Congress leader Shashi Tharoor recently shared a post on Twitter, pointing out differences between Hinduism and Hindutva.
“An interesting, though incomplete, comparative table doing the rounds. #HinduismVsHindutva” the post was captioned.
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) January 8, 2020
Let’s work in the paradigm of the post, and take Hindutva as characterised above.
Interestingly, the post contains a point of criticism – “Hindutva is monolithic. In that, it is more like Islam and Christianity than Hinduism”.
In fact, it is not just this point, but most other characters of Hindutva as given in the post, are quite close to Islam and Christianity.
This raises a question, why criticise only Hindutva for the same features that Islam and Christianity have?
Why secularism is failing?
This hypocrisy is deeply embedded in the model of Indian secularism.
The argument is that characteristics of being monolithic, having one central text, hate and fear of other religions render Hindutva poisonous.
However, when the same characteristics are retained as the part of their religion by Muslims and Christians, they become uncondemnable, protected not just by individual religious freedom, but also special community rights to them!
It is this duplicity – that marks this concept of secularism – that incentivises religious extremism and rigidity.
We should remember that this model is based on the West’s own experience of power struggle between church and state. Secularism, therefore, is more focused on partitioning the domains of church and state, where each can exercise its power without interference from the other, and not about the actual questions of what the church does in its own domain.
This model is geared towards identity politics, demographic superiority, and power-play, instead of focusing on what a religion should be focused for – the philosophies, ways of living and thinking, art, literature etc that it contributes to humanity.
Islam and Christianity, that are more monolithic, organised, centralised, and have enjoyed (and continue enjoying) immense financial and political power globally, benefit from the divide that Indian Constitution creates between “secular” and “religious”.
The “religious” life is seen as the private domain of the individual in which the state doesn’t interfere. In reality, it becomes the domain of powerful religious organisations – churches and mosques – who can now freely preach and practice their hatred of “polytheists” and “idol-worshippers”, and use every tactic available to convert people from their inferior indigenous faiths lest they fall in hell.
Any resistance to the above aggression – including laws against forced conversion – become an assault on the fundamental rights.
But, the same people who resist laws against forced conversions, want the freedom of proselytisation to be held sacred as part of the Article 25, see ‘Ghar Wapsi’ as an abomination. Why should freedom of “preach and propagate” apply selectively to certain groups?
The fact is proselytisation is not a spiritual/religious activity in itself. It is aimed at demographic superiority, a goal Christian and Muslim religious scholars and leaders repeatedly proclaim.
Proselytisation is not an activity aimed at self, but the members of other groups. It works on the assumption that others are inferior, need ‘saving’, and can only be saved when they become the same as proselytiser. This is akin to the biological urge in an organism for reproduction, not the process of self-discovery that spirituality is all about.
To add to this, it is not mere individuals, but an organised, powerful global machinery that operates behind the process.
Proselytisation is neither restricted to “religious”, nor to “individual rights”. It is quite clearly a political activity. And the people it targets, naturally, will have to react.
The religions who are not proselytising, will have to do so. Those who are not organised, will have to become so, as a matter of survival.
This systematic logic is behind so much bloodshed in the West among different religions. But we are so west-centric, so ignorant about our own heritage, that we simply agree with this model of secularism that no religious person/organisation can do any good without proselytising.
We simply forget that it is possible for religious groups can do good without being aggressive proselytisers. Today, Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow Hindus to build temples, but Patanjali’s Yoga is flourishing in the country. Around the world, several Sikh organisations organise relief work in the times of disasters, but don’t ask the beneficiaries to convert in return of the food and clothing.
But, in the current state of things, the above behaviour becomes a bad deal. Cultures which are open, pluralistic and decentralised face the threat of being digested away.
It is the compulsion of this model of secularism, that not just Hindus, but Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, and even other indigenous sub-cultures are becoming more rigid and politically organised. This is just the logical chain of reactions.
The indigenous religions and cultures in India are not becoming more ‘politicised’ because of a few extremist leaders brainwashing them. There is no “collective madness”.
The polarisation and extremism in society today that many can’t stop complaining about is the logical destination of the path our political and intellectual leaders took and the choices they made.
The outrage and shock of these leaders on the current state of things seems fake. It is just not believable that these people, with the intellectual acumen they claim to have, couldn’t foresee this long ago.
Under this model of secularism, the indigenous faiths like Hinduism, which Tharoor’s post calls “synonymous with secularism” are disadvantaged severely.
Not only they have borne the brunt one-sided oppression and persecution based on their faiths, and lack the same financial and organisational power as the Abrahamic ones, but also, their ways of life and traditions, since they are “secular”, are free to be attacked by state and other organisations.
Over and above this, the Indian Constitution doesn’t create a divide between “secular” and “religious” uniformly, but provides advantages to minority religions over others.
In India, the state takes over the Hindu temples, sells away its lands, lets the structure rot, appoints the priests, pays them a meagre salary, all the while making its earnings from the devotees from those temples.
On the other hand, even state-funded cultural and education (not religious) institutions of Muslims and Christians are given autonomy.
Justice Shashvat report on Muslims in India stated in 2011 that nationwide, wakf properties constitute a land bank worth Rs. 1.2 lakh crore.
As far as private land ownership goes, the Catholic Church is the largest owner of India’s non-agricultural land. And Catholic church is just one among several Christian sect churches in India. This is when the total Christian population in India is close to 3 per cent in official 2011 census.
The Indian Supreme Court allows entry of women of menstrual age in Sabarimala temple (setting aside the tradition associated only with that particular temple, and that particular deity, based on a particular story about his tapasya) on the basis of the principle of non-discrimination against women and individual rights.
However, the same Supreme Court, while sticking down the practice of instant divorce (Triple Talaq) among Muslims, does not find gender discrimination or individual rights sufficient, and has to refer to Islamic theology.
The Constitution of India disallows the state to fund any religious instruction, but provides exceptions so that Islamic and Christian cultural and educational institutions can be provided tax-payers money.
So, a majority Hindu tax-base is forced to pay for institutions which not only historically made hateful stereotypes against them, but continue to do so, going as far as a highly placed church bishop openly calling for punching Hindus in the face, and saying that there is no such thing as Hinduism.
How is a Hindu taxpayer, whose hard earned money funds Jamia Milia Islamia, supposed to feel, when a “Jamia shero” – made an instant celebrity by the media, and who is now going around India addressing large crowds – says that she has abandoned the burden of secularism long ago and only submits only to Allah.
“La ilaha illallah Muhammadu rasoolullah. This is our slogan. This will be our slogan”
If one really believes that Hinduism is “unique in its inclusiveness”, “synonymous with secularism”, and that “traditional secular Hindu way of life” makes Hinduism “unique”, why he doesn’t speak up when Hinduism is attacked brazenly and openly?
And to top all this off, the policy of minority appeasement by the Congress party, that has ruled India for the majority of period post Independence, went to the extent of fabricating a story about how it was the “Hindu terrorists” who had carried out 26/11.
The same Kerala communist party-led government that showed a lot of enthusiasm in enforcing Sabarimala verdict, meekly backtracked on the draft legislation to promote fair and transparent handling of church properties.
The message, not just from the politics, but also the text of the Indian Constitution is clear. The more monolithic, centralised, and politically organised a religious group is, the more voice it will have, and its interests will be protected better.
Hinduism as a convenience
Hindutva, even if we accept the characterisations given in Tharoor’s posts, today makes sense to a lot of Hindus.
The reason they are not satisfied with just Hinduism (we are still working in Tharoor’s Hinduism vs Hindutva paradigm, without agreeing with it), is because the only time Hinduism’s name comes out in a positive manner is in the context of Hindu peoples’ duties towards others.
The table shared by Tharoor is also case in point. It is only when Hindutva is to be shown in a bad light, that the goodness of Hinduism is remembered. Hindutva, therefore, is necessary for Hinduism.
A few days ago, in the context of debate on CAA, Tharoor had shared a sukta from Mahopnishad, preaching Hindus to not discriminate between a friend and stranger and treat the whole world as a family.
“If only the Hindutva-minded Sanghis were Hindu enough to read the Upanishads!” read the caption.
Well, neither the “Hindutva-minded Sanghis” nor Tharoor is the authority on Upanishads. Hinduism has a vast corpus of literature and knowledge. Any Hindu is free to find his own spiritual salvation through whatever path they deem fit. Similarly, no one is an authority to give another a certificate of ‘good Hindu’.
Plus, even a ‘good Hindu’ and a ‘confident Hindu’ like Gandhi had “turned off most of the Muslim elite” due to his “Hindu attire and vocabulary”.
Mohammad Ayoob argues that if Bose had lived, over time the rift between Nehru and Bose would have certainly led to a split in the Congress, and “the old guard including economic rightists and concealed Hindu nationalists, may have aligned with Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru”.
In 1931, when Gandhi went to England to attend second round table conference, he visited A D Lindsay, an acclaimed Scottish academic. The meeting included Madan Mohan Malaviya, Sarojni Naidu and several British parliamentarians.
In the meeting, guess the question that Lindsay’s son asks Gandhi.
“People want to know, how far are you a Christian?” This clearly meant how far Gandhi had travelled from Hinduism towards Christianity.
Apparently, many ‘good Hindus’ were still not good enough.
Rajeev Bhargava writes, in response to Lindsey’s question, “Gandhi, always quick-witted, even clever but also wise and truthful, adroitly sidestepped this question. He deliberately took it to mean something quite different: How far had he, Gandhi, followed the teachings of Christ?”
Perhaps, we, the less clever and quick-witted, would simply say, “I am sorry. I don’t need to move from Hinduism towards Christianity.”
It’s about Hindu people, not Hinduism
The question is, why Hinduism – the religion – is being brought up in a debate which doesn’t concern Hinduism.
CAA and other political-historical issues are about Hindu people, not Hinduism.
When Hindus in Bangladesh were subjected to genocide, the perpetrators didn’t ask the victims how much ‘Hinduism’ they knew or practised before killing them. When a minor Sikh girl in Pakistan is abducted, raped and converted, the perpetrators don’t care about how much ‘Sikhism’ she follows/knows.
The persecution of Indic people, the hatred of polytheists and idol-worshippers has nothing to do with Hinduism or Sikhism or Buddhism or Jainism.
To bring Hinduism in the debates about the rights, interests and historical persecution of Hindu people is to forcibly make an issue religious when its not.
Hinduism, here, is misused as a deflection and ’emotional atayachar’ tactic, to not let the debate focus on the facts.
Similar tactics flooded the newspaper opinion pages when the Supreme Court verdict, after decades of dispute, came in the favour of granting Janmabhoomi for the Ram temple.
“But will this moment of political triumph solve Ram’s inner torment? Or will it only exacerbate it?”
“Instead of a triumphal monument to Ram’s political glory — for this is all that the temple will be under present circumstances — can we build something genuinely congruent with Ram’s greatness?”
“Rama even left the palace, went and lived in the forest for 14 years, he doesn’t want a temple”
The answer is, very simply, that it is not about which side would Sri Rama favour. Sri Rama is available to all irrespective of whether they want a temple or not. He is, most certainly, above the worldly structures that get built, collapsed, and renewed.
The issue of Ram temple is not about Hinduism. It is about Hindus. It is about, what V S Naipaul called, “a new, historical awakening”, “a mighty creative process” wherein the Hindus are becoming alive to their own history, and are moving “from being great acceptors, to questioners”.
Hinduism as an excuse
More than the tactful use of the praise of Hinduism, it is the criticism of Hinduism and Hindus that is used to justify hatred and oppression.
An example: a recent article in Livemint by Salil Tripathi on Savarkar.
He quotes Vikram Sampath: In Andaman Jail a distinction was made between the Hindu and non-Hindu prisoners with regard to their religious traditions. On entry into the cell, the first act that was committed for a Hindu prisoner was that his sacred thread was cut off. However, Muslim prisoners were allowed to sport their beards, as were Sikhs with regard to their hair.
“Savarkar noticed the double standard and his resentment firmed his views on appeasement — an irony of sorts, since one would think an anti-caste Savarkar would have appreciated the removal of the sacred thread,” notes Tripathi.
Before expecting Savarkar to be happy over cutting of his sacred thread, it is important to ask why it was cut.
Were the British cutting-off sacred thread of someone imprisoned for sedition against the British rule to promote caste-equality? Or was it meant as an insult and an instrument of intimidation?
If motivations of the actor at the time can be discounted in front of the future ascription to those actions, then why should African Americans complain against slavery in America? After all they are enjoying a much better life than the Africans whose ancestors were not taken as slaves by the Europeans.
We see the survivors of violent crimes coming out and saying how the experience changed them, how they learnt a lot, and how they have come out of it even stronger. Does that mean the crime itself is justified? After all, they are who are today (they may have even gotten a lot more opportunities and exposure) because of that incident.
Justifying a crime in this manner is absurd. Why?
The criminal didn’t violate the victim for her to emerge stronger than ever. The Europeans didn’t bring slaves to America so their progeny could have a better life than they would have had in Africa. The British didn’t cut-off Savarkar’s sacred thread to make India caste-free.
I have come across several justifications for historical Hindu persecution and temple demolitions relating to the “shortcomings” of the Hindu society.
To excuse temple demolitions and desecration, many say that even Krishna, Buddha, Kabir, Nanak etc spoke against idol-worship (this is inaccurate though, and cherry-picking, but let’s assume).
Well, were the Taliban’s motivations to embrace Buddha’s teachings when they blasted the Bamiyan “idols”? Did the Mughals occupy the Golden Temple, convert it into an entertainment centre with dancing girls, and fill the sarovar with blood in reverence of Guru Nanak?
The motivations were to subjugate and insult the kaafirs, as they proudly mentioned in their memoirs.
Many others, even some government textbooks, say that the Hindu society was riddled with caste, child marriage etc when Islam came to the country and subjugated Hindus.
How does it matter? Did these invaders attack Hindus, ransack their temples with the best interest of Hindus in mind?
Pakistan says so. After its formation, the Islamic republic relegated its non-Muslim past as an aberration of history only there to be corrected by Islam.
Rubina Saigol, a Pakistani scholar, in An Education in Demonology, says, “Pakistani textbooks propagate a divisive ideology where Muslims are always heroic and Hindus invariably diabolical”. It was in the best interest of Hindus, as only after arrival of Islam, India enters its “moral and cleansed” phase.
In fact, “civilising mission” was the main justification of the colonial rule by White Europeans, and the principle of ‘self-determination’ that the colonised people held so dearly, challenged this. The argument was that good or bad, perfect or not, a people had the right to decide their own destiny and progress on their own, not under a foreign power.
Whether it was social evils, poverty or feudalism, the response of the national movement was the same – the problem is ours to solve, not yours to use. Indian national movement has no meaning without this.
To me, a person who says, “What about caste-system or Sati” whenever the discussion on Hindu persecution is raised, is like a person whose first question, on hearing about a crime of rape is, “what was she wearing”.
The author is an IIT alumna with deep interest in society, culture and politics. Views are personal.
This article was first published by Swarajya.