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RAM JETHMALANI
ETHICS & POWER

Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.

Hindutva is a secular way of life

The monopoly for declaring what is secular and what is not, remains the Congress’ personal political asset.

ast week, I have tried to explain to my readers the blatant misuse of the words "secularism" and "communalism" that the Congress party, since decades has indulged in. The noble concept of secularism that took centuries to evolve through great struggle and blood in Europe was converted into a smokescreen for the worst kind of vote bank communalism practised by the Congress for luring minority communities, creating chasms between the majority community and the minority communities, particularly the Muslim community, and then proclaiming sole guardianship of their welfare through promoting religion based vote bank politics of the most anti-secular kind.

Splitting the Hindu majority vote was never a challenge. They were already divided on caste lines. All that was needed was deepening the caste fissures. It was easy to woo the bottom of the pyramid communities, the Dalits, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Classes, and cultivate them into captive vote banks. But the whole edifice rested on dividing the majority community as much as possible through every conceivable measure, the most potent of which is caste. On this mission, the Congress has been extremely successful. This immoral and antinational policy worked well for the ruling Congress for the first few decades after Independence, because the historical injustice and humiliation had robbed the victims of ability to compete on equal terms or even to see through the vote bank purposes of the long ruling regime. Fortunately, new parties have come into existence and slowly the Congress game plan is losing its earlier efficacy. Even so, the monopoly for declaring what is secular and what is not, however warped or diabolic its definition, still remains a very personal political asset of the Congress. And they have not encountered any public challenge on that yet, particularly from the main Opposition party. Additionally, what is distressing is the disinformation and misunderstanding that I hear, day after day, from television anchors, political and civil society representatives, intellectuals and writers, and members of the public substituting the words Hindu and Hindutva for each other, as if they are one and the same.

The word Hinduism did not exist before 1830. It was created by the English colonialists. I quote this from the secular Encyclopaedia Britannica, and not from an Indian text, that can be alleged to be "Hindutva propaganda", a common but ignorant idiom of attack. There is no mention of the terms "Hindu" or "Sanatana Dharma" in the Vedas, Puranas or any other religious text prior to 1830 AD. Nor are they found in any inscription or in any record of foreign travellers to India before English rule. The term "Hindusthan" was first used in the 12th century by Muhammad Ghori, who dubbed his new subjects "Hindus".

Throughout India's ancient history, the word Hindu was never meant to denote religion. It was a geographic and cultural term used by the Greeks, Persians and Arabs, derived from the Sanskrit Sindhu, to describe the people living by and beyond the river Sindhu. The Greeks modified Sindhu to Indos, and it is said that ancient Persian explorers because of their pronunciation rules dropped the letter S from Sindhu, and called the people living around the Sindhu River as Hindus.

Though initially an outsiders' term, this nomenclature stuck and became a label after the Muslim conquests to distinguish between the original inhabitants of the land from the invaders. Then came the first census of India by the British in 1871 that defined "Hindu" as an omnibus term to encompass several religions that were not Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or Jain. Later, the term Sanatana Dharma was invented to deliberately swallow the English invention of Hinduism. The British, after the mutiny of 1857, had made it a policy to use every possible means — political, administrative and social to accentuate identity differences and create conflict between the Muslims and the Hindus and started official use of the term Hindu to connote religious identity. Thus, a term that originated to give geographical and cultural identity to a people, mutated through usage attributed by the rulers through the turbulent history of India, into a word connoting a religion, and that is how it stands today.

And what according to the British did their newly coined religion "Hindu" stand for? They couldn't figure out too much, except that it was an extremely lofty philosophy that truth or reality cannot be encapsulated in any dogma or creedal formulation, a perspective expressed in the Hindu prayer "may good thoughts come to us from all sides," translated into multileveled, and pluralistic traditions. Since the term "Hindu religion" denotes all the religions of India together, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Tantrism, Shaktism, etc., each with different doctrines, often contrary to one another, it could not refer to any one single religion.

Indeed, Encyclopaedia Britannica accepts that "Hinduism" is a blanket term covering several religions and does not refer to a single religion. "...Hinduism is both a civilisation and a congregation of religions; it has neither a beginning, nor a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy or organisation. It is the glorious catholicity of Hinduism that one can be a believer in one God, or multiplicity of Gods or even none at all. Hinduism does not expel much less crucify alleged non believers. Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved unsatisfactory in one way or another. ...Hinduism is not a revealed religion and, therefore, has neither a founder nor definite teachings or common system of doctrines ... It has no organisation, no dogma or accepted creeds. There is no authority with recognised jurisdiction. A man, therefore, could neglect any one of the prescribed duties of his group and still be regarded as a good Hindu."

These are some of the commentaries on the faith and practice of the religion practised from time immemorial of the people living beyond the Indus who came to be called as Hindus by foreign invaders, and their extraordinary and indefinable religion coined as Hinduism by the British.

Now, what is Hindutva? Agreed, it is rooted in the word Hindu that historically referred to people beyond the Indus, but was created into a religious denomination by the British. All it means is, "the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos", and by no means an anti minority or anti Muslim potion. "Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism... it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption... that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion..." These are not my words, but of the Supreme Court judgement of 1995 on Hindutva. For further details that I cannot explain owing to space constraints, I request my readers to go through the judgement which is available on the Internet. Do the Hindutva bashing "secular" sceptics cast aspersions on the Supreme Court order, or that Hindutva is nothing but a secular way of life?

However, the communal propaganda machinery relentlessly disseminates "Hindutva" as a communal word, something that has also become embedded in the minds and language of opinion leaders, including politicians, media, civil society and the intelligentsia. I earnestly request them to discover the true meaning of the word "Hindutva" as defined in the Supreme Court judgement, before they use it with communal overtone, as they have repeatedly been doing, even in the recent few weeks.

Hindutva is not hostility to any organised religion nor does it proclaim its superiority of any religion to another. It is the shield of security and freedom for all religious minorities. I request the Muslims of India in particular to respect and adopt its true meaning, for its core is Sadeva Kutambhekam: We are all one family.

I expected the BJP to translate the Supreme Court judgement into all languages and dialects and make the people understand its true meaning. But even the BJP is ready to fritter away this great spiritual and intellectual treasure for exigencies of politics compelling it to ambivalence. I congratulate our young Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray who has made it clear that BJP is its political ally if it stands steadfastly for "Hindutva".

Before I close, let me quote one of the last paras of the judgement: "The mischief resulting from the misuse of the terms by anyone in his speech has to be checked and not its permissible use. It is indeed very unfortunate, if in spite of the liberal and tolerant features of Hinduism recognised in judicial decisions, these terms are misused by anyone during the elections to gain any unfair political advantage. Fundamentalism of any colour or kind must be curbed with a heavy hand to preserve and promote the secular creed of the nation. Any misuse of these terms must, therefore, be dealt with strictly." Let the manipulators of the word Hindutva realise that articulating it with religious connotation is in violation of the letter and spirit of the Supreme Court judgement.

 
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