Hindutva of an atheist
The brand of Hindutva followed by RSS runs contrary to the founding ethos of the organisation and the Vedic culture they claim to follow
All is well! GDP is on the decline; inflation has risen to a 5-year high; unemployment is at its highest peak in 46-years and India is among the lowest in Social Mobility Index and among the unhappiest countries. Yet, for the Modi-Shah government and the Sangh Parivar, all is well. Savarkar must be restlessly stirring in his grave for the religious bigotry committed in the shadows of his Hindutva.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was not a rabid Hindu. He was an atheist who tried to provide a platform for nationalism. According to a political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, he minimised the influence of religion in his definition of Hindu and tried to bring in a collective identity for all the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent south of Indus by emphasising an ethnic group with shared culture and cherished geography, so as to include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Even those who converted to Christianity or Islam but accepted and cherished the shared Indic culture, he considered them as those who can be re-integrated. As per records, he got out of the Andaman jail by writing mercy petitions to the British, assuring them of political support and even proposing the two-nation theory, which was echoed by Jinnah later. Those were days of Independence Movement.
Thus, his spirit of Hindutva was tangentially away from Hinduism and religious fundamentalism in order to counter the Pan-Islamic mobilisation of the Khilafat movement. It is evident when he wrote- "O Hindus, consolidate and strengthen Hindu nationality; not to give wanton offence to any of our non-Hindu compatriots, in fact to anyone in the world but in just and urgent defence of our race and land."
Syama Prasad Mukherjee too understood Hindutva as a nationality rather than a community. But, realising that this was not the common understanding of the term Hindu, he chose 'Bharatiya' instead of 'Hindu' to name the new party as Bharatiya Jana Sangh. In the same vein, the BJP claims that Hindutva represents "cultural nationalism" and not a theocratic concept. It is "India's identity," according to the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat.
However, several scholars observed that "cultural nationalism is a euphemism meant to mask the creation of a state with a Hindu religious identity". Some even compared this Hindutva ideology to fascism because of the ingredients – an attempt to create a unified homogeneous majority under the concept of "the Hindus"; a sense of grievance against past injustice; a sense of cultural superiority; an interpretation of history according to this grievance and superiority; a rejection of rational arguments against this interpretation and an appeal to the majority based on race and masculinity. They say, "The RSS was explicitly influenced by European fascist movements, its leading politicians regularly praised Hitler and Mussolini". It is further said, "The Hindutva ideology has roots in an era where fiction in ancient Indian mythology and Vedic antiquity was presumed to be valid. This fiction was used to "give sustenance to Hindu ethnic consciousness". The present-day happenings only prove the scholars right.
Religious bigotry has reached its heights. And, the latent fascist undertones of the past are now overt, be it in the intolerance of dissent and opposition, the decimation of democratic institutions, making the media their propaganda machinery or brain-washing students and people with retrograde and unscientific thoughts. Eulogising the past has become the new norm.
People usually add the tag of Manuvadis to RSS and their ilk for the supremacy attributed to Brahmins. Manu favoured the Brahmins with the highest status, authority and privileges and constructed a Shudra man as subhuman and legitimised violence against 'untouchables' (Manu, IX 17). Demeaning the Dalits and extolling the Brahmins appeals to the bigots.
Om Prakash, Lok Sabha Speaker, speaking at an organisation of the Brahmin community in Rajasthan, attributed an inherent superiority in the Hindu Order to all those born in the Brahmin caste. But the fact is that since all the eulogies of God are in Sanskrit, a language alien to the common man, the priests became repositories of this knowledge and assumed the role of intermediaries between people and God. This supremacy of knowledge morphed them into a class apart initially and then into a caste in course of time, like the people of other castes who followed certain professions.
The Manuvadis talk about correcting historical wrongs in matters of Ram Mandir, Kashmir, etc. But, when it comes to the Dalits, they are not ready for such correction. Yogi government always targets Dalits along with Muslims, showing their prejudice. They do not like to learn lessons from mythology which were designed not for simply glorifying the past, but for setting better values and norms in the society. The legend of Shabari is an example.
Shabari ran away from her house when she was forcibly married to a drunkard and joined an ashram to serve the guru by collecting wood for his home, not revealing that she was an Adivasi. Being an 'untouchable' she would not fit in the ashram. When her identity got revealed one day, all the furious inmate-sadhus left the ashram. Later, it was Lord Sriram who punished them by ensuring that they would not get water or food. When they sought pardon from Shabari, Ram made it clear to them in no uncertain terms that "it is not the birth in caste, but it is the heart and character and conduct that are important."
In this episode, Ram's thoughts and actions do not go with those of Manu. Manuvadis are fanatical in worshipping Ram but are enamoured by Manu's discrimination of people in the name of caste. Another noticeable aspect of this story is the culture formalised in the society for a woman by Manu. Shabari rebelled against this culture.
He confined woman only to the private space of the family and made her subservient to her husband. Manusmriti says, a good woman, desiring to go to the same world as her husband, should never do anything displeasing to the man who took her hand, whether he is alive or dead, whether he is lacking in virtue, a sexual pervert, immoral or devoid of any good qualities. There is derogatory portrayal of women when the verses say, "Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man." For him, women are impure and represent falsehood. And it seems, it is this prejudice that is in play in Sabarimala.
In view of such formalised discriminations, Ambedkar had burnt a copy of Manusmriti. However, Gandhi felt that while there are contradictions, there are also valuable tenets which need to be followed. A verse says, "Where women are provided a place of honour, gods are pleased and reside there in that household." Manu recommends property rights to women along with males. He also recommends the harshest punishment for violence against women. Yet, India has the distinction of being the rape capital of the world. Domestic violence is well-known. Women's security is a very serious issue.
Manuvadis demand lynching of the rape-accused or encounters against them, while they are silent about their own powerful MLA who had raped a minor girl at Unnao along with his gang also tried to kill her. Scandinavian countries that have historically stood for progressive standards of equality and justice are amongst the safest countries for women, without instant justice of lynching, encounters or capital punishments. On the other hand, the thoughts of Manuvadis are only akin to those in the Middle East, in dress-code of women, in protecting them, etc.
There are also other positives in Manusmriti. For example, in verses 6.75 and 10.83, it recommends non-violence and non-injury, temperance and truthfulness, etc. Similarly, while it appeals to one's conscience to adopt vegetarianism, it also says, "There is no fault in eating meat, as it is a natural activity of creatures. Abstaining from it, however, brings greatest rewards." But who cares? The leaders provide all the tacit and tactical support to the bigots to indulge in violence against humans.
It did not pinch the BJP and RSS leaders even a bit when Pehlu Khan was killed by cow-vigilantes or when, in UP, Subodh Singh, an SHO who tried to conduct impartial investigations in the case against cow-vigilantes, was shot dead by the bigots or even when over 120 incidents of mob lynching by cow-vigilantes occurred, killing over 40 people.
Unfortunately, we are passing through times when superstition, legends and myths are superseding rationality and are overwhelming even the educated minds and institutions. Truthfulness, non-injury, humanism and rationality are of no value for the present rulers and their followers; ritualism and bigotry are their prime agenda.
They view the broad concept of Hindutva of Savarkar through the narrow prism of religious practices and not from the broader angle of the humanism of our Vedic culture. By adopting Nazi-style of governance, they are desecrating our Constitution. History will, therefore, remember them as only pseudo-Manuvadis, pseudo-Ramsevaks, pseudo-Hindus, pseudo-Constitutionalists and pseudo-Savarkarvadis, for whom saffronisation of the country is the singular agenda.
But, modern India does not need this shade of saffron. It needs the saffron of Vivekananda; the saffron of our tricolour, for peace, harmony and humanism.
Dr N Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal