The Islamophobic Saint, Vivekananda!

Vivekananda (Reuters)

Vivekananda (Reuters)

Some months back I had written a piece titled “Indian Icons whose perspective of Muslims and Islam will shock you.” The concerned write-up was published by Youth Ki and attracted exceptional controversy primarily because of the controversial nature of the subject. A learned law graduate and an acquaintance of mine has written a rebuttal to my piece in which he has alleged that my piece is so biased that it, “has the potential to make Hindus lean towards being anti-Muslim and Muslims lean towards being anti-Hindu, and in the context of Indian Muslims, even make them lean in favour of being anti-national and help Pakistanis engage in anti-India propaganda.” The fact that the author through his own words exhibits the same sickening bigotry of associating Muslims with anti-India propaganda and helping Pakistan shows that he himself suffers from considerable Islamophobia in regards to Indian Muslims. He cites Islamist terrorists of the Indian Mujahideen and Muslim youth who burn crackers after India’s defeat to Pakistan in a cricket match as a proof of a “large number of Muslims” who are not loyal to the country. While there is no denying that Indian Mujahideen is certainly an anti-India terrorist outfit, there is also no evidence to suggest that Indian Mujahideen comprises of even 100 Indian Muslims. Similarly, the figure of those who celebrate after Pakistan’s triumph over India in cricketing ties might not even reach 1000. I wonder how this negligible lot who doesn’t even comprise 0.1% of the population of Indian Muslims be deemed as “large”. The Sachar Committee itself stated that the Indian Muslim community had never as a whole indulged in anti-national activities.

In his write-up the author has claimed that my write-up tries to portray that only Muslims are victims of prejudice. I would like to bring this to everyone’s notice that my articles on “Anti Semitism Among Arabs” and “Hinduphobia Among Misguided Muslims” have been appreciated by individuals of the likes of Economist and Former Economic Policy Advisor to Rajiv Gandhi, Dr Subroto Roy and Canadian Author Mr Tarek Fatah, respectively. I have also written a piece exposing the communal speeches made by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Founder of the Aligarh Movement. It is therefore preposterous to suggest even for a moment that I am over protective towards what Mr Thadani describes as “my Muslim community”. I would have certainly liked to spend time on the issue of Partition of India as Mr Thadani seems to suggest that Muslims were primarily responsible for the Partition along with the Muslim League. I wonder how come he found out that the bulk of the Muslims supported Muslim League and not Congress at a time when Universal Adult Franchise didn’t exist and only 11% or so of the population was entitled to vote during the 1946 elections in undivided India and only half of them exercised their right. Also, I find it hard to decipher as to why the majority of the Muslims chose to stay back in India and not go to Pakistan, something which they supported in large number as claimed by Mr Thadani. I recommend that he read Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar’s book titled, “Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist” in order to find out who actually partitioned India: The Muslim League or Muslims. There are several other books too based on official documentary records of the transfer of power which took place between the British and India. “Partition of India: Legend and Reality” by HM Seervai and “The Sole Spokesman, Jinnah, The Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan” by Dr Ayesha Jalal shall certainly help Mr Thadani in understanding the subject better.

Without wasting much time, I would now like to address the core issue. In my earlier write-up, I had furnished quotations which showed that Vivekananda, Tagore, Ambedkar, Gandhi, Patel and Nehru had certain wrong perceptions about Muslims and Islam.  Mr Thadani agrees with me in regards to the Islamophobic views of Mr Patel and Dr Ambedkar and has hence made my job easier. In Part 1 of his rebuttal to my piece, he has only defended Vivekananda. Perhaps, he shall defend others in a later piece which has not yet been published. Nevertheless, through this write-up of mine I shall try to puncture the counter arguments put forth in order to absolve Vivekananda of harbouring any form of Islamophobia. While talking about Vivekananda, I had stated in my piece, “The great saffron saint, Vivekananda, stated in the World Parliament of Religions that he hails from a civilization which holds all religions as true but astonishingly, the same Vivekananda while answering a few questions of the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat said, “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.” Vivekananda did not even hold Prophet Muhammad in high regards. He said, “He (Muhammad) was not a trained yogi and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Muhammad did to the world and think of the great evil which has been done through his fanaticism.” Vivekananda’s perception about Islam can be judged from his comments about the Quran. Vivekananda stated that the Quran advises Muslims to kill the Non Muslims if they did not become Muslims.” Mr Thadani began his argument by stating that I concede that Vivekananda held all religions to be true in their own way and that his teacher, Ramakrishna was for a brief period of time a practising Muslim and a practising Christian. I must clarify that I never conceded that Vivekananda held all religions as true. It is something which only he can answer. I just quoted what Vivekananda said at the World Parliament of Religions and then I went on to mention the shocking statements given by Vivekananda only to expose the hypocrisy which was associated with his remarks. Also, it does not matter what Ramakrishna did as I did not even mention him during my discourse.

I must admit that Mr Thadani has been most intellectually dishonest in his rebuttal. I had raised three points in connection with Vivekananda’s Islamophobia and Mr Thadani has not been able to bust even one. Firstly, Mr Thadani has stated that Vivekananda’s controversial quote, “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more” is “more in the context of Christian missionaries being propagated under British rule and their misrepresentation of Hinduism than having anything to do with Muslims.” I think that it is my duty to inform the readers that Mr Thadani has invented a lie to defend Vivekanda. I will reproduce a part of the conversation where this statement was made by Vivekananda to the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat. Here is the conversation: (as published in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 5, Pages 233-4)

Interviewee: “I want to see you, Swami”, I began, “on this matter of receiving back into Hinduism those who have been perverted from it. Is it your opinion that they should be received?”
Vivekananda: “Certainly,” said the Swami, “they can and ought to be taken”. He sat gravely for a moment, thinking and then resumed, “Besides” he said, “we shall otherwise decrease in numbers. When the Mohammedans first came, we are said – I think on the authority of Freishta, the oldest Mohammedan historian – to have been six hundred millions of Hindus. Now we are about two hundred millions. And then every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less but an enemy the more.”

I think the Muslim connection with this shameful quote of Vivekananda has been well proved. It’s amusing to see a man who used to claim that all religions are true, worry about the demographic growth of a community which might outnumber his own community soon. This frustration drove him to label all converts from Hinduism as enemies of Hindus. Over here, Vivekananda sounds more like a Muslim fanatic Mullah who would recommend death for apostasy as is carried out in Islamist countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Mr Thadani has tried to justify Vivekananda’s comments by stating that, “an apostate of any religion would tend to be an ideological enemy or opponent of his former religion”. His euphemistic analogy hasn’t impressed me. Vivekananda’s tone clearly implied what he meant. In fact he went on to say, “Again, the vast majority of Hindu perverts to Islam and Christianity are perverts by the sword or the descendants of these. It would be obviously unfair to subject these to disabilities of any kind. As to the case of born aliens, did you say? Why, born aliens have been converted in the past by crowds, and the process is still going on.” These words are indicative of two things. First, Vivekananda held that majority of conversions from Hinduism to Islam and Christianity were through the sword which is factually incorrect (although forced conversions did take place) and second, Vivekananda’s contempt for Hindu apostates as he labelled them “Hindu perverts” and people of other faith whom he called “born aliens”.

We again get a glimpse of Mr Thadani’s intellectual dishonesty when he addresses the issue of Vivekananda’s comments regarding the Prophet. I wrote in my piece, “Vivekananda did not even hold Prophet Muhammad in high regards. He said, “He (Muhammad) was not a trained yogi and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Muhammad did to the world and think of the great evil which has been done through his fanaticism” but Mr Thadani has only addressed the issue of Muhammad not being a trained yogi and has ignored other aspects of the quote. I will again quote Vivekananda to prove his disdain for the Islamic prophet, “He was not a trained yogi, and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Mohammad did to the world, and think of the great evil that has been done through his fanaticism! Think of the millions massacred through his teachings, mothers bereft of their children, children made orphans, whole countries destroyed, millions upon millions of people killed! So we see this danger by studying the lives of great teachers like Mohammad and others. Yet we find, at the same time, that they were all inspired. Whenever a prophet got into the superconscious state by heightening his emotional nature, he brought away from it not only some truths, but some fanaticism also, some superstition which injured the world as much as the greatness of the teaching helped.” The quote which I have presented clearly shows that Vivekananda considered Muahmmad a fanatic and held his teachings and not rather misinterpretations of his teachings for being responsible for the massive bloodshed caused in the name of Islam.

My third argument was in regards to Vivekananda’s comment about the Quran. Vivekananda disparaged Quran and Muslims in one go when he stated, “And so also with the race. That race which is bound down to itself has been the most cruel and the most wicked in the whole world. There has not been a religion that has clung to this dualism more than that founded by the Prophet of Arabia, and there has not been a religion, which has shed so much blood and been so cruel to other men. In the Koran there is the doctrine that a man who does not believe these teachings should be killed; it is a mercy to kill him! And the surest way to get to heaven, where there are beautiful houris and all sorts of sense enjoyments, is by killing these unbelievers. Think of the bloodshed there has been in consequence of such beliefs!” In this quote we see Vivekananda calling Muslims the “most cruel” and “most wicked” race in the whole world. He has also gone on to suggest that the Quran advises Muslims to kill Non Muslims. When I had brought a similar statement of Mr AB Vajpayee to the notice of Mr Thadani in the past, he had said that “he did not know that Vajpayee passed such irresponsible remarks about the Quran”. I wonder how he would now defend Vivekananda’s remarks on the Quran. Perhaps, this is the reason why he chose to ignore this issue in his long rebuttal. Vivekananda made the mistake of making wrong claims about the Quran multiple times. He said, “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. Now if we tell a Mohammedan that this is wrong, he will naturally ask, “How do you know that? How do you know it is not good? My book says it is.”

Mr Thadani has presented certain quotes to show that Vivekananda wasn’t Islamophobic. The fact is not that I am not aware of those sayings; the fact is that Vivekananda was acting like a hypocrite while passing these statements. On one hand, he was acting like a universalist, on the other a communal bigot. Today, the world is suffering from the scourge of Islamist terrorism. People are killing in the name of Islam and destroying places of worship claiming that it is the Quran and Islam itself that has validated it. We need to ideologically destroy such kind of assertions as is being done by liberal moderate Pakistani cleric Tahir Ul Qadri. But if we read someone like Vivekananda then we’ll think that the Islamist terrorist is the true representative of Islam since the views of Vivekananda and the Islamist extremist regarding Islam are the same. Mr Thadani has quoted Vivekananda and mentioned that he said, “Nevertheless, among these Mohammedans, wherever there was a philosophic man, he was sure to protest against these cruelties. In that he showed the touch of the Divine and realized a fragment of the truth; he was not playing with his religion, he was talking, but spoke the truth direct like a man.” Should we absolve Vivekananda of the sin of Islamophobia just because he stated this? Certainly not! Because before stating this, he said, “Some Mohammedans are the crudest in this respect, and the most sectarian. Their watchword is: There is one God, and Mohammad is his Prophet. Everything beyond that not only is bad, but must be destroyed forthwith: at a moment’s notice, every man or woman who does not exactly believe in that must be killed; everything that does not belong to this worship must be immediately broken; every book that teaches anything else must be burnt. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, for five hundred years blood ran all over the world. That is Mohammedanism!” Through his words, Vivekananda makes it clear what he considers to be Mohammedanism.

I would not waste my time further by elaborating on Vivekananda’s sickening teachings regarding Islam. I would like to end by presenting a few more quotations of Vivekananda which expose his Islamophobic view of Muslims as being violent and butcher-like and his biased understanding of history. Vivekananda said, “To the Mussulman, the Jews or the Christians are not objects of extreme detestation; they are, at the worst, men of little faith. But not so the Hindu. According to him, the Hindu is idolatrous, the hateful kafir; hence in this life he deserves to be butchered; and in the next, eternal hell is in store for him. The utmost the Mussulman kings could do as a favour to the priestly class — the spiritual guides of these kafirs — was to allow them somehow to pass their life silently and wait for the last moment. This was again, sometimes considered too much kindness! If the religious ardour of any king was a little more uncommon, there would immediately follow arrangements for a great yajna by way of kafir-slaughter.” According to Vivekananda, we Muslims, consider Hindus as merely objects of slaughter in this life. Vivekananda held Islam and Muslims responsible for initiating violence in India. Probably he did not read about the treatment meted out to the Shudras or the persecution of Buddhists by Brahmin rulers like Pusyamitra Sunga. He said, “”You know that the Hindu religion never persecutes. It is the land where all sects may live in peace and amity. The Mohammedans brought murder and slaughter in their train, but until their arrival, peace prevailed. Thus the Jains, who do not believe in a God and who regards such belief as a delusion, were tolerated, and still are there today. India sets the example of real strength that is meekness. Dash, pluck, fight, all these things are weakness.” There is no point arguing any further. If people do not recognize Vivekananda as an Islamophobic even after reading these quotes, then they will never accept the truth and can continue worshipping him as a saffron saint.

Vivekananda’s interview with the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat:

Arun Shourie’s twin articles regarding Vivekananda in which he flaunts Vivekananda’s hateful perceptions regarding Islam with great pride:


Hinduphobia Among Misguided Muslims

A saffron robed Hindu monk conducts aarti. (Image: The Patriot – News)

A saffron robed Hindu monk conducts aarti. (Image: The Patriot – News)

Samuel P Huntington’s controversial thesis revolving around the Clash of the Civilizations does not merely apply to the political tussle being played out between the Judeo-Christian West and Islamic Arab Land but also involves into its ambit what some call, ‘Hindu India’, an identity of India based on its Hindu majority. The fact that the world is beset with sectarian bloodshed and religious tension proves that there is some truth behind what Huntington initially stated in a foreign affairs publication in 1993. American intellectual Noam Chomsky has pointed out to the close diplomatic alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia, the most conservative country in the region of Middle East, to show that Huntington’s theory is planked on oversimplified analysis of subjects which are often influenced by political opportunism.

Whether or not there will be a civilizational clash in the 21st century is debatable but what is not debatable is the rampant rise of bigotry, racism and stereotyping as is visible through Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism or what scholars call the assault of secularists on Jesuits. In the midst of all this commotion, the Western media has been quick to highlight the rise of fascist movements in the Indian subcontinent be it that of the Hindu Nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in India, Bodhu Bala Sena in Sri Lanka or 969 in Myanmar but so far they’ve greatly ignored the phenomenon of ‘Hinduphobia’. Over 90% of Hindus in the world reside in secular India, a country which has been home to the Hindu civilization since the past 5000 years. Unlike the two major monotheistic faiths ie Christianity and Islam, which happen to be the dominant faith in scores of countries besides being powerful minorities in several other nations, Hindus aren’t scattered in that much quantity across the globe. A good reason behind this could be the lack of consensus on the issue of proselytization among Hindus but organizations like Ramakrishna Mission and ISKCON have managed to bring saffron-hood to the West by means of their preaching.

The political and theological discourse revolving around Hindus and Hinduism is intrinsically associated with India as it’s not only the holiest place for Hindus but also because it is one among two Hindu majority countries in the world. The community which has interacted most with the Hindu community of India has been that of the Muslims. The Hindu-Muslim interaction began with Arab ships coming to India in search of business and spiralled with several invasions of Muslim rulers on the territory of India. The partition of India in 1947 on religious lines has left a permanent scar on relations between Hindus and Muslims but over the past six decades various commendable efforts have been the made to bring the two communities close to one another.

The road to reconciliation between these communities is often derailed due to the activities of hardline Islamist and Hindutva groups in Pakistan and India, respectively but another significant threat to better relations emerges from the growing Hinduphobia among certain sections of the Muslim community in India and Pakistan who disseminate their ideas to other parts of the Islamic Ummah. The prejudices which many Muslims harbour regarding Hindus revolve around theology, politics and history.

Theologically, prejudiced Muslims view Hindus as a community of ignorant polytheistic idolaters who are seeped into superstition and cow worship. Hindus are ridiculed as a bunch of people who pray to idols signifying sexual organs (Shiv Lingam) and equated with Pagan Meccans who waged war against Prophet Muhammad and his companions. This image of the Hindu being a descendant or somehow being associated with Pagan Meccans is propounded by Muslim Zionists like Pakistan’s Zaid Hamid. This understanding of Hindus and Hinduism is flawed because unlike the Pagan Meccans, the Hindus are in possession of literature which they claim to be divinely revealed. They call it the Vedas and besides the Vedas, the Hindus happen to have scores of religious scriptures and discourses. Secondly, despite their polytheistic cum pantheistic beliefs, the Hindu at the end of the day says that God is one and there are different paths of approaching that one God, something which the Pagan Meccans never stated. But then people will argue that they worship the cow, if the Jews can be nephews to Muslims even after worshipping the calf then what’s wrong with the Hindus? In the Islamic sense, the Christian concept of the Trinity and The Cross is viewed as polytheistic and idolatrous but they still continue to be the People of the Book. The Quran doesn’t equate Zoroastrians with Pagan Meccans for worshipping fire but still some continue to draw proportionality between Hindus and Meccans on account of their nature worship.

Thirdly, Pagan Meccans have been heavily criticized by Islamic scholars principally because of their uncivilized ways of living. The Hindus on the other hand have been associated with one of the most advanced civilizations to have ever existed in the world. During the ancient times, the Hindus achieved great progress in the fields of architecture, engineering, medicine, astronomy, philosophy, literature and jurisprudence. The illiteracy and ignorance of the Pagan Meccans stands in complete contradiction to the intellectual might and scientific advancement of the Hindu civilization. Fourthly and most importantly, the first set of Muslim conquerors that came to India associated Hindus with the People of the Book, a Quranic term referring to the Jews and Christians. This was because of the scriptural nature of the Hindu religion. It became the basis of Hindu-Muslim relationship and might have been the possible reason behind Hindu-Muslim marriages as Muslim men are permitted to marry from among the People of the Book. It’s utter falsehood to even remotely suggest that Hindus have always happened to be an object of ridicule for their Muslim brethren. In fact, 11th century Muslim scholar Abu Rayhan Al Biruni is recognized as the “Father of Indology” because of his remarkable study of India and its people.

On 6th of December 1992, secular India was jolted heavily as the disputed Barbi Mosque, which was constructed controversially in 1527, was razed to the ground by a mob of over 100,000 Hindu fascists. Secularists in India, majority of them belonging to the Hindu faith, have come to treat that incident with disgust and have slammed those who were responsible for carrying out the sacrilegious act. The kind of negative perception which India’s populace, again majority of them being Hindus, holds regarding the Babri Mosque demolition was so fierce that the man who headed this controversial movement, Former Deputy PM of India, LK Advani, had to willingly or unwillingly remark that 6th December, 1992 happened to be the saddest day of his life. Currently, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque dispute is being heard by the Supreme Court of India and whatever the court judgement might be, it shall certainly uphold the secular spirit of the Indian constitution. However, there are some people, especially some Muslim intellectuals based in Pakistan who periodically rake up this issue to score brownie points during debates and discussions. They rhetorically ask, “Who destroyed the Babri Masjid?” Do these people remember how many Hindu temples were destroyed in Pakistan and Bangladesh as retaliation for the destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya? These are the very people who frown at the demolition of the Babri Mosque but glorify the iconoclasm carried out by plunderers like Mahmud of Ghazni. There is a tendency among some Muslims to lionize anti-Hindu emperors like Ghazni who invaded and plundered India 17 times. It’s absolutely legitimate to assert that the demolition of the Babri Mosque was illegitimate but was demolition of scores of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers in the name of Islam legitimate?

While one might not agree with the exaggerated estimates of temple destruction as documented by Hindutva ideologues like Arun Shourie and Ram Swarap but there has been objective research carried out on the subject by historians like Richard M Eaton of the University of Arizona. His well researched book titled, “Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States in Medieval India” traces the history of temple destruction for political purposes by both Muslim and Hindu rulers. Babri Masjid’s demolition will remain a blot on India’s image but so will the destruction of countless Hindu temples by Muslim rulers prior to colonisation. The main question is why defend the indefensible. Was Mahmud of Ghazni acting like a pious Muslim while desecrating the Somnath temple? He was utilizing the loot money to finance plundering expedition against fellow Muslim kingdoms in the Iranian plateau. Was Aurangzeb being a good Muslim when he was using the jizya to economically oppress the Hindus? The Prophet himself said that on the day of judgement he shall stand in testimony against those who extract more tax from Non Muslims than what they can bear. This is the same Aurangzeb who murdered his brothers and imprisoned his father to grab the Mughal throne. Then how can he be a good Muslim? The Quran says that there is no compulsion in religion but Tipu Sultan ordered forced circumcision and conversion of Hindus. Should such a person be remembered as a Muslim hero? Unfortunately, in the history textbooks of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, these emperors are shown as exemplary Muslims who have left behind a historic Islamic legacy.

The imbroglio surrounding the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir also plays an active part in fuelling anti-Hindu rhetoric. Kashmir is the most heavily militarized zone in the world with over 600,000 Indian troops stationed in the state to maintain law and order. The human rights violations carried out by the Indian army has given further boost to the ambitions of the local populace to secede from the Union of India. As per the Indian Government, the conflict has left 47,000 people dead. Kashmiris hold the Indian army responsible for various forced disappearances and mass rapes which have occurred in the Valley. Kashmiri Muslims have taken to jihadist insurgency to gain their ‘Azaadi’ from India and have targeted civilians across India in their mad pursuit of independence. From Pakistan to Iran, several so-called Islamic countries have expressed their solidarity with the people of Kashmir but these people of Kashmir only seem to be the Kashmiri Muslims. Kashmiri Pandits were wiped out of the Valley during the ethnic cleansing which occurred when the insurgency began after the disputed election of 1987. The Government of India says that there are more than 58,000 Kashmiri Pandit families living in a state of exile in various parts of India. The mainstream discourse concerning Kashmir has so far ignored the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. Some Kashmiri Muslims have definitely spoken in favour of the Pandits returning to the Valley but the reasoning which they give for the exodus of Pandits from Kashmir is purely hypocritical. To pin the entire blame on Governor Jagmohan without saying a word about the threat posed to Pandits by Muslim terrorists is indicative of the Kashmiri Muslims sympathy as well as support for the jihadist insurgency. Many Muslims highlight the issue of Kashmir to show how brutally Hindus have ruled over Muslims in ‘secular India’ but will these people ever realize that the Kashmir dispute has been as painful for the Hindus as the Muslims.

Most of the Western scholars who have studied Hinduism have criticized it on the basis of the repressive caste system which forms a very integral part of Hindu society. The Islamic scholars have also rested bulk of their criticism of Hinduism on the caste system. However, the Islamic scholars have turned a blind eye towards the casteism which has developed among South Asian Muslims. The people who indulge in this sort of a denial also deny destruction of Hindu temples by Muslims zealots, forced conversion of Hindus and role played by Islamist terrorists in driving Kashmiri Pandits out of the valley of Kashmir. The fact of the matter is that the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent happen to have Hindu ancestry. But some Muslims are so busy in romanticizing themselves as Arab Muslims that they’ve continuously denied any such connection as if it would lower their stature within the Islamic Ummah. Some surnames which are common amongst Hindus and Muslims are clear evidence of the Hindu ancestry which Muslims possess. Muslims in this part of the world compete with Hindus in terms of being feudal and class bound. A Muslim who happens to be Shiekh or Syed would never marry someone who is an Ansari. This problem of casteism among Indian Muslims cannot be solved till they realize their roots which are primarily Hindu. Nobody is recommending Subramanian Swamy kind of radical solutions that Muslims should be stripped off their voting rights if they don’t accept their Hindu ancestry but they should realize that this problem exists because of their prior associations and while they might have converted to a different faith, they haven’t yet realized its essence as they carry on with such kind of discrimination based on socio-economic conditions and tribalism.

American journalist Fareed Zakaria has stated that despite all the cynicism which has engulfed the world, there is enough factual evidence to show that we are living in a world which is far more peaceful and prosperous than ever before. If the 21st century intends to prove Samuel P Huntington’s thesis wrong then it has to learn the art of disagreeing without being in disagreement. If any community or group is subjected to constant ridicule and humiliation over a long period of time then a day would come when they would revolt. It’s important for the law to defend people of all faiths and even those who have no faith. It’s extremely disappointing when bigots say that Hindus (India) are poor because they worship Satan-like Gods or that Hindus, again signifying India, would not have been living in a state of destitution had Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth existed. Making fun of the hair tail which Hindu monks have on their head is just as ridiculous as treating someone inferior because of his black skin. Some people would definitely try to discredit this piece by citing the religious affiliation of the author and by accusing him of trying to appease Hindus but this writer has also been one of the fiercest critics of rising Hindutva fascism and has in the past written several pieces condemning extremism carried out by saffron groups besides writing a piece on the shocking Islamophobic views of some revered Hindus like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

Vande Mataram – A Midway

Vande Mataram was originally written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay as part of his novel 'Anandmath' in the year 1882.

Vande Mataram was originally written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay as part of his novel ‘Anandamath’ in the year 1882.

One of the sticking issues in the secular-communal debate in Independent India has been regarding the singing of Vande Mataram which happens to be the national song of India, a country comprising of a strong 1.28 billion people. Vande Mataram was originally written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay as a part of his novel ‘Anandamath’ in the year 1882. The song generated massive controversy during the 1930s when India’s movement for independence against the British was beginning to take a decisive note. The Muslims of India raised objections concerning the lyrics of the song which they considered to be sectarian and idolatrous. Ever since then, Vande Mataram has been an issue which has managed to polarize Hindus and Muslims of India. The debate has got murkier with the some Sikh and Christian organizations joining the anti-Vande Mataram bandwagon.

Since the Muslim groups have historically been most vociferous in their opposition to Vande Mataram, it becomes imperative to first analyze the objections raised by them. The first and most fundamental objection is in regards to the meaning of the term ‘Vande’ which Sri Aurobindo, a Hindu revivalist scholar, translated as ‘Mother, I bow to thee’ in his translation of Vande Mataram. While some sects among Muslims might be seen occasionally prostrating before shrines, the majority theological opinion among Muslims is that their religion does not allow them to bow in front of anyone except Allah. The second and the more serious objection is in regards to the sectarian nature of the song. While the third stanza possibly refers to Hindu Goddess Kali, the fourth stanza mentions the Hindu Goddess Durga by name. Metaphorically, the poem identifies the Land of Bengal with Hindu Goddesses. The third objection concerns ‘Anandamath’, the novel in which Vande Mataram appeared for the first time. The novel revolves around the Sanyasi Rebellion which took place against the Muslim Sultanate in Bengal during the late 18th century. Some have claimed that the novel endorses the idea of Hindu nationalism and portrays Muslims in bad light. In January 1999 issue of English magazine Frontline, AG Noorani wrote an article titled, ‘How secular is Vande Mataram?’ in which he pointed out towards certain sections of the novel which appear to be anti-Muslim. He stated that in the last chapter of the novel, Satyananda, the protagonist of the story, is persuaded by a supernatural figure to bring a halt to fighting as Muslim dominance in Bengal had been destroyed. The supernatural figure tells Satyananda that the British would now rule over them and they were their (Hindus) friends and could not be defeated in battle.

The second question is why Vande Mataram is so important to the idea of India. It has been noted by scholars that Vande Mataram was the slogan raised by patriotic Indians during their long and arduous struggle for independence against the British Raj. The whole purpose behind making Vande Mataram the national song was to give respect to the memories of those freedom fighters who laid down their lives while uttering these words in defiance of the British rule. The British had even banned the usage of the term ‘Vande Mataram’ fearing massive civil disobedience and agitations. When Vande Mataram ran into trouble in the 1930s, the Congress Working Committee appointed a Commission in October 1937 under the President-ship of Nehru to look into the matter. The Commission ruled in favour of the patriotic nature of the song. However, the Commission also took note of the objections raised by the Muslims. Eventually, it was decided that only the first two stanzas of the song would be song as they contained nothing which could hurt anyone’s religious sentiments. The Commission also pointed out that it was only the first two stanzas which had been regularly sung by the people. It went to the extent of saying that the other “stanzas of the song are little known and hardly ever sung.”

While the Congress did make substantial adjustments in regards to Vande Mataram, the stand taken by them was not enough to please the Muslims as they still objected to the use of the word ‘Vande’ whose meaning by now had become a bit ambiguous. In a letter written by Rabindra Nath Tagore to Subhash Cahndra Bose, he stated, “The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to Goddess Durga: this is so plane that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussalman can be expected patriotically to worship the ten handed deity as Swadesh. This year many of the special Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram – proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussalmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self defeating.” Mahatma Gandhi advised the Muslims of India to appreciate the historical significance of Vande Mataram but warned against mandatory imposition of the song on them.

The most important question is can singing of Vande Mataram be made compulsory for all? The plain and simple answer is no! In the year 1985, a school in Kerala expelled students belonging to the Christian sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses for not singing the National Anthem, ‘Jana Gana Mana’. The father of the children, Bijoe Emmanuel, took the matter to court. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the children’s right to not sing the national anthem. The Supreme Court stated, “The Fundamental Rights of the appellants under Art. 19(1) (a) and 25(1) have been infringed and they are entitled to be protected. The expulsion of the three children from the school for the reason that because of their conscientiously held religious faith, they do not join the singing of the National Anthem in the morning assembly though they do stand respectfully when the National Anthem is sung, is a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of conscience and freely to profess, practice and propagate religion. Therefore, the judgment of the High Court is set aside and the respondent authorities are directed to re- admit the children into the school, to permit them to pursue their studies without hindrance and to facilitate the pursuit of their studies by giving them the necessary facilities.” The Supreme Court further added, “There is no provision of law which obliges anyone to sing the National Anthem nor is it disrespectful to the National Anthem if a person who stands up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung does not join the singing. Proper respect is shown to the National Anthem by standing up when the National Anthem is sung. It will not be right to say that disrespect is shown by not joining in the singing. Standing up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung but not singing oneself clearly does not either prevent the singing of the National Anthem or cause disturbance to an assembly engaged in such singing so as to constitute the offence mentioned in s. 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.” It was possibly because of this court judgement that Former India Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee clarified regarding the singing of Vande Mataram in the year 1998 and stated that it was not compulsory to sing the song.

An important aspect of the Supreme Court’s judgement regarding the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to not sing the national anthem was that the children never disrespected the song as such and stood up quietly while the song was being sung as a mark of respect. Going by the precedent set by the Supreme Court, no minority group in the nation including Muslims have the right to disparage Vande Mataram as the verdict of the Supreme Court concerning the national anthem can also be extended to the national song. They are not entitled by law to take part in the singing but they are also not supposed to create hindrance while the national song is being sung. Recently BSP Member of Parliament Shafiqur Rehman Burq raised a stir when he walked out from the House when Vande Mataram was being sung. I gave a long thought to the actions of the old man and I have finally come to the conclusion that he didn’t take the right step. If anybody does not want to be a part of the procedure then they should walk out prior to the singing starts. Walking out during the process is going on, can indeed be perceived by many as insulting.

The final part of the controversy lies in deciphering the stand of minorities as a whole about Vande Mataram. While a Christian institution in Patiala did object to the song on account of its controversial nature, Father Cyprian Kullu of Jharkand stated that Vande Mataram should not be dragged into politics as it was our national song and concluded by saying that it had no religious connotations. The Sikhs too have a contradictory stand on Vande Mataram. While school going Sikh boys and girls might have no problem with the song, some Sikh bodies like Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee and Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee have expressed their reservations and declared the song as opposed to basic tenets of the Sikh faith. Sikh opposition to Vande Mataram also stems from the anti-Vande Mataram stand of their famous leader Master Tara Sing. As far as the Muslims are concerned, there have been innumerable fatwas issued against Vande Mataram but there are some Muslims like Arif Mohammed Khan who do not see anything wrong in the contents of the song. Arif Mohammed Khan has written an Urdu translation of Vande Mataram called ‘Tasleemat, maan tasleemat’. Sufi Musician AR Rahmann came out with a musical album called ‘Vande Mataram’ on the 50th anniversary of India’s independence. We can conclude by saying that singing Vande Mataram is a matter of choice. While some might exhibit their patriotism for the land through the recital of their song, others might abstain from it due to religious compulsions. Nobody’s allegiance should be judged on their ability to sing a particular song. While the Hindus pledge allegiance to the country by worshipping it as ‘Motherland’, Muslims too have their own way of patriotism as the Prophet said, “Love of one’s homeland is part of faith.”