Updated: December 27, 2021 4:08:42 pm
Through this column, I hope to continue the conversation that Pratap Bhanu Mehta initiated on these pages (‘Hindus After Hindutva’, IE, December 16). Mehta rightly highlights the dangers of constructing a dichotomous relationship between Hinduism and Hindutva, where associating with one purifies, the other pollutes. But I will cut Rahul Gandhi a little slack because this positioning is today an electoral necessity. Non-BJP parties are struggling to find a vocabulary that allows them to remain connected to the Hindu universe, and they desperately need the vocabulary to convince Hindus to reject the BJP. Whether this strategy will work, I don’t know.
But I would suggest that our present struggle is not a confrontation between the vile Hindutva-vadi and the tolerant Hindu. Our situation is far more precarious because these two personas exist within each one of us. In other words, the Hindu is also the Hindutva-vadi and vice versa. Similarly, within the liberal Muslim lies the bigot and the chauvinist lingers beneath the all-embracing Christian. The atheist is not immune to this virus; she too is infected and simply uses ideological frameworks to perpetuate hate. The frightening part is that this is not hypocritical. We are truly both, and have evolved sophisticated ways of rationalising the coexistence of these opposites. With every rationalisation, the Hindutva-vadi ascends. Decency and morality are twisted to defend the sectarian inside.
Religion survives because of its contradictions. On the one side it recommends compassion even as it promotes hegemonic consolidation. The implied understanding is that to share love within the community, we need to hate the “outsider”. The faithful are participants in this constant philosophical tug of war. In the past, to some extent, the spiritual ethic subsumed our hatefulness; today, intoxicated as we are with fear and anger, there is no space for such sublimation. Maybe harping on a better past is also unsubstantiated nostalgia. Religion has always been weaponised, but there is a difference in what we are witnessing today: Othering as a nationally accepted action plan. The resentments of the past were constantly fanned, a simmering volcano just below the surface. When, on occasion, it erupted, it was quickly suppressed; the genesis ignored. And as silent onlookers who inhabit shared cultural spaces and perpetuate the foundational negative values that lead to violence, we too are culpable. Through all this, the powerful who lived outside the realm of faith have refused to engage with religion with respect. If we seek conversation with, and a change of heart among, Hindutva-vadis, we must find a way to begin these sincere conversations within our hearts.
We have always been afflicted by the disease that idealises both the good and the evil, and hence we paint characters monochromatically. Mehta is right about Ravana; he was dharmic and adharmic. Do we have the courage to say the same of Rama? The separation of the Hindu and Hindutva also comes from our inability to critically perceive the one we worship. When faith is just a metaphysical illusion for affirmation and internal gratification, Hindutva is a necessary antithesis. But if faith is a challenging space for reflection, we don’t need a separated identity for our ugliness. Even if some of Rama’s actions are unacceptable to me, my bhakti does not diminish. If anything, Rama becomes the truth, reality. Similarly, Rama Rajya must not be paraded as a flawless archetype, because it opens the door to the Hindu/Hindutva separation.
The other problem with Islamophobia being seen as synonymous with Hindutva is that it allows for the evasion of any discourse on casteism and gender discrimination. Where will they be placed: Under Hinduism or Hindutva? There can be no honest solidarity with Muslim citizens without the recognition of caste and gender discrimination of Hindu citizens. Many who speak of the evils of Hindutva are often casually casteist and misogynistic. There also exists the anti-caste Islamophobe who wants to do away with casteism so that Muslims can be cornered more effectively. Is such a person a Hindu or Hindutva-vadi?
There is another point of contention, and this comes from a different quarter: Ambedkarites. The argument is that Hinduism and Hindutva are one and the same, and there is only one possible solution to the problem they pose: Demolition of the Hindu faith. While I understand this point of view, I do not see it as a solution. This stance shuts the door on any conversation with the savarna Hindu. For our society to change, this thorny conversation has to happen over a sustained period of time. The savarna bhakta has to undergo socio-spiritual realisation, for which he has to listen to Dalit voices. But if that voice brands every savarna Hindu as beyond redemption until he rejects his faith, it terminates all possibility of creative transformation. The faithful are part of a structural design that is inherently hierarchical and many unthinkingly participate in oppressive group action. Ambedkar gifted us Navayana Buddhism, but we also need Navayana Hinduism.
There are many who have been indoctrinated into believing that the aggressive, vicious and bullying Hindu is the need of the hour. We need a discourse that acknowledges the existence of Hindutva within every one of us and convincingly points to the dangers it poses to our very existence. Our country stands at the edge of a cliff. We cannot afford to tip over, remain stationary or step back. We need to build bridges that take us across to the hills and valleys that surround us.
This column first appeared in the print edition on December 27, 2021 under the title ‘We are us and them’. The writer is a musician and an author
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