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Hin­duism and the Hindu Rash­tra

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Hin­duism? Is it a ho­moge­nous mono­lith or an ex­pres­sion of di­ver­sity and plu­ral­ity? The first three chap­ters – on the emer­gence and sig­nif­i­cance of the term Hin­duism; Hin­duism and moder­nity; and Hin­duism and law – ad­dress pre­cisely these is­sues.

The con­trib­u­tors to this vol­ume have cor­rectly main­tained that the chang­ing his­tor­i­cal con­text of In­dia, an an­cient coun­try, should form the back­drop of any en­quiry into a uniquely mul­ti­di­men­sional re­li­gion like Hin­duism, which is un­like the book-based re­li­gious tra­di­tions of Ju­daism, Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam. It was Euro­pean, specif­i­cally Bri­tish, dis­courses about re­li­gious iden­ti­ties and spir­i­tu­al­ism in the late 17th and early 18th cen­turies that led to the con­struc­tion of the term “Hin­doo”. The term dates from the 1770s and the mod­ern jour­ney of Hin­duism be­gins a lit­tle af­ter this.

Thus, Ramakrishn­a, his dis­ci­ple Vivekanand­a, the Theo­soph­i­cal So­ci­ety of In­dia, the Arya Sa­maj, founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, and many oth­ers elab­o­rated and ex­pounded on the mean­ing of Hin­duism. Raja Ram Mo­han Roy and Bankim Chan­dra Chat­ter­jee and oth­ers tried to em­bed it in con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety.

The re­vival­ists and con­ser­va­tives ba­si­cally looked to­wards the San­skrit Vedas or Dhar­masas­tras or texts that be­came avail­able in lo­cal lan­guages with the ad­vent of the print­ing press and con­cluded that Hin­duism was a re­li­gion of “an­cient and un­chang­ing tra­di­tions”. This em­pha­sis on an eter­nal sanatana dharma is his­tor­i­cally false yet it con­tin­ues to be part of the man­u­fac­tured his­to­ri­og­ra­phy prop­a­gated by V D Savarkar and K B Hedge­war in the early 20th cen­tury and by the Rashtriya Swayamseva­k Sangh and Hindu Ma­hasabha.

This view of Hin­duism ig­nores the ex­is­tence of move­ments that changed the re­li­gious land­scape of In­dia around the 15th and 16th cen­turies — such as those by Chai­tanya, Val­labha Acharya or Guru Nanak. As the first three chap­ters es­tab­lish, the cen­tral con­flict, which en­dures till to­day, is be­tween those who “de­fend the unity of ortho­dox Hindu philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tions,” and those who, on the ba­sis of re­search, have con­cluded that het­ero­doxy, di­ver­sity and amor­phous­ness all con­trib­ute to the essence of “an ill-de­fined and frac­tured re­li­gion known as Hin­duism”.

It is in Chap­ter V, ti­tled “The Sa­cred in Mod­ern Hindu Pol­i­tics” that Robert Eric Fryken­berg takes the bull by the horns, so to speak, in ex­am­in­ing the his­tor­i­cal process un­der­ly­ing Hin­duism and Hin­dutva.He un­equiv­o­cally de­scribes the move­ment launched by the Sangh Pari­var as “fun­da­men­tal­ist” and writes, “In so do­ing, they em­barked upon pro­grams of con­struct­ing, defin­ing and then demon­strat­ing of new kind of Hindu con­scious­ness. This is a new kind of self-con­scious Hin­duism such as had never be­fore ex­isted, at least in quite the same form.” These were, he adds, “Hin­dus in a new sense”.

This is cor­rob­o­rated to some ex­tent by the au­thor of the chap­ter on “me­dia Hin­duism”, which ex­am­ines the im­pact of the elec­tronic me­dia in al­ter­ing the re­li­gious imag­i­nary. He de­scribes the se­ri­al­i­sa­tion on Do­or­dar­shan of the Ma­hab­harata and Ra­mayana dur­ing Ra­jiv Gandhi’s prime min­is­ter­ship. This Brah­man­i­cal dis­play of the two epics every Sun­day raised the at­trac­tions of rit­ual-based reli­gios­ity to mid­dle and lower mid­dle class In­di­ans.

The chap­ter on “Folk Hin­duism, the Mid­dle Ground” in­forms that a con­tin­u­a­tion of clas­si­cal and folk ideas con­cern­ing rit­ual nar­ra­tive, jus­tice, and re­li­gion within the ide­o­log­i­cal frame­work of moder­nity and its sec­u­lar in­sti­tu­tions is very much a re­al­ity. The chap­ter on Hin­duism and caste sub­stan­ti­ates the ba­sic truth of his­tor­i­cally var­ied Hin­duisms. The au­thor in­forms that even deities of dif­fer­ent Dalit castes among Hin­dus were dif­fer­ent and var­ied, and he refers to the re­spect shown by the Dalit Hindu caste to Valmiki. If jati is one iden­tity that does not go away and if the jatis wor­ship many deities, the re­al­ity of an all-In­dia, San­skrit Hin­duism is an ar­ti­fi­cial po­lit­i­cal con­struct.

Over­all, it is hard to es­cape the con­clu­sion that the prop­a­ga­tors of cur­rent po­lit­i­cal Hin­duism are scarcely dif­fer­ent from the Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ists of West Asia; both over­ride the plu­ral tra­di­tions of their re­li­gions in favour of an au­tho­rised mono­lith that leaves lit­tle room for the ac­cep­tance of the “other”. The cen­tral ar­gu­ment of these 12 schol­arly dis­cus­sions is that an ar­ti­fi­cial and imag­i­nary Hin­duism is be­ing con­structed for purely po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, just as the Salafists are do­ing in their dreams of re­viv­ing a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. This study is wel­come be­cause it ex­poses the de­signs of po­lit­i­cal Hindu or­gan­i­sa­tions. Mod­ern and Con­tem­po­rary move­ments Will Sweet­man and Aditya Ma­lik (Eds) Sage Pub­li­ca­tions 365 pages; ~795

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