanical way of life? And that was through the Gita. The only things that they could hear and read were the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Gita and from the Gupta period, and the Puranas which came to be composed, but they were not supposed to learn Sanskrit even then.


That is the other thing that I have a problem with the language, why Sanskrit.? We have two official languages, English and Hindi. Every state has its own official language, because all these languages that have been recognized and included in our schedule are not treated as national languages. So, Kannada in Karnataka, Tamil in Tamil Nadu and so on and so forth. And there are of course, hundreds of languages, which we are still failing to give that status, which is unfair, it is unjust. How does any one of our languages take precedence over the others, and how does Sanskrit take precedence over the others, but unfortunately, this is there in our Constitution. Even where they are talking about making Hindi one of the official languages, they say Hindi will be developed borrowing largely from Sanskrit. That's exactly the reason why Hindi is being resisted by non-Hindi speaking people and states. Because language has to grow by borrowing from the people amongst whom this language is growing. Let us look at English which has got so many words which are from all over the world, besides, French, Italian, Spanish words, it has words from, Hindi as well as from this region. So, this whole idea of the mulligatawny, which is the mullagthani of Tamil Nadu or Khaki, right. All of these come from India, there are so many words you can pick up. That's how a language grows. That's the reason why English is a popular language widely seen as the lingua franca of the world. Now, yes, the intention of our Constitution makers was to make Hindi the national language of India, then they should never have included that clause that Hindi should be developed, borrowing largely from Sanskrit. Sanskrit is spoken maybe by small groups of people here and there in some agarams or agraharas or ashrams. But it is not the language of half the population of India even though Brahmins, maybe a substantial number in India, definitely not half the population, but even Brahmins don't speak Sanskrit. Brahmins in different regions speak the language of that region. So, you have the Brahmin Tamil of Tamil Nadu. You have the Palghat Iyer, who speaks a mix of Malayalam and Tamil as her version of Tamil too of course, the Brahmins in Karnataka and other places who all speak their version of the language there is a Brahmin Tulu and there is a Shudra Tulu even language has caste.


So, given that this is how the languages are, why take something from a language, which is not a spoken language and the language which is identified with a particular caste and with a text, which is also identified with a particular caste. So, I think, what we mean by a motto is something which will express our belief, express our purpose, it should be in the language that we speak in, something which is mostly accepted as a common language.


And it could have had this whole notion of, justice should prevail, that we should administer justice or practice justice with righteousness, it could have been put together. I mean, if I take it out of the Bible now, because the Bible talks about administering justice with righteousness. And if I were to take, you know from the Hebrew language, in which the Bible was, that is the Old Testament was composed, can we accept that as the Motto of NLSIU, we would oppose it saying – that's the Hebrew language, the Bible is not from the religion of the majority of the people of India. And of course, in closing, just one thing that I want to say, this is a brahminical text and the reason I have not called it a Hindu text is because Hinduism as a religion, that term never got applied to any community before the colonial period. The word Hindu is actually the Persianised word for the river Indus or Sindhu. Because if you read carefully about these languages, you will realise that, while we say Sindhu, in Sanskrit, it is anglicised as Indus, by the Greeks, or it was referred to. That's the reason why we get the name for our country, India, from Indus, India. And so, it is not something to do with the British. Therefore, this whole idea of a Bharat and an India, India is simply derived from the Indus because of the fact that the Greeks called it the Indus and the British anglicised this further, and then of course, the Persians called it Hindu. So, this is only the name for the river Sindhu. It is only when others outside the subcontinent wrote about the people of the subcontinent, the cultures, the kingdoms, or states that prevailed here, that they were referred to as the people living all together, their culture as Hindu. It's only the British who categorize this, all the religions that were not Islam, not Christianity, not Zoroastrianism, not Judaism as Hindu, which is the reason why even today when we say Hindu law, it's applicable to everyone who's practising different religions, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Shaivism, Vaishnavism and all the other religions, Shaktism etc., and everything brought together under this umbrella called Hinduism. And it is Swami Vivekananda who actually gave this character, the features and everything that is today identified as Hinduism to it. It is that religious reform movement by the Ramakrishna Mission movement, as well as the Arya Samaj movement, which actually built this character and identity for this religion. So, all of these religions coming under the broad umbrella of Hinduism is from the colonial period. So, it is less than 200 years old. And therefore, this is not about Manav dharmashastra being a Hindu text. The problem with it is in it being a brahminical text and a brahmanical text of over 2000 years old. Thank you very much.


Shraddha: Thank you so much. That was very, very informative. And I think we all learned a lot, especially in terms of the context, in terms of history, and in terms of applying that context to our modern world today. So, just to again, summarise, very briefly, what Professor has been telling us. The first key point that came through was that the motto is exclusive and exclusionary, it has an exclusive and exclusionary character because it is a brahminical text and a Sanskrit text. So both of these axes bring exclusion. And they support hegemonic discourses and interpretations. For those who might not be familiar with that term, it means interpretations and ideas which align with the interests of the politically and socially dominant classes of society. So, that was the first point that came through. Secondly, Professor Elizabeth stressed feminist practical reasoning and the inevitable impact of context which cannot and should not be ignored or minimised. She also spoke about modern associations of our motto and how that is important for instance, its association with the RSS. And so, the idea coming through from this discussion was that dharma in the context that it emerges in the Manusmriti, was very much caste and gender-based, and therefore, always exclusionary, in its character, and this was especially with regard to access to knowledge, because - to sort of repurpose Foucault here - knowledge was and is power and because it was exclusionary with regard to knowledge and NLS is a knowledge-based institution, the symbols that then we by adopting this motto are promoting are accepting are legitimising in that sense, become oppressive symbols, which is something to think about. Thirdly, Professor spoke about subjectivity without denying, of course, that certain values can cut across time and space. She stressed how the application of these values will be inherently subjective. And since subjectivity is definite, it must always be acknowledged. And so, in that context for us, when we are thinking of reconfiguration, it is important to consider who wrote what, when, and why. So, these questions are important for us today. Then the point that came through was that reaching back into the past, as LP Hartley said, the past is a foreign country. So, when you reach back into the past, and you pick something up to apply to the present, that will not necessarily suit your vision. And it's something that then we must think about in terms of how we adapted, why we adapted, why we pick it. And so, the point is that we may universalize dharma today as justice but even justice meant something specific, and the meaning was steeped in inequality. Feminists and subaltern commentators and the critical legal studies school, have shown us how practically, despite the exalted and universal concept of rule of law, these differing standards still affect the way that justice is applied today. With this, I think, I've tried to summarise what's been said on both sides.




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