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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 9, March 2, 2024

Against Hindutva’s appropriation of Indian radicals such as Bhagat Singh and Sahajanand | Jairus Banaji

Friday 1 March 2024, by Jairus Banaji


Against Hindutva’s appropriation of Indian radicals such as Bhagat Singh and Sahajanand; what one sannyasi who led the peasant movement in Bihar, going on to work with both Congress Socialists and the Communists between 1934 and 1942, said about religion in India:

‘What we find today is that religion is totally divested of logic, arguments, and creative ideas. That is its practical form. In other words, today it is expected that people blindly follow whatever instructions maulvis, priests, and bishops give. Whatever the latter say should be taken as the gospel truth. Otherwise, a ‘fatwa’ might be issued against all those who disobey their diktats… In other words, today religion has become totally devoid of rationality, and religious beliefs have hardly anything to do with human intelligence… blind faith has become the mainstay of religion. It no longer remains an individual affair; it has become a communal affair. All religious groups like Hindus, Christians, and Muslims have developed a herd mentality. Thus, religion no longer remains as matter of the heart; it has assumed an outward and symbolic form. For instance, we identify Hindus and Muslims through external symbols like tufts and beards respectively. I for one do not accept this kind of religion. Rather I take such a form of religion as an enemy of society, the nation, and even humanity. It also limits our freedom. If rationality is banished from any system, then everything is lost in the process. I cannot tolerate any kind of restriction or control on my sense of discrimination. I am dead against a system that dictates obedience from people in the name of religion. Hence, I am opposed to the idea of imparting religious education to our children. In my opinion, religion is purely a personal affair just as we have our ears, noses, and eyes. Two persons cannot have the same pair of eyes or intelligence, then how can religion be the same for them?’.

Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, 𝑀𝑒𝑟𝑎 𝐽𝑒𝑒𝑣𝑎𝑛 𝑆𝑎𝑛𝑔ℎ𝑎𝑟𝑠ℎ, now translated as 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑆𝑡𝑟𝑢𝑔𝑔𝑙𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑀𝑦 𝐿𝑖𝑓𝑒, tr. Ramchandra Pradhan, OUP, 2018; the quote comes from p.284.

Sahajanand wrote his autobiography in 1940 while serving a 3-year prison sentence in Hazaribagh Central Jail. It was one of 7 books that he wrote there. The other important text from his time in prison is 𝐾ℎ𝑒𝑡 𝑀𝑎𝑧𝑑𝑜𝑜𝑟 (The Agricultural Labourer) which argues insistently against seeing agricultural labourers in India as a class distinct from the mass of the impoverished peasantry. The manuscript of 𝐾ℎ𝑒𝑡 𝑀𝑎𝑧𝑑𝑜𝑜𝑟 was both published and translated by Walter Hauser in 𝑆𝑎ℎ𝑎𝑗𝑎𝑛𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑜𝑛 𝐴𝑔𝑟𝑖𝑐𝑢𝑙𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑎𝑙 𝐿𝑎𝑏𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑅𝑢𝑟𝑎𝑙 𝑃𝑜𝑜𝑟 (Manohar, 1994; 2005). The master quote of S.’s Hindi manuscript is a quote from Lenin’s 𝐴𝑝𝑟𝑖𝑙 𝑇ℎ𝑒𝑠𝑒𝑠 — “The agrarian programme must be centered around the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies”.

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