(EXCLUSIVE) Not all Hindus are or need be supporters of Hindutva, writes Romila Thapar on nationalism


Hindutva, the brand of Hinduism propagated by Hindu religious nationalist, is by definition not identical with Hinduism. As has been pointed out by many, whereas Hinduism is a religion, Hindutva is an ideology for political mobilization.

I have elsewhere referred to Hindutva as syndicated Hinduism. It draws on Judeo-Christian religions in terms of hierarchical organization and attempts to have creed of belief, which is why some prefer to describe it as the semitization of Hinduism. Up to the point, the difference can demonstrated in a relationship of Hindutva to Hinduism. Hinduism is a mosaic of belief system, some linked, others not.

Hindutva has the characteristics of a sect that reformulates selected beliefs to create, in this case, a socio-political organization with an attempt at ideological coherence. This is why it contests idea that either question its ideology or allow it to be modified or adapted. Its political function primary.

The term Hindutva was invented in this sense by V.D. Savarkar in 1923 and was adopted by the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) as its ideology in 1989. Therefore, not all Hindus are or need be supporters of Hindutva despite the assumption of the latter that they are.

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As a belief system, Hinduism accommodates a range of beliefs and sometimes there could even be ambivalence about non-belief. The sect, in contrast, has always had a particular definition that its followers observe, as with Hindutva.

So far, those identified with Hindutva have tended to be viewed as a minority group with in the majority community of the religion, Hinduism. This could, of course change. Does Hindutva lack the confidence and security of actually being the majority community despite its claims?

The need to resort to threats, violence and vandalism by some groups of the Sangh Pariwar that claim to be guided by Hindutva ideas remains inexplicable since the majority community in whose name they function is overwhelmingly large in numbers.

There is absolutely no need to terrorize others. Thee are some obvious reasons for using intimidation on the general public that may provide some explication: to ensure that the majority gives its unalloyed political support to one party by raising the call that religion is threatened; by disallowing a level playing field in the belief that doing so would no longer give an advantage to the majority; to prevent the erosion of the social code caste and patriarchy; the apprehension that the nation may take upon itself the task of establishing a secular democracy -as was the intention initially- and thus deny automatic authority to religious majority.

Romila Thapar (Photo: The News.Com)

Religions in India, however, are not of same mould as the Judeo-Christian ones. To recognize the difference would require that the pattern of religious organizations, how they affected society and reflected it, and the history of interaction complement of the study of textual traditions and theology. One obvious example of this is the manner in which caste and religious sects interacted, each affecting the other and creating links of kind paralleled in most other parts of the world .

On the face of it, the relation between religion and society in the cultures of India and China were different from Europe, as indeed they were different from each other. So the specificity of the culture, the way its religion related to society, as well as its historical context, all these factors imprinted the form it took.

We have to see how and why they differed, what was specifically Indian about its religion, and the nature of interface with society. We have tended to study the text and the theologies of religions without giving sufficient attention to analysing the social institution and enterprises and sectarian and community observances the the religion gave rise to or on which they had a impact.

This would need an analysis of the history of religions in India as part of pattern of life of the society, and not just as history of their respective texts. Religious organization that run religious institutions such as temple, mosque, churches and gurdwaras, as well as school and the educational institutions have to assessed in terms of their efficiency in these functions. It was claimed that social codes, such as Manava Dharmashastra (popularly referred to as the Manusmiriti) and Islamic Shari’a, had divine sanction, but these were drawn up and imposed by human sanction, and were drawn up and imposed by human sanction, and were and are liable to change. Practices do not necessarily follow the code but code is quoted to restrict the autonomy of society and for retaining control over its religious authority.

Even if one accepts the divine origin of religious belief, the activity associated with a religion lies in the hand of its human devotees and has to be seen as its history, as all else seen. How did this interaction vary from sect to sect ot across sects of various religions practised in India? New needs led to creation of time was in essence, the juxtaposition of a large number of sects with their own focus of worship and ritual, some tied in to caste and inevitably reflecting some of the differences associated with caste and some negating it.

This explains in part why geographical term came to be used later for a collection of religious sects. The term ‘Hindu’, used in west Asia was derived from ‘Sindhu’ and old Iranian term ‘Hindush’, referring to the river Indus as viewed by those in West Asia. The label came to be applied to people who lived there, and finally to the religions practised by them, for which there was no single name, For many centuries the sects chose the deity they wished to worship, the form of worship and the text they regarded as sacred.

There was no single sacred text since Hindu sects were not religions of the book. But today the Bhagavad Gita is being described as the ‘national’ book, with the suggestion that it be taught in every school, which apart from anything else, conflates nationalism with religion, despite their being distinct.

And if we are going to collapse the two, then logically there will be a demand that in multi-religious state we must also declare the Quran, the Bible, the Guru Granth Sahib , Avesta and the books sacred to other religious communities as national books. Would the Secular of nature of Indian democracy then be tied to library of religious books? Surely, they can be taught in school as’national’ books but respected texts of various religions, which in effect, is what they are.

Religious sects, as different from monolithic religion, tend to shade off from the very orthodox of those far or less so. This allows greater flexibility and fluidity in belief and practice among them than is normal in a religion treated as monolithic entity.

The varied sects of Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shaktasand the Bhakti and Sufi sects, and many others, did not conform to single church, nor were they governed by a single ecclesiastical authority. The change from sect to monolithic religion changes the nature of the relationship between religion and society.

(These are excerpts from the book ‘Nationalism’ by Romila Thapar, AG Noorani and Sadanand Menon. The book is published by Aleph Spotlight)