Arun Shourie: Friday, December 28, 2007
Every set of scriptures has in it enough to justify extreme, even violent reaction. The tectonic shift in the Hindu mind, that has been going on for 200 years, is being underestimated
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.’
In the great work, Gita Rahasya, that he wrote in the Mandalay prison, the Lokmanya invokes Sri Samartha, ‘Meet boldness with boldness; impertinence by impertinence must be met; villainy by villainy must be met.’ Large-heartedness towards those who are grasping? Forgiveness towards those who are cruel? ‘Even Prahlada, that highest of devotees of the Blessed Lord,’ the Lokmanya recalls, has said, ‘Therefore, my friend, wise men have everywhere mentioned exceptions to the principle of forgiveness.’ True, the ordinary rule is that one must not cause harm to others by doing such actions as, if done to oneself, would be harmful. But, the Mahabharata, Tilak says, ‘has made it clear that this rule should not be followed in a society, where there do not exist persons who follow the other religious principle, namely, others should not cause harm to us, which is the corollary from this first principle.’ The counsel of ‘equability’ of the Gita, he says, is bound up with two individuals; that is, it implies reciprocity. ‘Therefore, just as the principle of non-violence is not violated by killing an evil-doer, so also the principle of self-identification [of seeing the same, Eternal Self in all] or of non-enmity, which is observed by saints, is in no way affected by giving condign punishment to evil-doers.’ Does the Supreme Being not Himself declare that He takes incarnations from time to time to protect dharma and destroy evil-doers? Indeed, the one who hesitates to take the retaliatory action that is necessary assists the evil to do their work. ‘And the summary of the entire teaching of the Gita is that: even the most horrible warfare which may be carried on in these circumstances, with an equable frame of mind, is righteous and meritorious.’
Tilak invokes the advice of Bhisma, and then of Yudhisthira, ‘Religion and morality consist in behaving towards others in the same way as they behave towards us; one must behave deceitfully towards deceitful persons, and in a saintly way towards saintly persons.’ Of course, act in a saintly way in the first instance, the Lokmanya counsels. Try to dissuade the evil-doer through persuasion. ‘But if the evilness of the evil-doers is not circumvented by such saintly actions, or, if the counsel of peacefulness and propriety is not acceptable to such evil-doers, then according to the principle kantakenaiva kantakam (that is, “take out a thorn by a thorn”), it becomes necessary to take out by a needle, that is by an iron thorn, if not by an ordinary thorn, that thorn which will not come out with poultices, because under any circumstances, punishing evil-doers in the interests of general welfare, as was done by the Blessed Lord, is the first duty of saints from the point of view of Ethics.’ And the responsibility for the suffering that is caused thereby does not lie with the person who puts the evil out; it lies with the evil-doers. The Lord Himself says, Tilak recalls, ‘I give to them reward in the same manner and to the same extent that they worship Me.’ ‘In the same way,’ he says, ‘no one calls the Judge, who directs the execution of a criminal, the enemy of the criminal...’
Could the variance between two interpretations be greater than is the case between the Lokmanya’s Gita Rahasya and Gandhiji’s Anashakti Yoga? Yet both constructions are by great and devout Hindus. Are ordinary Hindus nailed to Gandhiji’s rendering? After all, at the end of the Gita, Arjuna does not go off to sit at one of our non-violent dharnas. He goes into blood-soaked battle.
The comforting mistake
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...
Each of these stemmed much. But over the last 200 years the feeling has also swelled that, invaluable as these responses have been, they have not been enough. They did not prevent the country from being taken over. They did not shield the people from the cruelty of alien rulers. They did not prevent the conversion of millions. They did not prevent the tradition from being calumnised and being thrown on the defensive. They did not in the end save the country from being partitioned — from being partitioned in the name of religion...
There is a real vice here. The three great religions that originated in Palestine and Saudi Arabia — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — have been exclusivist — each has insisted that it alone is true — and aggressive. The Indic religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism — have been inclusive, they have been indulgent of the claims of others. But how may the latter sort survive when it is confronted by one that aims at power, acquires it, and then uses it to enlarge its dominion? How is the Indic sort to survive when the other uses the sword as well as other resources — organised missionaries, money, the state — to proselytise and to convert? Nor is this question facing just the Hindus in India today. It is facing the adherents of Indic traditions wherever they are: look at the Hindus in Indonesia and Malaysia; look at the Buddhists in Tibet, now in Thailand too. It is because of this vice, and the realisation born from what had already come to pass that Swami Vivekananda, for instance, while asking the Hindus to retain their Hindu soul, exhorted them to acquire an ‘Islamic body’.
We can be certain that his counsel will prevail, our secularists notwithstanding,
• The more aggressively the other religions proselytise — look at the fervour with which today the Tablighi Jamaat goes about conversion; look at the organised way in which the missionaries ‘harvest’ our souls;
• The more they use money to increase the harvest — whether it is Saudi money or that of Rome and the American churches;
• The more any of them uses violence to enlarge its sway;
• The more any of them allies itself with and uses the state — whether that of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan — for aggrandisement.
Nor is what others do from outside the only determinant. From within India, three factors in particular will make the acquiring of that Islamic body all the more certain:
• The more biased ‘secularist’ discourse is;
• The more political parties use non-Hindus — Muslims, for instance — as vote banks and the more that non-Hindu group comes to act as one — ‘strategic voting’ and all;
• The more the state of India bends to these exclusivist, aggressive traditions.
It has almost become routine to slight Hindu sentiments — our smart-set do not even notice the slights they administer. Recall the jibe of decades: ‘the Hindu rate of growth’. When, because of those very socialist policies that their kind had swallowed and imposed on the country, our growth was held down to 3-4 per cent, it was dubbed — with much glee — as ‘the Hindu rate of growth’. Today, we are growing at 9 per cent. And, if you are to believe the nonsense in Sachar’s report, the minorities are not growing at all. So, who is responsible for this higher rate of growth? The Hindus! How come no one calls this higher rate of growth ‘the Hindu rate of growth’? Simple: dubbing the low rate as the Hindu one established you to be secular; not acknowledging the higher one as the Hindu rate establishes you to be secular!
Or M.F. Husain. He is a kindly man, and a prodigiously productive artist. There is no warrant at all for disrupting all his exhibitions. I am on the point of sensibilities. His depictions of Hindu goddesses have been in the news: he has painted them in less than skimpy attire. I particularly remember one in which Sita is riding Hanuman’s stiffened tail — of course, she is scarcely clad, but that is the least of it: you need no imagination at all to see what she is rubbing up against that stiffened tail. Well, in the case of an artist, that is just inspiration, say the secularists. OK. The question that arises then is: How come in the seventy-five years Husain has been painting, he has not once felt inspired, not once, to paint the face of the Prophet? It doesn’t have to be in the style in which he has painted the Hindu goddesses. Why not the most beautiful, the most radiant and luminous face that he can imagine? How come he has never felt inspired to paint women revered in Islam, or in his own family, in the same style as the one that propelled his inspiration in regard to Hindu goddesses?
‘In painting the goddesses, he was just honouring them,’ a secular intellectual remarked at a discussion the other day. ‘It was his way of honouring them.’ Fine. It is indeed the case that one of the best ways we can honour someone is to put the one skill we have at the service of the person or deity. But how come that Husain never but never thought of honouring the Prophet by using the same priceless skill, that one ‘talent which is death to hide’?
‘Has Mr Shourie ever visited Khajuraho?,’ a member of the audience asked, the implication being that, as Hindu sculptors had depicted personages naked, what was wrong with Husain depicting the goddesses in the same style. Fine again. But surely, it is no one’s case that the ‘Khajuraho style’ must be confined to Hindu icons. Why has the artist, so skilled in deploying the Khajuraho motifs, never used them for icons of Islam? The reason why an artist desists from depicting the Prophet’s face is none of these convoluted disquisitions on style.
The reason is simplicity itself: he knows he will be thrashed, and his hands smashed.
Exactly the same holds for politics. How come no one objects when for years a Muslim politician keeps publishing maps of constituencies in which Muslims as Muslims can determine the outcome, and exhorting them to do so? When, not just an individual politician but entire political parties — from the Congress to the Left parties — stir Muslims up as a vote bank. When Muslims start behaving like a vote bank, you can be certain that someone will get the idea that Hindus too should be welded into a vote bank, and eventually they will get welded into one. Why is stoking Muslims ‘secular’ and stoking Hindus ‘communal’?And yet perverted discourse, even the stratagems of political parties, are but preparation: they prepare the ground for capitulation by the state to groups that are aggressive. And in this the real lunacy is about to be launched, and, with that, the real reaction.