Hindutva: A Mistaken & Misused Concept
Continued from Part VIII
Modern India is a pluralist society where apart from the native Hindus, a significant numbers of people from all creed and communities are also part of the same society largely peacefully living and contributing towards the overall development, growth and building of the nation. This includes even communities like Zoroastrians (Parsees), Jews and Syrian Christians who came to India centuries back facing religious persecution and threat to life in their own homeland, and the Hindu India welcomed them to provide social security and occupation to live with dignity and harmony. The land has also assimilated the Islamic barbarians and invaders as also Christian colonizers and evangelists who came to India way back with aggressive designs to conquer and plunder but later on many of them chose to stay back and become the part of the mainstream Indian society. Of course Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are off-shoot of the same Sanatana Dharma representing the ancient Indian culture and religion thus very much indigenous to the same homeland.
This is not the subject of the current essay but it is also true that the Islamic invaders and Christian colonizers not only dominated and exploited the political, social and economic scenario of this nation for almost a millennium but also many of them tried to destroy and change the original cultural and religious fabric of this nation. We are all aware that even now widely used yet often controversial terms like Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan to denote ancient geographical and demographical identity of the Indian nation are not indigenous but the names derived from the Persian and Arabic languages. The original name of the country is Bharatvarsh, with few other indigenous nicknames.
Threatened with the foreigners’ dominance and their cultural onslaught, many of our patriotic, nationalist and reformist leaders endeavoured particularly in the last two centuries to rediscover and redefine India’s ancient cultural and religious legacy to forge union and awareness among the people, and to stand against injustice and misrule. Even the coining of the term ‘Hindutva’ was the part of the same pious effort which has now become a widely debated and controversial term, thanks to the greed and unscrupulous psyche and conduct of the power hungry and corrupt politicians of the Independent India. In the following paragraphs, the author intends to analyse the origin, controversies, myths and truth behind the term ‘Hindutva’.
Political Agenda and Gimmicks
The legendary Congress, leftists parties and some others often oppose ‘Hindutava’ in the name of Hindutva-hegemony or majoritarian-Hindutva to instil fear and insecurity among minorities to polarise them on political and social lines to augment own support, more so because they, particularly Muslims, are known to vote en masse during the elections often based on the edicts of clergy or community call. Sometimes their opposition and propaganda is so venomous that it crosses all limits of decency and social norms linking it with communal hatred and violence. Then to derive political mileage, they also resort to reverse gimmicks as per convenience. To illustrate the point, two instances of the recent past are briefly enumerated here.
During the recent Gujarat elections in November/December 2017, the Congress party president enthusiastically expressed his new found love for the Hinduism. During election campaign, he is reportedly visited as many as twenty-seven temples and his party spokesmen formally declared him a Shiva-bhakt (devotee) and janeyu-dhari pandit (Hindu). A controversy errupted when his name was found entered in a register meant for the non-Hindus in one of the famous temple. On this the Congress leader Kapil Sibal, in a counter attack on Prime Minister Modi, spoke as under:
“…Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not a real Hindu. These people (BJP) have forgotten the Hindu religion and adopted 'Hindutva' instead…How many times Modi goes daily to temples! Does he go there in the morning? A person respects a temple who honours feelings of Hindu dharma. He (Modi) has left Hinduism and adopted Hindutva which has nothing to do with Hinduism. You (Modi) are not real Hindu. Real Hindu is one who treats every Hindustani as brother, sister or mother; One who speaks against violence instantly and not after three months; one who doesn’t do politics all the time specially when it is a question of people’s right; and one who goes among the farmers to understand their difficulties.”
Even a layman would be astonished with this new concept and description of the Indian religion put forth by the worthy Congress politician.
In another incident, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Bengal organised a ‘Brahmin convention’ in Birbhum district in January 2017 attended by the Chief Minister wherein thousands of priests were felicitated and each of them given a cow, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a shawl and pictures of Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Mother Goddess Sharda (Durga). The party leader later explained that the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) wants to divide the society while the TMC takes along all communities and religion to move forward. The leader explained that the aim of the Brahmin convention was to highlight the misinterpretation of Hinduism by the BJP and explain what the Hindu religion stood for. After all the ‘Hindutva’ is not a copyright of the BJP alone.
While referring to these developments, the author feels discomfort to include political issues in an apolitical essay but it’s reference is necessary to make the point to readers. Both the Congress and TMC are long known for their appeasement and wooing of the minorities, particularly Muslim electorate. The national media and political analysts have interpreted and cited these events as the new soft-Hindutva agenda of the Congress and TMC parties to attract Hindu voters. At the same time, two incidents are sufficed to make the point how the religious plurality of the nation is being exploited by the greedy political class in furtherance of own selfish interests. From the above account, one can easily see that many politicians perhaps don’t even understand the ABCD of ‘Hindutva’ while being trigger-happy to talk like an expert in the public domain.
What is Hindutva?
The term ‘Hindutva’ is a fusion of two words Hindu + Tattva, which literally means ‘Hindu Principles’. To look into the principles, we may have to look into the evolutionary history of the civilization and culture of the people whom we call Hindu in the modern age. By various accounts and estimates, the Hindu civilization is dated from about four to nine thousand years; the former takes into account the Vedic age while the latter figure takes into account the vast expanse of the pre-Vedic period too. Unlike the other two major Abrahamic religions of the world viz. Christianity and Islam, Hinduism is not based on a single holy book or last messiah. The evolution of the Hindu civilization has been natural and continuing based on the teachings of scriptures primarily Vedas and Upanishads, and sages and ascetics since the ancient time, as interpreted and explained by scholars and enlightened people from time to time.
Thus the Hindu civilization or Hinduism (religious and cultural tradition) is a sum total synthesis of spiritual wisdom and knowledge addressing all aspects of human lives of which the religion is one part. In that sense, it is a kind of living idea that has grown, proliferated and improved with the time imbibing and assimilating any contemporary thought or practice found useful for the mankind. Hindutva is the gist and articulation of this idea of continuing freedom of thought from which emerges the multifarious Hindu Principles, many of which have been explained at length in the previous parts of the author’s series on the subject. Essentially, two quotes from the ancient Hindu ascetics summarise the crux of the philosophy around which ‘Hindutva’ is knitted and proliferated.
These ingrained philosophies are:
1) Vasudhava Kutumbakam
i.e. The entire world is one family.
2) Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti
i.e. The Universal Consciousness (Brahman or God) is the same,
but different people call it by different names.
The former is illustrated and self-validated by the fact that Hindus never invaded or forced people of other faiths for submission to the Hinduism either through coercion or evangelism while the latter suggests that the Hindu ascetics had learned the truth thousands of years back. Therefore, Hindutva could be defined as a universal and timeless compilation of human wisdom – a synonym of the Sanatana dharma which literally means ‘forever continuing’.
Supreme Court Interpretation of Hindutva
On December 11, 1995, a three judge Bench of the Supreme Court delivered a historic judgment disposing of a number of appeals which arose from the litigations in the Bombay High Court relating to the validity of the elections of certain Shiv Sena - BJP candidates to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly wherein while seeking votes from the electorate, the candidates had allegedly spoken about the formation of a Hindu state. The Supreme Court bench came to the conclusion that the words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ should not be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the People of India depicting the way of life of the Indian people.
Thus the Supreme Court of India ruled in the judgement that "Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism ... it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption ... that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion.” The Supreme Court further ruled that "No precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms 'Hindu', 'Hindutva' and 'Hinduism'; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage."
Some self-proclaimed secular parties and organizations had opined that the judgement was a blow to ‘secular democracy’ underlining the need for a review by a Constitutional Bench comprising of at least five judges. On a plea of the social activist Teesta Setalvad to check the devastating consequences of its 1995 judgment defining Hindutva or Hinduism as a "way of life" and nothing to do with the narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry, the Supreme Court bench comprising of seven judges ruled out again in October 2016 re-visiting the ‘Hindutva’ verdict of 1995 making it clear that there was no need to go far a larger debate on ‘Hindutva’.
Hindu Revivalism in the Modern Indian History
During the hundreds of years of subjugation initially under the Islamic invaders and subsequently by the European colonizers, the Hindu society had degenerated seized with numerous social evils, ignorance and low morale. For instance, social evils like child marriage, female infanticide and sati tradition were never a part of ancient Hindu culture but had crept in the society in medieval times mainly to save family’s honour from the atrocities and onslaught of foreign rulers and zealots. Raja Rammohan Roy, a Hindu patriot, scholar and humanist, was perhaps first in the early nineteenth century to relentlessly work for the social, religious and intellectual regeneration of the Hindu society. Among the many more Indians who worked for the revival of the Hindu society, four eminent personalities viz. Swami Dayanda Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Shri Vinayak Damodar Savarkar could be cited as four progenitors of Hindutva who devoted their life for the propagation and dissemination of the Hindu revivalist thoughts and ideas.
Dayanand Saraswati was a Hindu religious leader and founder of the Arya Samaj, who attempted to reform the Hindu society based on Vedic traditions and philosophy. He was also among the first to give a call for the Swaraj in 1876 later adopted by Lokmanya Tilak. He was a firm believer of the infallible authority of the Vedas, and a strong proponent of the doctrine of Karma and Reincarnation. During his life time, he also promoted the equal rights for women, the right to education for all and the reading of scriptures for moral development.
Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of the nineteenth century Indian mystic Ramakrishna Paramhansa, is known for the introduction and propagation of the Indian Vedanta philosophy and Yoga to the Western world, particularly the United States of America. He is considered as a major architect of the revivalism of Hindutva in India bresides propagation of high nationalist sentiments among the Indian masses. Besides, he is credited with raising interfaith awareness and bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the late 19th century through his works.
Sri Aurobindo was an Indian philosopher, yogi, poet and nationalist. He not only worked for reforms and spiritual evolution of Hindu masses but also joined the movement for independence from the British rule. Later he settled in Pondicherry and evolved the Integral Yoga, a new method of spiritual practice. He was a strong proponent of the Vedic concept of spiritual realisation insisting that besides liberating person, it also transforms his (or her) nature enabling a divine life on earth.
Shri Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was an Indian pro-independence activist, politician, lawyer, poet and writer of the twentieth century who is actually credited with the coining of the term ‘Hindutva’ which, according to him, is akin to Hinduness. He was more popularly known as Swatantryaveer Savarkar. According to him, the purpose of coining the term Hindutva was in essence to create a collective identity for Bharatwasis (Indians). His pragmatic political philosophy had the elements of utilitarianism, rationalism with positivism and humanism with universalism.
These great nationalists, spiritual leaders and revivalists had one central theme that a good society would be possible only if people follow the correct principles of dharma as part of ancient Indian culture and civilization. Of course there are many other social and spiritual leaders too who significantly contributed for the social, political and spiritual revival of the Hindu society in the last two centuries. However, the aforesaid leaders turned out to be powerful icons of social and religious revival and regeneration more so because their methods of engagement with people and their revivalist ideas were of a much wider appeal among the masses than simply limiting it to an intellectual exercise.
Hinduism vis-a-vis Hindutva
Bharatvarsh (India) has been the traditional, and in fact, the only homeland for the people whom we call Hindus today. However, ironically in independent India, the terms of Hinduism and Hindutva often invite controversy among left-centric and left wing politicians, minority clerics and many self-proclaimed secularists. Many people in the minority communities, particularly Muslims, are suspicious of these terms and oppose it out of fear and apprehensions of Hindu dominance while the politicians and the stated secularists prefer to use these terms in a way that serves best their own interests and image building. But, according to Swatantryaveer Savarkar, Hinduism represents a civilizational culture while Hindutva denotes the Hindu characteristic or Hinduness of this culture.
In essence, the words Hindu, Hinduism and Hindutva are not against any community or religion. The terms Hinduism and Hindutva are different with distinctive nuances. A Hindu is one who is an inheritor or adherent of the social and spiritual parampara (lineage or tradition) that has its origin in Bharatavarsh (the Indian Subcontinent) thousands years ago, Hinduism indicates the composite synthesis of all such practices, rituals, beliefs and scriptures, including deities and mode of worship etc. while Hindutva represents these characteristics among adherents. When the minorities are protected under the Constitution and laws to practice their social and spiritual traditions why should anybody have any problem or objection if the majority also goes with their age old traditions of the land.
Even going by the established English meaning, an ‘ism’ represents a distinctive practice, system or philosophy. Therefore, suffixing it with the term Hindu only vindicates the explanation of Hinduism as given in the preceding paragraph. All people who follow Hinduism are characterized by certain social and spiritual traits, distinctive behaviour, attitude and mindset; the sum total of all this could be defined as Hindutva or Hindu-ness. Therefore, Hindutva represents an ethos that is based on Hinduism i.e. Indian cultural ethos of which religion is only a constituent, transcending the narrow boundaries of other religions of world. Technically, there is no difference in Indian-ness and Hindutva. For instance, if the cultural practices of different communities living in India for centuries are closely scrutinized, one would see several elements of commonalities. When enlightened and scholarly people talk about Hindutva, they actually refer to these elements of commonality among the Hindu and non-Hindu Indians beyond the narrow boundaries of creedal considerations.
To that extent, ‘Tattva’ (Sanskrit term) in Hindutva represents true character or meaning of the Indian philosophy and spiritual interpretation behind it. On the other hand ‘ism’ (English term) in some cases has a negative connotation too suggesting an oppressive or discriminatory belief or attitude. Therefore, some people try to give a negative shade to the ‘Hinduism’ too. It may be remembered that this term was never in practice in India till the foreign invaders and colonizers made their stronghold in the sub-continent. In fact, it is a gift of Arab and Persian invaders and subsequently coined by the British colonial powers who are widely known for conspiring to belittle and destroy the Indian culture to strengthen their colonial hold during that period. The original term for the Indian culture and religion is Sanatana Dharma, still in use in scriptures and aware Indians, and Hinduism and Hindutva should be gazed from that perspective by any unbiased onlooker.
Secularism or Pseudo-Secularism!
On independence, while Pakistan opted to pursue their destiny as an Islamic state but India with the Hindu majority remained a secular state. It is not a secret now that the Hindus in West and East Pakistan continued to face persecution in the form of coercion, and to some extent avarice and inducement too; on the contrary, in India the rights of Muslims were in fact protected and strengthened by the Indian leaders according to desires of the clergy and politicians. To illustrate the point, a few examples of the separate personal law, Article 370 of the Constitution, independent Waqf Boards and the amendment of the Indian Constitution to deprive alimony rights to the divorcee women should be sufficed.
Though the statistics may cause some discomfiture to some people but the ground reality is that in Pakistan most of the Hindus have either converted or killed or banished from the country, in Bangladesh Hindu population has reduced from over 22% in 1951 to about 8% as of now but in India Muslim population which was a little less than 10% in 1951, has now grown to approximately 15%. The above facts is self-validating hardly requiring any further analysis when a section of media, politicians, clergy and self-proclaimed secularists talk about the intolerance and threat from Hindutva to Muslims and other minority communities.
Despite partition of the country on ‘two-nation theory’ purely on religious lines, the political guardians under the premiership of Nehru consciously tried to distance self even from talking about the Hindus or Hinduism in India. By partition, technically the governance of India was passed on to Hindu successors and the state informally adopting secularism, such was the apprehensions of the Congress leadership that even the modern India’s roots and links with Hindu past and legacy was not recognised or defined. On the contrary, reportedly Nehru is on record to have stated once, “By education I am an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim, and a Hindu only by accident of birth."
Nehru’s agnostic stance and leftist leanings are well known, so it is not surprising if he reportedly was of view that the talk of Hindu culture would injure India’s interests and that the ideology of Hindu Dharma was completely out of tune with the times and if it took root in India, it would smash the country to pieces. Consequently, in the name of secularism it was taboo those days even to break a coconut or light an oil lamp in official functions those days lest the religious symbols might invade the public life. Even his reservations on the Somnath temple and differences with other national leaders are well documented.
Consequently after independence, the Government’s interference in Hindus’ social and religious life continued unabated in so far as the Hindu Personal Laws were tinkered, supervision of temples taken over, temple revenues were appropriated and religious festivals regulated but they conspicuously stayed away completely from making any reformist move in the minorities, particularly Muslims’ social and religious affairs, in turn making a mockery of the Article 14 of the Constitution on the equality of all citizens before law. This self-denial in the name of secularism under the western and leftist influence extended even to the misrepresentation and falsification of some history texts adopted for curriculum in the educational text books to deprive the contemporary Indians from the past Hindu glory.
This indeed was a perverse secularism, knowingly or unknowingly, based on the appeasement of the minorities on the cost of the majority population, and not a true secularism by any standards and norms. More precisely, it should be called pseudo-secularism. Over the decades, this dogmatic stance and discriminatory policies have led to the development of an eco-system in the country that now perfectly suits to a section of media, politicians, clergy and self-proclaimed intellectuals and rationalists. It is not surprising that this section of people, who claim themselves as secularists, remain silent and passive on the issue of ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs by the Muslim separatists but came out in open to support illegal immigrant Rohingyas and Bangladeshis on various counts.
The same secularists try to dismiss and ignore instances of violence caused by the minority people as a law and order problem but make it a national agenda of intolerance and atrocity if the victim belongs to a minority community even in any isolated incident. Obviously, Nehru’s brand of secularism that subsequently became the suo moto dogma of the Congress’s secular policy, is neither in conformity with the accepted philosophy of the western secularism i.e. the complete separation of the religion from State nor the defined Indian secularism i.e. equal treatment to all religions without any preferential treatment to any one by the state.
In the above context, it is not surprising that many national leaders under Nehru’s premiership had serious differences with him on the matters of national importance but avoided open confrontation on issues. However, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who was the Minister for Industry and Supply in Nehru's cabinet ultimately made resolve to quit from the Indian National Congress and launch the nationalist party Bhartiya Jana Sangh in 1951 along with many other members of the Indian National Congress disenchanted with the policies and politics of Nehru and the Congress Party under him.
In 1980, it was re-organised as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently India's largest political party and in power at the Centre since 2014 with the active support of non-political nationalist organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and some other like-minded groups. The official philosophy of the BJP is ‘Integral humanism,’ a philosophy first formulated by Deendayal Upadhyaya in 1965, who described it as an indigenous economic model that puts the human being at centre stage. The party has also adopted Hindutva as an ideology articulated by Indian independence activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. It is irony of the Indian democracy and secularism, that its antagonists call it a communal party while the party's current mantra (motto) is "Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas" (inclusive developomemt with the participation of all).
Hindutva in Perspective
Hinduism has a clean and glorious history of tolerance for the divergent views and respect for different faith and belief systems. This is reflected in co-existence of different philosophies and religious sects within the Hinduism as also the willing acceptance and the spirit of peaceful co-existence with the people of other faiths and creeds. It is this spirit and Vedic philosophies of the Vasudhava Kutumbakam and Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti which allowed Indians to welcome the Jews who faced Roman persecution, the Zoroastrians (Parsees) and Syrian Christians who fled the Islamic onslaught, and more recent the Tibetan Buddhists facing the Chinese occupation and persecution.
Hindu kings and warriors never invaded any civilization or kingdom outside the Indian sub-continent for the greed of power, riches or land. Hindutva never talked about any ‘kafir’ or ‘infidel’ to inject xenophobic fervour or missionary zeal among Hindus. It has never made any attempt to divide human beings into "believers" and "non-believers" through religious teachings and sermons. The history is witness that, barring aberrations, they have taken recourse to arms and fought against enemy only in self-defence against any organized violence or other organised crimes.
Many Western countries are officially secular yet they endorse an official state religion. For instance, Germany, England and many other West European countries have mixed population with the majority Christians and other minority religious groups but the countries are officially designated as Christian nations. If Christianity and Islam are not a threat for other communities in Western and Islamic countries, how could the Hinduism or Hindutva with a known tolerance credentials be a threat for minorities in India? To surmise or say that the Hindutva is a threat to the secular image of the nation is a motivated agenda grossly unfair to the nation.
Therefore, if a section of media, corrupt politicians or orthodox clergy try to escalate their hate agenda by sensationalising any isolated unfortunate event, people should not be misled to believe that their religion and survival is at stake or endangered. In fact, the real threat to the very people and integrity of the nation is from such biased people with hidden motives and agenda who try to see similar incidents from different mirrors and perspectives in futherance of own selfish interests, and fiddle with Hindutva to suit their convenience.
To be continued...