Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 2/4—Ideological 1

Rohit Dhankar

Part 2: Ideological basis for direct threat-1

Mohan Bhagwat

Bhagwat, as is expected of RSS chief, is providing the ideological basis for Singhal’s Hindu belligerence. His statement, as in the news report in The Hindu on 10th August 2014, is based on a carefully created logical confusion in the meanings of terms “Hindu”, “Hindutva”, “Hindustan” and “Hinduism”.

Bhagwat’s rhetorical poser “[I]f inhabitants of England are English, Germany are Germans and USA are Americans then why all inhabitants of Hindustan are not known as Hindus?” uses the terms “Hindustan” and “Hindu” as geographical terms. And that is how these terms are believed to have been originated. They were a reference to a river, and the land ‘beyond’ that river seen from the west to east. It is not necessary that any cultural essentialism or religious significance was part of this early use of the terms. Bhagwat should also remember that these terms were given to us by foreigners who knew very little about the people living on this side of the river. Another point he should pay attention to is that the terms ‘India’ and ‘Indians’ are also connected with the same river, given by foreigners and no one objects to their use today. Because India and Indian were never associated with a particular religious or cultural essentialism. The issue is: why Bhagwat is asking this question regarding ‘Hindustan’ and ‘Hindu’ instead of his beloved Bharat and Bharatiya or ‘India’ and ‘Indian’? The reason becomes clear in what he says further down.

What he wishes to rub in is “[T]he cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture”. In this statement obscurantism and lies make their appearance with full force.

“Hindutva” is a term more recently invented to essentialize Indianness and equate it with Hinduism. The most commonly known definition of ‘Hindutva’ is a mix of geographical and cultural elements. According to Hindutva ideology anyone who is: 1. an Indian national (the geographical element); 2. considers India as his ‘pitribhoomi’, that is land of forefathers; and 3. also considers India as his ‘poonyabhoomi’, that is the holy land; is a Hindu. So if someone thinks that his/her forefathers came from some other part of the world or if his/her holy land or pilgrimage land lies outside what Sangh Parivar consideres ‘akhanda Bharat’ is not a Hindu. This cultural identity fits the Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs quite well. But the believers of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Many of them consider themselves descendants of people who came from outside and have their pilgrimage places outside imaginary akhanda Bharat.

In today’s situation the proclamation that cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva might mean one of the two things only. One, those who consider themselves descendants of outsiders and have their pilgrimages outside akhand Bharat are not true Indians, this is insinuation of disloyalty. Or alternatively, they should start believing that their forefathers were inhabitants of akhanda Bharat and stop their pilgrimage outside that geographical area. Both alternatives are obnoxiously hegemonic and divisive. Go against people’s freedom of belief systems and faiths. If accepted will destroy secularism and democracy.

The second half of his statement that “the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture” squarely jumps into the cultural identity. The recently invented term ‘Hindutva’ has become an ancient culture and it is claimed that Indian subcontinent had only this culture in the ancient times. Anyone with a smattering of historical knowledge understands that: one, ‘Hinduism’ itself is a term of relatively recent origin. Two, there was no time in Indian history when any one culture was the only culture.
Whether Indus valley culture was the same as Vedic culture is still being debated. The subcontinent always has had the Dravidian culture, and various other indigenous cultures. India was always a cauldron of ethnicity and cultural ideas; and that is its beauty. The jump Bhagwat makes from a geographical claim to cultural claim is patently false.

The next claim is a good example of deliberate obfuscation. He claims “that Hindutva is a way of life and Hindus could be of any religion worshipping any God or not worshipping at all”. First, he is replacing ‘Hinduism’ with ‘Hindutva’. Hinduism is a relatively open term; Hindutva a more closed and harder version of Hinduism, an ideological term. Hindutva is a politico-religious ideology, adopted by fundamentalist Hindus. Hinduism is an umbrella term that includes several religious sects and can plausibly be considered a way of life.

If one claims that “Hinduism is a way of life” then it can be defended. There are Hindus who worship various gods, have a variety of religious beliefs, a plethora of rituals, idol worshippers and considering idolatry unacceptable; and even atheists. They call themselves Hindus, and beyond that there is nothing which can pin point anything common in their belief systems. Most of them throughout the history have been quite eclectic regarding their belief systems and what the others believed did not bother them much. But they also have had their fanatics and indulged in wars with other religious faiths. Still the claim that Hinduism is a way of life and not a religion at the least is debatable; personally I think defendable. But not so ‘Hindutva’.

Even if one replaces ‘Hindutva’ in Bhagwat’s claim with ‘Hinduism’ and says that “Hindus could be of any religion worshipping any God” it has problems. Hindus mainly have been worshippers of the gods in Vedic pantheon. But Hindu gods breed and new gods from other groups are adopted. The oldest examples of inclusion of non-Vedic gods in Vedic pantheon is supposed to be the Shiva family. The objects of veneration in other faiths are included in gods, Buddha and Mahavir are examples. Loved and respected human beings are elevated to the status of gods. This has been the historical nature of Hinduism. But we should note two things. One, that no god of non-subcontinental origin has ever had a large following as the main god for any section of Hindu people. However, they have no objection to elevating Christ and even Muhammad to the position of their gods. However, such attempts do not have a large following. Partly this could be because of the resistance from Muslims and Christians themselves, they never wanted their God and prophet to be one of many in the pantheon. But it is partly also due to the distance between the concept of godhood between the subcontinental ideas and ideas in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The irony, however, is that the most ominous threat to this openness and eclectic nature of Hinduism is posed by the Hindutva brigade itself; and Bhagwat is the most important figure in this brigade who is now invoking this very openness. They don’t seem to realise that creating ideologically closed and divisive concepts do not go well with eclecticism and openness; and that one cannot use both strategies simultaneously.

Bhagwat also claimed that Hindutva has been the only basis to keep India united since ancient days despite having plenty of diversities. We have already talked about Hindutva and its antiquity. For the sake of arguments let us suppose that what he really means is that “Hinduism has been the only basis to keep India united since ancient days despite having plenty of diversities.” Hinduism, even if it is difficult to define precisely, can be said to be an ancient Indian family of religious sects which share a wide range of beliefs, rituals, ethical principles and ways of looking at the world; and thus a way of life. However, no single religious idea is common across all Hindus. The unity is Hindu ism is created by overlapping family resemblance. [Continues …]

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