Saturday, 5 July 2008

Defeating fundamentalism

The new issue of Outlook magazine from India has a wonderful essay by the historian and writer Ramachandra Guha about the chances of India to become a superpower. Guha argues that there are a number of factors including the threat from the violence of extreme left maoist groups known as naxalites, the threat of religious fundamentalism especially from Hindu conservatives, lack of a principled party from centre especially in congress party, the large and increasing gap among the rich and the poor, that will not allow India to become a superpower. He also argues that perhaps India need not aim for becoming a superpower but try to be a country that makes sure that all of its citizens can live with dignity.

Guha is a wonderful writer, very easy to read, and logical. He also adds that special point of view of historians that is usually missing from such debates - these debates are usually dominated by economists and financial experts. I also liked that Guha has quoted his teacher Dharma Kumar in his essay.

However, there is a part of the essay that provoked some reflections from me. Here is that part:

There is, indeed, a reassertion of religious orthodoxy in all faiths in modern India—among Muslims and Christians as well as Sikhs and Hindus (and even, as it happens, among Jains). It is the illiberal tendencies in all these religions that, at the present juncture, are in the ascendant. The mullahs who abuse Sania Mirza or Taslima Nasreen, and the Sikh hardliners who terrorise the Dera Sacha Sauda, are also wholly opposed to the spirit of the Indian Constitution. But simply by virtue of numbers—Hindus are, after all, more than 80 per cent of India’s population—and their much wider political influence, Hindu bigotry is indisputably the most dangerous of them all.

....... For the middle class, the threat from the left is wholly hidden. They do not see or confront it in their daily lives. They can go to work or college or shop or play without ever seeing a single Naxalite, or a single adivasi either. On the other hand, they do know of the threat from the right. Yet, they tend to disregard it. Some middle-class Indians are converted Hindutvawadis anyway. Many others naively hope that the mask will in time become the real face, and that with economic modernisation the BJP will be able to successfully distance itself from the RSS.
I feel that religious fundamentalism is one crucial area in which we see a marked deterioration in India over the past couple of decades. Increasingly all religions take rigid stand against any debate and dissent against the views of its more conservative members, make shrill threats and often attack property and persons to beat them into fearful obedience.

With Globalisation, perhaps it is inevitable that the narrow conservatism of montheistic religions that insist on only their view of world as dictated by their prophet in their sacred book being the correct way, also infects the Indian way of thinking, that has over millenniums evolved into acceptance of contradictions and different world views, religious views and social norms. Thus today conservative persons from different religions in India are increasingly trying to browbeat everyone into their view of sacred and just.

There must be many reasons for this change, including the economic implications of ideas of equality and human rights. Groups who had been marginalised for centuries such as dalits, adivasis and women now demand this equality. With globalisation, new technologies, spread of media and increasing awareness, such groups are increasingly aware of their rights and their collective power, threatening social structures of traditional societies. Thus, rising religious fundamentalism may be strategy of the powerful to conserve their power and religion is used as a means to this end.

Attracting bigger numbers of followers is equally imporatant for the power of the religious leaders, while in today's world, new technologies and social changes can make religious affinities weaker and decrease that power. Promoting conservative views to attract specific groups of followers can thus be a deliberate strategy by religious leaders and political parties.

However, perhaps we also need to reflect more on the reasons behind "Some middle-class Indians are converted Hindutvawadis anyway." During my journeys in India, I have been surprised more than once to find persons I knew as reasonable and open minded persons, are increasingly pessimistic about a dialogue with Muslims and expressing at least some support or understanding about Hindu conservatives. They may not condone the violence of Bajrang Dal or Vishwa Hindu Parishad but they perceive that State has given into obscurantists from Islam and other religions and that rights of Hindus are being eroded or are being treated unjustly.

Could this be partly be because of the thinking that considers "But simply by virtue of numbers—Hindus are, after all, more than 80 per cent of India’s population—and their much wider political influence, Hindu bigotry is indisputably the most dangerous of them all"?

Everytime you try to say anything about Hindu fundamentalists, there are persons who attack you, abuse you and send threats. Why are you not talking about fundamentalists of other religions, they are doing worse things but no one talks about that, they say. I am not talking about these persons. But there are saner educated, thinking persons who feel that there is a large part of Indian accademics, activists, opinionists, writers, who have double standards, "they are very vocal in denouncing the evils of Hindu bigotry but are silent about bigots from other religions".

Perhaps it is correct that by sheer numbers Hindu bigotry is indeed more dangerous but the strategey of condemning only Hindu fundamentalists, may not be the best way to go about it!

I personally feel that all fundmentamentalists and bigots are same, they have same narrow and fearful way of thinking, fighting against all changes perceived as attacks on traditions, and it does not matter that they are Hindu, Muslims or Christians or Sikhs, or whatever. But every time the State gives into or plays silent spectator, not raising a single finger to stop the attacks on legality and human rights enshrined in the Indian constitution, it creates a vicious circle, where some more persons from that religion get converted to the cause of fundamentalism, as they see that fundamentalism pays. At the same time, persons from other religions feel offended and some of them move towards their own fundamentalisms, while moderate voices of all sides become more fearful and silent.

Every time the State allows a Taslima to be made a prisoner and exiled while her attackers roam free and make death threats in TV and State Assembly, every time the State allows goons to ransack libraries and destroy manuscripts, or threaten a person like M. F. Hussein, India becomes weaker, fundamentalists become more confident and reasonable persons are forced to withdraw in their shells.

Guha sounds very pessimistic that in the near future any Government will have the courage to take a stand on this. With coalition governments, and polarising vote banks, perhaps the wish to have principled politicians is an empty dream.
He suggests that we all should do our part, push for small but consistent change by making a stand. But how can individuals act for stopping fundamentalism when Government seems passive and unwilling to make any stand? A judge can make the decision on M. F. Hussein case, but would that be enough to reverse this tide of increasing fundamentalism? And all those other instances that do not come to a tribunal, how can individuals make a difference about it?

1 comment:

  1. Comment from Bal Patil:
    Thank you Deepak for coming down in such a determined manner against the Hindu fundamentalism. As an activist for Jain minority rights under the Indian constitution on par with the other National religious minorities I know how the Hindu or 'Hindutva' fundamentalism has wrought havoc with the so-called secular Indian constitution. Are you aware that in the official editionof the Constitution of India in English and Hindi by the Ministry of Law, Law, Justice & Company Affairs of the government of India while the English version mentions 'Secular' the Hindi version transcribes it as पंथनिरपेक्ष meaning 'Non-sectarian' meaning implicitly that there is only one religion in India, (Hindu) and all the other Indian religions, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains are sects.

    Even the most eminent fathers of the Constitution were not careful enough to see the implications of the Hindutva impact otherwise they would not have inserted Explanation II in Article 25 2(b) "In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikhs, Jains or buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly."

    Where was the need to drag in the Buddhist, Sikh and Jain religions when the objective is to carry out reform in Hindu religion such as abolition of untouchability because there is no untouchability in buddhist, sikh and Jain religions?

    Note: I have edited out your full article from the comment - you are welcome to post a link to it if you wish.


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