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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 39, September 20, 2014

The Difficulty of being a Hindu

Monday 22 September 2014

by Baisali Mohanty

“Hindustan is a Hindu nation... Hindutva is the identity of our nation and it (Hinduism) incorporates others (religions) in itself,” words of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, Mohan Bhagwat, in a congregation in the country.

He further identifies every true ‘Hindu’ as the rightful owner of the land of ‘Hindustan’. His immensely pugnacious speech has stood the test of time, been heavily applauded in the public constituency, the RSS community (Sangh Parivar) in particular. Hence, it echoed the words of Shiv Sena stalwart, Raj Thackeray, who vigorously went forth bestowing his favour to such a pronouncement revivifying late party supremo Bal Thackeray’s much avowed dream— establishment of the land of Hindustan for true ‘Hindus’.

To corroborate upon such lines while piquing people to vent anger against each other, similar assertion has sprung from the Cabinet Minister on Minority Affairs, Najma Heptullah—“Hindu is the national culture of India”—shredding at the moment the veneer of tolerance encapsulated, albeit unctuously, in the ‘national culture’ of India for years.

Such institutionalised impiety is no more taken with a pinch of salt. Being apolitical citizens of India—a country impersonating the bold face of secularism—many have aspired at some point or other of fathoming hard upon the formal equality bestowed on us by the Constitution of India, that is, equal rights to profess any religion in public/private. To live, talk, speak and work as freely as any other citizen in any other liberal democratic country would do. Rather coincidentally, India continues to be an abode of harrowing separatist forces—incorporated into the system with greater volatility with every passing day. The government of the day is hurled with no less darts of sarcasm as fundamentalist ideologies crafted magnificently by several Right-wing leaders overburden the land. Encapsulating enormous vigour they vouch for the unlimited rights and opportunities of a particular section while refusing the ‘others’ the right to self-determination.

As the ruling party, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) seeks its provenance from the powerful Hindu organisation, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh)—building strong on the supposed apogee of Hinduism, V.D Savarkar, the rabble-rouser, it stands to confront an ambiguous moment. On the one hand while disparaging the incessant flow of foreign capital into the country, the RSS has shrouded its own sources of finance into oblivion, fluttering unquestioned and delivering justice upon the misinterpreted goals of Hinduism in India on the other.

The canard of Dinanath Batra’s tryst with Hinduism predicates an adequate portrayal of Hinduism, notions of which are strewn in the forum by forces, as above, further engulfing the masses in a highly contagious delusion, oblite-rating thus the case of rationality and reason.

 His success story meets no quick end: from 2006 PILs against the NCERT for derogatory caricature of Indian history to his campaign against sex education in schools as an assault on the ethos and values of Hindu culture, to his petition for junking off A.K. Ramanujan’s insightful essay on ‘300 Ramayanas’ from the Delhi University syllabus, to his most successful campaign against Wendy Doniger’s book Hinduism: An Alternative History; he leaves us simmering to proclaim himself as the sole author of ‘Hindu’ doctrines in the country at present times. His moribund establish-ment even securing validation from the moder-nised legal system and is embellished by the affirmation granted by the political community at large.

As persistent political hostility towards the stigmatised ‘other’ lacks no clear affirmation of a strong public constituency, the minority lives appear slaughtered under the ruins of the existing secularism in the country. For the majority population’s goal finds space in the accounts of victimisation of the ‘other’ and propagation of the agenda of protection of the ‘Hindu culture’, namely, the culture of the ‘other’—and for many Islam survives as the ‘religion of intolerance’ tarnishing the ecclesiastical charade of ‘secularism’ in India. Such instances allow for the meandering of voices like those of the Bhagwats and their ilk who indeed are capable of stealthily accentuating the establishment of ‘Hindu culture’ as the primordial culture and assimilating the ‘other’ into its domicile which later transfigures into a communal upheaval.

Instances alike bring an inevitable moment of confrontation between a secular India and an Indian state which allows for the survival and simultaneous perpetuation of the myriad interpretations of Hinduism and Hindu culture—dislodging India’s age-old ethos and values of bonhomie amongst all settlers. Multiple conse-quences prevail, perpetuating deeper anta-gonism developed on account of the anti-essentialist understanding of Hinduism, Hindu culture and Hindutva.

The need sustains therefore of not confirming to the forces at hand—which nevertheless are bent upon instigating unfriendly voices, amply afloat and garnering strength in a significant public domain—submerging underneath multiple identities which demand greater recognition at each level. Therefore the question demands adequate appellation: Who is a Hindu?

An uneasy query amassing saturnine faces, fostering intolerance and nonchalant demeanour; the term ‘Hindu’ is popularly employed to club residents of a geographical region (Hindustan) or followers of a particular faith (Hinduism) or, residents of a particular region who are also the followers of a particular faith. So to say, the concept of Hinduism bifurcates into two largely mutually exclusive viewpoints: the centrists‘ view which identifies a single, pan-Indian, more or less hegemonic, orthodox tradition, trans-mitted primarily in the Sanskrit language, chiefly by members of the Brahmanic class. The tradition centres around a Vedic lineage of texts, in which are included not only the Vedas themselves, but also the Mimamsa, Dharma-sastra, and Vedanta corpuses of texts and teachings. On the other hand is the pluralist account that envisages a de-centred profusion of ideas and practices all tolerated and incorporated under the self-proliferating tent of Hinduism.

According to H.H. Wilson, the ‘Hindu’ religion is a term that has been hitherto employed in a collective sense to designate a faith and the worship of an almost endlessly diversified description. He accepts some sort of overall ‘Hindu’ unity, but the emphasis is clearly on internal fragmentation and differences. Primordial construction thus relies upon unscathed ‘Hinduism’—collectively bringing to its ambit contradictory yet comforting identities and cultural diversities—which are native to the continent. Such efforts have almost invariably never been a part of the institutional, ideological and political agenda.

Hence, the values associated with ‘Hinduism’, ‘Hindutva’ and a ‘Hindu’ person—is one of intensi-fying heterogeneity and demands exclusivity at each level. Contrary to the misconstrued aims of ‘Hinduism’, ‘Hindutva’ by people in power no less promotes hostility and flames up animosity amongst the earlier peacefully settled comm-unities.

Instiutionalisation of fixed boundaries of cultural, religious, ethnic and other denomi-nations leaves us bequeathed with tension and perpetual threat. Organisations such as the same Sangh Parivar through their objectives of solidifying identities, allowing for no blurring of boundaries, have led to the de-legitimisation of inter-religious and inter-caste marriages, popularly termed us ‘Love Jihad’. It has turned into an epidemic—harkening upon regions of cohesive mutual settlements.

On July 23, 2014, sipped in the streets of Meerut a huge outcry for justice—manifested on account of a heinous crime scripted by a particular group against a couple attempting to trespass the sanctimonious dictums of the religion and the baggage constructed socially. Corollaries are being reflected in several forms: a woman here being forced into converting to Islam—refusing which will cost her life.

 Over the years, violence against women has gathered huge momentum in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. This incident portends upon the forcible conversion of a woman to Islam, failing which she was raped and subjected to excruciating torture at the hands of the so-called protectors of culture. These villages having allowed assimilation of both these communities, Hindus and Muslims, have starkly failed in plummeting the enormous social animosity, which runs deep into the debauched minds of people. This region ranks high in the recent independent survey conducted by NDTV into rape and dowry cases against women in the country.

As revealed by the sources of NDTV, this year there have been 334 rape cases in the districts of Meerut, Bulandshahr, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Baghpat, Hapur, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar and Shamli.

In 25 cases, the accused are Muslim and the women are Hindu. This is almost the same as the number of cases—23—in which the women are Muslim and their attackers are Hindu.

In 96 cases, the accused and victims are Muslim. And in 190 cases—the highest number—the accused and victims both Hindu. It is essential to reiterate that crime data is not normally defined along religious lines. We specifically asked for it, to check the political claims. It is thus one among several thousand cases where political motives define the incident at hand or, say, manufacture an incident into a crisis.

What then is ‘Hindu’ culture for the thousands here? Do they adhere to the universal ideology of solidarity entailed solemnly in the chronicles of ‘Hinduism’? Who defines the doctrine of Hinduism for those millions in India and outside?

While the RSS vouches sporadically on hurling darts of criticism over the Muslim community for being the script-writer to several of those abominable pictures of crime, all of it turns to dusk the moment official records are put to check.

The August-September 2013 Muzaffarnagar massacre offers a substantiation of the afore-mentioned manifestation, holding a portrayal of a heinous incident inflamed due to a minor scuffle among individuals, further culminated with the estrangement of several common sights of homeless and forlorn children and women, famished and desperate for help. Instances are galore to suggest the mounting antipathy among communities: the loudspeaker in a mosque causing 100 deaths in the June 2014 instance of a social media message bringing people out on the streets. Such incidents fulminate the character of secularism India seems to be aspiring for years now—and not surprisingly, these caricatures sweep as ‘manufactured crisis’ with political power games grounding underneath causing aggran-disement of such hostilities.

Sooner, if not put to cautionary stances, India would be torn asunder by the communal forces—put to place by none other than the plaudits of a secular state. The conflict looms large in every liberalised and globalised citizen of the day. Does this ‘Hindu’ self-encapsulate a picture of the modern being, does she/he recognise this concept as a prototype seeking adequate affiliation of the same? Do the Hindus at all adhere to the notions of ‘Hinduism’ propagated with the intention of gaining greater public support? If the answer is no, then why such a manifestation does not get molested on the ground, why is such an organisation not pulverised at the very moment of its inception?

It is only left for the people of the country to realise the value of being equal and aiming to live up to the dictums of equality. Not just in India but at the global level too the signifi-cance of cosmopolitianism, as Kant hints at, needs to be revived and smeared on the face of effacing communalism on cultural grounds. To live together as equals we are required to see each other as individuals rather than seeing each other as fellow Christians or fellow Muslims or fellow Jews, but as fellow citizens entitled to an equality of life-chances countermanding the yawning inequalities which an off-the-leash capitalism inherently engenders. And to live at all requires that we come to identify even far-flung individuals whom we do not know as fellow global citizens jointly responsible for the sustenance of the planet.

The author belongs to the Political Science Department, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi.