Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hindutva: The lexical, Social and Political Significance

Media, most political parties and many intellectuals use the word Hindutva in a very derogative manner, always in association with BJP. They try to give an impression that Hindutva is something so despicable and intolerable in a modern, secular and democratic society that anyone associated with it should be banned; that Hindutva is an uncivilized and fanatic concept that has no place in any civilized society. Ask Arundhati Ray about Hindutva and she will immediately write a few articles on it and all the media will jump to publish each of those. Hindutva is stamped as a fanaticism that BJP supports and want to preach.


Well, let's see what Hindutva is and why there's so much noise about it.


Lexically Hindutva is a new word of Sanskrit origin. I don't think it was ever used in any of the old Sanskrit literature in India. But then Sanskrit grammar rules allow creating new words and the word Hindutva has been coined recently to mean 'being a Hindu', the same way 'naritva' means 'being a nari or female' and 'devatva' means 'being divine'. So now let's see what does the word Hindu mean or signify.


Let's see what Swami Vivekananda told to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago on 11th September, 1893:

"I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation."

Swami Vivekananda was always referred to in the west as a 'Hindoo monk'.  His entire life was all about 'being a Hindu'. Tagore's Gitanjali, had shaken the west so much. W B Yeats had said it as "... the work of a supreme culture, ... a tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude the thought of the scholar and of the noble." Though technically speaking Tagore was not a Hindu by religion, still his poems speak about the age old Hindu culture and philosophy to which Gandhij had adhered to throughout his life. So all of these personalities, perhaps the three most important people involved in shaping the socio-religious-political profile of modern India, had tried their best to show to the world and us all about being a Hindu. So it's very true that though the term Hindutva is new, but the essence of 'being Hindu' is not new. If 'being Hindu' is derogatory then we have to banish almost all the important personalities of India, including Buddha, Mahaveera, Akbar, Guru Nanak, Kabir and everyone else who represents the very essence of Hindustan and her Hindu people.


So now let's see who is a Hindu and what Hindustan is. Historically the entire land of Indian subcontinent and her people have been always referred to by various names derived from the river Sindhu - be it Megasthenes' Indica, or Persians' Hindu. The term Hindu was never associated with any religion, but to the people of the subcontinent. Likewise the term Hindustan or Indica refers to the entire Indian subcontinent.  In spite of the various faiths like Brahmanism (which later became associated wrongly with the term 'Hinduism'), Buddhism, Jaisnism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianism and most recently Islamism and Sikhism, which the people of Indian subcontinent have followed for thousands of years, still they were always perceived as to have a common culture and philosophy. All Indians were seen as Hindu people and their land Hindustan. Even quite recently Iqbal mentioned to Indians as 'Hindi' people in "Sare Jahan Se Achchha" just a few decades ago. So Hindutva is just being a Hindu or Hindi or Indian. Hindutva is all that those unknown sages of the Vedas, Gautama, Mahaveera, Akbar, Nanak, Kabir, Tagore, Vivekananda and Gandhi stood for. Hindutva is about a united nation with people of all sects and faiths having a common culture binding them all. Hindutva is all about staying together and allowing everyone else to stay peacefully. Hindutva is about everything that stands for the prosperity of India or Hindustan, whichever name you call. If you take out Hindutva, then there's no identity for us. So why so much fuss about Hindutva?


The very idea of Hindutva is attacked whenever we have a communal riot.  No one appreciates communal riots. They are the biggest scars of our society. But sadly almost all political parties have resorted to some form of communalism in recent times to gain political mileage. Often the ruling political party didn't want to go against the sentiments of the majority community - starting from Suhrawardy's (the then Muslim League CM of Bengal province) role in Hindu genocide on "Direct Action Day" on 16th Aug in 1946 (FYI, that's the biggest genocide of any community till date in India killing more than 4000 people in 72 hours), to the Shikh massacre under Congress and finally the post Godhra riots under Modi. It's a practice for many people to tarnish the secular image of India with such incidents. In this respect let me refer to something mentioned in "Discovery of India" (despite my not-so-much liking for Nehru). In reference to Tagore's severe criticism of the sort of the Indian history, full of wars and massacre and internal fights, taught in schools Nehru mentioned that all these wars are just like blips in the annals of the Indian history, but still people tend to talk more of these negative things rather than highlighting so many good things about the prosperity and growth of the subcontinent over 3000 years in all aspects. As a matter of fact despite all these wars and fightings Indian subcontinent have been the strongest economy in the world till the British rule. Even in 1700, when India was not at one of her highest points, she used to contribute to almost 30% of World Economy, very close to the share of entire Europe despite the fact that Europe was basking in the success and glory of Industrial Revolution in that period. It's really a pity that we learn about the invasions of Timur, Chenghis Khan, Muhammed Ghor and so on, but the fact is that these are just so few in number in the span of 3000 years that they could have been just ignored. 


Just consider this: the Bengali San Calendar, considered to be a Hindu calendar, was actually synched up with the lunar Hijri during Akbar's reign, but the counting remained Solar. That's why the date in the Bengali San calendar is quite close to that in Hijri. This means that my marriage, on some auspicious day as per Hindu norms, has a reference to the day when Prophet Mohammed marched from Mecca to Medina. Well, you might argue that Akbar might have forced this on the Bengalis. But then the Bengalis didn't change this ever - even after the death of Akbar or the end of the Muslim Rule in India. Is there any other place in this world where a Muslim calendar is synched up with Christian era or vice versa? Has anyone spoken about this? The sound of Shehnai is part of the ritual in any Hindu marriage in North India even though till date I haven't heard of any Hindu playing Shehnai. In older days even the staunch Brahmins used to invite the Muslim Shenai players to perform in their marriages. Is there any ritual in any part of the world where people of different faith play such a great role? Bismillah Khan's shehnai was one of the main attractions in the temples of Benaras till his death. Can you show me any single church or masjid in the world where a Hindu has been asked to sing Bhajan? Have you ever heard of any Hindu preferring the Brahmin Kishore Kumar Gangopadhyay over a Muslim Mohd. Rafi for religious reason? Have you ever heard of any actor becoming superstar by virtue of his religion? Khans are the rulers of Bollywood. Some of the richest Mulsims, the likes of Wadias and Azim Premji, of the corporate world are in India. The biggest real estate company, Prestige, in Bangalore is owned by Muslims. One of the poorest persons, also a Muslim, from one of the remotest villages went on to become the top boss of India's premier defence research organization and later the President. Ask Abdul Kalam, ask Mohd. Rafi, ask the Wadias, ask Azharuddin, ask Bismillah Khan, ask Shahrukh Khan, ask Amjad Ali Khan and Ali Akbar Khan, ask the sexy Katrina Kaif, ask Omar Abdullah, ask Ghulam Ali if they have ever faced any discrimination? No.... India never discriminates. All that you hear about the riots and genocides are not the only things to hear or talk about. They are just like Timur's invasion and the plunder of Delhi, like Nadir Shah's atrocities, which the historians want to remember more than the fact that some Muslim King in South India (well it's Tipu Sultan, in case we've forgotten) had named his capital (Srirangapatnam) after a Hindu God Vishnu.....

India has been always secular. It has been the Veer Bhoomi (land of the brave people) for the Veers. What Darwin told some hundred years back about survival for the fittest, we knew for ever - Veer Bhogya Vasundara - the world is for the brave. Indians are a brave lot. Hindutva is all about being that brave Indian. Hindutva is about getting rid of the 'minority' tag from anyone and make each and every Indian an integral part, rather than major or minor or backward or scheduled part, of India. Hindutva is about living and letting live - not driving out Tasleema Nasrin out of country. Hindutva is about giving equal rights to all. If an artiste is allowed to paint Saraswati in nude, then "Satanic Verses" shouldn't also be banned. If saying anything derogative against Prophet Muhammad can hurt the sentiments of some people, then denying the existence of Lord Ram can hurt the sentiments of many other people. 


Let's not attach any taboo to 'being Hindu'. All Indians were always Hindu or Hindi and our land was always Hindustan. So why so much fuss about being what we've been always?

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