Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.)
Tarksheel (Rationalist) Society Punjab (Regd.) is an organization committed to the objectives of inculcating scientific and rational thinking among the people. As in many other regions of the world, irrational beliefs dominated the daily lives of our people so they were easy victims of various superstitions, rituals, charms, tantriks, fortune-tellers, godmen, ’religious fanatics, occult practices etc.Though there have been many persons with rational thinking, but to give a jolt to the traditional way of thinking, a strong movement under the guidance of a well-developed organization was needed.
It was only in 1984, that an organization committed to rationalist and scientific thinking came into existence to fulfill this task. A worth noting point about the time of its formation is that religious fundamentalism was at its peak when such an atheist and rationalist organization was established. As can be easily contemplated, the prevailing conditions of our state demanded a lot of courage and tactical ability to work for such an organization. Proudly indeed, we emerged successful from that period and its influence spread rapidly among the masses of the state. Its formation is associated with the translation of a book ‘Begone Godmen’ “…… qy dyv purS hwr gey ” written by Dr. A. T. Kovoor. In this book Dr. Kovoor had explained his encounters with so-called super-natural claims and phenomena, and how he exposed them. Though Dr. Kovoor worked in Sri Lanka and southern India, yet his experiences were equally relevant to our society. So it was decided to translate this book into Punjabi language for the benefit of common man. In this book there was a challenge by Dr. Kovoor that he will pay an award of one lakh rupees (Rs. one million) to any person who can demonstrate supernatural or miraculous powers under fraud-proof conditions. So in this process, a need was also felt to form an organization so as to shoulder the challenge* and to propagate scientific & rational views among the people of Punjab. When the book was published, the response to rationalism was beyond all expectations and units of Tarksheel Society Punjab (regd.) were formed all over the state in a very short time and Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) developed into a well known body.
Many activities have been devised to propagate rationalism among masses. One of them is to give programmes of lecture-cum-magic tricks. In this activity a team of 3-4 members goes to a village or other place. After giving introduction about themselves and the organization, one, spokesman would say that they will perform some magic tricks. He would clarify to the people that this performance of magic tricks is not for their entertainment but to show that there is nothing supernatural or magical behind the magic tricks. After some magic tricks, there is again a talk about rationalism, about the falseness of astrology, palmistry magic spirits etc., about the need to shun superstitions, about the truth behind miracles, the challenge to god men and so on. The whole lecture is split into 4-5 parts and in between various magic tricks are performed. The performance of magic tricks serve two purposes ; first of all, it demonstrates practical that there is nothing supernatural behind magic, secondly, with magic tricks the whole program becomes quite attractive and entertaining instead of dry lecture. Near the end of the programme, the secret behind 2 or 3 tricks are disclosed. This is done in or to clarify about the reality of magic, but the demand to expose all the magic tricks is ignored as this would put an end to the art of magic. We consider magic wonderful art which requires a combination of various talents such as wit, wisdom, acting and some of skills. There is nothing harmful in its performing if it is presented in the right perspective and is not associated with something supernatural. So instead of disclosing all the tricks, we encourage the spectators to try to find out secrets of magic tricks themselves. These programmes provoked discussions and a large number of questions were asked. People asked how such superstitions originated, how these prevailed upon masses, how the magician is able to perform this or that trick, how such and such miracles happened, how this universe was created, who created man, what about astrology, palmistry, faith-healing etc., and there would also be a discussion about the concept of God. The members of Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) worked hard to provide rational answers to such questions and almost every time majority of the people were convinced and satisfied. Soon these programmes became very popular and young men from many villages themselves asked for organizing such programmes in their own villages and schools.Then there were cases of abnormal behavior which were presented as persons possessed by spirits of the dead person/persons. Besides these, there were many reports of mysterious happenings supposed to be the work of ghosts etc. Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) had to solve the riddles of such cases and reports. We started our work in this field without any prior experience, knowledge, guidance or training. Anyway when one works with a firm conviction and, moreover, works on scientific lines, he is bound to succeed. The same thing happened with our members, who taking Dr. Kovoor’s work as a model and learning from experience, succeeded in deciphering almost all such cases or mysteries. Success in such cases greatly enhanced the reputation and influence of the Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.).
Similarly, there is a strong belief in the concept of rebirth among Indian people. It has the sanction of most Indian religions, so this belief is prevalent among Hindus as well as Sikhs & Buddhists. Under this influence ‘cases of rebirth’ were reported very often. Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) investigated every case of rebirth reported from Punjab and exposed the falseness of such reports. Now due to the continues work of Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.), the number of rumors about rebirth has come down to near zero.
Soon after the rationalist movement was launched, noted Puniabi dramatist Sh. Gursharn Singh wrote an excellent play based on the theme ‘Beygone Godmen’. This play became very popular in Punjab. Afterwards many other plays were written & staged hundreds of times all over the state by a number of drama troupes. These plays spread the message of rationalism in a powerful & impressive way.
The role of printed matter for any movement always remains very important. So the Tarksheel Socity Punjab (Regd.) (TSP) paid a special attention to make good rationalist literature available to people. The literature published by TSP has been very popular among the people. The books on rationalism are the most sought-after books on book-stalls of Punjab. The circulation of magazine published by Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.), viz. TARKSHEEL, has crossed ten thousand mark recently, which is a laudable achievement as very few magazines of Punjabi language have been able to reach this mark.
Melas (Fairs) are very important and integral part of Punjabi culture. Such fairs are usually related to mythological or religious personalities. To give a rationalist version of these melas, Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) started organizing an annual fair to commemorate the birth anniversary of Dr. A. T. Kovoor. This was named TARKSHEEL MELA. Every year this annual fair is organized at a different place. In this annual fair, rationalists from all over the state participate and common folks from nearby areas join in large numbers, making it a congregation of many thousand people. Here plays are staged, fire-walking, miracle exposure and magic tricks are performed, exhibitions related to science and achievements of Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) are organized, books are displayed and along with all this there are stalls of eatables, cold drinks, tea etc. Now apart from this annual Tarksheel Mela many local units of Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) organize Tarksheel Melas on their own areas at local levels. In a Tarksheel Mela, people assemble at one place to learn something from rationalists.
There is another activity named Tarksheel Kafla (Rationalist Caravan) which is somewhat opposite to the Mela i.e. rationalists go to the people in their localities to educate them. In this activity rationalist workers of a unit make a tour of villages. They talk to the people, give some demonstrations, motivate them to adapt rationalism as their way of thinking and then move towards next village. In this Kafla usually there are some two-wheelers and one or two four-wheelers (Jeep, car, Tractor-trolley etc.). They carry with them their own sound system (microphone and loud-speakers). In this way 4-5 villages are covered in a day. A worth noting achievement of Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) is that it is not confined to intellectual circles only, as is the case with many other such organizations working elsewhere. Rather, first, it become popular with the masses and then it attract the attention of intelligentsia.
Superstitions still exist, many people still have faith in supernatural powers, thousands still visit deras of so called ‘godmen’, but there is no denying to the fact that great change has taken place in the last few years. The change is that the above-mentioned viewpoint has been compelled to take a defensive position. The main achievement of Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) is that it has established the superiority and righteousness of rationalism. Just in a ¼th centuray, Tarksheel Society Punjab (Regd.) has created an environment in Punjab that now nobody openly defends superstitions or supernatural claims or takes stand against rationalism. It is true that superstitious thinking has not been eradicated but its case is just like corruption. People do corruption but nobody claims that corruption is just. Similarly people still follow irrational practices but do not claim that they are doing a right thing. Actually many imaginary concepts of gods, ghosts, spirits, heaven and hell, rebirth etc. and many myths, customs, superstitions have come down to our people through a number of generations. As a result they have become a part of their collective sub-consciousness. External factors such as hard life conditions of people provide a base or such thinking to continue its existence. So the struggle against all this will last for a long time and this struggle has to be waged not only to change the thinking of people but also to change the materialistic conditions of people’s life.