What to do with the Hindu – demonize or reconstruct?

Posted on October 30, 2008. Filed under: Hindu, India, Politics, religion, terrorism |

A leading web search engine flashed today the news of a serial blast in the far-eastern province of Assam in India, perhaps better known to most of us in the west as a label appearing on certain brands of tea. The blasts killed perhaps at least 65 people. Blasts are becoming an acceptable part of the common Indian’s life, so it no longer raises shockwaves. Indians go on about their daily business, and there is little reflection of ripples in the remote corners of the country. It is perhaps how Indians went on with their daily business when the Islamic hordes overran the north, in search of food, wealth, and women which their rapacious lifestyle had already denuded from the hinterland of India, in Persia and Central Asia. But what caught my attention was the casual mention of “possible involvement of suspected Hindu extremists” also in the recent blasts in India, along with the general statement and reference to Indian governmental claims of Pakistani secret service involvement along with suspected separatists and Islamic infiltrators. Just as the alleged attacks of the “Hindu” King of Kashmir, Harsha, on some “Hindu temples” is repeatedly shouted about by the Thaparites as claim that “iconoclasm” was of the same scale between Hindus and Muslims, while quietly suppressing the comment that the source of this claim Kalhana the chronicler makes  – that in doing so Harsha was behaving like a “Turushka” (Turk – a generic name used by early Indian chroniclers for Muslims, which the Thaparites twist into trying to exclude “Arabs” from the records of Islamic barbarism) – the authors and editors of this web-piece have been careful to try and associate “Hindus” also as potential terrorists at par with “Muslim” terrorists.

It is understandable that a for a lot of people, it is urgent to demonize the “Hindu”. It is crucial for political elite in India who are dependent on divisions of the “Hindu” vote. It is crucial for Islamic organizations who follow the Quranic and Hadithic injunctions to utilize the divisions in “unbeliever’s” attitudes towards Islam to utilize support or sympathy of one “unbeliever” group against another, until all “unbeliever” groups are weakened and assimilated or conquered – typically, the best and preferred method being execution of adult males,  and enslavement of children (pre-puberty males) and the women, and taking over all lands and wealth of non-Muslims. It is also crucial for the ideologically committed and therefore of limited statesmanship in the Left, for possible reasons ranging from a cynical recognition that the “mainstream” Indian society still abhors “communism” based on their loose “Hindu” religious identities, or a secret admiration and attraction for the colonial period reconstructed claims of “Islamic brotherhood and community feeling” , or as some scholars have speculated, may even have its origins from the failure and frustration of the Bengali “armed anti-British insurrectionists” (who dominate among the founding fathers of  Indian Communism) to mobilize the Muslims of Bengal in their anti-colonial cause.

For long I have had my own debates with myself about the “Hindu”. In my study of the “Hindu” sources, I have increasingly come to the realization that at least at one level the Thaparite criticism that the “Hinduism” of today did not exist in the past, is correct. For the Thaparites, this non-existence is confirmed by what they interpret as (1) lack of a unified centre and presence of sects (2) lack of surviving records of the term “Hindu” (3) literary evidence of practises that are taboo in modern “Hinduism”.  Although I do find a severe and crippling lack of logical clarity on the part of the Thaparites, I agree with their conclusion – that many of the features of “modern Hinduism” never existed. Where the Thaparites stop short, for obvious reasons of their political agenda and affiliation, are the exploration of historical causes behind introduction of “such features” into the philosophy, ritual and practice of the survivors of pre-Islamic Indians among Islamic state authorities.

I am going to raise a few simple ideas that the “Hindus” can possibly consider. I will justify where I feel direct justifications exist from within “Hindu” literary sources, and where no such justifications exist, I will simply ask that the proposed idea be considered as an extension or interpretation of an idea contained within the basic philosophical and logical texts of the Upanishads.

My proposition consists of four basic and simple ideas :

(1) Replace the use of the word “Hindu” with the word “Bharatyia”. The word definitely does not exist in the core literature, and although occuring early among the Islamic scholars the earliest references from the “Hindu” side appear only in certain royal inscriptions in the medieval period in Central and South India. Almost certainly the etymology of the word comes from a corruption of a root derived from the Sanskrit “Sindhu” and transformed by the tongue of foreigners, especially foreigners who have been associated beyond doubt with the “Hatem” divide of “Satem/hatem” linguistic divide in the Indo-European – and therefore a distinct region beyond the immediate neighbourhood of the Indian subcontinent. The Bharatyia is a better description of the body of the nation as it connects solidly and consciously with the geographical territory of the subcontinent, as mainly established in the highly political tract of the epic Mahabharatam. I will later give my commentary on the Mahabharatm as embodied political ideology of the “Bharatyia” nationhood, and here only mention my suspicion that the name of “Bharat” was deliberately chosen by the constructors of the epic not as a mere name of  king or emperor – but for very specific features and actions by this mythical king which set him apart from other mere royalty and made him a representation of an ideal of “statehood” or “nation” (Bharat disinherited his biological heirs, and gave the reign to someone outside royal birth, because he valued the “nation” and its interests higher than his own personal feelings or attachments).

(2) “Varna” is a descriptive attribute and not a classificatory one and not an inherited one.  Each person should be considered as having all the four “Varnas” inside him or her, and depending on the context, each person can and should manifest features of all four “Varnas” as and when required. The same individual when a student or participating in a ritual is a “Brahman”, when fighting a war is a “Kshatryia”, when carrying on “trade” or commerce is a “Vaishya” and when doing physical labour is a “Shudra”.  At different time points in life, all these roles can become important and necessary for the single human being.  I will give both textual justifications for this more elaborately later, as well as my own interpretations and justifications.

(3) Give the formal symbol of “Yognapobita” (the “sacred thread”) to all students of “Bharatyia darshan” (Bharatyia philosophy) irrespective of origin, class, region, gender. Once given the symbol could be worn also when participating in a ritual, but only in these cases of being a student or participating in a religious ceremony. This definitely does have precedence in the literature.

(4) Make the Upanishadic concept of “Charaibeti” – “never become stationary – move on” as the central concept of “Bharatyia Darshan”. The continuous “quest” for understanding, revisiting previous understanding and requestioning continuously as and when new understanding or knowledge is achieved. All else, rituals, practises, laws, injunctions, should be subordinate to this central concept. Only the act of “quest” should be the permanent feature and all else should be taken as transitory and temporary, and understood as an imperfect response to current conditions and limitation of knowledge. Views of the world, including that of any supra-human conscious authority controlling all processes, or the absence of any such, should be treated the same – subordinate to the quest. This can seem a bit too strong on the agnostic or atheist side, but there are substantial references to the basics of this concept in the Upanishads. Moreover, as stated, the concept is far from pure agnosticism (the concept does not rule out searching or questing the possibility of existence of such an “authority”) or pure atheism (it does not rule out any current understanding by some of what they experience or what some in the future may experience as “God”).  However, as I have said in the introduction, I see no reason to be limited by the exact wordings of a text, and we can extend or interpret – for it is the human mind which thinks of the text, it is the human hand which writes it or gives words to it, and it is another human mind which reads it or hears it.

I think these four basic concepts can be worthwhile to explore, having foundational basis in the preexisting philosophical and religious texts and therefore not completely alien or rejectable by those who need the reassurance of continuity – as tools for moving forward, for unifying the people of the subcontinent into a forward looking nation, the ultimate dream of the ultimate statesman in the Mahabharatam – Krishna.

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4 Responses to “What to do with the Hindu – demonize or reconstruct?”

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Akhter has sent in a full feature length article focused on “casteism” in “hinduism”. Unfortunately, I think Akhter will understand, that in all fairness my blog is my space primarily to talk about my views and observations. My request is that Akhter publishes his article on a blog of his own. Here I briefly comment on main points of Akhter’s observations.
(1) Akhter makes his viewpoint as an Islamist very clear. My concepts are for the “Hindus” to consider, and it is not relevant for Muslims.
(2) I would like to request Akhter to look at sociological research or commentators (e.g. Asghar Ali Engineer, Ayesha Jalal) who find concrete and solid evidence that Islam in India not only failed completely to eradicate “casteism” from among non-Muslims, but also failed to eradicate “casteism” from among even Muslim converts. I have personally seen evidence of this during my travels in the subcontinent.
(3) I have seen divisions within Muslim society similar to “caste” – the most blatant being the social discriminatory attitude of those who claim to be “Ashrafis”(the “pure”) – claiming descent from non-Indian Arabic/Persian/Turkic adventurers. Concepts of “purity” appear not to be restricted to “Brahmins”.
(4) The word “caste” itself comes from the Spanish “Casta”. Strict endogamy enforced with brutal penalties, and associated class and professional monopolies are found both historically as well as in the modern period in many parts of the world outside the subcontinent.
(5) There is substantial evidence from surviving pre-Islamic Indian literature and texts, that the modern form of the “caste” system never existed in India before exactly that period when the Muslim invaders began to destroy North Indian society and culture. This is not mere coincidence. Similar phenomena occur in many historical societies under seige.
(6) The word “Dalit” is of recent political origin. Even Irfan Habib in his substantial work on the Agrarian system of Mughal India does not find evidence of a rigid “casteist” system, and finds rather a general labour pool, from which professions and specializations were formed as and when required without any regard to “caste”.
(7) There is now increasing evidence of British colonial legal reformulation policy that redefined, reconstructed dependency relations into that of “debt bondage”. I have also evidence, based on concrete case studies of the South, as to how early British commercial interests encouraged conversion of dependence into “debt bondage” and agrarian “slavery”.
(8) Colonial regimes reconstruct “fractures” in a subjugated society to both “elevate” themselves comapred to natives as well as to play off one “section” against another, especially in cases like that of the British or the Islamic invaders, who remained hopeless minorities surviving only by enlisting support of one section against another.

There is substantial evidence from surviving pre-Islamic Indian literature and texts, that the modern form of the “caste” system never existed in India before exactly that period when the Muslim invaders began to destroy North Indian society and culture.
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I’m curious about the story of Shankaracharya and the low “caste” person who appears (Lord Shiva, apparently). While the modern day caste system may not have been in place, doesn’t Shankaracharya’s story show that varna discrimination was in place? Or is Shankaracharya’s story a revisionist story not based on facts?

I think you mean “Adi Shankara” – his date is generally taken to be (by “professional historians”) 788-820 CE., almost 73 years after Qasim had had sent one-fifth of the Khalifa’s share of booty – including 30 (or 75) women of the Sindhi aristocracy as slaves, roughly the same period when the Shahyia dynasty was beginning to fight a losing battle against Islamic hordes and the period when Multan, Kabul and Zabul is under attack. Two major arguments against “historical varna discrimination” – (1) there exist no textual evidence from the “alleged victim” side dating before the advent of Islam and established Islamic regimes – the argument used in “professional history” to claim that Islamic claims of atrocities were propaganda/wishful/boastful fantasies since no textual support exist from this period on the “alleged victim” side (2) before the advent of Islam the dominant religions were Jainism and Buddhism – one indication is the increasingly flourishing Buddhist universities in North India – surprising in the face of supposed “casteist intolerance” – the same universities sacked and destroyed gleefully by Islamic hordes.

Even the smritis based on which the claims of “caste repression” is made, sometimes make comments that “so and so” practice is a local/king made custom and not supported by the “sastras” giving an important clue that the Brahmanic smriti-writers could very well be making “tall claims” too as “prevalent laws” which could be interpreted as “wishful thinking” and their personal “class desires” rather than actual prevalent practice.

Excellent post! I suspect mendacity in the interpretation of the smritis,which the monotheists map to their “holy”books. The smritis are recommendatory in nature and always allow for modification based on local custom and practices.Moreover they are handbooks targetted at brahmins and kshatriyas,and the anti “lower caste” laws might never have been implemented.

re the yagnopavita:it is merely a sign indicating qualification to perform the vedic yajna and doesnt have any spiritual significance which have been grafted later.Vedic ritual for whatever reason has not been released for public by brahmans.Strictly those who have no place in a vedic ritual (such as ritwik,adhvaryu,hotr) need not wear the yajnopavit,though descendants of vedic ritualists make a great show of it.
Otoh if you undergo diksha in any sampraday,you will be required to wear specific items/symbols and follow a set of guidelines. These are performed by initiated persons of all jatis.
In addition all jatis have sanskars,and take part in utsavas which broadly mark them out as “hindus”.


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