Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Does Love Know Religious Boundaries?

Ram Puniyani

Communal politics, communal violence all over used women’s bodies as the site of contestation and community honor. This is the worst expression of patriarchal values inherent in the communal politics. We recall that it was the presentation of a road accident between boys of two religious communities that was propagated as an issue of the honor of ‘our girl’ being violated by the ‘other’. The Panchayats were mobilized; openly flaunting the arms, and Muzzafarnagar violence was orchestrated. And that’s not the end of the abuse of ‘our women-their women’ mind set. Post Muzzafarnagar violence, UP is abuzz with various activities aimed at polarizing the communities using this issue.

A Madarassa teacher stated that she was abducted and raped, by Muslim men. She kept changing her versions and later said that she had eloped with her lover. This Raksha Bandhan day (August 2014) hordes of RSS volunteers spread in different parts of Western UP, tying Rakhi (sacred thread, traditionally tied by sister on brothers wrist) to the people and warning them of the threat of the Muslim youth wooing away their ‘girls’ for love jihad.  ‘Muslim youth teasing and luring Hindu girls’ has been made the central part of propaganda in Western UP currently. While the Prime minister states from the ramparts of Red Fort that there should be a moratorium on communalism-casteism for ten years, his party colleague, Chandramohan, a BJP spokesperson from UP says that “incident like that of the madrassa teacher are a part of ‘global love jihad’, which targets vulnerable Hindu girls.” In BJP’s parent organization, RSS, after the shakhas are dispersed the volunteers go from house to house and tell the people about ‘dangers of love jihad’ and need to protect ‘our girls’! ANHAD report on Muzzafarnagar violence, ‘Evil stalks the land’ exposes the falsehood of ‘Muslim boy talking to Hindu girls to lure them to marry and so to convert to Islam’. Incidentally this was the major concoction around which the riot was engineered. One Baba Rijakdas has come up in Saharanpur in Western UP. He is supposed to cure the love smitten girls, if the boy happens to be a Muslim!

The word “love Jihad’ which played a major role in mobilizing the Hindu community for violence, has a strange history. As such the two components of this word Love and Jihad, who so ever manufactured it, have a very different meaning. Since 9/11 2001 the word Jihad has been employed in the popular media in a very negative way and that meaning has by now become part of the ‘social common sense’. Contrary to the meaning of the word Jihad in Koran, which means striving, it came be projected as killing of non-Muslims. The word Love Jihad must be a creation of an evil genius and it has come to be used to further demonize the Muslim community. The propaganda has been that some Muslim organizations are funding Muslim youth, to lure the non Muslim girls, to marry them and to increase the Muslim population. The rumor is being spread that youth are given money to buy motorbike, mobile etc and lure the non Muslim girls. 

While doing Google search, if you type, ‘why Hindu Girls are’, the other sentence which pops up on the search engine is ‘are attracted to Muslim boys”! Recently in Maharashtra, a group “Hindu Raksha Samiti” has been claiming to save Hindu religion by breaking up the Hindu Muslim couples, if the girl happens to be a Hindu girl. Not that there are too many such couples, just a suspicion and these self appointed guardians of Hinduism pounce on the boy. A booklet in Marathi on Love Jihad shows a Muslim boy riding the Motor bike, with Hindu girl riding pillion. The word has been so popularized that even a Christian group in Kerala allied with the Sangh progeny, VHP to stop this non existing phenomenon.

In India the word began to be used in coastal Karnataka, Mangalore couple of years ago, and in parts of Kerala. It was Sri Ram Sene founded by RSS trained Swayam Sevak, Pramod Mutalik, which started attack on Hindu girl-Muslim boy couples. The marriages of such combinations started being looked at with suspicion and if parents were opposed to the marriage, Sri Ram Sene would help to take the matter to the court also. The pretext was that the girl has been forced to marry the Muslim boy. Funnily in the case of Sijalraj and Azghar the judge of Karnatak High Court, went on to give the ruling, that the facts (Love Jihad) had “national ramifications… concern security, besides the question of unlawful trafficking of women,”! So it ordered the Director-General and Inspector-General of Police to hold a thorough investigation into to ‘love jihad’. Pending that, the girl was asked to stay with her parents. The case was that of a simple Hindu Muslim marriage and the girl stood to her version and refused to bow to the social pressures. The police investigation showed that the notion of ‘love Jihad’ is a cooked up one with no substance whatsoever.

In a similar case earlier the Kerala High court while hearing the appeal from two parents passed a similar order. Two Hindu girls had eloped and got converted to Islam and planned to get married. Kerala court also ordered the police authorities to investigate this phenomenon. The police investigation again showed that there is no such phenomenon as Love Jihad. The organizational promotion of such marriages is a hoax but has become part of social understanding.

Shri Ram Sene propaganda stated that over 4000 Hindu girls have been lured into conversions. This concoction was aggressively put across through various mechanisms. This laughable, figment of imagination spread like wild fire and frightened the parents. The trajectory of many of these girls who initially state about their love for the boy and voluntary conversion, changes many a times after they are forced to stay with their parents. Under a sort of emotional blackmail, some girls give in and later say that they were brain washed, shown a Jihadi CD and what not.

We have witnessed such acts in the form of propaganda in Gujarat in the wake of carnage, that ‘Muslim boys are luring Adivasi girls’. There Babu Bajarangi, a VHP-Bajrang Dal activist, who was also a major participant in Gujarat carnage (2002), formed a goon-gang. This gang attacked couples and forced them to separate if they belonged to different religions. All this is presented as defense of religion! As such inter-caste, inter-religious marriages are a normal natural part of a plural society. With rise of the communal politics, these inter-religious marriages are being opposed very dangerously. We have also the case of Rijwan Ur Rehman married to Priyanka Todi, daughter of an affluent and powerful business magnate of Kolkata. She was forced to turn around under emotional blackmail from parents and relatives. The details were not known, what is known is that later Rijwan Ur Rehman was forced to commit suicide. In all such cases the role of police, state machinery, has been totally against the spirit and provisions of law, the protectors of law acting to support the things totally against the law.

Such campaigns against inter-religion, inter-caste marriages are not only against the spirit of national integration they also aim to control the lives of girls in the patriarchal mode. Women’s bodies are made symbols of community honor. In addition the bogey against a minority is whipped up to aid the divisive politics. It is a double bonus for sectarian politics. Since in patriarchal norms women are regarded as property of man and are made to live under the control structure defined by men, such an issue rouses high emotions. The agenda of communal politics targets minorities, Muslims at one level and promotes patriarchal norms at another.

Over a period of time, from being just a mechanism to control the lives of Hindu girls, a tool to ensure that girls don’t have the right to choose their own life partners, this phrase has been used to instigate violence as witnessed in Muzaffarnagar. Most of the pretexts of communal violence are cooked up, gradually manufactured. This term ‘Love Jihad’ by now is being used as a dangerous weapon. Lot of messages on whatsApp and face book are flying and relating the phenomenon as an international conspiracy of the Muslims. On other side Jodha Akabar is being cited as the initial incident of this phenomenon. Clearly one knows that kings used to have such marriages as a part of political alliances, cutting across other boundaries. How cleverly the popular legend of Jodha Akbar is being manipulated!

The politics in the name of religion, the politics of Sangh Parivar here in India or that of Taliban’s in Afghanistan, Islamic fundamentalists, or even Christian fundamentalists all operate on the same wavelength as far as crushing the rights of women is concerned. In line with this starting from Sri Ram Sene, to Babu Bajrangi to those orchestrating violence in Muzzafarnager, they all operate on the premise, that women are the property of men and their lives have to be controlled. The truth is not the issue here; the myth has been drilled in to the thinking of society. This social thinking is being stepped up by the activities of RSS and affiliates who are having door to door campaign to spread the venom of communal hatred.

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Is ‘Hindu’ our National Identity?

Ram Puniyani

From the decade of 1980 the identity based politics has come to the fore in our Country. The Shah Bano issue, the Ram Temple imbroglio and the Rath yatras, brought to fore the issues related identity, the first major casualty of this politics was the demolition of Babri Masjid. Around that the notion that we are a Hindu nation propped up in a serious way and also that ‘we are all Hindus’ came to the fore. Lately with Modi-BJP getting simple majority in the parliament, this formulation is being asserted more powerfully. Around 1990 Murli Manohar Joshi, the then BJP President, said that we are all Hindus, Muslims are Ahmadiya Hindus, Christians are Christi Hindus and Jains-Sikhs-Buddhists are also Hindus as such. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are regarded as sects of Hindu pantheon by RSS. It is another matter that when the earlier RSS Sarsanghchalka, K. Sudarshan, said that Sikhism is not a religion as such but is a mere sect of Hinduism, there were massive protests in Punjab.

With Modi at helm, the RSS combine is going hammer and tongs in asserting that all Indians have to call themselves as Hindus. Keeping this in mind, in tune with ‘when asked to bend you crawl’ the Goa Deputy Chief Minister Francis Desouza, a member of BJP, said that Christians are Christian Hindus. The RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat went on the reiterate that "The entire world recognizes Indians as Hindus therefore India is a Hindu state. This is a very simple thing, if inhabitants of England are English, those of Germany are Germans and USA is Americans, all those who live in Hindustan are known as Hindus." Mixing up Hindu with Hindutva, an altogether different category; he stated that "The cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture," To articulate the political agenda behind all these assertions, Goa’s Co-operatives Minister Deepak Dhavalikar (BJP) told the assembly that India could well be on the way of becoming a "Hindu nation", with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm.
The whole rigmarole of Hindu, Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra is very deliberate and a part of political agenda. These three terms have to be seen in a historical context. The claims about Hinduism have to be seen in today’s context. The evolution of the term Hindu has a long journey. Over a period of time its usage has changed. Its use for political goals; political adaptation is Hindutva and Hindutva’s political goal is Hindu Rashtra (Nation). These terminologies have been neatly packaged by the Sangh combine, as part of Nationalism, which they believe in.
It is interesting to note that till 8th century the scriptures called as Hindu scriptures do not have the word Hindu in them. This word Hindu as such came into being with the Arabs and Middle East Muslims coming to this side of the continent. They called the land on east side of Sindhu as Hindu. Thus the word Hindu began as a geographical category. So even today in some parts of the World, especially in West Asia, India is referred to as Hindustan. Mr. Bhagwat is wrong to say that we are referred to as Hindustan all over. It is only in Saudi Arabia and West Asia, that the word Hindustan is prevalent. In Saudi even today the Muslims going for Hajj are referred to as Hindi and In Saudi Arabia the discipline of arithmetic in their language is called Hindsa (Coming from Hind).
It was later that religious traditions prevailing in this part started being called as Hindu religion. The notion that there was a prevalence of a Hindu culture here is a pure ideological construct. The Indus valley civilization had its own features distinct from the other parts. The Aryans were initially a pastoral society, and then they went for settled agriculture and formation of Kingdoms. The native Adivasis had their own culture. The Brahimanical and Buddhist traditions were again very distinct, the litmus test here is the belief in caste system, Brahmanism holding to birth based graded hierarchy and Buddhism opposing the same. The assertion that a homogenous culture prevailed is a total myth. We know that culture is always evolving through interaction which is due to migrations and mobility.
The term Hindutva emerges in late 19th century with the rise of communal politics in opposition to the nascent Indian National Movement. When Indian National Congress was form in 1885, the Muslim Feudal classes and Hindu Feudal classes opposed it and both articulated their own communal ideology. The one coming from Hindu communal stream was vaguely called Hindutva. This was brought to the fore prominently by Savarkar in 1924. Savarkar also defined Hindu as one who regards this land as Holy land and father land, keeping Christians and Muslims out of the definition of Hindus. Hindutva as per him is a total Hinduness, common race (Aryan) Culture (Brahminic) and the land spread from Sindhu to sea. He also conceptualized Hindu Rashtra, as the goal of Hindutva ideology. This goal of Hindu Rashtra was picked up by RSS from 1925. The goal of Hindu Rashtra was opposed to the goal of Indian National Movement, which aimed at secular democratic India.
There are also assertions that we all should call ourselves as Hindus, since it is a ‘way of life’ common to all the people living here. This is a clever trick to deceive. Many a Muslim communalists similarly say that ‘Islam is a way of life’. Religion alone is not the ‘way of life’; way of life is much broader and includes language, local-regional cultural nuances, which cannot be uniform. Religion, again is not monolithic, and is a part of way of life, not the other way around. The matter as to what are we as a political entity had been a subject of extensive debate in the Constituent Assembly and the conclusion was to call this country as “India that is Bharat’, a religion neutral term. Today Hindu is not a regional-‘national’ identity; it is primarily a religious identity. The subtle trick in calling everybody Hindu is to first talk of geographical identity, common ancestor and then to say that since we are all Hindus, the Hindu scriptures, Gita, Manusmriti are all our national books, cow is our National animal; we all have to worship Ram etc.
This is not an innocuous step. In the beginning ‘we are all Hindus, then so we are a Hindu nation and then follow the dictates coming from Hindu holy seers or self proclaimed custodians of Hinduism. The position of Constitution is very clear that Hindu is a religious identity and India is a national identity. Surely RSS never had anything to do with either the freedom movement or belief in the Indian Constitution so in pursuance of its agenda, in contrast to Indian Constitution, which gives us the Indian identity, RSS wants to impose Hindu identity.
What will happen in the next step become clear from the following discussion which transpired in the RSS training camp, which gives us the inkling of the agenda of RSS in the long term. Let’s see the statement of RSS worker Joshi, couple of decades ago,  “During a question-and-answer session, a volunteer asked Yadavrao Joshi, then the head of Sangh workers across all of south India, “We say RSS is a Hindu organization. We say we are a Hindu nation, India belongs to Hindus. We also say in the same breath that Muslims and Christians are welcome to follow their faith and that they are welcome to remain as they are so long as they love this country. Why do we have to give this concession? Why don’t we be very clear that they have no place if we are a Hindu country?” Joshi replied “As of now, RSS and Hindu society are not strong enough to say clearly to Muslims and Christians that if you want to live in India, convert to Hinduism. Either convert or perish. But when the Hindu society and RSS will become strong enough we will tell them that if you want to live in India and if you love this country, you accept that some generations earlier you were Hindus and come back to the Hindu fold.”  (http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/rss-30#sthash.GmBGCZLQ.dpuf )
So what Sangh Combine had been aspiring from last nine decades is being asserted with bigger authority with Modi Sarkar at center. What Bhagwat of RSS is saying and followers are speaking on the TV debates is a clear violation of the values of Indian Constitution. So where are we heading is a question which all the citizens have to become aware and stick to what we have gained through freedom movement epitomized in our Constitution. That needs to be saved and protected from the sectarian motivated agenda.

The Modi Sarkar: Initial Symptoms

Ram Puniyani

It is already over two months that Narendra Modi has taken over as the prime minister of the country. While some may call it as a ‘honey moon period’ others will say that its actions during last few months are an indication enough of shape of things to come. It goes without saying that Modi is the Pracharak of RSS, which is aiming at converting the secular democratic India into a Hindu Rashtra. Modi came to power with many planks, many factors went into his victory, one of that was the catchy phrase’ “Acche Din Aane Wale hain”  For the people, who have been restless  due to rising prices and inflation, there has been no respite and many of them have started feeling the regret of being taken in by the propaganda of Acche din… As such this was a major propaganda point so a large section of people are disgruntled.

This Government did begin with a major initiative in the area of relationship with the South Asian neighbors. It invited all the heads of South Asian countries for swearing in ceremony. People had their eyes on the invitation for the Pakistani Prime Minister Navaz Sharif as the BJP’s longest ally Shiv sena was opposed to it. Overruling objections from Shiv Sena, Modi went ahead in getting Sharif to visit to India. This may open the path of peaceful relations with the neighbors, Pakistan in particular. One knows that a peaceful neighborhood is more conducive for growth and development and India has to gain a lot in terms of trade, education and medical facilities being opened up for these countries and making a good deal of revenue. At another level the Government showed its shift away from India’s West Asia policy as Sushma Swaraj, the Foreign minister went on to equate Palestine, the victim with the oppressor Israel, who has violated most of the UN resolutions. The vote on this matter did follow the Indian policy so far, and that is a matter of great relief. Modi as Prime minister is wearing his religion on his sleeve. Be it participation in Ganga Aarti in Varanasi or participating in Puja in Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal, he has no qualms about doing the same as the head of a theoretically secular state.

The formation of the Government gave a signal that doubtful elements like Sanjeev Balyaan, who is widely seen as having a major hand in Muzzafarnagar violence, as a reward for his role in the communalization of the polity and this is something which needs discouragement if we want to preserve the integrity of the nation.

The case of Gopal Subramanian, an outstanding advocate, came as a shock to many as he is known to be competent and upright. He was denied the nomination as the judge on Supreme Court bench. One recalls that as Amicus curie of the Court Mr. Subramaiam had brought forth the links of Sohrabuddin fake encounter and the present BJP President Amit  Shah, it is suspected that to be the reason for this denial. Subramaniam Swamy the top leader of BJP showed his discomfort with Gopal Subramaniam as according to Mr. Swami, Gopal had hurt the feelings of Hindus in the case of Ram Setu issue.

On other fronts there are symptoms which are ominous so to say. Right in the beginning, a confidential report was deliberately leaked that the major foreign funded NGOs, like Green Peace are retarding the country’s growth. We know that this foreign funding is regulated by the home ministry and there are enough checks and balances to prevent adverse use of funds. This leaking of the report and the utterances of the top Govt officials has sent the message down the line where by the harassment of these NGOs has come up retarding their work. Surely these NGOs are also the ones who have been fighting for the cause of environment, problems related to poverty and other issues related to peoples’ empowerment. As such these dissenting voices should be an integral part of a caring democracy.

While MHRD minister has not stated clearly but Mr. Dinanath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Abhiyan Samiti has stated that he met the HRD minister who has promised him to change the school syllabus to make it in tune with the ideology of RSS, which is parochial and sectarian. Similar changes were brought in during the NDA regime 1999. A sample of this was to introduce courses like Jyotish Shatra (Astrology) and Paurohitya (Performance of religious rituals) in our universities. The government instruction to celebrate the Sanskrit week was seriously opposed by many states, Tamil Nadu in particular. The appointment of Prof Y.Sudrashan Rao tells the tale as to in which direction our research is going to be directed. Prof Rao has been working on the project to prove the historicity of Mahabharat. He has also come forward in the defense of caste system on the grounds that it worked and that nobody had complained about it.

During this period the affiliated wings of RSS have become bolder. In particular the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders like Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia have given speeches which are very frightening to the religious minorities. In a way such elements are openly threatening the Muslims. Singhal claimed that Modi's victory was a blow to Muslim politics because it showed elections could be won without Muslim support. He also claimed that Modi is an "ideal" RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) volunteer who would implement the Hindutva agenda

It is no coincidence that the Goa’s BJP’s deputy Chief Minister went on to say that he is a Hindu Christian, this deliberate confusion being the earlier use of Hindu as a geographical category to the presently used religious category in a way is the violation of the religious freedom of the minorities in India. Another BJP MLA opposed Sania Mirza being appointed as the brand ambassador of Telangana, on the ground that she is ‘daughter-in-law’ of Pakistan. This statement goes against our Constitution and has not been strongly opposed by the top leadership, who has soft peddled the issue giving a wrong signal.

The so called Hindutva agenda is being brought into operation slowly. The minorities affairs minister Nazma Heptullah stated that Muslims are not a minority, while Parsis are. Parsis are a comparatively better off community while Sachar Committeee tells us the plight of Muslim community and need to initiate affirmative action for them. The Article 370, which was brought in due to peculiar circumstances and is a bridge between Indian and Kashmir, is being questioned. The Uniform civil code is being bandied without going into the subtle nuances of social reform and the need for grounding of such a law in the concept of Gender Justice. These topics have been debated endlessly and need to be handled taking along the opinions of people of Kashmir on ones hand and women from minority community on the other.

The need is to ensure that interests of the country’s people are kept uppermost, the way invitation to Nawaz Sharif shows, should be appreciated. The other measures show that there is an attempt to undermine the diverse nature of our polity, there is an attempt to bring in RSS agenda through education and culture, which are dangerous and need to be opposed.

Ideology as a Cover for Political Agenda: New ICHR Chief is a Communal Ideologue

Ram Puniyani

Electoral and political arena is only one of the grounds through which political agenda of vested interests is achieved. Capturing of people’s mind, the ideological propagation, is the foundation on which political agenda stands and perpetuates itself. That’s how the change in History text books or teaching a communal version of History is a necessary part of sectarian nationalism in many South Asian countries. In Pakistan the communal elements teach that foundation of Pakistan begins with the victory of Mohammad bin Kasim in Sind in eight century! One knows that the basic difference in the kingdoms and nation states is too gross to be glossed over like this but any way if communalists have the levers of power, like education, in their hands anything can be manipulated and presented in a form which indoctrinates the large section of population. That’s how when the NDA Government came to power last time around (1999), one of its action was changing the history books to bring in the communal version of the past. This time around with BJP led NDA coming to power with bigger majority, matters are going to be worse off if one looks at what is being planned in the arena of education in particular.

Prof. Y.Sudarshan Rao, not much known for his academic accomplishments in the discipline of History, has been appointed as the chief of ICHR (Indian Council for Historical Research). Prof. Rao has been working on proving the historicity of epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. In addition rather than peer-reviewed research papers, he has been speaking his mind through blogs, which are reflective of his ideological moorings. Though he claims not to be part of RSS, his outpourings do show the inklings of agenda of Hindu Rashra inherent in them, the glorification of caste system, the glorification of Hindu past and it’s being tarnished by alien Muslim rule. As per him the “Most of the questionable social customs in the Indian society as pointed out by the English educated Indian intellectuals and the Western scholars could be traced to this period of Muslim rule in north India spanning over seven centuries.” He argues that “The (caste) system was working well in ancient times and we do not find any complaint from any quarters against it.”

Had Prof Rao done some rational study in to untouchability, caste system and other practices, which were criticized by many during rising Indian national movement, he would have known that caste system’s adverse effects were not due to the rule of Muslim kings, but were inherent in scriptures, which reflected social system of that time. As such the social arrangement of that time gradually got transformed into hereditary system. With this purity-pollution came in; an accompaniment much before the advent of rule of Muslim kings.

Muslim kings as such did not change the social system of caste in any way. That was not their goal anyway. On the contrary the Muslim community itself came to adopt caste system at social level. While in Pakistan the communal Historiography refuses to recognize the existence of Hinduism, Hindus, in India the communal thinking puts all the blame of abominable social customs to ‘outside’ influence. In tune with that the attempt of the new Chief of ICHR is to put the blame of the adverse practices of caste system to external factors, the Muslim rule. In Prof. Rao’s fictional history, the inconvenient portions are omitted and the picture is created ‘where’ all the evils are due to external factor of Muslim kings. At basic level he forgets that Muslim kings retained the social system prevalent here and their administration was a mixed one, Hindu-Muslim one, e.g. 34% of Court officials of Aurangzeb were Hindus. This ideologically indoctrinated Professor wants to erase from his and our memory the fact that caste system and oppressive gender hierarchy do get well articulated in Manu smriti, which reflects the social norms which came to be rooted by first and second Century AD.

There are quotes in the Rig Veda and Manusmriti to show that low castes were prohibited from coming close to the high castes and they were to live outside the village. While this does not imply that a full-fledged caste system had come into being in Rig Vedic times, the four-fold division of society into varnas did exist, which became a fairly rigid caste system by the time of theManusmriti.

‘In Vajasaneyi Samhita (composed around tenth century bc) the words Chandal and Paulkasa occur. In Chhandogya Upanishad (composed around eighth century bc) it is clearly said that “those persons whose acts were low will quickly attain an evil birth of a dog or a hog or a Chandala”.’ (Chhandogya Upanishad V. 10.7)

The first major incursions of Muslim invaders into India began around the eleventh century ad, and the European conquests of India began in the seventeenth–eighteenth centuries. The shudras began to be excluded from caste society, and ‘upper’ castes were barred from inter-dining or inter-marrying with them. Notions of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’ were enforced strictly to maintain caste boundaries much before that. Shudras became ‘untouchables’ and this rigid social division that Manu’s Manav Dharmashastra (Human Law Code) codified.

M.S. Golwalkar, the late Sarsanghchalak (Supremo) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), upholds the Varna system, ‘It is none of the so-called drawbacks of Hindu Social order, which prevents us from regaining our ancient glory.’ (M.S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined, Bharat Publications, Nagpur, 1939, p. 63.) Later he defended it in a different way, ‘If a developed society realizes that the existing differences are due to the scientific social structure and that they indicate the different limbs of body social, the diversity would not be construed as a blemish.’ (Organiser, 1 December 1952, p. 7) Deendayal Upadhyaya, another major ideologue of Sangh Parivar stated, ‘In our concept of four castes (varnas), they are thought of as different limbs of virat purush (the primeval man)…These limbs are not only complimentary to one another but even further there is individuality, unity. There is a complete identity of interests, identity, belonging…If this idea is not kept alive, the caste instead of being complimentary can produce conflict. But then that is a distortion.’ (D. Upadhyaya, Integral Humanism, New Delhi, Bharatiya Jansangh, 1965, p. 43) 

The best contrast in the approach to abolition of the caste system and untouchability can be seen in the approaches of Ambedkar and Golwalkar. The former, holding Manusmriti as the upholder of caste system initiated a social movement which led to burning of this holy tome, while the latter wrote eulogies of Manu and the system of law provided by him.

As far as the argument that ‘the system served well and there no complaints’, is half true and half false. Yes it worked well for the upper castes who were the beneficiaries. It was oppressive and inhuman to the lower castes. Yes, there are no complaints recorded, very true. The low castes were excluded from the arena of learning, so there is no question of dissatisfaction being recorded. While as a matter of fact right from the time of Lord Buddha, the protests against the caste system came up, Buddhism itself was a movement against the system of caste hierarchy. The medieval saints like Kabir and his likes powerfully expressed the sigh of oppression of the lower castes, their suffering at the hands of the beneficiaries of the caste system, whose cause Prof Rao is espousing and upholding. What direction our scholarship of the past, caste-gender hierarchy will take is becoming clear with the changes which have been brought in ICHR. Sign of times to come!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Gods on Earth: Shankaracharya says no to worship of Sai Baba

Ram Puniyani

The phenomenon of God is probably the most complex one in the World. For believers there is a range of belief system about the supernatural powers. For agnostics it is ‘I don’t know’ and for atheists there is no supernatural power. The systems of thought relevant to the topic range from Animists (nature worshippers), polytheists (multiple gods/goddesses), tri-theists (Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh or Father, Son and the Holy spirit), Monotheists (single Universal God) to Atheists. In the concept of God we have ‘god as a physical being’ to formless the God. Adivasis are animists, worshipping the nature and spirits of their ancestors. In different religions the concept is very different, including the fact that some religions do not have the concept of God like Buddhism and Jainism. Polytheism prevailed in Greek society, with different Gods and Goddesses endowed with special virtues. Ancient Aryans also had polytheism, with multitude of Gods and Goddesses looking after different virtues and aspects of the life on Earth. We have a Goddess each for wealth (Laxmi) knowledge (Sarswati) and Power (Durga) We also have a God each for lightening (Indra) air (Marut) sex (Kamdevta) liquor (Som devta) amongst the plethora of the divine powers. Hindu mythology is a rainbow exposition of the diversity and complexity of the lives of Gods and Goddesses.

There is no fixed timeline of the phenomenon of God. Diverse concepts begin in different time periods.  From animism, the most ancient concept to polytheism-monotheism and atheism come up over a period of time but not in a sequential fashion. Simultaneously, there come up the traditions of Charvak, Buddhism and Jainism which either do not talk about God or deny the existence of God. While today the prophet based religions like Christianity and Islam have a definitive concept, the Hindu religion has plethora of divine powers, Hinduism also has assimilated the diverse concepts, which merrily co-exist. That’s how in my childhood while reciting Hanuman Chalisa and reading Ramayan, (Lord Ram) I could reverentially go through the text of Mahabharata, with many Gods playing their different interesting roles. My family-community, worshipped Banyan tree on one hand and on the other had parallel worship of bullocks, of snakes and what have you. I vividly remember taking the wooden bullocks to neighbors and getting some sweets or small change as a reward. Every Saturday, mendicants with a vessel filled with oil used to come and my grandfather used to slip some coins in to the vessel, while at the same time performing the puja of Lord Ram.

Last three decades in particular while on one hand one saw the plethora of Godmen like Mahesh Yogi, Rajneesh, J.Krishnamurthy, Asaram Bapu, Satya Sai baba (Bhagwan) coming to the fore, the popularity of Sai Baba of Shirdi and Mata Vaishno Devi has gone up exponentially. Bhagwan Satya Sai, who died few years ago, had vast following and he was regarded as the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai baba. At the same time Shirdi Sai pilgrimage became very popular and his temples came up in most cities. Sai Baba of Shirdi has a beautiful syncretic background. While he was born in a Muslim family he came up more in Sufi tradition and intermingled with equal affection amongst Hindus as well as Muslims. His major focus was bringing Hindus and Muslims together. One major landmark in his life will give the essence of his efforts. In 1896 he instituted the annual Sufi ‘urs' festival with the explicit purpose of bringing these two communities together. In 1912 he combined this Urs with Hindu Ram navami festival. This effort of his strengthened his Sufi initiative of co-operation, symbiosis and tolerance. During the festival Hindus would worship in the mosque along with Muslims, each community following their own rituals. The Baba would put the sandalwood paste on the forehead of Mlahspati, the priest of local Khandoba temple, who in turn would reciprocate the gesture. Baba was deeply steeped in humanism, the core of all religions, and so initially Muslims as well as Hindus started respecting him.

By and by more and more of Hindus started worshipping him and today he is more of a Hindu deity than a Muslim one. In Hinduism as such there is a scope for new Gods and Goddesses also (e.g. Santoshi Ma, Satyanarayan). Apart from Sai Baba; Swami Parmhans is another one who has been raised to the level of divinity, and his more famous disciple Swami Vivekananda, also started a mission in his name.

The controversy around worshipping of Sai Baba was raised by Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand (June 2014) who described Shirdi Sai baba as a Muslim ascetic, and proclaimed that he cannot be worshipped like a Hindu deity. He also said that his campaign is to protect the Hindu religion and that he will continue irrespective. Sadhvi Uma bharti currently Union Minister of Water Resources, who was one of the prominent figures in Ram Temple agitation, leading to demolition of Babri masjid and deepening the communal divides, is also worshipper of Sai baba. In a letter to Swami Swaroopanand she explained the rationale behind her statement where she had said that looking upon someone as a god was people's personal choice.

While Sai Baba has been accepted as God by large sections of Hindus, it is probably for the first time that someone, Shankaracharya, has objected to this popular trend. As such Hinduism is a collation of multiple traditions. The clerical Brahminical tradition to which Shankracharya belongs is rigid and orthodox, while the other traditions of Nath, Tantra, Siddhanta and Bhakti are more flexible and adapt to the situation very easily. The Hindu practices have evolved continuously. On one hand the clerical ones emphasize on the status quo, the non Brahminical traditions have flexibility and fluidity. It will require a deeper study to understand as to why the worship of Jai Mata Di, Sai Baba, Santoshi Maa has become more popular during last few decades, surely it is part of broader inclusive Hindu practice as well. One needs to realize that the religious practices of different religions are not uniform. Even in the Universal, Prophet based religions; there are sects, Catholic-Protestants, Shia-Sunni, Hinayan-Mahayan, Digambar-Shetambar, to name the few. The orthodox versions of religions have been used as the base of politics within every religion. South Asia is today in the grip of rising religiosity on the one hand and growing assertion of politics in the name of religion on the other. The more conservative orthodox versions are picked up for political abuse, Wahabi version from Islam, Brahminical version from Hinduism, and similar conservative version from Buddhism in Myanmar-Sri Lanka-Thailand in particular.

People should be left to their own wisdom and choice in matters of the faith. Imposing, asserting a particular version from the interpretation of the texts does complicate the matters and creates strife, the way the controversy raised by Shankaracharya is doing.   

While on the topic of God, recently a book has come out, “Why Atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky” written by Nigel Barber. This book predicts that religions, believers, will become a minority Vis a Vis the practice of secularism in the decade of 2040s. This book relates the rise/fall of the religion with economic power and makes an observation that atheists are much more in number in developed countries. This book is based on the study of 137 nations conducted by the author who concludes that in the countries; more developed the welfare system; higher is the number of atheists. The book’s crunch line is, in countries where distribution of income is even, lesser is the number of religious people. The author is a prominent psychologist. He makes a prediction that people will feel lesser need of supernatural beliefs when the tangible world is providing them for their real needs. Also in a survey conducted in America 20% people identified themselves as Atheists.

While we wait for the realisability of such prediction, we should respect the people’s choices about their faith, this is a message loud and clear given by the followers of Sai baba in response to what Shankaracharya said.


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