Attention Fr. Victor Ferrao: Goa’s rich Hindu past can’t be brushed away – Anirban Ganguly

Anirban Ganguly“The truth is that Hindus had historically existed and thrived in the entire region of Goa, the truth is that they were gradually exterminated or exiled through a genocidal process known as the Inquisition and the truth is that for such a past treatment, the Hindus never sought to retaliate or seek redressal. The truth is also that in today’s Goa such past historical wrongs have not coloured the Hindus stand on the need for peaceful co-existence with the Christians.” –  Anirban Ganguly

Fr. Dr. Victor FerraoA ‘leading’ Christian theologian of Goa, while referring to the Portuguese destruction of Hindu temples in the region from the 15th century onwards, had recently argued that these were not Hindu temples but places of worship that belonged to “independent cults and religions which were often at war with each other.” He also argued that there were no Hindus in Goa before the Portuguese came and that this entire effort was a “reductionist and distortionist appropriation of Goa’s history by Hindulogists.”

Father Victor Ferrao’s ability to coin new terminologies is unparalleled and I am happy to henceforth call myself a Hindulogist. At least that will give, to those of us who argue for the Hindus, some standing in the hallowed galleries of churchdom! However, the actual truth is that Ferrao, by distorting history, by resorting to, what the legendary historian of the Dharmasastras Bharat Ratna P.V. Kane had once described as “suppression veri and suggestion falsi”, is trying to drive a wedge between the Goan Christian and Hindu of today.

Past civilisational and historical wrongs need reiteration as part of study of human evolution and behaviour, the habit of distorting or suppressing these for present benefits never yield real long-term dividends. Therefore, for Father Ferrao’s benefit, it would be useful to reiterate what his own co-religionists have written about the destruction of the Hindu way of life and worship in Goa. I have also been careful not to cite any “Hindu communal-nationalist historian” but have referred from those who had nothing Basilica of Bom Jesuswhatsoever to do with propagation of ‘Hindutva’, such an approach will hopefully enable Ferrao to issue a corrective.

One Jacinto Freire Andrade in his Life of Dom Joao Casho (1664) cites the decree of the king of Portugal, Joāo III who ruled from 1521-1557, to his Viceroy Joao de Castro, commanding him to discover idols and to demolish and break them up in pieces where they are found, proclaiming severe punishments against anyone who shall dare to work, cast, make in sculpture, engrave, paint or bring to a light any figure of an idol in metal, brass, wood, plaster or any other matter … and against who publicly or privately celebrate any of their sports, keep by them any heathenish frankincense or assist and hide the Brahmins, the sworn enemies of the Christian profession”. Joāo III directed de Castro to punish them severely “without admitting any appeal or dispensation in the least”.

Dr. Teotonio de SouzaReputed historian of Goa and a Goan Christian himself Dr Teotonio R. de Souza, founder of the Goa-based Xavier Centre of Historical Research in his The Portuguese in Asia and Their Church Patronage, (1988) explicitly cites how Hindu temples were destroyed and idols annihilated. By 1540, says de Souza, all Hindu idols and temples were destroyed in Goa and building materials were in most cases utilised to erect new Christian churches and chapels”.

It did not stop at that, de Souza continues as saying, “Various viceregal and church council decrees banished the Hindu priests from the Portuguese territories” and the “public practice of Hindu rites, including marriage rites, was banned”. Temple properties were confiscated and de Souza says that the Portuguese Government of the day transferred to the church and religious orders the properties and other sources of revenues that had belonged to the Hindu temples that had been demolished.” Entire villages were taken over for being considered rebellious and handed over with all their revenues to the Jesuits’ for monitoring. De Souza also describes a “particularly grave abuse in Goa in the form of ‘mass baptism’, Hindus would be seized and their lips smeared with a ‘piece of beef’ forcing them to convert.”

Dr. Alfredo de MelloUruguay-based Alfredo de Mello, a Goan born historian, in his Memoirs of Goa (2003) writes how in a span of 252 years, the Inquisition held sway in Goa “with a power that Stalin and other tyrants would have liked to hold.” Referring to the dreaded Goan Inquisition de Mello calls it “the worst of the existing inquisitions in the Catholic orb of the five parts of the world.” De Mello also cites from the memoirs of Judges Magalhāes and Louisada (1859), who described what they witnessed, “… The Inquisition, this tribunal of fire, thrown on the surface of the globe for the scourge of humanity, this horrible institution which will eternally cover with shame its authors, fixed its brutal domicile in the fertile plains of the Hindustan. On seeing the monster everyone fled and disappeared, Mughals, Arabs, Persians, Armenians and Jews. The Indians, i.e., Hindus even more tolerant and pacific, were astounded to see the God of Christianism more cruel than that of Mohammed, [and] deserted the territory of the Portuguese.… In this fashion, the fields and cities became deserted as are today Diu and Goa.”

Goa Inquisition: Man condemned to be burned at the stake.A.K. Priolkar, leading historian of the Goan Inquisition in his The Terrible Tribunal for the EastThe Goan Inquisition (1961) cites from primary sources a 41-point plan of 1545 sent to the king of Portugal, found in the Archivo Nacional of Torre de Tombo, the Portuguese National Archives, for the suppression and conversion of the natives in Goa. The third point of the plan asks the king not to tolerate or allow idolatry which is “so great an offence against God” and says that an “order should be promulgated in Goa to the effect that in the whole island there should not be any temple public or secret, contravention whereof should entail grave penalties…. No Hindu festival should be publicly celebrated in the whole island; that Brahmin preachers from the mainland should not gather in the house of the Hindus; and that persons who are in charge of St. Paul’s should have the power to search the houses of the Brahmins and other Hindus, in case there exists a presumption or suspicion of the existence of idols there.”

The truth is that Hindus had historically existed and thrived in the entire region of Goa, the truth is that they were gradually exterminated or exiled through a genocidal process known as the Inquisition and the truth is that for such a past treatment, the Hindus never sought to retaliate or seek redressal. The truth is also that in today’s Goa such past historical wrongs have not coloured the Hindus stand on the need for peaceful co-existence with the Christians.

Father Ferrao will hopefully revise his thesis and desist from dishing out distortions! – Niti Central, 24 July 2013

See also


Is ‘Hindu’ an ethnic identity or a religious identity? – Deepti Hajela

Tulsi Gabbard

Deepti Hajela“According to an analysis issued last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, there are about 1 billion Hindus in the world. Of those, 94 percent are in India, and 99 percent in the larger South Asia region. The analysis, based on data from 2010, the latest available, estimated the population of Hindus in the United States at 1.79 million. Most are of Indian descent.” – Deepti Hajela

Dr. Uma MysorekarWhen Uma Mysorekar looks at the members of the new Congress, the Indian immigrant and practicing Hindu can see that, for the first time, there’s someone who shares her ethnicity and someone who shares her faith.

To her surprise, they are two different people.

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is the first practicing Hindu elected to Congress. Rep. Ami Bera of California, also a Democrat, is the third Indian American to serve in the House.

Gabbard, however, isn’t from India, where Hinduism originated and to which the vast majority of its adherents have ethnic ties.

Bera is a Unitarian. His two Indian American predecessors in Congress, Dalip Singh Saund and Bobby Jindal, also were not practicing Hindus. The late Saund, a California Democrat elected in 1956, was Sikh. Jindal, a Republican elected to the House in 2004 who is now Louisiana’s governor, is Catholic.

Gabbard’s presence in Congress creates an interesting moment for Hindus in the United States, a chance to celebrate a barrier broken but also a topic of discussion as they ponder how closely religion and nationality are entwined, or whether they even should be.

Mysorekar is glad to see a practicing Hindu in the country’s halls of political power, no matter the nationality.

Gabbard “is a Hindu representative. It doesn’t matter where she came from,” said Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, a temple in the New York borough of Queens that is one of the country’s oldest.

As a non-Indian Hindu, Gabbard is most definitely an outlier.

Smita KothuriAccording to an analysis issued last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, there are about 1 billion Hindus in the world. Of those, 94 percent are in India, and 99 percent in the larger South Asia region. The analysis, based on data from 2010, the latest available, estimated the population of Hindus in the United States at 1.79 million. Most are of Indian descent.

Hinduism encompasses a range of beliefs and practices, and there is no formal conversion practice. That acceptance of plurality in the faith — that Hindus come in many forms — would make it “hypocritical” for Indian Hindus to look askance at Gabbard for not sharing their ethnicity, said Smita Kothuri, 38, of McLean.

“How can I hold it against her? I’d be untrue to my religion if I held it against her,” Kothuri said.

Other Indian Hindus agreed.

“I don’t think it makes a difference that she’s not Indian,” said Kinjal Dave, 17, a high school senior in Hillsborough, N.J. “I think it’s the faith that matters.”

The press secretary for Gabbard, a 31-year-old Iraq war veteran, declined a request to interview her for this article but sent along a statement that Gabbard had made upon being sworn into office, for which she used a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu religious text.

Suhag Shukla“I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad Gita because its teachings have inspired me to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country,” she said.

Gabbard has said that she was introduced to Hinduism through her mother and embraced it fully as a teenager. She also is the first member of Congress to be born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa.

The reception from Indians and the Indian media to her electoral victory has been largely positive, although there has been at least one mistaken media report referring to Gabbard as an Indian American. (She and all her siblings have Indian first names.)

Having any Hindu representation in Congress breaks barriers in a country where, despite religious freedom being enshrined in the Constitution, elected officials overwhelmingly come from Christian backgrounds.

It can be an inspiration to other Hindus who are interested in public office, that their faith and most voters’ unfamiliarity with it will not prove insurmountable. “I think it instills confidence to say there’s been a Hindu there,” said Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation in Washington.

It’s also an opportunity to introduce Hinduism as a faith to people who may have seen it as solely the purview of those who have a connection to India.

Pt. Dharmasetu DasDharmasetu Das knows all about that. The 55-year-old white man, whose original first name was David and who was born in Massachusetts to a military family, has been practicing Hinduism for decades. Now, he lives in San Diego and performs weddings and other ceremonies as a Hindu pandit, or priest.

Das was a teenager when he came across some books on the Hindu faith, and “I felt like this was it,” he said.

He hasn’t come across too many other non-Indian Hindus like himself over the years and is happy to know that there is now one in such a high-profile place as Congress.

“Just opening people’s eyes,” Das said, “it’s a great thing.” – The Washington Post, 17 January 2013

» Deepti Hajela is an American journalist who has been a newswoman for the Associated Press since 1996. She works in the New York bureau of the AP, covering a wide range of stories in the metropolitan region.

Diwali at the White House 2012

Diwali at the White House 2012

Famous converts to Hinduism 

From Christianity

From Islam

  • Harilal Gandhi — converted to Islam, adopted the name “Abdullah Gandhi”, but later reverted to Hinduism.
  • Bukka I – King of Vijayanagara empire who converted to Islam, then reverted to Hinduism. The early life of Bukka as well as his brother Hakka (also known as Harihara I) are relatively unknown and most accounts of their early life are based on theories.
  • Mahboob Ali – King of Vijayanagara empire who converted to Islam, then reverted to Hinduism. The early life of Bukka as well as his brother Hakka (also known as Harihara I) are relatively unknown and most accounts of their early life are based on theories.
  • Nargis – noted Bollywood actress, politician, and social worker. Mother of actor Sanjay Dutt she converted to Hinduism and took the name of Nirmala Dutt on her marriage to actor Sunil Dutt.
  • Annapurna Devi (born Roshanara Khan) – surbahar (bass sitar) player and music teacher in the North Indian classical tradition. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage.
  • Harilal Mohandas Gandhi – son of Mahatma Gandhi. Upon converting to Islam he adopted the name Abdullah Gandhi, but later again reverted to Hinduism.
  • Asha Gawli – (born Ayesha) Wife of Arun Gawli, notorious gangster turned politician from Mumbai, India. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage.
  • Harihara I – King of Vijayanagara Empire who converted to Islam, then reconverted.
  • Aashish Khan (born Ustad Aashish Khan Debsharma) – Indian musician.
  • Hassan Palakkode – Malayali writer on Islam.
  • Netaji Palkar – Maratha noble and commander-in-chief of the army of Shivaji, 19 June 1676.
  • Sarmad – 17th century mystical poet and sufi saint, arrived from Persia to India, beheaded for assumed heresy by the Mughal emperor, Aurungzebe. Sarmad renounced Judaism, briefly converting to Islam and then Hinduism. He later denounced all religions and rejected belief in god.
  • Anwar Shaikh – British author.
  • Ifa Sudewi – Chief judge for the 2002 Bali bombing trials.
  • Khushboo Sundar – Tamil movie actress. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage.
  • Haridas Thakura – Prominent Vaishnavite saint, instrumental in the early appearance and spread of Hare Krishna movement.
  • Zubeida – Hindi film actress, on whose life story the film Zubeidaa was based. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage.
  • Nalini Patel (born Nayyara Mirza) – Miss India finalist of 1967, was the first Muslim to participate in the pageant. She converted to Hinduism after marriage. She is settled in the USA.
  • Sonam (born Bakhtawar Murad) – Wife of Bollywood director Rajiv Rai. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage. She is the niece of character actor Raza Murad and granddaughter of veteran character actor Murad.

From Judaism

Other Dharmic religions

From Buddhism

From Jainism


From other faiths and religions

From non-religious backgrounds

From undetermined former religion

» Source Wikepedia.

Ganga ghat at Varanasi ca. 1950s

See also

  1. Who is a Hindu? The historical definition – Koenraad Elst

  2. Who is a Hindu? The credal definitions – Koenraad Elst

  3. Who is a Hindu? The legal definition – Koenraad Elst

  4. Neo-Vedanta: The problem with Hindu Universalism – Frank Morales

Wikileaks: LTTE was an authoritarian outfit sans ideology – Kumar Chellappan

Kumar ChellappanAccording to the US report made public as part of the WikiLeaks exposure, the LTTE structure reminded one of a tight pyramid with power concentrated at the apex-Prabhakaran. ‘Based on its structure and operation style, Prabhakaran would dominate the Eelam. It is a highly centralised and authoritarian organisation sans any ideology. But the LTTE was plagued by cleavages based on regions, caste and religion,’ said the report.” – Kumar Chellappan

LTTE leader Velupillai PrabhakaranFor those who romanticise the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran, it may come as a shock. The LTTE, which fought a long drawn out dreaded war with the Sri Lankan Government for a separate Tamil nation, was neither romantic nor democratic. It was devoid of any ideology other than terrorist activities. This is what a 2600-word report sent as cable by the US Embassy in the island nation to the Department of State say about LTTE and its leaders whom many Tamils venerate as iconic figures.

The report dated February 12, 1987, was prepared by the US political agent after conversations with local Tamils in Jaffna, intelligence officials of the Sri Lankan Government, Army officers and journalists who maintained close rapport with the Tigers.

According to the findings of the US official, a separate Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka dominated by the LTTE would have been a sure recipe to the region’s instability and disaster. “An LTTE-controlled Tamil Eelam would likely to be an unhappy place for Tamils , even many of those supportive of the separatist movement,” said the report which was dispatched as a cable to the State Department.

LTTE EmblemThe report describes LTTE as a divided house and there were many cleavages. “Tamils drawn from Jaffna were pitted against non-Jaffna Tamils, Hindu Tamils fighting with Christian Tamil groups, caste groupings and regional rivalries with Easterners fighting the Northerners,” said the report. Jaffna region had the upper hand in the running of the organisation while Tamils from other regions were at the mercy of Prabhakaran. The LTTE chief, known all over the world for his revolutionary warfare strategies, was superstitious and choosy about his subordinates.

The resignation of Col Karuna (Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan) from the LTTE in 2004 substantiates the US report. Karuna from Batticaloa, rose to become the bodyguard of Prabhakaran but fell out with the Tiger chief charging that the latter always favoured Jaffna Tamils. Karuna is the vice-president of Sri Lankan Freedom Party headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Contrary to the general belief that the LTTE was built on ideology and discipline, the US investigation found that the organisation never had any ideology to boast of. A regime controlled by the LTTE is apt to be a military dictatorship in the guise of a socialist one-party system. When the report was sent, the LTTE was dominated by low and middle caste Hindus from Jaffna who formed the core of the terrorist organisation.

The report said that by 1987, the LTTE had cowed rival militant groups and established a functioning civil administration in territories under its control. Though not much is known about the educational and professional backgrounds of Prabhakaran, he had converted the organisation into a well-structured establishment.

KittuAccording to the US report made public as part of the WikiLeaks exposure, the LTTE structure reminded one of a tight pyramid with power concentrated at the apex with Prabhakaran. “Based on its structure and operation style, Prabhakaran would dominate the Eelam. It is a highly centralised and authoritarian organisation sans any ideology. But the LTTE was plagued by cleavages based on regions, caste and religion,” said the report.

Though the report does not give much details about the antecedents of Prabhakaran, it pointed out that there was no differentiation between the LTTE’s political and military hierarchy. Prabhakaran had divided the LTTE into five politico-military regions, each commanded by a regional leader reporting only to Prabhakaran.

“Everyone is required to take an oath of allegiance to Prabhakaran. The regional leaders were picked by Prabhakaran himself on the basis of trust, loyalty and experience. Sathasivam Krishnakumar, the Jaffna region commander was a close relative of Prabhakaran. Both hailed from the fishermen community. Though Sathasivam Krishnakumar , popularly known as Kittu, was a school drop-out he has been described as “an eccentric but rich undergraduate”. He is reported to have told a Colombo journalist, “The Tigers are revolutionary socialists whose ultimate aim is the creation of a one-party socialist State”. Though the Tamil media used to describe him as a full-colonel, the US report says he was a rash driver and a poor marksman. He lost one of his legs in a car accident

Tamil Eelam territorial claim on Sri LankaJaffna, Mannar, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Vavuniya were the five regions which constituted the Eelam. “Number five is considered lucky in Tamil Hindu mythology. It is because of this reason Prabhakaran set up five regional commands,” the report quotes a Sri Lankan Army official as saying. At the time of filing the report, the US agent had the details of only three regions with him.

The other regional commanders were Radha (Mannar) and Kumaran (Batticaloa). Details from Trincomalee and Vavunya were not available to the US officials. The Catholic fighters of the LTTE did not like Radha becoming the Mannar regional commander following the death of incumbent Victor “Mannar had more than 42 per cent Catholic population and they wanted only a Catholic to be their regional commander. Though they threatened they would resign en mass from the organisation, Prabhakaran dispatched Kittu to crush the dissidence. “Nobody resigns from LTTE,” Prabhakaran is reported to have sent this message through Kittu.

The cable said the iron discipline and effective coordination of the LTTE would probably be weakened in a post-Prabhakaran power struggle. Prabhakaran was bumped off by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the 2009 Eelam war. He had lost many of his trusted lieutenants much before that. Kittu went down with MV Ahat, a LTTE-owned ship ferrying arms to Jaffna.

By 2009 May, the top LTTE leadership was wiped out. What is remaining is a rump of the terrorists trying to regroup and recapture the Eelam regions from the Sri Lankan Army.

Though the cable is silent about how the LTTE mobilised arms and ammos, it mentions that Kumaran, the Batticaloa commander, had a station wagon with the name Beirut embossed on it. Radha, the Mannar region commander, is credited with the 1985 massacre of 150 civilians in Anuradhapura. – The Pioneer, 15 April 2013

MV Ahat

MV Ahat: This ship was used by the LTTE to bring weapons to Srilanka from West Asian and South Asian suppliers. On 16 January 1993 the Indian Navy surrounded the ship and asked Kittu to surrender. He refused, asked the ship’s crew to leave the ship, then blasted and sank it. He and his LTTE comrades went down with the ship.

Tibetan Genocide: The body count – Elliot Sperling

中港台网友们: 译文发贴于说,还是不说看不见的西藏        非常感谢更桑东智的翻译。

Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong“Cultures of memory are organized by round numbers, intervals of ten; but somehow the remembrance of the dead is easier when the numbers are not round, when the final digit is not a zero… [I]t is perhaps easier to think of 780,863 different people at Treblinka: where the three at the end might be Tamara and Itta Willenberg, whose clothes clung together after they were gassed, and Ruth Dorfman, who was able to cry with the man who cut her hair before she entered the gas chamber… Each of the 21,892 Polish prisoners of war shot by the NKVD in 1940 was in the midst of life. The two at the end might be Dobiesław Jakubowicz, the father who dreamed about his daughter, and Adam Solski, the husband who wrote of his wedding ring on the day that the bullet entered his brain. The Nazi and Soviet regimes turned people into numbers, some of which we can only estimate, some of which we can reconstruct with fair precision. It is for us as scholars to seek these numbers and to put them into perspective. It is for us as humanists to turn the numbers back into people. If we cannot do that, then Hitler and Stalin have shaped not only our world, but our humanity.” – Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands.

Elliot Sperling & Dalai LamaThis passage—it comes at the conclusion of Bloodlands—is worth bearing in mind, for it helps to restrain the cynical temptations of the sentiment (apocryphally attributed to Stalin) that while the death of one person might be a tragedy, the deaths of millions is a mere statistic. Ironically, that sentiment sometimes seems to have had greater sway among some of those concerned about Tibet’s modern fate than one might think, perhaps because the figure that the Tibetan political leadership adopted in the 1980s, 1.2 million Tibetan deaths over two to three decades (rounded down from a rougher, albeit little mentioned number), is the figure that is almost always cited. It is an anesthetizing number and it stands in spite of the fact that it was reached on the basis of the most unreliable and anecdotal methodology. Indeed it has been hard for any but the most uninformed partisans of the Tibetan cause to grant any credence to the number; more objective observers (including many who are unabashedly sympathetic to Tibet) have rejected it. The 1.2 million figure was largely derived from estimates made as a result of the first visits of Tibetan delegations from Dharamsala to Tibet beginning in 1979, particularly the first delegation, as well as interviews with Tibetans coming into exile. No one involved in the delegation visits had any demographic training, but more to the point, given the difficulties inherent in counting living people in a country to which one has full access, the impossibility of accurately counting—with or without the requisite training—the deceased over a period of several decades in a country to which one has highly limited access should have been obvious to all.

I mention this not to downplay the extent of the slaughter in Tibet (and let’s not mince words about what happened) but simply to posit that one cannot simply assign a figure without any serious attempt to establish a basis for it. To do so is to bring oneself to the point at which a million deaths do congeal into a mere statistic. Should the 1.2 million figure then be dismissed? Yes; not because something horrible did not transpire on the Tibetan Plateau, but because it has no reliable foundation. It is beyond dispute that there have been massive deaths in Tibet in the period between approximately 1950 and 1975. But 1.2 million? It is currently impossible to say. And by that I mean that while the actual number of deaths might be much less, it would still have to be very considerable. One simply cannot know the exact number without free access to Chinese records. But the fact that a large-scale slaughter took place ought to be unquestioned.

The matter of mass death in Tibet has rarely been raised within the PRC, at least officially, and then, only to rebut claims of such an occurrence. And for a number of years one has seen scant reference to it in official exile statements, perhaps partly a result of the United Front Work Department injunction several years ago (passed on, as we now know, directly to Lodi Gyari and ultimately enunciated by the Dalai Lama) that Tibetans must do nothing to embarrass the Chinese Government. (The degree of obsequiousness inherent in this is indeed revelatory.) But the traces of history don’t always comply with the wishes of the political class.

Human bonesIn May, just a few months ago, preparations were made for the start of a building project in Nang-chen county in the modern Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, part of what was once the old kingdom of Nang-chen in Upper Khams. This is also the site of some of the instances of self-immolation, the act of protest that has been repeated again and again across Tibet and in exile over the last several years. As the ground was turned to start the construction of a house, something horrid—unexpected and uninvited—suddenly materialized. Human bones began emerging from below the soil. Lots of them, it was said.

The past had come calling in the form of a mass grave. And the past was unconcerned about embarrassing the Chinese Government.

The images are clear, the local explanations were whispered: it was where monks and laypeople had been massacred in 1958, a bloody, terrible year in Eastern Tibet.

Human BonesElsewhere in Yushu, in the grasslands near Dpal-thang, the commencement of another construction project for houses brought more of the same: three mass burial pits filled with human remains. But not everything had decomposed, it was said. There were remnants of the clothes that the victims were wearing when they were thrown in: both lay clothing and monastic robes. The long hair of some of the dead was also still there. According to elders these pits were from 1958 too, with bodies added as a result of later famine deaths around 1960. Several trucks were needed to take the remains away.

The 20th century has left no dearth of mass graves: Babi Yar, Katyn, Srebrenica: the list is long. And it seems that for almost 70 years the unearthing of one more mass interment site has elicited still more reflections on brutality, guilt, human frailty, hatred, totalitarianism, etc. But even as it is argued that the history of the bloody 20th century must be honestly recorded and taught to future generations in hopes that an awareness of what happened will lessen the possibility of it reoccurring, there is manifestly an unspoken understanding in some rather wide circles that China ought not to be harassed by its past—especially its past in Tibet. And the fact that this is harmful, not least to people in China who are expected, one supposes, to be defended against the pernicious effects of liberal thought, seems to elicit little concern. Indeed, the polite thing seems to be to leave them undisturbed within a political culture that, quite apart from everything else it does, mandates the veneration of one of the 20th century’s major mass murderers.

Given such attitudes, it’s not surprising to find dissembling reactions—denial—to assertions of mass slaughter in Tibet. In place of intense criticism or condemnation of the Chinese authorities, who have for decades refused to open up records relating to what took place in Tibet, (let alone criticism of those whom the records would likely implicate in the savagery) there is a sort of indulgence that one might call the Chinese dispensation: the actions of China are to be seen as something akin to natural phenomena for which little or no moral judgment or critique is imaginable. It is the other actors who should be judged. This can involve the selective use of available (and problematic) Chinese statistics as well as the ascription of much, if not most, of the population loss in Tibet to migration and exile. And there is also the common, droning refrain that accounts from Tibetan exiles are exaggerated and can’t be trusted. Instead of seeking to work through exaggerations to find underlying truths, this rhetorical device is deployed to dismiss, tout court, testimony from those who have fled Tibet. Hence this sentence (from the pen of Barry Sautman): “The [1.2 million] figure is not based on eyewitness accounts or access to state statistics, and refugee reports have often been skewed to please exile authorities.” Well, at least it implies the existence of Chinese records on the subject. Still, if passed over too quickly a reader might not fully take in that the criticism contained in it is directed not at China for preventing access to those records but at Tibetans for not using them: records to which neither they nor any serious researchers are allowed access! And then there’s the schizophrenia of: a) removing from consideration any accounts (including those by eyewitnesses) reported in exile because they are ‘skewed’ and then, having done so; b) saying Tibetans don’t have “eyewitness” accounts… Of course, the utter unreliability of the 1.2 million figure is not an issue of real contention among serious observers: Human Rights Watch already in 1988 termed it unverifiable. But this is not the same as dismissing (as Sautman does) the fact of mass killings in Tibet in the first decades of rule by the PRC.

The memoirs of Nag-tshang Nu-blo, published in Dharamsala in 2008, would seem to be a candidate for the sort of disparagement just described. In passages that one might imagine types like Sautman (or certainly Tom Grunfeld, for that matter) viewing as typical of exaggerated exile accounts the author writes about what he saw in the Yushu area (the region from which our pictures, above, come) in the blighted year of 1958 both before his father was killed and then afterwards, when he was imprisoned:

As we rode alongside the river, we began to smell something rotten… A little further on, the bodies of dead men lay scattered on both sides of the river. They were naked and dark blue… I had lost my fear of dead bodies. Further on were the bodies of many dead children lying alone, and mothers and children holding each other. In that area altogether there were around twenty-six or seven corpses. Looking at their hair one could see that most of them were women and children…There was a higher and a lower shelf on the mountainside… Father and Lochu were sitting on the higher shelf. “Oh, the Protector bear witness!” everyone said when we got there, so great was our amazement. The ground was completely covered by the corpses of men, women, monks, yaks and horses… Wherever I looked there was death…

Finally captured, he arrived at the town of Chu-dmar-leb and the prison that had been set up there:

We could hear nothing but the sound of our footsteps as we walked through the town… After we got through the gate, we saw a tall wall in front of us… The troops were taking the prisoners forward line by line, but when they approached the center of the wall they seemed to disappear… I thought, “That’s very strange—what’s going on here?”… When we reached the middle of the wall, a Chinese soldier raised a trapdoor which covered a deep hole, from the ground. A terrible smell came out of the darkness. The troops ordered the prisoners to jump down into the hole one by one. I could hear them landing on the ground beneath. From inside the hole I could hear people crying in pain… “How terrible, it’s a child!” someone down below said, and he reached his arms up and carried me down…

When I got into the open air I was astonished to see that the yard was full of hundreds of prisoners… Looking around I could see other holes, and they seemed to have dead bodies lying close to them too…

“There are 2,300 male prisoners,” Dragpa said,”and 1,600 females,” Cooks always know exactly how many prisoners there are…Each morning the bodies of those who had died as a result of the Chinese soldiers’ cruelty were carried out of the main gate. Two prisoners used to tie them to a pole and carry the bodies, hanging beneath the pole, to the disposal point outside the wall…

This account does seem typical. It recounts death and suffering on a scale that is not unfamiliar to those who have looked at some of the works on life under Chinese rule published in Dharamsala. But it is different: it is not the testimony of an exile; it is an autobiographical story written inside Tibet by a retired official describing what he saw as a child. Born in 1948, Nag-tshang Nu-blo was plucked from the prison pit just mentioned and sent to be educated within the system. He eventually made a career for himself as a police and judicial officer, ultimately rising to be deputy county head in Chu-dmar-leb, the site of the prison pit in which he had been held as a child.  The book was published in Amdo dialect in Xining in 2006 and only afterwards rendered into standard modern literary Tibetan for the Dharamsala edition. (I have here taken the liberty of quoting from the as-yet unpublished English translation that was made from the original Amdo text. One hopes that it finds a publisher soon; the author and the translators who have worked so hard on it deserve at least that much.) Try as one might, it’s hard to conceive of a means of dismissing Nag-tshang Nu-blo’s testimony as something “skewed to please exile authorities.”

There are other ways in which the suppressed history of the slaughter breaks through the barrier of silence that the Chinese authorities have imposed on it. Here is a page from a 1999 article from the Beijing-based Tibetological journal Krung-go’i Bod-kyi shes-rig:

Tibetological journalIt is drawn from an article describing the traditional economic structures and conditions that prevailed at Lab-dgon monastery in Yushu. (The map below indicates the location of Lab-dgon in relation to Chu-dmar-leb and Yushu town [or Skye-rgu-mdo], the administrative center of the prefecture.) It provides information on the various bla-brang or residence establishments within the monastery and after discussing some of the major ones describes the others, mentioning prominent monks associated with them. It is likely that neither the author nor those who vetted and edited the article realized what this rather dry account shows. Indeed, most readers will likely read through the information without much reflection. But if one pauses and lets one’s eyes pass over the page (and for this a reading knowledge of Tibetan is not needed) one begins to see the past bleeding onto the paper: every one of the monastic leaders mentioned here who was alive in 1958 died in that year, just like those whose corpses littered parts of the landscape through which Nag-tshang Nu-blo travelled.

Lab-dgon in relation to Chu-dmar-lebMaking the business of ignoring accounts and statements about mass slaughter in Tibet yet more difficult is another image. As early as the 1980s the collated and analyzed results of China’s first reasonably reliable census data, the data derived from the 1982 census, began to present pictures that were not immediately obvious from the raw data. And again, it was something quite ghastly: the Tibetan Plateau, in 1982, had a widespread imbalance between males and females, an imbalance that can really only be explained by violent struggle. Across the entire PRC the Tibetan Plateau stands out in red as the largest expanse of territory in which the number of women so consistently outstripped that of men. And there among the red is Yushu:

Tibet Census DataIt is at this point that denial of the reality of mass killings in Tibet has to be seen for the malevolent thing that it is. Like many of the denials of other mass killings it is not simply a result of someone’s detached dissent over statistical methodology. It is ultimately rooted in a political agenda. Yes, there is no public access to relevant Chinese records; yes, refugee accounts can be exaggerated; yes, the figures coming out of Dharamsala have no reliable statistical basis: all of this is true. But the fact that there is a gory and horrible truth behind the accounts that we do have is clear.

The People’s Republic of China—for decades a highly bureaucratized state, after all—cannot but harbor in its myriad archives the data that would allow people to know once and for all the contours of mass death in Tibet in the 1950s and 1960s. That access to such records is denied to the outside world by that state speaks eloquently about what may be learned from their contents. That some would focus disproportionately on the clumsy Tibetan attempts at gauging the statistical extent of the tragedy, rather than on the adamant refusal of the Chinese authorities to open their records and archives to outside scrutiny; and that they would see the Tibetan effort as the malignant obstacle to answering the question of how many perished, speaks eloquently of their own rank biases.

In the end, it is the records held by China that need to see the light of day. It is not enough to know, whether from direct personal accounts or indirect references in other sources, that something horrid and brutal took place in Tibet. It is necessary, surely, to make every attempt to know how many perished in the course of that brutality. But let’s go back to the comments I cited at the outset: it is equally necessary to make every attempt to see that as many of those who perished are known as people, not as mere statistics. To do otherwise would indeed be to allow mass murderers to shape our humanity.

We may rightly wonder, when the records are finally opened, where we should place ’Jam-dbyangs ye-shes bsod-nams mchog-grub. He was the third A-brtan incarnation in Lab-dgon and his name is clear on the page from Krung-go’i Bod-kyi shes-rig. During his lifetime he did much to propagate the dharma in Amdo, we are told; he, like his predecessor, served and taught at one of Lab-dgon’s branch monasteries, gathering a considerable following. And then, at the age of 24, in the year 1958, there was nothing more. 

He was dead. – Rangzen Alliance, 14 September 2012

» Professor Elliot Sperling is on the faculty of Indiana University where he teaches in the Tibetan Studies program in the Department of Central of Eurasian Studies. He has written extensively on Tibetan history and Sino-Tibetan relations.

Caste and other factors which checked the Islamization of India – K. S. Lal

Indian Muslims Cover“Now, if the components of growth of Muslim population were many, Muslim losses comparatively few, and fecundity among them high, the problem that needs investigation is why Muslims have remained a minority in this country and why India, unlike many other countries in the medieval period, could not be completely converted to Islam.” – Prof. K.S. Lal

Vastness of the Country

The vastness of the country and its natural and political division into regions and kingdoms made the task of its complete subjugation and conversion extremely difficult. In fact throughout the medieval period at no time was the whole of India under direct Muslim rule. Even in the regions where Muslim rule was firmly established it was thought expedient to leave the countryside alone. Victories provided the Muslim ruling class the luxuries of the city cultured life, and their interest in rural areas remained confined merely to the collection of land revenue. In the words of Kingsley Davis, “although there were mass conversions, the country was too vast, the invaders too few, and the volume of immigration too small to change the social complex.” India, therefore, never became a Muslim nation, but remained simply a Hindu country in which Muslims were numerous”.[1] Henry Blochmann puts it more explicitly. He writes: “The invaders were few and the country was too large and too populous. The waves of immigration from Turan were few and far between, and deposited on Indian soil adventurers, warriors, and learned men, rather than artisans and colonists. Hence the Muhammadans depended upon the Hindoos for labour of every kind, from architecture down to agriculture and the supply of servants. Many branches they had to learn from the Hindoos, as, for example, the cultivation of indigeneous produce, irrigation, coinage, medicine, the building of houses, and weaving of stuffs suitable for the climate, the management of elephants, and so forth.”[2]

KabirHindu “Protestant” Movement

Another reason for India remaining a Hindu majority country was the resistance of the people to conversion to Islam. Before the advent of Islam India had seen the birth and growth of many religions and sects like Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Jainism, Buddhism, Shankara’s neo-Hinduism, etc. People had freely “converted”, “reconverted” and at times conformed to more than one religious belief at one and the same time. For all this was a matter of conviction brought about by peaceful methods.

But the Hindus could not have liked being converted by conquerors and rulers by force. In fact, as seen in Sindh after the return of Muhammad bin Qasim and in Karnataka after the death of Tipu Sultan, many Hindus, who were converted to Islam, returned to their former faith on the first opportunity. Harihar and Bukka, converted to Islam by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, reverted to Hinduism and founded the kingdom of Vijayanagar to resist the expansion of Muslim power in the South. Although any return of converts to the Hindu fold was frowned upon by the Muslim rulers, and some Brahmins encouraging converts to return to Hinduism were put to death by Firoz Tughlaq and Sikandar Lodi,[3] yet there did exist some mechanism which facilitated return of converted Hindus back into their old religion. Else, with what actually happened in medieval times, Hindus would have been completely submerged under the onslaught of unmitigated proselytization. The Hindus did not believe in converting others to their faith, but the tenacity of the Hindu social order “lapped away at any intrusive system as the sea laps away at a sand bank.”[4] Yet in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in particular there were conversions on such large scale throughout the country, that for once “the bleeding soul of the Hindus” rose in revolt.[5] The Bhakti saints were the leaders of the Hindu “protestant” movement.[6]

Garib DasIt must be said at the outset that there is no recorded evidence to show that the Bhakti saints of the fifteenth century made any deliberate attempt to put a stop to conversions to Islam, or to reconvert people to Hinduism. Still there is good deal of circumstantial evidence to show that their reform movement did help check Muslim proselytizing activity. It is significant that the socio-religious reformers associated with the Bhakti movement of the fifteenth century were all Hindus. There is some doubt about Kabir’s parentage, but then, “the whole background of Kabir’s thought is Hindu.[7] Indeed Kamal, the son of Kabir, who “probably had greater leaning towards Islamic ways of thinking,” is remembered in the Adigrantha by the disparaging line: “the family of Kabir foundered when Kamal the son was born”.[8]

A striking feature of the Bhakti movement was that it gave to the backward class Hindus a respectable position in the society. Indeed some of the leaders of this movement like Sain, Raidas, and Dhanna belonged to the lowest classes of Hindu social order. Because of this “revolution” in which the lowest classes of people, even the untouchables, had not only got an equal status with the highest, but were even revered as saints,[9] there could have been no incentive for the low classes of people to renounce their faith, if they ever had any before “because of Hindu tyranny,” and go over to Islam. As Aziz Ahmad puts it, “like other Bhakti poets his (Kabir’s) denunciation of the caste-system was as much an inspiration of Muslim example as a response to its pull of conversion.”[10] When Kabir denounced caste and ritual of the Hindus, he also denounced the superstitions and rituals of the Muslims: or, conversely, the idea is best expressed in the words of his disciple Naudhan (whom Sikandar Lodi executed): Islam was true, but his own religion was also true.[11] This was an open challenge to Muslim propagandism and proselytization. No wonder that Bhakti reformers were disliked by some Sufi Mashaikh, who looked upon them as competitors.[12] For, under the influence of these saints many Muslims were converted to Bhakti Hinduism. Namdeva,[13] Ramdas, Eknath, Ramanand, Kabir, Nanak and Chaitanya and several other saints had Muslim disciples, many of whom converted to the Hindu Bhakti cult. Chaitanya openly converted Muslims to Bhakti Hinduism.[14] The Bhaktamala relates many instances of conversions that Pipa effected.

Dara Shikoh's bookThe effects of the mission of the socio-religious reformers with regard to conversion of people to Hinduism were significant. They themselves had adhered to peaceful methods but not their followers in later years. Kabir’s disciples spread out throughout North India and the Deccan. Jiwan Das was the founder of the Satnami sect which took up arms against the Mughals. The Sikh disciples of Nanak’s successor Gurus, for varied reasons, fought against the Mughals and many times converted people by force. So did the Marathas. Manucci and Khafi Khan both affirm that the Marathas used to capture Muslim women “because (adds Manucci) the Mahomedans had interfered with Hindu women in (their) territories.”[15] Chaitanya’s influence in Bengal as of Nanak in the Punjab is still great. According to Abdul Majid Khan it is because of Chaitanya’s influence that large-scale conversions to Hinduism took place at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of nineteenth century.[16]

Thus whether it was their motive or mission or not, the work of the Bhakti reformers helped in checking conversions to Islam and reclaiming many converted Hindus back to their former faith.

Mayan caste systemCaste System

The Caste System also contributed its mite to the preservation of Hindu social order, indirectly checking proselytization. Some modem writers think that it was the degraded status of low caste Hindus and the social democracy of Islam that were responsible for large-scale conversions to Muhammadanism in medieval times. Many others give the caste system all the credit for saving India from becoming Islamised.

But neither caste was so oppressive nor Muslim society so democratic. Within the framework of the caste system some sort of vertical and horizontal mobility was always permitted. There was also a sense of pride in belonging to one’s caste whether high or low. However, for any error caste did not fail to punish, and sometimes even ostracized the delinquent whether or not the act of omission or commission was due to his own fault. In a few such cases conversion was a welcome way out. Therefore some conversions would have taken place because of the rigid caste rules although contemporary accounts are silent on this point. On the contrary this very rigidity served as a bulwark against proselytization and to this contemporary accounts bear witness. To the majority caste was synonymous with religion, and so there was a general reluctance and often resistance to conversion to Islam both by the high and the low caste Hindus.

Let us study the case of the lowest classes first. Alberuni writes at length on the caste system. About the lowest castes, or the so low as to be casteless, he has this to say:

Alberuni“After the Sudra follow the people called Antyaja, who render various kinds of services, who are not reckoned amongst any caste, but only as members of certain craft or profession. There are eight classes of them, who freely intermarry with each other, except the fuller, shoemaker, and weaver, for no others would condescend to have anything to do with them. These eight guilds are the fuller, shoemaker, juggler, the basket and shield maker, the sailor, the fisherman, the hunter of wild animals and of birds, and the weaver. These guilds live near the villages and towns, but outside them.

“The people called Hadi, Doma (Domba), Candala, and Badhatau (sic) are not reckoned amongst any caste or guild. They are occupied with dirty work, like the cleaning of the villages and other services. They are considered one sole class, and distinguished only by their occupations. They are considered like illegitimate children: they are degraded out castes.

“Of the classes beneath the castes, the Hadi are the best spoken of, because they keep themselves from everything unclean, the Doma play on the flute and sing. The still lower classes practice as a trade killing and the inflicting of judicial punishments…”[17]

Vis-a-vis Alberuni’s list of backward castes in the medieval period, is the Table 18 of backward castes in modern times prepared on the basis of U.P. Census Report of 1931:

The Table clearly shows that most of the lowest castes included in Alberuni’s list from Chamar downwards have not only continued to remain Hindu, but, even their caste subdivisions have multiplied. Alberuni has been quoted at length, not because his study of the caste-structure in India is precise, but because he provides the clue to the non-conversion of low caste Hindus to Islam. His notice shows that (a) the caste-system denied equality to the low classes, (b) that it was based on craft or profession, and (c) that it was hierarchical.

Table Showing Some Hindu Low Castes of U.P.[18]

Castes Per cent of caste Members adhering to Hindu Religion  Per cent of each caste
in Total Religious Membership
Chamar 99.7 15.1
Ahir 97.7 9.4
Kurmi 99.7 4.2
Pasi 100.0 3.5
Kahar 99.1 2.8
Lodh 99.7 2.6
Gadariya 99.6 2.4
Kori 99.9 2.2
Kumhar 98.7 1.9
Teli 74.8 1.8
Kachi 99.9 1.7

Caste-system was bad, but it had two redeeming features. One was that since the low classes were “distinguished only by their occupations” and they intermarried, there was occupational and vocational mobility and also perhaps some sort of social Sanskritization. Another is that it had (and has) an hierchical structure, and even low caste people feel proud of being superior to some other lower castes. Thus a Teli feels himself superior to an Ahir. an Ahir to a Chamar, a Kahar to a Pasi, and so on. In Bengal, the land of mass conversions, caste pride among low caste Hindus was as pronounced as elsewhere. About the Dom, sometimes also called Chandala, H.H. Risley says that he will eat the leavings of others, but “no Dom will touch the leavings of a Dhobi, nor will he take water or any sort of food or drink from a man of that caste. Pods or Chasi, a fishing, cultivating and landholding caste of lower Bengal will eat the leavings of Brahman, but Vaishnava Pods abstain from all kinds of flesh. Rajbansi, a synonym for Koch, wear sacred thread in Bihar.”[19]

Doms manIn fact the lower class people are more particular about “caste preservation” than even the higher caste ones, and “the Hadi” keep themselves free from everything unclean. A significant point to note is that even the lowest classes had an importance of their own in Hindu society. In Hindu marriage, for example, the cooperation and services of Nai, Dhobi, Kumhar, Kahar etc. were and are as important as that of the Brahmin Purohit. The higher castes depended as much on the lower as the lower on the higher. All castes and non-castes were an essential part of the Hindu social and economic order. Therefore, and in spite of the discrimination, low caste people have been as unwilling to convert as the high. That is how most of Alberuni’s Antyaja, as the Census Table above shows, have not converted – the fuller (Dhobi), shoemaker (Chamar), Juggler (Nat), Fisherman (Kachhi, Macchua), hunters and bird catchers (Gadariya), Doma (basket-maker, street dancer, singer). That there are, about 60 million “untouchable” Hindus to-day is the greatest proof of their ancestors’ unwillingness to convert in medieval times.

There is also recorded contemporary evidence of the unwillingness of the backward people to voluntarily convert to Islam. Mahmud of Ghazni used to convert people by force, but his contemporary Alberuni (eleventh century) nowhere mentions voluntary conversions of Hindus. Writing about the backward class Hindus called Govis (now called Paraiyar) Marco Polo (thirteenth century) says: “Nothing on earth would induce them to enter the place where Messer St. Thomas is – I mean where his body lies. Indeed, were even twenty or thirty men to lay hold of these Govis and to try to hold them in the place where the Body of the Blessed Apostle of Jesus Christ lies buried they could not do it.”[20] This is the testimony about the South. About North, Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya (fourteenth century) at many places admits that Hindus “do not embrace Islam”, and that “the heart of these people is not changed through sermons.”[21] In the seventeenth century Manucci wrote that the backward caste people were proud of their caste and were reluctant to convert.[22] Caste gave them freedom and dignity of the kind which no other system did.

Amir Khusro & Nizamuddin AuliyaIn short, contemporary evidence does not speak of low caste as a factor contributing to conversions to Islam. The presence of a large number of vocational groups among Muslims is due to the fact, mentioned earlier, that Muslim regime and society provided people with new avenues of employment. Those who lacked resources of self-defence during war or those who could not make both ends meet without a change of religion, converted. Among these surely the people of low caste predominated. But caste system as such had little to contribute to conversions.

Conversions of high caste Hindus were also few. Hindu religion and philosophy were ancient, vast and deep, and Hindu intellectuals. intelligentsia and high castes were proud, as Alberuni points out, of a highly developed philosophy of their own. He writes that “The Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no king like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs.”[23] It was no easy matter to induce such people to convert.[24] It is true that prospects of employment under Muslim government would have provided some incentive for conversion even to high caste people, and a few instances of conversion for acquiring economic and status benefits are on record.[25] But in the early medieval period job opportunities being limited and high offices being monopolised by Turks or Muslims of foreign extraction, infiltration of and competition by Hindu converts in government service was resented. Cases of Imad-ud-din Rahyan, Nasiruddin Khusrau and Ain-ul-Mulk Multani are instances in point. They are referred to with contempt by the Turkish ruling class. Minhaj Jurjani asserts, rather bluntly, that “Turks of pure lineage and Tajiks of noble birth could not tolerate (Imad-ud-din of) the tribes of Hind to rule over them.”[26] Thus the attitude of the foreign-extraction Muslims repeatedly expressed in the diatribe of Muslim chroniclers who usually call them “low born” would have discouraged Hindus to convert even for the allurement of jobs.

Niccolao ManuccIn the Mughal period Hindus began to be appointed to high posts but for getting these there was no need to convert. Power sharing by the Mughals was not due to liberal Islam. It was prompted by exigencies of the situation, and in the power-equation conversion stood ruled out. Manucci states that under Aurangzeb three Rajas embraced Islam against promises and temptations offered by the emperor, but later they regretted their conversion and remained unhappy[27] because Hindu converts to Islam commanded little respect.[28] Needless to add that lower Hindu castes could not get equality with the other Muslims in the “democratic” Muslim social order. They carried their caste and social status with them even after their conversion and high class Muslims would not mix or even eat with them if modern practices are any indication for the medieval.[29]

From the modem census figures it appears that not many high caste people voluntarily converted to Islam in medieval times. Bohras, Khojas, Ismailis and Mopilahs were, by and large, converted by peaceful methods from high caste Hindus except perhaps the Mopilahs. But their statistics in modem times show how small their numbers would have been in medieval. According to the census of 1921 there were about 5 million Shias; a little over one million Mopilahs; 382,000 Labbes; 153,363 Bohras; and 146,000 Khojas in India (now India and Pakistan).[30] Keeping in view the patronage Persian officers had in Muslim courts in India, it is certain that a good number would have come from outside in the medieval period. But even with local converts and with centuries of growth in numbers their small figures in modem times point only to a few voluntary conversions in medieval times. The 1931 Census Report of U.P. presents the following picture of Muslim and Hindu high castes.[31]

Table Showing High Castes of Hindus and Muslims

 Castes Per cent of Members Caste Per cent of Total Religious Membership falling in each caste.
Muslim Castes    
Shaikh 100.0 ?
Saiyyad 100.0 4.2
Mughal 100.0 0.8
Pathan 100.0 21.4
Rajputs 4.4 2.2
Hindu Castes    
Brahman 99.4 10.9
Rajput 94.2 8.5
Vaishya 92.7 2.8

It is probable that not all high caste Muslims are of foreign extraction, but the percentage of high caste Hindus clearly indicates that their ancestors were disinclined to convert in medieval times so as to bring out the above picture in modem times.

Akbar the GreatAkbar’s Regulations

It has been seen in the earlier chapter that the largest number of converts were obtained during wars through enslavement. Many people embraced Islam to escape death; and captive women and children “used to be converted to Islam.”[32] But early in his reign (1562) The Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605) abolished the custom of enslaving helpless people in times of war.[33] These humanitarian but revolutionary steps would have put a check on large-scale conversions. Akbar did not give any economic inducements for conversion. On the contrary he removed all modes of economic pressure which sometimes led to conversions. He abolished the Jiziyah in 1564. Firoz Tughlaq is witness to the fact that its strict enforcement brought many converts to Islam. Akbar was determined to see this tax go, and probably finding that it still lingered in some places issued, in 1579, another declaration reiterating its abolition.[34] Earlier in 1563 he had abolished the Pilgrim Tax on the Hindus.[35]

Thus in Akbar’s time, because of the above mentioned and several other similar measures, conversions to Islam by force, through enslavement, or economic pressure, seem to have been restricted. Even the Mullahs and Mashaikh could not have received any encouragement from the government for the work of proselytization. The hope “of obtaining mawajib and ghanaim” (rewards and booty) was perhaps still there, but for this conversion was not necessary as posts were thrown open to all without prejudice to religion or creed. Besides the effect on Muslim numbers of the conversions that might still have taken place, was offset by Akbar’s order permitting such Hindus as had been forcibly converted to Islam to reconvert to their original faith.[36] All restrictions on Hindu worship and building of temples were also lifted.[37] Although contemporary accounts are silent as to the numbers that went back to Hinduism as a result of this permission; yet the facts that Jahangir severely punished those who adopted Hinduism of their own free will, Shahjahan once again made apostasy from Islam a capital crime, and Aurangzeb did his best at Muslim proselytization, show that people were taking advantage of Akbar’s order. Probably Akbar had only removed obstructions in a practice which was probably always prevalent, but his measures removed pressure on the Hindus to embrace Islam. Obviously conversions should have become rather scarce.

Francis XavierChristian Missionaries

The arrival of Christian missionaries also helped check Muslim proselytization. Vasco da Gama landed in India in 1498. In 1510 the Portuguese captured Goa, in 1531 Diu, and in 1534 Daman. In the triumphal entry into Goa, “the clergymen were at the head of the procession.”[38] Muslim proselytizing activity not only received a check but a challenge at the hands of these Christian missionaries.

It is exceedingly interesting to note that the agencies of conversion to the Semitic religions, Islam and Christianity, were, the same – inter-communal marriages, force and enslavement, and missionary endeavour. Portuguese missionary activity was well organised and quite effective. In Goa, Albuquerque encouraged his soldiers to marry in the families of Turkish officers.[39] To promote mixed marriages, Portuguese with Indian wives as well as neo-converts, were treated as a privileged class for appointment to petty offices.[40] Force was also openly used for obtaining converts.[41] In 1560, the year the Inquisition was set up, 13,092 Hindus were forcibly converted. In 1578, the “missionaries pulled down 350 temples and converted 100,000 people.”[42] Similar, and in some cases worse, treatment was meted out to Muhammadans. Consequently by 1583 Goa had by and large become Christian, while Salsette had a Christian population of 8,000. After Goa, Cochin was the next mission centre. By 1570 there were more than twenty-five Christian stations in Travancore and about 15,000 converts. In 1600 Mission Centres in Travancore had risen to fifty. Converts on the Fishery Coast alone are estimated from 90,000 to 130,000.[43] Christian Missions made successful efforts in converting low caste people. Appreciative of the attitude of the Indian people, Henrique advised Loyola: “It is better in India to baptize all those of one caste than different individuals taken from various castes.”[44]

In times of famine they bought children, and even men and women, and sold them at high prices, but “Portuguese under pain of severe punishments, are forbidden to sell heathen slaves to Muslims, since heathens are converted more easily to Christianity under Portuguese and to Islam under Muslim ownership.”[45]

The capture of Goa by the Portuguese was facilitated by Hindu cooperation. Some Hindu chiefs of Goa invited Albuquerque to help them relieve “the Hindu population from the fanatical oppression of Adil Shah‘s governor at Goa.[46] In the Vijayanagar empire relations were generally good between Hindus and Christians, who were united if for no other reason, by the common hostility to Muslim.[47] All this facilitated Christian missionary activity in the South. In the North, the Mughal Emperor Akbar invited Portuguese missions and permitted Jesuit Fathers to convert people to Christianity. They had their Mission Centres in as important places as Lahore, Delhi, and Agra.[48]

It hardly need be asserted that wherever the Portuguese went, the Muslim proselytizing endeavour received a severe blow. Muslim numbers even were depleted. Barbosa gives a graphic account of Rander in Gujarat with its rich Muslim merchants, their high style of living, and their richly decorated mansions. Danvers narrates its destruction by the Portuguese. Muslim trade and population were so adversely affected by arrival of the Portuguese that Barbosa laconically comments: “Now (the Muslims that) there are do not live independently.”[49] What Barbosa says about Malabar, may be said about India as a whole. Barbosa contends that the coming of Portuguese alone prevented Malabar from becoming a Moorish state.[50] It may as well be said that the coming of European nations and the establishment of British rule prevented India from becoming a Muslim land.

AurangzebMuslim Cult of Violence

It was not only because of Hindu and Christian attitudes and actions that rise of Muslim population received a check; aggression and violence which was their natural trait even remained directed against themselves too. Of the ten Sultans of the so-called Slave Dynasty (1206-1290), at least six were deposed, poisoned or murdered. In each such case many Muslim lives were lost. Many dynasties changed during the Sultanate period. With every change of dynasty, scions of Muslim royalty, nobility and commoners were killed with abandon. The Khalji royal family was completely liquidated in 1320. The princes and slaves of the Tughlaqs were systematically massacred after the death of Firoz Tughlaq in 1388. Sword was the ultimate arbiter in Muslim political life. Writing about the warfare among the states into which Bahmani kingdom had been divided, Nuniz says: “There is little faith among the Moors and they bite one another like dogs, and like to see one after the other destroyed.”[51] Mughal princes rebelled and more often than not fought pitched battles with parents. Shahjahan waded through blood to the throne. Aurangzeb killed all his brothers with great loss of Muslim lives. After his death in 1707, centrifugal forces were let loose in northern India. The Mughal princes got busy in wars of succession, and in one battle alone, fought between Shah Alam and Azam Tara, “one hundred and eighty thousand horsemen lay dead,” without speaking of the “infantry or the elephants.”[52] Too much violence and aggressiveness on the part of the Muslims turned out to be a death-wish. As if killings among themselves were not enough, they invited the enmity of Jats, Sikhs and Marathas which resulted in great Muslim losses. They all directed their wrath against Delhi. “It is significant that the chief gateway of every Maratha fortress is Delhi Gate.”[53] Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali killed their co-religionists without compunction.

ZulfiqarThe surest evidence of the decline of Muslim population in the eighteenth century is to be found in the decline of the three capitals of the Muslim empire – Lahore, Delhi and Agra. Lahore was ever very populous. Monserrate and Finch had written about its large population late in the sixteenth century. According to Sujan Rai in the time of Shahjahan its population increased daily.[54]

To Bernier Delhi (in 1663) was as great as Paris in beauty, extent and inhabitants.[55] Sujan Rai enumerates people of almost all nationalities as living in Delhi.[56] Fatehpur Sikri had been gradually abandoned after 1585 and most of its inhabitants seem to have shifted to Agra, so that Coryat (1612-17) found it larger than Rome.

 Great MoghulManrique, who visited Agra in 1640, estimated its population at 660,000 inhabitants, “besides the large number of strangers who continually fill ninety caravanserais and other private houses.”[57] Thus the population of Agra rose from over two lakhs at the close of the sixteenth century to about seven lakhs by the middle of the seventeenth century. And this was the position after the plague of 1616-24 had earlier devastated the city. In the seventeenth century the population of Sikri-Agra-Sikandara had probably touched the million mark.[58]

But internal wars and external invasions, had a devastating effect on Muslim population. W. Franklin, who travelled through the major parts of northern India between 1793 and 1796,[59] and wrote an eye-witness account of Delhi, says that ever since the massacre of Nadir Shah, Delhi was “but very thinly populated.”

About the close of the eighteenth century, when he wrote, “the Bazars of Delhi are at present but indifferently furnished, and the population of late years miserably reduced.”[60] The population of the cities of the Punjab was decimated by the invasions of Abdali. No wonder that in the eighteenth century no foreign or Indian writer compares the population of prestigious Muslim cities with those of London, Paris, Rome, Constantinople or Cairo. – Excerpted from Indian Muslims: Who are They?, Voice of India, New Delhi


  1. Davis, op. cit., p.191.
  2. Blochmann, “A Chapter from Muhammadan History” in The Calcutta Review, No. civ. 1871 cited in Bernier, p.40 n.
  3. Afif, op. cit., pp. 379-81. Dorn, Makhzan-i-Afghani, (London, 1829), pp.65-66. Ferishtah, op. cit., I, p.182. Also Lal, Twilight, op. cit., p.191.
  4. K. Davis, op. cit., p.195.
  5. Indian Heritage, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Vol. I (Bombay, 1955), p.227.
  6. Kabir declared: “I have come to save the devotees. I was sent here because the world was seen in misery.” Tara Chand, op. cit., pp.150-151.
  7. G.H. Westcott, Kabir and the Kabir Panth (Cawnpore, 1907), p.118. “The contrast,” observes Ahmad Shah, “of Kabir’s intimate Hindu thought, writings and ritual with the purely superficial knowledge of Moslem belief revealed in the Bijak is too striking to be ignored.” Ahmad Shah, Bijak of Kabir (Hamirpur, 1917), p.40.
  8. Tara Chand, op. cit., pp.182, 185.
  9. Ibid, pp.179, 181.
  10. Aziz Ahmad, op. cit., p.146.
  11. Dorn, History of the Afghans, I, 65; Ferishtah, I, 182.
  12. S.A.A. Rizvi, op. cit., pp.57-58.
  13. M.G. Ranade, Rise of the Maratha Power (Publications Division, Delhi, 1961), p.75.
  14. D.C. Sen, Chaitanya and His Age (Calcutta, 1922), p.14. Abdul Karim, op. cit., Social History of the Muslims in Bengal, pp.150, 202-204; M.T. Kennedy, The Chaitanya Movement (Calcutta, 1925), p.213. Tara Chand, op. cit., p.219; D.C. Sen, History of Bengali Literature, pp.228-29; Indian Heritage, op. cit., I. p.249.
  15. Manucci, op. cit., II, p.119; Khafi Khan, op. cit., II, pp.115-18.
  16. Abdul Majid Khan, Research about Muslim Aristocracy, op. cit., pp.23-25.
  17. Alberuni, op. cit., I, pp.101-102.
  18. Complied from the Census Report of India, 1931, Vol. 18 (United Provinces), Part 2.
  19. H.H. Risley. The Tribes and Castes of Bengal, Bengal Secretariat Press, (Calcutta, 1891).
  20. H. Yule and H. Cordier, Ser Marco Polo, 2 vols. (New York, 1903), II, p.341.
  21. Amir Hasan Sijzi, Fawaid-ul-Fuad (Delhi, 1865), pp. 150, 195-97.
  22. Manucci, op. cit., III, p.173. Also II, p.238.
  23. Alberuni, I, p.22.
  24. See the way of Raja Man Singh’s refusal to convert in M. Mujeeb, op. cit., p.360.
  25. Sadharan of Thaneshwar married his sister to Firoz Tughlaq, accompanied him to Delhi, and later became Wajahat-ul-Mulk (distinguished man of the State); Sikandar bin Muhammad, Mirat-i-Sikandari (Bombay, 1308 H), pp.5-8. Also S.C.Misra, Rise of Muslim Power in Gujarat, pp.137-39, and Mahdi Husain, Tughlaq Dynasty, p. 408.
  26. Minhaj, Raverty, op. cit., p .829
  27. Manucci, op. cit., II, p.436.
  28. Ibid., p.451.
  29. A.K. Nazmul Karim, “Muslim Social Classes in East Pakistan”, op. cit., pp.120-130,138-143; Also E.A. Gait, Census of India Report, 1901, VI, pp.439-442, and Ibid. II, p.544.
  30. Also Titus, op. cit., pp.40, 41, 87, 99, 103, 106.
  31. Adopted from the Table prepared by Kingsley Davis, op. cit., p.165, complied from Census of India Report, 1931, Vol.18 (United Provinces), part 2.
  32. S.R. Sharma, The Religious Policy of the Mughal Emperors, p.21.
  33. Du Jarric, Akbar and the Jesuits, pp.152-59. Oral orders for the abolition of this practice were given much earlier; See Du Jarric, pp. 28, 30, 67, 70, 87, 92.
  34. R.P. Tripathi, Some Aspects of Muslim Administration, p.318.
  35. Akbar Nama, II, p.190; Smith, op. cit., pp. 47-48.
  36. Badaoni, op. cit., 11, 317.
  37. Du Jarric. op. cit., p.75.
  38. R.P. Rao, Portuguese Rule in Goa, p.34.
  39. T.B. Cunha, Goa’s Freedom Struggle, p.11.
  40. Rao, op. cit., p.31.
  41. Ibid., p.42.
  42. Ibid., p.44.
  43. Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, I, pp. 264, 265, 271.
  44. Henrique to Loyola from Bombay, October 31, 1548. J. Wicki (ed.) Documenta Indica (Rome, 1960), III, p.599, cited in Lach, I, p.443.
  45. Lach, I, pp.239,487.
  46. Rao, op. cit., p.29.
  47. Lach, op. cit., I, p.370, on the authority of Danvers.
  48. Smith, op. cit., pp.189-190, 209-210.
  49. Barbosa, op. cit., II, p.78.
  50. Ibid., p.74.
  51. Cited in Robert Sewell, A Forgotten Empire, Publication Division (Delhi, 1962), p.326; Also H.K. Sherwani, The Bahamanis of the Deccan (Hyderabad, n.d.) p.51.
  52. Manucci, op. cit., IV, p.403.
  53. C.H.I. IV, p.397.
  54. Sujan Rai, Khulasat-ul-Tawarikh, ed. Zafar Hasan (Delhi, 1918), p.81. Also Thevenot, Indian Travels of Thevenot and Careri, ed. S.N. Sen, (New Delhi, 1949). p.85, and Manucci, op. cit., II, p.186.
  55. Bernier, op. cit., p.282.
  56. Khulasat-ul-Tawarikh, op. cit., p.5.
  57. Manrique, op. cit., II, p.151.
  58. In comparison the population of London in 1593-95 was 152,479 and in 1666, 460, 000 (Ency. Brit. XI Ed., XVI, p.965). The population of Paris in 1590 has been estimated at 200,000 and under Louis XIV (d. 1715) at 492, 600 (Modern Cyclopaedia, London, 1901, VI, p.305.). Shahajahan probably transferred the capital to Delhi from Agra (1649) because of too much congestion in the latter. Arch. Sur. Rep. 1911-12, p.2, and contemporary authorities cited therein.
  59. W. Francklin, The History of the Reign of the Shah-Aulum, (Allahabad, 1915: First published 1798), Preface, p.i.
  60. Ibid., pp.199-200. 

Bodos are the victims in Assam riots – Sandhya Jain

Assamese students fleeing South India

Sandhya Jain“Bodo leader Hagrama Mohilary claims that armed Bangladeshis from across the international border incited the violence; Bodos in the refugee camps say they can no longer coexist with outsiders. As Assam tribals and Muslims both comprise formidable votebanks for the ruling Congress, there is extreme reluctance to admit the existence of a deep ethno-communal fault-line.” – Sandhya Jain

BodosLast month’s violence in Kokrajhar district, Assam, which resulted in 77 dead (so far) and nearly four lakh uprooted from home, their humble hearths torched to cinders, possibly to prevent them from returning to reclaim the vacated lands, was both the consequence of the sharply changing population profile in India’s eastern States, and an attempt to perpetuate and entrench the demographic shift.

The Centre’s attempt to negate the “communal” angle by calling it an “ethnic” problem was disingenuous, if not unfair and incorrect. It hardly inspired confidence that the first to meet the Prime Minister on the issue was an all-party delegation of Muslim MPs, lobbying, of course, for the intruders.

The incontrovertible fact is that the violence involved the tribal Bodos (who have close cultural affinity with Assam’s other tribes and Hindu groups) and Muslim immigrants from present-day Bangladesh, who came in droves over the past century, and are still entering the State in quest of land and livelihood. They have been aided and abetted by lax border security (it’s a 3,437 km long border), helpful co-religionists, and political parties nurturing reliable vote-banks. The Assam Riotsresult has been a steady squeezing of the native population from the most fertile lands, which caused the intense flare-up of the 1980s and the Bodo agitation of the 1990s. But no lessons were learnt.

The current dispute began on July 6 when two Muslims were murdered in Kokrajhar, followed on July 20 by the killing of four Bodo activists in retaliation. Thereafter, the violence escalated leading to a predominantly Bodo exodus from their villages, and the torching of their hutments. To the surprise of their tormentors, however, the Bodos unexpectedly returned a few days later and indulged in tit-for-tat torching of rival settlements. Rattled, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi blamed the UPA Government at the Centre for delayed deployment of forces.

In a nutshell, this seems to be the root cause of the administration’s tardiness in curbing the violence. The Bodos had been driven out of their lands, and were not expected to return soon. Quick Army deployment would keep people in the camps. The delayed deployment plus the unexpected return of the Bodos in militant mood turned the tables on aggressors and administration alike.

Hagrama MohilaryBodo leader Hagrama Mohilary claims that armed Bangladeshis from across the international border incited the violence; Bodos in the refugee camps say they can no longer coexist with outsiders. As Assam tribals and Muslims both comprise formidable vote-banks for the ruling Congress, there is extreme reluctance to admit the existence of a deep ethno-communal fault-line. Caught in a cleft, Congress party president Sonia Gandhi has told the people to be prepared for a longish stay in the camps.

The conflict centres on land. For over four decades, government char land, traditional grazing lands, and forest areas, have been encroached by illegal migrants in connivance with district officials at the cost of the indigenous people. Besides Bodos, other tribal communities affected by ethnic cleansing and territorial encroachments include the Karbi, Khasi, Jaintiya, Dimasa and nearly 50 others. Hagrama Mohilary says Bodoland Territorial Areas District is governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and tribal bloc rules and regulations apply. But no one is listening. – Vijayvaani, 17 August 2012

Indian Army

See all reports here

  1. Assam Riots : Violence spreads to more Assam districts (17 August 2012)
  2. Assam Riots : Fresh violence erupts, NE natives fleeing Indian cities due to threat by Muslims (16 August 2012)
  3. Assam Riots : Govt. will make every effort to understand reasons, says PM (15 August 2012)
  4. Assam Riots : Return of Assam refugees will take some time, says Sonia Gandhi (13 August 2012)
  5. Assam Riots : Hindu Victims say ‘If we go back, they will kill us’ (11 August 2012)
  6. Assam riots : 4 more bodies found, toll rises to 71; 15 died in relief camps (9 August 2012)
  7. Assam riots : 4 more killed, toll rises to 67; 14 died in relief camps (7 August 2012)
  8. Assam riots : 5 more killed in Fresh violence, toll rises to 63 (5 August 2012)
  9. Assam riots: P Chidambaram promises victims rehabilitation and security (31 July 2012)
  10. Assam riots : PM announces relief package, call Riots as ‘Blot on India’ (29 july 2012)
  11. Assam riots: ‘Gogoi blames Congress, why don’t PM reply?’ (28 July 2012)
  12. Assam riots : 58 killed, 4 lakhs homeless; PM, Sonia visit Assam week after violence (28 July 2012)
  13. Assam riots: Violence erupts again; relief camp torched, woman shot dead (27 July 2012)
  14. HJS demands to foil the attempts of Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators to capture Assam (26 July 2012)
  15. Assam riots live: Relief camps struggling to cope with influx (26 July 2012)
  16. Assam riots continue : 41 killed, CM to visit Kokrajhar relief camps (26 July 2012)
  17. Assam riots live: Relief camps have no medicine or security ? (25 July 2012)
  18. Hindu-Muslim Assam riots continue; 32 dead, 1.5 lakh homeless (25 July 2012)
  19. Assam riots Live: State minister stopped from entering Bodo area (July 24, 2012)
  20. Assam : Riots between Bangladeshi Muslims & Natives; 20 killed, thousands flee homes ( July 24, 2012)
  21. Assam : Thousands flee after riots between Hindus and Bangladeshi Muslims (July 23, 2012)

Who is a Hindu? The credal definitions – Koenraad Elst

Dr. Koenraad ElstFor all practical purposes, the Puranic tradition is now the dominant [Hindu tradition], and many of its non-Vedic elements have replaced the corresponding Vedic elements even in circles of Vedic purists. Thus, Vedic Gods like Varuna and Indra have practically disappeared from the Hindu collective consciousness in favour of restyled minor Vedic Gods like Shiva and Vishnu and non-Vedic Gods like Ganesha and Kali.” – Dr. Koenraad Elst

Humpty Dumpty & Alice“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master–that’s all.”[1]

A lot of ink has flowed over the question how to define Hinduism. There is no other religion for which the question of definition is so difficult. A Roman Catholic could be defined as a person who is baptized by a priest ordained within an apostolic succession going back to Jesus, and who accepts the Nicean Creed and the authority of the Bishop of Rome. A Muslim is defined by the Muslims themselves as one who has affirmed the Islamic creed: that there is no god beside Allah and that Mohammed is Allah’s prophet. A Buddhist is one who has taken the triple refuge into the Buddha, his teachings and his community. But there seems to be no accepted definition of a Hindu, neither one sanctioned by Hindu tradition nor one on which the scholarly community agrees.

Yet, for a “Hindu” movement the choice of a good definition may be a very consequential matter. In this book, we will see how the Hindu Revivalist movement since ca. 1875 has dealt with the question: Who is a Hindu?

Ananda K. CoomaraswamyVedic Hinduism

According to Ananda Coomaraswamy, “the literature of Indian thought, apart from Buddhism as interpreted by Buddhists, exhibits a continuous development, and knows no acute crises; or rather, the real crises — such as the identification of all gods as one, and the development of the doctrines of emancipation and transmigration — are not determined by names and dates, they were not announced as the Dharma of any one teacher, and they are only recognized in retrospection. Here there is a gradual process of ‘thinking aloud’, wherein by stripping the self of veil after veil of contingency there is nothing left but the Abyss which is ‘not so, not so’, the ‘Ground’ of unity. From animism to idealism there is direct development, and it is for this reason that we meet with primitive terminologies invested with a new significance; moreover the old strata persist beneath the newest layers, and thus it is not only primitive terms, but also primitive thoughts which persist in the great complex that we speak of as Brahmanism. But this does not mean that the highest of these thoughts is primitive, it means only that the historical continuity of thought is preserved in the final system, and that system remains adapted to the intelligence of various minds.”[2]

This way, Hinduism cannot be caught in a criterion defining a specific stage of human religious development. Rather, like an individual human being (or like a nation), it represents a continuous identity through very different stages, and carrying the memory and the remains of all these stages along. For this reason, it is very difficult to formulate an essentialist definition of Hinduism, of the type: “Is Hindu, he who satisfies the following criteria: …” Even more difficult is, to catch Hinduism in doctrinal criteria: “Is Hindu, he who believes the following truth claims: …”

A well-known but evidently inaccurate proposal of definition was made by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the “Father of the Indian Freedom Struggle”, who chose “belief in the Vedas, variety in the means and infiniteness of the objects of worship” as the criteria for being a Hindu.[3] The “variety in the means” is a valuable contribution, because it explicitates what is often only a tacit assumption presupposed in most Hindu teachings. The acceptance of many approaches to the ultimate truth is indeed a distinctive characteristic of Hinduism, distinguishing it from the exclusivism intrinsic to Christianity and Islam.

Yet, this reading may be too optimistic: perhaps “disagreement about the means” would be a better description than “variety in the means”. Thus, many of the Sants of the Bhakti movement (Kabir, Nanak, Chaitanya) extol repeating the God-name as the means to Liberation and explicitly denounce both rituals and ascetic practices as false ways. Hindus have only agreed to disagree and not to interfere with other people’s practices even though these may be considered as deceptive paths leading nowhere. It is perhaps in this sense that Hindus could accept the presence of Christians and Muslims as much as that of rival Hindu sects, because all of them, i.e. both non-Hindus and Hindus of certain rival schools, are considered as being equally in the wrong. At any rate, Hindu tradition has an acute sense of true and false (hence a lively culture of debate), and it does not attribute equal truth to Hindu and non-Hindu, nor even to different Hindu schools of thought.

Agehananda BharatiThe assumption that all roads lead to the same goal is typical for modern (urban and Western-oriented) Hinduism as propagated by Swami Vivekananda and numerous more recent Gurus. Thus, in his highly critical account of the specificities of “Renaissance, English-speaking, eclectic, basically anti-Sanskritic, pamphletistic neo-Vedanta”, including its tendency to uncritical “synthesis”, the late Agehananda Bharati remarks: “Patanjali’s yoga is for people who have accepted brahmin theology. This is a fact which is systematically overlooked (…) by many teachers of the Hindu Renaissance. One of their perennial mottoes was that all religions are the same, that everyone can be a yogi on the basis of his own theology, or of no theology.”[4]

Hinduism, by contrast, has kept up a tradition of debate and scholastic argument since hoary antiquity, and has typically scorned soft options and insisted on radicalism, not in the sense of smashing the heads of people who disagree, but in the sense of settling for nothing less than the truth which liberates. Recent Hindu Revivalists merely return to the genuine Hindu tradition when they state that “the comparatively new-fangled notion that all religions are one, equal or equally valid (…) to us is a pleasant falsehood and thereby the biggest stumbling block in the understanding of religion and the religions”.[5] They refer to the Mahabharata editor Vyasa who exercised his power of discrimination when he observed that “moral principles may be shared by all religions (…) but their philosophical positions are often different”.[6] And who is to say that philosophical viewpoints don’t matter?

Even at the level of moral precepts, religions are far from equal. Leave alone the details such as dietary taboos, even the general principles may differ considerably. Thus, ecstatic states provoked by alcohol and other psychotropic substances are sought after in many animistic and Shamanistic traditions, but abhorred in more sober traditions like Buddhism and Islam. Violence is strongly condemned in Jainism but glorified, at least in specific conditions, in Islam and other religions. Again, these differences exist not only between Hindu and non-Hindu, but Lokmanya Keshav Baal Gangadhar Tilakalso within the Hindu commonwealth of schools and sects. Tilak is aware of this pluriformity; what he intended to add, is that this “variety of means” is not merely a factual situation, but that it is also valued positively by Hinduism, and that in this, Hinduism differs from its major rivals, which impose a single worldview and a single system of ethics on their adherents.

But the major problem with Tilak’s definition is the criterion of “belief in the Veda”. This reduction of Hinduism to the “believers” in the Veda does injustice to any accepted usage of the term Hindu (apart from contradicting Tilak’s own just-quoted position of a plurality of ways, arguably including non-Vedic ways as well). For centuries, Brahmins prohibited lower-caste Hindus from hearing, reciting and studying the Vedas, a prohibition still supported in principle by Tilak himself.[7] Are those Hindus who are unfamiliar with the Vedas being excluded from the range of the definition? This would be greatly welcomed by anti-Hindu polemicists, who like to claim that only upper-caste Hindus are real Hindus.

Moreover, the expression “belief in the Vedas” shows a rather crude understanding of the exact place of the Veda in the doctrine of its adepts, a place which is radically different from that of the Quran for Muslims. In the Quran it is God who speaks to man, while in the Veda it is man who sings praise to the Gods. It is not even clear what “believing” would mean in the case of the Vedas, collections of hymns written for a number of Gods by several dozens of male and female poets over several centuries. If someone compiles an Anthology of English Religious Verse, would it make sense to say: “I believe in this anthology”?

The matter becomes a bit clearer when we consider Tilak’s Sanskrit original:

prâmânyabuddhirvedeshu sâdhanânâmanekatâ

upâsyânâmaniyama etaddharmasya lakshanam [8]

Savarkar translates it as: “Belief in the Vedas, many means, no strict rule for worship: these are the features of the Hindu religion.”[9] More literally, it would read: “Acknowledging the authority of the Vedas, pluralism (‘not-one-ness’) of spiritual paths, no fixity about the objects of worship: that is the characteristic of the Dharma.”

The point is that the Vedas are to be considered as a pramâna, a “means of valid knowledge”, on a par with direct perception and inference. Veda may be understood in a very broad sense (common enough in actual usage, e.g. “Vedic medicine”, “Vedic cooking”): “knowledge”, as encompassing the entire Vedic corpus including the Upanishads, the Upavedas and the Vedangas, thus meaning “the accumulated ancestral knowledge”, or more or less “the tradition”. This then becomes a reasonable proposition: the accumulated knowledge passed on by the ancestors is an important though not exclusive means of knowledge, due to the human reality that we cannot start discovering everything anew through personal experience within a lifetime. It is also distinctive for Hinduism along with all “Pagan” cultures, contrasting them with Christianity and Islam, and to an extent even with Buddhism. The latter category, most radically Islam, rejects ancestral culture, and takes a revolution against the tradition as its starting-point, a total rejection of the preceding age as “age of ignorance” (jâhilîya).

However, in Tilak’s case, there is every reason to assume that he used “Veda” in the restricted sense: Brahmanic scriptures to the exclusion of all others, notably the four Samhitas (“collections”: Rik, Sama, Yajus, Atharva), chanted by Brahmins since time immemorial and supposed to have an auspicious effect. In that case, the problem with Tilak’s definition is that for a majority of practising Hindus, the Vedas are only a very distant presence, much less important than the stories from the Itihasa-Purana literature, the rules of conduct laid down in the Dharma-Shastras, and (often counterbalancing the latter) the teachings of the Bhakti poets. This is not because of some revolution rejecting the Vedic heritage, but simply because of the time-lapse, and also because of the jealousy with which the Brahmin caste increasingly distanced the Vedic knowledge from the masses.

In the post-Vedic millennia, there was ample room for new writings, and gradually the Veda proper was eclipsed by new Great Narratives, or new formulations of old narratives, springing from the same inspiration as the Vedas but better placed to catch the popular imagination. But at least these younger texts pay homage to the Vedas and fix them as a distant and little-known object of veneration in the collective consciousness. The most influential post-Vedic text, the Mahabharata, is explicitly rooted in the Vedic tradition, but it is younger and not guarded for the exclusive hearing of the Brahmins. Through this indirect lip-service to the Vedas, even illiterate “little traditions” in Hindu civilization can be covered by Tilak’s definition. However, even in its most inclusive reading, Tilak’s definition excludes important groups which many Hindu Revivalists insist on including in the Hindu fold: Buddhists, Jains, Brahmo Samajists, etc. Savarkar, before developing his own alternative, rejects Tilak’s definition precisely because it is not sufficiently inclusive.

Finally, there is a decisive scriptural argument against Tilak’s inclusion of “belief in the Vedas” as a criterion for Hinduism. The Puranas describe (and the Epics occasionally refer to) several dozens of generations of ancestors of the Puru-Bharata lineage which patronized the composition of the Vedas.[10] Regardless of whether we accept the historicity of those genealogies and family histories, they prove that Hindus have at least conceived of a pre-Vedic period in Arya/Hindu civilization. Thus, though the Manu-Smriti in its present version does not pre-date the Christian era, tradition ascribes it (or at least its original version) to Manu Vaivasvata, putative ancestor of all the Puranic dynasties and pre-Vedic founder of Hindu civilization, thought to have lived several generations before the first Vedic poets and a great many before the compilation of the Vedic Samhitas.[11] If the central concept of dharma is ascribed to pre-Vedic sages, if the Vedas themselves (like all ancient religious traditions) have an awareness of venerable ancestry, it follows that Hinduism conceives of itself as ultimately pre-dating the Vedas. What else could you expect of a religion which calls itself Sanatana, “eternal”, Dharma?

The PuranasCredal definition: Puranic Hinduism

Indologists have distinguished between Vedic religion, laid down descriptively or normatively in the Vedic text corpus, and Puranic religion, or Hinduism proper, as it developed after the Buddhist interregnum (later Maurya dynasty). The distinction is not an orientalist imposition, for Brahmins have all along made a distinction between Vedic and non-Vedic elements within the native religion, e.g. Shivaji was crowned with two ceremonies, one Vedic and one Tantric.[12]

For all practical purposes, the Puranic tradition is now the dominant one, and many of its non-Vedic elements have replaced the corresponding Vedic elements even in circles of Vedic purists. Thus, Vedic Gods like Varuna and Indra have practically disappeared from the Hindu collective consciousness in favour of restyled minor Vedic Gods like Shiva and Vishnu and non-Vedic Gods like Ganesha and Kali. The major festivals of the Hindu calendar are based on the epic feats of Rama and Krishna and on the Puranic lore pertaining to Shiva and the Goddess.

A credal definition of Hinduism commonly accepted by Western scholars is that a Hindu:

  1. believes in reincarnation,
  2. observes caste rules, and
  3. observes the taboo on cow slaughter.[13]

This is an explicitation of Mahatma Gandhi’s description of his own Hinduism: “Hinduism believes in the oneness not merely of all human life, but in the oneness of all that lives. Its worship of the cow is, in my opinion, its unique contribution to the evolution of humanitarianism. (…) The great belief in transmigration is a direct consequence of that belief. Finally the discovery of the law of Varnashrama [= differentiation after age group and social function] is a magnificent result of the ceaseless search for truth.”[14]

This description fits “Puranic Hinduism”, usually defined as the specific form of Hinduism developed after the ascendancy of Buddhism in the Maurya period, and which has as its dominant scriptural corpora the Dharma-Shastras and the Itihasa-Purana literature. This chronology of Hindu religion is rejected by some Hindu Revivalist scholars, who claim that the Puranas contain traditions as old as the Vedas (though also including younger material), and that Vedic tradition even in its prime should be seen as just one lineage within a much larger religious landscape which is preserved in the Puranas.[15] They point out that a work or a literature called Purana is already mentioned in Vedic literature itself.[16] Nonetheless, we will consider these three criteria when checking whether a given tradition is Hindu or not, but not without some caveats. On all three counts, this definition is considered not to fit the pre-Buddhist Vedic religion, hence the decision of many Indologists to consider the pre-Maurya Vedic tradition and the post-Maurya Puranic tradition as two separate religions. Even in present-day Hinduism, these three criteria only fit a certain mainstream but fail to include groups of people whom anyone would call “Hindu” upon watching their religious practices, as we will see in the next paragraphs.

Purusha SuktaCaste

It is commonly believed that caste, i.e. the division of society in endogamous groups, is an exclusively Hindu institution. Thus, after briefly describing the system of the four varnas, Ambedkar writes: “This is called by the Hindus the Varna Vyavasthâ. It is the very soul of Hinduism. Without Varna Vyavasthâ there is nothing else in Hinduism to distinguish it from other religions.”[17] Harold A. Gould summarizes: “Most [researchers] have found [caste] an integral and inalienable part of the Hindu religion.” And he himself agrees: “This ancient social institution was the necessary sociological manifestation of the underlying moral and philosophical presuppositions of Hinduism. Without traditional Hinduism there could have been no caste system. Without the caste system traditional Hindu values would have been inexpressible.”[18]

One might say that the caste system has been Hinduism’s body for a long time, the concrete structure with which Hindu culture organized its social dimension. But that is something very different from saying that caste is the soul of Hinduism, its intrinsic essence. Thus, Peter van der Veer writes that caste may not be as all-pervading or intrinsic to Hinduism as is usually claimed: “The idea that caste is the basis of the Indian social order and that to be a Hindu is to be a member of a caste became an axiom in the British period. What actually happened during that period was probably a process of caste formation and more rigid systematization due to administrative and ideological pressure from the colonial system, which reminds us of the so-called ‘secondary tribalization’ in Africa.”[19]

But in fact, castes and caste systems have developed in very divergent parts of the world, e.g. the originally ethnic division in Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, or the endogamous hereditary communities of blacksmiths, musicians and other occupational groups in West Africa.[20] The European division in nobility and commoners was a caste system in the full sense of the term: two endogamous groups in a hierarchical relation. When the Portuguese noticed the Indian jâti system, they applied to it the term casta, already in use for a social division in their homeland: the separate communities defined by religion, viz. Christians, Jews and Muslims. In practice, these were virtually endogamous, and there was a hierarchical relation between the top community (first Muslims, then Christians) and the other two.

Historically, the insistence on including caste among the criteria for Hinduism is not so innocent: it was part of the British “divide and rule” strategy against the Freedom Movement. In 1910, a British official, E.A. Gait, passed a circular proposing several tests to decide who is a Hindu, regardless of whether the person concerned described himself as a Hindu: whether he worshipped the “great Hindu gods”; whether he was allowed entry into temples; whether the Brahmins who performed his family rituals were recognized as Brahmins by their supposed caste members; on what side of the untouchability divide he was. Except for the first, these criteria were calculated to exclude the lowest castes and certain sects, regardless of their beliefs and Hindu practices.

The aim was to fragment Hindu society: “Given the upper caste character of the leaders of the Swadeshi movement, this ‘test’ was designed to encourage the detachment of low castes from the ‘Hindu’ category, reducing the numbers on whose behalf the upper castes claimed to speak.”[21] The “test” in effect implemented a suggestion by Muslim League leader Ameer Ali (1909) to detach the lower castes from the Hindu category. Ever since, it has remained a constant in anti-Hindu circles to maximize the importance of caste, and in Hindu Revivalist circles to work for its decrease in importance or even its ultimate abolition.

Given the existence of caste practices in non-Hindu societies, the caste phenomenon does not need Hinduism. But does Hinduism need caste? Can Hinduism exist without it? To anti-Hindu agitators, the matter is very simple: “Hinduism means caste.”[22] But real life tells a different story. Among overseas Hindu communities (e.g. in South Africa, Surinam, the Netherlands), the sense of caste has waned and in many circles even disappeared, without making them any the less Hindu.[23]

The Arya Samaj, which has worked hard to diminish the importance of caste, argues that this is merely a return to the Vedic condition, for indeed, the “family books” (2-7) of the Rigveda, the oldest literary testimony of Hindu civilization, are silent about caste. Only in the Purusha Sukta of the Rigveda does the enumeration of the four varnas appear, without any hint that this was a caste rather than just a class system.[24] Even Dr. Ambedkar, who argues that modern Hinduism is absolutely bound up with caste, describes how Vedic society knew a class system rather than a caste system: “Particular attention has to be paid to the fact that this was essentially a class system, in which individuals, when qualified, could change their class, and therefore classes did change their personnel.”[25] This is based on no more than an argumentum e silentio, but there may be something to it.

At any rate, hereditary varnas are a very old institution, well-attested in the Mahabharata and its most popular section, the Bhagavad-Gita. This text is frequently quoted by reformers as attesting that the four varna functions already existed, but were allotted on the basis of (not one’s birth but)[26] one’s guna-karma, “qualities and activities”. This is a constant in Hindu revivalist discourse aimed at disentangling Hinduism from the caste system with Scriptural authority: reference is to Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad-Gita: “The four varnas have been created by Me through a classification of the qualities and actions.”[27]

On the other hand, in the same Gita, the curse of varna-sankara, “mixing of varnas”, is invoked as one of the terrible consequences of intra-dynastic warfare by Arjuna: “When women become corrupted, it results in the intermingling of varnas.”[28] If this can still be dismissed as part of Arjuna’s initial plea (for not joining the battle), which Krishna’s subsequent explanation seeks to refute, it is harder to ignore Krishna’s own statement implying a negative opinion of inter-varna marriage: “If I do not perform action, I shall become the agent of intermingling (of varnas).”[29] It seems clear that by the time of the final editing of the Gita, varna endogamy was a firmly entrenched institution. But one has to make the best of it, and so, reformers like Swami Shraddhananda have highlighted such scriptural alternatives to hereditary and endogamous caste as are available.

Observing caste rules is still the general practice among Hindus in India, yet even there it has not been accepted as a defining component of Hinduism in at least one court ruling. The Ramakrishna Mission, in its attempt to acquire non-Hindu status, had used the argument of its professed rejection of caste as proof of non-Hinduness, but the Supreme Court pointed out that abolition of caste had been the explicit programme of outspoken Hindus like Swami Dayanand Saraswati, so that Hinduism without caste did seem to be possible after all.[30]

Sri AurobindoSri Aurobindo on caste

The difficult relation between caste in Hindu history and modern anti-caste reform was perhaps best articulated by Sri Aurobindo. First of all, he emphasizes the confinement of caste to purely worldly affairs: “Essentially there was, between the devout Brahmin and the devout Sudra, no inequality in the single virât purusha [Cosmic Spirit] of which each was a necessary part. Chokha Mela, the Maratha Pariah, became the Guru of Brahmins proud of their caste purity; the Chandala taught Shankaracharya: for the Brahman was revealed in the body of the Pariah and in the Chandala there was the utter presence of Shiva the Almighty.”[31] This could, of course, be dismissed as a case of “opium of the people”, conceding to them a spiritual equality all the better to justify the worldly inequality.

Secondly, Aurobindo avoids the somewhat contrived attempts to deny the close connection between the specificity of Hindu civilization and the caste system: “Caste therefore was (…) a supreme necessity without which Hindu civilisation could not have developed its distinctive character or worked out its unique mission.”[32] So far, he actually seems to support the line now taken by anti-Hindu authors, viz. that caste is intrinsic to Hinduism, eventhough selectively highlighting cases where low-caste people got a certain recognition in non-social, religious respects.

However, Aurobindo’s third point is that social reform including the abolition of caste is equally true to the fundamental genius of Hindu civilization: “But to recognise this is not to debar ourselves from pointing out its later perversions and desiring its transformation. It is the nature of human institutions to degenerate, to lose their vitality, to decay, and the first sign of decay is the loss of flexibility and oblivion of the essential spirit in which they were conceived. The spirit is permanent, the body changes; and a body which refuses to change must die. (…) There is no doubt that the institution of caste degenerated. It ceased to be determined by spiritual qualifications which, once essential, have now come to be subordinate and even immaterial and is determined by the purely material tests of occupation and birth. By this change it has set itself against the fundamental tendency of Hinduism which is to insist on the spiritual and subordinate the material, and thus lost most of its meaning.”[33]

Chronologically, this position could use some corrections (was the low status of the Chandala who spoke to Shankara not a symptom of an already advanced “degeneration”?), but we get the picture, the caste system may have been right in some past age, but now Hindu society should adapt to the modern age. This evaluation by Aurobindo proved to be trend-setting and is now very common in Hindutva discourse.

Cochin JewsCaste as a non-violent integrator

The institution of caste is now eroding, first by the amalgamation of closely related castes, and marginally, slowly but surely, even by the intermarriage of people from very divergent ranks in the caste hierarchy. Interdining with people of unequal caste rank, a revolutionary act in the British period, has become commonplace. Even the priesthood is open to members of lower castes in an increasing number of temples. The RSS was instrumental in fighting the rejection of S. Rajesh, an RSS-affiliated low-caste candidate for the priesthood in a Shiva temple (Kongarapilly, Kerala), in court; the verdict upheld the candidate’s rights.[34] The fact that judicial interventions are needed proves that there is still some way to go; on the other hand, the fact that people challenge caste privileges in court, as a last resort after challenging them in civil society, and that they succeed, proves that caste is losing ground, and this without entailing the disintegration of Hinduism.

Though trying to discover a basis in Hindu tradition for casteless equality (as the Arya Samaj claims to have found in the Vedas) is a good thing, it should not keep us from understanding why Hinduism could accommodate the caste system so well. One underlying Hindu value is that of ahimsâ, “non-violence”, not in its extreme Gandhian sense (when slapped, turn the other cheek), but in the subtler sense of respecting every entity, not upsetting but preserving it.

To preserve the distinctive character and tradition of a community, caste separatism was extremely helpful. Thus, in China the Jews were not persecuted, yet they disappeared because of intermarriage; in India, in spite of their small numbers, they remained a distinctive community, thanks to their caste separateness. Hinduism profoundly respects worldly difference and distinctiveness, and while that cannot justify the atrocities which have been committed in the name of caste, it does help to explain why Hindus could maintain the system with a perfectly good conscience for so long. So, in one sense, it is undeniable that caste resonates profoundly with the Hindu world-view; but the point is that Hinduism has more arrows in its quiver.

To put it differently, there is one intrinsic aspect of Hindu culture for which the caste system was an eminently useful (though not strictly necessary) social framework: the fabled Hindu tolerance. It is one thing to say that Hindu society has received the persecuted Jewish, Syrian Christian and Parsi communities well, but another to devise a system that allowed them to retain their identity and yet integrate into Hindu society. Whatever else one may think about the caste system, it is a fact that it facilitated the integration of separate communities.

This very process of integration of separate communities with respect for their distinct identity is at least a part of how the caste system came into being: by gradually integrating endogamous tribal communities in such a way that they could retain their identity, with only minor changes in their traditions. Dr. Ambedkar has drawn attention to this structural continuity between caste and tribe:

“The racial theory of Untouchability not only runs counter to the results of anthropometry, but it also finds very little support from such facts as we know about the ethnology of India. That the people of India were once organized on tribal basis is well-known, and although the tribes have become castes, the tribal organization still remains intact. Each tribe was divided into clans and the clans were composed of groups of families.”[35]

And this tribal structure continues in the system of endogamous castes divided in exogamous clans (gotra), indicating that caste is in fact a continuation of tribal organization in a supra-tribal or post-tribal society.

Likewise, the British indologist J.L. Brockington correctly argues that one of the prime functions of caste “has been to assimilate various tribes and sects and by assigning them a place in the social hierarchy”, so Hinduism and caste do have a long common history, without being identical: “To the extent that Hinduism is as much a social system as a religion, the caste system has become integral to it. But (…) in Hinduism outside India, caste is withering. More significantly, some elements in India would deny its validity; the devotional movement in general tends towards the rejection of caste. (…) The limitation on such attitudes to caste is that in general they were confined to the distinctly religious field, but that only reinforces the point here being made that caste, though intimately connected with Hinduism, is not necessary to it”.[36]

Later on, Brockington gives the example of Virashaivism, a sect intended as casteless, founded in 13th-century Karnataka by the Brahmin politician Basava: “Yet, despite Basava’s rejection of the Vedas and the caste system, along with so many other characteristic features of Hinduism, the Lingayat movement has remained a part, though admittedly an unorthodox part, of Hinduism.”[37]

Even at the height of his egalitarian innovation, Basava never called himself a “non-Hindu” (because such terminology was not yet in use), and he remained faithful to Hindu religious practices, starting with the worship of Shiva. He did promote intermarriage for one or two generations, i.e. a caste equality which was more than merely spiritual. Very soon, his sect simply became one more high and proud Hindu caste, which it has remained till today. Its egalitarianism lasted but a brief moment. This may be sufficient to serve as a selling proposition in the modern religion market, at least among people who go by historical anecdote rather than living social practice. On the other hand, a non-cynical approach of this heritage would be, to say that the hour for the awakening of a long-dormant ideal of casteless Shaivism has struck.[38]

Along with the persistence of living Hinduism among non-resident Indians who have shed their caste identities, this illustrates how Hinduism can survive caste. Likewise, it has also been amply documented how caste can survive Hinduism: converts to Christianity or Islam tend to maintain caste divisions even when they have long given up the supposed Hindu basis of caste: belief in Shastras or in the doctrine of Karma.

Dr. B.R. AmbedkarUntouchability

A typical aspect of the Hindu caste system is the notion of purity, unattested as such in the Vedas.[39] Here again, we find the same phenomenon in divergent cultures, e.g. Islam has a distinct notion of purity and impurity, and requires purity before offering prayers, just like Hinduism. Islam also considers unbelievers impure, though they are free to become Muslims and shed their impurity. It is only the coupling of the hereditary character of caste with the notion of impurity which yields a typically Hindu institution: hereditary untouchability. The genesis of this institution has not been definitively reconstructed yet, though it is a matter of prime importance for understanding Hindu history.

It is at any rate not due to the much-maligned “Aryans”, who originally had no such notion whether in India or abroad. Neither do the Vedic Samhitas contain any reference to Untouchability; Vedic Hinduism, at least, could exist without untouchability. The Dravidians, by contrast, seem to have had the notion in complete form: “Before the coming of the Aryan ideas (…) the Tamils believed that any taking of life was dangerous, as it released the spirits of the things that were killed. Likewise, all who dealt with the dead or with dead substances from the body were considered to be charged with the power of death and were thought to be dangerous. Thus, long before the coming of the Aryans with their notion of varna, the Tamils had groups that were considered low and dangerous and with whom contact was closely regulated.”[40]

Gerhard Schweitzer reports that even the orthodox are uncomfortable with the Untouchability category: “The untouchables have not been noticed in any of the sacred scriptures. As Mahatma Gandhi said in an oft-quoted statement: if he were to find even a single text passage in the Vedas or the great Hindu epics which justified the abomination of Untouchability, he would no longer want to be a Hindu. For lack of historical source material, it is completely unknown when this greater category of ‘Untouchables’ on the lowest rungs of the social ladder was established. No high-caste author of the past millennium seems to have found it necessary to discuss the question in any form in his writings. Probably this greater category has only come into being during the 8th or 9th century, so it is truly a young phenomenon.”[41]

In today’s urban Hinduism, the practice of untouchability (unlike the practice of caste endogamy) is disappearing, yet that does not mean that Hinduism is disappearing. Indeed, it is the Hindu nationalists’ boast that in their meetings and group activities, there is no trace of untouchability or caste discrimination.[42]

So, caste may be included as a criterion for defining Hinduism in a purely descriptive sense when discussing Hindu society in the classical and medieval period (which in India is reckoned as lasting into the 19th century), though Hindu religion can and does exist without it. Of untouchability, even this need not be conceded: its presence in Hindu history is considerably more limited than the caste system, and there is plenty of Hindu history which would wrongly be labelled “non-Hindu” if untouchability were accepted as a criterion. Though contemporary anti-Brahmin polemic in media like Dalit Voice tends to fuse all social phenomena of Hindu civilization into a single (“evil Brahminical”) design, a more historical attitude is recommended: one which explores the exact and probably separate origins of untouchability and caste, just as within the institution of caste, social rank/varna and endogamy/jati may have separate origins.

Arun ShourieArun Shourie on the abolition of Untouchability

Untouchability has been outlawed (1950), and even before that, it was losing ground. As Arun Shourie has observed, “reformers like Swami Vivekananda, like Gandhiji, like Narayan Guru had had no difficulty in showing that Untouchability had no sanction in our scriptures, that, on the contrary, the conclusive doctrinal argument lay in the central proposition of the scriptures themselves: namely, that all was Brahman, that the same soul inhered in all. There was also the historical fact that whatever might have been the excrescences which had grown around or in the name of Hinduism, the entire and long history of the religion showed that it was uniquely receptive to new ideas, that it was uniquely responsive to reformers, that it was adaptable as no other religion was, and therefore there was no reason to believe that it would not reform itself out of this evil also.”[43]

Incidentally, I don’t think that Shourie’s reference to the vision of the same soul inhering in all (any more than the vision that all are created by the same God) provides a sufficient ground for equality in social practice. At any rate it doesn’t remove the real-life inequality between human beings and animals, so it can also co-exist with inequality between nobles and commoners, between priests and laymen, between Banias and Chandalas. But the point is that both ancient scriptures and modern Hindu reformers could perfectly do without the institution of untouchability without being any the less Hindu for it.

Sri Narayana GuruArun Shourie tells us that a lot can be learned from the case of Narayan Guru who, early this century, as a member of the unapproachable Ezhava caste in Kerala, became an acknowledged religious leader and profoundly changed caste relations in Kerala for the better.[44] He “attained the highest spiritual states, thereby acquired unquestioned authority, and transformed society from within the tradition”.[45] He made use of a major loophole in the rigidities of the caste system, a loophole which Hindu society deliberately maintained precisely because Hinduism was not merely a social system but, among other things, also a spiritual system: renunciates in general, and sages with acknowledged yogic realization in particular, are above the worldly divisions such as caste. They also have the authority to herald social transformations which Hindus would never accept from purely political busybodies.

As you can verify from any publisher’s book list, Narayan Guru is not very popular among Indian secularists and foreign India-watchers, quite unlike that other Untouchable, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: “today, scarcely anyone outside Kerala even knows about Narayan Guru”, while by contrast, “Ambedkar’s statues outnumber those of Gandhiji.”[46] Narayan Guru upsets the now-dominant Ambedkarite description of Hindu tradition as a den of caste oppression beyond redemption.

Unlike secular people who were insensitive to the spiritual dimension, such as Dr. Ambedkar and Ramaswamy Naicker, “Narayan Guru consistently taught against conversion, he himself took back into the Hindu fold persons from the lower castes who had gone over to other religions”.[47] And the contrast with Ambedkar’s Dalit movement persists when we study the long-term results: “The legacy of Narayan Guru is a society elevated, in accord, the lower classes educated and full of dignity and a feeling of self-worth. The legacy of Ambedkar is a bunch screaming at everyone, a bunch always demanding and denouncing, a bunch mired in self-pity and hatred, a society at war with itself.”[48]

Though there is still some way to go, it is nonsense to claim that nothing in caste relations has changed, especially after ex-Untouchables have become Deputy Prime Minister (Jagjivan Ram, 1977-79), President (K.R. Narayanan, 1997-) and chairman of the ruling party (Bangaru Laxman, BJP, 1999-2000). This evolution provides an opportunity to test the dominant theory that Hinduism cannot exist without caste: has Hinduism diminished in proportion with the losses which caste inequality has suffered? The problems besetting Hinduism are most definitely not due to the withering away of untouchability. On the contrary, recent conversions to Islam have typically happened in areas like Meenakshipuram (1981) where discriminations of the Scheduled Castes are still severe, e.g. where they are harassed by unscrupulous policemen and seek safety by acceding to the Muslim community.[49] Hinduism has everything to gain by liquidating caste inequality as quickly as possible.

ReincarnationBelief in reincarnation

The Bhagavad-Gita, often called the “fifth Veda” and explicitly paying respects to the Vedas, contains an explicit affirmation of the doctrine of karma and reincarnation. This doctrine is not attested in the Veda proper (which hints at an afterlife not unlike the Germanic Walhalla or the Greek Elysean Fields), and is only in statu nascendi in the great Upanishads, even though there are sophisticated hypotheses detailing the deeper origins of this doctrine in the Vedic doctrine of sacrifices.[50] At any rate-and here we introduce an element which must be taken into account in any definition of Hinduism-, Hinduism is not a belief system. Its rules extend to behaviour (âchâra), not to opinion (vichâra). Therefore, although “belief in reincarnation” is indeed quite common among Hindus (and Sikhs and Buddhists), it is questionable as a defining characteristic of Hinduism, modem or ancient.[51]

Thus, Ananda Coomaraswamy, one of the most accurate and profound 20th-century exponents of Hindu thought, did not believe in individual reincarnation: with an appeal to Shankara, he thought that “only Brahman reincarnates”, not some individual soul.[52] Within Hindu tradition, this is a somewhat simplistic view when compared to the doctrine of the “causal body”, which as carrier of the accumulated karma defines the individual soul as distinct from the universal Brahman-consciousness. On the bright side, this simplicity yields a more robust view of human destiny than the awkwardly moralistic Puranic belief in an individual soul being rewarded or punished for its past deeds, a belief which deprives all good and bad events in life of their innocence by employing them in a cosmic calculus of retribution.[53] Indeed, the Upanishadic doctrine of the Self (âtman), which transcends all individual distinction, may even be read as the very opposite in spirit of the theory of reincarnation, which extends individuality (jîva) beyond this life-time to near-eternity.

Frits Staal observes: “A Hindu (…) can but need not believe in reincarnation or rebirth, or if he believes in them, he may interpret it in so many ways that it is not clear whether there is a common element in all these diverse notions.”[54] The Hindu view of afterlife and reincarnation has evolved over the centuries, and it would be wrong to pin “Hinduism” down on any single one of the stages in this development. Belief in reincarnation may be found among the majority of contemporary Hindus and could be used as a valid indication but not as a decisive criterion

Lord BuddhaCaste and reincarnation

It has often been said that the belief in reincarnation is a cornerstone of the caste system. For instance, Christian author Dr. J. Verkuyl writes: “…the caste system in India has always been officially justified and legitimized by the doctrine of karma. Someone’s birth in a higher or a lower caste or as an outcaste was the consequence of the law of karma.”[55] But the fact is that many other societies have known the doctrine of reincarnation (e.g. the Druze of West Asia) without setting up a division in endogamous groups, or at least without deriving the need for such a division from this belief.

It is especially remarkable that Buddhism has brought the notion of reincarnation and karma to most of East Asia, without thereby creating a caste system in those countries. To be sure, Buddhism never had the intention of reforming the Chinese, Japanese, Burmese etc. societies in any direction, and it fully cooperated with and integrated into the existing feudal and monarchical establishments in these countries; but if caste were “the necessary sociological manifestation of the moral and philosophical presuppositions of Hinduism,”[56] among which reincarnation and karma are certainly considered the foremost, then these same notions, even when labelled “Buddhist”, should have had the same effect on those other societies.

One might reply that the Buddhist notion of reincarnation is not entirely the same, as Buddhism “does not believe in the Self”, but that distinction is purely academic. Commoners belonging to both Hinduism and Buddhism take the karma doctrine as a ground for fatalism: you have deserved what you are getting, so don’t complain. People with more philosophical education take it as a ground for activism: you make your own fate, so do your best. Practically all of them, excepting a handful of scriptural purists, take reincarnation as an individual process, as a journey of an individual Self directed towards its temporary destiny by its specific load of karma. The Jatakas describe the previous incarnations of the Shakyamuni Buddha; the Dalai Lama (and all the other institutionally reincarnating lamas or Tulkus) is believed to be always the same individual reincarnating, etc.: in actual practice, Buddhists have the same understanding of reincarnation as Hindus have, relative to their level of education and inclination to purism.

And yet, in countries at some distance from India where Buddhism became the state religion, it has not built the same social system. That is because the Buddhist notion of reincarnation does not motivate people to build a particular type of society rather than another one, just like the Hindu notion of reincarnation is not the cause of India’s particular type of society either. It is simply wrong to deduce an entire social system from abstract metaphysical notions like karma.

The CowTaboo on cow-slaughter, or are the Untouchables Hindus?

As for the taboo on cow slaughter, this is definitely accepted by most committed Hindus (including the Sikhs, but not all tribals) as an intrinsic element of their religion, at least in the last twenty centuries or so. Anyone not observing this taboo is ipso facto untouchable. That is why the Muslim invaders made forced converts eat beef, to prevent them from being reintegrated in their castes afterwards. Here again, what counts is not belief but behaviour: Jain scriptures are not particularly fussy about cows as distinct from other animals, but since the Jains don’t eat any kind of meat, they are untainted by beef and hence not untouchable.

The question whether the Vedic seers practised cow-slaughter is hotly debated among Hindu revivalists and traditionalists.[57] Even the Hindu Revivalist historian K.S. Lal quotes Arabic writer Albiruni (ca. AD 1000) with approval, when he relates about the Hindus: “for they say that many things which are now forbidden were allowed before the coming of Vasudeva, e.g. the flesh of cows”.[58] It is certain that the cow was a sacred animal to the authors of the Vedas, but it may be precisely because of that sacredness that the cow was sacrificed and eaten on special occasions. Indeed, P.V. Kane, the great expert on Dharma Shastra, has written: “It was not that the cow was not sacred in Vedic times, it was because of her sacredness that it is ordained in the Vâjasaneyî Samhitâ that beef should be eaten.”[59]

At any rate, by modern consensus the Vedic Aryans ate beef, and if the tribals are not Hindus on this ground, then neither were the Vedic Aryans. It is perfectly possible to worship the Hindu Gods but not to observe the Hindu purity rules, of which the taboo on beef is one; that was historically the situation of the untouchable castes, who by their profession violated the taboo on handling dead and decomposing substances (cobbler, barber, washer, sweeper, funeral worker). If you stick to such taboos as defining characteristics of a Hindu, then untouchables are not Hindus. Anti-Hindu campaigners do indeed apply this logic, to lop off as many parts as possible from Hindu society.[60] This would mean that many westernized modern Hindus should also be subtracted from the Hindu fold, along with the Vedic seers.

However, as even Christian missionaries admit, “the deep-rooted personal attachment of the Dalits to the Hinduised form of their ancestral gods and goddesses (…) make[s] any mass exodus of the Dalits out of Hinduism unlikely.”[61] In a religious sense, the Dalits practise Hinduism; a definition of Hinduism which ignores this, is a bad definition. It is only logical to include all those who worship the Hindu Gods or who perform Hindu rituals in the Hindu category. Hinduism is certainly larger than the tradition of theistic worship of Gods like Shiva, Durga, Rama or local Goddesses, but at least it must include that devotional tradition. I know quite a few westernized Hindus who eat meat including beef, but who practise Hindu rituals, marry their daughters to fellow Hindus etc.; in what religious category would you put them, if not under the heading “Hindu”?

That indeed is how the historical leader of the Untouchables, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, saw it. In the 1930s, when the British pressed him to champion their plans for institutional separation of the Depressed Classes from the Hindu category, Ambedkar declared that the Untouchables were a “separate community”, though practising the “same religion” as the caste Hindus, comparing their separateness to the separateness of the European nations in spite of their common religion.[62] Though he hated Hinduism, he admitted that he was born as a Hindu, an Untouchable Hindu, that his community “worship the same Gods and Goddesses as the rest of Hindus, they go to the same places of pilgrimage, hold the same supernatural beliefs and regard the same stones, trees, mountains as sacred as the rest of the Hindus do”.[63] He deduced quite logically that it would take a formal conversion including an explicit repudiation of Hinduism (which he performed shortly before his death in 1956) for him to become a non-Hindu, in his case a Buddhist.

Vedic RishiConclusion

Let us conclude this section with an instance of the pragmatic way in which a leading Hindu Revivalist philosopher deals with the admittedly intricate question of “who exactly is a Hindu?” As we just saw, criteria like taboo on beef-eating or belief in reincarnation might stamp the Vedic seers as non-Hindus. This point is exploited by people who want to diminish the semantic extension of the term “Hindu”, e.g. by spokesmen of the Ramakrishna Mission when they were trying to get their organization reclassified as a non-Hindu minority. Swami Hiranmayananda asked a number of semi-rhetorical questions which were nonetheless pertinent, e.g.: “I want to know something from Shri Ram Swarup. Were the Vedic people Hindus?” Of course, the term was not in existence yet, so the Vedic people certainly didn’t call themselves Hindus. But were they Hindus? This is Ram Swarup’s answer:

“Well, firstly, I would answer this question by putting a counter-question: ‘Were they non-Hindus? Were they Muslims? Were they Ramakrishnaites?’ Secondly, I would say that (…) they were (…) people who in later days became better known as Hindus. People have more names than one and sometimes old names are dropped or forgotten and new names given or adopted. Thirdly, (…) though we may not be able to say whether the Vedic people were Hindus, we quite well know that ‘the religion of the Vedas is the religion of the Hindus’, to put it in the language of Swami Vivekananda. This kind of looking at the problem is good enough. It was good enough for Vivekananda, and it should be good enough for any serious purpose.”[64] Indeed, the question whether the Vedic seers were Hindus is a contrived one, and Hinduism can flourish without bothering about it. [See Swami Hiranmayananda’s letter to Prof. Asnani below the footnotes]  Who is a Hindu?, Voice of India, New Delhi, 2001

» Dr. Koenraad Elst was born in Leuven, Belgium, on 7 August 1959, into a Flemish (i.e. Dutch-speaking Belgian) Catholic family. He graduated in Philosophy, Chinese Studies and Indo-Iranian Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven. During a stay at the Benares Hindu University, he discovered India’s communal problem and wrote his first book about the budding Ayodhya conflict. While establishing himself as a columnist for a number of Belgian and Indian papers, he frequently returned to India to study various aspects of its ethno-religio-political configuration and interview Hindu and other leaders and thinkers. His research on the ideological development of Hindu revivalism earned him his Ph.D. in Leuven in 1998. He has also published about multiculturalism, language policy issues, ancient Chinese history and philosophy, comparative religion, and the Aryan invasion


  1. From Through the Looking-Glass, in The Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll, p. 184.
  2. Ananda Coomaraswamy: Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism, p. 207
  3. First given during Tilak’s speech at the 1892 Ganapati festival in Pune; quoted in D. Keer: Lokamanya Tilak, p. 173-174.
  4. Agehananda Bharati: Light at the Center, p. 155.
  5. Harsh Narain: Myth of Composite Culture, p. 47
  6. Harsh Narain’s paraphrase (Myth of Composite Culture, p. 53) of Mahabharata, Shanti-Parva 300:9
  7. D. Keer: Lokamanya Tilak, p. 174-175
  8. Reprodticed in V.D. Savarkar: Hindutva, p. 109
  9. V.D. Savarkar: Hindutva, p. 109
  10. According to the Puranas, Manu Vaivasvata, patriarch of the present human race, or at least of the Aryas, had ten successors, one of them being Sudyumna, founder of the Prayag-based Lunar dynasty (another being Ikshvaku, founder of the Ayodhya-based Solar dynasty). His great-grandson Yayati left Prayag to conquer western India, and one of his five sons, Puru, acquired the metropolitan area (East Panjab and Haryana) of the Saraswati basin where the Vedic tradition was to develop. One of his descendants (23rd generation starting from Manu) was Bharata, after whom India is named Bhâratavarsha.
  11. 11A systematic table of dynastic lists given in the Puranas was prepared by P.L. Bhargava: India in the Vedic Age, reproduced in S. Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p.338-343. A cross-reference between these lists and the kings names appearing in the Vedas is given in Talageri: op. cit., p. 345-347
  12. Vide Jadunath Sarkar: Shivaji, p.158-167. The rivalry between the respective priests provides a nasty example of Brahminical greed and caste pride, a frequent point of reference in the Hindutva variety of antiBrahminism as represented by the Shiv Sena.
  13. Winand Callewaert: India, hetoverende versheideheid (Dutch: “India, enchanting diversity”), p. 14
  14. M.K. Gandhi: Hindu Dharma, p. 8
  15. S. Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p. 297 ff
  16. Atharva-Veda 11:7:24, Satapatha Brahmana 10:5:6:8, Chandogya Upanishad 3:4:1, Kautilya Arthasastra 1:3, all quoted in S. Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p. 298.
  17. Dr. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 4, p. 189.
  18. Harold A. Gould: The Sacralization of a Social Order, p. 1. This statement is at least partly circular, for “traditional” Hinduism (as opposed to anti-caste reform Hinduism) would be defined precisely as that tendency within Hinduism which upholds traditional institutions such as caste.
  19. Peter van der Veer: Gods on Earth, p. 53.
  20. Tal Tamari: “The Development of Caste Systems in West Africa”, Journal of African History 1991, p. 221-250.
  21. Pradip Kumar Datta: “‘Dying Hindus’”, Economic and Political Weekly, 19-6-1993, p. 1306.
  22. Congress MP and Scheduled Caste member B.P. Maurya, replying to Organiser’s question what Hinduism is (8-9-1996). He strongly advocated conversion of Hindus to any other religion on the plea that they are all more egalitarian than Hinduism.
  23. In most of these communities, the Arya Samaj with its anti-caste stance has played a major role. The Arya Samaj is also a factor in the much lower intensity of caste inequality in the Arya heartland, Panjab. As Bahujan Samaj Party leader Kanshi Ram, told me (interview at BSP headquarters, Delhi 1993), he only became aware of the seriousness of caste inequality when he moved from Panjab to the more backward state of Uttar Pradesh.
  24. “The Brâhmana was his month, of both his arms was the Râjanya made. His thighs became the Vaishya, from his feet the Sûdra was produced.” (RV 10:90:12).
  25. Dr. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 1, p. 18
  26. I put these words between brackets, because they do not appear in this line of the Gita (4:13), though Hindu apologists usually pretend that they have at least been intended by Krishna.
  27. Bhagavad-Gita 4:13.
  28. Bhagavad-Gita 1:41.
  29. Bhagavad-Gita 3:24.
  30. M.D. McLean: “Are Ramakrishnaites Hindus? Some implications of recent litigation on the question”, in South Asia, vol. 14, no. 2 (1991).
  31. Aurobindo (22-9-1907): India’s Rebirth, p. 27
  32. Aurobindo (22-9-1907): India’s Rebirth, p. 27
  33. Aurobindo (22-9-1907): India’s Rebirth, p. 27
  34. “Caste no bar to be Hindu priest”, Times of India, 8-12-1995
  35. B.R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 1, p. 303. Emphasis added.
  36. J.L. Brockington: The Sacred Thread: A Short History of Hinduism, p. 3
  37. J.L. Brockington: The Sacred Thread, p. 148
  38. See e.g. J.P. Schouten: Revolution of the Mystics. On the Social Aspects of Vîtrashaivism; at least for historical data, for in its interpretation, it overstates the egalitarian “revolution” of Basava, in the usual Christian tactic of reducing everything Hindu to caste, wholly caste and nothing but caste. Basava was an ardent Shiva worshipper, to the extent of feeling close enough to Shiva to neglect the worldly conventions outside. Virashaiva castelessness and unconcern for purity rules (e.g. in case of menstrual “impurity”) results from an intense religious, viz. Shaiva-Hindu, enthusiasm. For a first-hand account of Virashaivism, I thank my old friend Shambo Linga, who spent seven years as the live-in pupil of a traditional Virashaiva Guru. He told me how a government official had to intervene in a Virashaiva-run village school in order to stop caste discrimination, with Virashaiva children sitting on a platform and others on the ground. Equality: a long way to go even for self-proclaimed egalitarians.
  39. For an analysis of the notion of purity, see the path-breaking study (e.g. the first to discern the rationale behind Biblical purity rules, p.51-57) of Mary Douglas: Purity and Danger, esp. p.8 and p. 123-128
  40. George L. Hart, III: “The Theory of Reincarnation among the Tamils”, in W. Doniger: Karma and Rebirth, p. 117
  41. Gerhard Schweizer: Indien, Stuttgart 1995, p-97 ff., reproduced in Joachim Betz: “Indien”, Informationen zur politischen Bildung no.257/1997, p. 24
  42. The RSS likes to quote Mahatma Gandhi’s appreciation of the absence of untouchability at RSS Shakhas, e.g. RSS Spearheading National Renaissance, p. 23
  43. 43A. Shourie: Worshipping False Gods, p.230. Shourie is arguing against Dr. Ambedkar’s view that Untouchability is of the essence of Hinduism 
  44. Vide P. Parameswar: Narayan Guru
  45. From the cover text of A. Shourie: Worshipping False Gods
  46. From the cover text of A. Shourie: Worshipping False Gods
  47. A. Shourie: Worshipping False Gods, p.381. About “Perivar” Ramaswamy Naicker, see Amulya Ganguli: “The atheist tradition”, Indian Express, 20-9-1995, and M.D. Gopalakrishnan: Periyar, Father of the Tamil Race
  48. A. Shourie: Worshipping False Gods, p.381. The last sentence refers to the foul language, violent ways and infighting among the low-caste parties claiming Ambedkar’s legacy. Christian missionaries likewise report that communities converted to Christianity have progressed much more in the last half century than the castes which have followed Dr. Ambedkar into neo-Buddhism or into Dalit activism
  49. One of several more recent cases was reported in Indian Express, 12-2-1995 and in Young India, July 1995: police excesses have triggered off conversions of Pradhi tribals in central India to Islam. A local leader declared: “Now they have started laying hands on our women. We cannot tolerate this. The only way to resist the continued torment is to embrace Islam. Conversion to Islam would earn the Pradhis the support of a community which can act as a pressure group.”
  50. E.g. Herman W. Tull: The Vedic Origins of Karma.
  51. One of the best concise explanations of the theory of reincarnation is by E. Krishnamacharya: Our Heritage, p. 67-74
  52. A.K. Coomaraswamy: Metaphysics, p. 74, p. 80. p. 347n
  53. Vide e.g. K. Elst: De niet-retributieve Karma-leer (Dutch: “The non-retributive Karma Doctrine”)
  54. F. Staal: Een Wijsgeer in bet Oosten, p. 107
  55. J. Verkuyl: De New Age Beweging, p. 71
  56. Harold A. Gould: The Sacralization of a Social Order, p. 1
  57. The classic (though intemperate) summary of evidence for Vedic cow slaughter is B.R. Ambedkar: Hindus Ate Beef. However, the opposite case also has its erudite defenders: in his book Sânskrtik Asmitâ kî Pratîk Gomâtâ (Hindi: “Mother Cow, Symbol of Cultural Identity”), Rameshwar Mishra Pankaj argues in favour of the Vedic origin of the cow’s immunity.
  58. K.S. Lal: Growth of Scheduled Tribes, p.102, quoting Albiruni: India, vol.1, p.107. Albiruni uses it as an example of how the Hindu laws, unlike the Shari’a, are open to change. Vâsudeva is Krishna, the cow-herd. The depth and nature of the revolution brought about by Krishna in the Vedic tradition is still insufficiently understood by Indologists including myself.
  59. P.V. Kane: Dharma Shastra Vichar, p. 180; quoted by Dr. Ambedkar: The Untouchables, Ch. 11, in Writings and Speeches, vol. 7., p. 324
  60. Such is the stated position of the Bangalore fortnightly Dalit Voice. “Dalits are not Hindus”. The term Dalit, “broken, oppressed”, was first used by the Arya Samaj to designate the untouchable Scheduled Castes in their campaign for dalitoddhâra, “upliftment of the oppressed”. The term has now largely pushed out the allegedly paternalistic Gandhian term Harijan, “people of God”, which only unyielding Gandhians like Arun Shourie keep on using.
  61. A. Ayrookuzhiel: “The Dalit Church’s Mission: a Dalit Perspective”, Indian Missiological Review, Sep. 1996, p. 44.
  62. B. R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 9, p. 184-185; discussed in A. Shourie: Worshipping False Gods, p. 227-228.
  63. B.R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 9, p. 184
  64. Ram Swarup: “In reply to Swami Hiranmayananda”, Organiser, 8-10-1995; Hiranmayanada’s article had appeared on 24-9-1995

This letter was sent by the Ramakrishna Math General Secretary
Swami Hiranmayananda 
to Prof. Asnani of Pune in May 1986.

Copy of a letter from the RKM General Secretary Swami Hiranmayananda to Prof. Asnani.