Historical Background

The ‘Great’ Leap of Hindutva - II

Badruddin Umar

There exists nothing like Hindu fundamentalism. There is no definite ideology as Hindutva. It requires such scriptural books in which ideology and religious canons are concretely stated and recorded and to which complete loyalty is required. In this sense, one can speak of Buddhist, Jewish Christian, Islam, Sikh religious fundamentalism because they have the Tripitak, Talmud, Bible, Koran, Granth Sahib. Religious fundamentalism is to remain confined to the ideals, edicts and canons stated in such books. Hence there can be no fundamentalism without textual reference. There is no dearth of religious books in Hinduism, e g the Vedas, the Puranas, the Manu Samhita, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But in order to be a Hindu it is not necessary to have complete faith in and adherence to any of these books. One may openly criticise the Vedas, the Upanishadas and Manu Samhita and refuse to abide by them, while remaining a Hindu. An atheist may also remain a Hindu as was Carvaka. Again, a Hindu may be a worshipper of hundreds of gods and goddesses. In this respect, the ideological bond of Hinduism is very loose. Also, there is no definite framework of its laws and canons. For this reason, it can still be found that although Hindu leaders of the RSS-BJP type have been shouting at the peak of their voice for Hindutva, they have no prescription about which principles and ideals are to be compulsorily followed for establishing Hindutva.

That is why in Hinduism, there is nothing to make one understand what means by deviation from religion or what ideological deviations lead to contempt of religion. Hindusim lay far greater importance to loss of caste than deviation from religion. Not only that, the real meaning of going astray from religion is loss of the caste position. For this reason a person, even while refusing to obey the dictates of the Vedas, the Vedantas, and the Upanishadas etc, may remain a Hindu, but if an upper caste Hindu enters into matrimonial relationships with lower caste Hindus, and even eats with him, he loses his caste position. The reason is that what is meant as Hindu fundamentalism does not require any obedience to any Hindu principle or ideal. What is required is strict obedience to the custom of Varnasharama, and in no way to deviate from the caste system. The custom of varna is the soul of Hinduism. For this reason, Hindus tolerate criticisms of Hindu religious texts, various Hindu doctrines. But they won’t brook any attack on the csate or varna system.

Slavery was not altogether absent in India, but it was unlike other countries. Facilitated by the division among people according to quality and work, the upper caste people rigidly fixed the social position of the sudras and treated them practically like slaves. Hence in India, sudras or low-caste Hindus were slaves of upper castes. Still in India, the condition of millions of low-caste people and dalits is similar to those of dases. These low caste Hindus had no right to study religious texts. If somebody dared it, he would be liable to commit the sin of transgression of right. Low-caste Hindus were also banned from worshipping the gods and goddesses of upper caste Hndus. They had no right to enter the temples of these gods and goddesses. Still now they are without this right in most cases.

All these make it clear that Hindutva has no ideological bond. Its identity lies only in social bindings. If there exists something as Hindu fundamentalism, it is not the loyalty to some ideal, but loyalty to the social bond of the four varnas. The greatest sin in Hinduism is : to snap this bond or deviate from it. This caste system in the name of Hindutva is the basis of Hindu religious fascism.

This is where Hinduism differs from religions like Christianity, Islam etc. In these religions, there are prescriptions of stern punishment for dishonouring religious texts, and seeds of fascism are there in such prescriptions. But they are not bound by any strict bond of social structure.

It has already been mentioned that Swami Vivekananda spent many words against Muslims and Islam. But his writings also contain praises for the social and humanitarian outlook of Muslims. For example, he observed, “Whenever one adopted Islam, the entire Islamic society enbraced him as a brother, whatever his caste or creed. No other religion does so”. But not only the Islamic society, but the Christian and even the Sikh society embraces apostates to their religions in the same manner.

There is no way in which it could be done in Hinduism. As a matter of fact, there is no provision in the Hindu custom for converting to Hinduism from other religons. The reason is that for all practical purposes Hinduism means the custom of varnashrama. If somebody converts to Hinduism, what would be his position in this hierarchy. Would he become a Brahmin, Khsatriya or Vaisya? There is no possibility of it. For this reason, his conversion to Hinduism means his place in the lower rung of the caste hierarchy. In India, Narendra Modi government, inspired by the ideal of the RSS, started a process of forcible conversion to Hinduism, which has robbed apostate Muslims and Christians of social freedom and made them captive of the cages meant for lower castes. In Hinduism, there is no question of embracing these apostates as brothers.

The hatred and aggressive stance of the pedlars of Hindutva against Muslims and Christians is a relatively modern development. In Hinduism, this hatred and aggressive stance against the lower castes have been continuing over millennia and still very strong in India, notwithstanding the opposition against it among a section of the Hindus. Politically the rise of the BJP Prime Minister Nreandra Modi has been more dangerous to lower caste Hindus and dalits than to Muslims and Christians. The reason is that dalits too are not Hindus in actual fact. But although they are made to remain in the structure of religion through various tactics and used for votes, upper caste gods are not their gods. They do not enjoy the right to enter Hindu temples, and they are considered untouchables to upper caste Hindus. Besides, caste Hindus have social intercourses with Muslims and Christians, but not with dalits. The treatment that caste Hindus, even Congress leaders meted out to such a talented, scholarly and highup personality like Dr Ambedkar is well known.

The position now taken by the Prime Minister against Muslims and Christians, mainly Muslims, under the flag of Hindutva is indeed one type of leap. But it has not taken place suddenly or overnight. It is not delinked from the continuity of Indian politics. Although the Congress paraded itself as non-communal with great fanfare and succeeded in duping large numbers of people, it became a Hindu communal party in the thirties and forties of the last century. It is for this reason that by the end of the thirties, Muslim Congressmen known as nationalist Congressmen, left the Congress, barring only a few exceptions like Abdul Gaffar Khan, Maulana Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai. Inside the Congress, some big capitalists like the Birlas came to dominate and it created a situation that forced the communists, MN Roy and even Subhas Bose to bid farewell to the party. In independent India, Muslims were reduced to secondclass citizens under Congress rule owing to the ruling party’s communal policies. So, the spread of the poison of communalism which Narendra Modi’s party is now promoting and from which it is deriving political benefits has its predecessor in the Congress. The only difference is that while doing so, the Congress wore the cloak of non-communalism, the BJP has cast it aside and has become direct pedlars of communalism in the name of Hindutva.

Owing to its communalism, the Congress was opposed not only to Muslim interests. It was more strictly opposed to low-caste Hindus or dalits, because the Congress leadership was totally controlled by upper caste Hindus. A look at the Indian situation evokes surprise because here the caste Hindus were , and still are, at the leadership of the Communist Parties. It happened not because of any conscious communal reason. The Hindu social structure is constituted in such a way as to make this structure the protector of caste Hindus and enemy of low-caste Hindus.

What is even more surprising that let alone the Congress, even the Communist Party never launched any movements against caste division and caste oppression. They had no definite ideas and programme in this respect. The Congress tried all-out to keep low caste Hindus within the fold of the Hindu society without doing anything for them. They had  no lack of tricks in this regard. Those who adopted Islam after the arrival of Muslims in India were, barring few exceptions, low-caste Hindus. Vivekananda’s remark s in this regard has already been referred to in this article.

It is to be noted that although Vivekananda spoke of the poverty and social deprivation of the low-caste Hindus and sometimes against caste divisitions, he had no religious struggle against the Varnasharam. He too was in fact a protector of the varna system, sentinel of the wall of stagnation of which Professor Hiren Mukherjee has said :

It seems that only a negligible number of people think that a general movement against religious communalism in India is unlikely to yield any fruit. In order to wipe out anti-Muslim and anti-Christian communalism, what is essential is to crush the varna system in India. The reason is that the hatred, coupled with exploitation and oppression , of the low-caste Hindus by the upper castes, generated by the varna system, is linked by the same thread with their hatred of and opposition to Muslims and Christians. In India, low-caste Hindus have no real contradiction or conflict with Muslims and Christians. The real contradiction is with upper caste Hindus. This is the historical truth and present reality. It is surprising that the Communist Party once refused to accept the report of the Mondol Commission and in just the same manner, it has rejected the report of the Sachar Committee. Rejecting the Mondol Commission, Jyoti Basu and his government said that in West Bengal there was no varna discrimination. During their period of rule, the share of Muslims in government jobs was less than two percent, although their share in population was more than 30 percent. This situation continues till today. In this respect, there is no difference between the Congress, the  CPI(M) and the TMC.

In India, the relation between low caste Hindus and Muslim apostates had always been good. Even during the period of Sultani to Mughal rule, good relations prevailed over bad ones even among the Hindus and Muslims of upper classes. The English created a breach in this relation in their own imperialist interest. This chasm began to widen in nineteenth century Bengal. The nineteenth century was the period of Hindu awakening. The seeds of Hindutva that lay dormant in this ‘awakening’ have now developed, through various branches and twigs, into Narendra Modi’s RSS-type Hindutva. The narratives and analyses of this continuity have fallen short of requirements. Even its necessity was not felt owing to the distortions of history by opportunistic historians linked with English interests. It goes without saying that what happened in the nineteenth century was the awakening of upper caste Hindus, having no relation with lower-caste Hindus. No movement for social reforms was linked with the interests of lower-caste Hindus. Hence that ‘awakening’ contained an anti-Islam element and similarly an absolute indifference to the interests of lower caste Hindus.

Narendra Modi has resorted , and resorting, to all possible sorts of hypocrisy and chicanery in order to keep lowcaste Hindus or dalits in their vote banks. In this respect, he has learnt much from Gandhi. When low-caste Hindus, incensed by upper-caste oppression, was moving towards conversion to Islam, Christianity or Buddhism, Gandhi gave them the epithet of Harijan (son of God), wrote incessantly on religion in his magazine Harijan, and thus duped them. This history is well known. He was dead against Ambedkar, whom he termed the greatest enemy of Hinduism. Its reason is that Ambedkar protected low caste Hindus from upper caste Hindus and inspired them towards conversion. Later he himself adopted Buddhism along with several hundreds of thousands of low-caste Hindus.

The RSS, Narendra Modi’s boss was then an avowed enemy of Ambedkar. But Narendra Modi, in order to deceive dalits, has now become the most ardent devotee of Ambedkar. He has made many hypocitical gestures, including gorgeous celebration of Ambedkar’s birthday and garlanding his stone statue, in order to retain the dalits into his vote bank. That he has attained much success has been proved by the recently held U P polls. In that state, he did not nominate a single Muslim as his party’s candidate, although Muslims constitute 29 % of the population there. A few lackeys from the Muslim community have, however, joined the BJP and reaping benefits. In the prliamentary polls of 2014, the BJP did the same thing in Uttar Pradesh.

Narendra Modi’s trick here is not only to segregate dalits from Muslims, but to create enmity among them. As long as these dalits remain with their dieherd enemy Modi and his party, the strength of the BJP will not be curbed. Hence in order to defeat Narendra Modi and his politics of Hindutva, it is essential to isolate him from dalits, to develop democratic movements among them, to make them learn anew that Narendra Modi and the BJP are their die-herd enemies. But nothing of this kind is taking place in India today. Narendra Modi has devised the correct tactics in their own interests and moving politically, but no democratic forces, not even communists, are making political movements for removing the confusion of dalits and bringing them out of the caste hierarchy. For this reason, despite protests against various communal incidents, there is no movement against communalism in India. As long as the Indian people and progressive sections do not realise that without crushing the varna system of India, no strong democratic and socialist movement is possible, let alone the establishment of real democracy and socialism, wiping out communalism is not possible in India. The reason is that the exploitation by caste Hindu capitalists of low-caste dalits and their oppression of religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians, are historically linked by the same thread.


[Translated from original Bengali by Anirban Biswas.]

Vol. 49, No.49, Jun 11 - 17, 2017