Modern sociology like modern constitutional law posits a contrast between a state of nature and the state of society. Thomas Hobbes, the great contractarian had described the state of nature as a condition where the life of man was solitary, poor, nasty, short and brutish. A society was created for security, for survival, and for civility. A society and state guaranteed the rule of law. Yet when an epidemic of lynchings takes place all over India, one has to ask a few basic questions. What is lynching and what is it symptomatic of?
The surreal nature of lynching can be understood in six frames. In the beginning, there is a sense of lawlessness, there is anarchy but most of all there is a politics of anxiety and insecurity. The very anarchy of society needs the focus, someone the violence can zero on. Many societies created the idea of scapegoat, a stranger, a marginal, an alien who became the focus of violence. Society returns to normalcy after an orgy of blood-letting. The Jew played that role throughout most of European history. However, in these societies, the scapegoat is a fixed category.
Today the scapegoat is a floating signifier. It can be anyone. All one needs is a climate of suspicion, insecurity, and paranoia. Hate and anger surface and then die. In India, old and new stereotypes mix. We have fear of the child lifter, the cattle stealer, the spy and the alien. All the ritual of lynching demands is a mob and a target. Surreally, the act of lynching is not seen as a breakdown of law and order. The crowd fancies itself as restoring it. The crowd becomes the force of law and order. There is no role for reason, rationality, and dialogue. In one case in Bihar, the victim begs for mercy and keeps insisting it is a mistake. The crowd is deaf and beats him to death.
Violence is ritual; everyone participates it. Almost everyone will get the victim or enact out a chorus of approval, which is almost as violent as the physical act. All lynching needs is a rumor. The crowd needs to believe it is the primordial state. Violence is indiscriminate. The target can be Hindu, Muslim, Dalit or Pandit. The events might vary but the genre of violence is the same. The victim has to die a horrible death in the Republic of lynching. Often, he is innocent but there is no remorse from the crowd. The victim’s family is the only one who remembers the event. The silence and closure is amazing.
Oddly the state watches lynching as a spectacle. The policeman sits curiously as the orgy is enacted out. Violence has a quality of spectacle. The crowd pretends it is the state and enacts law and order as the substitute for the rule of law. The mob disappears, the memory fades till the next event. It is as if lynching has become the extension of the paranoid security state, where mob and state share a division of labour as a division of violence. The isomorph between crowd and state is worrying.
There is no use being politically correct and sane but some forms of violence are more equal than other. A policeman’s lynching and a cattle lifter’s lynching possess the same order of bestiality. In fact, part of the paradox of lynching is that it reflects the breakdown of the state and the irony of the crowd playing sovereign. There is a reciprocity here that we must understand as the national security state allows the circle of non-listeners to enforce its panopticon.
A lynching was to consolidate the power of the state. There is a complementarity between state brutality and the lynch squad. Only the mob might be more primordial. This return of the primordial is worrying. What is different is the aftermath. In a lynching ritual, the sequence is rumor, suspicion, scapegoat, orgy and then silence. In a legal society, one would argue the lynch squad is a thing of the past. What one senses in the contemporary nature of lynching is that it is a complement to the state apparatus. The two together create a balance of violence we call law and order. In this sense the lynch squad is not pathological but part of the normalcy of a paranoid society, of a politics of suspicion which has no purpose. Rumor becomes a way of processing anxiety. It is almost as if violence has a social function when law breaks down.
Law and lynching mirror each other in disorder and we pretend to call it society. In a society where old maps are gone and norms do not work, lynching becomes a desired mode of control. This is the irony of contemporary society. Editorials might deny it, but ground level narratives substantiate this new complicity of violence.
The word ‘vaccination; has its etymological root in the Latin word, vacca, which means cow. Edward Jenner, the father of Immunology, found the remedy for smallpox – a deadly disease at that point in time – in cowpox, a less virulent virus. It was noticed that the latter ailment had induced immunity against smallpox in milkmaids living in Jenner’s area. Interestingly, after experimenting and reworking on his thesis, Jenner concluded that the vaccination could work as a bulwark against a fatal attack of smallpox. And thus the first vaccine on earth came into existence. It is a generally held belief that this vaccination ‘has saved more lives than the work of any other human on Earth.’
It is one of the ironies of our times that the same vacca, which gave life to millions and millions of people, is being used as a pretext for brutally assaulting and killing Dalits and Muslims in contemporary India. The organisations which are committing these acts are either related to the Hindutva movement, or draw inspiration from its ideology.
The anti-Muslim spin that has been foisted on the idea of cow-as-holy-mother is making the rounds across India, and is being exploited to whip up communal frenzy. The idea of gau rakshiniappears only an abstract idea, which is being used to weave the centre and peripheries for widening the net of right-wing ideology. The Indian avatar of the American Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in saffron costume carries its own baggage of hatred based on Hindu supremacy and Hindu nationalism against its ‘Others’ in the forms of Adivasis, Christians, Dalits, and Muslims. The Saffron outfits use intimidation, violence, and killing while dealing with their ‘Others’.
The beating and killing of Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh in Pune has triggered as well as set the tone for such a spectacle. And it was the first act of the running series that took place immediately after the BJP came to power in 2014. The news of such gruesome acts, it seems, is not going to take a pause as news of more such acts has regularly been reported without let or hindrance. After the Pune incident, we witnessed Dadri (UP), Alwar (Rajasthan), Nagaon (Assam), Latehar (Jharkhand), Seraikela Kharsawa, East Singbhum and West Singbhum (Jharkhand). Attacks on Muslim men and women on charges of carrying beef have been reported from other parts of the country. The latest in this series of attack is on Ainul Ansari in Jharkhand. One could literally see what Edward Said has written in a different context – ‘free floating hostility’ – against Muslims today. People are being chased, harassed, strangulated, hanged or lynched by gau rakshaks or cow protection vigilantes.
All these harrowing incidents have stripped Muslims of all their complexities and reduced them to their primordial category of religion. The idea of ‘being a Muslim in contemporary India’, it could easily be inferred from happenings around us, is an ‘empty signifier’ where a Muslim could be one of these at a given place: a beef consumer, a trader of cows and calves, a child-lifter, a Romeo, a progeny of Babar, a Pakistani, a traitor, and, of course, a terrorist. More ‘signifieds’, it appears, are in the offing. Reduced to its most basic, alternatively, a Muslim has ontologically become an ‘evil’ that needs thorough thrashing for the past ‘mistakes’.
Tired tropes and reductive reading of Islam and Muslim history is being peddled by Hindutva outfits in order to justify acts of violence against Muslims and pander to ‘collective conscience’ of the nation. The saffron-tinted animal rights activists have also tagged along with gau rakshaks, providing justification to vigilantism.
The current lynching spree is also symptomatic of the BJP’s triumphalism born out of its landslide victory in the Parliamentary election of 2014. The Party’s victory in the UP Assembly election further reinforced its triumphalism.
The coming of BJP to power owes to a host of factors. Of all, the party and its parent organisation did their ground work quite well. The BJP is putting in a lot of effort to make inroads where it has been absent. It has been trying to push its agenda through its tried-and-tested tactic of pitting one community against the other. Doing this necessitates bringing up Hindu symbols, idioms and imageries that help the party in peddling hatred and mobilising masses. BJP has continuously been eyeing Bihar, besides other Indian states that have so far been impregnable to its idea of governance. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar formed an alliance with BJP; however, the latter did not have a free hand.
On a recent visit to Gaya in Bihar I saw the right-wingers’ efforts at penetrating the public sphere. A quick perusal of walls covered in graffiti in the market area in this small town shows that the activities of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP, have increased manifold. On a particular wall in the heart of town, a graffiti reads: Gaya ho ya Guwahati, apna desh apna maati. It is a no brainer to decipher the writing on the wall, that says only the Hindu sons of the soil own this nation.
I also got a chance to talk to a few people who live in the outskirts of Gaya and keep an eye on the dynamics that give shape to local power relations. One can easily get an idea from the conversation that cow vigilantism has slowly started affecting the rural areas. Of late, a band of people subscribing to Hindutva ideology was moving from village to village exhorting villagers not to sell cows and calves to Muslims. It also needs to be kept in mind that the Baqra Eid (Sacrifice Feast) is around the corner. Many people who drive trucks or other such vehicles – intra-state or inter-state – carrying livestock have distanced themselves from this profession as it could invite the wrath of the vigilante groups. It has also affected the income of these people. They used to get better wage in carrying animals than other goods. A few drivers who were carrying meat across the region were being chased by vigilantes. Such news is yet to be reported in the media.
To dig up a bit more I visited a good number of sites, too. Prominent shops in the town have got transparent boxes that ask visitors to contribute a sum of money for saving the holy cow. I asked many acquaintances of varying age if they had come across any such spectacle during their lifetime, and their response was in the negative. ‘Hamara Gaya tezi se badal raha hai (literally, our town is changing fast),’ a student of political science in the town told me, with a tinge of sadness in his voice.
This particular box and the message inscribed on it reminded me of a slice of history. Images from the history books started gushing out in my mind. Historically, the first Gaorakshini Sabha was formed by Dayanand Saraswati in Punjab in 1882. These sabhas were repositories of local mores and social conflicts. Just like today such posters and pamphlets were made available, asking for the protection of Mother Cow; the rowdy bands on streets used to snatch cows and bullocks from butchers and traders, and these sabhas targeted Muslims, untouchables, people of the low-caste, and Christian converts. The powerful trope of Cow and its equal importance among the traditionalist and reformist schools of Hinduism had helped in bringing people on a common platform. Moreover, it had also helped in linking rural and urban areas. Such a deployment of powerful trope by the Hindu nationalists had helped them in making easy for the majority community to think through and conceive of an Imagined Hindu Community.
Ramachandra Guha’s recent article mentions the impact of Hindu ‘liberals and modernisers’, through the 19th and 20th centuries, in ‘ridding Hinduism of regressive social practices’. A bit further he writes, ‘Inspired by these reformers, many Hindus across India learned to orient their actions according to reason and justice, rather than a blind adherence to tradition or scripture’. The write-up, in Guha’s own words, could be summed up as ‘The most emphatic evidence of the victory of Hindu bigotry over Hindu liberalism is the enormous importance given by the ruling party to the worship of the cow.’ However, Guha’s piece categorically forgot to mention the fact that deployment of the idea of cow in the political arena is not a new phenomenon that we are witnessing today. Scholarly works of Sandria Freitag and others on communalism inform us about the Cow Protection Movement of late 19th century and its role in the National movement. Taken together, the cow nationalism of our times appears to be a mere repetition of its past.
The RSS has been on the lookout for ripping subterranean petty differences of people – living in relatively peaceful environment – for making Bihar a powder keg and cashing in on the communal frenzy. The RSS has its presence in Gaya, and its affiliates perform mass drill and martial arts practices in Azad Park. It has a shakha or branch in the same area. However, cadres of the RSS recently marched in a procession through main roads showing their strength, and of course also implying the latent violence that this movement could unleash.
(Source: Via Anas Aman)
Lately Tej Pratap, Lalu Prasad’s elder son, launched a rath yatra in Patna and founded an organisation called the Dharmanirpeksha Sevak Sangh (DSS) to counter the extremist narrative propagated by the RSS. However, the language in which this party has couched its mission (combating Hindutva ideology in Bihar) appears problematic. Given the perceived secular credentials of Lalu, his son should fight such a battle on party’s own turf. Moreover, combating Hindutva on ground by rhetoric, rally, and road show is not going to alter the endeavour that has been set in motion for changing the landscape of Bihar.
I also happened to talk to the leader of the Ambedkar Sangarsh Morcha of the town, who did not look very optimistic regarding the possibility of an alliance between Dalits and Muslims. He does want an alliance, however, to this specific end. According to him, the Muslim leadership has to take an initiative which looks reluctant as of now, given the entanglement of vested interests with the dominant structure of this town as well as the local power dynamics. He cited the example of the protest that was staged in support of the Una movement, and mentioned that there were hardly fifteen people from the Muslim community. And these people were his colleagues. The impossibility of forging an alliance between Dalits and Muslims could be seen in terms of different genealogies of their oppression, discrimination, and marginalisation. At the present, such an idea appears to be implausible.
Now the question is: what is to be done when miasmic pall of murderous killing and lynching of Muslims in the current regime hangs on our head and whose threat is too thick in air?
It is not that the community lacks political agency for countering the menace of Hindutva as people belonging to particular quarters mull over and propagate. If issues of Triple Talaq, blasphemy, and others could stir the conscience of this community so much so that people could take time out of their busy schedule to deliberate on these issues in their villages and mohallas, why could they not then be mobilised for these grave issues too? I am yet to understand this culture of silence on part of the leaders – political as well as religious – of the Muslim community!
Unfortunately, countering the BJP in elections has so far been the only concern of the politically conscious sections of the Muslim community. Achieving this particular end calls for political socialisation, which ought not to be confined to only defeating the BJP in the elections – Parliamentary as well as Assembly polls.
If we do not construct a new framework – without distinguishing between its political and moral dimensions – through which people could carve out identities and relationship vis-à-vis marginalised groups and Indian democracy, there would never be any apposite political agency, much less any sustained political struggle.
Fahad Hashmi is an independent researcher, who holds an MPhil in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. He regularly writes on political Islam, issues of minorities, and other issues of political and social concerns.
“As long as caste in India does exist…and if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem.” ~ Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development
As part of the periodic textbook review process (which occurs every six years), the California State Board of Education has been the subject of lobbying by Conservative Hindu-American groups, primarily the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies (UF) and the Dharma Civilization Foundation (DCF). This lobbying seeks to present a Hindu nationalist lens on the origins of subcontinent history, erase the violent history Hinduism as a religion has perpetrated in the name of caste based apartheid, and erase the gender inequality inherent in Hindu scripture.
Several progressive Indian diasporic organizations around the US have opposed these designs and on March 28th won a decisive victory when 62 of 74 suggested recommendations were accepted by the History Social Science Committee who were tasked to review, compile and endorse all edits before submitting them to the Board of Education.
Groups such as HAF/UF/DCF, which try to paint themselves as progressive organizations in the US through their claims of Hinduphobia or anti-Indian racism, now lay exposed for their own bigotry by being apologists for a system that has denied dignity to millions of Indians from marginalized communities who are victims of caste apartheid. I, as an ally to the struggle to end caste apartheid, vehemently call them out.
My Background and the Context Of Conservative Hindu Culture
In the interest of transparency, I must declare that I am a proud Ambedkarite and a member of the #Don’tEraseOurHistory coalition that is leading the opposition to the blatant “savarna-washing” of California textbooks. This coalition is an inter-faith, inter-caste, multi-racial coalition that has been organizing to counter groups like the Hindu American Foundation, Uberoi Foundation, and Dharma Civilization Foundation.
I would also like to state at this time that I myself was born to a Hindu family, more so in a Brahmin family. While I firmly reject caste as an inhuman construct now, I am also a first-hand witness of what caste supremacy looks like, I can attest to how casteism is ingrained from a very early age. Rituals of purity, maintaining safe distances without touch, ascription to texts such as the Manusmriti which openly espouses casteism, and strongly believing in one’s own superior qualities, are what I without dispute, grew up with. My experience was not the exception, but the rule and anyone who is honest about the lived reality of caste apartheid in India and in the diaspora today would agree.
This attitude is translated into upper-caste networks that one maintains through immediate family and friends while growing up. These incestuous cycles of hatred towards “the other” manifests in various forms — in our contempt for reservations (affirmative action for the marginalized), in our continued dominance of knowledge production, and in the daily atrocities faced by several Dalit and other marginalized communities in India.
These upper caste networks that dominate Indian society, then get faithfully replicated in the diasporas of the developed world. It is this upper-caste diaspora that forms the bulk of organizations such as the HAF. In a Coalition Against Genocide Report, the story of organizations like the HAF are laid bare:
HAF is a classic American Sangh story. It was conceptualized and developed within the belly of the American Sangh: the Hindu Students Council and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-America‘s Governing Council and a team of Sangh loyalists with clearly marked histories in various Sangh organizations were brought together as the leadership to execute the HAF plan. Thus any claims that the HAF makes to being unaffiliated and independent is unfounded. The HAF is independent and unaffiliated only in one sense of the word — legally. It is its own 501c3 and it files its own 990s. But in institutional and personnel terms — it is not just like the Sangh, but is an organization born and bred within and of the Sangh.
Organizations like these invite and support extremely hateful figures, such as Baba Ramdev and Sadhvi Rithambara, who continue to make derogatory remarks about LGBTs, women, lower castes, and incite violence against marginalized minorities across India. How then can HAF make a claim to being a progressive organization when it endorses such characters?
There is no denying that Desis in general are subjects of white supremacist racism in the US, but while standing against this racism, it is equally, if not more important, to acknowledge our own complicity in upholding caste based apartheid and the denial of basic human rights to other religious and cultural minorities in India who represent vast populations — larger even than the total population of the United States!
These are not realities that Hindu organizations can deny. It is an act of sheer duplicity to, on one hand appropriate the language of oppressed communities, and then to claim Hindus are a religious minority under siege in the US, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, while remaining perfectly silent about Hindu fundamentalist policies in India. There is no debate about the fact that Indian elite society is dominated by upper-caste Hindus. It is under the watch of this ruling class, that we have seen BJP, RSS, and VHP figures espouse the raping of Muslim women in their graves, dismiss the murderers of Dalit children as the death of dogs, and much worse. Why then the silence on these issues? Why then the claim to progressiveness?
On the Battle for Textbooks
The battle for curriculum frameworks abroad is rooted to ideological battles at home. When you look at the requested changes by Hindu American Foundation, Uberoi Foundation, and Dharma Civilization Foundation it is clear that this is not about history. It is instead related to prestige, power, and policy.
One shocking thing that becomes clear right away is that the themes of the edits are almost identical to the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) changes mandated by the BJP in their last round of power. The edits fall into the following categories:
• Change the Indus Valley Civilization to Sindh-Sarasvati Civilization
• Assert that Indus Valley Civilization was Hindu civilization thus claiming “nativity” to the subcontinent.
• Diminish the conversation of caste and obscure its origins in Hindu religious belief.
• Specifically raise the profile of Hindu characters throughout the lineage of Indian history
• Highlight only instances of violence by Muslim rulers against Hindus as genocide.
The goal for these edits in a US context is part of a strategy to create a unified story of a glorious Hindu Shastra nation and an attempt to counter the narrative in which Dalits, Muslims, and other cultural minorities have begun to break through the culture of impunity in India, to speak about the atrocities of caste apartheid and religious intolerance. Desperate to counter the stories of violence that these marginalized communities have fled from, and to make sure questions on caste-apartheid and religious freedom are not raised on international platforms, they are preemptively wanting to present a defanged Hinduism that erases atrocity and is digestible for commercial adoption.
Further, the battle on textbooks helps lay the ground for their other policy endeavors, which include funding American political candidates sympathetic to their specific foreign policy efforts. This includes blocking bills in the US on the genocide in Gujarat, and informing the US Department for Homeland Security on the issues of “Hinduphobia”.
Finally, their attempt to change California textbooks is part of a larger project to establish their own pipelines of knowledge production as the norm. In the first 2006 California Textbook battle, they were criticized heavily for not having experts who challenged the expertise of established departments for South Asian studies in the US and in India. Their response was then to raise massive multi-million dollar endowments and attempt to create their own centers for Dharmic studies, to create centers of knowledge production in American institutions that could counter consensus in this field. To date they have only won at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and were defeated at University of California Irvine. This disturbing trend of attempts to muscle and fund Hindutva knowledge production is exactly why we must defeat them in every platform possible.
The danger of accepting the false progressiveness of conservative Hindu groups is the danger of inviting a lion in sheep’s clothing. These groups are dangerous and are not separate from the Sangh but are part and party to the strategy of violence and denial of caste apartheid and religious intolerance. Anyone who would aspire to anti-caste politics and a progressive South Asian identity, must unite in calling these groups and exposing them in any space they attempt to impose these strategies. For in this case, silence is part of the long culture of impunity that allows the violence of Hindutva to flourish and we cannot and will not allow it.
Vinay Bhat works as a management consultant and lives in the Bay Area of the US.
At the outset I must congratulate you for making big strides so far as your personality is concerned. You have really become a MARD; MAN in capital, now. On June 6, 2011 afraid of Delhi police you ran away in female attire from Ram Lila ground, leaving hundreds of your followers at the mercy of Delhi Police. But now as press reports from Rohtak, Haryana disclose you are courageous enough to chop heads of millions for not chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. (1) It really shows the farsightedness of your wisdom that in a meeting which was held to create ‘sadbhav’ or fraternity among different Castes/sections of Hindus which was shattered in last February you did not budge from the main agenda of Hindutva; teaching Indian Muslims a lesson. As a master performer of the Hindutva bandwagon you focussed on Muslims despite the fact that latter had no hand in the February blood bath in Haryana. Baba! you and your friends were perfectly right in asking Anuradha Beniwal, the UK based chess trainer-cum-writer originally from Haryana to stop when she said, “We [Hindus] have burnt the establishments of our neighbours, our friends, our brothers. To get the bottom of the matter, and to resolve it, we have to ask certain questions to ourselves, to our society and our government”, as she was deviating from your anti-Muslim agenda. (2) Baba! You are a true Hindutva rising star!
Baba!Allow me to touch few petty issues. Just enlighten ignorant persons like me on these few minor things which I will summarize in the following:
(1) Where were you and your RSS bandwagon when Haryana burnt for more than 10 days in February 2016 in which countless women were violated, more than 30 killed and property worth, 30 thousand crores was looted/burnt? I hope you remember that Haryana during this critical period was abandoned by the BJP/RSS political leadership and Indian Army whose job is to secure Indian territory against enemies was called to control this civil anarchy. Indian Army had to shoot Indians killing more than 20. You and RSS were seen nowhere chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.
(2) Moreover, since you declared your intention of chopping heads (to quote your words’behead lakhs of those’), who refuse to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, in a RSS organized meeting, it can be assumed that RSS is too committed to this chant. It is a blatantly lie baba! Forget about this chant, RSS never participated in the Indian Freedom Struggle. Let me quote directly from the contemporary RSS documents to prove this fact. Guru Golwalkar, the most prominent ideologue of the RSS and Supremo of the RSS 1940 onward admitted the fact that RSS kept aloof from the Freedom Struggle in the following words: “There is another reason for the need of always remaining involved in routine work. There is some unrest in the mind due to the situation developing in the country from time to time. There was such unrest in 1942 [Quit India Movement]. Before that there was the movement in 1930-31 [Salt Satyagrah]. At that time many other people had gone to Doctorji (By Doctorji is meant Dr. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS). This delegation requested Doctorji that this movement will give independence and Sangh should not lag behind. At that time, when a gentleman told Doctorji that he was ready to go to jail, Doctorji said: ‘Definitely go. But who will take care of your family then? That gentleman replied, ‘I have sufficiently arranged resources not only to run the family expenses for two years but also to pay fines according to the requirements’, then Doctorji told him: ‘If you have fully arranged for the resources then come out to work for the Sangh for two years’. After returning home that gentleman neither went to jail nor came out to work for the Sangh. (3)
Non-cooperation and Quit India Movements were two great milestones in the history of the Indian Freedom Movement and here was the great thesis of great Golwalkar on these two great happenings of the Freedom Movement. According to him: “Definitely there are bound to be bad results of struggle. The boys became unruly after the 1920-21 [Non-cooperation Movement] movement. It is not an attempt to throw mud at the leaders. But these are inevitable products after the struggle. The matter is that we could not properly control these results. After 1942, people often started thinking that there was no need to think of the law. (4)
Thus Golwalkar wanted the Indians to respect the draconian and repressive laws of the inhuman British rulers! While narrating the RSS attitude towards Quit India Movement (1942) he admitted:”In 1942 also there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too the routine work of Sangh continued. Sangh vowed not to do anything directly. However, upheaval (uthal-puthal) in the minds of Sangh volunteers continued. Sangh is an organization of inactive persons, their talks are useless, not only outsiders but also many of our volunteers did talk like this. They were greatly disgusted too. (5)
Baba, please secure a single publication or document of the RSS which, could throw some light on the great work the RSS did ‘indirectly’ for the Quit India movement.In all fairness to Guru Golwalkar, he did not claim that the RSS had been opposed to the British. He admitted it long after Independence also while delivering a speech before leading cadres of the RSS at Indore in 1960. Referring to the British rule he admitted: “We should remember that in our pledge we have talked of the freedom of the country through defending religion and culture. There is no mention of departure of the British in that. (6)
Golwalkar was not alone in denigrating the Freedom Struggle and glorifying the British rulers. His Guru and founder of the RSS, Hedgewar, had similar views. The official biography of Hedgewar has the following self-explanatory statement: “After establishing Sangh Doctor Saheb in his speeches used to talk only of Hindu organization. Direct comment on Government used to be nil.” (7)
Billionaire Baba! You are very fond of referring to the great martyr of the anti-British Freedom Struggle, Bhagat Singh. But your Hindutva co-traveller, RSS decried the whole tradition of martyrdom followed by these martyrs. Here is a passage from the chapter, ‘Martyr, Great But Not Ideal’ of Bunch Of Thoughts, the collectionof writings of MS Golwalkar decrying the whole tradition of martyrs. After declaring that his objects of worship have always been successful lives and that ‘Bhartiya culture’ [which surely means RSS culture] does not adore and idealize martyrdom and do not treat ‘such martyrs as their heroes’, he went on to philosophize that: “There is no doubt that such man who embrace martyrdom are great heroes and their philosophy too is pre-eminently manly. They are far above the average men who meekly submit to fate and remain in fear and inaction. All the same, such persons are not held up as ideals in our society. We have not looked upon their martyrdom as the highest point of greatness to which men should aspire. For, after all, they failed in achieving their ideal, and failure implies some fatal flaw in them.” (8)
Baba! Could there be a statement more insulting and denigrating to the martyrs than this?
(3) Ramdev baba! India is lucky that you were not there when Gandhiji, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Sardar Patel were alive. They never chanted ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. On the contrary, they used the term ‘Jai Hind’ (victory to India) in official correspondence and communications. With ‘Jai Hind’ they ended their public addresses. If you were their contemporary they too should have been at risk of losing their heads for not chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. Since Independence all presidents and prime ministers (including PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee) of the Indian Republic chanted ‘Jai Hind’and not ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, they were lucky not have their heads chopped off as you were not around baba!
I know you are very busy in marketing Hindutva and Patanjali products; I will not take more of your time. Just last query, please share with the nation where and when during the Freedom Struggle the Hindutva bandwagon which included your RSS, Hindu Mahasabha, chanted ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ against the British. And how many times Hedgewar and Golwalkar, the two Supremo of the RSS during the British rule, or any other leader/cadre of the RSS, were jailed for freedom of India, chanting this or any other slogan against the British.
Eagerly looking forward for your kind response,
Shamsul Islam is a retired Professor of University of Delhi.Email: email@example.com
It’s only from the late 19th century that Bharatvarsha to refer to the subcontinent and Bharat as mother found their way into the popular vocabulary.
At a time when India is being projected as eternal, when the chanting of Bharat Mata ki jai has become a testimony to patriotism and refusal to do so invites the wrath of Hindutva outfits and political parties, it is pertinent to look at the history of the country known as Bharat whose antiquity cannot be pushed too far back in time.
The earliest references
The geographical horizon of the Aryans was limited to the north western part of the Indian subcontinent known as Saptasindhava. The Vedic texts do not mention the word Bharata in the sense of a country though they refer to the tribe of Bharatas at several places in different contexts. In Panini’s Ashtadhyayi (500 BC) we find a reference to Prachya Bharata in the sense of a territory (janapada) which lay between udichya (north) and prachya (east). It must have been a small region occupied by the Bharata tribe and cannot be equated with the Akhanda Bharata or Bharata of the Hindutva brigade.
The earliest reference to Bharatavarsha (Prakrit Bharadhavasa) is found in the inscription of the Orissan king Kharavela (first century BC), who lists it among the territories he invaded: but it did not include Magadha, which is mentioned separately in the record. The word here may therefore refer in a general way to northern India, its precise territorial connotation remaining vague. A much larger geographical region is visualised by the use of the word in the Mahabharata (200 BC to AD 300), which provides a good deal of geographical information about the subcontinent, but a large part of the Deccan and the far south does not find any place in it. Banabhatta’s Kadambari (seventh century), at one place describes Bharatavarsha as being ruled by Tarapida, who “set his seal on the four oceans”. But since it is referred to as excluding Ujjaini from it, the location and boundaries of Bharat are far from clear.
Bharatavarsha figures prominently in the Puranas, but they describe its shape variously. In some passages it is likened to a half-moon, in others it is said to resemble a triangle; in yet others it appears as a rhomboid or an unequal quadrilateral or a drawn bow. The Markandeya Purana compares the shape of the country with that of a tortoise floating on water and facing east. Most of the Puranas describe Bharatavarsha as being divided into nine dvipas or khandas, separated by seas and mutually inaccessible.
The Puranic conception of Bharatavarsha has similarity with the ideas of ancient Indian astronomers like Varahamihira (sixth century AD) and Bhaskaracharya (11th century), though in their perception it does not seem to have included southern India. Although a 14th-century record mentions Bharata as extending from the Himalayas to the southern sea, by and large, the available textual and epigraphic references to it do not indicate that the term stood for India as we know it today.
A part of Jambudvipa
In many texts Bharata is said to have been a part of Jambudvipa, which itself had an uncertain geographical connotation. The Vedic texts do not mention it; nor does Panini, though he refers to the jambu (rose apple) tree. The early Buddhist canonical works provide the earliest reference to the continent called Jambudvipa (Pali, Jambudipa), its name being derived from the jambu tree which grew there. Juxtaposed with Sihaladipa (Sans. Simhaladvipa=Sri Lanka), of the inscriptions of Ashoka, Jambudipa stands for the whole of his empire, which covered nearly the entire Indian subcontinent excluding its far southern part. He unified the major part of the Indian subcontinent and called it Jambudipa. But he did not use the word Bharat to denote this vast land mass.
Despite the use of the word Jambudipa for the whole of his empire, the ambiguity about its territorial connotation is borne out by both epigraphic and literary sources during the subsequent centuries. In a sixth-century inscription of Toramana, for instance, Jambudvipa occurs without any precise territorial connotation, and in the Puranic cosmological schema, it appears more as a mythical region than as a geographical entity. According to the Puranas the world consists of “seven concentric dvipas or islands, each of which is encircled by a sea, the central island called Jambudvipa…”. This is similar to the cosmological imaginings of the Jains who, however, placed Jambudvipa at the centre of the central land (madhyaloka) of the three-tiered structure of the universe. According to another Puranic conception, which has much in common with the Buddhist cosmological ideas, the earth is divided into four mahadvipas, Jambudvipa being larger than the others. In both these conceptions of the world, Bharatavarsha is at some places said to be a part of Jambudvipa but at others the two are treated as identical. The geographical conception of both Bharat and Jambudvipa are thus factitious and of questionable value.
Bharat as Mother
It was only from the late 19th century that Bharatvarsha in the sense of the whole subcontinent, and Bharat as Mother found their way into the popular vocabulary. The anonymous work Unabimsapurana (1866), KC Bandyopadhyaya’s play called Bharat Mata (1873) and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya’s Anandmath (1880) were among the earliest works to popularise the notion of Bharatmata. Its visual evocation came perhaps not earlier than 1905 in a painting by Abanindranath Tagore, who conceived of the image as one of Bangamata but later, “almost as an act of generosity towards the larger cause of Indian nationalism, decided to title it ‘Bharatmata’”.
Far from being eternal, Bharat mata is thus little more than a 100 years old. Insistence on her inhabitants forming a nation in ancient times is sophistry. It legitimatises the Hindutva perception of Indian national identity as located in remote antiquity, accords centrality to the supposed primordiality of Hinduism and spawns Hindu cultural nationalism which prompts the saffron brigade to bully the Indian people into chanting of Bharat Mata Ki Jai.
DN Jha is former Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Delhi
Aakar Patel wrote a strong piece (Bharat Mata ki jai! Now how about some jobs for her children?) in Sunday’s edition of The Times of India. Some readers have taken exception to him citing JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s view of Bharat Mata in the article.
Aakar wrote: “Asked how he (Kanhaiya) visualized Bharat Mata, he replied that RSS pamphlets showed her as being fair and wearing a beautiful sari and a crown. But in his imagination, she was often dark. And he thought of her sometimes also as wearing an old sari and a torn blouse, or no blouse. Or wearing not a sari at all but the traditional garment worn by the tribal women of our country.”
Is Kanhaiya’s vision of mother and Motherland so out of the ordinary? Leaving out the price of the jacket he wears from this debate, is it not possible that his underprivileged upbringing makes him see India in a very different light to mine?
The idea of Bharat Mata has not been unquestioningly accepted by patriots down the years. Jawaharlal Nehru was definitely uneasy about it. In his autobiography (Chapter 53: India old and new), he writes: “It is curious how one cannot resist the tendency to give an anthropomorphic form to a country. Such is the force of habit and early associations. India becomes Bharat Mata, Mother India, a beautiful lady, very old but ever youthful in appearance, sad-eyed and forlorn, cruelly treated by aliens and outsiders, and calling upon her children to protect her. Some such picture rouses the emotions of hundreds of thousands and drives them to action and sacrifice. And yet India is in the main the peasant and the worker, not beautiful to look at, for poverty is not beautiful.”
Whose idea of India is this goddess, Nehru asks. Does she represent the exploited or the socially privileged exploiter?
“Does the beautiful lady of our imaginations represent the bare-bodied and bent workers in the fields and factories? Or the small group of those who have from ages past crushed the masses and exploited them, imposed cruel customs on them and made many of them even untouchable?”
His next remark calls into question the motives of hypernationalists even today: “We seek to cover truth by the creatures of our imaginations and endeavour to escape from reality to a world of dreams.”
Some people, when reminded by their children about promises of sweets and toys, point to the floor and shout, “look, lizard!”
Governments insult our intelligence when, on being reminded about promises of jobs and growth, they point to some picture on the wall.