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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 39, September 12, 2009

Hindutva Undermines the Pristine Values of Hinduism

Saturday 12 September 2009, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

The RSS is deeply in love with the word “Hindu”, shorn of Hinduism’s values. It owes an obligation to the Indian public to clarify if there is any brand of spirituality that is called Hindutva.

It has recently reiterated that Hindutva is the core of its ideology and rooted in Indian culture and civilisation’s heritage. What exactly are the attributes of this culture as perceived by the RSS? Why are its desired values never spelt out in detail for public edification? If Hindutva is an inalienable ideology, why are its sets of beliefs/ principles not spelt out to sustain the claim? Why are words like “Hindustaniyat” or “Bharatiyata”, which are acceptable to the wider public, not acceptable to the RSS? In ancient times, all people residing in territories to the east of the river “Sindhu” used to be called Hindus. In the mediaeval ages, the Muslim conquerors used to call all non-Muslim Indians “Hindus”. Today when the Jains, the Buddhists, and the Sikhs (who were once in the vanguard for protecting the Hindus from forced conversion to Islam), and even Dalits are refusing to be called Hindus, is it not sheer cussedness to cling to a slogan which is not only losing in appeal but also raising fears and suspicions in a large part of the populace?

Hinduism, as a philosophy, embodied the principle of evolving ever higher syntheses to meet the needs of emerging situations. Does Hindutva lay claim to the same principle? If so, how, in today’s situation of increasing communal discords, can Hindutva serve to reconcile the various conflicting concepts/ viewpoints? If its purpose is different, what exactly is the purpose?

Indian civilisation’s unique feature has been that, for more than a millennium-and-a-half, it has kept recognising the fundamental unity of all religions in their uncorrupted forms. This has given it toleration, a catholicism overriding sectarian views, and scope for reciprocal influences—that is, retaining one’s wholesome aspects and assimilating the better aspects of others. Hinduism—which, as pointed out earlier, meant in ancient times the way of life of all Indians, irrespective of caste or creed —had been comprehensive and syncretic, always seeking unity not in common creed but in a common quest for truth. This quest needed a constant uplifting of spiritual and ethical outlook of life, far from any inkling of divisiveness.

Because of these unique features of Indian culture—which, in today’s language, would be called “fervent polyculturalism” or “mingling of cultures” and wholehearted acceptance of the right of co-existence of all faiths—Indian civilisation reaped several benefits which no other civilisation could aspire to. These were as follows.

(a) Unbroken peace for about 500 years in the post-Gupta age (beginning from the 6th century), after the assimilation of the Huns, which led to a peak of prosperity and upsurge of knowledge creation, extending beyond its borders—to Eastern Turkestan, Tibet, Malay and Indonesia.

(b) Concurrently, the process of fusion of the concepts of Buddhism with the ideas in Hindu philosophy and (China’s) Taoism, and later, the convergence of popular Buddhism with Saivism (and also with Saktism and Vaishnavism) led to a series of reform movements, extending over centuries, culminating in the emergence of great saints from the ranks of the so-called lower castes such as cobblers and sweepers. This process (of fusion of ideas) found its climax in saint Gorakhnath in North India in the 14th century.

(c) Sufism in India, beginning in the 8th century, originating from the mystic thoughts in Islam, and imbibing thoughts from Buddhism, Christianity, Bhagavatism and Vedanta, became the most influential protest movement in the Islamic world against the institutionalisation of religion and its accent on externals.

(d) Partly the challenge of social equality and egalitarianism of the original Islam and partly the endogenic urge to break the barriers of caste and religion, led to a second series of religious reform movements, called the people’s bhakti movement headed by a galaxy of saints such as Ramanand, Kabir, Namdev, Tukaram, Guru Nanak and Sri Chaitanya. This series of reform movements swept North India from the 14th to the 16th century.

(The Bhakti movement in South India had been initiated much earlier by the great Alwars around the second century. From the 7th to the 9th century, it swept the region but later the mystic thoughts yielded place to philosophical and spiritual thoughts which found their climax in the Vishistadwaita (qualified monism) of Ramanujam (1037-1137 AD). With this, the differences between Saivism and Vaishnavism lost their sharp edges and the protests against ceremonials gained strength. These also harmonised reason and intuition, immanence and transcendence.)

(e) In the 16th century, Emperor Akbar, (i) imbibing the mystics of Islam and the spirit of the Upanishads, the Mahabharat and the Geeta, (ii) internalising the teachings of Kabir, Dadu and Nanak, and feeling enraptured by the mystical poetry of Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas and Tulsidas, sought religious synthesis in din-i-ilahi. (universal religion) with the motto of sulh-i-kul (peace with all). Eclectic piecing together of the essentials of all religions, then known in India, died after his death. But the striving for synthesis of religions by an emperor was possibly unique in the world.

(f) In the 17th century, Prince Dara Shikoh went wholeheartedly into the spiritual movements in India, studied in translation Hebrew, Christian and Brahmanical scriptures, learnt the yogic practices and Sufi methods of meditation, the doctrine of bhakti and the mystical philosophy of Islam, and produced the immortal work “Majmua-ul-Bahrain” (mingling of two oceans) and several other books. If the conspiracies of the fanatical mullahs had not succeeded in defeating and murdering him, Indian history would have taken a different turn..

If India, thanks to her principle of co-existence of all faiths, achieved such wonderful results in the fields of religio-spiritualism and culture, her harvests in literary and sciences-and-arts exchange fields were no less spectacular. For brevity’s sake, only the contributions of Muslims, the so-called religious minorities, will be mentioned below. It is the ambience of freedom and one-ness that made these contributions possible.

(a) In the 12th century, four Muslims—Masud, Kutubali, Akram and Faiz—won celebrity as Hindi poets.

(b) In the 14th century, Amir Khusrau composed such exquisite verses from the dialects of Hindi such as brajabhasa, avadhi and khari boli as are still sung in the villages of North India. Even Sanskrit words came into his verses. He is also regarded as the originator of Urdu, a camp language, combining Hindi and Persian. He wrote about Indian legends with such passion that he came to be called “the parrot of India”.

(c) Hindi romantic poetry owed its beginning to Mulla Daud (Amir Khusrau’s contemporary), Kutban, Manjhan, Jaisi and Usman. In the words of Radhakamal Mukherijee, the doyen of Indian sociology,

the dominating features of this romantic movement in Hindi literature, in which Muslim writers took such a leading part, were the treatment of human love in the pattern of divine love and the merging of the sensuous and the spiritual in the ceaseless adventure of the love-intoxicated soul that defies social conventions. This literary movement later merged in the mystical-philosophical movement of Sufism under the influence of Hindu philosophy of life.

(d) “Jaisi was the harbinger at once of Hindi literature and Hindu-Muslim cultural unity.”

(e) Many Muslim rulers gave impetus to the growth of provincial literatures.

By cultivation and fostering care of the vernaculars, they brought themselves in intimate contact with the social and spiritual life and aspirations of the people.

(f) Many Hindu (read ancient Indian) treatises on philosophy, medicine, mathematics and astrology were translated into Arabic and Persian; and it is through Arabia that these literatures were transmitted to Europe. Hindu astronomy and medicine, too, borrowed several new notions and terms from Arabia. It is the Arabs who broadcast to the world that the “Hindus excel in these sciences” and that “they have developed to perfection arts like sculpture, painting and architecture” and that “the Hindus are superior to all other nations in intelligence and thoughtfulness”.

Part II

The word “Hindu” lost its earlier connotation long back. For nearly a thousand years, it has been used in a restrictive sense. Hindutva—or even Hinduism —does not now inspire the sense of catholiticism which it used to do earlier. Insistence on the word Hindutva raises fears in—and alienates—many religious communities. Hence the springs of creativity which Hinduism’s (ancient Indians’) confederal principle (of co-existence of all faiths) used to evoke, are drying up now, with the RSS’ unthinking insistence on Hindutva. This is abandonment of India’s synthesising culture. The RSS should, therefore, agree to adopt Hindustaniyat. The banner of Bharatiyata or sarva-dharma-sama-bhava will be still better.

Arguably, the RSS may say that since a segment of Muslim population harbours separatist sentiments, Hindutva should be used as a counter- pull so that a balance could eventually be struck. This would be a false logic. Negativism can never be a cure for another negativism.

True, Muslimist militancy and separatism are virulent today. These have raised their ugly head not only in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, but also in Russia, China, the Philippines and even in France, Germany and the UK, where Muslims cohabit with people of other faiths. But separatism has its own logic and propulsion. It gets internalised and the separatist camp keeps splitting continually and ends in internal strife. In separatism’s growth phase, it unites other forces against itself. At present, most countries of Europe and America have developed Islamophobia of one or the other kind. This will keep creating pressures on the Muslimist separatists who will find it difficult to live in exclusion. Hindutva, in this situation, will be counterproductive. It will rather give a semblance of justification for separatism and weaken the worldwide revulsion against Muslimist separatism.

No doubt, the Islamic clerics have been blind to the fact that Hazrat Muhammad had, in Medina and other places, at first tried to build a unified society and did not wage battles until the lives of Muslims, the new converts to Islam, were imperilled. Their separatism can now be debunked and beaten back by showing that these clerics never bother about the Muslim masses’ secular education and livelihood problems or women’s dignity and seek advantages only for themselves. Notably, today’s non-Muslims, too, fail to drive the nail in the coffin of “Islamic” separatism by waging a battle by flaunting some facts of life. The plain fact is that a Bengali Muslim has closer genetic affinity with a Bengali Hindu than with a Saudi Arabian Muslim. So does a Gujarati Muslim with a Gujarati Hindu. Climate and natural resources—soil, water, rainfall characteristics, air, temperature, extent of humidity or dryness, local biodiversity exert influence on the genetic make-up of a population. The manner of worship does not. Should we not deplore our failure to wage battle by citing such facts and dispelling ignorance?

The followers of separatist leaders can also be alerted to the perils of cutting up an organic entity. The portion that gets carved out or the polity that forcibly gets separated, comes to be gripped more tightly by vested interests (as the people of Pakistan have been, by nawabs, feudal lords, and Generals of armed forces).

Universal love, if practised unreservedly, is a force before which every human being will have to bow. Blind zealots may take a little more time to yield. But yield they must. By rising to a higher level of humaneness and by using superior logic, separatism can be made to melt away. If before this country’s partition in 1947 we failed to counter separatism, it is because we got unnerved by the separatists’ belligerence, failed to evolve a statesman-like strategy to foil it, and surrendered to the separatist demand in despair. That is no reason for clinging to the ideology of Hindutva, which itself epitomises divisiveness and feeds its opposite brand of separatism.

Now, let us come to the RSS’ call for “youth in leadership”. This, by itself, is not very potential when the basic ideology is flawed. We see many persons, who are young in age but fossils in thinking. Varun Gandhi, the son of a superbly knowledgeable mother, is an example. Even Rahul Gandhi, who has learnt the mannerisms that attract, has yet to do manas yatra (voyage of the mind) which needs deep and holistic thinking on the country’s and humanity’s fundamental problems.


After this article was scripted, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has said in a press conference that (i) the word Hindutva should now be understood in a new light, and (ii) it is equivalent to Bharatiyata since the RSS regards all Indians as Hindus. This is a clever way of clinging to the charmed word ‘Hindutva’. The word ‘Hindutva’ was coined by Savarkar with an underlying premise that the conglomerate of religious communities which, over the last one thousand years, has been known as Hindus is a separate nation within the Indian nation and Hindutva is its ideology. This concept was in some measure parallel to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s concept of Muslims as a separate nation. Hindutva was very different from Sri Aurobindo’s inclusive concept of Hindu nationalism which was not at all divisive. The RSS must admit that Hindutva’s basic premise was wrong and divisive, and that it must now bat for Bharatiyata so as not to have any scope for confusion.

At this moment, a heart-warming event is taking place in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. The Hindu inmates are observing Roza (that is, fasting in the daytime) along with their Muslim fellow-prisoners and sharing the food brought by their kins in the evenings, in this month of Ramzan. This is quintessentially Indian civilisation. Bonhomie between religious and racial communities is its credo. Sectarian ideologies savouring sectarianism are incongruous with it.

[While the arguments adduced above are the author’s own, the historical facts have been taken from Radhakamal Mukherjee’s book, A History of Indian Civilisation

—Part II.]

The author is one of the country’s earliest environ-mentalists and a social philosopher. He can be contacted at sailendranathghosh@yahoo.com and sailendranathg@gmail.com

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