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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Monday Musings: We are living in a city of progressive thoughts and ideas…

The Queen of the Deccan has supported and celebrated progressive thoughts and ideas throughout the centuries and this spirit continues to pervade in the contemporary era too

pune Updated: Sep 23, 2019 18:12 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Hindustan Times, Pune
Lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar, recipient of Padma Bhushan, India’s second highest civilian award, expressed confidence that the youth of the country will take the nation forward with a liberal and progressive mindset.
Lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar, recipient of Padma Bhushan, India’s second highest civilian award, expressed confidence that the youth of the country will take the nation forward with a liberal and progressive mindset.(HT/FILE PHOTO)

Pune is a city which has inspired progressive thoughts and ideas over the centuries. Think of Sant Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram; think of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, one of the great pioneers of guerrilla warfare in India, whose heroic battles, secularism and escape from Aurangzeb’s captivity in Agra, inspire us to no end.

Think of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and his wife Savitribai who fought against the caste system and pioneered women’s education in India. Think of Dhondo Keshav Karve, Bharat Ratna, who crusaded for widow remarriage; Lokmanya Tilak who gave us the inspiring slogan ‘Freedom is my birth right and I shall have it,” and the popular Ganeshotsav festival; and Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who focused his attention on education, social and political reforms, and mentored Mahatma Gandhi in his early years of political life.

Not to be forgotten is Swatantryaveer Savarkar, who studied at Fergusson College and went on to become a revolutionary freedom fighter, enriched the Marathi language with his phenomenal literature and, like Ambedkar, Phule and Gandhi, also crusaded against the caste system.

The list is seemingly endless, and yet, each one of these great sons and daughters of India were full of idealism in their youth. They refused to accept injustice, presented a vision of a better future for their oppressed brethren, and dedicated their lives to pursue their goals.

That brings me to contemporary times.

In these columns on May 13, I had drawn attention to a Pune International Centre (PIC) seminar around a talk by the former Bombay High Court judge Narendra Chapalgaonkar on the topic ‘Will India succeed as a liberal state?’

Chapalgaonkar explained that the core principle of liberalism is the protection of individual rights and freedom by the State, and then cited a comment that Jawaharlal Nehru had made during a conversation with the French minister and writer Andre Malraux. Nehru had said that “building a secular state in a religious society” was the most serious challenge he faced. To this, Chapalgaonkar added that Nehru could as well have said that the biggest challenge facing India was “building a liberal state in an orthodox society.”

That seminar was enveloped with gloomy thoughts about the future of India. However, the room was soon lit up with optimism when Vijay Kelkar, the PIC vice-president said in his concluding remarks that the young people of India “will demand liberal systems to find their own place under the sun.”

I saw that same sentiment echo in the thoughts and ideas expressed by the lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar at the Pune International Literary Festival recently.

Akhtar spoke of how he gave freedom to his children to choose their own life partner, irrespective of caste, creed or economic status. He spoke of how children should not be indoctrinated on the religion of their birth, but be offered a choice of religions to choose from once they are 18 years of age. He was cheered by the young people in the audience when he questioned the need for women to leave their homes after marriage. And when asked to distinguish between Hindi and Urdu, he said, the spoken language is the same- call it Urdu or Hindi.

This spirit of liberalism drew loud applause, in keeping with the character of this city.

First Published: Sep 22, 2019 17:02 IST

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