Historical Background

The ‘Great’ Leap of Hindutva - I

Badruddin Umar

The way Hindutva has expanded not only its influence but its hegemony in Indian politics is a dreadful affair. It is also dangerous for the neighbouring countries of India. In order to defeat this reaction, it is not enough only to criticise and oppose the RSS, the BJP or Narendra Modi. In reality it has no effectiveness. It is great stupidity to think that this situation in which Indian politics stands today is a miracle or fortuitous event. Nothing happens without reason. Hence without an investigation and proper explanation, it cannot be changed, however sharp the criticism from an opposition. Needless to say that it is rooted in the Indian society itself, and its reasons have to be investigated with reference to Indian history. It is no exaggeration to say that Hindus of ancient India had no sense of history. For this reason, although much excellent literature was composed on the basis of religious scripts like the Vedas and the Upanishadas  and epics like the Ramayana  and the Mahabharata.  As a sequel to this, many of their later statements and discussions only betray an ignorance of history.

It is just due to ignorance of history and sense of history that many confusions and false notions have been generated among Hindus about Islam and Muslims.This ignorance is found among many Hindu scholars and great persons also. Swami Vivekananda had much broadness, and he cannot be called communal in the ordinary sense. But several of his statements regarding Islam and Muslims are seemingly communal. If they are not products of ignorance, they cannot be called anything but communal.

In one article named ‘Muslim Conquest’ Swami Vivekananda asserts, “Under Muslim rule, on the other hand, the flourishing of priesthood was impossible. Hazrat Muhammad was entirely against this force and formulated rules, as far as he could, for the utter destruction of that force. Under Muslim rule, the king himself is the head priest; he himself is the religious arbiter (dharmaguru)  and if he is the emperor, he often cherishes the hope of being the leader of the whole of the Muslim world. Jews, or Christians are not wholly hateful to Muslims, they are only weak believers. But the kafir, idol worshipper Hindus are only meant for sacrifices in this life and consigned to live in the eternal Hell in the end. The Muslim king can only kindly allow the religious leaders the priests of these kafirs to live somehow, and that too only occasionally. Otherwise, when the king becomes more devoted to religion, the great ritual of killing kafirs is arranged. “Collected Works of Vivekananda, Nabapatra Prakashan, September 1993, p-101)

Although Islam was opposed to priesthood and the King, as the Caliph, was the religious head, the Muslim nawabs and emperors of India were not such heads. In the middle-east too, it was not that all the Muslim sultans and emperors were religious heads. After Muhammad, the four caliphs and Umaia and Abbasi sultans and emperors were religious heads as Caliphs. Subsequent Muslim Caliphs were not that much influential as religious heads. Besides they never had any links with the Hindu society. During the Sultani and Pathan-Mughal periods in India, emperors did not claim themselves to be religious heads. Such heads were Sufi and Islamic preachers among whom there were devotees like Khaja Moinuddin Chisti, Nijamuddin Aulia etc. They did not resort to weapons for preaching religion. There is no evidence that they ever tortured Hindus into apostasy. It is not that Sultans and emperors did so. Occasionally there were exceptions but that had no relation with Islam. These were done out of imperial considerations. It is necessary to state here in this connection that during the Muslim period of rule Many Hindus were installed in high positions in the sultani and badshahi administration. There was considerable Hindu presence even during the reign of Aurangzeb. About Akbar, not much should be said. Among his illustrious nine jewels, four were Hindus, namely Tansen, Todar Mal, Bir Bal and Man Singh. Wasn’t even the case of these nine jewels of Akbar unknown to Vivekananda? It is indeed surprising how he, inspite of this, could utter the afore-mentioned words about Muslim rulers. There is indeed no evidence in history and during the Sultani and Pathan-Mughal period there was any large ritualistic killing of kafirs.”

On the rise of Islam, Vivekananda said, “Again, on this side the religion of Musalmans rose in the deserts of Arabia. The Arabs, who were like wild beasts struck at the earth, inspired by a mahapurusa (superman) with indomitable vigour and unhindered force.” (The East and the West). He further says, “This negligible beast-like Arab community spread in the world with lightning speed.” (The Traveller);“ancient Greece, the source of civilization, faded ....the light of Europe was extinguished, and in Asia, a most barbaric nations, the Arabs grew and spread.” Vivekananda was not certainly an illiterate fool. He was remarkably erudite in various subjects. But such statements testify to his ignorance of the history of Arabia and Middle-East. Here it should also be said that if he were knowledgeable on this subject, such comments must be expressions of rancour.

He called Hajrat Muhammad a Mahapurusa.  But can such a person be born in a barbaric community? In Arabia, the Bedouins (Arabic nomads) lived a life that had little connection with civilisation. But the Bedouin tribe and the Arab community were not synonymous nor they are now. There was no dearth of educated persons in Arabia before the rise of Muhammad. The Arabic literature of those times was remakable, and there was a poet genius like Imrul Kayes. Arabic prose literature was also very much developed. Avowed enemies of Islam too always recognised the excellence of Hazrat Muhammad’s language. His language was, to be sure, was not something that was isolated from the language of Arabic literature.

After speaking of the fading away of ancient Greece, the source of civilisation, and of the extinction of the light of Europe, he spoke of the spread of a extremely barbaric community like the Arabs in the Asian part of the globe. But he did not know that in the phase subsequent to the ‘fading away of Greece’ and ‘extinction of the light of Europe’, for several centuries until the rise of the Renaissance in Europe, it was the Arabs who spread the light of knowledge of subjects like philosophy, science, sociology, history etc. Didn’t Vivekananda, by using the epithet ‘an extremely barbaric community’ about these Arabs, show his own ignorance? It is correct to call it ignorance, instead of rancour, because he said elsewhere in regard to Muslims, ‘‘Why is the number of Muslims so large among the poor people of India? It is foolish to suggest that they were forced into apostasy with the help of sword.” ‘‘Muslim conquest of India was the reason for the deliverance of the poor, downtrodden people. It is due to poverty and social neglect that one-fifth of our population has become Muslims. It is sheer lunacy to think that it was accomplished with sword and fire-power only.” (The Future of India, Ibid, Collected Writngs of Vivekananda) Of the Hindu leaders of the nineteenth century, Vivekananda was a religious preacher. Yet much emphasis has been laid on him here, because he had a broadness of outlook. One sort of example of the Hindu attitude towards the Muslim community can be found in Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, who was the foremost figure among the Hindu leaders of the nineteenth century. He himself did not have any religious belief. Nobody had a greater contribution than him on Hindu social reforms, introduction of modern reforms, securing women’s rights etc. But to call him communal is entirely erroneous. The reason is that his writings and movements for social reforms do not suggest that there was anything like the Muslim society in his time. There was no existence of Muslims in his social thought. Otherwise he could not have remained completely indifferent about the Muslim society. This separation is significant. The other point meriting mention is that history was not a subject of his cultivation of knowledge. The way he, being a victim of the cheap propaganda of the English, abused, following the concocted story of the black-hole killings, Siraj-Ud-Doula as a ‘scoundrel’ makes one clear about the limit of his knowledge of history. In this respect, he was no exception, because this was the state of knowledge of the Hindu educated gentry and social law-givers. One major exception was Raja Rammohun Ray. It is not known whether any study has so far been made on the role of the indifference of caste Hindus about cultivation of history in creating the social separation between Hindus and Muslims in India.

On the cultivation of history by Indians, Professor Hiren Mukherjee, the eminent historian, writes in his Bharatbarser Itihas (‘History of India’), “In this country of India, which always has a preference for outdated times, it seems that from about the ancient period, apathy and indifference to history was inculcated into the people’s minds very deeply, as if in an extremely well-planned manner, in order to ensure the stasis of the society. History has, however been called the ‘Fifth Veda’, much praise has been uttered for ‘history’, Puranas, etc. But the genius of Indians has as a matter of fact, remained aloof from the study and writing of history. We do not have anything similar to the Greek sequence represented by thinkers like Herodotus, Thucydides etc.”

On the Arabs whom Vivekananda called ‘negligible beasts’ ‘barbarians’ etc, Professor Mukherjee writes in the same book, “ In our country it was the Arabs who first introduced the term History whose Arabic synonym is Tarikh (date). We know of the moment of birth of Ram Chandra and Sri Krisha in terms of what is known as tithi, but in the observance of ‘Rama Navami’ or ‘Janmastami’, nobody feels the need to know in which era or which year those sacred events took place. Because Sandrakottos is mentioned in the Greek chronicles, it has been possible to fix the date of Chandragupta Maurya. Determination of the periods of the events of the preceding a few thousands of years are still very much based on conjectures. Not only that, as if in continuation of this, there is still much differences of opinion about the incidents of modern times.” (Ibid, pp 5-6)

Hiren Mukherjee further says on this issue, “In most cases, however, the names of those who were the greatest creators of the literature and arts of ancient India are unknown to us... But why shouldn’t we keep the accounts of what happened and is happening and take lessons from it? Why, such grotesque behaviour? There is no doubt that we have been suffering from its evil consequences in our social life. An interest in the movement and destination of the society would not have allowed this to happen — and our India too would perhaps not been the immutable mass that she has been for ages.” (Ibid p-6)

After becoming the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, while addressing the All-India Science Congress in Mumbai, referred to the Hindu god Ganesh and the use of chariots, and said that this proved that ancient Indians knew the technique of plastic surgery and they were used to fly in aeroplanes. They severed the head of an elephant and placed it on the body of a man (Ganesh) and the chariot was the ancient Indian form of the aeroplane. In the twentyfirst century who except one living behind a wall of stagnation saying such grotesque words. And the speaker is the present Prime Minister of India, now occupying a pride of place in Indian politics. Hiren Mukherjee wrote of the ignorance of the Hindus about the birthdays of Ram Chandra and Sri Krishna. They do not have the need to know the year and age of their birth.

One possible reason for this ignorance might be that although heroes of epics, they had no real existence, an opinion now shared by many Hindu scholars and historians. Here lies the difference of Indians with Greeks, of whose civilisation Vivekananda spoke so eloquently. Greeks did not consider the heroes and heroines of their mythology and epics as real, and they never worshipped them, nor they do now. One major reason of this was their consciousness of history, which Hiren Mukherjee mentioned. Having no history of their own, Indians took mythology as history.

But ignorance of and indifference to history have many examples, in consequence of which there is plenty of walls of stagnation in respect of religion and politics. One important example is what is being done about cows in India in this twentieth century. In ancient Indian literature even in religious texts, there are references to beef-eating by Aryan sages. Calf meat was very dear to them. But no question is asked by Hindu religious leaders, politicians or historians why beef subsequently became a banned item for Hindus. There is no curiosity among them on this subject. There is no curiosity even among those who speak of the right of muslims, Christians and dalits to eat beef. This writer too did not undertake any research on this. But it is or likely thousands of years ago, there was a severe cow epidemic that killed lakhs of cows, and there arose a severe scarcity of cows for cultivation. Hence slaughter of cows for meat had to be stopped and in order to make it effective, religious strictures were necessary. Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was not a religious-minded person. But when he was trying to collect evidence from the scriptures, in order to introduce widow remarraige, some persons asked him why, being devoid of any religious belief, he was trying to find scriptural sanctions behind widow remarriage. This situation was not fortuitous product of Vidyasagar’s time. The state of the Hindu society was just this from antiquity. Hence religious excuses were necessary for banning beef-eating. But in the Hindu society, there is evidently no curiosity or inquisitiveness on this subject, nor is there any historical research . This condition of Hindus in such an important matter, their ignorance of history has caused many unnecessary unpleasant incidents.

Now there is going on widespread digging works in Haryana and Rajasthan, and many human skeletons are being found. The high amounts of zinc in their bones proves that during 1500-2000 BC the people of those regions used to eat meat, which was not of birds, nor of goats and lambs. They lived on agriculture, and they took to the meat of those cows which they reared for cultivation. But there is no archaeological investigation or historical research on when their beef-eating stopped.

In this respect, the rise of the caste system or varnashram in the history of ancient India was most important. The Gita speaks of the four varnas. This division was made on the basis of quality and work and was made an inalinebale part of the religious scirptures. In the Manu Samhita, it was given the status of scriptural edict. Besides, examples of such caste divisions lie scattered in the episodes of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But historians have not inquired into its historical genesis in ancient India. Nothing is known about its existence before the coming of the Aryans. It was an Aryan creation. They came from Europe and Central Asia, where there was no caste system. Hence they did not bring the varna system when they arrived in India. They introduced it only after their arrival in India. But such a caste system existed nowhere in the world. Then how did it arise in India and for what reasons? On this subject there was no historical investigaton, let alone factual explanation.

[To be concluded]

Vol. 49, No.48, Jun 4 - 10, 2017