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Hinduism vs Hindutva debate ignores Hindu people, puts religion where it doesn’t exist

Islam and Christianity, which are more monolithic and organised, benefit from the divide that Indian Constitution creates between ‘secular’ and ‘religious’.

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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.

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?

Also read: Authoritarian streak among Indians on the rise and it’s helping BJP’s hard Right turn

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.

Also read: The 10-point checklist on how to be an autocrat — and here’s how Modi fits the bill

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.”

Also read: Legal autocrats are on the rise. They use constitution and democracy to destroy both

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”.

Also read: Indian Muslims have finally found their voice, there’s no going back: Salman Khurshid

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.

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  1. Print&Shekar Gupta have realized there is no gain in modi&Hindu bashing.
    If India has to give up kashmir be it…but India should be homeland of Hindus.
    If muslims can have 57 islamic countries why can’t Hindus rightfully claim what is theirs??
    Either every countries should be secular..if not then Hindus have rights to make India homeland of Hindus&Sikhs.

  2. Christianity and Islam are as plural as Hinduism.
    If the writer is unable to see violence perpetrated in the name of hindutva and still defensive it, it is nothing but a shame to put an article like this.

    • if you hold your argument, how would you justify mob lynching of Brahmin Hindus in Kashmir, and the aggressive policies of muslims who seek to enforce sharia law wherever they go? I need not include incidents that prove my point, there are plenty that flood social media.

  3. Why don’t we erase the column,asking your religion from school, college certificates and all official documents of Govt of India?. Any govt or law maker has the courage to do that? Do they have the courage to pass a bill on it? Congress had the chance since Independence,but they haven’t done. Now BJP using the mistake or lack of vision of Congress for BJP’s advantage. And citizen has to suffer.

  4. The basic fact is that Christianity is a cult in which a historical person is deified, and thus fraudulently designated as a religion. This illegal state, even for a thousand years and with billion followers, is still an illegal state, and everyone who supports this illegal state in the legislature is acting lawlessly – here illegally in terms of religion. Moreover, it is a fraudulent cult whose centerpiece is the daily blessing of alcohol, even in front of children. Open your eyes! Christianity in reality, besides everything that is too part of non-Christian life, is simply a fraudulent cult of alcohol, spread in this way by trespassing of legislation through power and political paths – it has nothing to do with ordinary people. Therefore you can reject Christianity, if you reject it as a religion, you will never reject it because it is not a religion. Will anyone be prudent?

  5. This is Hindutva propaganda cloaked as intelligent thought. Islam and Christianity are not monolithic as portrayed. The simplest thing is to separate governance and religion. Let the government focus on improving the economy and people will take care of their spiritual needs. We don’t need to spend so much time on this topic. Fact of the matter is that the government is unable to figure out what to do with the economy. So all their energy is focused on Hindutva.

  6. All Hindus should read this article. A new Hindu awakening is needed to come out of the brainwashing they have been subjected to by the lefties for decades. Can’t wait for a wholesale rewriting on a indian textbooks and history books. A good starting is to disown the works of Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and their clan.

    • this is called revisionism. people like you do not believe in our history, our culture, our constitution. you only believe in a ideology influenced by foreign dictators who ended-up devastating their countries and half the world.

      • It is cunning to say Christianity and Islam are monolithic and Hindus are not. They have as many divisions as Hindus have. Throughout history they fought among themselves like we did.

        • AND they have had voices that spoke of unity and love too. the narrative of “indic” dis-unity v/s “abrahamic” unity is total nonsense.

  7. Political hindutva will collapse like a house of cards as a lot fault lines have been put under the carpets. Hindu society like others is not monolithic. Historical enmities and rivalries , along caste, language,dominance etc are bound to raise their heads sooner or later.

  8. The point about Hinduism and its texts is also built on the fact that there are many of them written at various points in history. None were written by somebody like Savarkar for the core purpose of meeting a political ideology in the modern sense. Secondly, to compare Hinduism to Abrahamic religions without context to the region where they originated is disservice to both academic religious studies and disingenuous to the faiths itself. Wish there was a debate on the author’s perceived pre-eminence in comparative religious understanding, the edifice of which is more monolithic than the great Brihadeeshwara temple. History is context and understanding its paths is painstaking. Synthesizing the vastness to a 1000 word counternarrative is as stupid as Tharoor’s tweet!

  9. this is a hodgepodge of incoherent thoughts, underpinned by a single idea – hindu-bachao! the approach reminds me of something i read about the islamic-state and why they often used to attack secular targets rather than those from other religions. they reckoned that they will only thrive in a world where “gray areas are destroyed” – meaning it is inconvenient for them to have people around who articulate an inclusive humanistic view point. same for hindutva guys – intellectually, they must target secularists even more than islamists.

    • Unable to understand, either because of a real lack of grey matter or simply due to preconceived prejudice ( after all a regular reader of The Print hardly expects a reasoned defence of Hidutva in this publication) does not make it a hodgepodge.
      The hatred that is stirred in you may speak of your own predisposition and a serious deficiency of tolerance , love and understanding towards others of differing opinion and a false moral superiority sourced from deep ignorance.
      May you be blessed with wisdom and knowledge !

      • I don’t know who has brainwashed you and whether in spite of your pseudo you have read Indian history, or indeed Canadian history, but if you have any historical perspective at all, or any training in logical analysis, you will see the logical fallacies and the inherent intolerance in the above article.

    • Same for secularists who don’t exist is Abrahmic extremist countries around the world but will cry foul against Hindus.

      Secularist can’t see Islamist created Pakistan but secularist will forsee if someone even talks about having Hindu Rashtra

  10. A long rant with no substance! At the end it does not matter what you call it and what false history and irrational narrative you use. any agenda of hate needs to be resisted. The moment Hindutva gives up its hatred towards others and agrees to be egalitarian, I, personally will stop opposing it. The narrative of religion-X v/s religion-Y or clash of civilizations is now dated – “rotten in the sack” (bosta-pocha) as we say in Bengali.

    • Do Abrahamic religionists will give up the us-vs-them narrative? If you ask only the rational to desist from religious pride, and others to keep theirs intact, it does not work. Being against common sense you see.

      • Who says I approve of any form of religious pride? yet, as I happen to have been born a Hindu (and never converted to anything else), my criticism is the most relevant for Hinduism – neither Christianity nor Islam, nor indeed Judaism lacks people who ask the same of their own religion. Gandhi and Ambedkar did the same as I am doing and I am proud to be in this company.

  11. In atavistic times , the only sort of conquest was by sword. The Hindus lost all the wars winning some battles here or there. While one glorifies one’s own winners ,those whom to we lost are villains ,rightly so. How so can we get even, now is the time. For all the wars we lost ,all the temples demolished , the gods have given us just opportunity,the opportunity to regurgitate every loss &and the brave &the ferocious are fighting wars that were finished 100 of years ago.

    • Even now in Assam main adversary of Assamese caste Hindu are Bengali caste Hindus for the simple reason that they are the main competitors for jobs. Throughout history Hindus fought against Hindus. No Hindu states liked Maratha subjugation or their cruel acts. Religious identity alone is never enough, this is true of Christians and Muslims as well.

      • You are dumb, Assamese Hindus don’t want any Muslims, they are not opposed to Bengali Hindus, they just don’t everybody to be settled only in their province. For Marathas, they were the ones responsible for mughal tyranny, give them the credit for it. Cruel act? They freed a large part of India from mughal bondage.

        • Assamese Hindus are not opposed to Bengali Hindus: are you MAD or simply ignorant? ask ANY one with a modicum of knowledge on the matter – Assamese have opposed Bengalis for many decades now. To understand why, you need to either as a native or read-up.

    • Yes, the was started by them, it should be our job to finish. Revenge must be taken for the killings by two ME based devil faiths.

  12. Brilliant article with insightful take on the contentious issues. Ideally, RSS or BJP thinkers should have done this sort of analysis to counter attacks from likes of Shashi! The article needs to be studied and widely discussed. In fact, this article provides a basis for a formal ‘religious group’ to be called ‘Hindutva’ ! (Political) Hinduism, as understood by Shashi, will be for the sickulars!!

    • Exactly they hate Hindutva because it eliminates the caste diversity used to exploit Hindus which was created by Brits through 1872 caste census and their political stooge AO Hume’s Indian National Congress. It creates single Hindu entity which they fear will to ending of their Muslim or xian politics.

  13. Great Article, hope thugs like Ashok read it. Hindutva is the crux of India and two major Abrahamic religions are our enemy.

    • Only in the land of the blind and foolish would Ashok be a thug and Rajvir a scholar. In reality Rajvir is the scum of the earth.

      • Exactly. The RSS was NOT a product of traditional Hindu values; it was completely based off the Italian Fascists. But this is NEVER disclosed, because that would make the RSS’s garbage ideology nothing different from the people they so love to diss : Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. RSS only believes in becoming an Indian version of the Schutzstaffel (SS), or the Sturmabteilung (SA) – two organizations whose names have become infamous in the annals of world history, for all the evils they committed.

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