A few weeks ago, I made a hurried list that broadly categorized contemporary Hindus based on certain general parameters. Gurcharan Das of India Unbound fame adds to this list by slotting himself into a new category: Liberal Hindu. Much of what he says in that post is along familiar, “safe Hindu” lines but he does offer some positive difference from the mundane grist that we have come to expect from self-proclaimed liberals. For the familiar stuff, this assertion is a fairly reflective sample.
Hindu nationalists have appropriated my past and made it into a political statement of Hindutva.
This is a very clever cloak to hide behind: claim that you love your hoary Hindu “past” but blame the “Hindutva fanatics” for “appropriating it”– whatever that means. Even if you grant the possibility that “Hindutva fanatics” have politicized Hinduism, there’s not a single instance where Hindu nationalists have prevented any Hindu from practising his/her own understanding/version/variant/tradition of Sanatana Dharma. Gurcharan Das’ assertion stems from incorrectly assuming a symmetry between Hindu “fanaticism” with the Islamic and/or Christian counterpart.
If anything, Hindu nationalists, as I have said several times earlier, equate nationalism with something far nobler/holier than the crude nationalism of the 19th and early 20th century European states. Further, Das only presents a picture that is both incomplete and erroneous when he asserts that
Part of the reason that the sensible idea of secularism is having so much difficulty finding a home in India is that the most vocal and intellectual advocates of secularism were once Marxists.
The main reason why secularism rings a discordant bell in India is simply because it is alien to the collective Indian consciousness. This collective consciousness still, largely retains traces of the concept of Dharma. To paraphrase Ananda Coomaraswamy, one generation of English education is sufficient to sever this consciousness for good. And this is the other reason why India is still unable to reconcile itself to the idea of an alien socio-political philosophy. The Marxist cabal against Hinduism came much later–it was preceded by the hordes of Brown Sahibs who not only inherited the British idea of a false sense of superiority but also burdened themselves with ignorance about, and the resultant hatred for their own roots.
And further, and ironically, he notes that
Secularists speak a language alien to the vast majority, so they are only able to condemn communal violence but not to stop it, as Mahatma Gandhi could, in East Bengal in 1947. [.] Part of the problem stems from ignorance. Our children do not grow up reading our ancient classics…
but fails to notice that Mahatma Gandhi had a major role to play throughout, in the train of events that led to the said East Bengal violence. While Gandhi was a very staunch Hindu and took inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita, he had failed to grasp one of its core messages: it clearly condemns any act of pacifying evil as cowardice. The fact that Das uses Mahatma Gandhi as an example to condemn our secularists shows his understanding leaves a lot to be desired. At the risk of gross generalization, the secularist discourse ever since Indpendence has been the discourse of the Nehruvian Congress party. It varies only in syntax. And it was this discourse that led to the uprooting of everything Hindu in our education system. This is really why our children don’t grow up reading our ancient classics.
But I sincerely appreciate his interest in and love for the Mahabharata and his desire that our children learn that from an early age. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that he quotes Sukhtankar, a scholar close to my heart. However, Das’s real failing is that he is trapped by the secularism-as-the-only-solution-to-all-our-problems mantra and is unable to see beyond it.
The epic has given me great enjoyment in the past six years and I have become a Mahabharata addict. I feel sad that so many boys and girls in India are growing up rootless…As we think about sowing the seeds of secularism in India, we cannot just divide Indians between communalists and secularists. That would be too easy. The average Indian is decent and is caught in the middle. To achieve a secular society, believers must tolerate each other’s beliefs as well as the atheism of non-believers. Hindu nationalists must resist hijacking our religious past and turning it into votes. Secularists must learn to respect the needs of ordinary Indians for a transcendental life beyond reason. Only then will secularism find a comfortable home in India.
I’m truly astounded that a person who has read the Mahabharata for six years has failed to even investigate one word that occurs thousands of times in the epic: Dharma. Even a cursory investigation would’ve revealed how hollow, and most importantly, why secularism is unsuited to India.
Postscript: Here’s something for Gurcharan Das to dwell upon. The term Liberal Hindu is itself a misnomer. If you are a Hindu you’re liberal by implication.