N. Sukumar and Shailaja Menon
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.
~ Luke 6:29
Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.
~ Mathew 7:12
The poster boy of Hindutva- Yogi Adityanath inadvertently played the devil’s advocate when he proclaimed, “The West followed Krishna’s philosophy of punishing devils even if they are your relatives” but Indians had become ‘soft’ and followed ‘Christ’s philosophy of offering another cheek if slapped on one”. “It is time to be Dronacharya who carries a bow, arrows with his message of peace of leave. “Shastra ke saath Shaastra“1.
The mandate of 2014 was premised on the twin principles of development and governance, “sabka saath, sabka vikas“. Gradually, the conspiracy is unfolding and the same group which eulogized Mr. Modi is getting a huge dose of reality check. Instead of rising foreign investment, agricultural growth, gleaming infrastructure, what is this ‘ghar waapsi’? One of the ardent supporters of Mr. Modi, Ms. Tavleen Singh lamented in her column in the Indian Express, “Why is the Prime Minister Allowing the RSS to steal His Mandate”2. In similar vein, Arun Shourie too commented, “‘Modi may be an agent of change, but he has to reshape an entire ocean’3. Did these seasoned journalists willingly walk up the garden path, eschewing all disbelief? Was Mr. Modi the ‘false god’ to whom the nation entrusted its destiny?
If one were to take Mr. Shourie’s statement about reshaping the ocean as the starting point, which ocean is Mr. Modi worried about? Is it the ocean of Hindutva of which he is an inseparable part? To revisit the mythological stories of which the Sangh Parivar is so fond of, the churning of the ocean produced not only nectar but also a deadly poison. Ultimately, Shiva takes it upon himself to consume the poison in order to save the denizens of both the earth and heavens. Unwittingly, Mr. Modi is in the position of ‘Neelkantha‘ (Shiva’s name after he consumed the poison which turned his throat blue), he cannot spit out the poison of Hindutva (which is his ideological parent) nor sacrifice it on the altar of ‘parivartan‘ and ‘vikas‘.
In order to justify its existence the Sangh Parivar needs to constantly manufacture enemies. No wonder, they draw inspiration from the Gita and aspire to make it into a national scripture. How does one condone the fratricidal violence espoused in the Gita? As argued by Ambedkar:
‘The Bhagvat Gita is not a gospel and it can therefore have no message and it is futile to search for one. The question will no doubt be asked: What is the Bhagvat Gita if it is not a gospel? My answer is that the Bhagvat Gita is neither a book of religion nor a treatise on philosophy. What the Bhagvat Gita does is to defend certain dogmas of religion on philosophic grounds. If on that account anybody wants to call it a book of religion or a book of philosophy he may please himself. But essentially it is neither. It uses philosophy to defend religion. The first instance one comes across in reading the Bhagvat Gita is the justification of war. Arjuna had declared himself against the war, against killing people for the sake of property. Krishna offers a philosophic defence of war and killing in war. The philosophic defence of war (Chapter II verses II to 28) offered by the Bhagvat Gita proceeds along two lines of argument. One line of argument is that anyhow the world is perishable and man is mortal. Things are bound to come to an end. Man is bound to die. Why should it make any difference to the wise whether man dies a natural death or whether he is done to death as a result of violence? Life is unreal, why shed tears because it has ceased to be? Death is inevitable, why bother how it has resulted? The second line of argument in justification of war is that it is a mistake to think that the body and the soul are one. They are separate. Not only are the two quite distinct but they differ in-as-much as the body is perishable while the soul is eternal and imperishable. When death occurs it is the body that dies. The soul never dies. Not only does it never die but air cannot dry it, fire cannot burn it, and a weapon cannot cut it. It is therefore wrong to say that when a man is killed his soul is killed. What happens is that his body dies. His soul discards the dead body as a person discards his old clothes—wears new ones and carries on. As the soul is never killed, killing a person can never be a matter of any movement. War and killing need therefore give no ground to remorse or to shame, so argues the Bhagvat Gita.
Another dogma to which the Bhagvat Gita comes forward to offer a philosophic defence is Chaturvarnya4. The Bhagvat Gita, no doubt, mentions that the Chaturvarnya is created by God and therefore sacrosanct. But it does not make its validity dependent on it. It offers a philosophic basis to the theory of Chaturvarnya by linking it to the theory of innate, inborn qualities in men. The fixing of the Varna of man is not an arbitrary act says the Bhagvat Gita. But it is fixed according to his innate, inborn qualities”5.
No wonder, the Gita created controversy in Russia where the court wanted to ban it as creating social discord6 .
In the Hindutva Garden of Eden, everything is in a pristine stage of purity, wherein dhoti clad men with sacred threads milk cows7, chattering away in Sanskrit and women are the epitome of virtue. This philosophy also provides the secret of eternal youth8, fertility and a corruption free society. However, some of us have eaten the forbidden fruit and refuse to be swayed by the sales pitch of the Promised Land. How do we forget that in the ‘revered texts’ of Hindutva, the envisioning project is highly discriminatory and exclusive in nature. The binary is very simple- if you do not subscribe to the ideas of the Gita, to the fact that once upon a time, the entire world was Hindu, that our ancestors knew about the flying machines and plastic surgery, you must be English speaking, pseudo-secular, left/liberal, in a nutshell, you have no business to exist in this ‘punyabhumi‘.
The latest salvo from the Hindutva stable had targeted a date- 25th December 2014. The idea is to celebrate the day as “Good Governance Day”. Apart from the fact that December 25 is venerated as the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, it is also the day when Babasaheb Ambedkar chose to burn the Manusmriti, the ‘supreme’ text which preaches exclusion, discrimination and dehumanization especially in the context of gender and caste. Despite the mystic of capitalist development notwithstanding, Indian society is grappling to make sense of ‘semi-feudal and semi-colonial remnants’9.
As Ambedkar has observed, throughout its historical trajectory there have been attempts to annihilate the superstructure- the edifice of caste brutality as a precursor to create a modern liberal society. At various historical junctures, different socio-religious ideologies emerged to counter the entrenched social hierarchies, from the sramanic tradition, Buddhism, Jainism, Bhakti, Sufi to the Christian Church. To cite just one illustration, a Catholic priest who was elevated to sainthood, Chavara Achan is not viewed as a priest alone, but also as a social reformer. He established a school with every church and offered free education with a view to help people from lower castes who had extremely limited access to education. He had made it his mission to encourage people from lower castes, particularly Dalits, to study. He even set up a school for Sanskrit, when it was the language of the social elite. He is also credited with the first noon meal programme for school kids.10 Instead of building up on the pluralistic and inclusive traditions, the government of the day both at the central level and few states who are supported by their fascist ideologies demanded to drop the word ‘secular’ from the Constitution.
Thus the electoral victory of the BJP meant that all manner of ideologues and dogma came creeping out of the woodwork only to face the reality check on February 7th 2015. Suddenly, the Modi-Shah juggernaut faced its toughest challenge. The slogans of ‘sabka saath: sabka vikas‘ rang hollow. When Muslims were abused and churches attacked in Delhi, nobody within the BJP or any administrative authority of the state sought to assuage the feelings of the citizens. The Delhi results proved the anger of the ordinary people who still have retained their faith in the constitutional mandate and voted against communal propaganda. The ordinary people are more concerned with their daily survival than chasing lofty dreams of development and governance. While addressing a conclave of Christian clerics, Prime Minister Modi is forced to send out a message that the state will accord respect to all religions.11
Undoubtedly, this set the cat among the pigeons in Nagpur and the RSS. In order to assuage the Hindutva rank and file that the government’s heart is beating for the cause, Maharashtra decided to ban beef and removed the reservation for Muslims in education. The meat industry is dominated by Muslims and the majority is employed in the informal sector. The level of education of the community is also abysmal. It has been argued that Muslims carry a double burden of being labeled as “anti-nationalists” and being appeased at the same time. The fact that the so-called appeasement has not resulted in any benefits is typically ignored. Identity markers often lead to suspicion and discrimination by people and institutions. Discrimination too is pervasive in employment, housing and education.
Gender injustice is usually identified purely with personal law to the exclusion of gender-related concerns in education and employment that Muslim women do face on a continuing basis. The public focus on personal law and other socio-cultural characteristics of the community also has another negative externality; the cause of backwardness in all spheres is assigned to the community itself. Moreover, the feeling of insecurity among Muslims is high, especially in communally sensitive states and among women. The discriminatory attitude of the police and others compounds this feeling; ghettoization is a result of insecurity and discrimination in housing, schools and jobs. Insecurity adversely affects mobility, especially of women, leading to situations wherein Muslims are not able to fully exploit economic opportunities12. How does one reconcile to the heinous statements of rabble rousers like ‘MP’ Yogi Adityanath exhorting even dead bodies of Muslim women to be raped, Muslims to be devoid of voting rights and mosques to be converted to pig pens13. Thus with one stroke, the state has succeeded in further ghettoizing the community and condoning intolerance. In such a scenario, one needs to revisit Ambedkar who had envisaged reservations as a weapon to represent and empower the stigmatized communities.
The irony is that the ‘elected people’s representatives’ who take the oath of office promising to uphold the constitutional standards ultimately make a mockery of it. No wonder because the powers that be value the ‘Gita’ more than the ‘Constitution’. One should not forget that the preamble begins with, “We the people of India…..” The “we” represents not merely one religion, their ideological guardians and their caste brethren but the toiling masses of the people who have reposed faith in the promise of the Constitution. The battle lines are clearly drawn when one tries to deconstruct the discourse around the ban of the BBC documentary, ‘India’s Daughter’.
During a discussion on NDTV (5th March 2015, 9 pm), the lawyers who represent the rapists of Nirbhaya, Mr. M. L. Sharma and Mr. A.K. Singh appeared as modern day “MANUS”. Mr. Singh proudly proclaimed his Rajput background and asserted that he would not hesitate to burn his sister/daughter if they indulge in premarital affairs. Mr. Sharma observed “If you keep sweets on the street then dogs will come and eat them. Why did Nirbhaya’s parents send her with anyone that late at night? He was not her boyfriend. I said that Indian culture is the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”14 Interestingly, the dubious nature of the media is apparent when the culture of rape in Haryana against Dalit women and the sexual violence against Surekha and Priyanka Bhotmange in Khairlanji is glossed over.
Unfortunately we have failed in inculcating democratic ethos in our society. When our families are deeply hirearchised, the challenges is to democratise our inter personal relations, between communities and genders. With great prescience, Ambedkar demanded for social democracy rather than merely electoral democracy. For him, social democracy meant a way of life, which recognised liberty, equality and fraternity as the principle of life. A democratic form of Government presupposes a democratic form of society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be misfit if there were no social democracy. The politicians never realised that democracy was not a form of government; it was essentially a form of society. It may not be necessary for a democratic society to be marked by unity, by community of purpose, by loyalty to public ends and by mutuality of sympathy. But it does unmistakably involve two things. The first is an attitude of mind, an attitude of respect and equality towards their fellows. The second is a social organisation free from rigid social barriers15.
. Yogi Adityanath, “Babri Showed Hindu Unity“, The Indian Express, Monday Dec 15 2014, Delhi, p2
. Tavleen Singh, Fifth column: Stop Hindutva now http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/fifth-column-stop-hindutva-now/2/, Accessed Dec 16, 2014, 11.45 pm
. Arun Shourie, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/modi-may-be-an-agent-of-change-but-he-has-to-reshape-an-entire-ocean/Accessed, Dec 16 2014, 11.55 pm
. The four fold division of caste
. Kuffir, http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4347:essays-on-the-bhagwat-gita-philosophic-defence-of-counter-revolution-krishna-and-his-gita&catid=119:feature&Itemid=132
. http://www.inamedia.in/international/60-politics/1572-russia-bans-bhagawad-gita.html, Accessed on Dec 16, 2014, 12.11 am.
. Corruption cure, secret of youth: Hindu group prescribes cow milk – See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/corruption-cure-secret-of-youth-hindu-group-prescribes-cow-milk/ , Accessed 17 December, 12.35 am
. Gail Omvedt, Seeking Begumpura, Navayana, 2008, p.10
. http://www.firstpost.com/living/miracles-to-social-reforms-why-keralas-father-chavara-mother-euphrasia-were-canonised-saints-1818961.html, Accessed 17/Dec 2014, 1 am
. “I will ensure complete freedom of faith” http://www.firstpost.com/india/i-will-ensure-complete-freedom-of-faith-full-text-of-pm-modis-speech-at-christian-conference-2103923.html, Accessed on 24/2/2015, 11.26 pm
. For further details, refer Rakesh Basant, Education and Employment among Muslims in India: An Analysis of Patterns and Trends, W.P. No. 2012-09-03 September 2012, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/assets/snippets/workingpaperpdf/12051717332012-09-03.pdf, accessed on 6th March 2015, 10.40 pm
. Activist writes to minority commission against Yogi Adityanath, demands FIR for hate-speech, New Delhi, August 28, 2014 http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/yogi-adityanath-love-jihad-provocative-speech-bjp-minority-commission/1/379468.html, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJtfOnI-6rM, accessed on 6th March, 2015, 10.50 pm
. Defence Lawyers Continue to Blame Nirbhaya for Getting Raped, http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/Defence-Lawyers-Continue-to-Blame-Nirbhaya-for-Getting-Raped/2015/03/04/article2697366.ece, Accessed on 6th March, 2015, 11.15 pm
. http://www.ambedkar.org/Babasaheb/Commandments_of_Baba_Saheb.htm, accessed on 6th March 2015, 11.30 pm
Prof. N. Sukumar teaches Political Science at Delhi University.(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr. Shailaja Menon teaches History at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi. (email@example.com)