Epilogue : India Poised and Shining ?

published on November 26, 2009

Dr.Vijaya Rajiva

India is poised and shining as it heads into the 21st century. Economically, the prediction is that along with China and the U.S. it will be amongst the three largest economies in the world.  The expectation is that the country will also seriously tackle the problems of poverty, illiteracy and health care.

Will it also be poised and shining in the sense of a secular Hindu Nation ? Many factors will have to be taken into account. The external threat in the shape of hostile neighbours is ever present and is not likely to go away despite India’s best efforts. As is well known China does not want a rival on the Asian stage and Pakistan has and most likely will continue its visceral hatred of India. Both these countries  have in the past tried to sabotage India’s attempts to come out of the colonial swamp ( and no doubt will continue to do so). India’s other neighbours are either sitting on the fence or are rapidly falling into the Chinese orbit, although this last movement is  likely to be reversed because of geopolitical considerations.

In addition there are the internal threats of fifth columnists and others working for the balkanization of the country. Apart from all of these threats there is the internal threat of India fast losing its ancient and traditional Dharmic values which commenced with the Veda several millennia ago, and which Guru Golwalkar attempted to bring to the fore of Hindu consciousness in the post colonial era. In that sense, while reacting to China/Pakistan,  India has to be vigilant that Dharma is not lost. True, upholding Dharma requires fighting Adharma, but it also requires a deep commitment to Dharma without which the struggle will degenerate into the sort of ideological quagmire that the Communists of India, chiefly the Maoists/Naxalites have fallen into.  True, the country must seriously beef up its defences and be ever ready to meet aggressive neighbours, but no Dharmic person can imitate the Maoist and behead a lowly policeman or chop a constable’s  arms and slit his throat  as the Naxalite insurgents have recently done. In this regard Gandhiji is right and the Maoist is wrong. The end does not justify the means.

Above all the Dharmic warrior cannot be a coward and  hide his/her face, as the Naxalite leader Kishenji does. He routinely appears with his face and head covered. One cannot imagine Mahatma Gandhi covering his face and head as he appears to lead the Satyagraha movements.

The obstacles in reawakening to a secular Hindu Nation are also the threats from the zealots of the Islamic and Christian faiths ( who use both fair means and foul),  from Maoist sympathizers, and from the younger generation of Indians who have not been exposed to the history of the freedom struggle  against colonial rule and take for granted the freedoms they now have. Simultaneously, they have also internalized the negative  colonial viewpoints regarding Hinduism,  the religion of  the majority of  Indians . There are also the present day active anti Hindu activists such as Kanchiah Illaiah who are not merely advocating Dalit and tribal advancement (which no Hindu  in present day India would want to deny) but using that particular stick to beat Hinduism with. See his most recent book A Post Hindu India ( Sage Publications, 2009). These activists also exist in the Indian Diaspora, although their malign influence has waned somewhat. Take for example their nefarious attempts to stop funds from reaching well deserved Hindu social service movements, merely on the argument that these organisations are Hindu. Fortunately, their baleful designs have not succeeded.

It is in this context that proponents of a Hindu Nation must consciously think through the charges levelled against Hinduism by such activists ( Hindus cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand) but simultaneously put forward  the universal appeal of the Vedas, which surely are the fountainhead of the Hindu tradition. Here the path is quite clear. The Vedic legacy is one of the unity of beings, both human and non human, the respect for Earth and respect for  the entire universe. This is the oldest statement in human history of these ideals and certainly are the abiding ones today.

The most serious charge against Hinduism is that it condemned a large section of its population to the humiliations and trials of an inflexible caste system and that the abuse of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes continues unabated  today. This last charge is only partially true. While in many remote areas of India this ill treatment does certainly exist, it is no longer the rule either in urban India or in great parts of the country. These are actionable crimes and the authorities in government and the legal system are empowered to punish such acts. The law needs to be enforced more rigorously. More needs to be done in terms of the government’s affirmative programs and reservations. Much has been done.

And certainly the  Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)  programs of service directed towards the tribals and the Scheduled Castes  are in full swing and  are being accomplished with such dedication that even critics are stopped in their tracks, both literally and in a theoretical sense. See, for instance, the book Fascinating Hindutva by  Badri Narayan (Sage Publications, 2009).

There is no sanction in the Vedas for Untouchability or the caste system as it developed in the subsequent period. In the Vedas, one finds a general division of labour, a general division of society into scholars/ priests, the military classes, the merchant classes (those who manage the wealth of society) and the service classes or the labouring class. This is the Varna system. The growth of the specifics of the caste system took place as the economy expanded  with its  growing differentiation of labour.  Scholars are not certain about when the caste system started. Some place it after the end of the late Vedic period, i.e. the 6th century B.C. Certainly by then the rich urban life of a highly productive economy had already come into being, necessitating a division of labour, which then became hardened into hereditary occupations. Some place the hardening of caste life at a later date, in the first few centuries of the Christian era.

Hence, Varna and Caste are not identical and even scholars confuse and conflate the two terms. The Outcastes, that is those who fell outside the varna and caste systems are the people who till recently were referred to as the Untouchables (now the Dalits, the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes).  Their lowly occupations extending down to scavenging of night soil cannot by any stretch be described as an Occupation.

Mahatma Gandhi supported both varna and the caste system, but not the Outcaste system, as is well known. His advocacy of the caste system was because of its close link to the division of labour in the economy, especially the village economy. He did not believe that the division of caste into hereditary occupations, is absolutely necessary. Certainly, proficiency and acquisition of skills can be obtained by a lifelong and even hereditary occupation, but it is not mandatory. The individual is free to choose his/her occupation.

There is no need for Hindus to be defensive and refuse to look at the problem. On the contrary every serious minded Hindu must actively work to efface the Outcaste system. And there are some serious initiatives taken already, such as admitting the Dalits to  all aspects of Hindu worship. In some places they are also being trained as priests to perform Hindu rituals. Here again the Sangh Parivar (the RSS, the Viswa Hindu Parishad and sister organizations have taken the lead ) is to be both commended and supported in its endeavours. Guru Golwalkar was the second leader of the RSS after its establishment in 1925 by Dr. Hedgewar.

While the work of the critics of Hinduism must be taken seriously, and the shortcomings of Hinduism (social injustice) acknowledged,  it is also incumbent on Hindus to also look with respect and a new appreciation of the glories of their ancient heritage, both culturally and philosophically/spiritually. One cannot expect this from  converts to other religions. They have a political agenda. And their forecasts of gloom and doom and their expectations about the inevitable demise of Hinduism are just wishful thinking.  Their repeated criticisms are not only socially motivated, but have the quite direct goal of somehow defeating Hinduism and replacing it with alien  faiths, i.e. faiths alien to India. This project is not likely to succeed, not only because of Hinduism’s resilience, but because many of their theoretical presuppositions are ill founded. For instance, Kanchan Illaiah who is a professor  at Osmania University, India, has declared with brash bravado that  Hinduism will not survive. It may be relevant to point out that he is a convert to Christianity.

The Hindu does not have an agenda, if only because of the millennia that Hinduism has survived, whether of invasions, conquests or occupations. It gives the Hindu a sense of continuity and a certain balance, and a certain gratitude to the land and to the ancestors. Nor will the Indian subcontinent  fall victim to anti national forces if there is sufficient vigilance. As Annie Besant , intrepid fighter for the Indian freedom movement, put it:

“ If Hindus do not  maintain Hinduism, who shall save it ? If India’s own children do not cling to her faith, who shall guard it ? India alone can save India, and India and Hinduism are one.”

 The reawakening must however, not be a complacent one, but a fully self conscious endeavour. This is the least we can do in memory of the saints and sages that have graced this land  and have upheld noble ideals of universal well being and as well the millions of everyday Hindus who by and large have kept the faith, and because of whom  we can call  this land Punya Bhumi.  The aim of the awakened Hindu must be that all of Mother Earth becomes a Punya Bhumi. This must be our challenge in the new millennium.

As the Vedic sages hymned it :

SARVE SUKHINAH BHAVANTU (May all beings be happy !).

( The writer taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university).

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