In an article published for The Millennium Post titled “Hindu Rashtra and the idea of India” (25th August, 2014), Delhi University Associate Professor Dr Sangit Ragi argued, “A river is always identified with and known after the dominant stream. So is the culture. When RSS talks of Hindu Rashtra it signifies the majoritarian makeup of this nation, which defines both its character and distinctiveness.” If we try and reconcile this analogy of Dr Ragi with the idea of India then we would but obviously conclude that India as a nation represents a culture which is Brahminic in nature, masculine in terms of gender and heavily tilted in favour of Hindi-speaking and comparatively fair skinned North Indians.
It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that this interpretation of India is flawed since it only takes into account the dominant groups and conveniently ignores the innumerable minorities and linguistic tribes whose traditions are now intrinsically intertwined with the DNA of India.
Dr Ragi’s article is premised on justifying two controversial statements of RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat which were made when he was addressing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Dr Ragi has carefully broken those two statements into three broad points which he identifies as the following, “India is a Hindu Rashtra and Hindutva is its national identity. Secondly, Hindutva has the unique capacity of assimilatory integration which no other religions have. Thirdly, the role of the Sangh should be to see that the Hindu society does not suffer from the social vices of untouchability and economic disparity. Hindus must come together leaving aside their social prejudices.” In order to justify these three points, Dr Ragi adapts three distinct lines of argument which can be classified as a classic rant of those who have come to be associated with the Hindu right wing movement in India.
In regards to the first point, Dr Ragi mentions that RSS’s claim of India being a Hindu Rashtra is nine decades old and that it “does not sync with the left liberal framework of interpreting India which is highly influenced by colonial and missionary historiography.” Dr Ragi argues that while the left might not identify India as a Hindu Rashtra, it is an idea which was even shared by Mahatma Gandhi whom Dr Ragi says the leftists “consider the father of the nation.” The veiled sarcasm which this statement contains clearly shows how apprehensive are RSS ideologues in regards to Gandhi’s stature as the Father of the Nation. They find themselves juxtaposed as they tend to argue that their conception of India is philosophically Gandhian while simultaneously trying to sympathize with the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi ie Nathuram Godse, formerly an RSS man.
Dr Ragi then delves into the beliefs of Gandhi and states how he considered India to be a nation much before the arrival of the English and goes onto mention Gandhi’s opposition to the Aryan Invasion Theory. He lists out a series of public figures and intellectuals whom he terms as “cultural nationalists” and those “who all subscribed to and located the nucleus of the Indian nation in Hindu culture and Hindu civilization.” Interestingly, on analysing the work of several people whom Dr Ragi has mentioned, it can be easily said that those persons themselves can be accused of Islamophobia. For example, in his book Satyarth Prakash, Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayanand Saraswati has related the Islamic concept of paradise to that of a brothel. In an interview to the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat (April 1899), Saffron saint Vivekananda while talking about conversions and re-conversions declared, “And then every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.” In two successive articles titled “Myths about the Swami”, Arun Shourie, another mascot of Hindutva, discusses about Vivekananda’s views on Islam, Quran and Muslims wherein he quotes him as saying, “For instance, the Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion. It is clearly stated in the Koran ‘Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans.’ They must be put to fire and sword.”
Even Mahatma Gandhi cannot be completely absolved of harbouring Islamophobia since he had his own prejudices in relation to Islam/Muslims. In an article titled “What may Hindus do” (Young India, 19 June, 1924), Gandhi writes, “The Mussalman generally being in a minority has as a class developed into a bully. Moreover, being heir to fresh traditions he exhibits the virility of a comparatively new system of life. Though in my opinion non-violence has a predominant place in the Quran, the thirteen hundred years of imperialistic expansion has made the Mussalmans fighters as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit.”
The larger point pertains to the fact that if these “cultural nationalists” were so bigoted in their thinking and dared to associate Islam with brothels, violence, terror, intimidation and bullying then how their beliefs in regards to the idea of India be considered as supreme? The idea of India is too complex and massive to be associated with the thinking of a particular set of people. It resides into the hearts, minds and lives of a billion plus Indians and not merely icons whose ideology matches that of the RSS.
Going further, Dr Ragi quotes Nehru to suggest how India’s first Prime Minister associated Indian culture with Hindu culture and applauded the assimilatory nature of the religion, an argument which was simply echoed by Bhagwat. In the next couple of paragraphs, Dr Ragi praises the culture of debates and open thinking in Hinduism while debunking the Semitic faiths of Islam and Christianity as “intolerant towards others” simply because they “operate through revealed ideas, through one text and one prophet.” This is one subject wherein the Hindu nationalists tend to be highly ignorant.
Probably they are unaware of the fact that there are multiple interpretations of the Bible and the Quran. In the case of the Bible, there is even difference in the text of the revealed book belonging to the different denominations. Biblical criticism is no alien to Christian civilization and they can in no way be considered as inferior to Hindus in terms of engagement in religious debates and scriptural criticism. Similarly, Islam has also had its fair share of debate and discussion. Besides the Quran, Muslims refer to several Hadiths which are an account of the Prophet’s sayings and actions. Different denominations hold different account of Hadiths to be authentic and hence exists heterogeneity which is overpowered by the homogenous belief in but one God.
The Hindu right’s attempt to portray Semitic religions as parochial is an argument in vain. Christian and Islam are not premised on one idea. There are multiple ideas concerning belief in God, worship, rituals, pilgrimage as also other things like marriage and sexuality. The ideas are flowing not from solely Muhammad and Jesus but from the life and teachings of numerous prophets including Noah, Abraham and Moses. These ideas are enunciated in the Holy Book ie the Bible and the Quran, respectively and further enumerated in other books authored by human beings. Hadiths and Seerahs can be a case in point. How is this tradition different from Hinduism? In Hinduism, Vedas are considered to be the revealed text and other books serve as an extension to the Vedic ideology. This shows that the Hindu nationalist is being dishonest when he is trying to relegate Semitic religions to an inferior intellectual status.
Every religion has been engaged in tussles which have led to large-scale bloodshed. When Dr Ragi drags in Nehru to say that religious fanaticism was alien to “Indian culture” (to be read as “Hindu Culture”), why does he not mention about the gruesome persecution of Buddhists at the hands of Brahmins during the time of Pusyamitra Sunga? Dr Ragi speaks of Hinduism’s assimilatory nature by referring to Buddhism and Jainism but why does he not refer to the Jain community’s struggle of being granted minority status instead of being identified as Hindus? Why doesn’t Dr Ragi try and explain the reasons because of which Hinduism’s assimilatory nature has failed to take within its ambit the Dalits and other lower castes? Every religion and religious community faces its own issues. To hold Semitic religions as barbaric and intolerant and to do nothing apart from singing praise of the Hindu civilization is an act of intellectual dishonesty.
In one of his concluding paragraphs, Dr Ragi says, “It (RSS’s idea of Hindu Rashtra) does not ask Muslims and Christians and other religious denominations to dissolve their faith and start following the Hindu religion. It is merely asking the non-native faiths which emerged due to conversion of the native population at certain point of history not to denigrate their forefathers and share and own up the common cultural tradition.” He cites the example of Indonesia and mentions how the country has honoured its Hindu past and tradition by referring to the country’s national symbol and airlines. While speaking of such practises, he says, “That neither has weakened Islam nor have they belittled Islam.”
By referring to Indonesia, Dr Ragi has made a grave error. He probably doesn’t know of the length to which Indonesia has gone to safeguard its minorities and make them feel secure. A case in point could be the fact that during the drafting of the Indonesian Constitution, the word Allah in the Constitution was replaced by the word Tuhan which even the Hindus of Indonesia could relate with. RSS men might argue what’s in a name but when they insist Muslims and Christians to identify themselves as “culturally Hindu”, they are inadvertently doing the right opposite of what Indonesia did, a country which even BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani too has praised in the past.
In an article which spans over 1,600 words, Dr Ragi has only devoted 167 words while talking about what the Sangh Parivar is doing to end untouchability and create greater cohesion within the Hindu community. The word count is reflective of the dichotomy which faces the Sangh Parivar. Instead of devoting their energy and time in trying to prove why India is a Hindu Rashtra, why Hindutva its principle identity and why all Indians are culturally Hindus, the Sangh Parivar should concentrate on breaking the barriers of caste within the Hindu community. They should help in the evolvement of a Dalit narrative in this country and not subscribe to the age-old Brahimic supremacism. If they do so, they shall certainly justify their claims of working towards cultural assimilation because their other objectives are far from being assimilatory but are rather overtly polarizing.
(This article was originally published on TwoCircles.net)