By Irfan Engineer
Mahatma Gandhi once profoundly stated – Truth is God. Truth is used in many senses – one being a philosophical statement or a doctrine which has evolved from pursuit of knowledge. We gain (or attain) knowledge having universal application through practical incidences and events, studied observations, life experiences, meditation, research, or even revelations from God. When Gandhiji said “Truth is God”, he meant it in philosophical sense. To know God, to have a glimpse of God, one has to be in pursuit of knowledge. Pursuit of knowledge entails exploring new frontiers, knowing the laws of nature, searching more universal doctrines and even questioning the prevailing beliefs and truths. Pursuit of knowledge is opposite of acceptance of and submission to prevailing beliefs and authorities and institutions that enforce the beliefs. Affirming God as Truth is affirming knowledge and accepting rebellion of sorts, exploring new truths and higher truths. Various philosophical and theological schools are an example of the truth in this sense. For example, the doctrine – ekam sat; vipra bahuda vadanti – truth is one, wise people have described it differently. Truth in this sense is not opposite of lies and falsehoods, but that of untruths – ignorance, knee jerk and lazy conclusions that do not have universal application, prejudices or simply put, unknowledge.
Truth in another sense means to be factual or to be correct, i.e., minus the falsehoods. Lies is the exact opposite of truth in this sense. One speaks lies when one knowingly and deliberately makes incorrect and false statements or claims, with an intention to mislead someone; or to personally gain something unfairly and without deserving it; or to escape an inconvenient situation. At times lies are spoken not for a personal gain, but for a greater good that harms no one. For example, we give a (false) hope to a suffering patient that s/he will be alright. Another instance of lies is to save someone’s life without harming anybody else’s interests, e.g., anyone who tells a patient in ICU of a hospital that her (patient’s) relative and co-traveller in the accident is alive when s/he is not; or when during the freedom movement one lied to a British official regarding the whereabouts of a revolutionary.
Most ordinary and humble human beings may have lied some time or the other for his/her gain, even when it does not harm anyone else. For example, a child not admitting to having stolen a cookie or a chocolate. Over consumption of the stolen cookie harms the child’s health and hence the restrictions by the parents. It may not unfairly deprive anyone else. Cookies are replaced by alcohol and smoking as one grows up to be an adult. However, lies may be deployed to gain personally (or someone else or a group s/he belongs to) and simultaneously harm interests of someone else or a social group unfairly. They seek to deprive deserving people of fair treatment in terms of family properties, inheritance, economic resources, welfare schemes, job opportunities, livelihoods, or their fair share in common resources of the country or in representation in political and other institutional offices. Such lies or falsehood become not only undesirable, they amount to violence in a broader sense as it is calculated to harm someone, although not physically. For example, the myths about weaker sections – Dalits, women, adivasis, ethnic and religious minorities, etc. When anyone says that women are physically and mentally weaker, or that God has made them only to bear and care for children, to serve menfolk and cook in the kitchen. It is a lie which deprives them of many job opportunities, educational opportunities, inheritance, participation in sporting events, and helps to keep them confined to homes. In order to avail these opportunities, they have to surmount huge barriers. Likewise, the lies that the Dalits are mentally weak, meant only for physical labour and menial jobs, helps to deprive them of education and decent salaried jobs. Similar lies are being spread about the adivasis, religious and linguistic minorities by a very small but highly organized and resourceful coterie of right-wing ideologies. Those who hold such beliefs may be believing in it although mistakenly. However, the right-wing coterie knows that the lies they are spreading.
Those motivated by political ideologies of superior rights of one section of people or superiority of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, language or nationalism, seldom value truth. They believe in establishing superiority on the basis of might and ideology backed by all sorts of lies. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister believed that if a lie was repeated often and backed by powers that be, people would start believing it as a truth. The Jews were demonized and falsely blamed for the misery of German people. Nazis propagated that the Jews had begun a war of extermination against Germany when they were less than 1% of German population in the year 1933. A big lie is a propaganda technique which believes that a gross distortion and misrepresentation of the facts is so colossal that no one will believe someone could have the impudence to so distort the truth. In other words, if the lie spoken is daring enough, people believe that it has to be true because no one would dare to distort the truth that much. His other big lie was that Germany was not defeated in the First World War in 1918, it was betrayed by an internal group – the Jews. Germany therefore had a right to annihilate the Jews in self-defense. No one asked for any proof as the lie spoken off was big enough.
Hitler believed that the people should continuously bombarded with (false) propaganda and never allowed them to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it (Wikipedia, n.d.). The lies about Jews were proclaimed in their radio broadcasts. Truth, Goebbels believed, was the enemy of lies and therefore it has to be strongly suppressed and any dissent repressed.
Similarly, Donald Trump attempted his big lie that he had won the US Presidential elections in 2020. Though his loyal followers were convinced of his victory and attacked the Capitol Hill to stall the electoral college voting process, he failed in convincing the people with his big lie as the same had to be tested in the US courts of law which required evidence. Trump’s gamble in proclaiming the big lie about his victory was that he would be supported by a section in the US Army who would refuse to accept the US Presidential elections and he would be able to continue for the second term in the office.
Bigger the lies for greater the gains, which greatly harms the interests of a large number of people and deprives them substantially, even pauperizing them, more violent it can be termed. If there was a method to measure the violence involved in falsehoods and lies, perhaps they would reach the conclusion that lies are becoming more and more violent and harmful. Lies are being weaponized and used as an instrument to subjugate the section targeted by it and dominate over them. Inventing and spreading lies continuously leads to prejudicing the minds and hearts of members of the dominant section against the targeted community leading to a feeling of disgust against them.
Situation in India
We are living in the age of the internet and the age of information. However, big lies pervade our lives and make most of us live in a falsely constructed world with the help of lies. If you fall for these lies, you will believe that Hindus are a nation (not civilization) since times immemorial, that India had invented aircrafts, plastic surgery, nuclear weapons and all the advancements achieved by science today, Hindus had already invented 5,000 years ago. That Ramayana and Mahabharata are not only our epics that guide us, they are our history and enacted just as Ramanand Sagar depicted it on the TV screens. There is no explanation why then we lost to the invading foreign armies, including the British. That the Hindus were enslaved by the Muslim rulers who tried to destroy their culture completely and demolished their temples and places of worship, their literature etc. and converted them by force to Islam. Do not ask why they utterly failed in destroying major temples and in converting such a small section of population even after more than 10 centuries of their rule. That the Muslim rulers are responsible for the caste system. That Muslims are terrorists, separatists, cow slaughterers, love jihadists, Corona jihadists, that their places of worship are actually constructed after and over the destruction of Hindu places of worship. There are many such lies being invented quite frequently and blame for everything that goes wrong in the country is laid at their doors.
Sudarshan TV wanted to telecast a series of episodes on Muslims who succeed in UPSC examination terming it “UPSC Jihad” of Muslims, some sort of fraud through which they were entering the civil services. The propaganda of “Corona jihad” had a widespread influence. Many who till then had not been affected by the anti-Muslim propaganda also started blaming Muslims for the spread of Covid-19. People did not question the laxity in allowing large number of foreigners to come unchecked and without quarantining them into India until 24th March 2020. The opposition was warning, yet Government sponsored gatherings were allowed without any restrictions, including gathering of over a lakh people to welcome Donald Trump, the then President of the US. To divert attention, only one gathering of about 3,000 people in the Markaz in Nizamuddin was targeted. When people were dying in the second wave of Corona without hospital beds and without oxygen concentrators and ventilators, even after the Prime Minister claimed success in the war against the Covid-19 pandemic, it was being claimed that there was no oxygen shortage. We could cite many such examples of the big lies method which is increasingly being practiced and now with the aid of social media and IT cells through fake videos.
The Jews of coursed suffered in Nazi Germany. However, did non-Jews not suffer? Muslims and Christians are being targeted through big lies. However, are the non-Muslim and non-Christians doing very well and remain unaffected by the big lies? Let us try to empower ourselves and keep ourselves properly informed and let us all keep our eyes open to all sources of information and knowledge. As Gandhiji said, Truth is God.