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A revisit of the philosophy of Hinduism as described by Ambedkar

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Left liberals, Muslim and Christian apologists always criticized and attacked Hinduism on three issues- caste system of Manusmrithi, alleged Brahmanical tyranny and Hindu fascism. They always quoted Ambedkar as the last word to prove their postulations. Ironically, 99% of these groups might not have read what Ambedkar had written about Hindu philosophy.

Hindu philosophy by Ambedkar was an economist’s interpretation of Hinduism. He tried to judge Hinduism based on inequality and social justice, rather than by the systems of Hindu philosophy. Moreover, he hasn’t read the original manuscripts of any of Hindu philosophical work i.e, Vedas, Upanishads, Dharmashastras, Smritis, treatise of systems of Indian Philosophies. He always quoted western philosophies and the interpretation of Hindu philosophies by western philosophers.

Ambedkar always believed that Hinduism was based on caste system and both were inseparable. He had an arguement with one of his upper cast friend about this issue, soon after he returned from US. His friend tried to reassure him that this malady would vanish in the due course of time but Ambedkar was adamant that it would not. His friend then suggested him to change his religion to have peace of mind. But Ambedkar postponed his decision for a quarter of a century.

Ambedkar wrote about the philosophy of Hinduism based on the assumption that Hinduism has a constitution i.e Manusmrithi. He tried to argue that Vedas, written by rishies (shudras), were replaced by smrithis and dharmashastras written by Brahmin as the holy tenet of Hinduism. He even accused Bhagavat Gita of promoting casteism quoting verses from Gita, saying Krishna was the creator of Chathurvarnyam. He believed that Rig Veda laid down the theory of chathurvarnyam and quoted ‘purushasukta’ of Rig Veda recognizing divisions of society into four varnas.

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He didn’t have anything derogatory to say against the philosophy of Upanishads. So he accused it of inducing an individual to withdrawal from the struggle for existence by resorting to asceticism and a destruction of desire by self mortification. He couldn’t even quote a single criticism against Upanishads from philosophers of repute across the world. So he misquoted T.H Huxley, an anatomist and palaeontologist, from his book ‘Evolution and Ethics’ to condemn it ………. ” No more through mortification of the flesh has ever been attempted than that achieved by the Indian ascetic anchorite; no later monachism has so nearly succeeded in reducing the human mind to that condition of impassive quasi-somnambulism, which, but for its acknowledged holiness, might run the risk of being confounded with idiocy.” Huxley was actually trying to explain the philosophy of ‘salvation’ in Hinduism, not condemning Upanishads as alleged by Ambedkar.

Ambedkar continued his non-stop criticism against Upanishads…… ” The Upanishads claim to expound ‘that, by knowing which everything is known’. This quest for ‘the absolute’ is the basis of all the spurious metaphysics in India. The treatises are full of absurd conceits, quaint fancies, and chaotic speculations. And we have not learned that they are worthless. We keep moving in the old rut; we edit and re-edit the old books instead of translating the classics of European social thought…… Indian pundits and graduates seem to suffer from a kind of mania for what is effete and antiquated. Thus an institution, established by progressive men, aims at leading our youths through Sanskrit grammar to the Vedas via the Six Darshanas! What a false move in the quest for wisdom! It is as if a caravan should travel across the desert to the shores of the Dead Sea in search of fresh water! Young men of India, look not for wisdom in the musty parchments of your metaphysical treatises. There is nothing but an endless round of verbal jugglery there. Read Rousseau and Voltaire, Plato and Aristotle, Haeckel and Spencer, Marx and Tolstoy, Ruskin and Comte and other European thinkers, if you wish to understand life and its problems.”

According to Ambedkar, “the principal thing in the Religion of the savage is the elemental facts of human existence such as life, death, birth, marriage etc. Magic, taboo, totem are things which are incidental. Magic, taboo, totem,fetish etc., are not the ends. They are only the means. The end is life and the preservation of life. Life and preservation of life is the core and center of the religion of the savage society.”

Quoting Prof.Crawley, Ambedkar said that the religion of the savage begins and ends with the affirmation and conservation of life. What is however true of the religion of the savage, is true of all religions wherever they are found for the simple reason that constitutes the essence of religion. It is true that in the present day society with its theological refinements, this essence of religion has become hidden from view and is even forgotten. But that life and the preservation of life constitute the essence of religion even in the present day society, is beyond question.

According to him, savage and civilized societies agree in one respect. In both, the central interests of religion – namely in the life processes by which individuals are preserved and the race maintained – are the same. In this, there is no real difference between the two. But they differ in two other important respects.

Ambedkar argues, “In the first place, there is no trace of the idea of God in the religion of the savage society. In the second place, there is no bond between morality and religion in the religion of the savage society.

Ambedkar distinguishes the religion of the civilized society from that of the Savage Society by two important features. In civilized society, God comes in the scheme of religion and morality becomes sanctified by religion. Later, civilized society has become split into two , antique society and modern society.

Thus, Ambedkar described that men and their Gods formed a social and political as well as a religious unit in ancient society. Religion was founded on kinship between the God and his worshipers. Modern Society has eliminated God from its composition. It consists of men only.

Ambedkar further added that the God of the antique society was an exclusive God. God was owned by and bound to one singly community. He further discussed the share taken by the Gods in the feuds and wars of their worshipers. The enemies of the God and the enemies of his people are identical. Even in the Old Testament ‘the enemies of Jehovah’ are originally nothing else than the enemies of Israel. In battle, each God fights for his own people, and to his aid success is ascribed.

The biggest flaw in Ambedkar’s arguments was that he formed his postulations about Hindu philosophy based on Semitic religion. You can’t see this kind of exclusive Gods, owned and bound to one single community in Hinduism. Different warring communities in Hinduism worship the same Gods for their success. Imagine each of the warring Kings of Chalukya and Pallavas take turns to visit Lord Venkateswara of Tirupati, for blessings for their success.

According to Ambedkar, Antique Society never came to conceive that God could be universal, the God of all. Antique society never could conceive that there was any such thing as humanity in general. But ancient Hindu dharma proclaims Universal God. According to the Vedic philosophy, God is one. He is without a form or shape. He is never born in this world and, therefore the question of his death or disappearance does not arise. It does talk about humanity.”Satyam Vad, Dharmam Char” is the epitome of the path of righteousness in Hindu dharma.

Ambedkar believed that there could be no change of nationality unless it was accompanied by a change of religion in the antique world and vice versa. In the antique world, it was impossible for an individual to change his religion without changing his nationality, and a whole community could hardly change its religion at all without being absorbed into another stock or nation. Again,
Ambedkar got this idea based on Old Testament. These postulations about antique religion were not applicable to Hinduism at all.

He reiterated, ” in modern society, abandonment of religion or acceptance of another is not necessary for social fusion. This is best illustrated by what is in modern terminology and naturalization, whereby the citizen of one state abandons his citizenship of the state and becomes a citizen of a new state. In this process of naturalization religion has no place. One can have a social fusion- which is another name for naturalization – without undergoing a religious fusion.

This arguments of Ambedkar is totally out of place, in the case of ancient Hinduism as a Hindu could change his nationality without changing his God.

He wrote ” What the antique societies asked and believed themselves to receive from their God lay mainly in the following things; “abundant harvests, help against their enemies and counsel by oracles or soothsayers in matters of natural difficulty.” But Hindu philosophy actually aim Mukti or Moksha which was unknown to Semitic religion.

Ambedkar believed that religion has not only crossed everywhere the warp of Indian History, it forms the warp and woof of the Hindu mind. This life of the Hindu is regulated by Religion at every moments of his life.

He judged the philosophy of Hinduism by applying the ‘test of justice’ and the ‘test of utility.’

According to Ambedkar’s analysis of the philosophy of Hinduism from the point of view of justice, reveals in a glaring manner, how Hinduism is inimical to equality , antagonistic to liberty and opposed to fraternity.

He strongly believed that Inequality for the Hindus is a divinely prescribed way of life as a religious doctrine and as a prescribed way of life; it has become incarnate in Hindu Society and is shaped and molded by it in its thoughts and in its doings. Indeed inequality is the
Soul of Hinduism.

He accused that the Caste System will not allow Hindus to take occupation where they are wanted if they do not belong to them by heredity. If a Hindu is seen to starve rather than take to new occupations not assigned to his Caste, the reason is to be found in the Caste System. He further accused that Caste had become a direct cause of much of the unemployment seen in the country by not permitting re-adjustment of occupations. As a form of division of labour, the Caste System suffers from another serious defect, according to Ambedkar, that the division of labour brought about by the Caste System was not a division based on choice.

He further added that the second mischief it did was to dissociate intelligence from work and create contempt for labour. The theory of the caste is that a Brahman who is permitted to cultivate his intellect is not permitted to  labour, indeed is taught to look down upon labour. While Shudra who is required to labour, is not permitted to cultivate his intelligence.

But Ambedkarian Theory of Casteism where Brahmans were not allowed to do physical labour and shudras not allowed to cultivate intelligence was not operational in India at least from 13th century onward. Apart from Smritis and Shastra, there is no archaeological evidence unearthed so far, in India to substantiate Ambedkar’s theory.

Ambedkar described that Hindus of his era were probably the strongest opponents of Marxism. He argued that they were horrified at its doctrine of class-struggle. He reminds Hindus that they forget that India has been not merely the land of class struggle but she has been the land of class wars. According to him, the bitterest class war took place between the Brahmans and the Kshatriyas. The classical literature of the Hindus abounds in reference to class wars between these two Varnas. He quoted several examples from Mahabharatham, Vishnupuranam etc…. about Parashuraman annihilating Kshathriya race for 21 times.

It is foolish to argue that Hindus in India indulged in class wars based on the incidents quoted in Mahabharatham and Vishnupuranam. He was referring to annihilation of Kshtriyas by Parasu Raman for 21 times. These pre-historic literature should not be quoted to allege that Hindus in British India were warmongers. First of all, no historians ever accepted that Mahabharata and Ramayana as true history of ancient India. Come on, you can’t extrapolate something written or might have happened in 5000-7000 BC to judge a religion in 20th century.

Ambedkar thundered, “Why have there not been social revolutions in India is a question which has incessantly troubled him. There is only one answer which he could give and it is that the lower classes of Hindus have been completely disabled for direct action on account of this wretched system of Chaturvarnya. They could not bear arms and without arms they could not rebel. They were all  condemned to be ploughmen and they were not allowed to convert their ploughshares into swords. They had no bayonets and therefore everyone who chose to plough did sit upon them. On account of the Chaturvarnya, they could receive no education. They could not think out or know the way to their salvation. They were condemned to be lowly and not knowing the way of escape and not having the means of escape, they became reconciled to eternal servitude which they accepted as their inescapable fate.”

Ambedkar read the history of India wrong, when he made this outburst. The first social revolution happened in India when a Shudra, with the help of a Brahman, revolted against the most powerful Nanda dynasty in India in 322 BC to form the mightiest Maurya dynasty. Kushans and Sakas (Western and Eastern Satraps) were Shudras or even lower Mlechas. The Kadambas of Banavasi and later Chalukyas of Badami were not Brahmins or Kshatriya. Later, the legendary Bukka and Harihara of Vijayanagar Empire were ordinary soldiers turned kings. Incidentally, a Brahmin priest, Madhavacharya helped these two Muslim converts to redeem Hindu dharma and form one of the most powerful dynasties of South India. There is ample proof in Indian history about successful social revolution by Shudras but Ambedkar refused to acknowledge it.

He further accused that the three weapons for emancipation, freedom of military service (his physical weapon), suffrage(his political weapon), and education (his moral weapon) were denied to the masses in India by Chaturvarnyam. According to him, there cannot be a more degrading system of social organization than Chaturvarnyam.

But these weapons of emancipation were open to all castes of Hindus from 1861 onward in British India and Ambedkar didn’t have a locus standi to complain about Chaturvarnyam in 1930, when chaturvarnyam was no longer enforced as a civil and criminal jurisprudence.

He proclaimed that the parallel to this philosophy of Hinduism is to be found in the philosophy of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Ambedkar added that Nietzsche’s philosophy had become identified with will to power, violence, denial of spiritual values, superman and the sacrifice, servility and debasement of the common man. He further suggested that Nietzsche’s thought was Hitler in action and that Nietzsche was the foremost pioneer of the Nazi accession to power.

Nietzsche was a German philosopher, essayist and cultural critic whose writings have exerted an enormous influence on Western Philosophy and intellectual history. He severely criticized Semitic religion i.e., Christianity and Judaism, in his essays. He introduced the revolutionary concept of master-slave morality.

Ambedkar pointed out that Nietzsche’s own sister, few months before her death, thanked the Hitler for the honour he graciously bestowed on her brother declaring that she sees in him that incarnation of the “Superman” foretold by Zarathustra.

Ambedkar accused Nietzsche that he himself had openly declared that he was only following the scheme of Manu in his philosophy. He was comparing Zarathustra as a new name for Manu and that “Thus Spake Zarathustra’ as a new edition of Manu Smriti. He believed that Manu’s was a degraded and degenerate philosophy of superman as compared with that of Nietzsche and therefore far more odious and loathsome than the philosophy of Nietzsche.

Ambedkar’s interpretation about the philosophy of Niletzsche was also much distorted like that of Hinduism. He described Nietzsche as the father of Nazism. He thought Nietzsch’s philosophy as Hitler in action. He criticized Nietzsche for his positive criticism of Nanusmriti.

In fact, the Nazis made selective use of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Nietzsche’s prominence suffered a severe set back when his works became closely associated with Hitler and Nazi Germany. His writings were never intended to be anti-Semitic and German nationalistic but his unpublished works were manipulated and his concept of “Ubermensch” was reworked to be incorporated into German Nationalistic ideology, after his death. His own sister, Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, was the main culprit. Through her published editions, Nietzsche’s work became associated with fascism and Nazism. 20th century scholars contested this interpretation of his work and ‘corrected editions’ of his writings were soon made available.

Ambedkar concluded that “The Philosophy of Hinduism therefore neither satisfies the ‘test of social utility’ nor does it satisfy the test of individual justice.” He further stated that “Hinduism is the gospel of the Superman Brahmans and it teaches that what is right for the Superman Brahmans is the only thing which is called morally right and morally good”

The basic problem with Ambedkar was his malignant hatred towards Brahmins who were placed in highest pedestal by Manusmriti. He believed that they were the root cause of the poverty and non development of rural India. He truly believed that Chaturvarnyam was the basis of Hinduism and it was inseparable from Hinduism. He considered Manusmriti as the Constitution of Hinduism. Third, He declared Hinduism was similar to Nazism, worse than actually.

Ambedkar applied the test of utility and test of justice to Hinduism in 1930 to accuse that the philosophy of Hinduism was actually against humanity. I would like to apply the test of Justice and test of utility to Hinduism once again now to know the current status.

When Ambedkar applied test of Justice, he started whole of his arguments based on a mistaken assumption that Manusmriti was the moral and legal jurisprudence of Hindus in British India in his era. His first question was “Does Hinduism recognizes Equality?” He established a big ‘No’ quoting scriptures from Manusmrithi.

Hinduism mandates equality today, both social and religious. It recognizes only one jurisprudence i.e, Indian Constitution. All varnas are equal and any one can do any job depending on his qualification and ability. Manusmriti is no longer a legal and moral jurisprudence for Hindus.

Indian Constitution recognizes Dasya, but it defined the scope of the job and minimum wages, in accordance with the Charter of the United nations and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Hinduism recognizes and accepts its member’s right to marry members of different casts. No restrictions are laid by Hinduism against inter caste marriages. Penal Code of Hindus in India defines every crime and it prescribes a rational form of punishment to all offenders similarly; no discrimination based on caste, creed and gender. So there is no social inequality in present day Hindu penal code, that is Indian Constitution. Hinduism doesn’t ordain social inequality at all in India currently.

The irony is that, none of the Semitic religions, including Christianity and Islam, pass the test of social and religious equality of Ambedkar even now.

Ambedkar was not impartial when he tried to understand the philosophy of Hinduism by applying the test of social and religious justice in 1930. He was completely off the mark, I would say. Moreover, he had a big flaw; he had a conflict of interest and he was unjustly biased against Hinduism.

Actually, Ambedkar was a very bitter man. He was so jealous of Brahmins for their exalted position in Hindu religion. He wanted to break Hinduism just to see Brahmins in a degraded position. But he should have been a little more patient. He would have been happy to see the degraded condition of Brahmins even without the destruction of Hinduism, had he been alive today.

The other flaw with Ambedkarian idea was equating untouchability with slavery and segregation practised in western countries. There was no mention of slavery in Vedopanishads, Smritis and Dharma Shastras. The word ‘Dasa’ was mentioned in smritis and entire Dharma shastras of Apasthamba, Gauthama and Vashishta only nine times and western philosophers mistook the word ‘Dasa’ for slave. All tribes in the world which are excluded from Chathurvarnyam are called ‘Dasyus’, according to Manusmriti Verse X- 45.

It was ironic that there was no untouchability practised in Western countries and in Muslim countries even when slavery was at its peak. Slaves were living in the same house with their masters. Slaves looked after the sons and daughters of their masters. Slaves cooked food, prepared bed and slept with their masters; some lucky one were looked after well. Ambedkar even argued that the quality of life of these slaves in Delhi Sultanate and Western Colonizers were better than untouchables in India, who  were actually freemen.

But Ambedkar missed an important point that the quality of life of some lucky slaves were even better than the elite brahmins and Kshathriyas in ancient India. Qutb Din Aibak and Malik Kafur were just two examples. A slave is after all, a captive for life and all his comfort in life was actually a charity of his master, which could any time be taken away from him permanently. Slaves were lynched if they dared to marry a white man till 1860 in US. It was a federal crime in many parts of US till 1968. In contrast, an untouchable was always a free man.

Strangely, inter marriage between upper caste and Shudras and untouchables were not a crime in ancient India according to Smritis, except that the upper caste would lose their caste. Manusmriti described thirty sub castes based on inter caste marriages.

Unfortunately, Ambedkar constructed his arguments based on the mistaken assumption that 99% of Hindus followed Manusmriti diligently in his era in 1920. In actual practice, 99% had already forgotten Manusmriti since the Muslim invasion in 1200 AD. It was Islamic Jurisprudence prevalent in Delhi Sultanate in North India and Hindus had to pay Jaziya. From 1861 onward, Hindus in British India followed The Code of Criminal Procedure of British India, Indian Succession Act of 1865 (which was later amended several times), Hindu widow’s remarriage Act 1865 etc..

It was British who reintroduced Manusmriti in Indian Hindu mind in 1794 when Sir William Jones translated the Manu Smriti into English. In fact, British tried to introduce a civil jurisprudence of Hindus in 1800 AD similar to Muslim law, based on Manusmriti, Mithakshara and Dayabhanga, but the clauses of reconciliation and penance for all forms of crimes made it very difficult. Second, there was divergent customs and practice widely prevalent in different sections of Hindus in different parts of India.
As more literature of Hindu jurisprudence emerged, and is translated or interpreted, British law makers realized that the conflict between the texts on every matter of jurisprudence has been multiplied.

So, it was absurd to quote selected verses from Manusmriti to interpret the philosophy of Hinduism.

For example, Ambedkar was mentioning a verse from Smriti to allege the existence of social injustice prevalent in Hindu India. ” The successors of Manu made the disability of the Shudra in the matter of the study of the Veda into an offence involving dire penalties. For Instance, Gautama says:- XII.4. If the Shudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with molten lead and lac; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off; if he has mastered the Veda, his body should be cut to pieces.”

But Ambedkar neglected an important point that Smritis and Dharma shastras were no longer followed in India after Muslim invasion. There was no archeological proof in the form of inscriptions and epigraphs unearthed in any part of India showing Manusmriti as the civil and criminal jurisprudence by Hindus in India even prior to 1000 AD. No one was ever tortured or killed in ancient and medieval India for reading or learning Vedas.

Remember, it was the same historians who declared that India didn’t have a documented history till Mohammedans came to India.

If you believe the verses of Manusmriti as the sine qua non of Hindu Jurisprudence, you have to believe that Smritis were accepted in totality by Hindus in India. Then a Brahmin who hasn’t studied Veda should become an outcast and Shudra according to Smriti 2-168. According to Verse 2-172, a Brahmin who hasn’t been initiated can’t be taught Vedas and should be considered a Shudra. According to Boudhayana, the term of studentship of Brahmans were extended to 48 years and a student has to practice “Brahmacharyam” during entire studentship period. Verses X 64-70 clearly mention how a Shudra can become Brahmin or Kshathriya through inter caste marriage.

Verse V-5 and 19 says that  garlic, onions, mushrooms are forbidden food for Brahmins and those who violate the rule would become outcast. Similarly, Verses V-11 to 15 says that Brahmins can eat fish and meet. But from 300 BC onward, Brahmins practised strict vegetarianism. This very practice itself proves the antiquity and non adherence of Manusmriti.

The biggest proof of non adherence of Manusmriti by Hindus is Ambedkar’s father himself. He was a soldier in British Army and his community was traditionally a warrior community. According to Smriti, untouchables are not allowed to take up occupations of upper castes. There were numerous upper caste Hindus working as subordinates of Shudras and Untouchalble masters in India from 1850 onward. Brahmims worked as subordinates to Muslim royalties in India from 1200 AD onward and none of them were outcasted in India ever.

I conclude this article by mentioning three biggest prophecies of Ambedkar which was proven completely wrong in the course of time.

His first prophecy was that Casteism was the basis of Hinduism and Hinduism can’t delink itself from Chaturvanyam. Casteism is no longer an issue in the mind of young Hindus in India, at least or the right wing Hindu groups. In fact, the right wing Hindu groups are now controlled by Shudras and untouchables.

Ambedkar would have had heart attack if he had survived to see the present state of ‘Hinduisation of Islam and Christianity’, wherein the Church and Muslim clerics are competing to introduce and legalize casteism in their religion.

Second prophecy was that backward classes could never prosper under Hinduism. This prophecy has been proven wrong many times and members from untouchable and backward class have now become Chief Justice, the President and Prime Minister of India.

Third was that Hindus and Muslims could never live in India peacefully and prosper.That is why Ambedkar supported partition of India. India has shown the world that Muslims can live peacefully and prosper under Hindu dominated India. Muslims are safer in India than in any other country in the world against hate crime, racial attack and government sponsored islamophobia.

(I couldn’t shorten this review further without omitting some of the arguments of Ambedkar. I covered almost all his arguments in this criticism)

Bibliography

  1. Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar writings and speeches Vol-3 second edition
  2. Evolution and Ethics by T H Huxley
  3. Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
  4. Sacred books of the East Vol 1,2,8,25,46 by Max Muller
  5. Secret of Veda by Aurabindo Gosh
  6. Rig Veda by Dayananda Saraswathy
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