HINDUTVA AND THE RELIGIOUS MINORITIES
In all societies there is a certain stratification based on some pre-determined criteria. The population is divided by gender, age, education, occupation, etc. And, of course, religion. While this stratification has immense importance for studies in sociology, anthropology, etc., one needs to be more careful in case of the relationship between the state and the individual, particularly in a state which is supposed to be secular. There needs to be a clear understanding of whether the stratification falls in the secular criteria or communal. While a secular state should deal only with the secular issues, communal issues should be scrupulously avoided in determining state policy.
At the same time, it is well recognised that a civilised state will endeavour to ensure that there is no discrimination on account of the communal characteristic of a person. He/she should have a freedom to practice his/her personal beliefs, provided, of course, it does not conflict with public order. While the individual practices his/her own beliefs, he/she will have no right to force it onto others. Denial of freedom of religious practice is essentially a law and order issue, which any state has a duty to uphold.
Over the past ten years, the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP, a strong proponent of the Hindutva ideology at the level of electoral politics) has altered the terms of debate in society, particularly on the meaning of secularism. This it did by forcing the people to look at the practice of secularism and introduced two idioms in this discourse - "pseudo-secularism" and "justice for all and appeasement of none". Much has been written on the former, and many of the anti-Hindutva intellectuals have been forced to accept that the Hindutva's perspective on the issue has merit. Of course, to the left-wing intellectuals, anyone who agrees with even one programme of Hindutva (irrespective of the merit) is automatically communal. One of them wrote: "A couple of my critics have, however, jumped to the conclusion that, since I have reservations about secularism as presented in the prevailing discourse, I must therefore by a supporter of communalism. This is patently absurd." (T N Madan, Economic and Political Weekly, April 30, 1994.)
In this note we will address the second idiom that the BJP has placed in the political discourse - viz., justice for all and appeasement of none. The BJP is labeled as a political party which, if it comes to power, will ensure that the religious minorities will be in danger in our society. It is alleged that they will not be allowed to practice their religion, and will have to forcibly convert to the religion of their ancestors. The BJP leaders say that this is not what the party stands for, and that it is the calumny of their political adversaries that has created the impression of being anti-minorities. Some who have looked at the BJP dispassionately, but are not the political supporters of the party, would agree with this. "In the ultimate analysis, the BJP's religious fundamentalism will have to be judged by the performance of the party in power. In Delhi, not even the Congress accused the administration of Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Kedar Nath Sahni of communal bias. In the states administered by the BJP, either on its own or as a partner with other parties, Muslim officers were not victimised. Nor were Muslim religious functions suppressed or anti-Muslim riots encouraged. In fact the track record of the BJP governments in the matter of law and order and maintenance of communal peace is much better than that of the Congress, even within the states which had been BJP-ruled following upon Congress rule." (M N Buch, "The BJP versus the Congress", Independent, March 29, 1993.)
However, the anti-minority charge is so prevalent that it would be worthwhile to study some of the issues that the votaries of Hindutva has taken up based on which its opponents levy the anti-minority charge. We will look at four issues which we consider to be the most important ones. They are Ram Janmabhoomi, Article 370, Uniform Civil Code, and religious conversions. We will put forward the Hindutva perspective on each of these issues, and then discuss why they cannot be considered to be anti-minority.
The temple at Ram Janmabhoomi is not one of bricks and mortar. It is an issue which is related to our culture and civilisation. The story of Lord Ram is not one of a mere human being. An American expert on the Ramayan says: "Valmiki's Ramayan is the central document of Indian culture. The book and its message express in an aesthetically pleasing and emotionally moving form what must be seen as the most powerfully hegemonic discourse of the brahmanical and kshatriya elites of India's epic age. It continues to be the basic and the founding statement of social and political order in India even today. Greek epics like Homer's Iliad is the book of a lost civilisation for today's Westerners. The Ramayan is unique in continuing unbroken over almost 3000 years as the living document of Indian civilisation.....It is no exaggeration to say that in India everyone knows the Ram story. In one sense, one has to know it to be part of Indian culture." (Robert Goldman, University of California, Berkeley.)
The temple issue has to be first looked at from the historical context of the site. It has been well established that in 1528 AD, at the instruction of the Moghul invader, Babur, an existing temple in honour of Lord Ram was destroyed and the Babri structure built in its place. The belief that this site is the Ram Janmabhoomi has a history of more than 3000 years, when there was no need to create a controversy if it was not a fact. We know that the leftist historian will not agree with this rendering of the history. But, they will then have to answer why the negotiations, held in December 90 and January 91, to determine the historical facts were broken off by the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee. The AIBMAC was supported by them. Having established the historical importance of the site for the Hindus, the right question that has to be answered is why the temple should NOT be built.
It stands to reason that any structure which has come up after destroying a temple, cannot have any religious significance. If such a significance is applied in this case, then clearly such people would like to uphold the memory of Babur over Lord Ram. The attachment of such people to our civilisation and culture should then be questioned. The Russian Orthodox Cathedral that was built in the centre of Warsaw, Poland, at the time of the first Russian occupation of the country, had a political objective. So also the Babri structure was an ocular reminder that there was an Islamic rule even over the holy Hindu sites. When Poland became free in the early twentieth century, they pulled the Cathedral down. The Babri structure should not have been allowed to stand in a free India.
The manner in which Ram Janmabhoomi issue transcends the bricks and mortar perspective is best explained by Shri V S Naipaul. "What is happening in India is a new historical awakening....Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening." (The Times of India, July 18, 1993.)
A valid issue that comes about is where does one stop in recovering the religious sites of the Hindus. The answer can be obtained from the statement of the VHP in January 1991, at the time of the negotiation for the peaceful return of the Ram Janmabhoomi site. The essential message was: "We do not even demand the return of the thousands of places of worship that have been forcibly replaced with mosques.....We merely want three places back, three age-old sacred places. And we would prefer getting them back from the Muslim community, to getting them back by an official decree.....Muslims should understand what kind of message they are sending by insisting on continuing the occupation of our sacred places, an occupation started by fanatics and mass-murders like Babar and Aurangzeb. We do not like to think of our Muslim compatriots as heirs and followers of such invaders and tyrants. It is up to them to make a gesture that will signify a formal break with this painful past."
Article 370 has granted special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, since there were certain issues relating to the Deed of Accession signed by the then Maharaja of the territory. The Constitution makes it clear that it is a temporary provision, so that there is time available to deal with the matter. Over a period of years many of the provisions were done away and much of the original article has been whittled down. In the early 1960s, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, wanted to introduce a private members bill to do away with the rest of the provisions. Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister at the time, dissuaded Atalji and gave an assurance that the Article will die its own natural death. Events since then have belied this promise, and there is now a proposal not only to maintain what little that exists, but to revive the original provisions. One such provision was that the Supreme Court will not have its jurisdiction over the State, and another made it clear that fundamental rights in the Constitution would not be applicable in the State.
The most insidious part of Article 370 is that any law passed by the Parliament is applicable to the State only if the local assembly accepts it. In effect, this gives a veto right to the Assembly over the parliament. This has made the local politicians feel different from the rest of the country and enabled them to reinforce such an impression among the population. Obviously, such a provision cannot have any place in a truly federal constitution, a fact which was recognised since it was termed to be a temporary provision. Those who are today campaigning for retaining the article do not seem to appreciate how divisive this article is - or, perhaps they do, and choose to ignore it.
Article 370 has nothing to do with the fact that the State has a Muslim majority. (Here it needs to be clarified that out of the three parts of the State - Kashmir Valley, Jammu, and Ladhak - only the Valley has a Muslim majority.) It has everything to do with the unity of the nation, and its secular ethos. In fact, those who wish to keep the Article 370 on the statute are doing so because the State has a Muslim majority. This raises the question of the essential secular nature of our nation, and also the role of the Muslims in the rest of the country.
UNIFORM CIVIL CODE
One of the Directive Principles of our Constitution is that there will be a uniform civil code in this country. The different religious communities are governed by different civil laws relating to marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, etc. This goes against the very grain of secularism since the state does look at the religion of a person before determining which of the laws are applicable to a him/her. After the Constitution was adopted, all the various Hindu personal laws were unified and the various Hindu Code Bills were passed. These Bills were based on the then prevailing egalitarian criteria, and was a major step forward in social reform. There was no reference to any of the religious scriptures of the Hindus. At the time, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru was asked why these laws were not made applicable to the other religious communities. His contention was that these communities had not asked for the changes and so he was not willing to make them. Necessarily these Bills had to be named as "Hindu", to distinguish them from the other personal laws. But, the definition of a Hindu was based on the constitutional negative criteria - that is one who is not a Muslim, not a Christian, not a Parsi, and not a Jew. Thus an atheist is governed by these laws, which clearly show that it is not based on the Hindu religion.
Even after 50 years of our independence, the non-BJP political parties propagate that the non-Hindus are still not supposed to be ready for a change in their acts. The recent experience of the Christian community would clearly show that this is a hollow contention. The Christian Marriages Act is clearly a regressive act. For example, in case of divorce, while a man has to establish a charge of only adultery, a woman has to establish an additional charge (like desertion, cruelty, etc.). The Christian laity took the lead and requested the government to make the changes. The government suggested that they can recommend the changes and, if they are accepted by the Christian churches, the same will be accepted. (Here one sees the communal approach of the politicians who have labeled themselves as secular.) A determined group in the laity undertook the challenge and presented the desired changes, with the blessing of the clergy. This is where things stand for the last three or four years. And every time the so-called secular government in power promises the laity that the necessary action will be taken.
We think that things are kept dormant because it will open a Pandora's box in terms of changing the laws in the case of other religious minorities, particularly those of the Muslims. The unfortunate part is that the secular intellectuals amongst the Muslims dare not raise their voices to demand the changes. So much are the politicians in league with the Muslim clergy, that the latter will make life difficult for any sane voice in the community. The ones who are most affected by the antiquated Muslim Personal Law are the women in the community. Yet the secularists only talk about gender justice in the various seminars and conferences that they organise, while keeping silent on the real changes needed.
We fully recognise that the Hindu personal laws have severe deficiencies. We think that the best way of approaching towards a solution to the problem is what has been proposed by the BJP. "When the BJP talks of a uniform civil code, it does not contemplate imposing the Hindu law on the country. Our party manifesto has very clearly stated that the BJP would ask the Law Commission to examine the Hindu law, the Muslim law, the Christian law and the Parsi law and cull out the modern, progressive, equitable ingredients of these laws and, on that basis, draw up a common civil code. If some of the laws relating to the Hindus today have to go on that account, they have to go. For example, the Hindu Undivided Family act may have to go. Whatever has to be done, has to be done for all." (Shri L K Advani, in The Illustrated Weekly of India, March 6, 1993.)
Finally let us take the issue of religious conversions. India has been divided because those who converted to Islam decided that they do not wish to live in a nation where Hindus are in a majority. While Hinduism has time and again proved its assimilative and accommodating characteristics, those areas which had a Muslim majority decided that they should not be a part of an independent India, and so Pakistan was created. This clearly shows that this nation can have a danger from religions who are aggressively proselytisers. One can give quotes from Swami Vivekanand to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar to explain what they thought of the danger of conversions.
But it is not the Hindus alone who are concerned about conversions. The Roman Catholic Church is most unhappy when its members defect to other Christian churches. The Houston Chronicle, (October 13, 1992) reported: "Pope John Paul II (in the Dominican Republic) said that he must protect his flock from the 'wolves' of evangelical Protestantism wooing Latin Americans away from the Roman Catholic Church.....As shepherd to Latin America's 395 million Catholics, the Pope said he must 'take care of the sheep who have been put in my care and protect them from rapacious wolves'." If the Protestants in Latin America are rapacious wolves because of their proselytising activities, they must be so classified in this country as well.
The Pope is also unhappy when Christians (not due to any missionary activity, but of their own volition) embrace Hinduism or Buddhism. In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he said: "One should know one's own spiritual heritage well and consider whether it is right to set it aside lightly." The Pope is disturbed when a Catholic wants to pray to Christ in another church, and asks the Christians not to set aside their Christian heritage lightly. Yet, he has no compunction of asking Hindus to change completely their mode of worship and set aside their Hindu heritage which has an antiquity more ancient than Christianity.
Similarly, Islamic countries makes life very difficult for people of other faiths, let alone allowing them to continue their proselytising activities. The issue of conversion goes beyond being a communal issue - it has to do with the nation as it exists. Wherever the proselytisers have gone, they have not only converted the indigenous population, but also destroyed their culture. Very little exists of the civilisations of the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Aztecs, etc. In case of the South Americans, the destruction took place less than 500 years ago. And so complete has it been, that we know very little of their economy, sociology, politics, etc. All we see is the stones, which clearly show that they were great civilisations.
At the same time, it is interesting to see what these anti-Hindutvavadis have to say on the secular issues propagated by the Sangh. Many of them have quite a high regard for the Swadeshi programme undertaken by it. They mention (albeit reluctantly) about the various seva activities, which are undertaken irrespective of the religion or caste of the person, and without any government assistance. They have recognised that the economic programme set out in the BJP manifesto is one of the best amongst all political parties. They have had to recognise that the BJP governments have given an administration better than the other parties - it may well not be the best, but comparisons are important. This list can go on and on. The growing support for the BJP attests to the contention that their programme on secular issues is the one that has sustained the party.
The charge against the Sangh of being anti-minorities is made not only by the political parties. It is authenticated by those who call themselves as intellectuals. Thus, one sees most of the English media as being anti-Sangh. Those who live in Delhi on the largesse granted by the government to run their various so-called development institutes, are also in the forefront of the bandwagon of the anti-Sangh tirade. The academics brigade is masterminded by the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Without this authentication, the charge against the Sangh could have not lasted so long. While one can justify the actions of the political parties to spread misinformation, the role played by the intellectuals is really vicious.
The bankruptcy of intellectualism in this country can be seen in the way they deal with the issue of uniform civil code. Some of them are today going around saying that they were for such a code, but now that the votaries of Hindutva have 'communalised' the issue, they have decided that they do not wish that such a code be brought in. Nothing must be done for the minorities to feel insecure, and if in the process the women have to suffer, this would be a small price to pay! In this perverse logic, they refuse to look into the merits of the issue. Instead of castigating the anti-Hindutvavadis for not standing up for true secularism, they go around spreading confusion.
But then, one should not be surprised at the way the debates in this country are conducted. During his Suvarna Jyoti, Shri L K Advani, the President of the BJP, called for a debate on the partition of this country. The Asian Age (June 14, 1997) reports an unnamed Janata Dal minister as saying: "All (Advani's) comments have only one implication: anti-Muslim, and should be taken seriously. They are not worth our attention." This is called argument by labels.
FIFTY YEARS OF MISRULE
The anti-Hindutvavadis allege that the charge of appeasement of the minorities is false given that the latter are poor, less educated, very little representation in the economic sectors, etc. At the same time the various non-BJP political parties will compete with each other in proclaiming that each will be a better protector and benefactor of the minorities than the other. They will go to the obscurantist Muslim religious leaders like the Shahi Imam of Delhi to get the list of their Muslim candidates whetted by him.
The events at the Jamia Millia University, near Delhi, also highlight the devious behaviour of the pseudo-secularists. The rightful claim of Prof Mishirul Hasan, the present pro-Vice Chancellor, to be elevated to the post of the Vice Chancellor is being ignored because he upheld Shri Salman Rushdie's right to freedom of speech. There have been many pseudo-secular intellectuals who helped to aggravate the controversy. Similarly, many of the Muslim politicians, belonging to the alleged secular parties, have expressed strong views against Prof Hasan. All of them are abetting the game of the Muslim religious leaders in ensuring that the community stays backward, not only economically but also intellectually.
What is not recognised is that the ones who have been guiding the destiny of this nation for the last nearly 50 years are these very anti-Hindutvavadi politicians and intellectuals. They are the ones who have set out the economic direction that the country has to follow. They are the ones who worked out the education policy, etc. And they are the ones whom the minorities voted for, because of the promise of being the protectors and benefactors. The fault for the condition that these minorities find themselves in has to be laid entirely at the doorsteps of these anti-Hindutvavadis.
The Hindus of this country gave sufficient opportunity to these pseudo-secularists to prove themselves. Jawaharlal Nehru was fond of saying that majority communalism is a greater danger than minority communalism. The Hindus accepted this thesis and voted for him. So secure were these pseudo-secularists of their own importance that when the BJP got only two seats in the 1984 general elections, they wrote obituaries of Hindutva. Ku Chitra Subramaniam, in her book, India is for sale, writes: "India is probably the only democracy in the world where intellectuals wear their brain on their sleeves. In other parts of the civilised world, thinkers draw attention away from themselves and light-seekers are identified for what they are. In other parts intellectuals come from all walks and all sections of societies. In India they come from circles so closed and incestuous that ultimately they become irrelevant to the country's needs." In the process they have become alienated from the rest of the society. And when the society started to reject them, they evolved the tactics of apportioning the blame somewhere else. So we have statements like:
"The tragic legacy of Nehru era was that it made all sane Hindu voices of the intelligentsia deny their Hindu roots, speak in an alien voice not rooted in Indian society and inflict their imported notions of culture on the people in a most contemptuous way". (Shri Amitabh Mattoo in The Independent, December 19,1992.)
"I really believe that one of the failures of Congress secularism was that it treated everything Hindu, thereby Indian, with disdain. (Smt Tavleen Singh, "Forget the drivel, get fiscal", Indian Express, Oct 15, 1995.)
"The State's ostrich attitude towards God has led to the hijacking of the Hindu religion by illiberal men, and portions between faiths have hardened, perhaps irreparably." (Ramesh Menon, "Expelling God", Indian Express, Nov 19, 1995.)
India has remained a secular country - unlike its truncated parts - because it has a Hindu majority. In his book, India - The Siege Within. (Penguin, UK, 1985, p 24), Shri M J Akbar wrote: "It needs to be pointed out that India remains a secular state, not because one-fifths of the population is Muslim, Sikh or Christian, and, therefore, obviously has a vested interest in secular constitution, but because nine out of ten Hindus do not believe in violence against the minorities. If all the Hindus had been zealots, no law-and-order machinery in the world could have prevented the massacre of Muslims who are scattered in villages and towns all across the country."
As much as it is the responsibility of the Hindus
to ensure that this county remains a secular country, it is also incumbent upon
the minorities to determine what will be their contribution to this effort.
We will conclude this note by quoting by what the RSS has to say: "In 1943,
the suggestion (to ask for separate registration in various legislatures) was
emphatically spurned in a representation signed by nearly 2000 leading Parsis,
and affirming that 'our interests are safe in the hands of sister communities'.
Recalling this episode, Shri R K Sidhwa, a prominent Parsi member of the Constituent
Assembly, said that if minorities were encouraged to think in terms of permanent
safeguards, 'there will be a kind of perpetual instinct in the mind of the minority
community representatives that the safeguards are to remain forever, and it
will be difficult for these small communities to come nearer to major communities....The
ultimate phase of political life of all Indians should be one nation, no community.'
This, verily, is the call of Hindu Rashtra." (Why Hindu Rashtra? , Shri K S
Sudarshan, Joint General Secretary of the RSS.)