THE HINDU EDITORIAL : October 13, 2017


  1. a) Talk it over

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont’s call for a dialogue with the federal government is the first sign in many months of an attempt to break the stalemate in Spain’s continuing crisis. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has remained steadfast in his defence of Spanish sovereignty and integrity, should seize the opening, slight though it is. In his address to the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday, Mr. Puigdemont insisted that he would act on the popular mandate for a declaration of independence in the October 1 referendum. But he also expressed a willingness, not necessarily shared by allies in the ruling coalition, to defer such a proclamation so as to negotiate with the Spanish government and to explore international mediation. There are conflicting interpretations on the essence of that address. But Mr. Rajoy seems to be in no mood whatsoever to relent. He has said that he wants to ascertain whether Mr. Puigdemont’s speech amounts to a declaration of independence before Madrid triggers Article 155 to exercise direct control over Catalonia. While it is an option he has been weighing for some months, this obduracy is hard to understand in today’s altered circumstances. The centre-right government’s refusal to engage the Catalan leadership in any dialogue may have had a context prior to the referendum. There was sound legal basis to its insistence that the question of secession was outside the framework of the Spanish constitution, as vindicated by the country’s highest court. But the fact is that Madrid failed to convince Catalan leaders to abandon the vote; in fact, the vote held on October 1 brought the Spanish government widespread condemnation for the violent incidents of the day. This grim backdrop should trigger fresh thinking on Mr. Rajoy’s overall approach. A plain refusal to talk to the separatists is politically untenable when the other side seems inclined to push back on the declaration of independence. The attempt instead should be to impress upon his interlocutors in Catalonia that a sizeable proportion of the population was opposed to secession. In fact, Madrid should weigh the larger ramifications of rolling back Catalonia’s regional autonomy at a time when passions are running high. What is needed most of all currently is calmer rhetoric. Mr. Rajoy needs to steer the public debate more constructively to how regional aspirations could be met without precipitating a bigger crisis. Whether the European Union could influence the course of events is at best a matter for speculation. But a more interventionist posture cannot be ruled out, should there be an unfortunate relapse to the violence of recent days. Mr. Rajoy should draw upon his decades-long political experience, and the backing he enjoys of the opposition socialists, to fashion an appropriate response to Mr. Puigdemont’s overtures.

  1. b) The house on Primrose Hill

On October 14, 1956, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism during a massive public ceremony held in Nagpur, at a place thereafter named Deeksha Bhoomi. He took Buddhist vows in order to reject his Hindu birth at the very bottom of the caste order, and because, as he declared: “I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity.” More than 400,000 people, most of them born Dalit, underwent the conversion, along with him, on that historic day 61 years ago.

The blue plaque

In the London borough of Camden, on Primrose Hill, No. 10 King Henry’s Street is a townhouse that bears a round blue plaque, announcing its historical significance: “Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1891-1956, Indian crusader for social justice, lived here 1921-22”. On an evening in late September as I stood on the sidewalk looking at the building – bought by the government of Maharashtra in 2015, but yet to be opened to the public as a museum – I thought about what that house represented. Ambedkar lived there as a boarder during his final years as a graduate student. He was over 30, married since he was 17, with a young wife and a small son back home in Bombay. He and his wife had lost two children in infancy. He had resigned his position as the Military Secretary to the Maharaja of Baroda, breaking a bond of 10 years of service in exchange for a scholarship to study abroad from 1913 to 1917. This displeased both the Baroda Maharaja as well as other powerful persons in Bombay, but Ambedkar was determined to complete his studies overseas, even at his own expense. From 1918 to 1920 he taught political economy at Sydenham College, and saved money to return to England. He was now racing to complete a doctorate at the London School of Economics — his second PhD after the one he got at Columbia University in New York — as well as a law degree at Gray’s Inn, London, before he ran out of time and funds. According to his biographer Dhananjay Keer, Ambedkar lived a frugal, penurious life in those years, braving hunger, poverty and loneliness to gain extraordinary educational qualifications. He read voraciously from morning to night at the British Museum Library, the India Office Library and the University of London Library. He was forced to borrow money from his Parsi friend Naval Bhathena. After he had earned his American and British degrees, he proceeded to Bonn, in Germany, to study even further. Only when he had exhausted his savings in 1923 did he head back to India, where his double career in law and politics began in earnest. The thought of the hardship that Ambedkar withstood to equip himself with impressive academic titles brought me back to the very same house again the next morning. It struck me that the house memorialises not just another passage in Ambedkar’s early life, but rather, his profound desire for freedom. He wanted freedom from caste, from humiliation, from racism, from colonialism — from every kind of discrimination whether in India, America or England, that he had experienced throughout his life.

Knowledge sets you free

“Sa vidya ya vimuktaye,” runs an ancient Sanskrit verse fragment that Indian schools and universities sometimes use as their motto – “whatever liberates, that is knowledge”. I have always understood Ambedkar’s revolt against caste as a quest for equality and justice. I perceived his drive to become more educated than his privileged, upper caste, nationalist elite contemporaries as an effort to overcome the stigma of his ‘untouchable’ birth. But for the first time I saw that underlying his crusade to annihilate caste, including through hard-won personal achievements, was a fundamental desire for freedom. The search for freedom can take many forms that need not be overtly ‘political’. In a piece in The New York Times on September 15, the Arab writer Mansoor Adayfi, a former detainee at Guantánamo, describes how prisoners longed to catch a glimpse of the sea all around them, that they were debarred from seeing. Adayfi’s essay is moving in how it conveys the human longing for freedom, which seems to run even deeper than our cultural identities and political circumstances, to be hardwired into our very souls. After years of denying prisoners the sight of the sea, camp authorities took down the barriers for fear of a hurricane approaching Cuba. For a few precious days, there was an eruption of art, poetry and creative expression among the inmates. On seeing the reactions of his fellow prisoners, many of them Afghans who had never seen the sea, Adayfi understood that “the sea means freedom no one can control or own, freedom for everyone. Each of us found a way to escape to the sea.”

Freedom song

Closer home, the Tamil novelist Perumal Murugan, hounded by right-wing critics for writing about his own Gounder community, has penned a number of poems. Some of these are addressed to the local deity, Madhorubagan (Ardhanaarishwara, a half-male, half-female fusion of Shiva and Parvati). Others are themed on the five elements (pancha-bhuta) as also the landscapes, flora and fauna of his native Kongu Nadu, a part of the broader Tamil region. His use of the dialect of this area heightens the authentic flavour of his poetry. The palm tree (Palmyra or Toddy Palm, panai maram in Tamil) is for him emblematic of home and roots. In a decision revealing a keen and canny aesthetic imagination, Murugan has gifted his poems to the Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna, who has been tuning and releasing them of late. The singer gives a voice to his writer friend who has had to endure censorship and intimidation to the extent of committing “authorial suicide” for a period of time. Together they protest the repeated attack on the freedom of expression — the deadly threat that took the life of Gauri Lankesh. Krishna’s gesture of solidarity beautifully breaks the silence, amplifying Murugan’s call for free speech and his assertion of the right to dissent in a democracy. In the course of an on-going engagement with Krishna’s music and ideas, I have been following Murugan’s poetry in translation. His viruttams (shlokas in Tamil) express anguish to his beloved deity Madhorubagan, asking for protection and acceptance. His kirtanas to the elements celebrate the very land and language that have inspired and nurtured him. He takes comfort in nature and verse as he experiences alienation and injustice from his fellow caste-members and their bellicose backers in the Hindu Right. One of Murugan’s most vivid compositions is a kirtana to the wind, “Kaatru”. Krishna has set this to the winged raga Nalinakaanti, conveying the swift, airborne quality of the subject. The poem is about the unbridled force of the wind, that can never be tamed or controlled, that goes where it pleases, touches whom it likes, wipes away boundaries and divisions, tears down walls and obstructions, and sweeps across the earth unimpeded. Murugan’s words, carried aloft on Krishna’s tune, make the wind a metaphor for the freedom that is denied to him as a writer in an illiberal dispensation. The wind is nothing other than life’s breath – without breath, as without freedom, there is only death. “You are a being of untold freedom,” writes Murugan, sings Krishna. The yearning of the censored and banned artist Perumal Murugan – of every person whose freedom is snatched away, regardless of her story or situation – flows perfectly in Krishna’s voice, imbued with his special note of compassion. You can hear the unmistakable timbre of empathy that Krishna brings to bear on art and politics alike. Like knowledge for Ambedkar, like the sea for Adayfi, like the wind for Murugan, the longing for freedom is synonymous with our very existence as feeling, thinking human beings. We must seek that freedom, and to survive, we must find it, whatever the impediments in our path. To deny us freedom is to deny us life. At the house on Primrose Hill, I could see through the window a banner hanging inside. It carried Ambedkar’s declaration explaining why he chose Buddhism over Hinduism: “I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity.” Freedom is first on his list.


1) Steadfast

Meaning: Resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.

Example: “steadfast loyalty”

Synonyms: Loyal, Faithful

Antonyms: Disloyal, Irresolute

2) Conflicting

Meaning: Be incompatible or at variance; clash.

Example: “parents’ and children’s interests sometimes conflict”

Synonyms: Clash, Vary

Antonyms: Harmonious

3) Essence

Meaning: The intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, which determines its character.

Example: “conflict is the essence of drama”

Synonyms: Reality, Gist

4) Obduracy (Obdurate)

Meaning:  Stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or course of action.

Example: “I argued this point with him, but he was obdurate”

5) Vindicated

Meaning: Clear (someone) of blame or suspicion.

Example: “hospital staff were vindicated by the inquest verdict”

Synonyms: Acquit, Clear

Antonyms: Convict, Blame

6) Condemnation

Meaning: The expression of very strong disapproval; censure.

Example: “there was strong international condemnation of the attack”

Synonyms: Censure, Criticism

Antonyms: Praise, Plaudits

7) Grim

Meaning: Very serious or gloomy.

Example: “his grim expression”

Synonyms: Stern, Uninviting

Antonyms: Amiable, Pleasant

8) Untenable

Meaning: (especially of a position or view) not able to be maintained or defended against attack or objection.

Example: “this argument is clearly untenable”

Synonyms: Unarguable, Indefensible

Antonyms: Tenable, Defensible

9) Inclined

Meaning: Be favourably disposed towards or willing to do something.

Example: “he was inclined to accept the offer”

Synonyms: Disposed, Minded

Antonyms: Disinclined

10) Ramifications

Meaning: A complex or unwelcome consequence of an action or event.

Example: “any change is bound to have legal ramifications”

Synonyms: Consequence, Outcome

11) Rhetoric

Meaning: language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.

Example: “all we have from the Opposition is empty rhetoric”

Synonyms: Bombast, Hyperbole


12) Precipitating

Meaning: Cause (an event or situation, typically one that is undesirable) to happen suddenly, unexpectedly, or prematurely.

Example: “the incident precipitated a political crisis”

Synonyms: Provoke, Hasten

13) Speculation

Meaning: The forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.

Example: “there has been widespread speculation that he plans to quit”

Synonyms: Supposition, Conjecture

14) Relapse

Meaning: A deterioration in someone’s state of health after a temporary improvement.

Example: “he responded well to treatment, but then suffered a relapse”

Synonyms: Deterioration, Setback

Antonyms: Recovery, Improvement

15) Overtures

Meaning: An introduction to something more substantial.

Example: “the talks were no more than an overture to a long debate”

Synonyms: Prelude, Start

16) Fraternity

Meaning: A group of people sharing a common profession or interests.

Example: “members of the hunting fraternity”

Synonyms: Profession, Kinship

17) Underwent

Meaning: Experience or be subjected to (something, typically something unpleasant or arduous).

Example: “he underwent a life-saving brain operation”

Synonyms: Experience, Undertake

18) Displeased

Meaning: Make (someone) feel annoyed or upset.

Example: “the tone of the letter displeased him”

Synonyms: Annoy, Irritate

Antonyms: Please

19) Frugal

Meaning: Sparing or economical as regards money or food.

Example: “I’m a bit too frugal to splash out on designer clothes”

Synonyms: Thrifty, Sparing

Antonyms: Extravagant

20) Penurious

Meaning: Extremely poor; poverty-stricken.

Example: “a penurious old tramp”

Synonyms: Poor, Poverty

Antonyms: Wealthy

21) Voraciously

Meaning: Wanting or devouring great quantities of food.

Example: “a voracious appetite”

Synonyms: Insatiable, Omnivorous

22) Exhausted

Meaning: Use up (resources or reserves) completely.

Example: “the country has exhausted its treasury reserves”

Synonyms: Consume, Finish

Antonyms: Replenish, Restock

23) Racism

Meaning: Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

Example: “a programme to combat racism”

Synonyms: Intolerance

24) Colonialism

Meaning: The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

Example: “the state apparatus that was dominant under colonialism”

25) Discrimination

Meaning: The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

Example: “victims of racial discrimination”

Synonyms: Prejudice, Partisanship

Antonyms: Impartiality

26) Contemporaries

Meaning: A person or thing living or existing at the same time as another.

Example: “he was a contemporary of Darwin”

Synonyms: Peer, Fellow

27) Annihilate

Meaning: Destroy utterly; obliterate.

Example: “a simple bomb of this type could annihilate them all”

Synonyms: Destroy, Obliterate

Antonyms: Create, Build

28) Detainee

Meaning: A person held in custody, especially for political reasons.

Example: “all political detainees were freed in August”

Synonyms: Custody

29) Glimpse

Meaning: A momentary or partial view; see or perceive briefly or partially.

Example: “she caught a glimpse of the ocean”; “he glimpsed a figure standing in the shade”

Synonyms: Glance, Sight

30) Debarred

Meaning: Exclude or prohibit (someone) officially from doing something.

Example: “first-round candidates were debarred from standing”

Synonyms: Exclude, Ban

Antonyms: Admit, Allow

31) Penned

Meaning: Write or compose.

Example: “Olivia penned award-winning poetry”

Synonyms: Compose

32) Emblematic

Meaning: Serving as a symbol of a particular quality or concept; symbolic.

Example: “this case is emblematic of a larger problem”

Synonyms: Symbolic, Demonstrative

Antonyms: Representational, Realistic

33) Canny

Meaning: Having or showing shrewdness and good judgment, especially in money or business matters.

Example: “canny investors will switch banks if they think they are getting a raw deal”

Synonyms: Astute, Acute

Antonyms: Foolish, Reckless

34) Dissent

Meaning: The holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held.

Example: “there was no dissent from this view”

Synonyms: Disagreement, Argument

Antonyms: Agreement, Acceptance

35) Anguish

Meaning: Severe mental or physical pain or suffering.

Example: “she shut her eyes in anguish”

Synonyms: Pain, Torture

Antonyms: Happiness, Contentment

36) Nurtured

Meaning: Care for and protect (someone or something) while they are growing.

Example: “Jarrett was nurtured by his parents in a close-knit family”

Synonyms: Foster, Rear

Antonyms: Neglect, Hinder

37) Bellicose

Meaning: Demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight.

Example: “a mood of bellicose jingoism”

Synonyms: Aggressive, Hostile

Antonyms: Peaceable

38) Unbridled

Meaning: Uncontrolled; unconstrained.

Example: “a moment of unbridled ambition”

Synonyms: Unrestrained, Uncontrolled

Antonyms: Restrained

39) Unimpeded

Meaning: Not obstructed or hindered.

Example: “unrestricted access to both military bases”

Synonyms: Unlimited, Clear

Antonyms: Restricted, Limited

40) Timbre

Meaning: The distinctive quality or character of someone or something.

Example: “you must demonstrate your moral timbre as a human being”

Synonyms: Resonance