Reflection on some slogans-1

January 8, 2020

Rohit Dhankar

Protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) and possibility of National Register of Citizens (NRC) are wide spread across the nation. The CAA has passed through a democratic procedure by a democratically elected government. NRC at the moment is ambiguously understood issue with claims and counter claims regarding it being already initiated and not initiated as well as its criteria. The people of a democracy always have a right to peaceful protest, and Indian citizens are using that with vigor. All mass protests use variety of slogans to express their core concerns and ideas. The current protests also use many slogans. In this piece I am trying to reflect on a few of such slogans.

In the current protests two general formats of slogans are very popular. They can be named as “azadi” format and “kabr khudegi” format. The azadi format has two sub-formats: one, azadi (freedom) from format. This runs like “X se azadi”. A lead protester should “X se” and the body of protesters shout “azadi”. Examples; Lead: “Manu-vad se”, Protesters: “azadi”. Another sub-format of the azadi slogans spells who wants azadi. The lead shouts “X mange”, supporters should “azadi”. Example; Lead: “Dalit mange”, Supporters: “azadi”. Here we will discuss only the first sub-format. That is: “X se”, “azadi”.

Second popular format is “X ki kabr khudegi, Y ki dharti par”. Here the lead shouts “X ki kabr khudegi”, Supporters shout “Y ki dharti/chhaati par”. Example; Lead: “Jati-vad ki kabr khudegi”, Supporters: “Rajasthan ki dharti par”.

Both these formats are very powerful and versatile. Versatility comes from naming all the ills that one wants to oppose or remove one by one in the same format. Power comes from the speed and vigor with which these slogans are shouted. An experienced lead-protester (we have even professionals) can slowly raise the emotions and can take it to a frenzy leaving mind far behind. The supporters become simple followers without thinking and feel a swell of emotions which gives a high of feeling virtuous. The slogans are not only used to raise temporary frenzy, but also create permanent indoctrination when someone is subjected to this treatment repeatedly.

In this background, we will examine some of the slogans used in these and many other protests these days. We will not discuss the formats anymore, but the content of slogans. A tentative list of slogans to be examined:

  1. Hindutva ki kabr khudegi, Dilli ki dharti par”. (“Dilli” is just a place-holder, one can change it with AMU, JNU, or any other place.)
  2. Brahmanism ki kabr khudegi, Dilli ki dharti par”
  3. Manu-vad ki kabr khudegi, Dilli ki dharti par”
  4. Jati-vad ki kabr khudegi, Dilli ki dharti par”
  5. Sangh-vad ki kabr khudegi, Dilli ki dharti par”
  6. RSS ki kabr khudegi, Dilli ki dharti par”
  7. Bahusankhya-vad ki kabr khudegi, Dilli ki dharti par”

Of course, there are many more slogans, some of them are used only in the ‘azadi-format’, some used in both formats. But we will focus only on the above listed ones.

First, let’s note that all these slogans mention something that is associated with Hinduism. Not necessarily with the philosophy and ideals of Hinduism, but as practice of Hinduism is perceived by the so-called-liberals (SCLs).

Second, all that is mentioned in the slogans are supposed to be the evils of Hinduism. Therefore, it is assumed that no sane democrat may have any objection in digging the graves of these evils of Hinduism. Actually, this can be seen as retrieving a more benevolent form of Hinduism by purifying it of these ills. Therefore, before going any further let’s have a look at the meaning of the terms used here.

Hindutva: everyone considers Savarkar as the inventor of Hindutva, which is considered a political ideology. But this idea and ideology is also articulated and rearticulated by others. Particularly RSS leaders. Right from Golwalkar to Mohan Bhagawat. Savarkar, Golwalkar and Bhagwat (and others) all deny that “Hindu” means a religion, according to all of them the term Hindu has got nothing to do with what God or gods you worship and how you worship them. What your imagination of the fruits of that worship has no connection with being Hindu. To Savarkar anyone who is born in India, who considers India as the land of her/his forefathers (matri-bhoomi), and who considers India as the land of his/her heroes and holy people and respects its culture (punya-bhoomi) is a Hindu. Irrespective of what and how s/he worships for what purposes. But all said and done, Savarkar definitely does not consider Muslims as Hindus and Savarkar’s Hindutva is divisive as well as very suspicious of Muslims. Golwalker to me seems to be a step ahead and thinks of them as divisive force in the country and often loyal to Pakistan. In a more recent articulation Bhagwat seems to be attempting to be more inclusive; as reported by The Economic Times, 18th September 2018, he says: ‘Hindu Rashtra’ does not mean it has no place for Muslims as this concept is inclusive of all faiths and religions. “The Sangh works towards universal brotherhood and the cardinal principle of this brotherhood is unity in diversity. This thought comes from our culture, which the world calls Hindutva. That’s why we call it a Hindu Rashtra,” he said. Asserting that the RSS’ philosophy is to take everyone along, he said, “Hindu Rashtra doesn’t mean there’s no place for Muslims. The day it is said so, it won’t be Hindutva any more. Hindutva talks about Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.”

But yes, there could be, and is, a justified suspicion of this ideology. Therefore, one may consider a wish to dig Hindutva’s grave a progressive and secular slogan. But why in a protest against CAA and NRC? We will come to this question a little later.

Brahmanism: Encyclopedia Britannica defines Brahmanism as an “ancient Indian religious tradition that emerged from the earlier Vedic religion. In the early 1st millennium bce, Brahmanism emphasized the rites performed by, and the status of, the Brahman, or priestly, class as well as speculation about brahman (the Absolute reality) as theorized in the Upanishads (speculative philosophical texts that are considered to be part of the Vedas, or scriptures). In contrast, the form of Hinduism that emerged after the mid-1st millennium bce stressed devotion (bhakti) to particular deities such as Shiva and Vishnu.

During the 19th century, the first Western scholars of religion to study Brahmanism employed the term in reference to both the predominant position of the Brahmans and the importance given to brahman (the Sanskrit terms corresponding to Brahman and brahman are etymologically linked). Those and subsequent scholars depicted Brahmanism either as a historical stage in Hinduism’s evolution or as a distinct religious tradition. However, among practicing Hindus, especially within India, Brahmanism is generally viewed as a part of their tradition rather than as a separate religion.”

To me it sounds like faith of many Hindus today. The distinction between Brahmanism and Hinduism does not seem to be very clear. Kancha Ilahiya declares on the authority of Dr. Ambedkar that “Hindutva is nothing but Brahmanism. And whether you call it Hindutva or Arya Dharma or Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism, Brahmanism has no organic link with Dalit-Bahujan life, world-views, rituals and even politics”. Thus, Brahmanism starts looking like a term devised to deride Hinduism; to be used as a fig-leaf of defence when someone objects for insult to majority religion. The most of the slogan shouting protesters will easily accept Ilahiya’s authority I think.

Which means that digging grave for Hinduism is fine. Since Hinduism does have so many evils in it, let’s accept this premise for the sake of argument.

Manu-vad: Manu-vad is even more deserving of pushing into grave than Brahmanism and Hindutva. It directly preaches lower position of women and shudras in the society. Completely against equality. Therefore, a perfectly deserving candidate to push into the grave.

Jati-vad: no need to discuss. We don’t need casteism, therefore, fine to dig its grave. Though many Hindus may still be clinging to some or other form of Jati-vad. Often, I think the Dalits and OBCs are more attached to jati-vad in present day India than the higher castes. But let that be as it is.

Sangh-vad and RSS: They are the same thing. Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh (RSS) is seen as a Hindu nationalist body which is against Muslims and secularism. It is also considered the parent body of BJP which is directing its politics. Therefore, lets accept the wish to dig its grave a legitimate wish in a protest that is ostensibly to protect secularism and equality of Indian citizens.

On the basis of very scanty indications above, one may understand Hindutva, Sangh-vad and RSS as political ideology guiding BJP’s push for CAA and NRC. And therefore, it may be considered legitimate to raise slogans against them in protest against the same. But why include Brahmanism, jati-vad and Manu-vad? What these three have to do with CAA and NRC?

The clue may be found in the 7th slogan listed above. That is “Bahusankhya-vad ki kabr …”. The whole agenda is seen as majoritarianism. The majority community has put the BJP in power. Majority community is Hindu. Hinduism in practice has been characterised by Brahmanism, jati-vad and Manu-vad. Therefore, through these slogans some recognised evils of Hinduism are recounted, even if they are not directly involved in the present context. This is to create atmosphere against those who put such a divisive party in power.

These slogans were shouted in many large gatherings in the course of current protests with the kind of frenzy I have claimed above, to take supporters on an emotional and virtuous high, leaving their reason far behind. And therefore, may be used as a device for mass indoctrination against the target ideology and community supporting it. Above I have argued that all these are political and social evils of the majority religion in the country. Since they are ‘evils’, wishing to dig their grave even if not directly relevant to the issue should be fine. That seems to be the argument.

I hope readers of this long and dry piece agree with the above argument. Still request all to express their opinion.

Part 2 of this article will be posted tomorrow (as this has become too long) with reflection on some more slogans.

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8th January 2020

 

 

 

 

 


Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 4/4—Tools to counter

August 25, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

Part 4: Ideological tools to counter the threat

Hamid Dalwai

I am not a scholar of politics, nor have I read extensively on Hamid Dalwai. Actually I have read only what Ramachandra Guha includes in his “Makers of Modern India”. Guha calls Dalwai ‘The last modernist’, and includes excerpts from three of his essays. I find whatever little I have read of Dalwai’s writing forthright, balanced and bold; he does not pander to political correctness and takes on obscurantists, some liberals included, of all verities with equal objectivity.

Dalwai does not accept the theory that Hindu communalism originated in a response to Muslim communalism or that the Muslim communalism originated in response to Hindu communalism. He sees the origin of both in their own obscurantism and history; however, accepts that they feed on each other. He sees the roots of Muslim nationalism and separatism, that finally resulted in partition, in the Muslim mind-set that they were the rulers of India and the British snatched their inheritance from them. He thought that “[T]he foundation of Muslim nationalism is the postulate that Hindu and Muslim societies are autonomous and parallel social structures”. This idea of separate autonomous societies is antithetical to modern secular citizenship according to him.

Dalwai disagreed with all obscurantists, be they Muslims, Hindus or belonging to any other religion. He blamed obscurantist elements among Muslims for not being introspective enough and blaming Hindus for their own problems. He blamed the obscurantist Hindus for blocking the emerging modern ideas among Hindu population and feeding Muslim communalism; and he also blamed some liberals for soft-peddling Muslim communalism. I can hardly do better than quote Dalwai directly to understand the precarious position of secularism and on how it could be strengthened:

“Secularism in India, although embodied in the Constitution, is as yet only an aspiration. It has not yet permeated our social life. It is even in danger today. Within the Hindu majority, there is a strong obscurantist revivalist movement against which we find a very small class of liberals engaged in fight. Among Indian Muslims there is no such liberal minority leading the movement towards democratic liberalism. Unless Indian liberals, however small they are as a minority, are drawn from all communities and join forces on a secular basis, even the Hindu liberal minority will eventually lose its battle with communalist and revivalist Hindus [Note–Precisely what is happening today]. If Muslims are to be integrated in the fabric of a secular and integrated Indian society, a necessary precondition is to have a class of Muslim liberals who would continuously assail communalist dogmas and tendencies. Such Muslim liberals, along with Hindu liberals and others, would comprise a class of modem Indian liberals.”

Dalwai is prophetic writing little after independence (English translation published in 1968, Marathi Guha does not mention):

“It is often argued that Muslim communalism is only a reaction to Hindu communalism. This is not true. The real conflict in India today is between all types of obscurantism, dogmatism, revivalism, and traditionalism on one side and modem liberalism on the other. Indian politicians being short-sighted and opportunistic, communalism and orthodoxy is always appeased and seldom, if ever, opposed. This is why we need an agreement among all liberal intellectuals to create a non-political movement against all forms of communalism. If this is not done, democracy and liberalism will inevitably collapse in India. The stakes are high. It is a pity that few people realize the gravity of the situation. It is even more unfortunate that they are hardly informed about the true nature of the problem.”

I am quoting Dalwai extensively because I think he understood the problem accurately even before 1960s:

“I believe that if the Hindus were sufficiently dynamic, the Hindu-Muslim problem would be solved. For if the Hindus were dynamic, they would subject the Indian Muslims to several shocks which history has spared them. … Hindus can accept the challenge of Muslim politics in India only by developing dynamism and a balance of mind. But to develop such dynamism Hindu orthodoxy itself has to be liquidated. The caste system has to be eliminated. The Hindus must embrace modernism. They must create a society based on fundamental human values and the concept of true social equality. Unfortunately, the Hindu mind lacks balance. Even those Hindus who have accepted modernity, justice and brotherhood as their guiding principles sometimes support Muslim communalism. Some avoid speaking against it and some even indirectly encourage it. Those Hindus who ought to be combating communalism today seem, instead, to be trying to put the clock back. They are supporting obscurantism, revivalism, the caste system and the cult of the cow. This is a process which would drain Hindu society of whatever little dynamism it may still have. There have to be enough Hindus trying to modernize the Hindu society and, at the same time, opposing the irrational politics of Muslim communalism. I hope this would happen. For that would precisely be the process by which the Hindu-Muslim problem can be eliminated. Muslim communalism today makes the most of the rift between liberal Hindus and communalist Hindus. It is ironical that Muslim communalists gain the support of Hindus, both liberal and communalist.”

The diagnosis remains accurate to date. Dalwai’s writing threw a challenge to liberals almost 50 years back; and the liberals, both Hindus and Muslims, failed to meet the challenge. Muslim liberals never met the challenge of criticising Muslim obscurantism with sufficient force, many of the Hindu liberals supported their own obscurantism and remaining became so politically correct that criticised everything Hindu and abstained from even expressing disagreement with Muslim obscurantism. The result is that today the communalism in both societies is thriving while liberals have lost all conviction and are wondering whether the ideals of secularism and democracy are even worth fighting for.

Those who care about equality, democracy and secularism in India have to counter Singhals, Bhagwats and Togadias of the country. They have no ground to oppose Singhals, Bhagwats and Togadias if they do not oppose with equal force Bukharis, Owaisis and Jilanis. And that is one of the most serious problems we face today—we are not fair in criticising communalism.

Obfuscation is not the same thing as an unmitigated bunch of lies. It could also be a carefully crafted collection of misuse of truth, half-truths, plausible lies, plan lies and white lies. Condemning the whole thing at one go as bunkum is being counterproductive. The truths have to be accepted and their misuse exposed. Half-truths have to be shown to be just what they are. Lies have to be countered. It is a game of mind-manipulation; an engaged dialogue has to be created.

The Hindutva claims have been ignored for far too long as being too stupid to counter and being beneath the dignity of serious intellectuals to engage with. They are forgetting that there are a large number of voters today who think that the name ‘Hindustan’ was created at the same time as ‘Pakistan’, who do not know that Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, who do not know what Indian freedom movement was. Leaving the ground totally to Bhagwats and Singhals will give them an unchallenged access to this group. The group is too large to ignore. We should remember that our education system has failed democracy. The job of creating critical citizenship has to be taken up in the public discourse.

We have to heed Dalwai, even if belatedly. Or be prepared for a long period of confusion, unrest, and conflict. The end result of which might come out as loss of secularism and democracy.


Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 3/4—Ideological 2

August 24, 2014

Part 3: Ideological basis for direct threat-2
Rohit Dhankar

Part 4: Ideological tools to counter the treat

Mohan Bhagwat continues …

But ‘unity of India’ is a difficult idea to grasp. Bhagwat obviously is not talking of the geographical India of today; what he has in mind if more likely to be akhanda Bharat, which is roughly the Indian sub-continent. In what sense the sub-continent has been ‘united’ since ancient times? Three candidates come to mind immediately: united as a geographical area (whatever that might mean), as a cultural entity, and as a political entity.

Geographically the sub-continent has been somewhat demarcated, if not isolated, from the rest of the world due to the Himalayas, Hindukush range and the sea. The area has a range of climatic conditions, flora and fauna. Still perhaps Indians are prone to see a continuity from proverbial Kashmir to Kanya Kumari and now from Baluchistan to Myanmar border. It could of course be debated. But in any case human belief systems, be they religious or otherwise, could have had no impact on the climate etc., this geographical demarcated-ness, then, cannot be attributed to Hinduism or any other faith.

As a political entity one wonders when has India—in the sense of sub-continuant—been united before the Britishers ruled it? Nation states as we know them today are a comparatively modern phenomena. India became an independent nation state only in 1947, and that covers only part of the sub-continent. Whether we realise or not the project of building a nation state of India is still incomplete. The debate Sangha parivar is raising is actually part of that process. More precisely speaking, whether this nation of ours should remain secular democracy or convert into a Hindu Rashtra is one of the main issues today. If the Sangh Parivar wants to give credit to Hindus for keeping India as secular state after Independence, it seems to me, it is not entirely true, even if may have a grain of interpretative truth. Of course all Indians—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis—wanted a secular democratic state and so they created it. But one has to give credit to the majority of Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other, as they were actively fighting each other during the partition. And the partition itself came about on religious basis. Denying the contribution of sanity of majority Hindu population in crafting a secular state immediately after partition would be erring on the other side. Also explaining it away purely in terms of political and economic necessity as if there was no other way available would be rather stretched. This certainly constitutes at least the part of Bhagwat’s intent in the unity statement. Even if the secular intelligentsia of the country does not like it, or even if this is not a politically correct position, it is debatable without calling names to parties on either sides of the debate.

Beyond this what could be called ‘unity of the sub-continent’ politically? The region has been governed by different kingdoms and empires throughout the history. The only two empires that came close to covering the whole of the geographic region were Mauryan Empire under Ashok and Mughal Empire after Akbar. Ashok became a Buddhist, and so one has to accept Buddhist contribution to that empire; Mughal Empire clearly was a creation of Muslim rulers, even if some of them were remarkably secular for their historical age. Most of the time in the history, then, the region has been divided into various kingdoms and empires and political unity of the whole region has been a rare phenomenon.

That leaves us with the third candidate: cultural unity. We have already mentioned above that the sub-continent has been a cauldron of ethnicity, social and cultural practices, and religious beliefs. So if one has to seek cultural unity, it has to be sought more in the family resemblances rather than strictly defined cultural practices. If one considers Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism as one, intermingling of practices and knowledge sharing across the region, then perhaps one can imagine the sub-continent as one cultural region. But then one has to share the claim for keeping it united with various ethnic groups and faiths. Hinduism as we use the term today cannot claim this credit alone.

If this understanding is acceptable then a factual analysis of Bhagwat’s statement shows it to be false. But perhaps the real purpose of the statement is not to state a truth at all. The real purpose might be to create a certain emotional impact among the Hindus to give them confidence and prominence in the Indian nation today. This might be a statement designed for hegemonic purposes rather than to establish truth. We should remember that partially true statements serve such purposes better than plain lies. Simply because when opponents summarily reject such statements without shifting truth from falsehood the small grain of truth in them gets magnified and those who reject summarily are seen as biased. It becomes easy to label these people as anti-Hindu.

Another statement, as reported in The Hindu, by Bhagwat is designed to achieve the same purpose through it ambiguity, he says “[A]s long as dharma exists in India, the world will continue to respect this country. But once dharma is gone, no force on earth can stop the country from crumbling”. What does ‘dharma’ mean here? The term in Sanskrit is used for meanings as diverse as physical properties to moral duty taking in its stride true-nature and even coming close to religion. Modern use mostly connotes religion. So is he saying that as long as the ‘Hindu-dharma’ exist India will continue, but if Hindu-dharma is gone the country will crumble? The context seems to suggest this interpretation unmistakably.

One simple truism is that if there is a large scale change in the belief systems of a population the country does not remain the same, one can say that it ‘crumbles’ in the sense that even if exists as a political entity it becomes a different country. Hindus now comprise slightly above 80% of the Indian population. The present character of the Indian society and democracy certainly will change if Hinduism disappears from India. But that, as mentioned above, is simply a truism. Why mention it? The purpose seem to be to indicate that Hinduism is actually under threat, an old claim of the Sangh Parivar. And the second purpose seems to be that if no Hinduism in India, no secular democratic India. This second claim also has a hint that if Hinduism goes, the second largest minority in the country, Islam, will become a majority. Therefore, it seems there are at the least four claims packed in this statement: one, Hinduism is under threat; two, it is under threat mainly from Islam; three, if Hinduism goes it will be Islam which will come to majority; and four, the secularism and democracy will not survive in a Muslim majority country. These are standard Sangh Parivar ideas being used for creating a political Hindu identity; other name for Hindu consolidation. The standard secularist response to these ideas is that they are paranoid imagination of a lunatic fringe in Hindu population and are patently false. This standard response is not serving the purpose; actually, right or wrong, it is discredited in the minds of now sizable Hindu population and secularists are considered either anti-Hindu or, more charitably, unconcerned morons who can’t even see their own interest. So if the secularists are concerned with the democracy and secularism in the country they have to change the discourse and take on the Hindutva brigade with more vigour and better tools. A victory of Hindutva will be certainly fatal to democracy as well as secularism, as we know it today.

This provides the ideological basis to Singhal’s statement. Without challenging this ideological basis simple condemnation of statements like Singhal’s will not work

What could be a set of better intellectual and ideological tools to counter Hindutva then? I believe Hamid Dalwai’s writings have more than a hint at how to fashion such tools.


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

August 19, 2014

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 …]


Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 1/4—From Hindu consolidation

August 18, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

Part 1: Direct threat of Hindu Consolidation

On 17th July according to a news item in Hindustan Times Ashok Singhal issues a thinly veiled threat to Muslims, saying “[I]f they keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?” Less than four weeks later Mohan Bhagwat declared that “[T]he cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva”. These kinds of statements are not sporadic, they make a thought through pattern. What has appeared in small news reports in the above mentioned two cases is worth paying attention to for their carefully crafted mix of truths, misinformation, acceptable principles and totally condemnable intentions.

Indian liberal attitude to such pronouncement is not helping. The liberals either condemn all in such statements simply on the basis of their origin or ignore them considering beneath their dignity to respond to such rubbish. Neither of these attitudes help; the first simply makes them look like totally biased anti-Hindu, and the second leaves the Hindutva forces free to manipulate public opinion. Also, both these attitudes undermine the importance of dialogue in public life; thereby destroying the only means of countering propaganda available to them.

I would like to take whatever information is available to me seriously in this article and analyse these statements in order to shift acceptable from condemnable.

Ashok Singhal

Singhal presents his analysis of Indian politics. According to him the Lok Shabha polls have proved that Hindu polarisation can win elections without Muslim support, that it is a setback to Muslim politics and that if the rift between Hindus and Muslims continues further polarisation at the level of states will happen. He also claims that Ram temple movement and Godhra incident have made this possible.

It seems to me that this understanding is earthy, simple and accurate. Those who are still denying Hindu polarisation are deluded. In spite of calling Muslim polarisation a myth the public at large believed in it. The political parties bending backwards to play vote bank politics and willing participation of Muslim religious leaders in their politics did not help dispel the myth of Muslim vote consistently going in favour of a certain brand of politics, even if not to a single party. The repeated calls for consolidation of secular votes did not help; it only aided to the call for Hindu consolidation by Sangh parivar. And Lok Sabha polls are certainly a setback to this brand of politics.
Singhal does not stop here; he also insinuates that the Muslim politics was being used by “foreign and divisive forces to destroy our identity”. This is his Hindutva card, the Sangh Parivar has created a victimhood mentality in the sizable Hnidu population. A selective use of history of what is still called Muslim era in Indian history, partition and repeated communal riots are used for this purpose. The Muslim is being painted as ‘the enemy within’ and the seculars have not been able to counter the canard.

The confidence generated by the fact that Modi has been a RSS swayam sevak and that the BJP has majority on its own is belligerently expressed. Singhal expresses confidence that the Sangh Parivar agenda of Ram Temple, uniform civil code and abolition of article 370 will be implemented. Let’s note here that the latter two of these demands have their independent justification in a democracy and to support them one does not need to be a Hindu communalist. Declaring all those who consider these later demands reasonable and debatable in a democracy as communal people will help the Sangh Parivar; the mistakes which secularists have been making for last 50 years.

The majoritarianism in the statement is unmistakable. The cursory promise that “Muslims will be treated as common citizens — nothing more, nothing less” is immediately bellied by the threat that “they must learn to respect Hindu sentiments. If they keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?” In his thinking it is the Muslim who has to learn to respect Hindu sentiment, and not vice-versa. No such reciprocity is demanded from the majority community. The love that the Muslims will get from the Sangh Parivar is conditional in respect of their sentiments and giving up “claims over Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura and also accept a uniform civil code”. If they do accept, no further demands on Masjids that according to Snghal are built by Muslim rulers in medieval era on Hindu temples be made. And then comes the threat: if they don’t, further consolidation of Hindus will happen. Consolidation of Hindus in the light of “[I]f they keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?” is as ominous a threat as could be.

Singhal here is not talking of dialogue, resolving of issues through negotiations, this is no commitment to democracy; it is a statement of terms in a belligerent manner and a direct threat.

If this cursory analysis is correct then Singhal’s statement is based on an earthy understanding of politics, contains threats, is belligerent, makes a pretention of democratic values, and has a mix of legitimate and illegitimate demands. The legitimate ones, perhaps, to serve as smoke-screen and tools of manipulation.

[next ideological threat]


Double standards in understanding communalism?

April 11, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

[This one was send as a rejoinder to an article published in The Hindu. Their response is “as a policy we don’t carry rejoinder to opinion pieces. If there are factual inaccuracies we will be happy to correct them. Thanks for writing.” I am not a regular writer for newspapers, so can easily understand the lack of tightness in language and even argument; but it is strange that rejoinders to ‘opinion’ pieces are not published!]

Mrs. Sonia Gandhi recently has expressed a communal mind-set that believes that appeal to en-block voting to Muslims is ‘secular’ and a similar appeal to Hindus is communal. The general principle here is that Hindu communalism is communalism proper; and Muslim communalism, if not secular, is certainly a reaction. This thinking has been exhibited time and again by almost all so-called ‘secular’ parties. Is this mind-set and skewed logic limited to crafty politicians like Mrs. Gandhi? Unfortunately, by no means, Indian intelligential is the biggest and strongest up-holder of this un-defendable principle. To understand how subtly they built it into their thinking and writing let us analyse a recently published article by Praveen Swami. Mr. Swami wrote an article in The Hindu, on 1st April 14, titled “Second Rise of Indian Jihad”. (Here I must add that in past Mr. Swami has written fine and very balanced insightful pieces, the present analysis is only for the mentioned article; not on his all writings.) Its concluding wisdom is summarised by Mr. Swami as: “Each bombing the Indian Mujahideen carries out is a medium for a political message enmeshed with India’s dystopic communal landscape: that democratic politics cannot defend India’s Muslims.” This complex sentence needs simpler unpacking, to go beyond its impressiveness and deliberate scholarship. Let’s make some sense out of it:
1. Each bombing of Indian Mujahedeen is a medium for a political message. It is not senseless violence, and it is not important in-itself. It should be ‘read’ as a ‘medium’, like email is a medium for a message, bombing is a medium for a political message.
2. This message is caught in the landscape of human misery created by communalism. So the bombing is not irrational act of some sick religious bigotry. It is a rational act aimed at ending the human misery caused by communal violence.
3. The message itself is “that democratic politics cannot defend Indian Muslims”. And this message is acceptable to Indian intelligentsia of which Mr. Swami is a noted member.

This is a classic case of absolving Islamic terrorism of all moral responsibility and condoning it. Always someone else is responsible, the poor Islamist terrorist simply acts out of misery to end it. S/he is not a perpetrator of violence, s/he is only resisting violence inflicted on her. S/he is justified to do so as a human being. The ‘other’ who has instigated, nay forced him/her into it, should be blamed, and should be held responsible to stop this violence.

This conclusion occurs in the last paragraph of Mr. Swami’s piece with a nashihat to Indian politicians: “but it is time for politicians to act to heal our fractured nation.” This is strange that material quoted in Mr. Swami’s article to arrive at this fantastic conclusion goes squarely against it and lends itself to a very different conclusion. It is an exercise in mental dexterity to find a logic so that the quoted material may support Mr. Swami’s conclusion.

Let’s look at the key landmarks in Mr. Swami’s logic, I am paraphrasing parts from his article below.
Mr. swami tells us that the cadres of Indian jihad “are inheritors of a long political tradition”. That the bombings of 2008 September in Delhi, according to their perpetrators were carried “in the memory of two most eminent Mujahids of India: Syed Ahmed Shaheed and Shah Ismail Shaheed (may Allah bestow His Mercy upon them) who had raised the glorious banner of Jihad against the disbelievers.” It is notable that the jihad of Syed Ahmed and Shah Ismail was “against the disbelievers” and was carried out in early part of the 19th century, against Sikh Army, in Swat valley. Against what grievances and to alleviate what misery, apart from existence of disbelievers on God’s earth, Mr. Swami must know.

Mr. Swami quotes Yoginder Sikand approvingly: “that Islam alone was the solution to the problems of not just the Muslims of India, but of all Indians and, indeed, of the whole world.” “Islam alone” is notable, nothing else can solve the problems. Compare it with a Bombay based popular preacher Dr. Zakir Naik who says that Islam is a religion of peace and peace will come when all accept Islam. The interpretation being that peace can come only if all accept Islam. Till then if there is no peace, it is responsibility of those infidels who do not accept the only true faith.

Another important information and a chain in his logic that Mr. swami provides us is that “Ranchi resident Haider Ali, …, raised volunteers … for the bombing of the revered Buddhist shrine at Bodh Gaya last year, as an act of vengeance for communal violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority.” (Emphasis added) One starts thinking what the Buddhist shrine in Bodh Gaya had to do with communal violence in Myanmar? But that is a question only a small minded communal person can ask, as all opinion makers in India know that Muslims of the world; according to Islamist’s mind, even if a common peace loving Muslim does not believe that; are a unified umma and any act against the umma can be avenged by killing any non-believer in the world. So, of course, Mr. Swami wants us to believe that Bombing in Bodh Gaya was a legitimate “medium for a political message”, which Indian politicians and citizens should heed, and ‘heel’.

According to Mr. Swami “[T]he recruits” for the jihad “include young people, their minds fired by Internet Islamism, as well as veterans once linked to the proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).” One needs only ten minutes on the net to see the true face of Internet Islamism. It is daily preached by Zakir Naik, ‘Islam if the only true religion, all others will go to hell. Those who do not accept Islam are the real cause of violence in the world’. SIMI was established in 1977 and, among other things “SIMI maintains that concepts of secularism, democracy and nationalism, keystones of Indian Constitution, are antithetical to Islam. They aim to restore the supremacy of Islam through the resurrection of the khilafat, emphasis on the Muslim ummah and the waging of jihad.” And all this to solve all the problems of the world by the only true faith. Which violence perpetrated on Muslims would Mr. Swami site for this?

The article is opened with a very revealing quote by an al-Qaeda ideologue Asim Umar: “[Y]ou who have ruled India for eight hundred years, you who lit the flame of the one true God in the darkness of polytheism: how can you remain in your slumber when the Muslims of the world are awakening?….. If the youth of the Muslim world have joined the battlefields with the slogan ‘Sharia or Martyrdom,’ and put their lives at stake to establish the Caliphate, how can you lag behind them? Why is there no storm in your ocean”. And suggests that some among the Indian Muslim youth are inspired by this kind of appeals.

And in the face of all this mentioned in the same article Mr. Swami, in his infinite wisdom, concludes that this zeal for bombing is “driven by communal events”, obviously by Hindus against Muslims! To quote: “The renewal of a jihadist constituency within India shouldn’t be a surprise: the rise of Mr. Modi, and the Hindu nationalist tendencies that he represents, has unleashed existential anxieties among large numbers of Indian Muslims.” Therefore, the ‘Hindu nationalist tendencies’ are to blame. Which communal violence was being avenged by jihad of Syed Ahmed in early 19th century? Why his jihad was more morally acceptable than anything else going on at that time? Why Islamists today are justified to glorify this jihad against “disbelievers” while other religious bigots would be wrong to do the same? Would avenging Somnath not be justified by the same logic?

It is important to understand this logic. What are the assumptions that Mr. Swami has necessarily to accept if he wants to come to his wise conclusion: “that democratic politics cannot defend Indian Muslims” and bombing is a political message to that effect incited by violence against Muslims? He necessarily has to accept that:
1. The bigoted miniscule fringe in Islam has the right based on their tradition to wage jihad against disbelievers.
2. The violence that happens in this jihad, even if not acceptable, is sympathetically understandable.
3. But the communal violence against this jihad is the cause of fresh rounds of jihad, and therefore, should be condemned.

Are these assumptions acceptable to silent Indian majority? Would people like Mr. Swami openly defend these assumptions or they will simply keep on using them un-articulated but in a clever manner? Is Mr. Swami aware that accepting his logic provides very sound arguments for Hindutva brigade? The logic in a nutshell can be expressed as:
• Since Mahmud Ghazni the Islam has been attacking Hinduism in various ways.
• At the least since Maulana Shirhindi’s reaction of separation from Hindus as a reaction to Akbar’s Deen-e-ilahi the idea of keeping clear of Hindus and if possible subjugating them was available to some Muslims.
• The jihad waged by Syed Ahmed in early 19th century was a part of the same pattern and tradition of annihilating all disbelievers.
• Sir Syed Ahmed khan’s two nation theory was directed against Hindus and finally divided the nation. It was part of the same pattern to make the whole world accept Islam or not to live in harmony with others.
• The modern day proclamations of likes of Zakir Naik are manifestations of the same tendencies.
• Islamist bombing is driven by this idea and wherever Muslims see a political conflict (a natural occurring in any democratic polity) they will invoke religion and rather than peaceful democratic negotiations will start bombing.
• Therefore, Hindus are under direct attack of this Islamisation project. If they want to save themselves—the existential anxiety—they have to unite and counter this violence. If they do not have expertise in bombing, let them have large scale communal violence.
• Therefore, they can be condoned and need healing, recommended by Mr. Swami.

Are we ready to accept this logic? Obviously not, it is all poisonous and product of a sick mind. Then why not the jihadi logic also a product of a sick mind? Why jihadi violence should be condoned, why others should be held responsible for this, why others should be charged with the responsibility of healing this sickness? Why should it not be pointed out that all this logic of revenge is wrong and the perpetrators are responsible; they should heal themselves of this skewed mind-set?
This kind of always available condoning and explaining-away the jihadi acts will strengthen a similar logic in Hindu communalists. And there is a difference in ‘explanation’ and ‘explaining away’; the above mentioned trend of opinion making does not ‘explain’ it ‘explain away’.

Overwhelming majority of Indian population consists of two major religions: Hinduism and Islam. Hinduism by many is considered a conglomerate of many religious sects rather than a single religion. Islam is more often considered a single religion in the classic sense of the term ‘religion’, but does have its own sects and factions. Here, without getting into this fine distinction, I am treating both as religious groups.

Both these religious groups have their bigoted lunatic fringes. The fringe elements have a mind-set of victim-hood and vengeance. They also feel threatened by the other and want to gather strength to contain, if not to annihilate the other. Support and sympathy to the extremist fringes from within their respective communities is a matter of speculation, there are no hard data to say one has greater support then the other. But condoning and explaining-away their heinous acts by Indian intellectuals clearly has a pattern. The Hindu communalist is recognised for what he is, a communalist; but mostly a Muslim communalist is seen and defended as a victim.

Unless we treat each one of them fairly and as equally condemnable, we will strengthen the rivalry by comparison, the fringes will grow. The healing has to be two pronged: kind and humane treatment by the state and calling a spade a spade. The idea of India as a Hindu-rashtra has to be condemned and firmly put down. This idea has to be shown morally wrong, politically unviable, theoretically stupid and totally unacceptable. But simultaneously the ideas of universal Islamism, Caliphate and establishing Shariya as the universal code have to be condemned, shown morally bankrupt, politically impossible and theoretically stupid.

The second cannot be done without bringing in their religious figures (mythological and historical); be that Manu, Rama, Krishna or Muhammad; in the debate and showing that ideas associated with them might be unacceptable, wrong and morally debased, as well as some of them might be very laudable. The historical sheen from their persona has to be taken off and they have to be shown as ordinary mortals which are fallible and can be wrong, even severely condemnable. Similarly the principles articulated in their religious scriptures; be that Gita, Veda, Manusmriti, Quran or Hadith collections; have to be analysed and their untenable defence and soft interpretation have to be abandoned. If there is bigotry and in today’s world morally unacceptable ideas in them in them, it has to be shown clearly and status of God’s word has to be declared as bunkum for all. This has no value in public affairs and politics; however essential it may be for the believers.

Thus three principles that can help us remain secular and contain religious bigotry are:
1. Equal treatment to all perpetrators of communal disharmony and violence.
2. An unforgiving rational critique of their religious books and religious figures. Creation of an environment of tolerance of genuine criticism; even if that makes them angry at first.
3. Kind but non-condoning and firm treatment to bring sense to the misguided. Zero tolerance for the seriously indoctrinated bigots.

Mrs. Gandhi’s and Mr. Swami’s ways of thinking and acting will increase communalism and will not combat it.
In the vitiated atmosphere of India today, I feel compelled to state that no mention of BJP, VHP, Modi, RSS etc. does not mean that they have been paragons of communal harmony and that they are not to blame, or that they are any less responsible. It their divisive politics and hate mongering is generally accepted, and rightly so. They are not mentioned here for the simple reason that this piece is a response to Mr. Swami’s article, and not a general analysis of roots and kinds of communalism in India. Reading support or condoning of BJP etc. in this again will be an example of the same skewed logic used by Mr. Swami in arriving at his untenable conclusions.

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