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Award for Gita Press: What does it imply?

The books published by Gita Press have nothing to do with non-violence or social change. It would be a joke to describe the Bhagavad Gita, one of Gita Press’ bestsellers, as a promoter of non-violence or a vehicle for social change, writes Dwarka Bharti

The central government has awarded the International Gandhi Peace Prize for the year 2021 to Gita Press, Gorakhpur, a century-old publisher of the so-called religious literature. This is hardly a surprise. The country is cruising through Amrit Kaal, which will continue to bless us for the next 25 years, and anything that happens during this period is bound to be pure bliss.  

The Amrit Kaal is a licence for the political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to do whatever they please. It would not be wrong to presume that the current dispensation has picked Gita Press, Gorakhpur, for the award in keeping with its objective and action plan for ushering in Ram Rajya in the country. The award carries with it a cash component of Rs 1 crore. It apparently makes no difference to the government that the institution hasn’t accepted the cash award. Anyway, it is said that Gita Press doesn’t accept any subsidy, donation or assistance.   

Objecting to the decision of picking Gita Press for this prize is not easy by any means. Awarding the Gandhi Peace Prize to Gita Press is a religious act and in today’s India, you can oppose a religious act at your peril. Since this institution is a leading publisher of books associated with Hinduism – books which are said to be religious – it automatically becomes a religious institution.  

According to Wikipedia, Gita Press was founded in 1923 and became officially operational in 1927. Its founder was one Jaidayal Goenka, said to be an ardent exponent of the Gita. It has around 200 employees. It would be interesting to find out whether any of them come from a low caste. However, looking for a Dalit staffer at Gita Press would be akin to hoping to find a piece of meat in the nest of a vulture. The Gita Press has probably been conducting a detailed inquiry into the family, caste and gotra of the potential staffers before recruiting them.

Be that as it may, Gita Press claims to have published 454.5 million copies of different books, including 81 million of Bhagwad Gita and 75 million of Ramcharitmanas. Besides, it has published 103 million copies of books useful for women and children. Whether these huge figures are the result of the growing population of the country or the growing clout of Hindutva is anybody’s guess. The institution says that last year, it used 4,500 tonnes of paper. This is definitely massive, but what is surprising is that despite this, the demand for its publications is outstripping the supply.

A retail outlet of Gita Press, Gorakhpur

One cannot but be impressed by the fact that more than 17.5 million books published by Gita Press are sold in India and abroad every year. According to the manager (production) of the institution, the Gita Press sells 50,000-plus books every day. It is also claimed that no other publishing house in the world sells as many books. Ramcharitmanas is the most sought after among the titles it has published.    

The total number of titles published so far by the Gita Press is said to be 1,600 of which 780 are in Hindi or Sanskrit. It also publishes books in Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Bangla, Odia, Tamil, Kannada, English and other languages. It also publishes a monthly titled “Kalyan”. The number of copies printed of the first issue of “Kalyan” was 1,600, and now it has grown to a staggering 230,000.

Another piece of information is that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is said to be the patron of the institution. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Gita Press is an empire in itself.

The central government said that the International Gandhi Peace Prize was awarded to Gita Press for its “outstanding contribution towards social, economic and political transformation through non-violent and other Gandhian methods”. 

However, the literature being published by Gita Press has nothing to do with non-violence or social change. It would be a joke to describe the Bhagavad Gita, one of Gita Press’ bestsellers, as a promoter of non-violence or a vehicle for social change.

Even if you use the most powerful magnifying glass, you won’t find the word “non-violence” in the Gita. The epic documents and glorifies war and gives it a religious veneer. Scholars the world over do not hold the book in high esteem. Renowned historian Dharmananda Kosambi believes that the incongruities of Indian character are reflected in the Gita (Pracheen Bharat Ki Sabhyata, p 258).  

The fact is that the Gita embodies the gist of Hinduism. In this respect, Ambedkar’s comment is revealing. He writes that while it is said that Manusmriti is the scripture of the Hindu religion, this is wrong, and insists that the gist of Hinduism’s teachings is contained in the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. (BAWS, Volume 6, p 102). 

Texts like the Gita are read less and revered more. The Gita incites one to spill the blood of one’s kin. 

The other texts published by Gita Press, too, cannot be described as progressive or humanist by any stretch of imagination. Publication of humiliating ordainments for women and Dalits in the name of religion cannot but be a matter of shame. But Gita Press has been consistently publishing such literature without any compunction. An example is a book titled “Grihastha Kaise Rahein?” by Ramsukhdas. The book eulogizes women of the Middle Ages. Publication of such books in the modern times is plain ridiculous. 

The book says, among other things, that women must serve their husbands with complete sincerity and devotion; that the Sati system is the backbone of Hinduism; that a woman should not abandon her husband even if he has extra-marital relations; and that a violent husband should be accepted by women as wages of their sins in their previous births. 

It is surprising indeed that there has not been even a murmur of social protest against the awarding of the Gandhi Peace Prize to Gita Press. Progressive organizations and those which accord paramount importance to scientific reasoning and logic have not issued even a two-line statement condemning the decision. It seems as if they agree with the decision. Some politicians did speak up but their motivations were purely political. 

(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)


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About The Author

Dwarka Bharti

Dwarka Bharti was born into a Dalit family on 24 March 1949. He studied up to matriculation and worked for the government for a while before going to Iraq and Jordan as a labourer. On his return, he embraced the familial occupation of shoemaking. He has translated several works in Punjabi into Hindi and written on, among other topics, cultural issues and rights of Dalits. His writings have been published in various Punjabi and Hindi magazines. His autobiography ‘Mochi: Ek Mochi ka Adabi Zindaginama’ has been well received

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