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Ruchi Ram Sahni & Aurel Stein: An Ignoble Encounter

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By Bhushan Parimoo

Sir Aurel Stein needs no introduction the translator of the famous 12th century Sanskrit chronicle of Kashmir, the Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. A Central Asian explorations explorer, orientalist, archaeologist, geographer, topographer and a Sanskritist. He is simply unforgettable, Ruchi Ram Sahni ask anyone the response is blank. Makes it important to disclose Ruchi Ram Sahni was also a highly distinguished academician, scientist, educator, social reformer, politician and a public intellectual of pre-partition Punjab. Had the privileged distinction of having worked with Nobel Laureates Neils Bohr and Ernest Rutherford at the famous Manchester Laboratory between 1915 and 1916 and C.V. Raman at Calcutta in 1917. Founded the Punjab Science Institute in 1909 and the British government conferred the title of ‘Rai Bahadur’ on him in the same year. However, he returned the title in 1919 at the urging of Maulana Shaukat Ali during the Khilafat Movement. As a public figure Ruchi Ram Sahni also served as a member of the Punjab Legislative Council for the term 1924-1926. If all this does not bring out Ruch Ram Sahni’s fame from obscurity, then it must be mentioned that he was the father of India’s most celebrated Birbal Sahni, the founder of the internationally famous Institute of Paleobotany, Lucknow. All this does not seem to link Ruch Ram Sahni with Aurel Stein secret too must be disclosed. Ruchi Ram Sahni served as Professor of Chemistry at the Government College, Lahore from 1887 to 1914. This coincided with Aurel Stein’s tenure, holding the dual positions that of the Principal Oriental College and the Registrar, Punjab University between 1888 and 1900 at the Punjab University, Lahore, thus were colleagues. This background hereunder give a brief snapshot of an encounter between Ruchi Ram Sahni and Aurel Stein to serve as a reflection on colonial times and perhaps also describe Stein’s isolated ignoble moment in his Indian career that later also found echo when the Chinese accused him “as the wickedest of the foreign devils who plundered their treasures”. Sometime about 1894-1895, one morning, a student from a sister college in Lahore approached Ruchi Ram Sahni at his house. The student requested him to explain a question that he expected to come in the next day’s practical paper of the Intermediate Examination. This student was related to some of his other colleague thus known to him. After the reference to the particular question was made by the student, Ruchi Ram Sahni told him that it was quite unlikely that such a question could be set at the intermediate level. However, the student persisted and he explained the question to the student.

 

As things turned out, the question that Ruchi Ram Sahni had called as least expected had actually been asked in the examination. Ongoing to the college after the examination was over, Ruchi Ram Sahni shared this strange experience with one of his colleagues named Professor Oman who was his senior colleague and taught science at the Government College. Hearing about the episode, Professor Oman advised Ruchi Ram that he must bring the matter into the notice of Eric Robertson, the Principal. Agreeing to suggestion, Ruchi Ram Sahni decided to meet the principal to bring the matter into his notice. Just about the time, Ruchi Ram was preparing to meet Eric Robertson, Professor Oman expressed the desire if he could accompany him. Having no objection, Ruchi Ram Sahni took Professor Oman along with him and both went to see the principal. Principal Robertson heard Ruchi Ram patiently and said nothing definite than making a casual remark: “I do not know what to do in the matter”. Nonetheless, Ruchi Ram Sahni felt relieved that he had brought the matter in the notice of his two senior colleagues, one of whom was also the principal of the college. After this nothing more was heard about the matter for the whole year. However, next year something similar happened again. In that year, Ruchi Ram Sahni was appointed as the Superintendent of Examinations. Supervising the conduct of the Practical Examination in Physics, Ruchi Ram Sahni this time too heard a couple of students discussing two questions; they expected to come in the paper, before the start of the examination. And this time too he considered the questions rather too advanced to be put to Intermediate students. However, it was no business of his to say anything further in the matter as his duties involved smooth conduct of the examination. Surprisingly, on this occasion it came about that the two questions Ruchi Ram Sahni had heard about from the students before the start of the examination had actually been asked in the paper. This made him suspicious that someone was leaking the question papers as some students knew at least two questions beforehand. As before, he this time also brought the matter into Professor Oman’s notice. In response, Oman this time was discouraging. He said: “You reported the whole thing in my presence to Principal Robertson that year. I would not advise you to jump into hot water for nothing”. This time Professor Oman was also one of the examiners for the Practical Examination. By the time Eric Robertson had left India and Professor P.C. Dallinger had taken his place as the Principal of the Government College, Lahore. He was professor of History. While he was familiar with Robertson, he was not so with Dallinger.A few days passed without any murmur when one day Dallinger suddenly called for Ruchi Ram Sahni. He enquired from him if he knew anything about the leaking out of the Physics practical paper. Ruchi Ram Sahni told him about the whole sequence of events that had unfolded and as to how he had become suspicious about the entire matter. In response, Dallinger confronted Ruchi Ram Sahni; saying angrily: “But you never reported the matter to me or the Registrar of the University”. At the time Aurel Stein was the Registrar of the University. Before Ruchi Ram Sahni could explain any further, Dallinger, rather roughly, admonished him with the instruction that he should immediately meet Stein and apprise him about the whole matter without any further loss of time.In compliance to the instructions, he went straight to meet Aurel Stein. At the time Stein was alone in his room and in fact had been waiting for him. He received him “as one would receive a man who had already been adjudged a criminal” As Ruchi Ram approached Stein’s table, he gruffly shouted at him “Ruchi Ram, why did you not report the leakage of the Physics practical paper to me? To this, Ruchi Ram submitted that he had brought the matter to the notice of Professor Oman who, however, had advised him this time “not to jump into hot water for nothing”.Ruchi Ram Sahni’s reply made Stein lose temper. Stein retorted by bringing Ruchi Ram Sahni’s attention to the responsibilities he had as the Professor of the Government College, and the Alexandra Scholar at the Oriental College besides a University Examiner and Superintendent of the Examination. To this Ruchi Ram politely submitted that he was aware of his duties and responsibilities and had brought the matter to Eric Robertson’s and Professor Oman’s notice in the previous year though nothing had followed. and as result he did not consider it necessary this time to bring the matter to the notice of the Principal and the Registrar and had informed about it only to Professor Oman.This explanation from Ruchi Ram Sahni was far from satisfying to Aurel Stein; rather he felt restless and at loss of words and “did not know what to say or do”. However, Stein had the last word: “If the honest and straightforward Examiner had not brought the matter to my notice, we would never have come to know of it”. Unable to accept the remark, Ruchi Ram Sahni shot back at Stein: “Then you’re honest and straightforward Examiner is himself responsible for the leakage”.

 

Speaking thus, Ruchi Ram Sahni, “had dared to bring a serious charge in unmistakable language against a white man”. All this while, Stein was sitting in his chair on a raised platform, while he was standing on floor below. There was no other chair in the room. Hearing to Ruchi Ram Sahni’s terrible charge Stein “flew into a rage”. He came down from the dais and stood face to face next to Ruchi Ram Sahni. Perhaps so close that Stein’s nose touched Ruchi Ram’s. “Red hot in anger” Stein once again dared Ruchi Ram Sahni by saying: “ Lala Ruchi Ram , do you know what you are saying? You are bringing a most serious charge against a white man”. He further added: “It will be necessary for me to report this matter to the Vice Chancellor”.To this Ruchi Ram yet again explained his conduct and all the circumstances connected with the case with same precision as he had done during his earlier explanation. At last, Stein finally instructed Ruchi Ram Sahni to give the explanation, addressed to the Vice Chancellor, in writing so that he could place it before the Vice Chancellor. Just then, on the spot, Ruchi Ram Sahni began to write out his statement. Seeing this quick and uninhibited response from Ruchi Ram, Stein now, better composed and calm in his attitude gently advised the former that since it was a serious matter and nothing was needed be done in haste and better thought about more carefully. For this, Stein granted Ruchi Ram Sahni one more days’ time.From Stein’s room, Ruchi Ram Sahni went straight to meet Professor Oman to narrate him all the developments. On this, Professor Oman threw further light on the matter by informing Ruchi Ram Sahni as to how ‘another white man’ was committing this academic misconduct for a year or two before Ruchi Ram had actually suspected it. In fact, Oman gave the exact method of this ‘white man’s’ nefarious doings more for the reason to clear his own name since in the meantime “Dr. Stein’s ‘honest’ informant had thrown the responsibility for the leakage of the examination paper of the year upon Professor Oman’s shoulders”. Equipped with uncontestably facts and irrefutable evidence, both Ruchi Ram Sahni and Professor Oman prepared the written statement for submission to Aurel Stein. Next morning Ruchi Ram Sahni submitted this document in a sealed cover at the University office under due acknowledgement. However, he “never heard of the matter again”. And it is also not known if his statement was ever placed before the Vice Chancellor or any other authority of the University
(Based on Ruchi Ram Sahni’s Autobiography-A Memoir of Pre-Partition Punjab edited by Neera Burra)


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Opinion

Believe in Yourself!

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By Dr.Shahid AminTrali

There are many resources that should not be easily wasted by humans. Money is important and life in this world without money is really a tough one. We should never waste our hard earned Money. There are people who are true and always tell us, money doesn’t buy happiness. But that single line alone challenging money doesn’t mean much. What will happen to us when we have no money? When right ways are followed in spending money, we will get back money in a multitude.

Someone has rightly said that money saved is money earned. I have a well-paid job does not mean that I have to be lavish in spending my money. Yes it is true that there are no limits on being contributive to charity works. We need to put ourselves consistently on a testing mode to try our guts and worth. I have a story to narrate how we can conquer the challenges if we are ready both mentally and physically to accept the challenges. Recently I was on a long travel from Kashmir to Gwalior. I was carrying a heavy luggage with as many as six big bags in my possession. I reached to one of the peak railway station at Jammu. With such a big luggage to manage, there was no other option left than to hire a labour. I was looking for a labour but looking into my dire need, the charges demanded by the labour there were unjustified. The challenge was accepted with open arms to manage my luggage on my own.

It was never an easy task for me to manage my heavy luggage and it tested my patience and spirit. First I got my luggage out of a cab hired and kept bags on a road side. Next I picked up three bags and dropped those three bags at the security checking point there at the station. I rushed back and brought three more bags and put it also into the security checking point. Now on getting all of my six heavy bags out of the security checking point there, I started looking for help. I requested few passers-by there but no one was interested to help. Finally the wishes came true and a humble boy passed by and filled me with a hope of being kind. He was going to travel by some coming train. Me said ‘baya help kar do, ye do bag upar platform takpagdo (translation- brother please help in carrying those few bags up to the platform). ‘No issues’, he replied and he was waiting for his more friends to come. He told let his friends come and they will also carry my bags upto the platform.

When his friends came they all carried my bags up to the platform 1. Next they started looking for their train. I also began to look for my train and the announcement was made that my train will depart from platform 2. Oh! Abi sangarshaurbhihain (Translation- Oh! Still I have to pass more tests). I was never defeated and again ready to put my brains into work. I had to make a quick strategy how to manage my six bags next. I began to look for help and requested one hawker at the platform 1 to take care of my three bags and had to drop three more bags at the platform 2. I was to come back to platform 1 and take three more bags to the platform 2. But everywhere be it platform 1 and 2, huge risk was involved as there was was no one confident to take care of my bags. I had to think smartly how to minimise my risk of losing my bags. I had to quickly access which bags were more costly for me which I can keep on the hawker shop at platform 1.There was uncertainty but still I had to be optimistic that someone will be there at platform 2 to take care of my bags. I picked up three bags and rushed to platform two and found one more hawker there. Smartly I asked the hawker about the rates of his items that he had offered for sale. Then I made a strong request to keep my three bags there for a while so that I can get my three more bags from platform one. ‘Aapjaldiaana and we are not responsible if you are late’, he replied (Translation- You can come quick and we are not responsible if you are late). I got my three bags from the platform 1 and reached back to the hawker at platform two. I purchased some small items from him and mentioned thanks to him for his help. Now looking into the large size of the train, I began to look for the exact location of my coach. Again I got to know that my train coach is much ahead of my current waiting point. I kept my three bags there with the hawker on request and went ahead with three more bags. At a fair distance found one military officer and requested to keep my bags there for some time. I had to rush and bring three more bags. Now I felt relaxed that now I am ready to board my train. But the challenges were not going to end soon. I came to know again that my coach will stop at a point ahead. I went there with three bags applying the same strategy and requested one water point owner there to take care of my luggage. Finally the train arrived and with the help of water point owner boarded my train to Gwalior.

I reached to my destination. The great part of the journey was that I managed my heavy luggage without any labour. I received help at many points and no cost was involved. Ah! It was a great feeling to think deep for the day that tested me well. It was a tough time but with energy and presence of mind, I could make it a big day of learning. I felt heavily satisfied and rewarded even if the rewards were too small. I could realise that at every step life teaches us so well. We need to apply ourselves seriously in every situation to make our life more lively and worth living.

It is rightly said that God helps those who help themselves. But we must not rely solely on a divine intervention every time there is some need. It is up to us to take matters in our own hands and try to solve our own challenges. We should never give up easily in life. The supreme force, God, has already gifted us with every means to be able to help ourselves. Once we have a strong faith and begin to apply ourselves to achieve the goals we desperately want, then God will help us further to achieve those goals. We must not forget that no one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

(The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior and a regular contributor to this newspaper. E-mail: [email protected])

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Cong needs new ‘vision’ to take on BJP

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By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

In these troubled times it is tempting to view the Assembly election results as indication of the revival of the secular republic, the rejection of doctrinaire politics and governance, and evidence of mandate correction. However, by dwelling excessively on the change of government in the three states where the ruling BJP has been unseated by the Congress, the resurgent Grand Old Party and its supporters would lose sight of the graver challenges ahead. While the first of these is undoubtedly the Lok Sabha election, the rollback of majoritarianism is the long-term task.

To understand the test ahead there is first a need for a deep dive into the verdict from the states where the Congress wrested power. While everyone heaved a sigh of relief after the Congress’ tally rested at 114, just one short of the halfway mark, the figure which should worry the party and its backers is 47,827 — the number of votes which the BJP polled more than the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. Although the Congress eventually edged out the BJP in a humdinger of a contest, the latter led the former by a whisker in terms of its voteshare — 41 per cent for the BJP to 40.9 per cent for the Congress. It is due to the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system that often legislative strength does not represent popular support. After all, even the BJP’s Lok Sabha tally of 282 in 2014 was way beyond what its 31 per cent voteshare would have reflected. Or that the 37 per cent that the party got along with allies was way below their commanding presence in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress would seek solace in the fact that if the votes polled by four rebel Independents, who after becoming MLAs are back into the fold — although formal induction is still awaited — are added to its voteshare, the Congress would nose ahead of the BJP and actually become Party No. 1 in the state. Despite this, the two parties would remain at par, evidence that the Congress will face with a sterner test in the Lok Sabha elections and that this verdict has not automatically reopened the path of its electoral comeback at a national level.

In Rajasthan too, the Congress is dogged by its voteshare being discomfortingly close to the BJP’s — 39.3 per cent of the former to the latter’s 38.8 per cent. In terms of actual number of votes which separated the two, the figure was just 177,699. Party leaders, however, would argue that there is a need to factor in the votes polled by 13 Independent candidates, most of who are Congress rebels, and they would eventually either back the party from outside or make a homecoming. These Independents polled 9.5 per cent of the total votes cast, a whopping 33,72,206, and even if almost half of these were bagged by “inconsequential” candidates, it would still add up sufficiently to the Congress’ tally, providing it an element of comfort. But this “notional” lead over its rival has to be converted. This would, however, not be possible without taking steps that strike at the endemic problem within the party across states — rebels are encouraged and put up by faction leaders whenever they fail to secure nominations for their favourites. To counter this, the party high command has to deploy authority and cannot hide behind the argument of being more democratic because it should never become an excuse for indiscipline.

Paradoxically, of the three states, the Congress secured the most comfortable mandate in Chhattisgarh, a state expected to be the tightest for two reasons. First, almost its entire state leadership was wiped out in the terrorist attack in 2013, and second, the alliance between Ajit Jogi and the BahujanSamaj Party had the potential to cut significantly into the anti-BJP vote. Yet it is here that the Congress secured a comfortable 10 per cent voteshare margin, and this is due to its weakness becoming its strength — the absence of strong faction leaders and the possibility of a split in the anti-BJP vote instilled fear that any internal division would finish whatever chances the party had.

In addition, the Congress benefited by the strong sentiment against the BJP’s approach of centralising the entire issue of left-wing extremism, which the people in the state see as the result of the refusal of successive governments, especially under the watch of Raman Singh, to tackle the roots of the unrest. While the BJP at the national level progressively increased the use of the issue of “Urban Naxals” as another stick to beat liberal-radical India with, the epicentre of this discord became boggy for the party.

The lessons for the Congress and other Opposition parties are obvious. But even if one assumes that the Index of Opposition Unity will rise significantly in the states, and the most where it is most required, it cannot be ignored that the Narendra Modi factor was utilised only in Rajasthan. It was the Prime Minister’s thrust towards the end of the campaign which had significantly reduced the Congress’ victory margin. That Mr Modi retains the ability to turn this election in his party’s favour even when issues were chiefly local provides a hint of what confronts the Congress and other Opposition parties in 2019. There is no denying that the race has opened up, but the BJP cannot in any way be written off. It still remains the party most likely to emerge at the top of the tally next year.

To deny the BJP this position, the Congress has to stop being in reactive mode and set the agenda. Instead of awaiting the BJP to implode like in Chhattisgarh, the Congress must provide an alternate vision for India. It must stop being the B-Team of the BJP and return to its inclusive past. It will be tempting for the Congress to continue pursuing “soft” Hindutva, but the real cause for cheer will be when it sheds diffidence of articulating issues concerning the well-being of those on the margins of society, including the religious minorities.

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Opinion

The anatomy of a police station

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ByRashmi Sharma

The death of inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, shot while trying to control a mob of cow vigilantes in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh, is a vivid expression of the contempt of our ruling classes, and those aligned to them, for the rule of law. The increasing number of human sacrifices for the alleged protection of cows signals a steep rise in this contempt. These incidents shock us because they are graphic and indicate a discernible change for the worse. The shock turns into dread as the ruling elite fails to condemn and punish the perpetrators. Mob violence is growing, and the government’s efforts to contain it are wanting.

Underlying these shocking incidents is an equally terrifying lawlessness, which is quiet, insidious and pervasive. The stunningly casual statements from the establishment after the incident are a new development in a systematised attack on the rule of law. This is illustrated in my case study of an unobtrusive, sleepy looking police station in the tribal belt of central India.

The police station was structured to perpetrate lawlessness in two ways. First, it was simply not enabled to enforce the rule of law. Manned by 16 people in all, with six of its 22 posts vacant, and headed by a sub-inspector, it was expected to serve 83 villages across 2,680 sq km. The police personnel were expected to investigate crime, maintain law and order, and were frequently deployed on VIP duty. The personnel rotated through it rapidly, as there was at least one transfer per month. The senior officers complained that postings were based on patronage, and it was not possible to deploy the best people for the most difficult tasks. The thana was always short of money, and personnel spent from their pocket on stationery and other needs.

The police personnel were extremely dissatisfied. They were entitled to 16 days of leave in a year, but this was never actually sanctioned. They reported being overworked, on duty 24 hours a day, with high stress. Their families were neglected. A head constable said that he had never attended a parents’ meeting in his child’s school. A majority of the constables lived in the nearby city because of lack of housing, schools and health facilities in that area. They travelled to the police station everyday, which is not how things should be as they need to be available in case of a crisis. This cost them around ?5,000 per month. They saw themselves as underpaid and not respected.

To this demotivating background were added idiosyncratic working styles. Though a police station is expected to respond to the needs and events of the area, it was assigned targets, such as for seizing a certain amount of liquor and issuing a number of challans. Every year, the targets were increased. Sometimes they simply did not correspond to the situation. For example, it had problems achieving its targets for issuing challans in the case of people riding without helmets, because there were few motorcycles in the area and people simply did not have money to pay the fine.

Discussions with the police personnel showed poor understanding about enforcing the law. When violence against women was discussed, many said that women usually made false complaints. During the study, a mentally disturbed person was beaten up as he stood hallucinating, decrying imagined enemies. The shortage of personnel, the sorry working conditions and their ignorance created a system not capable of upholding the rule of law.

The second way in which the police station became an agent of lawlessness was corruption. Interaction with the community showed that the village people feared and avoided the police. They said that the police listened to those who had money. The usual dismal tales of police greed and brutality emerged. Constables extracted money from vehicles plying the highway, snatched away mobile phones of ordinary people and returned them only when they were paid money. When an FIR was lodged, the police evinced sympathy for the victims as well as the accused, and took money off both to solve the case. An attempted rape was ignored after money exchanged hands.

One police personnel admitted that it was difficult not to be corrupt, because everyone was. She had started her career determined to never accept bribes. But over time, her perspective changed, as she faced pressure from senior officials as well as local leaders to ‘help’ in various ways. The pressure from inside, she said, was worse. This problem was clearly systemic and not individual, as the police personnel themselves were not happy with their corruption. They tried to atone for their sins by ensuring proper last rites when bodies were not claimed by anyone after accidents, by spending their own money.

This dull-looking police station was not newsworthy, and its activities did not shock anyone. But it symbolises the pervasive lawlessness to which we are now habituated. It is out of this system of lawlessness that the more dramatic incidents like the death of Singh emerge. We remain apathetic to systemic callousness, which also needs scrutiny and action.

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