Ram Swarup and Hinduphobia – Koenraad Elst

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Koenraad ElstAs Socrates taught: evil is, upon closer analysis, a case of ignorance. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence. – Dr Koenraad Elst   

Let us consider what Ram Swarup said about Hindu-bashing, or what is nowadays called “Hinduphobia”. The word, though in existence since more than a century, was not yet in vogue as Hinduism’s ad hoc counterweight against the omnipresent propaganda term “Islamophobia”. But the phenomenon was already dominant in India and increasingly present abroad.

In fact, it was quite old. Several tribes of Muslims with a doctrinally motivated hatred for the Hindus, followed by the Portuguese Christians with a similar aversion, had actively persecuted Hinduism for centuries. They represent a permanent source of anti-Hindu violence that now takes the form of occupation of parts of the Hindu homeland by the Islamic states of Pakistan and Bangladesh; of Pakistani incursions; of terrorism and of rioting. But while they bludgeoned Hindu society and inflicted huge human and material losses on it, they did not penetrate it or take control of its institutions.

Tribes of haters

The British, by contrast, could rule India with more limited violence largely outsourced to native sepoys, but their influence penetrated far more deeply. Firstly, they managed to pit several Hindu sub-groups against the mainstream: most obviously the Sikhs, for whom the status of separate religion was made of whole cloth, promoted as a social reality and underpinned at the scholarly level. In several booklets, Ram Swarup went against this colonial-engineered separatism by documenting how, as per their own scriptures and history, Sikhism was a self-identified sect of Vedic Hinduism.

The creation of bad blood between Buddhism and mainstream Hinduism only took the institutional form of keeping Sri Lanka and later Burma outside of British India, but was far more influential at the scholarly level. There, the underlying paradigm of all Buddhist studies and of Indian histories as instilled through the schools became: “Hinduism bad, Buddhism good.”  Even before 1947, “Christian missionaries (…) were presenting Buddhism (as they have been doing with Sikhism) as (…) a revolt against ‘Brahmanism’ and the “Hindu” caste system.” (Hinduism and Monotheistic Religions, p.519, originally 1991) They had no use for the Buddha, except for making him into a stick to beat Hindu society with. The Macaulayites and Marxists followed this example: “they tried to use their learning and position to undermine Hinduism (…) and show that there was little difference between Marxism and Buddhism. Now Communist historians are telling us that Hindus demolished Hindu temples.” (p.519) 

Likewise with the Dalits and tribals, who came to benefit from an incipient reservation system, and with the non-Brahmin Tamils. The then-popular Aryan Invasion Theory was used to pit them against the upper castes and the North Indians. The thrust of the exercise was invariably to put Hindus into the dock and make them feel guilty for their very existence. Needless to say, this caste-based discrimination with a good social conscience has only become more encompassing over the years, and the [Aryan Invasion] paradigm still is the official one.

But the second effect was even more detrimental to Hindu assertiveness: “The British took over our education and taught us to look at ourselves through their eyes. They created a class Indian in blood and colour, but anti-Hindu in its intellectual and emotional orientation. This is the biggest problem rising India faces—the problem of self-alienated Hindus, of anti-Hindu Hindu intellectuals.” (p.45) 

Then again, in numerical terms, this impact on Hindu society was still quite small even by 1947. Many millions in the countryside had never seen a Briton, less than 1% of the population spoke good English. If the Indian leadership had wanted, it could have undone this influence in a matter of decades.

Ram-SwarupA crucial factor here was the choice of language. Ram Swarup himself was quite at home with British culture and thought, being most influenced by British liberalism: Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell. In his case, this didn’t stop him from fighting for freedom from British rule, with active participation in the Quit India Movement. But for less independent minds, gulping down English influence would only end up estranging them from their Hindu roots, as it had done in the case of Jawaharlal Nehru. The vote in the Constituent Assembly’s Language Committee should have been crucial: 50% voted for Sanskrit, 50% for Hindi (which was given victory by the deciding vote of the chairman), and 0% for English. For the generation that had achieved independence, it was completely obvious that decolonisation implied abolishing the coloniser’s language. Yet by 1965, when this abolition was due to become effective, the English-speaking elite had gathered enough power to overrule this solemn commitment. Ever since, the influence of English and of the thought systems conveyed by it has only gone on increasing, and at some levels, India is becoming a part of the Anglosphere—hardly what the freedom fighter envisioned. Today, most Anglophone secularists are nearly as knowledgeable about Hindu culture as first-time foreign tourists who have crammed up the Lonely Planet’s few pages summarising India’s religious landscape.

Marx and Mao

Compare with China, not formally colonised but having been repeatedly humiliated by colonial incursion, yet now again proud and assertive. Of course it has retained its language, and adopting a foreign language as medium for education or the judiciary is simply unthinkable. Ram Swarup, who wrote several books criticising the record of Maoism, wouldn’t emphasise this, but it is one thing the Communists undoubtedly achieved: a clean break with the colonial age. Under the nationalist regime (1912-49), China was increasingly under Anglo-American influence, and the Christian missions could operate on a large scale. Nationalist leader Jiang Jieshi (who later was to give an award to Ram Swarup’s and Sita Ram Goel’s anti-Communist think tank Society for the Defence of Freedom in Asia) was a Christian along with much of his family. By contrast, when Mao Zedong came to power, all missionaries were imprisoned, killed, or at best banished.    

On the other hand, by importing Marxism, China was opening itself up to another Western doctrine, and actively imposing it on its population. The same counted for those circles in India that came to espouse Marxism. Under Nehru, it started influencing the power-wielding circles, and from Indira Gandhi onwards, it achieved control over education policy and much of cultural policy. This ideology was “more Eurocentric than regular imperialism. It used radical slogans but its aims were reactionary. … Marx fully shared the contempt of the British imperialists for India. He fully subscribed to the theses of colonial scholarship that India was not a nation, had no history and was meant for subjugation. Marxism was Macaulayism at its most hostile. It blackened Indian history systematically. It gave to [the] Indian social and political system its own format, the one it had learnt from its European teachers. It saw in Hinduism not … a great spiritual civilisation but only communalism.” (p.45-46) 

Newer forms of Marxist or soft-Marxist thought (critics speak of “cultural Marxism”) remain entrenched in the Indian institutions, and are more powerful than ever in the relevant departments of Western universities. Their construction of Indian reality remains dominant and is more than ever spread to the new Hindu generations, leading to more culpabilisation c.q. sense of shame for Hinduism. 

Race to the exit

The trends unambiguously traced to colonial policies have not been reversed by the Nehruvian regime, but have instead been continued and magnified. Thus, the British policy of separating Hindu subsets from general Hinduism has continued with an affirmation at different times of minority status for Buddhism, Sikhism, the Arya Samaj, Jainism, Virashaivism and Sarna “animism”. In every case, the administrative separation was fortified with a change in discourse: the need for a non-Hindu identity was in each case buttressed by an increased blackening of Hinduism. This anti-Hindu attitude has even crept into Hindu organisations without the institutional ambition of minority status, e.g. the ISKCON (Hare Krishna) calls itself non-Hindu, except when it is canvassing for donations from Hindu communities.

When Ram Swarup wrote against separatism among the Sikhs, it was an interesting intellectual entertainment for his readers, but had no impact at all on policy-making. The Narasimha Rao government managed to neutralise armed Sikh separatism, but did nothing to change Sikh separatist thought, so that there remains a constant threat of its political revival. In a healthy society, we might expect power-wielders to listen to sages like Ram Swarup, but this was not the case; just as it is still not the case today.

As described in Ram Swarup’s booklet The Ramakrishna Mission in Search of a New Identity, the Ramakrishna Mission, besieged by the Communist-supported Teachers’ Union in its school network, felt compelled as a matter of survival to relieve this pressure. In India, by virtue of Article 30 of the Constitution, minority schools (and similarly, places of worship) are autonomous and immune from government take-over, whereas classification as Hindu makes them vulnerable to nationalisation. But the RK Mission did not try to have the discrimination against Hindu schools abolished, did not appeal to Hindu society, but did the dishonourable thing of trying to escape by seeking minority status, like a rat leaving a sinking ship. The Bengal High Court gave it the coveted minority status, then finally (or so it seemed) the Supreme Court denied it, entirely in accordance with RK Mission founder Swami Vivekananda’s assertion of Hindu pride. 

Superficial Hindus might jubilate that this was a victory for Hindu unity, but Ram Swarup warned that the Mission would now have to live down the anti-Hindu attitudes which it had come to espouse. Here again, some of its swamis make all the right noises for the respective audiences they address, sometimes calling themselves Hindu, but the “we are not Hindus” animus has not disappeared: when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress won the state elections ending decades of Communist rule, the Mission asked her for minority status. And promptly it received her assurance that it would henceforth be treated as a minority, thus de facto overruling the “final” Supreme Court verdict. Ram Swarup always emphasised that institutional arrangements are unimportant in themselves, merely the materialisation of convictions and mentalities. If you want to stop the race to the exit, it is imperative to change people’s unfavourable impression of Hinduism. 

Down with conspiracy thinking

A final point for the attention of the rather hot-headed Hindu activists and polemicists. They always see conspiracies against Hinduism, e.g. the Aryan Invasion Theory was a “British concoction”, the Partition of India was “imposed by machinations by the British” who had “brainwashed” the Muslim League leadership. In this case, “Hinduphobia” is deemed to be an expression of an intractable “hatred” that for some reason (in the case of Westerners, “racism”) animates Hinduism’s numerous enemies. This fuming hot air in Hindu discourse puts off many neutral observers and produces Hinduphobes. But in all of Ram Swarup’s works, there is not a single example of this approach. 

For a single example, he describes a novel about the Buddha’s wife Yashodhara, Lady of the Lotus, by a well-meaning American, William E. Barrett. It has totally fictitious episodes about the couple’s visits to the quarters of the Untouchables: “They were revolted by the sight. They saw that ‘the traffic in the streets was, in the main, animal.’” And about the sight of hungry people: “Next day when they were in bed, light dawned on Siddharta that ‘No one has to be hungry … and no one should live as these people live.’” (p.527) In reality, the Buddha was not particularly interested in the difference between rich and poor, high and low; he taught that suffering was basic to the human condition in general. He did not propagate liberation from poverty, but liberation from the human condition. The socialist reinterpretation of the Buddha as a social rebel conflicts with the Buddha’s teachings. It is typical for the post-religious worldview to reduce religion to socio-economic considerations, i.e. to cultivate ignorance about the existential passions that have generated religions.   

The most interesting part of Ram Swarup’s account is: “The author was not hostile to India but he was doing his best to depict Hindus and their history as he knew it.” (p.528) This is crucial to understanding “Hinduphobia”: while some classes of people, say mullahs and missionaries, have an interest in blackening Hinduism, most people don’t. They just go by the information they have been fed. This American novelist has been fed the fable that the Buddha was a rebel against Hindu societal reality, so that is what he puts into his story: Buddhism social, Hinduism oppressive. As Socrates (translated into Hindi as Satyakām Sokratez by Ram Swarup’s friend Sita Ram Goel) taught: evil is, upon closer analysis, a case of ignorance. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.   

Dr Koenraad Elst is an historian. linguist and orientalist from Belgium who visits India to study and lecture.

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The intellectual war being waged against India – Gautam Sen

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Gautam SenContrary to popular perception, ingrained in the Indian national psyche of complacency, contemporary foreign attempts to seize control of India’s future trajectory is occurring mostly through indirect potential control. It is exercised by nurturing myriad collaborators within it though specific territorial assaults against its integrity. – Dr Gautam Sen

Intellectual hegemony has since time immemorial been a paramount vehicle for the exercise of political and socioeconomic power within society and between them internationally. A long line of intellectuals has observed the nature of the exercise of power, both political and personal, through the dominance of ideas. A recent history of the early Church by historian David Lloyd Dusenbery provides an authoritative account of the advance of Christianity through acrimonious debates over ideas propagated during the late third and early fourth centuries by major protagonists, like the anti-Pagan Firmianus Lactantius, a key imperial adviser to the first Christian emperor Constantine and the original progenitor Christian antisemitism. Another important Christian ideologue was the theologian and historian Eusebius of Caesarea to be followed later by the formidable late fourth and early fifth centuries trio St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo and another powerful ideologue of Christianity, St. Jerome.

In the modern world, the exercise of intellectual hegemony by the ruling order has been the subject of astute excavation by the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci and a host of formidable thinkers of the so-called Frankfurt School and others, some of the most revelatory among them, Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno as well as another pioneering French thinker, the highly influential Michel Foucault. A powerful post-modernist interpretation was subsequently unleashed by Jacques Derrida, who questioned and deconstructed the outward integrity of meaning in texts, his own oeuvre underpinned by the earlier work of the philosopher Edmund Husserl and the linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure. Yet, only modest attention has been paid to the practical consequences of the exercise of ideological power in the contemporary world over India’s place in it. The very exercise of this ideological power has dictated the boundaries of the debate, impaling the discourse on India in terms of narrow concepts like secularism that constrain serious understanding of its extant societal dynamics.

Interpreting the impact of dominant ideas on the imputation of India’s place in the world requires a prior understanding of the nature and exercise of political power between societies in the international arena. The key terms that encapsulate international relations are the compulsion towards dominance, duplicitous “bad faith” and their inevitable corollary of treachery. The practical implications of such a depiction of world politics are its abhorrence of a political vacuum in international relations that unerringly predisposes the subjugation of the weak by the strong and deployment of force, in all its dimensions, to achieve dominance and primacy. Indeed, it is significant that the ancient Greek synonym for man was soldier and the Roman empire that succeeded it was principally defined by the exercise of military power, which always remained its preeminent characteristic. The entire history of the Western world since has been inspired by and informed by this Greco-Roman legacy, whether it is imperial Britain or the Nazis or the subsequent US imperium. Islamic empires also adopted the antecedent practices of the eastern Roman empire they replaced as well as the example of conquered Persia, the militarised imperial alter ego of ancient Greece.

Without sentiment and prevarication, it might be noted that for over a thousand and more years the Indian subcontinent has exhibited attributes of a political vacuum, of divided and warring statelets, unable to resist challenges from better militarily endowed and determined marauders from the north. As a result, India has long been a potent pole of attraction for conquerors, enticed by its vast human and natural resources. The contemporary Indian situation is not fundamentally different from its long historical past despite the establishment of an outwardly modern statehood, with its various accoutrements of power and autonomy, from political and socioeconomic institutions to military capability. Thus, contrary to popular perception, ingrained in the Indian national psyche of complacency, contemporary foreign attempts to seize control of India’s future trajectory is occurring mostly through indirect potential control. It is exercised by nurturing myriad collaborators within it though specific territorial assaults against its integrity are also unmistakably visible.

The profound underlying latent divisions of the Indian polity have been laid bare in recent years, with major political regions declining to acquiesce to full participation in all essential dimensions of a singular nationhood. Why this has happened is a fascinating but separate question, but its reality can hardly be denied, with regional political parties blatantly refusing to comply with their constitutional obligations of belonging to a single nation. Some of them are almost also asserting quasi de facto independence, with their political instincts also plainly articulating foreign ideological and accompanying extra national political attachments. The welcome accorded to vast numbers of illegal migrants and granting them citizenship rights in some states is a startling expression of this challenge to India’s sovereignty. The recent attempts of the dominant political dispensation at the Centre to enhance a sense of greater common national purpose and loyalty have in fact provoked further serious popular dissent and accentuated separatist sentiment. The fractious history of the Indian subcontinent has reared its alarming head with unexpected vengeance and de facto regional separatism threatens to become the espousal of a de jure posture for it.

In this context, it is vital to understand the wider global ideological edifice, in all its extraordinary sophistication and complexity, that underpins and fuels India’s national divisions. The key feature of the ideological thrust of foreign adversaries to subvert India in order to exercise control over its conduct is the determined and systematic repudiation of its moral legitimacy and historical identity. Indirect control is the aspiration since physical inroads are, for the present, only feasible at the margins on India’s borders though a major setback along them could precipitate a cascade in the shape of the assertion of independence by some already restless regions. In the meantime, the ideological assault against India continues relentlessly and the original roots of its constant and widespread hostile deconstruction can be traced back to India’s tutelage under British imperial rule and the critique of Hindu civilisation by, in the main, the Protestant Church. A basic overriding contention, repeated by its adversaries like China, even today, has always been that India is comprised by many nations and a racially-inspired Brahminical ideology has sought to impose the primacy of an earlier band of conquerors, the Aryans, who have no greater legitimacy to claim India than subsequent conquerors, the Muslims and the Europeans.

The intellectual warfare against India occurs from innumerable venues in academia and the media. Indian domestic intellectual life itself is largely an expression of an unreconstructed colonial heritage and domestic discourses a mere echo of well-established historical critiques of Indian civilisation. They are constantly being renewed, acquiring real substance and momentum from intellectual assaults from abroad. The critical modus operandi of ideological assault is still inspired by the original essentially Protestant critique and denunciation of the legitimacy of the moral integrity of the heritage of ancient India to which its people might look for their contemporary identity. The international media’s depiction of India, almost in entirety, and its offensive on it today adopts a simple strategy, which is to slander and libel without respite and ignore the truth and any alternative narrative that might contradict its own blatant fabrications. This global media obtains additional legitimacy for its serial disinformation campaigns by paying individuals who enjoy personal prominence in society and are willing to do the bidding of India’s adversaries for payment and other forms of social recognition.

The Western academic discourse on India is the bedrock for institutionalising a negative perception of it among dominant global elites who refract and diffuse the public’s ideological outlook. Such an ideological orientation has two important operational features that function with potent sublimity. They are wholesale psychological intimidation and occupation of the intellectual space and its denial to those who do not conform to the extant narrative of assault against India. The practical consequence of such a situation is the denial of opportunity to enter the academic world through openly discriminatory recruitment policies, curbing of professional advancement of dissenters, hampering their ability to sponsor seminars and curtailing the ability to publish, especially in prestigious journals. The intimidatory psychology arises from the sheer weight of the established canon and the existence of deified names who underpin the Western intellectual environment in its totality. Their effectively divine stature always pervades any intellectual journey, which sets the parameters of even plausible dissent. This intellectual climate may not necessarily be the direct source of specific challenges to India’s integrity and political identity, but it empowers hostile protagonists to question India and all its evil works by providing the counterpart of generalised covering fire. An expert on philosopher John Rawls or Jacques Derrida can call out India’s human rights record on caste, though it may be without intrinsic merit, because the shadow of Rawls and Derrida loom large in the background to legitimise them socially.

The examples of intellectual intimidation range from asserting one’s identity as a leading scholar on Jacques Derrida and using the legitimacy arising from it to engage in slander by illegitimately and deliberately misleading audiences. One Columbia scholar engaged in virtue signalling by hyperventilating on the predicament of Myanmar Rohingyas, implying the imperative of admitting them to India, supposedly en masse, while the academic simultaneously expressed angst over the alleged murder of a Muslim in India in a dispute over the consumption of beef. One cannot recall if the same scholar ever found occasion to express concern for the plight of ethnically-cleansed Kashmiri Pandits, subjected to rape and murder or indeed comment on the horrors of the Rwandan genocide. Another LSE scholar has asserted the flight of Pandits from J&K was due to actions taken by the then governor Jagmohan. The duplicity and dishonesty persist with little prospect of rebuttal because the established intellectual space denies access to challenges through institutional control over who can speak at seminars and conferences. Thus, egregious libel is spread under the cloak of the high scholarship of experts on intellectual life. The fulcrum of the discrediting of Indian society is the allegation of innate hierarchical caste racism, stemming from a “false religion” and the multitudinous resultant spin-offs of everything, from patriarchy to inequality, which are supposedly validated by a fundamentally unethical conception of social relations in the Hindu world-view.

There has grown a shrill and urgent recent cry of loathing at the path India has ostensibly embarked upon under the leadership of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. However, the entire discourse on the horrors allegedly unfolding in contemporary India are rarely identified empirically and examined in comparative historical perspective. Yet, academics in hallowed Western portals and public intellectuals have risen in virtual unison to denounce contemporary India’s supposed lurch in an appalling right-wing direction though, once again, the crimes alleged lack empirical pinpointing. Significantly, the academic chorus of faux intellectual hand-wringing seems to parallel a deeper historic unease among major foreign governments about the potential rise of India as an economic and therefore military power. It is easily forgotten that the current intense hue and cry about India long predates its ongoing political and economic dynamics. But the present multifaceted policy endeavours threaten the possible realisation of the goal of autonomy and military strength long sought by every post-independent Indian leadership that is apparently irking many abroad.

Intellectual life has always been an essential instrumental conduit in the pursuit of national goals of dominant powers, notwithstanding all pretensions to the contrary. The great strength of its contemporary manifestation is the sheer scale of the production of intellectual output that also institutionally integrates within it any critique of itself that presumes to question existing political order and societal arrangements. The latter phenomenon neutralises protest by also extending material and institutional succour to dissension. Thus, dissenters end up benefiting from complicit participation in institutions supervising intellectual labour that serve the larger goals of the state, including its traditional imperial ventures. The hapless individual from the third world only participates in this oversized intellectual enterprise by finding a feigned nonconformist niche that allows self-delusion about their ultimately comprador role. But they are in no position to challenge the grand narrative of the institutionalised intellectual colossus of the host nation. Once someone from the third world has stood in awe inside the Cambridge’s King’s College chapel or one of the grand libraries of Harvard or Oxford a thoroughgoing inner depersonalising is set in motion and nothing matters more to that individual than playing some bit part in this resplendent and indefinable eternal universe.

This Western intellectual colossus and its institutions are a full partner in imperial glory and propensity for genocide, undertaking research into deadly weaponry and engaging in espionage even as it permits a chorus of dissent at the margin. However, the radical denunciation of all things Indian by its own former citizens who espouse human rights, feminism, equality, religious freedom and pluralism to challenge the legitimacy of their erstwhile former nation are all functional to the real purposes of India’s foreign adversaries. It serves their goal of attempting to weaken the possible rise of India by discrediting purposeful governance in it. In the end, intellectual life remains an unavoidable adjunct of national goals for the dominant powers of the Western world. – Sunday Guardian Live, 5 June 2021

Dr Gautam Sen taught international political economy for over two decades at the London School of Economics.

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Equal rights for Hindus – Koenraad Elst

Equal rights for Hindus

Koenraad ElstThe Constitution discriminates against Hinduism, and that this has large-scale consequences for the transmission of Hinduism to the next generation is one of India’s better-kept secrets. Most academics suppress this information and pretend loudly that India is a secular state, i.e. a state with equality of all citizens before the law. It is not, and it will be hard for secularists to object to a constitutional reform that would turn India into a true secular state, one in which no religion is discriminated against. – Dr. Koenraad Elst

One year ago, on Autumnal Equinox, 21 September 2019, Hindus organised a conference in Delhi devoted to the discrimination against Hindus in the Constitution, and, on this bedrock, also extant in India’s laws and effective policies. This was not a Sangh initiative (though VHP leader Alok Kumar was present and being honoured), rather it had been called to formulate demands addressed to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Formally, it was the work of an ad hoc group, the Equal Rights For Hindus Charter.

Some discriminations are rather academic and only consequential at several removes. Thus, the understanding of religious freedom as guaranteed in Article 25, especially the inclusion of the right to propagate one’s religion and thus to encourage others to convert, is tailor-made for the Christian mission. This interest group had successfully lobbied to ensure that the right to convert be included in the Constitution. It also fits the Islamic design to Islamise all of humanity, but the notion of conversion is foreign to Hindus and even more to Parsis. So, the constitutional right to convert seemingly creates a level playing field, counting for all religions, yet in practice it upholds a right central to Christianity and Islam but meaningless (except negatively) to Hinduism. It legalises the aggression by the foreign and conquering religions to the detriment of the indigenous religion.

At the initiative of the Scheduled Tribes, targets par excellence of the missionary efforts, several Indian states have enacted laws against forcible or fraudulent conversion (which according to the missionaries and their secularist allies are non-existent anyway). But these state laws can never acquire teeth as long as the Constitution guarantees the right to propagate religion. Thanks to this unshakeable guarantee, the missionary apparatus considers these anti-conversion laws as but an impotent scarecrow, useful only to underpin its own internationally propagated image of hapless victims being persecuted by an overbearing Hindu majority.

Education

The most consequential and effective discrimination is comprised in Article 30. It guarantees to the minorities (leaving the majority unmentioned) the right to found and manage educational institutions. This means that Hindu schools can be nationalised or subjected to other government controls from which minority schools are exempt. In the application of this discrimination, the Right to Education Act, enacted by the Congress-Communist combine in 2008, imposes a back-breaking burden on Hindu schools (putting hundreds out of business), and from which it exempts minority schools.

But before this too, the discrimination was already palpable. Thus, in the 1980s the Ramakrishna Mission’s schools in West Bengal were harassed by the Communist teachers’ unions and threatened with nationalisation. Instead of appealing to Hindu society to come to its rescue, and instead of challenging the discriminatory rules which made this hostile takeover possible, it dishonourably decided to abandon Hindu society and distance  itself from all other Hindu sects that invest in schooling. The Ramakrishna Mission approached the Court to get itself recognised as a non-Hindu minority, exemplifying the scramble for the exit from Hinduism.

The RK Mission failed in its attempt at de-Hinduisation, as had happened before already to the Sri Aurobindo Society: the Court had to admit that the respective founders, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, had explicitly stated that they were Hindu and had never intended to found a new religion. But the Arya Samaj at the Punjab state level, the Jains, and the Lingayats did succeed in getting recognition as non-Hindu minority religions.

The point is that Article 30 is a constant invitation to the Hindu sects to leave Hinduism. It tends to fragment Hindu society. Apart from the sheer injustice of this anti-Hindu discrimination, its power to trigger the fragmentation of Hindu society should be reason enough for pro-Hindu activists to do something about it. It also helps to confirm the state’s right to interfere in other fields of Hindu life, especially the places of worship, again unlike the minorities’ inviolable churches and mosques.

These two areas—education and places of worship—are extremely important in today’s world. In centuries past, children became Hindu by spontaneously absorbing the religion and culture because these were all around them. That is much less the case today. By contrast, formal schooling is far more important than ever before. Keep the teaching of Hinduism out of the schools (a requirement of enforcing “secularism”, but only on the Hindus), and it will enter the children’s minds less and less. Unknown makes unloved, and it makes Hindus unable to defend the choice for Hinduism to others and even to themselves. This way, they become easy prey for whomever wants to seduce them into abandoning their ancestral religion and entering other worlds and embracing other worldviews and ways of life. For Hinduism, removing these discriminations is a matter of life and death.

Abolition

The conference a year ago resolved to try and influence the government into finally taking up the problem of this Constitutional inequality. But it can be doubted whether anyone except the participants has even heard of it. For the Government, it has not made any difference. In 2018 there was a Private Bill by BJP MP Satyapal Singh, but both the party and the Government refused to take it up.

If the BJP and Narendra Modi had cared about Hinduism, they would have prepared the correct parliamentary procedures before acceding to power and set to work in 2014 itself. Failing that, they could have come to their senses in the next phase, and belatedly set to work anyway. Instead, while they may have done their job on the development front, they remained emphatically passive on the “communal” front. Many in there are just timeservers satisfied with enjoying the perks of being in government.

The slightly more principled types, of RSS provenance, had absorbed so much of secularist thought that the idea of recognising and abolishing anti-Hindu discriminations that were strangling Hindu life, just did not even occur to them. Instead, they take pride in outdoing Congress in minority appeasement, having replaced Hindutva with “BJP secularism” as their ideological backbone. Even independent activist Hindus tend to get carried away by minor issues and muster no more than fleeting attention to the main issue.

The problem here is that Hindus are suckers for tokenism. With superficial gestures, wearing Hindu clothes, and getting filmed visiting a temple here and there, BJP ministers can assure themselves of Hindu votes. A child’s hand is easy to fill, and Hindus will gladly believe that only economic issues are “the real issues”, while the reforms that would make a difference to the life and future of Hinduism are but “boutique issues” (to borrow the term that a Hindu actually used).

When put on the spot, BJP supporters defend the BJP’s actual performance against the ideals to which they were once committed, like “justice for all, appeasement of none”. They insist that the leaders “need time”: even after more than six years in power, without discerning any BJP intention to stray from the Nehruvian path of minority appeasement (for that is what maintaining the anti-Hindu discrimination amounts to), many are still not ashamed to say this, all while consistently remaining passive on the issues for which they supposedly needed that time.

What to do?

If you want to achieve any goal, you must be coldly realistic. Let us face the fact that there is very little commitment among even activist Hindus to abolish these discriminations. This is an instance of a situation with which leaders ought to be familiar. Some policies have popular appeal, but other policies, though the best-informed and most prescient leaders see how necessary they are, just don’t ring a bell among the people. Yet, if a leader explains the need for abolishing these discriminations, every parliamentarian of the BJP (and many others too) will fall in line. Many don’t think it is a priority, some had never thought about it, but no one will object to it.

This is all the more true because abolishing the Constitutional inequality between Hindus and non-Hindus is not hard to do. First of all, it may not even be necessary to amend the Constitution; possibly it is enough to approach the Supreme Court for an authoritative opinion. The judges may point out that the Constituent Assembly could not have meant to deny Hindus the rights they were giving to the minorities. At that time, Muslims and Christians were on the defensive, acutely feeling how that they were deemed guilty of the Partition massacres, and the just-concluded colonial exploitation. The Hindu members had no reason at all to enact discriminations against themselves.

Secondly, if amending the Constitution still proves necessary, this need not be insurmountable. Many opposition MPs may support reforms amounting to more equality. Congress and other parties still have their eyes on the Hindu vote-bank: maybe they never would have taken the initiative for this reform, but they will hesitate to oppose it once it is there. And with the thumping majority that it has, the BJP needs very few votes from outside. What a luxury, which they and you will miss it when it’s gone.

The normalisation of the Kashmir situation was harder, needing lots of security precautions and triggering many negative reactions from the usual suspects. But the BJP was ready to take these challenges on, partly because it was a safely secular issue. Everybody knows the separate status of Kashmir was due to its character as a Muslim-majority state, yet the relevant laws did not mention religion. It could be framed in terms of national unity, a discourse in which the RSS and the BJP are more at home than in anything pertaining to Hindu aspirations.

Once religion comes into the picture, the going gets tougher. This was clear from the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) controversy earlier this year, about the welcome to be given to non-Muslims oppressed in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Here, the enemy had it easy to deduce BJP “fanaticism” from the obvious “inequality” between religions in the CAA. This inequality between oppressed communities and the oppressor community had its justification, but the mere mention of inequality counted as criminal to most outside observers. The episode ended as a publicity failure, a loss of face for the BJP government.

Well, here you don’t have to accept the burden of a word that triggers negative knee-jerk reactions. Here you don’t have to justify inequality, only to advertise equality. Who could be against equality?

That the Constitution discriminates against Hinduism, and that this has large-scale consequences for the transmission of Hinduism to the next generation is one of India’s better-kept secrets. Most academics suppress this information and pretend loudly that India is a secular state, i.e. a state with equality of all citizens before the law. It is not, and the good implication is that for secularists it will be hard to object to a reform that would turn India into a secular state, one in which no religion is discriminated against.

But

Of course, the secularists are going to resist this normalisation of India’s inter-religious relations. They will for the first time be put in a position of openly having to defend inequality, but some will find a way of stooping that low without getting a bad conscience. Thus, some will say that in order to achieve equality, a little bit of inequality is necessary. That is the principle behind America’s “affirmative action”.

So, they will claim (and we already have heard some professors, when pressed to pronounce on this, affirm it) that as a majority, the Hindus owe the minorities something. But in a secular state, there is no such thing as a minority: there are only equal citizens. To insist nonetheless on this point, they will allege that the American white majority has kept the black minority as slaves, ergo majorities commit injustice against minorities (an unjustified generalisation); ergo in India too the majority has oppressed the minorities.

Well, we have news for them: no, the Hindus have never oppressed Christians nor the Muslims. The reverse, yes. So, if inequality can be justified as a compensation for past injustice, then it is the Christians and Muslims who must pay compensation.

But we should not go that far. For the present and future, simple equality will do.

Conclusion

The achievement of equality is not the end. Once the state has created a level playing field, civil society has the task of using the opportunities that arise. Hindus will have to take initiatives. A religion that relies on state patronage will become weak.

Hindus should not want (and fortunately, by and large don’t want) to replace a system discriminating against them by a system where they can discriminate against others. Just equality will do, and then let the best principles and way of life win. But that very limited goal of equality is really necessary and is now becoming urgent.

After 2019 even more than before, BJP supporters smugly assume that they are natural election-winners, so that they can safely postpone any jobs till next term. Right now, the opposition is in relative disarray and not in a position to win against the BJP. But this can change. One of my farthest memories about Indian politics concerns the accession to power of the Janata Party, prepared by Jayaprakash Narayan’s mass campaign that galvanised the opposition against the seemingly invincible Indira Gandhi. In the coming years too, we might see the rise of a leader who manages to unite and motivate the opposition.

If the BJP loses power, many Hindus will rue the missed opportunities. What are the chances that an avowedly secularist government will care about justice for Hinduism and take the initiative to revise Articles 25-30? Crying and gnashing of teeth, that is what many Hindus will feel when they realise that the seemingly timeless window of opportunity has passed, and that an ever-shrinking Hindu society has little chance of ever bringing it back.

But it need not come that far. You still have more than three years to get the job taken up and finished. What have you done to persuade the BJP leadership to use the unique window of opportunity that still presents itself? – IndiaFacts, 22 September 2020

Dr Koenraad Elst is an author, linguist and orientalist who visits India often from his home in Belgium.

Charter of Hindu Demands