Note: This short piece was originally published on the website of Sadhana Coalition of Progressive Hindus, a grassroots organization I’m part of. When I use “we,” I am referring to Sadhana.
In the past few days, thousands of people across the world, both in India and abroad, have publicly taken a stand against the cow/beef-related mob violence, lynchings, and targeted killings of Muslims, Dalits, and other marginalized groups in India, under the slogan #NotInMyName. (If you want to read more about the protests and the violence that inspired them, you can Google “not in my name protests india”.) These protests have been widely praised, but also heavily critiqued by others.
Rajesh Rajamani argues that the #NotInMyName protests are “part of the problem,” and take focus away from “Brahmanism, which is at the core of the Hindu religion, and its scriptures that sanction social inequality and allow for violence to preserve its unequal structure.” He further states that any distinction made between Hinduism and Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) is “imaginary and false”.
Mr. Rajamani is correct in pointing out that any discussion of the violence perpetrated against Dalits and Muslims is incomplete if we do not also address the systemic violence that takes place through the institution of caste. Brahmanism refers specifically to the system of caste hierarchy which leads to entrenched social inequity.
However, we simply cannot agree with Mr. Rajamani’s claims that Brahmanism lies at the heart of Hinduism, and that Hindutva is no different from Hinduism.
As you can probably tell by now, I really don’t like Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). This article discusses how many religious/observant Hindus have been relatively silent when it comes to speaking out against Hindutva, and how that has serious consequences.
“Amidst the noisy debate on intolerance that marked the political discourse this year, one voice has been conspicuously absent — that of the Hindu obviously steeped in the tradition. Of course, a large number of Hindus, at least nominal Hindus, have spoken out against the growing climate of bigotry and chauvinism — Nayantara Sahgal, Kailash Satyarthi, P.M. Bhargava, N.R. Narayana Murthy, Raghuram Rajan, Admiral Ramdas and now the new Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, to name a few. However, none of them appears to be a tilak-sporting, shloka-chanting, bhajan-singing, puja-performing, pilgrimage-going, observant Hindu. Rather, they are exactly the sort of urban, secularised, English-speakers that the proponents of Hindutva scorn as “inauthentic” in terms of their Hindu roots.
Indeed, most of India’s liberal Hindus would confess that they are Hindu, if at all, mainly in a vaguely spiritual and philosophical sense and have little understanding of Hinduism’s history or scriptures and no truck with its many rituals, symbols and observances. Their liberal sentiments are rooted largely in their own cosmopolitan experience and, at best, a homegrown understanding of the Hindu tradition absorbed from the family milieu rather than anchored in the texts and tenets of Hinduism. Of course, the more eclectically read can trot out a supportive quotation or two from the Gita, but their plural and tolerant understanding of Hinduism is instinctive rather than intellectual.
Sadly, however, this well-meaning guff is simply not going to cut it. The misguided rants of the RSS, Sangh Parivar and the rest of the Hindutva brigade have to be delegitimised from deep within Hinduism — by wielding the texts, idioms, history and practices of the Hindu tradition, rather than the liberal and secular values of the European Enlightenment. Hindutva can only be countered by showing it up as “un-Hindu”.
This is easier said than done. No Hindu religious leader of any consequence — not one of the hordes of gurus and mahants supposedly immersed in the tradition and, therefore, able to authoritatively represent its core values — has spoken out against the rampant distortions of Hinduism that are currently being propagated. On the contrary, many have implicitly condoned or are explicitly riding the Hindutva bandwagon. Sadly, there is no Swami Vivekananda around to once again articulate an ecumenical vision for Hinduism — “a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance”, as he memorably put it at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.