10 March 2008

Why Militant Hinduism? - 1

Arun Shourie on militant Hinduism:

"Your Hindutva is no different from Islamic fundamentalism" – a fashionable statement these days, one that immediately establishes the person's secular credentials. It is, of course, false, as we shall see in a moment. But there is a grain of potential truth in it – something that does not put Hinduism at par with Islam, but one that should, instead, serve as a warning to all who keep pushing Hindus around. That grain is the fact that every tradition has in it, every set of scriptures has in it enough to justify extreme, even violent reaction. From the very same Gita from which Gandhiji derived non-violence and satyagraha, Lokmanya Tilak constructed the case for ferocious response, not excluding violence. From the very same Gita from which Gandhiji derived his 'true law', shatham pratyapi satyam, 'Truth even to the wicked', the Lokmanya derived his famous maxim, shatham prati shaathyam, 'Wickedness to the wicked'.

The mistake is to assume that the sterner stance is something that has been fomented by this individual or that – in the case of Hindutva, by, say, Veer Savarkar – or by one organisation, say the RSS or the VHP. That is just a comforting mistake – the inference is that once that individual is calumnised, once that organisation is neutralised, 'the problem' will be over. Large numbers do not gravitate to this interpretation rather than that merely because an individual or an organisation has advanced it – after all, the interpretations that are available on the shelf far outnumber even the scriptures. They gravitate to the harsher rendering because events convince them that it alone will save them.

It is this tectonic shift in the Hindu mind, a shift that has been going on for 200 years, which is being underestimated. The thousand years of domination and savage oppression by rulers of other religions; domination and oppression which were exercised in the name of and for the glory of and for establishing the sway of those religions, evinced a variety of responses from the Hindus. Armed resistance for centuries... When at last such resistance became totally impossible, the revival of bhakti by the great poets... When public performance even of bhakti became perilous, sullen withdrawal, preserving the tradition by oneself, almost in secrecy: I remember being told in South Goa how families sustained their devotion by painting images of our gods and goddesses inside the tin trunks in which sheets and clothing were kept. The example of individuals: recall how the utter simplicity and manifest aura of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa negated the efforts of the missionaries, how his devotion to the image of the Goddess at Dakshineshwar restored respectability to the idolatry that the missionaries and others were traducing... The magnetism of Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi... Gandhiji's incontestable greatness and the fact that it was so evidently rooted in his devotion to our religion...

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