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Words of wisdom!

By Harbans Mukhia

K. S. Sudarshan is reproducing the ideological constructs of precisely that despicable West he would like India to turn its back upon.

IT IS very seldom that K. S. Sudarshan, Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in any public utterance fails to lambast the Indian Muslims for being bullies (and correspondingly the Hindus for being cowards) or for refusing to own up the ancient Hindu mythological figures such as Ram and Krishna. Nor does he fail to cite the example of Indonesian Muslims in contrast who actually own up the figure of Ram in their land, and not being the worse for it. In his much-awaited public address to Delhi's `intelligentsia' on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, he repeated these gems of wisdom, as expected. These seem to constitute the limits of his knowledge about Islam and Hinduism. The other highlight of his address as reported in the press was staunch hostility to western forms of economy, knowledge, culture, even means of achieving hygiene for which we Indians are, he assured us, much better equipped thanks to the almost unlimited availability of cow's urine.

One assumes that Mr. Sudarshan finds all the learning that the RSS in its shakhas imparts for the complete education of an Indian, especially a Hindu, adequate. Those of us Indians, including Hindus, who did not have the benefit of getting educated in the shakhas, but elsewhere in schools and colleges, will feel rather disturbed on two counts. One, the grouping together of all Muslims and all Hindus under single heads is actually the legacy of Western intellectual endeavour from the 18th century onward and in particular of the British colonial regime in India. The RSS has entirely and unquestioningly imbibed all of this and keeps diffusing in its shakhas and in such momentous public addresses as Mr. Sudarshan gave on October 2 and is likely to repeat on several other occasions.

Second, his assumption that the Indian Muslims withdraw themselves from any identification with Hindu religious or cultural symbols is derived from his probably brief and limited acquaintance with his own counterparts among the Muslims persons such as Imam Bukhari or Syed Shahabuddin. Just as Mr. Sudarshan projects himself and persons such as Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia as the exclusive representatives of the Hindu community, religion and culture, he also accepts the Imam and Mr. Shahabuddin as the exclusive representatives of the Muslim community, religion and culture. For him there are no other shades outside of these, one pure white, the other a deep black, but necessary for the sustenance of the first.

The first point first. The coming of Islam to India from the 10th century on mediated through various agencies conquerors, theologians, sufi saints, traders, poets, scholars created several Muslim images of the Hindus, the term itself being of Arabic coinage. For the conquerors, the Hindus were the archenemy whose territory was open for grabbing through the battlefield. Incidentally, other Muslim rulers too were similar enemies, for their territory had no more sanctity against raids.

Mahmud of Ghazni, the archetypical Muslim conqueror, also had no problem employing 300 Hindu soldiers and one General Tilak for waging wars against other Hindus and they in turn had no problem helping him either. For theologians, the Hindus were kafirs, who needed to be converted to Islam by persuasion or force. For poets, however, kafir was the term of endearment, always used as synonym for the beloved. Sufis sought love rather than subjugation as the path of salvation for all humankind. Hindus for them were no enemies, but friends. Traders in their turn were more keen on earning their profits from wherever they could and hardly cared about the religious identity of their customers. Of scholars, al-Biruni was the most outstanding, hardly the one who would think of killing or converting the Hindus. But for al-Biruni our knowledge and understanding of the Hindu religion and society of his day would be so much poorer.

All these differential images of the Hindu (and the Muslim) community got erased with the advance of Western analytical categories, and were replaced by homogenised categories such as the Orient as a whole and Christendom, Hindu civilisation, Islamic world, etc. The British, under the influence of both evangelical as well as utilitarian philosophies, made these homogenous categories the premise upon which to establish their governance in India. Mr. Sudarshan is reproducing the ideological constructs of precisely that despicable West he would like India to turn its back upon.

Second, if Mr. Sudarshan could find the determination to look at the Muslim community beyond the shoulders of such stalwarts as the Imam and Mr. Shahabuddin, and acquire some familiarity with the Indian Muslims in the small towns and villages, his complaint that they shun any association with the Hindu cultural legacies would disappear in a jiffy, if, that is, he is willing to allow it to disappear. It is here that the vast majority of Indians Hindus and Muslims and others live and it is here that the neat boxes into which people such as Mr. Sudarshan tend to fit Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs and Christians and others quickly dissolve.

For, in these villages the Muslims grow up singing Radha and Krishna bhajans and lyrics as integral parts of their lives and celebrate Holi, Dussehra and Diwali as zealously as the Id ul-Fitr. Indeed, even as they observe the roza (fast) during the month of Ramzan and celebrate Id at the end of it, they know much about why Dussehra and Diwali are celebrated.

Mr. Sudarshan might also be astonished to know that it is not entirely a one-sided participation in the religious and cultural festivals of the other; in numerous, mainly rural or semi-urban locales, the Hindus also observe several Muslim festivals with equal zeal or solemnity as the occasion demands. This indeed is the basic feature of popular forms of all religions Hinduism, Christianity, Islam. Where theology tends to be fractious, popular religion is assimilative.

It is not merely that Mr. Sudarshan's familiarity with Indian Islam is very limited; it is the same with Hinduism. Several proselytising religions, Christianity and Islam among them, are premised upon the notion of the final truth being revealed to their prophet. The final truth must in the end vanquish all falsehood. Thus in their respective perceptions, Christianity or Islam must prevail over the entire world some day before the Day of Judgment. Hinduism does not contain the notion of the final truth, hence it is not a proselytising religion and is not predicated upon the notion of final triumph over the others. In his aggressive positing of irresoluble conflict between Hindus, on one hand, and Muslims and Christians, on the other, which implies the ultimate subjugation of the Christians and the Muslims by the RSS-trained and led Hindus, Mr. Sudarshan is abandoning that defining element of Hinduism which has allowed it to survive for several millennia of history.

But then Mr. Sudarshan is aware that systems can be moulded not by the force of truth or logic but by the relations of power and the present dispensation is so perched that his words will carry weight with it, never mind their threat to India's Indian-ness.

(The writer is Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU.)

Published in:

The Hindu
Saturday, Oct 05, 2002
Opinion - Leader Page Articles