Sunday, January 11, 2004

From Hinduism to Hindutva
Aditi Garg

Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism
by Jyotirmaya Sharma. Penguin. Pages 205. Rs 350.

Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu NationalismTRUE religion is the foundation of society, the basis on which all true civil government rests, and from which power derives its authority, laws their efficacy and both their sanction. If it is once shaken by contempt, the whole fabric cannot be stable or lasting. These words of William Burke ring as true in the present scenario as they did at his time. In India, the one religion that has exerted the maximum influence on the evolution of society is Hinduism. So any study of this country and its people is incomplete without the inclusion of Hinduism and its interaction with other major religions in India. Hinduism has been practised in this country for so long now that it has acquired a wider meaning that goes beyond merely religious connotations.

Hindutva offers powerful insights into the transformation of Hinduism from a ‘soft’ religion to the extreme Hindutva. Jyotirmaya Sharma was till recently the resident editor of the Hyderabad edition of The Times of India. In this book, he seeks to answer the questions that have been raised in an era of militant Hindu nationalism. Quoting and discussing the ideologies of various nineteenth and twentieth century philosophers and politico-religious leaders, he puts forward the effect of their collective endeavours in constituting Hindutva in its contemporary guise. The author discusses the role of the Vedas and Upanishads in making Hindutva a codified, monochromatic and excluding entity. He delves into the writings of Swami Dayanand, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekanand and V. D. Sarvarkar to show how they caricatured Islam. He also talks of their tirades against Muslims, Jains, Buddhists and even separate sects within the Hindu religion.

Sharma defines Hindutva as being different from Hinduism, which he feels, is limited to the rituals and festivities of the Hindu religion, while the former encompasses Indian civilisation as a whole. In a country that is ravaged by inter-caste riots, people seek solutions and the author tries to offer some, though they might, at times, seem frivolous. He feels a need to tone down the extreme values, practices and vocabulary of Hindutva; revaluate Hinduism sympathetically, yet critically, and initiate dialogue between opponents. He also quickly adds that there can be no quick solutions. All the four thinkers believed that India lost its idyllic unity because of being oppressed under the Muslim and then the British rule. The caste system lost its original focus and confusion prevailed. He also contends that the move to demolish the Babri Masjid and build a Ram temple at Ayodhya was a consequence of extreme Hinduism as also the emergence of the BJP, the VHP, the RSS and the Bajrang Dal. He attributes the increased instances of communal conflagrations to this brand of Hinduism. All the philosophers he discusses had visions of a strong militant India.

Various Indologists have perceived India as insensitive to freedom and a picture of antiquity. In their quest to belittle Indians in comparison to Europeans, they were bent upon proving Hinduism as inferior to Christianity. Their perception of India strongly influenced the task of reformulating and restating Hinduism in nineteenth-century India.

The author quotes Swami Dayanand, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekanand and V.D. Sarvarkar and goes to the extent of putting together the various ideas stated by them in point form. He first deals with the ideas of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. He perceives him as direct, acerbic, contentious and even abusive at times. He was a stickler for the Vedas and vehemently excluded any deviations, as he believed there could be only one whole truth. He verbally bashed the Muslims and Christians for being intolerant of other religion, upheld the divine origin of Vedas and did not concede that the Koran and the Bible were the works of intelligent men. Going a step further, he trashed the Tulsi Ramayan and idol worship and spared no one from Saint Kabir to Guru Nanak Dev. Ridiculing the Christian belief of Virgin birth, he equated it to Kunti bearing the child of Sun. In the same breath he also talked of the Prophet’s marriage and the Islamic practice of having four wives. Though he endorsed the caste system, he did not believe it to be an accident of birth, but something that was acquired by an individual through his own actions.

Sri Aurobindo was grand, dry and systematic — the quintessential philosopher. His upbringing and education was done mostly in the West and this brought him closer to India, much to the dislike of his father. He advocated the Sanatan Dharma and justified the use of violence as a means of achieving progress. While pushing the cause of Kshatriya-hood as a means of attaining manliness in Hinduism, he also advocated control without which even a Kshatriya could lapse into a demonic state. He upheld the tenets of the Bhagavadgita and emphasised the greatness of being. Sri Aurobindo propagated patriotism as a national religion and favoured Aryanisation of the society. He accepted Hindu-Muslim rivalry as a fact of history but still did not think that Hindu nationalism was the solution.

Jyotirmaya Sharma illustrates Swami Vivekanand as an inadequate model of ‘soft’ Hindutva. He is, perhaps, the most quoted by today’s politicians. Atal Bihari Vajpayee chose to quote him twice in Goa in December 2002, after the Gujrat riots and Narendra Modi’s subsequent win. In World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, he addressed the perennially important questions of Hindu identity, Hindu nationalism and equal dialogue between Hindus and adherents of other faiths. He was slightly more tolerant of the Muslims but at the same time thought of them as a violent and narrow-minded people. The author points out that though Vivekananda claimed to be anti-caste, evidence proves otherwise. Inspite of being a dualist himself, he preached the existence of one God. He called Buddha the George Washington of religions. His philosophy of non-killing, according to the author, ruined India.

V.D. Sarvarkar, the author states, represented the high watermark of thought and action driven towards the establishment of a Hindu nation. It was he who coined the term ‘Hindutva’. He politicised religion and advocated extreme Hinduism. His writings are very much like the utterances of the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Narendra Modi and Praveen Togadia. Sarvarkar transformed Hindutva into the very image of Islam he found so intolerably objectionable. He justified killings, even massacres, if done for the sake of revenge.

The author illustrates how these thinkers did a volte-face as their thinking matured with time. He is, no doubt, courting controversy by being critical of people like Vivekanand, Dayanand, Aurobindo and Sarvarkar. He discusses the relevance and irrelevance of Hindutva in pre and post-independent India. Though the book holds the readers’ attention, the pace gets impeded by the language. At times it feels a bit like reading a textbook with remarks scribbled in the margins.