Logic behind the perversion of caste – Ram Swarup

Caste

Ram SwarupThe self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want an India without castes, they want castes without Dharma. This may be profitable to some in the short run but it is suicidal for all in the long run. – Ram Swarup

Today casteism is rampant. It is a new phenomenon. Old India had castes but no casteism. In its present form, casteism is a construct of colonial period, a product of imperial policies and colonial scholarship. It was strengthened by the breast-beating of our own “reformers”. Today, it has acquired its own momentum and vested interests.

In the old days, the Hindu caste-system was an integrating principle. It provided economic security. One had a vocation as soon as one was born—a dream for those threatened with chronic unemployment. The system combined security with freedom; it provided social space as well as closer identity; here the individual was not atomised and did not become rootless. There was also no dearth of social mobility; whole groups of people rose and fell in the social scale. Rigidity about the old Indian castes is a myth. Ziegenbalg (1682 – 1719) writing on the eve of the British advent saw that at least one-third of the people practised other than their traditional calling and that “official and political functions, such as those of teachers, councillors, governors, priests, poets and even kings were not considered the prerogative of any particular group, but are open to all”.

Nor did India ever have such a plethora of castes as became the order of the day under the British rule. Megasthenes (ca. 300 BCE) gives us seven-fold division of the Hindu society; Hsuan Tsang (ca. 650 CE) the Chinese pilgrim mentions four castes. Alberuni (973 – 1048) too mentions four main castes and some more groups which did not strictly belong to the caste system.

Even the list of greatly maligned Manu contained no more than 40 mixed castes, all related by blood. Even the Chandals were Brahmins on their father’s side. But under the British, Risley (1851 – 1911) gave us 2,378 main castes, and 43 races! There is no count of sub-castes. Earlier, the 1891 census had already given us 1,150 sub-castes of Chamars alone. To Risley, every caste was also ideally a race and had its own language.

Caste did not strike early European writers as something specially Indian. They knew it in their own countries and saw it that way. J. S. Mill (1806 – 1873) in his Political Economy said that occupational groups in Europe were “almost equivalent to an hereditary distinction of caste”.

To these observers, the word caste did not have the connotation it has today. Gita Dharampal-Frick, an orientalist and linguist [currently at Heidelberg University], tells us that the early European writers on the subject used the older Greek word meri which means “a portion”, “share”, or “contribution”. Sebastian Franck (1499 – ca. 1543) used the German word rott (rotte) meaning a “social group”, or “cluster”. These words suggest that socially and economically speaking they found castes closer to each other than ordo or estates in Europe.

The early writers also saw no Brahmin domination though they found much respect for them. Those like Jurgen Andersen (1669) who described castes in Gujarat found that Vaishyas and not the Brahmins were the most important people there.

They also saw no sanskritisation. One caste was not trying to be another; it was satisfied with being itself. Castes were not trying to imitate the Brahmins to improve social status; they were proud of being what they were. There is a Tamil poem by Kamban (ca. 1180 – 1250) in praise of the plough which says that “even being born a Brahmin does not by far endow one with the same excellence as when one is born into a Vellala family”.

There was sanskritisation though but of a very different kind. People tried to become not Brahmins but brahmavadins. Different castes produced great saints revered by all. Ravidas (ca. 1450) a great saint, says that though of the family of Chamars who still go through Benares removing dead cattle, yet even most revered Brahmins now hold their offspring, namely himself, in great esteem.

With the advent of Islam the Hindu came under great pressure; it faced the problem of survival. When the political power failed castes took over; they became defence shields and provided resistance passive and active. But in the process, the system also acquired undesirable traits like untouchability. Alberuni who came with Mahmud Ghaznavi (971 – 1030) mentions the four castes but no untouchability. He reports that “much, however, as these classes differ from each other, they live together in the same towns and villages, mixed together in the same houses and lodgings”.

Another acquired another’s trait; they became rigid and lost their mobility. All mobility was now downward. H. A. Rose (1867 – 1933), Superintendent of Ethnography, Punjab, from 1901 to 1906, author of A Glossary of Punjab Tribes and Castes, says that during Muslim period, many Rajputs were degraded and they became scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Many of them still retain Rajput gotra of Parihara and Parimara. Similarly, G. W. Briggs in his The Chamars, tells us that many Chamars still carry names and gotra of Rajput clans like Banaudhiya, Ujjaini, Chandhariya, Sarwariya, Kanaujiya, Chauhan, Chadel, Saksena, Sakarwar; Bhardarauiya, and Bundela, etc. Dr K. S. Lal (1920 – 2002) cites many similar instances in his recent Growth of Scheduled Tribes and Castes in Medieval India.

The same is true of Bhangis. William Crooke (1848 – 1923) of Bengal Civil Service tells us that the “rise of the present Bhangi caste seems, from the names applied to the castes and its subdivisions, to date from the early period of Mohammedan rule”. Old Hindu literature mentions no Bhangis of present function. In traditional Hindu rural society, he was a corn-measurer, a village policeman, a custodian of village boundaries. But scavenging came along with the Muslim and British rule. Their numbers also multiplied. According to 1901 Census, the Bhangis were most numerous in the Punjab and the United Provinces which were the heartland of Muslim domination.

Then came the British who treated all Hindus equally—all as an inferior race—and fuelled their internal differences. They attacked Hinduism but cultivated the caste principle, two sides of the same coin. Hinduism had to be attacked. It gave India the principles of unity and continuity; it was also India’s definition at its deepest. It held together castes as well as the country. Take away Hinduism and the country was easily subdued.

Caste in old India was a cooperative and cultural principle; but it is now being turned into a principle of social conflict. In the old dispensation, castes followed dharma and its restraints; they knew how far they could go. But now a caste is a law unto itself; it knows no self-restraint except the restraint put on it by another class engaged in similar self-aggrandisement. The new self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want an India without castes, they want castes without Dharma. This may be profitable to some in the short run but it is suicidal for all in the long run.

In the old days, castes had leaders who represented the culture of the land, Who were natural leaders of their people and were organic to them. But now a different leadership is coming to the fore: rootless, demagogic and ambitious, which uses caste slogans for self-aggrandisement. – The Indian Express, 13 September 1996

» Ram Swarup (1920–1998) was a Sankhya philosopher, yogi, and colleague of historian Sita Ram Goel. Together they founded the publishing imprint Voice of India in New Delhi, to give Hindu intellectuals a voice when the mainstream media refused to give them any time or space .

Glossary of the Tribes and Castes

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Scheduled Castes vs. Caste Hindus: About a colonial distinction and its legal impact – Jakob De Roover

CasteDr Jakob De RooverThe leaders and intellectuals of post-colonial India not only succumbed to the colonial account of “the caste system,” but also accepted the social divisions among the people of India created by British legislation. – Prof Dr Jakob De Roover

Jakob De Roover of Ghent University here published today an insightful paper, “Scheduled Castes vs. Caste Hindus About a Colonial Distinction and Its Legal Impact.” We excerpt from his conclusion:

Today, commentators often react with indignation when one points out the anomalies confronting the classical account of the caste system. Worse, questioning this orthodoxy and its hackneyed claims about “the plight of the Dalits” is often equated to denying the existence of injustice in Indian society. The fact that there are groups in Indian society much poorer and more deprived than others is not in doubt. Neither is the fact that members of some jatis treat members of other jatis in unethical and inhumane ways. However, the point is that these situations and events cannot be coherently conceptualized in terms of “the caste system” and its oppression of “the Untouchables” or “Dalits.”

The idea that there are two distinct categories or groups in Indian society—namely, Caste Hindus and Scheduled Castes—never described its social structure. No common characteristics are available that allow(ed) one to recognize these as two communities or categories across India. Thus, no empirical investigation could show that they existed in the Indian social world. Since this distinction is flawed, it cannot offer a stable foundation for legislation that aims to address injustice in Indian society. In fact, the available facts indicate that the laws providing caste-based benefits fail to pass the Supreme Court’s test of reasonable classification: there appear to be no intelligible differentiae that distinguish all the persons grouped together as Scheduled Castes from others excluded from that group.

Indeed, the class of Scheduled Castes exists, but only in the Indian legal and political system. Through their caste policies and censuses, the British spread the idea that “Hindu society” was characterized by an opposition between Caste Hindus and Untouchables. Thus, in spite of the recurring discovery that this distinction failed, it could not but have its effects in a society under colonial rule. The crucial step came in the Government of India Act of 1935 and its caste schedules. Eventually, the Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1936 ordered that “the castes, races or tribes, or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes specified in Parts I to IX of the Schedule to this Order shall, in the Provinces to which those Parts respectively relate, be deemed to be scheduled castes so far as regards members thereof resident in the localities specified in relation to them respectively in those Parts of that Schedule.”

Strikingly, the leaders and intellectuals of post-colonial India not only succumbed to the colonial account of “the caste system,” but also accepted the social divisions among the people of India created by British legislation. It is as though they felt compelled to transform the tenuous distinctions inherent to the colonial account into existing social divisions in India. The King’s Excellent Majesty, Edward VIII, had ordered how the people of India should be divided into Scheduled Castes and others. After 1947, Indian political and intellectual elites began to enforce this royal decree in their country. This is the work that the caste legislation of contemporary India continues unto this day. – Hinduism Today, 15 January 2016

See the original article HERE

» Prof Jakob De Roover is an assistant professor at the Department of Comparative Science of Cultures, Ghent University, Belgium.

Vivekananda Quote

Mainstream and marginal tribes in ancient India – Michel Danino

Gond Women Madhya Pradesh
Prof Michel DaninoWas there … a “mainstream vs. marginal” duality in ancient India? The caste system … built its own categories, but tribals were not regarded as sharply separate from “mainstream” society. Interestingly, there is no word for “tribe” in Sanskrit or, so far as I know, in any Indian language; there are terms equivalent to “forest dwellers” or “mountain dwellers”, but not “tribe”. – Prof Michel Danino

The previous article (“India’s Own Sacred Ecology”) in this series made a passing mention of Bishnois, Bhils, Warlis, Santhals or Todas, in whom the reader will have recognized some of India’s better-known tribes. This land has the privilege—it is one, although few Indians realize that—of having hundreds of tribal communities, most of them struggling with modernity and “civilization” in a losing battle to preserve a semblance of their identity.

But what is a tribe? It used to be defined as a group of families or clans sharing a tradition of common descent, a culture and a language, living as a close-knit community under a chief and holding no private property. In the 20th century, however, anthropologists increasingly preferred the more neutral and elastic term of “ethnic group”. Indeed, “tribe” is tainted by 19th-century racist ethnology, which generally described those groups as primitive, barbarous and belonging to inferior races—a stereotype that has proved tenacious, especially when coupled with “animism”, a derogatory term that does little justice to tribal religions. In any case, the notion remains that such groups are marginal to mainstream society, whatever “mainstream” may mean.

Was there such a “mainstream vs. marginal” duality in ancient India? The caste system, of course, built its own categories, but tribals were not regarded as sharply separate from “mainstream” society. Interestingly, there is no word for “tribe” in Sanskrit or, so far as I know, in any Indian language; there are terms equivalent to “forest dwellers” or “mountain dwellers”, but not “tribe”. “Adivasi” was coined early in the twentieth century in the context of race-obsessed colonial ethnology which labelled every Indian community either as “Aryan” or “non-Aryan”—but India had no concept of “original inhabitant”, and as the sociologist G. S. Ghurye put it long ago, “It is utterly unscientific to regard some tribe or the other as the original owner of the soil.” I mentioned in “Decoding the Idea of India” how the Mahabharata lists 363 communities (janas or jatis) across the map, defined in geographical, political or ecological terms; some of them remain recognizable as “tribes”, such as “Mundas, Savaras, Kokuratas or Korkus, Karushas or Kurukhs, Kollagirs or Kolis, and Nishadas or Bhils,” according to the anthropologist K. S. Singh, who pointed out that the Epic does not seem to distinguish between caste and “tribe”, except that some of the janas happen to live in the mountains or forests: “There is hardly any evidence to show that in the collective consciousness of India there is any difference between the two sets of janas.”

The list of janas rises to nearly 700 if we include all ancient literature. In his Arthashastra (8.4.43), Kautilya states, “Forest tribes live in their own territory, are numerous, brave, fight in daylight and, with their ability to seize and ruin countries, behave like kings.” The word for “tribe” here is atavika, that is, “forest dweller”. Kautilya’s fear of their conquering impulse reflects a historical fact: many tribes took to warfare, expanded their territories and became as many Kshatriya clans. H. H. Risley, who conducted the 1901 Census of India, noted a decade earlier how some tribal groups moved straight towards Brahminhood by claiming descent from a legendary king or rishi, imitating Brahmin rituals and even adopting the gotra system. That illustrates the well-known upward social migration which the sociologist M. N. Srinivas called “Sanskritization” (not an ideal term, as the process has little to do with Sanskrit). In fact, recent genetic studies have failed to find radical differences between today’s scheduled tribes and caste groups, and some geneticists now speak of a “caste-tribe continuum”.

India’s tribal communities adopted the Mahabharata and Ramayana with gusto, often relocating the events in their territories, the better to own them. They welcomed Hindu gods and goddesses into their pantheons, sometimes fusing them with their own. This has led to some intriguing situations, such as tribal communities of western India worshipping the Vedic god Indra (under the name of “Babo Ind”), long after he had faded from “mainstream” Hinduism. Interaction is never a one-way affair: the same Hinduism imported Jagannath, Ayyappa, Narasimha, aspects of the Shakti, possibly too Ganesha and Venkateshwara; fusion and assimilation were the rule with varying degrees. The sociologist André Béteille summed up the process thus: “The thousands of castes and tribes on the Indian subcontinent have influenced each other in their religious beliefs and practices since the beginning of history and before. That the tribal religions have been influenced by Hinduism is widely accepted, but it is equally true that Hinduism, not only in its formative phase but throughout its evolution, has been influenced by tribal religions.” There are of course exceptions, mostly because of geographical isolation. The Todas of the Nilgiris are one such; but even if their god-inhabited geography and eco-sacred rituals are distinct, they remain in tune with “Pagan” Hinduism.

Mainstream India’s perception of her tribes remains blinkered by the colonial approach, on which the missionary agenda rode piggyback, seeking to “detach the considerable masses of non-Aryans from the general body of Hindus,” as Risley approvingly put it. Or a few years before him, Richard Temple, a high officer of the colonial administration: “Hinduism, although it is dying, yet has force … and tribes, if not converted to Christianity, may be perverted to Hinduism. If they are attached, as they rapidly may be, to Christianity, they will form a nucleus round which British power and influence may gather.” A glamorous politico-religious agenda that was diligently carried out, partly by demonizing Hinduism’s organic, syncretic and assimilative—but “pervert”—nature and processes. Those very processes will enable us to attempt an empirical definition of Hinduism. – The New Indian Express, 3 January 2017

» Prof Michel Danino teaches at IIT Gandhinagar and is a member of ICHR. Email : micheldanino@gmail.com.

Koya tribe drummers of Odisha

Perversion of secularism and the non-implementation of a uniform civil code – Nithin Sridhar

Nithin SridharIndia should have evolved an indigenous social and legal system rooted in Dharma. … Such a social and legal system would have developed unique responses to challenges that are unique to Indian society; would have been fair and righteous towards everyone, irrespective of their affiliations, and would have been, at the same time, firmly rooted in Indian civilization. But since we have already imported an alien system of secularism, it would do us good if we remove the prevalent perversions and implement it in its true sense by enacting a fair uniform civil code. – Nithin Sridhar

Dalai Lama Quote India is probably the only country, wherein the concept of secularism is most perverted, both in principle and practice. After Independence, India, first borrowed this alien principle without giving a thought regarding its necessity and applicability in Indian society, and then perverted it beyond measure to selectively implement it for petty political ends, with disastrous results.

Secularism in simple terms means “separation of State and Religion”. That is religious concerns will not dictate State policies and the State will not interfere in religious activities. This concept of secularism originated in the European society, necessitated by the constant struggle for power between the Church and the Monarchy. Secularism was thus a unique solution in response to unique challenges prevalent in Western civilization in general and European society in particular.

Since Indian civilization, being rooted in the concept of Dharma, wherein even a ruler is subjected to its tenets and answerable to his citizens, no dichotomy between religion and government ever existed. More importantly, the very concept of religion as understood in Western (Abrahamic) civilization is alien to India. Sanatana Dharma is not merely a religion bound by certain principles of faith, instead it is a way of life based on eternal principles that sustains all life—individual, social, ecological, and universal. Thus sacred as well as secular, social and political as well as religious and spiritual, all aspects of life derive their sustenance from Dharma. Thus, dichotomies like religion vs. science, state vs. church, etc., which were an important force in the European society, never even sprouted in India.

Yet, ignoring these realities of Indian civilization, the Indian leaders, after independence, first imported secularism into India and then perverted its tenets and selectively implemented them in appeasement of certain “minority” communities, all the while being discriminating towards the majority community. How else can one explain contradictory actions of various state and central governments during the last seven decades?

Let’s take the example of religious institutions like places of worship belonging to various religions. Various state governments, especially in South India have taken control over Hindu temples and are earning crores of rupees from them. This is a clear violation of secularism, which mandates no interference of governments in religious activities. Add to this is the fact that out of the crores that these state governments are earning from temples, only a fraction of the amount is set aside for the maintenance of temples, and the rest is diverted to the government’s coffers. How is it secularism? Now consider this, the same state governments have allowed a free functioning of churches and mosques without any state intervention in the name of “secularism”. Moreover, crores of taxpayers’ money are spent by some of the state governments to help minority communities to renovate and build their places of worship.

In other words, the state governments have encroached upon places of worship belonging to the majority Hindu community, all the while allowing churches and mosques a free run. They are, further, looting the money from the temples and then spending taxpayers’ money on the churches, mosques, and the like. This is how secularism—the separation of religion and government—is being practiced in India. But this perversion of secularism and discrimination against the majority is, perhaps, most visible in the case of religion-specific personal laws enshrined in our constitution, despite the fact that the Directive Principles call for the eventual adoption of a uniform civil code.

Hindu Code BillsThe presence of numerous personal laws goes against the very essence of secularism. Add to this, the fact that the way these personal laws have been enacted is completely discriminatory in nature. On the one hand, the Muslim community is governed by the laws which are largely derived from Sharia and Islamic jurisprudence. Similarly, Parsis have personal law rooted in their tradition. The Jews are not governed by any personal laws, but instead are governed by the dictates of their religion. Christian personal laws are also in sync with their religious tradition. On the other hand, the majority Hindu community is governed by secularized Hindu laws which are uprooted from Hindu tradition and practices. Though custom and usage have been deemed important in the Hindu personal laws, yet through passage of various civil laws like Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, etc. the rules governing Hindu marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc. have been thoroughly secularized. Regarding the Hindu Code Bills of 1950’s, Dr. Parminder Kaur, Assistant Professor, Guru Nanak Dev University Regional Campus, Gurdaspur, writes in her article thus: “The Hindu Code Bills were a series of laws aimed at thoroughly secularizing the Hindu community and bringing its laws up to modern times, which in essence meant the abolition of Hindu law and the enactment of laws based on western lines that enshrined the equality of men and women, and other progressive ideas.”

Thus the Hindu community has been forced to shed its centuries-old customs and traditions, whereas minority communities like Muslims are freely allowed to retain their practices. Add to this the fact that Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, etc. all come under these Hindu personal laws, and thus are denied personal laws based on their own traditions and practices. It is a different issue that Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists share a common framework of Dharma with mainstream Hinduism and are deeply rooted in Indian culture and tradition. The point is just like various communities within mainstream Hinduism have their unique customs and practices, even Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists have their unique customs and practices, all of which have been discarded and replaced by secularized Hindu personal laws. This is a classic case of discrimination in the name of “secularism”.

The argument here is not that the present secularized Hindu laws are bad for the society, or that Hindus must imitate the customs and practices prevalent in Hindu society many centuries ago. The issue here is one of fairness and equal treatment. Either there should be a uniform civil code keeping with the true notion of secularism, wherein all citizens are treated as citizens, without reference to their religion in civil issues, or there should be as many personal laws as necessary to cater to various local customs, traditions, and practices. Even if one were to have a uniform Hindu personal law in such a scenario, then it must have enough flexibility and space to accommodate diverse local beliefs and practices among various communities, and these are to be framed after discussions with various religious authorities and community leaders from across the country and be rooted in Hindu religion and traditions. This is definitely not the case in the present scenario, wherein minority Muslims are allowed to follow religious principles, whereas majority Hindus, including Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists are forced to follow secularized personal laws.

Ishwar Chandra VidyasagarMore importantly, there was no necessity to secularize Hindu laws and Hindu society to usher in positive changes that were necessary, according to changing times. These positive changes could have been evolved from within Hindu tradition and culture itself. Hinduism has always been an evolving religious tradition. The presence of numerous smritis, dharma shastras, and many other texts, with each putting forward different viewpoints suitable to their own time and space, is the best evidence regarding flexibility and continuous evolution of Hinduism. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who was instrumental in bringing in the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act of 1856, accomplished it by putting forward evidences, illustrations, and arguments from within the Hindu tradition. Thus, genuine Hindu personal laws, suitable for present times, rooted in values like righteousness, duty, fairness, equal opportunity to women, etc. could have been easily evolved from within Hindu philosophy and culture, through a consensus arrived after discussions and debate among various religious authorities and representatives of various Hindu communities belonging to different geographical regions. But, short-sightedness and a romance with western ideals and systems of governance, made our Indian leaders ignore Indian ideals and models present within Indian civilization.

This import of secularism, and later its perversion in the form of discriminating personal laws, have done not much good for the minority communities, especially women of those communities, either. Polygamy is prevalent and legally sanctioned under Muslim personal laws, whereas it is prohibited for everyone else. A Hindu woman has an absolute right over maintenance from her husband upon divorce, but a Muslim woman will not get maintenance beyond the period of iddah. Similarly, the grounds of divorce have been detailed and the elaborate legal process have been thoroughly established in the case of Hindus and Christians, but a Muslim woman could be divorced merely by a repetition of “talaq” thrice by her husband. The Hindu undivided family gets tax rebates, but others are bereft of this benefit. Similar discriminations exist in the case of adoption laws as well.

The gist is the perversion of secularism which has resulted in non-implementation of a uniform civil code, which has not done any good to anyone. On the one hand, the Hindu personal laws have ushered in equality and fairness in certain spheres of social life in Hindu society, but have done so at the cost of uprooting Hindu society and the legal system from the foundations of Dharma, which is bound to have adverse effects over a long-term. On the other hand, presence of separate personal laws for minority communities has kept them away, especially Muslim women, from gaining any benefits that are available for Hindus.

Ideally, India should have evolved an indigenous social and legal system rooted in Dharma (righteous duty) and Indian civilization. Such a social and legal system would have developed unique responses to challenges that are unique to Indian society; would have been fair and righteous towards everyone irrespective of their affiliations, and would have been, at the same time, firmly rooted in Indian civilization. But since we have already imported an alien system of secularism, it would do us good if we remove the prevalent perversions and implement it in its true sense by enacting a fair uniform civil code. – IndiaFacts, 9 July 2016

» Nithin Sridhar is an editor at IndiaFacts and writes on politics, religion, and philosophy from Mysore. He tweets at @nkgrock.

Nehruvian Secularism

Shah Rukh Khan Quote

Ambedkar was wrong about Hinduism and Hindu ideologues are wrong about Ambedkar – Jakob De Roover

Devendra Fadnavis

Jakob De RooverSuccumbing to a colonial orientalist discourse rooted in Christianity, Ambedkar pleads for the eradication of all characteristics that distinguish the Hindu traditions from this religion. … Consequently, no matter what they may write about Hindu unity and such like, Ambedkar and his followers are advocating one simple message: Indian culture deserves destruction. … Our cultures and our roots are all we have to save us from the loss of bearings that is overtaking the contemporary world. For India, the rediscovery of its cultural resources will be essential to its future survival. … If there is one piece of evidence that establishes the intellectual and ethical bankruptcy of India’s ideologues on all sides of the political spectrum, it must be their glorification of Ambedkar’s thought.” – Prof Dr Jakob De Roover

Arundhati RoyThe lionizing of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar is being taken to new heights today. From the Sangh Parivar to the secularist cabal, he is celebrated as a great thinker and visionary. We encounter the strangest of bedfellows here. Who would have thought that Arundhati Roy and Devendra Fadnavis would one day share glowing love declarations? The leftist ideologue tells us that “we need Ambedkar—now, urgently,” while the BJP politician calls him a great jurist and politician whose principles remain universal and relevant in the modern age. The Maharashtra Chief Minister adds deed to word by proudly unveiling a statue of Ambedkar at a Japanese university and proclaiming him “one of the world’s greatest Buddhist leaders.”

In the battle over Ambedkar’s ‘legacy’, all political parties seem to agree that his thought is integral to their message. The Communist Party of India (CPI) national secretary calls him a ‘colossus’ and says that, as history unfolds, the enduring relevance of his thoughts and theories and his role as “the founder of secularism in this country” are revealed. In Swarajya, columnist Aravindan Neelakandan portrays the same man as a giant of cultural nationalism and natural ally of the Hindutva movement.

Though rare, we know of cases where some leader from the recent past is glorified by people and parties on all sides of the political spectrum. However, it becomes a different matter when we move to the sphere of political, legal, and social thought. Here, some level of coherence is essential to the quality and integrity of thinking. How should we then understand the apparently boundless capacity of Ambedkar’s thought to find a place in just about all ideologies circulating in contemporary India?

There are many options. First, it could be the case that Ambedkar’s ‘thought’ has as little to do with thinking, as we understand that term, as ideology has to do with science. Anyone can appropriate mushy ideological stuff, if they are incapable of thinking. Second, as a corollary, it could be the case that his pronouncements lack coherence and integrity and can be appropriated by ideologues from right to left, from Hindu nationalist to staunch secularist.

Third, the absence of coherence and integrity could also be a property of the ideologizing by Indian academics and politicians. They share this uncanny ability to embrace Ambedkar’s ideas, because their own thought consists of an incoherent collection of bits and pieces held together by strong emotions rather than sound reasoning. The fourth option is obvious: all of the above are true. In that case, the wedding of Ambedkar to the contemporary ideologues would be a match made in heaven. Especially so, if it transpires that Ambedkar’s ‘thoughts’ cloak self-seeking, narrow, and base interests in a language that glorifies them.

Not willing to deny the right to matrimony to anyone (not even in this case of polygamy), I will argue that the last option is the case. Let me explain what I mean.

Basically, Ambedkar was selling scraps from a Western orientalist and colonial story concerning Indian culture as facts about the world, much like those other marginal merchants who buy crumbs from European dining tables at steeply discounted prices to resell these at marked-up prices in India. In the course of the nineteenth century, a dominant account about Hinduism and the caste system had crystallized in Western scholarship.

In its original Christian form, this revolved around a contrast between true and false religion: false religion is the invention of men seeking to satisfy their own worldly desires by invoking the name of God, whereas true religion is the genuine revelation of God to humanity. In contrast to the universal spiritual teachings of true religion, the priests of false religion impose a set of constricting rules and rites on the believers and thus keep them in control.

According to this Western Christian story, Indian culture was constituted by one such false religion, namely Hinduism: the Brahmin ‘priests’ imposed all kinds of rites and rules as sacred commandments; thus, they manipulated and oppressed the masses. The crowning piece of their deception, so it was said, was the caste system: an immoral social hierarchy sold as divine injunction.

Over the decades, this Protestant Christian account underwent a process of secularization: its teachings about false religion were transformed into common sense ideas about Hindu religion. The predicate ‘false’ was dropped but the basic story remained the same, from the textbooks of colonial education to the treatises of social scientists: (a) ‘Hinduism’ was the dominant ‘religion’ of Indian culture; (b) it was a flawed religion that did not present a message of equality to humanity, but instead provided stifling rules for specific groups of people; (c) the variety of jatis across India B. R. Ambedkarare so many expressions of an immoral hierarchy sanctioned by religion and held in place by a priesthood.

Both Western and Indian authors endorsed this as a factual description of Indian society. But this is where the rub comes: without the support of an entire cluster of Christian theological ideas about false religion, this account of Hinduism and caste could never make sense in the first place. Now listen to Ambedkar’s famous undelivered speech The Annihilation of Caste (1936), often considered the clearest formulation of his thought on the matter:

“The Hindus hold to the sacredness of the social order. Caste has a divine basis. You must therefore destroy the sacredness and divinity with which Caste has become invested.”

“What is called Religion by the Hindus is nothing but a multitude of commands and prohibitions. Religion, in the sense of spiritual principles, truly universal, applicable to all races, to all countries, to all times, is not to be found in them …”

“Caste is no doubt primarily the breath of the Hindus. But the Hindus have fouled the air all over and everybody is infected, Sikh, Muslim and Christian.”

“You must have courage to tell the Hindus, that what is wrong with them is their religion—the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of Caste. Will you show that courage?”

Elsewhere he writes:

“Inequality is the official doctrine of Brahminism and the suppression of the lower classes aspiring to equality has been looked upon by them and carried out by them without remorse as their bounden duty. … There is no social evil and no social wrong to which the Brahmin does not give his support.”

Ambedkar’s basic message was that (a) Indian society is dominated by an all-pervading religion named Hinduism, (b) this is a bad and wrong religion, which has no universal spiritual principles, (c) its evil Brahmin priests are responsible for inventing its multitude of commands and prohibitions, (d) the caste system has its sacred foundations in Hinduism, (e) this Hindu system prevents a true nation and society from coming into being in India. To annihilate caste, one would of course have to destroy its foundations—the religion that has produced it; consequently, the annihilation of caste entailed the annihilation of Hinduism.

This is what Ambedkar stood for. He echoed such utterances as though they constituted a rational and moral analysis of a culture; in reality, these were discarded scraps of an old Christian theology of false religion now presented as facts about the world. If our ‘colossus’ had even an inkling of the Protestant Christian framework which produced the judgements he reproduced, he could have spared himself the effort and summed up his harangue in one simple sentence: “Hinduism is false religion and it needs to disappear.”

What, then, can one say to the people who try to present Ambedkar as a great thinker and humanitarian visionary? Imagine a preacher in today’s world who insists that a particular religion is false and evil and needs to be wiped from the face of the earth. He would not be considered a paragon of humanitarian vision but a dangerous fanatic. Ambedkarites make an exception for Hinduism, which indeed needs to be wiped out according to them, but that is because they truly believe it is a false and evil religion. Their hatred is not only inspired by centuries of preaching Western Christian stories about India as God-given truth, but even more so by decades of emotional investment and vested interest. They are among the dangerous fanatics of today.

S. Aravindan NeelakandanBut what about the Hindutva ideologues who have joined the bandwagon? In his piece “Hindutva and Dr. Ambedkar” (Swarajya, 12 September 2015), Aravindan Neelakandan writes [from behind a paywall], that the academic activists in the West are responsible for reinventing Ambedkar as “the icon against the Indian State in general and Hinduism in particular;” the left in India merely embraced this “reinvented image.” According to him, the truth is that Ambedkar’s “life, work and philosophy were built on an Indic sensibility, a passionate desire for Hindu unity, and cultural nationalism.” This denial of truth in the name of truth is sickening.

Neelakandan’s thesis goes something like this: Ambedkar claims that all of India has a strong cultural unity, but this homogeneous unit was divided by caste. To become a nation, India has to find ‘spiritual unity’ and this is prevented by the Hindu caste system, which stands in the way of Hindu unity (sangathan). In Neelakandan’s own words:

“His vision of Hinduism is a united strong Hinduism—battle-ready and prepared to take on Abrahamic religions. To realize this vision, there is only one major crucial obstacle and that is caste. So it has to go, not only for Hinduism to survive but for it to prosper.”

Indeed, Ambedkar claimed that caste consciousness is the reason why neither the Hindus nor the Indians can be said to form a nation or a society. How sensible is this? If we leave aside the Protestant Christian conception of ‘the Hindu caste system,’ which is anything but scientific, we can make one simple observation: it is characteristic of Indian culture in general and the Hindu traditions in particular that they accommodate a tremendous variety of jatis and other groups, which follow their own traditions and have their own swamis, temples, and mathas (or similar such institutions).

People are part of the jati in which they are born; mostly, they continue the practices transmitted to them by their ancestors and taught to them by their parents; they go to their swamis for guidance and to their temples to do puja. Now, what is wrong with this?

Of course, there has been discrimination and conflict among members of these groups. But how does this prevent nationhood or national unity? In every nation under the sun, there was and is discrimination and conflict between groups that are not just social classes. In the United States, for instance, we see ethnic groups, linguistic groups, and religious denominations, which are discriminated from each other and have known conflict. In India, there are jatis. In America, apparently, the existence of such empirical groups and the undeniable discrimination among them do not prevent nationhood. How could caste (and caste discrimination) then prevent India from becoming a united nation?

Only one framework can make sense of this idea that members of a nation should all belong to one and the same community without discrimination: namely, the notion of the nation intrinsic to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Each of these religions claims that their believers are united as a community in God, where they relate to each other as equals: the chosen people of God for the Jews, the communitas or ecclesia for the Christians, and the ummah for the Muslims. As such, in these religions, all are equally part of the same community and this is what makes them a nation. Hence also, Christianity and Islam developed a typical condemnation of Hinduism: it does not create this kind of community and instead chops up the believers into a hierarchy of castes; this shows that it is a false divisive religion that denies the equality of believers before God.

This condemnation was reproduced in a ‘secular’ form not only by Western scholars, but also by colonized Indians like Ambedkar. Stripped of rhetoric, factoids, and anecdotes, his writings on caste say one thing over and over again: Hinduism is not (like) Christianity; it should become (like) Christianity. But this is what the missionaries and colonials had been saying all along. Inevitably, our supposed ‘fighter for Hindu unity’ also peddled the accompanying Western Christian moral judgements about the Hindus: they are anti-social, inhumane, and indifferent to others’ suffering; they are slaves of their religion and its priesthood; they have ‘fouled the air all over.’

In the name of taking on the so-called ‘Abrahamic religions’, then, Ambedkar and his acolytes are selling out to these religions. If Neelakandan is right about the natural alliance between Ambedkar and Hindutva, there is only one conclusion we can come to: Hindutva can be neither Hindu nor Indian. Succumbing to a colonial orientalist discourse rooted in Christianity, Ambedkar pleads for the eradication of all characteristics that distinguish the Hindu traditions from this religion. The other non-Christian and non-Muslim traditions of India—including the Buddhist traditions—also share most of these characteristics. Consequently, no matter what they may write about Hindu unity and such like, Ambedkar and his followers are advocating one simple message: Indian culture deserves destruction.

To promote the annihilation of a culture and its traditions without any understanding is one of the worst things one can do to humanity. Our cultures and our roots are all we have to save us from the loss of bearings that is overtaking the contemporary world. For India, the rediscovery of its cultural resources will be essential to its future survival.

Yet, instead of taking this seriously, the country is witness to the rising celebration of a ‘thinker’ whose ‘thought’ stands diametrically opposed to this endeavour. If there is one piece of evidence that establishes the intellectual and ethical bankruptcy of India’s ideologues on all sides of the political spectrum, it must be their glorification of Ambedkar’s thought. Does that make him into the ‘jewel of India’, the Bharat Ratna? – Swarajya, 30 September 2015

» Dr Jakob De Roover is a professor at the Department of Comparative Science of Cultures at Ghent University, Belgium. He is a member of an international research group that does research in the comparative study of Indian culture and Western culture.

B.R. Ambedkar statue at Ambedkar Park

Dharmashastra: How we can transform society with Hindu dharma – Rohini Bakshi

Satyavrata is Vaivaswatha Manu

Rohini Bakshi“I believe that our dharma tradition is flexible, practical and humane. Undoubtedly, ancient texts have rules and beliefs that are abhorrent to our modern, liberal sensitivities, and in no way am I suggesting that we follow ancient practices to the detriment of any section of society. Rather I’m proposing that ten or five, or four, or even three learned manīṣīs form a pariṣad and write a fresh dharma text or texts. They have never stopped being written.” – Rohini Bakshi

Manu and Brihaspati Articles about the dharmaśāstras invariably focus on Manu and come in a highly polemic form. You are likely to see listings of verses from Manu which are deleterious, for instance, to the status of women, or you might see an exclusive focus on verses from Manu extolling women. So I was understandably and pleasantly surprised to see this blogpost by @vAsukeya, which focused on not only the ability, but also the requirement of dharma texts to adapt to the need of the times—a little known and much ignored characteristic of dharma literature. I hope to persuade you with this article that the alleviation of social ills blamed on the dharma tradition can be solved most effectively through the tradition itself.

The fundamental basis of this column is to show why we need to “bother with” Sanskrit. Studying the nature of dharma texts directly, rather than depending on polemics is most certainly an example. 

Dharmaśāstras are normative and considered binding on members of the Ārya community. A lesser known fact is that they reveal intense disputes and divergent views on a variety of topics.[1]

This nuance that is lost unless we study and understand the texts ourselves rather than depend on bowdlerisers and narrative builders. Not only do individual dharma texts differ from each other, one can find contradictory rules within the same text (as we see in Manu with regard to women). In addition, and more germane to our discussion, dharma literature far from being set in stone, has repeatedly shown its ability to respond to socio-economic, cultural and political change.

Take, for example, the inclusion in Manu of a systematised rājadharma detailing the duties and responsibilities of a king. In the dharmasūtras that predate Manu,[2] references to statecraft, the king, judicial and royal procedures are scattered and scarce.

Scholars posit that the advent of large kingdoms and empires (such as Mauryan) made the need to present rājadharma systematically imperative. Another fundamental change in the dharma texts is the accommodation of bhakti and the concept of an iṣṭa deva/devī.

Prayaścitta (expiation) in the early dharmasūtra were limited mostly to recitation of Vedic hymns, fasts, and other austerities. Later texts like the Parāśarasmṛti (PS) include the worship of gods (as we know them today) to atone for transgressions. PS 6.7 states that a killer of certain birds can purify himself by showing reverence to Śiva (Śivapūjyaviśudhyati). The bali offering to Nārāyaṇa in the Vaiṣṇava Vaikhānasasmārtasūtram (10.9-10) again is evidence of how the worship of an iṣṭa god had become the norm.

Manu sits at the watershed of the Vedic and the Purāṇic modes of worship. While tradition sees continuity rather than rupture between these two, there is no denying that modes of worship and expiation were changing. So Manu displays the decreasing importance of early prayaścitta like the aśvamedhayajña in statements like “A man who abstains from meat and a man who offers the horse sacrifice every year for a hundred years, the reward for their meritorious acts is the same.” (M 5.53) Yet, in Manu, the killing of a cow is a lower order transgression (upapātaka), the prayaścitta for which is the same as if the perpetrator were to give instructions as, or receive instructions from a paid teacher, or cut down trees for firewood. (M 11.60-67. For the prayaścitta, see M 11.109-118) Compare Manu’s stance to an entire chapter in Parāśarasmṛti (Ch 9 Gosevopadeśavarṇanam) on how to care for cows/cattle. It has detailed prayaścitta for every conceivable harm—unwitting or deliberate—that might come to them. PS 9.52 states clearly that Manu was wanting in this area. This reflects the heightened importance of cows in Hinduism, as was practised in that era.

Let’s look at another example—that of the “purification” of women. Vasiṣṭhadharmasūtra (VD) has this to say about women: “A woman is not polluted by a lover (28.1) … whether she has strayed on her own or she has been expelled, whether she has been raped forcibly or abducted by robbers, a wife who has been defiled should not be forsaken. There is no law permitting the forsaking of a wife. One should wait for her to menstruate; she is purified by her menstrual period (28.2-3).”

Compare this leniency with Manu (8.371) who mandates that an unfaithful woman should be “devoured by dogs in a public square frequented by many.” Yet, at 11.171, Manu says “The husband should keep an adulterous wife confined in a single room and make her perform the observance prescribed for a man who has sex with another man’s wife.”

Reflecting the leniency of Vasiṣṭhadharmasūtra, the 10th century Devalasmṛti, written in Sind [now dealing with the changed scenario of contact with and abductions by foreign invaders (mlecchaiḥ)] mandates that women taken by force are purified by abstaining from sexual intercourse and food for three nights. Even if they become pregnant and bear a child from the said abduction, they were as pure as gold after their menses resumed after the birth of the child.

@vAsukeya’s path breaking blog quotes Manu, Yāgñavalkya, and renowned commentary Mitākṣara from P. V. Kane’s magisterial study of the dharma texts. He says practices which are lokavikṛṣṭa (distanced from) or lokavidviṣṭa (odious) should be discontinued. So, not only does the dharma tradition absorb new practices, it is required to expel old ones which have become distasteful. Manu Chapter 5 on rules for food allows the eating of meat if it is part of the Vedic sacrifice.

If a dvija refuses to eat ritually consecrated meat, “after death he will become an animal for twenty-one life times.” (M 5.35-36) Yet at 5.56, he says that abstaining (from meat) brings greater rewards. This ambivalence reflects the debate on meat-eating that was raging at the time, as a reading of an un-edited version of the contemporaneous Mahābhārata shows. In forbidden foods, Manu does not mention beef even once. The only cow related product to be eschewed is colostrum (gavyam ca pīyūṣam at 5.6). By contrast, the later Parāśara is unequivocal. If the brahmin consumes beef, he must perform a severe penance to atone. (P 11.1)

With these contradictions, how are we to determine which is the correct rule and which isn’t? Well, the famous and infamous Manu is in no doubt. “When there are two contradictory scriptural provisions on some issue … tradition takes them both to be the law … for they have both been pronounced to be the law by wise men (manīṣibhiḥ) (M 2.14). And what happens when specific laws have not been laid down? Then a pariṣad, a legal assembly of learned people can be formed. Depending on their qualifications, this could consist of ten people, or five or four or three. Parāśara concurs at 8.7 and 11. However M 12.113 categorically states, “When even a single brahmin who knows the Veda determines something as the law, it should be recognised as the highest law….”

What does this all too brief excursion of dharma texts tell us? Well it tells me that far from being static, fossilised and retrogressive, the dharma tradition is a dynamic, fluid one, all too ready to adapt and change with times. For instance, Āpastamba outlines what noble conduct is in the gambling hall. (Ā 2.25.12-14)

Manu, however, feels the need to suppress it with violence, including execution for gamblers. (M 9.221-228) Parāśarasmṛti explains it best when it proclaims itself to be a dharma text for this yuga (kali). It specifies at P 11.50 that there are different dharmas prescribed for different ages, and that the good brahmin must not be censured for following the yuga-dharma. As the age is, so should the brahmin be.

This brings me to the purpose of undertaking this study. I believe that our dharma tradition is flexible, practical and humane. Undoubtedly, ancient texts have rules and beliefs that are abhorrent to our modern, liberal sensitivities, and in no way am I suggesting that we follow ancient practices to the detriment of any section of society. Rather I’m proposing that ten or five, or four, or even three learned manīṣīs form a pariṣad and write a fresh dharma text or texts. They have never stopped being written.

As recently as the 17th century, Trayambakayajvan wrote the very conservative Strīdharmapaddhati, and a hundred years later Bālam Bhaṭṭi by Bālakṛṣṇa gave wide latitude to women in property matters and other rights. All it takes is one learned brahmin who knows the Veda to change what we define as dharma. This has phenomenal implications for the uplift of the oppressed and underprivileged members of Hindu society. For us to come comprehensively into the 21st century, all we need is an age appropriate dharmaśāstra.

And if your reaction is to scoff, remember, when Manu was written, it was a new text. – DailyO, 21 August 2015

References

1. Olivelle, P, 1999, Dharmasūtras, OUP, pg xxi

2. While absolute dating is impossible, a relative chronology is accepted widely. The dharmasūtras are believed to pre-date Manu, while other key dharmaśāstras postdate him. Please see Kane, P.V., History of Dharmaśāstras. Approximate dates: Dharmasūtras 600 – 200 BCE; Manu 200 BCE – 100 CE; Parāśara 500 CE.

» Rohini Bakshi’s interests include Sanskrit (founder #SanskritAppreciationHour), Indian Army, womens’ empowerment, and justice for #1984. She describes herself as a devout Hindu, egalitarian, and liberal. She tweets @RohiniBakshi.

Manusmriti recorded on palm leaves

Should Hindus do nothing to save their tradition? – Virendra Parekh

Virendra Parekh“Hindu civilization is locked in a deadly battle for survival in the only land it can claim as its own. Its old enemies are adopting ever new tactics. It is an unequal fight. Hinduism which has no organisational centre is expected to fight a highly powerful Church in terms of finances, organisation and motivation to protect its numbers. Hindus who cannot sustain animosity against anyone for long are up against incessant streams of jihadi terrorists raring to enjoy celestial nymphs in heaven after embracing martyrdom in the cause of Allah. The financial, organisational, political and manpower resources of Hindu organisations are a drop in ocean compared to the task before them.” – Virendra Parekh

Mother IndiaHindu secularists have infinite capacity for self-deception. Even when reality stares them in the face, they manage to convince themselves that there is really speaking no problem at all, things will eventually sort themselves out and, in any case, there is no reason for them to worry—or act.

Faced with Islamic separatism, gangsterism and jihadi terrorism, they have invented a ‘real’ Islam which is enlightened and tolerant if not benevolent towards non-Muslims but is misinterpreted by some misguided elements. When confronted with social disruption and political disaffection wrought by missionaries converting people through money, muscle and manipulation, they assure you that Hinduism is in a great era of resurgence and the puny efforts of foreign missionaries cannot threaten it.

Self-deceptionTheir most favourite deception is coloured with flattery. Hinduism is an eternal tradition, we are told; it has continued to flourish in the face of sustained onslaughts through ages and cannot be destroyed by shallow belief systems which lack depth and interiority. This superficial praise is actually a pretext for doing nothing. Indeed, this high-sounding view of Hinduism is often used as a handle to browbeat and rundown those who point out the dangers it is facing.

It is, therefore, necessary to take a hard look around and within to ascertain whether Hindus can adopt a laid-back approach and Hinduism can be blissfully abandoned to its own devices.

Muhammad bin Qasim was an Umayyad general who conquered the Sindh and Multan regions along the Indus River (now a part of Pakistan) for the Umayyad Caliphate. He was born and raised in the city of Taif (in modern-day Saudi Arabia). Qasim's conquest of Sindh and southern-most parts of Multan enabled further Islamic expansion into India.It is true that Hinduism has survived murderous onslaughts of determined enemies and yet retained a great deal of its identity and vitality. But we shall be deceiving ourselves if we pretend that no harm has come to it. Hinduism survives as a wounded civilization, bleeding profusely. We need not go back to the Arab invasion of Sind (712 AD) or Mahmud Ghazni’s raids at the beginning of the last millennium. Let us go no farther than the last hundred years or so.

While there is no doubt that the Hindus have tremendous progress in material sense, they have suffered heavy losses and reverses in terms of territory, demography, politics and ideology.

Large parts of Bharatvarsh have now been ceded officially and permanently to self-declared enemies of Hinduism and Hindu society. The land of Saptasindhu, where Vasishtha and Vishwamitra chanted Vedic hymns and performed sacrifices and King Sudas defeated his adversaries in a fierce battle recorded in the Rigveda, is now largely an enemy territory. We cherish the memory of Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, but three-fourth of Bengal is now foreign territory. The remaining one-fourth is rapidly Islamising under the benign gaze of its secularist rulers.

Back in those days, Hindus constituted about 80 per cent of the undivided pre-partition India or what is now fashionably called the Indian subcontinent. Today, they constitute about 66 per cent of that area. In other words, the ratio of Hindus to non-Hindus has come down from 4 to 1 to just 2 to 1. Even in the truncated post-partition India, the proportion of Hindus has been declining at an alarming rate in Census after Census. The situation is so grim that the government is unwilling to disclose the communal composition of Indian population as per Census 2011. Most probably, the Hindu population has fallen below 80 per cent.

Political losses have been worse. Nehruvian secularism was aimed at moral disarmament of Hindus, and it has succeeded remarkably on that front. A constitution, made by enlightened and patriotic Hindus, discriminates against Hindus. Islam and Christianity can be taught in government-aided schools and colleges, but not Hinduism. The government can and does interfere with the administration and management of temples; it often diverts temple funds to non-Dharmic and even anti-Hindu purposes. But it does not dare touch mosques or churches. India is the only country in the world where the minorities enjoy rights which are refused in law and in practice to the majority.

In the name of secularism, we have created a polity in which all the rights, privileges and prerogatives belong to non-Hindus, and all the duties, obligations and responsibilities are saddled on Hindus. A missionary converting Hindus to Christianity is only exercising his fundamental right given in the constitution, but any attempt to bring them back to their ancestral tradition is frowned upon as an assault on minority rights, a divisive endeavour.

Narendra Modi with Christian and Muslim clerics. In the early years of independence, Muslims were apologetic for breaking up the country. Today, they hold, or they think they hold, the key to political power in India. No leader, however honest, competent, popular and patriotic, is regarded as fit to rule India unless he is accepted or at least tolerated by Muslims. Although Hindus constitute 80 per cent of the population, the 12 per cent minority has acquired a veto over who can and who cannot rule the country. It is too early to say whether Narendra Modi has broken for good this Muslim stranglehold on Indian democracy.

Even more significant are the ideological losses. A hundred years ago, Swami Vivekananda could declare India as the homeland of Hinduism and Hindu society. He, like countless other leaders, could identify Hinduism as the essence of Indian nationalism. Hundred years ago, Maharishi Aurobindo could say at a public meeting that India rises with the rise of Sanatana Dharma, and India declines with the decline of Sanatana Dharma. Hundred years ago, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan penned his classic Indian Philosophy without including Islam and Christianity for the valid reason that they are not Indian and they have no philosophy.

Nobody accused Vivekananda, Aurobindo or Radhakrishnan of being a communalist, a Hindu supremacist, a polarizing figure preaching a divisive and disruptive ideology. But today that view of India as the cradle of Vedic culture, of Hinduism as the essence of Indian nationalism, the very perception of India as Hindu Rashtra is unmentionable in politically correct circles. From a nation, Hindus are reduced to a community. Under Nehruvian secularism, Hindus are just one of the five-six communities inhabiting this land. They have no special right or title either to the land or its ethos. In fact, an educated Hindu is expected to behave as if he is making amends for being a Hindu.

The multi-pronged attack on Hinduism has, if anything, intensified in recent decades, whether by jihadi terrorism, fraudulent conversions, or the pronounced anti-Hindu bias of the mainstream media. The film industry, which exercises powerful influence on the highly impressionable young generation, is dominated by an unending succession of Muslim male stars. Is this purely an accident?

Modi & Sri RamaNarendra Modi’s resounding victory in the Lok Sabha election has been interpreted as a massive self-assertion by the Hindus who feel cornered on all sides in their own country. Even if it is so, his ascension to power is only the beginning of a marathon effort at Hindu self-renewal. Notice the palpable relief among BJP’s new-found supporters at the virtual abandonment of ghar wapasi. Notice how often Modi is urged even by his ardent supporters to ‘tell off loony hotheads of Hindutva’ and focus on development instead. His silence on the Hindutva issues is very eloquent; but if it is all that he has to offer then it may not be adequate.

Credit Card & CrossMake no mistake about it. Hindu civilization is locked in a deadly battle for survival in the only land it can claim as its own. Its old enemies are adopting ever new tactics. It is an unequal fight. Hinduism which has no organisational centre is expected to fight a highly powerful Church in terms of finances, organisation and motivation to protect its numbers. Hindus who cannot sustain animosity against anyone for long are up against incessant streams of jihadi terrorists raring to enjoy celestial nymphs in heaven after embracing martyrdom in the cause of Allah. The financial, organisational, political and manpower resources of Hindu organisations are a drop in ocean compared to the task before them.

Fall of RomeThe nature of war has changed. The means that enabled Hinduism to withstand the might of the Mughal empire may not be much use now. Generals fighting the last war often end up as losers. In fact, history tells us that Hindu rulers went under precisely because of their failure to grasp and respond to the changes in the nature of warfare.

World history is replete with narratives of mighty civilisations and religions which disappeared without a trace. It would be folly to assume that Hinduism can survive and flourish even if Hindus do nothing to save it from its inveterate enemies. The political and demographic space available to it is shrinking fast.

To the secularists, all this may be nothing more than ‘false alarm’ raised by ‘communal forces with a divisive agenda’. They would not shudder at the prospect of Hindus becoming a minority in India and Hinduism becoming extinct.

The question is: what is the response of normal, average Hindu? On the answer to that question depends the survival of Hindu civilisation.

» Virendra Parekh lives in Mumbai and is the Executive Editor of Corporate India.