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Introduction 5COMMUNAL HARMONY,SECULARISM ANDNATION-BUILDINGINTRODUCTIONS.M. Michael<strong>Communal</strong> harmony <strong>and</strong> peace-<strong>building</strong> is an ongoing process<strong>and</strong> life-long challenge. Serious obstacles such as inequality,discrimination, injustice, exploitation <strong>and</strong> intolerance exist in society.Obviously, then, promoting communal harmony is a very difficult<strong>and</strong> pro-active task. People need to get involved in social movementsto build a just <strong>and</strong> humane society.It dem<strong>and</strong>s appropriate knowledge, skills <strong>and</strong> attitudes toencounter the many conflicts life offers. To work for communalharmony <strong>and</strong> nation-<strong>building</strong> requires much knowledge of history,society, politics, culture <strong>and</strong> religion, as well as awareness, analysis<strong>and</strong> critical thinking. One also needs a clear vision <strong>and</strong> a moralcommitment to human dignity <strong>and</strong> social justice. These play atremendous role in influencing the lives of people <strong>and</strong> shaping theirfuture. Max Weber <strong>and</strong> Karl Mannheim have indeed shown thepower of ideas <strong>and</strong> utopia in influencing social movements.<strong>Communal</strong>ism in India is directly linked to the underst<strong>and</strong>ingof Indian ‘identity’ <strong>and</strong> ‘nation’. Several historians have understoodDr. (Fr.) S.M. Michael, SVD, is a Reader of Sociology, University ofMumbai. He teaches Social Movements for the post-graduate students. Heis also the Chairman of the Dialogue Commission, Archdiocese of Bombay.He is the author of 5 books <strong>and</strong> about 60 articles.‘nation’ <strong>and</strong> ‘nationality’ in the context of the multiplicity of ethnic,cultural <strong>and</strong> religious identities. Another very influentialconceptualisation visualises India as an ancient Hindu culture <strong>and</strong>civilisation. This conception considers the Aryans to be the country’soriginal inhabitants; or at least sees their ‘advent’ as marking thebeginning of Indian history. In this view, pre-Aryan culture did notexist, or if it did, it was a ‘low culture’ that contributed nothing. Thisignores the pre-<strong>and</strong> non-Aryan peoples who constitute over 60% ofthe Indian population. Most Muslims <strong>and</strong> Christians are for exampleconverts from castes <strong>and</strong> tribes drawn from the pre-Aryan population.Admittedly then, Indian civilisation cannot be equated with Hinducivilisation (Oommen, 2004, 25).The followers of various religious faiths coexisting in India havegiven birth to a plural culture. India is the homel<strong>and</strong> of a plurality ofreligious, cultural <strong>and</strong> ethnic groups. Pluralism dem<strong>and</strong>s thecelebration of the cultural diversity incorporated in the Indian nation.Any genuine promotion of communal harmony <strong>and</strong> nation-<strong>building</strong>must therefore take this plural reality into account.The methodology of this booklet is multi-disciplinary. Analysis<strong>and</strong> information are indeed drawn from anthropology, sociology, history<strong>and</strong> politics to construct a coherent underst<strong>and</strong>ing. The sources mainlycome from library research. Since the authors are also social activistsinvolved in peace movements <strong>and</strong> communal harmony programmes,their personal experiences have moreover been helpful.This booklet has five chapters. The first introduces thecontemporary scenario of growing communal crisis in India. Thesecond analyses the major reasons for communal conflicts, while thethird describes the dialogue that led to the formation of the IndianSecular Republic in the Constitution. The fourth chapter focuses onsome contested issues <strong>and</strong> the need for dialogue, <strong>and</strong> the fifth givessome concluding remarks <strong>and</strong> practical suggestions.It is hoped that this booklet on <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>,<strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Building will be of practical help for all,especially those who are involved in dialogue, communal harmony,human development <strong>and</strong> social action, to build a just, humane <strong>and</strong>well-integrated society in India.


The Growing <strong>Communal</strong> Crisis 71. THE GROWING COMMUNAL CRISISRam PuniyaniRecent times in India have seen a great intensification of attackson the weaker sections of society in general <strong>and</strong> against minorities inparticular. This violence has been unleashed in the name of religion<strong>and</strong> hides a deep communal agenda. This process picked up tempoafter the conversion of some Dalits to Islam in Meenakshipuram in1981 <strong>and</strong> the Shah Bano movement in 1986-87. This was followed byevents like the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid, Advani’sRath Yatra, the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 <strong>and</strong> theconsequent anti-Muslim pogroms in Mumbai, Surat, Bhopal <strong>and</strong> manyother places, <strong>and</strong> later on by the propag<strong>and</strong>a <strong>and</strong> attacks againstChristians.In the 1980 decade, the major target of the Sangh Parivar wasthe Muslim community. Most of the violence was conducted withprecision by the various wings of the Parivar. Many enquirycommission reports indicted the members of the Parivar for beinginstrumental in these riots in one or another way. Nearly 80% of thevictims were poor Muslims, <strong>and</strong> the remaining were Hindus from thepoor strata of society. The attacks against Muslims <strong>and</strong> theirghettoisation were preceded <strong>and</strong> accompanied by a hate campaign basedon misinformation. These views later became part of the ‘socialcommon sense’.From 1998 onwards, the ire of the Parivar also turned againstthe Christian community. Churches were attacked, Bibles burnt,missionaries intimidated, <strong>and</strong> one of them, Reverend Staines, was burntalong with his two young sons. Here again, the attacks wereaccompanied by a sustained campaign to malign the members of thecommunity: Christianity is a foreign religion, its missionaries areDr. Ram Puniyani is a Professor at IIT, Mumbai. He is a member of EKTA(Committee for <strong>Communal</strong> Amity), which was formed immediately afterthe Meerut riots that shook the country in 1987. He is a social activist <strong>and</strong>a scholar. He is the author of several books <strong>and</strong> articles.indulging in forcible conversions, they spread insurgency in the NorthEast, they plan to evangelise the country <strong>and</strong> Christians will soonoutnumber the Hindus, thereby making India a Christian state.1. Basic Concepts <strong>and</strong> ManifestationsFundamentalismThe term ‘fundamentalism’ is used in various ways. Sometimes,it simply means going back to the fundamentals of religions. As asocial phenomenon, this does not however convey its full meaning. Ina broad sense, fundamentalism refers to the religious movements whichclaim doctrines to be immutable <strong>and</strong> dem<strong>and</strong> from believers a literalacceptance of traditional tenets <strong>and</strong> observances. It rejects attemptsat rational interpretation <strong>and</strong> prefers blind faith.Kanungao highlights three basic trends in this phenomenon:“First, fundamentalisms are inevitably political. Secondly,fundamentalist movements are also genuinely religious: ‘We will failto underst<strong>and</strong> these movements if we neglect their irreducible religiousdimension.’ Thirdly, religious fundamentalisms are hegemonic, antipluralistmovements that are constrained in their impact by theconflicting dem<strong>and</strong>s made upon them by their dual identity as inherentlyreligious <strong>and</strong> inherently political entities” (2002, 15). Engineer speaksof fundamentalism as the “enforcement of sectarianism with all rigidityfor the political mobilisation of a community (to pursue the) powergoals of its elite” (2004, 22).Fundamentalism is thus a social phenomenon which targets liberalvalues to stall society’s potential march towards non-hierarchicalrelationships. It is an imposition of retrograde conservative values,selectively culled out from religious books or practices. It suppressesthe heterogeneity that exists within religions, <strong>and</strong> constructs a versionof religion that is suitable for vested interests.The term ‘fundamentalism’ was first used to denote the orthodoxtrend in modern Protestantism, which emerged in North America justbefore the First World War as a response to the spread of modernism<strong>and</strong> liberalism in Christianity. In Islamic countries, fundamentalismcame to the forefront with Ayatollah Khomeini. Currently, somecountries are fully in the grip of such a movement, while others havestate-sponsored Islamic revivalism <strong>and</strong> a political <strong>and</strong> social system


8 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Building The Growing <strong>Communal</strong> Crisis 9resulting from the partial implementation of the sharia. Hindufundamentalism has become more assertive since the 1980s.<strong>Communal</strong>ism<strong>Communal</strong>ism is a belief or ideology according to which thepeople belonging to one religion have common economic, social <strong>and</strong>political interests contrary to the interests of people belonging toanother religion. One can discern three degrees or forms ofcommunalism: a) mild: similar interests among the followers of thesame religion; b) moderate: dissimilar interests among the followersof different religions; c) extreme (based on fear <strong>and</strong> hatred): antagonisticinterests of people belonging to different religions.<strong>Communal</strong>ism is a modern phenomenon, mostly in post-colonialsocieties, where the elite or middle classes use the religious identity tomobilise people for their own political gains. As a result, the strugglesof the weaker sections for human rights <strong>and</strong> social transformationget marginalised. In India, this phenomenon emerged in opposition tothe national movement. It had its base in the declining classes of thel<strong>and</strong>lords <strong>and</strong> kings of Hinduism <strong>and</strong> Islam. In spite of the appearances,the elites of both religions indeed share some common characteristics:absence of struggle against the British, denigration of the Congress,belief that Hindus <strong>and</strong> Muslims form separate nations, <strong>and</strong> hatred <strong>and</strong>fear of each other. Muslim communalism was expressed through theMuslim League while the Hindu Mahasabha <strong>and</strong> the RSS were thevehicles of Hindu communalism.2. The <strong>Communal</strong> Phenomenon <strong>and</strong> Its CausesModernisation <strong>and</strong> GlobalisationThe phenomenon of fundamentalism <strong>and</strong> communalism came tothe fore in the early 1980s. The socialist economies were then collapsing<strong>and</strong> the USSR was crumbling as a alternative power. This paved theway for the emergence of the US as the only super-power. The USwas greatly interested in increasing its stronghold on the oil zone <strong>and</strong>its acts of commission <strong>and</strong> omission led to the rise of Islamicfundamentalism <strong>and</strong> terrorism.In India the adopted model of development deeply favoured theprivileged middle class. The ascendant labour movement got a setbackafter the 1983 Mumbai textile strike, <strong>and</strong> this signalled a change in thelabour policies of the management. The economy was progressivelytransformed into a ‘globalised economy’. It was opened tomultinationals in a big way <strong>and</strong> the policies of GATT, the WTO <strong>and</strong>other agencies severely hit the weaker sections of society.In this overall canvas, there were multiple trends. First, an affluentmiddle class emerged, comprising small industrialists, rich peasantswith urban connections, bureaucrats <strong>and</strong> professionals. Second,globalisation was accompanied by a rise in unemployment <strong>and</strong> theworsening of wages among workers in small factories. All this createda massive turmoil, which was for example expressed at theimplementation of the M<strong>and</strong>al Commission recommendations. Thethreat of change <strong>and</strong> turmoil precipitated the coming together of theaffluent middle classes under the banner of the communal politics ofthe BJP <strong>and</strong> its affiliates.HindutvaThough long rooted in some social segments, the Hindutva ideologygreatly increased its social visibility in the last two decades. While itsname is derived from Hindu religion, Hindutva is a political ideology.It has raised afresh the questions of nationality, community, identity<strong>and</strong> a host of other issues in the social space. The Hindutva movementbasically aims at <strong>building</strong> a strong nation on the tenets of ‘HinduDharma’ <strong>and</strong> ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (Hindu <strong>Nation</strong>).The Hindutva movement is spearheaded by a plethora oforganisations, the patriarch of which is the Rashtriya SwayamsevakSangh (RSS), the real controller of all other organisations. It wasfounded in 1925. Its backdrop needs to be well understood. With theentry of Mahatma G<strong>and</strong>hi into the political arena in 1920, the dynamicsof the anti-British movement was tremendously galvanised. G<strong>and</strong>hibrought into the struggle people of all religions <strong>and</strong> castes. TheBrahminical domination in the Congress started declining. To reasserttheir hegemony on the social <strong>and</strong> political scene, the upper castes <strong>and</strong>the Brahmins, supported by zamindari elements <strong>and</strong> the Banias, cameup with the idea of a religion-based national organisation, the RSS.“Slightly prior to this, Savarkar (had) put forward the idea ofHindutva as the basis for politics, which stood for a nationalism


10 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingbased on Hinduism” (Puniyani, 2000, 51). At that time the anti-Brahmin movement was peaking <strong>and</strong> was threatening to shake thevery social power of the Zamindar-Brahmin nexus. At the internationallevel, the race-based nationalism of the Nazis (Germany) <strong>and</strong> theFascists (Italy) was on the ascendance. This was the main inspirationfor the RSS idea of ‘nationalism’. Golwalkar indeed wrote: “Germannational pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up thepurity of the nation <strong>and</strong> its culture, Germany shocked the world bypurging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. <strong>Nation</strong>al pride atits highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown to theworld how well-nigh impossible it is for races <strong>and</strong> cultures having(deep-rooted) differences to be assimilated into one united whole, agood lesson for us in India to learn <strong>and</strong> profit by” (1938, 27).Marzia Casolari, an Italian researcher who has studied the rootsof Hindu nationalism, makes three conclusions: “(a) the main historicalorganisations <strong>and</strong> leaders of Hindu nationalism had a distinctive<strong>and</strong> sustained interest in fascism <strong>and</strong> nazism; (b) fascist ideologicalinfluences on Hindu nationalism were present <strong>and</strong> relevant; (c) to acertain extent, these influences were channelled through direct contactsbetween Hindu nationalists <strong>and</strong> members of the Italian fascist state”(Casolari, 2000, 37). The RSS decided to keep aloof from day-to-daypolitical struggles <strong>and</strong> began to train young boys in the doctrine ofHindu Rashtra. As per this core ideology, “Hindus <strong>and</strong> Hindus aloneconstitute the Indian <strong>Nation</strong>, since they are the original inhabitants<strong>and</strong> sole creators of its society <strong>and</strong> culture. Hinduism is uniquelycatholic <strong>and</strong> tolerant <strong>and</strong> hence superior to other faiths… Thesubsequent entry <strong>and</strong> takeover by foreigners created an illusion thatIndia was a l<strong>and</strong> of many different <strong>and</strong> equal cultures… Only a ‘trulysecular’ Hindu Rashtra will afford protection to non- Hindus” (Basu,1993, 37).The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the RSS political wing, whilethe Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) translates the Hindutva politicalagenda on the emotive, religious ground. The Bajrang Dal is a groupof youths who are active on the streets. The Vanavasi Kalyan Ashramis engaged in promoting ‘Hindu norms’ amongst Adivasis, <strong>and</strong> theRashtraseviva Samiti is the RSS women’s wing. In addition there areother organisations like the Saraswati Shishu M<strong>and</strong>irs, which inculcateThe Growing <strong>Communal</strong> Crisis 11young minds with its social, cultural <strong>and</strong> political underst<strong>and</strong>ing. Theseorganisations are collectively called the Sangh Parivar.The initial concern of the RSS <strong>and</strong> Hindu Mahasabha was tocounter the politics of the Muslim League <strong>and</strong> to influence the Congressin a pro-Hindu direction. The RSS was mainly focusing on Shakhas,training volunteers for the Hindutva movement, while the HinduMahasabha was taking part in electoral politics. After independencethe number of RSS cadres increased, <strong>and</strong> the Hindu Mahasabhagradually went into oblivion. One of the ex-pracharak of the RSS,Nathuram Godse, murdered Mahatma G<strong>and</strong>hi in 1948, following whichthe RSS was banned for some time. Meanwhile, RSS volunteers kepton infiltrating the army, bureaucracy, media <strong>and</strong> educationalinstitutions. The number of RSS volunteers went on increasing <strong>and</strong>multiple RSS-controlled organisations came up.The RSS undertook some campaigns to ban cow-slaughter in the1960s, but the response was lukewarm. The movement became veryvisible with its anti-communist propag<strong>and</strong>a during the India-Chinawar <strong>and</strong> it projected a ‘nationalist, patriotic’ fervor. Its political wing,the Jana Sangh, undertook the campaign ‘Indianise Muslims’ in thelate 1960s. Meanwhile, the ideology spread by the RSS <strong>and</strong> growingurbanisation were the key factors in the increasing intensity ofcommunal violence.The RSS then gained higher respectability in the J.P. Narayanmovement (1974). Its political wing joined the Janata Party <strong>and</strong> cameto power. It got vital ministries like External Affairs, Information <strong>and</strong>Broadcasting, <strong>and</strong> used the opportunity to further enter the bureaucracy.It however left the Janata Party on the issue of dual membership,when the former members of the Jana Sangh refused to leave the RSS.The Jana Sangh re-emerged as BJP on the plank of ‘G<strong>and</strong>hianSocialism’.The early 1980s saw a great turmoil in society. In 1981, theconversion of some Dalits to Islam was given a great projection as thethreat of Islam engulfing India. In 1984, the ‘Operation Blue Star’,when the Indian army entered the Golden temple in Amritsar to expelthe Khalistani militants, brought about the assassination of IndiraG<strong>and</strong>hi by her bodyguards. This was followed by massive anti-Sikhpogroms in which Congress workers led the assaulting mobs. An RSS


12 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingideologue then wrote a document subtly supporting Rajiv G<strong>and</strong>hi whoturned a blind eye to the ongoing pogroms (Deshmukh, 1984). Later,to appease the Muslim fundamentalists, Rajiv G<strong>and</strong>hi got a bill passedin the Lok Sabha to reverse the Shah Bano verdict by the SupremeCourt granting her maintenance. In the same superficial <strong>and</strong>opportunistic style, he went on to get the locks of the Babri Masjidopened. Both the Hindu <strong>and</strong> the Muslim fundamentalist streams wereon the ascendant. The opening of the locks emboldened the Hindufundamentalists <strong>and</strong> sections of the Muslim leadership started feelinginsecure on the Babri Masjid issue. The opening of the locks gave afillip to the Parivar <strong>and</strong> the BJP decided to take up the Ram JanamBhoomi issue.Due to his own compulsions vis-à-vis the politics of Devi Lal,V.P. Singh cleaned the dust of the M<strong>and</strong>al Commission report in 1990<strong>and</strong> decided to implement it. This intensified the backlash of theupper castes, who rallied around the Sangh Parivar in a big way.The Rath Yatra got a tremendous response from these sections ofsociety. With the Babri Masjid demolition on Dec. 6, 1992, the BJPbecame politically more powerful. It got more seats in the Lok Sabha<strong>and</strong> also came to power in various state assemblies.The presence of religion in the social <strong>and</strong> political space was notconsiderable in the first few decades of India’s independence. Its impactbecame significant later through the work of the RSS, which wasprimarily conceived as the vanguard of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’, itsleaders’ conception of the ideal society based on the varna (caste)system (Jaffrelot, 23). The Hindutva doctrine is the crystallisedideology of Hindu communal politics. Its historical development restedon the construction of Brahminism as Hinduism, which then formedthe base for Hindutva politics. Savarkar began to articulate the ideologyof the Hindu elite (the zamindars, Brahmins <strong>and</strong> kings) by linkingBrahminical Hinduism with nationalism <strong>and</strong> calling it Hindutva, whichshowed the way to build the Hindu Rashtra. His key sentence was‘Hinduise all politics <strong>and</strong> militarise all Hindudom’” (Ram, 2000).Since the 1950s, the Hindutva ideology kept communalisingthe social space, receiving due provocation from either Muslimcommunalism in India or the assertive postures of Pakistan on theKashmir issue. The communalisation of society resulted in communalriots, which multiplied in the 1960s <strong>and</strong> assumed ever more menacingThe Growing <strong>Communal</strong> Crisis 13proportions. The most ghastly riots took place in the 1980s <strong>and</strong> 1990s,the post-Babri demolition riots being amongst the worst for their impacton the psyche of the minorities.Minority <strong>Communal</strong>ismMuslim communal politics came up with the Muslim League inpre-partition times. The machinations of the British policy of divide<strong>and</strong> rule <strong>and</strong> the impact of communal politics led to the partition, <strong>and</strong>the formation of secular democratic India on one h<strong>and</strong> <strong>and</strong> MuslimdominatedPakistan on the other. After partition the Muslim communalelements left India for Pakistan in large numbers. Yet, quite a few ofthem remained in India. While the Muslim League of Kerala had adifferent character, Muslim communal politics became more visiblein the 1980s. Its growth can be attributed to internal factors like thegrip of the Mullahs <strong>and</strong> external factors like the rise of Hindutva.The Shah Bano judgement saw an important surge of Muslimcommunal politics, <strong>and</strong> the political formations kept using Muslimcommunalism for their electoral purposes. There are several trendsamongst Muslims <strong>and</strong> their minority communalism keeps itself aliveon account of various factors. It is simultaneously the result of globalpolitics, a defensive response to the rise of Hindutva <strong>and</strong> a provocationto its politics.AyodhyaThe location of the Babri Masjid came to be referred to as theprecise place where Lord Ram was born. It was also claimed that itwas built by the Mughal invader Babur to humiliate the Hindu psyche,<strong>and</strong> that it thus stood as a shame to the honour <strong>and</strong> prestige of thenation. The Babri demolition came as a shocking jolt to the wholecountry. While the followers of the Sangh Parivar looked at this eventas the wiping away of the blot on the face of the nation, a shouryadivas (day of bravery) <strong>and</strong> a Hindu navnirman divas (day of Hinduresurgence), etc., a large section of the population saw it as a day ofshame for the secular <strong>and</strong> democratic values for which we st<strong>and</strong>, <strong>and</strong>a major onslaught on the principles enshrined in the Indian constitution.The Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid controversy is not of recentorigin. It originated because of the British policy of divide <strong>and</strong> rulearound 1855 (Engineer, 1995, 74). On the night of 22 nd December


14 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Building1949, a few miscreants entered the mosque <strong>and</strong> installed the Ramidols. This sowed the seeds of the controversy which came to the forein 1984, when in the first Dharma Sansad (Religious Parliament) ofthe VHP a resolution was unanimously adopted dem<strong>and</strong>ing the‘liberation’ of the birth place of Lord Ram. On 27 th July 1984, the SriRamjanambhoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti (Committee for Sacrifice toLiberate Ram’s Birth Place) was founded under the leadership ofMahant Avaidyanath. The campaign was to have very seriousrepercussions. “Its impact derived from the diversity of sectsrepresented in it.” The “Vishnuites, Shaivites <strong>and</strong> Tantrists who havea long history of violent competition” came together under the bannerof Bharat Matha, Mother India (Jaffrelot, 1996, 363).Later the BJP entered the fray <strong>and</strong> L.K. Advani made a Rath Yatrafrom Somnath to Ayodhya. The trail of the Yatra left a number ofincidences of communal violence. The anti-Muslim hatred alsoincreased because of repeated campaigns around the temple issue.Advani could not complete his Yatra as he was arrested midway on 25Oct. 1990, but many Kar Sevaks assembled at the Babri Masjid site<strong>and</strong> tried to damage the mosque. The Mulayam Singh Yadav’sGovernment had to open fire <strong>and</strong> several people died.Afterwards, a call was given for the Kar Seva at the site on 6 th Dec.1992. Nearly 300,000 volunteers were mobilised from all over thecountry. The BJP Chief Minister of the State gave a written undertakingto the court to protect the mosque. During the demolition, the police<strong>and</strong> paramilitary forces withdrew from the site, leaving it open to theKar Sevaks. The mosque was demolished in 5 1/2 hours <strong>and</strong> the debriswas thrown in the river Saryu. A makeshift temple came up within aday, which was declared the prelude of the forthcoming gr<strong>and</strong> temple.In the post-demolition period, several riots took place throughout thecountry, especially in Mumbai, Surat <strong>and</strong> Bhopal. The demolition ledto the dismissal of the BJP governments in four states <strong>and</strong> thepreparation for the <strong>building</strong> of the temple began in many workshops.Since then, the on-off game of the temple agenda goes on.Anti-Muslim Violence<strong>Communal</strong> violence is a festering wound on the body politic ofIndian society. The post-partition riots were followed by a period ofrelative peace till 1961, when the Jabalpur riots brought to the fore theunresolved problems of majority-minority relations. This was followedby many riots in different parts of the country. Their intensity increased.The 1980s saw the growing communalisation of society <strong>and</strong> the worstever communal violence. The communalisation of society, the intensityof communal violence <strong>and</strong> the rise of the ‘Hindu Right’ in politicsrun parallel to each other. This dastardly process peaked in the post-Babri demolition riots <strong>and</strong> the Gujarat violence. The latter took thelives of over 2,000 Muslims.Gujarat ViolenceThe Godhra train burning was propagated as a planned attack byMuslim terrorists. Even before society could realise what washappening, the bodies of the victims were brought to Ahmedabad withmuch publicity. The report of the railway police debunks the theorythat the burning was pre-planned <strong>and</strong> executed by the hawkers <strong>and</strong> theresidents near the Naroda station, who are mostly Ghanchi Muslims.The report of Forensic Science Laboratory indeed shows that the bogeywas burnt from inside, thus leaving many questions regarding theidentity of its authors. Moreover, the Government had failed to takeany precaution concerning the Kar Sevaks travelling by the train <strong>and</strong>raising provocative slogans.Right through the carnage, the complicity of the state Governmentwas obvious. Some statements of Narendra Modi, the Gujarat ChiefMinister, were the key igniting factors. His instructions to the topofficials to keep aloof from the anticipated retaliation were verysignificant. Trained volunteers led the rampaging mobs <strong>and</strong> most ofthem knew that no action would be taken against them. There was asystematic erosion of the rule of law <strong>and</strong> an anti-minority bias becamepart of the state policy. The fact that the rampage was not a spontaneousupsurge by Hindus, as claimed by the VHP <strong>and</strong> other RSS affiliates,is proved by the extensive use of crane trucks <strong>and</strong> gas cylinders. Thedetailed lists of Muslim households <strong>and</strong> business enterprises <strong>and</strong> thepresence of trucks of swords <strong>and</strong> dangerous chemicals also show thatmuch planning had gone into the preparation of this pogrom.Anti-Christian ViolenceThe Growing <strong>Communal</strong> Crisis 15The last few years have seen a massive rise in anti-Christianviolence, especially in BJP-ruled states. These acts are apparently in


16 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingretaliation to the “forced conversions” done by missionaries. The casesof anti-Christian violence rose from 7 in 1996 to 24 in 1997 <strong>and</strong> morethan 120 in 1998. These included attacking churches, burning Bibles,intimidating missionaries to ‘Quit India’, <strong>and</strong> most horrific of all, theburning of Graham Stewart Staines along with his two sons in a jeepon the night of 22-23 Jan. 1999. Other incidents of a serious natureincluded the stoning of the Catholic Hospital Association of India(CHAI) camp (on 14 Feb. 1998) by around 60 activists of the RSS,VHP <strong>and</strong> ABVP at N<strong>and</strong>urga in the Latur region, the disruption of theJesus festival at the Pologround, Baroda, the killing of Sister RaniMaria in Indore <strong>and</strong> the humiliation of Fr. Christudas in Dumka.In an interview given to Teesta Setalwad, the Editor of <strong>Communal</strong>ismCombat, C.P. Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Gujarat, saidthat there was a clear pattern in this violence: “It was the activists ofthe VHP <strong>and</strong> Bajranj Dal who were taking the law into their h<strong>and</strong>s,which posed a serious danger to peace in Gujarat. Many of the attackson the minorities took place after these organisations had whipped upthe local passions against alleged conversions <strong>and</strong> forced inter-religiousmarriages... Our investigations revealed that in most cases these wereentirely baseless allegations” (8/10/1998).We should moreover note that the number of these attackssignificantly increased after the BJP-led Government assumed powerat the Centre in March 1998. What is most glaring is that, instead ofcondemning the concerned organisations, top government leadersdefended them almost immediately after the violent incidents. It is notjust a coincidence that the maximum number of attacks occurred inGujarat <strong>and</strong> Maharashtra where BJP <strong>and</strong> BJP-Shiv Sena coalitionswere ruling. Most such attacks also took place against institutionsmeant for the poor. The intensity of the violence was so great thatPresident K.R. Narayanan spoke of Graham Staines’ murder asbelonging to the “world’s inventory of black deeds”. He added: “Thatsomeone who has spent years caring for patients of leprosy, instead ofbeing thanked <strong>and</strong> appreciated as a role model, should be done todeath in this manner is a monumental aberration from the traditionsof tolerance <strong>and</strong> humanity for which India has been known” (TheAsian Age, Jan. 25, 1999).


18 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Building2. TOWARDS A COMPREHENSIVE ANALYSISRam Puniyani has already highlighted in the first chapter that,behind communalism, lies the question of the identity of India as anation. We are confronted on the one h<strong>and</strong> with a militant Hindurevivalism trying to define India in terms of an upper-caste SanskriticHindu identity, <strong>and</strong> on the other h<strong>and</strong>, with the voices from below,those of the Tribals, Dalits, religious, linguistic <strong>and</strong> ethnic groups,who are dem<strong>and</strong>ing to be accepted with their specific cultural identityin the national commonwealth. Hence, in order to underst<strong>and</strong> <strong>and</strong>counter the growing communalism in the country, we need to answersome of the most important questions raised on the identity of theIndian nation.After fifty years of loyalty to the Constitutional pledge (which weshall study in the next chapter) to honour the principles of pluralism<strong>and</strong> secularism, India now faces a serious challenge – anunconstitutional attempt to redefine the nation only in terms of amono-cultural Hindu Rashtra. The steadily growing Hindu orientationof our political culture <strong>and</strong> national self-underst<strong>and</strong>ing, with itsconsequent marginalisation of other groups, has caused muchcommunal disharmony, discontent <strong>and</strong> anxiety. This chapter studiesthe dialogue that, in the years of formation, gave birth to the Indiannation. History may teach us a lesson that we need to learn in orderto continue the dialogue at the beginning of the new millennium. It ismy hope that knowledge of the past will help us in the present todiscern the road that must be travelled to arrive at a concept of Indianidentity that is comprehensive enough to include the totality of thecountry’s many sub-cultural groups. Such reflections are urgent <strong>and</strong>crucial in the context of globalisation <strong>and</strong> the present upsurge of ethnic<strong>and</strong> religious unrest worldwide, <strong>and</strong> also for us here in India who mustfind a way to respond to the challenges of the present times.1. Indian Civilisation <strong>and</strong> Indian <strong>Nation</strong>alismIndia is a sub-continent with a vast <strong>and</strong> most diverse population.Anthropology reveals that several racial groups have migrated to Indiaat different times with their own languages, religions <strong>and</strong> cultures.Since there was plenty of space, the migrating groups could pass on<strong>and</strong> penetrate into the interior without much opposition. Thus, thevarious cultural groups did not destroy each other, but continued tolive on <strong>and</strong> consolidate into the main components of the present-daypopulation. In a way, the caste system also helped to keep the diverseracial, social <strong>and</strong> cultural groups apart, for it prevented them fromdeeply mixing with one another. The population of India is thus veryheterogeneous. Variety <strong>and</strong> diversity permeate the whole subcontinent,every state <strong>and</strong> district, every town <strong>and</strong> village.Indian civilisation is the outcome of a confluence of variouscultural, religious, linguistic <strong>and</strong> ethnic traditions. Over the years ofmutual fecundation, synthesis <strong>and</strong> challenge, Indian civilisation hascome to be characterised by a diversity of cultures, religions, languages,races <strong>and</strong> caste groups. According to Kothari, “in the absence of acentralised political authority, it was ‘the Indian civilisationalenterprise’ which ‘over the centuries achieved a remarkable degreeof cohesion <strong>and</strong> held together different sub-systems in a continentalsizesociety’” (1988, 2223). Thus, the unifying force of Indiancivilisation was the acceptance of multi-culturality <strong>and</strong> linguisticdiversity rather than political ideology.<strong>Nation</strong>alism in the modern sense of the word is a recentphenomenon. It developed in the 18 th century in the West <strong>and</strong> emergedat a latter period as a universal political concept. According to Kohn,it was only between 1815-1920 that the political map of Europe wasredrawn, while the political map of Asia <strong>and</strong> Africa changed between1945-1965 (Kohn, 1968, 63). Before this period nationalism with itspresent implications did not exist. There were however city-states,Tribal segments <strong>and</strong> dynastic states <strong>and</strong> empires (Gellner, 1994, 62;cf. D’Souza, 2000, 28-66).The development of nationalism is seen as an integral part of thehistorical process that saw the rise of industrialism <strong>and</strong> democracy.According to Gellner <strong>and</strong> Hobsbawm, the emergence of modernnationalism is an inevitable consequence of capitalism <strong>and</strong>industrialisation (Hastings, 1997, 10). Partha Chatterjee expressessimilar views. In his opinion, nationalism required the replacement ofa traditional, group-based culture by the culture of an industrial society,


Towards a Comprehensive Analysis 19 20 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingi.e., the culture of a larger group where the individual <strong>and</strong> not thegroup was the primary unit (Chatterjee, 1986, 5). <strong>Nation</strong>alism thuspresupposes the existence, in fact or as an ideal, of a centralisedform of government over a large <strong>and</strong> distinct territory (Kohn, 1956, 4).In India nationalism emerged in the context of colonialism. Itcan be traced to the political, administrative <strong>and</strong> economic unificationby the British. Politically speaking, there was no India at the beginningof the 19 th century, <strong>and</strong> for at least a century before that, neither didIndia possess a knowledge of its own past <strong>and</strong> ancient history(Majumdar, 1965, 4). The introduction of English education, Europeanscience <strong>and</strong> philosophy, as well as the pride in India as a nation <strong>and</strong>her past culture, emerged at this historical turning-point.In their early manifestation, the struggle for nationalism, anticolonialconsciousness <strong>and</strong> the need for independence were not in therealm of politics but in that of ideology <strong>and</strong> culture (Pannikar, 1995,57). The first expression of this consciousness was in the form ofsocial <strong>and</strong> religious reform movements. The important question thenwas – what is the cultural foundation of Indian society <strong>and</strong> how arewe to reconstruct it as a modern nation on a par with other modernnation-states? Two str<strong>and</strong>s of thought emerged from the upper-casteHindus: one led to an attempt at reconstructing Indian society on thebasis of western ideas originating in the age of Enlightenment <strong>and</strong>Liberalism, <strong>and</strong> the other wanted the reconstruction to take place onthe foundation of ancient Hindu traditions. A third vision of modernIndia was voiced by oppressed <strong>and</strong> marginalised people in India. Thesethree visions of modern India shaped the course of dialogue inIndia at the birth of her Constitution of the Indian nation. Theyare also influencing the current political debates in India today.Let us have a closer look at these str<strong>and</strong>s of thought.2. Building the <strong>Nation</strong> on a Rational Approach to CultureThe Enlightenment philosophy of the West began to have its impacton the newly Western-educated Indians during the colonial period. Itgave rise to the “Indian renaissance”. The spirit that spread throughEnglish education was usually that of British liberalism, rationalism<strong>and</strong> utilitarianism, a spirit that challenged the presuppositions on whichthe orthodox Brahminic Hindu system of conduct was based. Withruthless self-criticism, the new Western-educated elite sought to laythe basis for a total social transformation, to weld science <strong>and</strong>rationality to Indian culture, <strong>and</strong> to recreate India.The beginnings to this social revolt can be easily identified withthe thought of Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833). Roy vividlydescribed the degraded state of society <strong>and</strong> acknowledged withoutembarrassment the virtues of Western learning, liberal legal <strong>and</strong> socialinstitutions, <strong>and</strong> Western social ethic (Damle <strong>and</strong> Aikara 1982, 77).With a view to cleansing Hindu culture <strong>and</strong> society of its weaknesses<strong>and</strong> incongruities, he founded the Brahmo Samaj in 1828 at Calcutta.Its main ideological thrust was to transform Hinduism in the mould ofChristianity. It assumed that Hindu society could only be healed of itssocial evils by adopting Christian taboos on polytheism <strong>and</strong> idolatry.The purpose of the Brahmo Samaj was to restructure Hindu culturein terms of modernity. Roy campaigned for the prohibition of satiuntil Governor-General Lord William Bentinck enacted it in 1829.His revolt against the living Hindu society <strong>and</strong> his appeal to Indians topurify their religion <strong>and</strong> reconstitute their social institutions echoedthroughout the century after his death. The Brahmo ideologues imbibedquite a bit of Christianity along with some Deism of the EuropeanEnlightenment. The third-generation Samaj leader Keshub Ch<strong>and</strong>raSen (1838-1884) professed a Christian-like veneration of Jesus ofNazareth <strong>and</strong> interiorised the Christian concept of the profoundsinfulness of the human being.The massive all-India impact of Brahmanism then led to awidespread reaction to restrain the Samaj’s further impact <strong>and</strong> thesubsequent erosion of traditional Hindu values.3. Building the <strong>Nation</strong> on the Aryan Vedic CultureWhereas Ram Mohan Roy held a vision of an Indian societyultimately renovated by centuries of exposure to Western science <strong>and</strong>Christian morality, Dayan<strong>and</strong>a Saraswati (1824-1883) urged aregeneration of Hindus through the adherence to purified “Vedicfaith”. The Vedic Aryans are described by Dayan<strong>and</strong>a as a primordial<strong>and</strong> elect people to whom the Veda has been revealed by God <strong>and</strong>whose language – Sanskrit – is said to be the ‘Mother of all languages’(Dayan<strong>and</strong>a, 1981, 249). They would have migrated in the beginning


Towards a Comprehensive Analysis 21 22 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingof the world from Tibet – the first l<strong>and</strong> to emerge from the Oceans –towards the Aryavarta. This territory, homel<strong>and</strong> of the Vediccivilisation, covered the Punjab, Doab <strong>and</strong> Ganges basin. From thisposition, the Aryans would have dominated the whole world till thewar of the Mahabharata, a watershed opening a phase of decadence.The national renaissance implied, for Dayan<strong>and</strong>a, a coming back tothe Vedic Golden Age.The chief object of the Arya Samaj he founded in 1875 in Bombaywas to bring about a social <strong>and</strong> religious reform through the renaissanceof early Hindu doctrines, its favourite mottoes being “Back to theVedas” <strong>and</strong> “Aryavarta for the Aryans” (Smith W.R., 1938, 57). Thisview simply equated Indian culture with Hinduism <strong>and</strong> Hindu culture;all non-Hindu aspects were regarded as contaminating influences. TheArya Samaj is probably the first movement in India which definednationalism in terms of ethnicity: in Dayan<strong>and</strong>a’s writings, the Hindusare clearly the descendants of the Aryans.Dayan<strong>and</strong>a’s attack on other religions like Christianity <strong>and</strong> Islamwas vigorous. His book, the Satyartha Prakash (“Light of Truth”),contains a polemical chapter each against Christianity, Islam, Buddhism<strong>and</strong> Jainism, <strong>and</strong> several against allegedly degenerative trends inHinduism. The Arya Samaj had two programmes: Shuddi, meaningpurification, which was the term for the ceremony by which non-Hinduswere converted to Hinduism, <strong>and</strong> Sangathan, union, which meant thepromotion of solidarity among Hindus. In short, the Arya Samaj wantedto form a Hindu nation by establishing a common religion <strong>and</strong> culture<strong>and</strong> converting others to Hinduism (cf. Jordens, 1978).The idea of world domination by the Hindus was elaborated alittle later by another Arya Samajist based in the Rajasthani Britishenclave of Ajmer, Har Bilas Sarda (1867-1955). In the second chapterof Hindu Superiority (1906), entitled “Hindu Colonisation of theWorld”, this author rejects the Central Asia theory of emigration ofthe Aryans to India, <strong>and</strong> asserts that the Aryavarta was the birth placeof a race which spread <strong>and</strong> settled in Egypt, Ethiopia, Persia, AsiaMinor, Greece, Rome, Turkistan, Germany, Sc<strong>and</strong>inavia, theHyperborean countries, Great Britain, Eastern Asia <strong>and</strong> America(Sarda, 1975, 109-163). According to Sarda, most civilisationsoriginated in the Hindus-Aryans, a race which colonised the wholeworld before the Mahabharat war. The ideological characteristics ofthe Arya Samaj was one among the several factors which influencedthe subsequent ideology of Hindu nationalism that emerged in the1920s (Jaffrelot, 1996, 17).Vivekan<strong>and</strong>a’s (1863-1902) thought marked the culmination ofthe 19 th century social revolt. He founded the Ramakrishna Math<strong>and</strong> Mission for the dissemination of Hinduism <strong>and</strong> for social service.He believed that India alone had a spiritual message, whereas the Westwas steeped in sensuality: “Up, India, <strong>and</strong> conquer the world withyour spirituality” (Vivekan<strong>and</strong>a, 1957, 600).There are thus two predominant versions of nationalism inIndia: Indian nationalism <strong>and</strong> Hindu nationalism. The basic questionraised by these nationalistic movements is “What should be the culturalfoundation of the Indian nation?” The proponents of Indian nationalismwere mainly of the western-educated elite, secular <strong>and</strong> utilitarian intheir approach. In the words of Heimsath, “having as its base an antitraditional,liberal democratic, secular <strong>and</strong> politically oriented conceptof nation”, the early nationalism developed an ideology which “couldproperly encompass all Indian cultures <strong>and</strong> religions” (1964, 39).Hindu nationalism developed as a reaction against the liberal <strong>and</strong>inclusive Indian nationalism.4. Cultural Controversies in the <strong>Nation</strong>al CongressA second stage in the development of Indian nationalism emergedin 1885 with the foundation of the Indian <strong>Nation</strong>al Congress by AllanOctavian Hume. The Congress tried to define a new India throughborrowed ideas from the European political experience <strong>and</strong> Westernsocial ethics. Most of its leaders understood the need for a truly all-India nationalism which would rise above regional <strong>and</strong> communalloyalties (Smith D.E., 1963, 88).By the end of the 19 th century, there was a mighty struggle for thecontrol of the Congress. The two factions, the moderates <strong>and</strong> theextremists, held radically different views as to the proper ends <strong>and</strong>means of the nationalist movement. While the moderates such asDadabhai Naoroji, Madhava Govinda Ranade <strong>and</strong> Gopal KrishnaGokhale promoted reforms in Hindu culture, the extremists glorifiedHindu culture <strong>and</strong> opposed any kind of reform in it. While the liberals


Towards a Comprehensive Analysis 23 24 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingenvisioned a modernisation of India through the adoption of the Westernparameters of justice, order, rationality <strong>and</strong> the secular state, Tilakglorified the Vedic civilisation (Parvate, 1959, 463). According to him,Vedic religion was the religion of the Aryans from a very early time.During Vedic times, India was a self-contained country. It was unitedas a great nation (Varma, 1967, 197). Tilak became the proponent ofthe Hindutva ideology of his time.Tilak’s overall concern was the promotion of solidarity among theHindus, <strong>and</strong> so he emphasised the superiority of their religion,encouraged revivalism, politicised the Ganapati festival in 1893 <strong>and</strong>converted Shivaji into a cult figure in 1895, thus serving both religious<strong>and</strong> political objectives (Michael, 1986, 185-97). Tilak effectivelyinvoked the spirit of resurgent Hinduism to fight the nationalist cause,but at the inevitable cost of alienating the Muslims.The leaders of the nationalist movement based on a revival ofHindu culture openly acknowledged their identification of nationalismwith Hinduism. Tilak at one time put the matter this way: “The commonfactor in Indian society is the feeling of hindutva (devotion toHinduism)” (Wolpert, 1962, 210). The style of the revivalists wasmore aggressive <strong>and</strong> tended to reflect a kshatriya (warrior) worldview.The partition of Bengal in 1905 created a Muslim-majority area,widened the breach between the Hindu <strong>and</strong> Muslim communities, <strong>and</strong>gave a further stimulus to extremist activities.The religious symbols that Tilak used so effectively in Maharashtrahad no appeal in Bengal, but others of even greater potency were ath<strong>and</strong>. The l<strong>and</strong> of Bengal, <strong>and</strong> by extension all of India, becameidentified with the female aspect of the Hindu godhead, <strong>and</strong> the resultwas the concept of a divine Motherl<strong>and</strong>. Bankim Ch<strong>and</strong>ra Chatterjee’spoem V<strong>and</strong>e Mataram (“Hail to the Mother”) soon became the greatCongress nationalist song throughout India. The country was theMother, but not a defenceless female: “Thou art Durga (the GoddessMother), Lady <strong>and</strong> Queen, with h<strong>and</strong>s that strike <strong>and</strong> swords of sheen”(Smith D.E., 1963, 90). According to Majumdar, Bankim’s nationalismwas Hindu rather than Indian. In his novel he converted “patriotisminto a religion <strong>and</strong> religion into patriotism” (Majumdar, 1965, 479).Some of the most passionate statements of the extremist creedcame from Aurobindo Ghose: “Liberty is the fruit we seek from thesacrifice, <strong>and</strong> the Motherl<strong>and</strong> the goddess to whom we offer it”, hewrote in 1907. “<strong>Nation</strong>alism is not a mere political programme;nationalism is a religion that has come from God”, he declared (Ghose1965, 135).The cult of Durga or Kali, with its tantric ritual <strong>and</strong> animalsacrifices, quickly became associated with revolutionary terrorism inBengal. A pamphlet printed in a secret press called upon the sons ofIndia to rise up, arm themselves with bombs, <strong>and</strong> invoke Mother Kali:“What does the Mother want? A coconut? No! A fowl or a sheep or abuffalo? No!… The Mother is thirsting after the blood of feringhis(foreigners) who have bled her profusely” (Quoted in Griffiths, 1952,296; <strong>and</strong> in Smith D.E., 1963, 91).The marriage of politics <strong>and</strong> religion was complete with theformation of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915. In 1909 the famousArya Samajist <strong>and</strong> nationalist leader Lala Lajput Rai declared: “Hindusare a ‘nation’ in themselves because they represent a type ofcivilisation all their own” (Jaffrelot, 1996, 19). He was echoing theuse of the German word ‘nation’, which connoted a people, implyinga community possessing a certain civilisation <strong>and</strong> culture. He publishedsome articles as Lala Lalch<strong>and</strong> in the paper Punjabi, on how to builda Hindu country: “This can only be achieved by asserting a purelyHindu interest, <strong>and</strong> not by an Indian propag<strong>and</strong>a. The consciousnessmust rise in the mind of each Hindu that he is a Hindu, <strong>and</strong> not merelyan Indian, <strong>and</strong> when it does arise, the newly awakened force is boundto bring its result.” In another article, Lala Lalch<strong>and</strong> wrote: “The pointI wish to urge is that patriotism ought to be communal <strong>and</strong> not merelygeographical.”5. Muslim <strong>Nation</strong>alism as Response to Hindu <strong>Nation</strong>alismThe monopoly of the nationalist movement by Hindus who had adifferent culture from the Muslims, created nervousness among theMuslims as to the future of their own culture, should the Hindus succeedin attaining independence. Moreover, the large-scale participation bythe Hindus in the nationalist movement inevitably put a stamp of itsown on the movement. The various symbols used for promoting thenationalist movement like the anthem V<strong>and</strong>e Mataram were alsosuggestive of Hindu culture. A historical figure like Shivaji was apolitical hero to most Hindus; but to many Muslims he was the political


Towards a Comprehensive Analysis 25 26 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingopponent of Muslim rule in India. All this drove a wedge between theMuslims <strong>and</strong> the Hindus <strong>and</strong> the division became more acute withthe gradual politicisation of religion. During this time a number ofHindu-Muslim riots occurred in various parts of India.Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, a prominent Muslim leader, realised theposition of the Muslims <strong>and</strong> started a college for them in Aligarh in1877, which later developed into the Aligarh University. An ardentnationalist, Sir Syed affirmed that Hindus <strong>and</strong> Muslims in India formedone nation. At the same time, however, he opposed the Congressmovement from its inception, urged the Muslims to stay away from it,<strong>and</strong> set up some organisations with a view to opposing it, all becausehe feared that the Hindus as the majority community would rideroughshod over the interests of the Muslims.Sir Syed’s advice to the Muslims not to join the Indian <strong>Nation</strong>alCongress came from various considerations. He held that the Congress’aims <strong>and</strong> objectives were based upon an ignorance of history <strong>and</strong> thepresent reality, <strong>and</strong> that it did not take into consideration the fact thatIndia was inhabited by several nationalities <strong>and</strong> lacked homogeneity.Then again, because of differences in educational background <strong>and</strong>political consciousness, it would not be in the interest of the Muslimsto cast their lot with the Congress, which was largely dominated bythe Hindus. Thereafter, this fear continued to dominate the minds ofthe Muslim leaders <strong>and</strong> shape their political perceptions <strong>and</strong> actionprogrammes. Like the Hindus, the Muslims formed their ownorganisations. These Islamic movements tried to assert the superiorityof their religion, culture <strong>and</strong> past <strong>and</strong> succeeded in at least spreadingthe idea that their religion, culture <strong>and</strong> philosophy of life were notinferior to others (Haq, 1992). To concretise their identity <strong>and</strong> theirplace in India, they founded the Muslim League in 1906 as a politicalorganisation.6. The Revivalist Response to G<strong>and</strong>hiWhen Moh<strong>and</strong>as G<strong>and</strong>hi publicly emerged on the Indian politicalscene after World War I as the Mahatma, he received a widespreadrevivalist support. Indeed, many revivalists believed him to be one ofthem. Yet, quite a few gradually came to oppose him as they becamebetter acquainted with his ideas. G<strong>and</strong>hi indeed unceasingly strove forHindu-Muslim unity, convinced that ultimately both religions weretrue <strong>and</strong> valid (see G<strong>and</strong>hi, 1949). His deepest conviction was thatGod, Truth <strong>and</strong> Ahimsa (non-violence) were all one <strong>and</strong> the same.Satyagraha (truth-force, non-violence resistance) was based onG<strong>and</strong>hi’s personal religious faith. The revivalists were disturbed byG<strong>and</strong>hi’s ascetic non-kshatriya style of leadership, his definition ofdharma as the non-violent pursuit of “truth”, <strong>and</strong> his assimilationistconception of the Indian nation, which he saw as a brotherhood or aconfederation of communities.Dr. Kurtakoti, Sankaracharya of the Karvir Peeth, expressed theviews of many revivalists when he wrote in the 1920s that G<strong>and</strong>hi’suse of ahimsa in the non-cooperation movement would “uproot thevery principle of Hinduism <strong>and</strong> Aryan philosophy” (Mahratta, Pune,20 October 1922). He claimed that ahimsa as employed by G<strong>and</strong>hiundermined Hinduism. According to him, “passive <strong>and</strong> non-resistingsufferance is a Christian <strong>and</strong> not Aryan principle”. He thus imploredthe Hindus to return to the militancy advocated by Tilak, Vivekan<strong>and</strong>a<strong>and</strong> Ghose. Many revivalists were in agreement, <strong>and</strong> when G<strong>and</strong>hitook control of the Congress in the 1920s, the stage was set for arevivalist search for new forms of protest (Anderson/Damle, 1987, 20).As a result of the intensification of Hindu-Muslim tensions between1921 <strong>and</strong> 1923, the dormant Hindu Mahasabha, formed in 1915 as aforum for a variety of Hindu interests (e.g., cow protection, Hindi inthe Devanagri script, caste reforms, etc.), was revitalised (Anderson<strong>and</strong> Damle, 1987, 28).It is in this setting of Hinduism-in-danger that a new influentialHindu militant organisation known as the Rashtriya SwayamsevakSangh (RSS) was established in 1925 by Dr. Keshab BaliramHedgewar, who was deeply influenced by Tilak. The RSS purports todefend Hinduism against its so-called antagonists. Its avowedobjective is the unification of the Hindu community <strong>and</strong> the inculcationof a militant awareness of its common heritage <strong>and</strong> destiny.One of the most influential works in the development of the Hindunationalist ideology was the treatise, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?,first published in Nagpur in 1923 by a Maharashtrian Brahmin <strong>and</strong>future president of the Hindu Mahasabha (1937-42), V.D. Savarkar(1883-1966), a close associate of Tilak. Hindutva refers to a peopleunited by a common country, blood, history, religion, culture <strong>and</strong>


Towards a Comprehensive Analysis 27 28 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildinglanguage. This stemmed from the mythical reconstruction of the VedicGolden Age, originated from the ‘Aryan’ race (Klostermaier, 1989,33). This idea became the foundation of the RSS organisationalactivities. While rejecting politics as the means to attain its particularobjectives, the RSS has nevertheless in the past supported the politicalwork of the Hindu Mahasabha <strong>and</strong> has been closely linked with theJana Sangh <strong>and</strong> the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).7. The Hindutva Vision of <strong>Nation</strong>hoodAccording to Golwalkar, who succeeded Hedgewar, the Hindunation has existed for 8,000 to 10,000 years, <strong>and</strong> Hindustan hasbeen in the possession of the Hindus for at least that length of time. Infact, the Hindus are not immigrants but indigenous sons of the soil,whatever scholars say to the contrary. At the heart of the Hindu religionare the noble ideas of the Vedas. Golwalkar claimed that Bharatvarshahad been a rashtra since Vedic times. He held that every race developsa language of its own. The diverse languages of India are offshoots ofSanskrit, the dialect of the gods.Race is a population with a common origin <strong>and</strong> with one culture.Therefore, the maintenance of racial unity in a nation necessitates theassimilation, or inextricable fusion, of foreign populations in it intothe mother race – in other words, they should merge fully into theoriginal national race not only economically <strong>and</strong> politically but alsoreligiously, culturally <strong>and</strong> linguistically. Race is by far the mostimportant of the five ingredients in a nation. Hindustan, suggestsGolwalkar, can learn <strong>and</strong> profit from Germany, where racial pride ledto the attempt to eliminate the Jews because deep-rooted differencesprevented their total assimilation into the German race.Golwalkar makes it crystal clear that India is a Hindu nation.Others like Muslims <strong>and</strong> Christians, though born in this country, donot feel that they are the children of this l<strong>and</strong>, ever since they changedtheir faith. He goes on to suggest that such people should be placedbehind bars during times of national crisis.Golwalkar reiterates that secularism is not his path for nationalintegration; it should come through Hinduisation. His idea of thebest solution to the problem of minorities is contained in one word –assimilation. According to him, they should be “wholly subordinatedto the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, farless any preferential treatment – not even citizens’ rights” (Golwalkar,1947, 55-56). Like Savarkar’s Hindutva, Golwalkar’s definition ofHindu is political rather than religious (Heehs, 1998, 117).Linked to the RSS are several affiliated organisations (referred toin the RSS literature as the “family”), working in politics, in socialwelfare, in the media <strong>and</strong> among students, labourers <strong>and</strong> Hindu religiousgroups. The symbiotic links between the RSS <strong>and</strong> the “family” aremaintained by the recruitment into the affiliates of swayamsevaks(members) who have already demonstrated their organisational skillsin the RSS.So the river of Hindu revivalism flows on. The origin of Hindutva<strong>and</strong> its promotion by Hindu nationalistic groups such as the HinduMahasabha, the RSS, the Ram Rajya Parishad, the Jana Sangh, theVHP, the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal <strong>and</strong> the BJP, have their roots inthe traditions of the late 19 th century Hindu nationalism (cf. Anderson/Damle, 1987, <strong>and</strong> Malik/Singh, 1995).In an interesting speech, a Hindu Mahasabha leader attempted tolist the cultural changes which Indian Muslims would have to undergoin order to become acceptable nationals of the Indian (Hindu) state ofthe future. First, they would have to accept the Ramayana <strong>and</strong>Mahabharata as their epics <strong>and</strong> reject the Arabic <strong>and</strong> Persian classics.They would have to regard Ramach<strong>and</strong>ra, Shivaji, <strong>and</strong> the Hindu godsRam <strong>and</strong> Krishna as their heroes, <strong>and</strong> condemn various Muslimhistorical figures as foreign invaders or traitors (Deshp<strong>and</strong>e, 1949,10;Smith D.E., 1963, 375).The formation of the VHP in 1964 marks a new phase in the historyof Hindutva. The VHP was specifically set up to forge a corporateHindu identity <strong>and</strong> to unite all Hindu sects in opposition to Islam<strong>and</strong> Christianity. The VHP uses the latest media technology to exaltthe Puranic heroes as the models of the Hindu character. A bid ismade for a Hindu state ruled by an explicitly “Hindu” political party.Thus, Hindu nationalism appeared at that phase of the<strong>Nation</strong>alist Movement where religion was sought to be made thebasis for the emerging identity of India. As Juergensmeyer explains,when a religious perspective is fused with the political <strong>and</strong> social destinyof a nation, it is referred to as religious nationalism. He maintains


Towards a Comprehensive Analysis 29 30 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingthat religious nationalists were not just religious fanatics. For the mostpart, they were political activists who were seriously attempting toreformulate the “modern” language of politics <strong>and</strong> provide a new basisfor the nation-state (1994, 406).8. An Alternative Cultural Vision of Indian <strong>Nation</strong>hood –The Voice of the OppressedThe concern for social reform at the beginning of the Indiannationalist movement took a backseat with the emergence of militantHindu nationalism. The upper-caste Hindus indeed identified the“nation” <strong>and</strong> the “national culture” as basically Hindu, as derivingfrom Vedic times, <strong>and</strong> as fundamentally a creation of the Aryan people.With this, they tended to accept as an inherent part of their culturesome form of the varnashrama-dharma <strong>and</strong> to relegate other Indiancultural traditions to a secondary <strong>and</strong> inferior position. It is in thiscontext that we should examine the alternative vision of Indiannationalism provided by prominent non-Aryan or non-Brahmanicleaders.The main figures of this larger non-Aryan <strong>and</strong> anti-Brahminvision of Indian nationalism are Jotiba Phule, E.V. Ramaswamy‘Periyar’ <strong>and</strong> Babasaheb Ambedkar, with many others throughout India(like Narayanswami Guru in Kerala, Acchutan<strong>and</strong> in Uttar Pradesh,<strong>and</strong> Mangoo Ram in Punjab). They attacked the system of exploitationat all levels, culturally, economically <strong>and</strong> politically.The Vision of Jotirao Phule (1826-1890)Jotirao Phule was the first Indian in modern India to proclaim thedawn of a new age for the common ‘man’, the downtrodden, theunderdog <strong>and</strong> the Indian woman. It was his aim to reconstruct thesocial order on the basis of social equality, justice <strong>and</strong> reason.The “Aryan theory of race” constituted the most influential commondiscourse for discussing caste <strong>and</strong> society in Phule’s time. EuropeanOrientalists used it to assert an ethnic kinship between Europeans <strong>and</strong>the ancient Vedic peoples. The constant interest of European scholarsin ancient Aryan society <strong>and</strong> their praises of this society were animportant moral boost to high-caste Indians. Thus, Indian civilisationwas seen as primarily deriving from Aryan civilisation, <strong>and</strong> the castesystem was lauded as a means by which people of diverse racial <strong>and</strong>cultural backgrounds were brought together <strong>and</strong> subjected to thecivilising influence of the Aryans (Omvedt, 1994, 103).At one level, Phule simply reversed the perception, arguing thatthe low castes – whom he sometimes called “Shudras <strong>and</strong> Ati-Shudras”<strong>and</strong> sometimes simply listed as “Kumbis, Malis, Dhangars…, Bhils,Kolis, Mahars, <strong>and</strong> Mangs” – were the original inhabitants of thecountry, enslaved <strong>and</strong> exploited by conquering Aryans who formulateda caste-based Hinduism as a means of deceiving the masses <strong>and</strong>legitimising their power.It was the confirmed view of Jotirao that the ancient history ofIndia was nothing but the struggle between Brahmins <strong>and</strong> non-Brahmins (Keer, 1964, 120). Hence, Phule consciously sought to bringtogether the major peasant castes (these were, besides the Kumbis orcultivators, the Malis or ‘garden’ cultivators <strong>and</strong> Dhangars orshepherds) along with the large untouchable castes of Mahars <strong>and</strong>Mangs in a common ‘front’ against Brahmin domination.Jotirao’s attack on Brahminism was unmistakable. He realisedthat the seeds of the Brahmins’ power, supremacy <strong>and</strong> privileges layin their scriptures <strong>and</strong> Puranas; <strong>and</strong> that these works <strong>and</strong> the castesystem were created to exploit the lower classes. Phule alsoreinterpreted sacred religious literature, for example by reading thenine avatars of Vishnu as stages of the Aryan conquest, <strong>and</strong> usingKing Bali as a counter-symbol to the brahminical scriptures <strong>and</strong>Puranas. Phule strongly revolted against the priestly craft <strong>and</strong> thecaste system <strong>and</strong> set afoot a social movement for the liberation of theShudras, Atishudras (untouchables) <strong>and</strong> women.To fulfill his life’s ambition for a casteless society, Phule foundedthe Satya Shodhak Samaj on September 24, 1873. The Samaj startedthe first school for girls <strong>and</strong> untouchables <strong>and</strong> organised widowmarriages, marriages without Brahmin priests, etc. Phule’s view ofexploitation was thus focused on cultural <strong>and</strong> ethnic factors ratherthan economic or political ones.Periyar’s (1879-1973) Self-Respect MovementE. V. Ramaswamy Naicker, known as Periyar (Great Sage), wasborn in 1879 in Erode of a respectable middle class family of artisans.He married at the age of 13, but after six years he became a sannyasi,


Towards a Comprehensive Analysis 31 32 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingtravelling as a religious mendicant over the whole of India. In hisvisits to pilgrim centres, he gained an intimate knowledge of the evilsof popular Hinduism <strong>and</strong> the exploitation of the masses by Brahminpriests.Periyar became convinced that casteism <strong>and</strong> Hinduism were thesame. He wanted Hinduism, as he saw it, to be totally eradicated oncefor all. His movement took a turn towards racial consciousness <strong>and</strong>became a ‘Dravidian’ movement, seeking to defend the rights of theDravidians against the Aryan domination. It blamed the Aryans forintroducing an unjust <strong>and</strong> oppressive social system in the country(Hardgrave, 1965, 17).Periyar realised the importance of the “Aryan view of race”. Thisview was enthusiastically adopted by the Indian elite as a new modelfor underst<strong>and</strong>ing caste. The Brahmins, Kshatriyas <strong>and</strong> Vaishyas wereheld almost as a matter of definition to be the descendants of theinvading Aryans, while the Shudras <strong>and</strong> untouchables were seen asthe conquered inhabitants. In this new language of caste <strong>and</strong> race, toclaim an “Aryan” descent was equivalent to claiming a “twice-born”status; to say “Dravidian” or “non-Aryan” was almost equivalent tosaying “Shudra”. The high-caste elite of India began to take Aryan<strong>and</strong> Sanskritic culture as the basis of “Indian nationality”, but by sodoing they were in fact taking a part of the culture of the upper castes(especially the North-Indian groups) for the whole.The Periyar’s movement sought to defend the rights of theDravidians against Aryan domination. He saw in the Brahminsthe representatives of Hindu arrogance <strong>and</strong> the stronghold of socialinjustices. Naicker left the Congress <strong>and</strong> attacked it as a tool ofBrahmin domination. In 1925, he organised the “Self-RespectMovement” to uplift the Dravidians, seeking to expose the Brahmintyranny <strong>and</strong> the deceptive methods by which they controlled all spheresof Hindu life. Naicker publicly ridiculed the Puranas as fairy tales,not only imaginary <strong>and</strong> irrational but grossly immoral as well. Heattacked religion as the tool of Brahmin domination.The Hindu religion was denounced as an opiate by which theBrahmins had dulled <strong>and</strong> controlled the masses. “A Hindu accordingto the present concept may be a Dravidian, but a Dravidian in the realsense of the term cannot <strong>and</strong> shall not be a Hindu” (A.S. Venu cited inHarrison, 1960, 127). Pain was taken to destroy the images of Hindudeities such as Rama <strong>and</strong> Ganesha. According to Periyar, “Rama <strong>and</strong>Sita are despicable characters, not worthy of imitation or admiration,even by the lowest... humans. Ravana, on the other h<strong>and</strong>, is depictedas a Dravidian of ‘excellent character’.” In his preface to TheRamayana: A True Reading, Periyar states that “the veneration of thestory in Tamil Nadu is injurious <strong>and</strong> ignominious to the self-respect ofthe community <strong>and</strong> the country” (Naicker, 1959, iii-iv).Today, several Dravidian political parties in Tamil Nadu traceback their inspiration to Periyar in their programmes to build aDravidian civilisation in the Indian sub-continent.Ambedkar (1891-1956), a RevolutionaryDr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was very much inspired <strong>and</strong> guidedby the noble example of Mahatma Jotiba Phule. Phule made an indelibleimpression on the mind of Ambedkar, who was determined to completethe work started by Jotiba: this became his life’s mission(Rajashekhriah, 1971, 18-19; cf. Keer, 1974, vii).Ambedkar was a revolutionary. He led the fight against Untouchability,Hinduism, <strong>and</strong> Brahminism. He taught that caste wasnot only unjust but also immoral. He established a new religion (Neo-Buddhism), whose foundation is its unequivocal rejection of Hinduism.Ambedkar vehemently criticised the caste system. For him, thefight against casteism <strong>and</strong> untouchability was central, the heart ofhis agenda. Society must be based on the three fundamental principlesof liberty, equality <strong>and</strong> fraternity. Hence, he was very critical of thetwo prevalent approaches in his time to reform the caste system, namely,those of Dayan<strong>and</strong>a Saraswati <strong>and</strong> G<strong>and</strong>hi. If caste was to be destroyed,he said, then its religious foundation, the Vedas <strong>and</strong> Shastras, mustalso be destroyed. Faith in these scriptures is nothing more than alegalised class ethic favouring the Brahmins. If you wish to bringabout a breach in the system, then you have to dynamite the Vedas <strong>and</strong>Shastras which deny any part to reason <strong>and</strong> morality. You must destroythe religion of the Smritis (Ambedkar, 1945, 70).Ambedkar also rejected the position of G<strong>and</strong>hi regarding caste<strong>and</strong> its reform. G<strong>and</strong>hi felt that the ancient Hindus had already achievedan ideal social system with the varnavyavastha. In contrast, Ambedkar


Towards a Comprehensive Analysis 33 34 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingbelieved that an ideal society had yet to be achieved in India. Forhim, the priority was not making “Hinduism” or Hindu society “shineforth”, but <strong>building</strong> a new, equal, free, open, non-hierarchical,modern India.According to Ambedkar, “it is wrong to say that the problem ofthe Untouchables is a social problem… (It) is fundamentally a politicalproblem (of minority versus majority groups)” (Ambedkar, 1945a,190). Hence, Ambedkar launched his revolutionary movement for theliberation <strong>and</strong> advancement of the Dalits. On 20 th July 1942, he declaredat Nagpur:“With justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle.The battle to me is a matter of full joy. The battle is in the fullest sensespiritual. There is nothing material or sordid in it. For our struggle isfor our freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of humanresponsibility which has been suppressed <strong>and</strong> mutilated by the Hindusocial system <strong>and</strong> will continue to be suppressed <strong>and</strong> mutilated if inthe political struggle the Hindus win <strong>and</strong> we lose. My final word ofadvice to you is, ‘educate, organise <strong>and</strong> agitate’; have faith inyourselves <strong>and</strong> never lose hope” (see Das <strong>and</strong> Massey, 1995, viii).Ambedkar was thus able to put the untouchability issue at thecentre-stage of Indian politics.Ambedkar painfully realised that in Hinduism the untouchableswould never be able to get a proper status <strong>and</strong> receive a just treatment.He was also convinced that individual <strong>and</strong> group mobility was difficultfor the untouchables within the Hindu social system. In this context,he saw two possibilities of social emancipation: the political unity ofthe untouchables <strong>and</strong> mass conversion. Hence, in 1936 he talked ofconversion to another religion: “Though I have been born a Hindu, Ishall not die as a Hindu” (31 st May, Bombay). He had already made afirst mention of conversion in the Yeola Conference of 1935.Hearing the conversion call of Ambedkar, the Hindu leadershipwas very disturbed. Several leaders tried to persuade him not to goahead. Ambedkar expressed surprise that the caste Hindus who havenever shown a fellow feeling for the untouchables were suddenlybeseeching them to stay within Hinduism. Since untouchables havebeen for centuries ill-treated <strong>and</strong> humiliated by caste Hindus, why didthey now suddenly take such an interest in keeping them within theHindu fold?After long deliberation <strong>and</strong> a conscious choice in favour ofBuddhism, Ambedkar took his diksha at Nagpur at 9:30 am, on 14 thOctober, 1956. Assembled were about 500,000 Mahars, who were allconverted to Buddhism on that day. His embracing Buddhism was astrong protest for all that the Hindus had failed to do. For him,swaraj or freedom did not mean anything if it did not also put an endto the slavery of the untouchables (Gore, 1993, 144).The Phule-Periyar-Ambedkar tradition represents the effortto construct an alternative identity of the people, based on non-Aryan <strong>and</strong> low-caste perspectives, that was critical not only of theoppressiveness of the dominant Hindu caste society but also of itsclaim to antiquity <strong>and</strong> to being the major Indian tradition. The issue,however, was not basically racial but cultural, a matter of groupidentity.Questioning Christian FundamentalismLisbert D’Souza asked the Religious (<strong>and</strong> the Christians) toquestion their own fundamentalism: “Are we alive to thefundamentalist attitudes within the Catholic Church that resista proper inculturation of our faith, genuine openness to <strong>and</strong> dialoguewith persons of other faiths, that inhibit our commitment to thesocial teachings of the Church, our involvement in the struggle forhuman rights, our promotion of environmental issues <strong>and</strong> women’srights <strong>and</strong> freedom?” We must seek to allay the insecurity <strong>and</strong>fear of the fundamentalists, “not through aggression but throughservice, not through condemnation but through dialogue, notthrough defiance but by <strong>building</strong> bridges of fellowship <strong>and</strong> unity.This humble stance is based on our recognition that we are asmuch in need of conversion as the fundamentalists <strong>and</strong>communalists... It is through fostering within the Church truefreedom, pluralism in thought, belief <strong>and</strong> action, respect fordifference <strong>and</strong> genuine democracy that we prepare ourselves toassist communalist <strong>and</strong> fundamentalist forces to rid themselves oftheir chains” (Editor’s addition taken from the 2002 Assembly ofthe Men’s CRI, cf. Appendix No. 9).


36 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Building3. THE INDIAN CONSTITUTIONAL VISIONThe Indian <strong>Nation</strong> is multi-cultural <strong>and</strong> the Constitutionrecognises this. The Constitution grew out of the challenges <strong>and</strong>contending visions for the future of India’s cultural, religious <strong>and</strong>ethnic plurality at the time of the freedom struggle. Indian secularismalso developed in this context. Hence, it is important to underst<strong>and</strong>that patriotism is not the monopoly of any ideological or religiousgroup in India.A) The Constitution <strong>and</strong> Indian Pluralism1. The Constitution <strong>and</strong> the Indian IdentityOur second chapter on the identity of India as a nation has shownthat there have been several contending visions. All of them were activein the formation of the modern Indian State during the freedom struggle.An informal dialogue went on regarding the identity of free India. Thefailure to reach a satisfactory conclusion resulted in the separation ofPakistan from India. Mahatma G<strong>and</strong>hi fell a victim to excessive <strong>and</strong>narrow nationalism.In spite of these setbacks, the Constituent Assembly of India, afteralmost three years of deliberation, adopted a Constitution for theworld’s largest liberal democracy on 26 November 1949. The debatein the Assembly reflected the paradoxes of the Indian situation, whichwe highlighted as the contending visions of India. The founding fathersdefended the notion of a pluralistic society <strong>and</strong> a neutral State basedon equal rights <strong>and</strong> citizenship. The Indian Constitution mayjustifiably be described as secular <strong>and</strong> multi-cultural. Recognition<strong>and</strong> protection was offered to religious, cultural <strong>and</strong> linguisticminorities. Equal respect, fairness <strong>and</strong> non-discrimination were tobe the guiding principles of state policies towards the minorities.Differences were recognised but so were the values of equalcitizenship <strong>and</strong> equal rights. After protracted discussions, theConstitution was passed upholding ethnic, linguistic, cultural <strong>and</strong>religious pluralism in India <strong>and</strong> promising recognition <strong>and</strong> protectionfor all <strong>and</strong> non-discriminatory state policies. The Constitutionarticulated a secular <strong>and</strong> inclusive nationalism in which there wouldbe equal respect, equal opportunities <strong>and</strong> equal liberty for all,regardless of their religious affiliations or social status. This meansthat the state should not become partisan to any particular group, norprivilege any particular religion. The equidistance to all religionsbecame the quintessence of secularism <strong>and</strong> this is ensured in theConstitution.2. Dialogue on True Patriotism <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>alismPrime Minister P<strong>and</strong>it Jawaharlal Nehru, the Deputy PrimeMinister Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, the President of the ConstituentAssembly, K.M. Munshi <strong>and</strong> Dr. B.R. Ambedkar played an importantrole in the formation of the Indian Constitution. They understood wellthe different aspirations of contending groups <strong>and</strong> the importance ofrecognition in the Indian nationhood. The idea that all Indian citizensshould inherit as their birthright such basic civil rights as wererecognised by all modern nations in the world was enshrined in theIndian Constitution.All the same, the Nehruvian <strong>and</strong> Ambedkarian vision began tobreak down by the late 1960s <strong>and</strong> several Constitutional rights arebeing questioned today. Over the past two decades, the rise of Hindunationalism <strong>and</strong> the growing political strength of regional, low-caste<strong>and</strong> Tribal parties have exposed the tears in the fabric once again. Asa result of the differing ideologies between Hindutva <strong>and</strong> the oppressed<strong>and</strong> marginalised forces, we observe today the emergence of twoopposite socio-political <strong>and</strong> cultural movements. On the one h<strong>and</strong>,backward castes <strong>and</strong> classes are in search of a culture based on anegalitarian social <strong>and</strong> economic order with greater politicalparticipation; on the other h<strong>and</strong>, upper-caste Hindus are equally strongin trying to retain control of their present position of privilege <strong>and</strong>dominance by reasserting ancient hierarchical Brahmanical Hinduvalues. Thus, culture in India has become polarised by thecontrasting interests of the upper <strong>and</strong> the lower groups, the formervigorously clinging to their traditional status, <strong>and</strong> the latter fightingfor justice, equality <strong>and</strong> human dignity.The most vociferous <strong>and</strong> militant Hindu nationalists threaten thevery basic constitutional concept of pluralism. They created a general


The Indian Constitutional Vision 37 38 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingimpression that the upper <strong>and</strong> middle classes/castes are nationalistic,whereas the others are not. The Tribals are looked upon with suspicion<strong>and</strong> their national loyalty is being questioned. Similarly, the vastsegment of the Dalits <strong>and</strong> their movements for equality are undersuspicion. In the mind of religious nationalists, the nation is the onesupreme value on whose altar everything – including the dem<strong>and</strong> forequality – should be sacrificed. The homogenisation process, therefore,aims at safeguarding the Hindu national identity.There is thus a distinct possibility that anti-liberal forces mayset the agenda for government policies. Especially under the previousBJP-led government, history was being re-written to suit Hindunationalism. The educational system was being redefined in order toinfluence young minds to believe in the Hindutva ideology. Evenpresently, hate literature is distributed to create an aversion towardsother religious groups, particularly Christians <strong>and</strong> Muslims. Thispropag<strong>and</strong>a is designed to turn them into enemies of true patriotism<strong>and</strong> supporters of anti-national activities. This is highly dangerousfor Indian society, which is basically multi-cultural <strong>and</strong> multireligious.Today, the terms nationalism <strong>and</strong> patriotism needclarification.Patriotism is a much debated concept. Quite often, the word isgiven such an ethnocentric <strong>and</strong> narrow meaning that it is bound towreak havoc among us, if applied in practice. Where nationalismprevails, people are taught from childhood to hate the ‘enemy’. Thatis why Rabindranath Tagore, long before the country witnessedpartition, wrote: “<strong>Nation</strong>alism is a great menace. It is the particularthing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles”(Tagore, 1992, 83). Tagore indeed saw in nationalism selfaggr<strong>and</strong>isement,whole peoples organised with the paraphernalia ofpower <strong>and</strong> prosperity, flags <strong>and</strong> hymns <strong>and</strong> patriotic bragging, nationsengaged in a wrestling match <strong>and</strong> not listening to the voice of truth<strong>and</strong> goodness. He therefore stated: “Even though from childhood Ihad been taught that the idolatry of the nation is better than reverencefor God <strong>and</strong> humanity, I believe that I have outgrown that teaching,<strong>and</strong> it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain theirIndianness by fighting against the education which teaches them thata country is greater than the ideals of humanity” (1992, 84).Writing in a similar vein, Earl Stanley Jones, a close associate ofMahatma G<strong>and</strong>hi, added: “One of the greatest dangers to world peaceis the rise of modern nationalism. It has taken that lovely sentimentcalled patriotism <strong>and</strong> has turned it into the deadliest enemy known tothe modern world.” People of one nation usually have no reason tohate people of another. But narrow <strong>and</strong> exclusive nationalism takeshold of different communities, subjects them to propag<strong>and</strong>a, instillsfear, inspires hate, puts bayonets into their h<strong>and</strong>s <strong>and</strong> flings them againstone another. In the present circumstances, a fresh dialogue, animatedby the experience of our past history, is greatly needed to clarifythe true nature of patriotism <strong>and</strong> nationalism. It is also veryimportant to highlight all the efforts that were made to define the conceptof Indian identity during the birthpangs of the Indian nation.B) Indian <strong>Secularism</strong>1) The Different Meanings of the Term “Secular”In order to underst<strong>and</strong> what is meant by “India is a secular State”,we need to reflect on the different, ambivalent, meanings of the terms“secular”, “secularism” <strong>and</strong> “secularisation”. According to JohnD’Mello (1999), the term “secular” has at least three meanings, thoughthese overlap. The first, the most obvious <strong>and</strong> widespread meaning,refers to the decline of religious practice – the fact that people havesomewhat lost interest in religion <strong>and</strong> spiritual matters. Attendance atreligious functions <strong>and</strong> participation in religious activities havedecreased. The people’s worldviews <strong>and</strong> beliefs are much lessinfluenced by religion <strong>and</strong> have become “secular”. It is in this sensethat John Paul II sometimes spoke of “secularisation” as a crisis ofcivilisation, especially in the West.The second meaning of “secular” is political <strong>and</strong> historical. Itinvolves the separation of church <strong>and</strong> state. This meaning becamepredominant as early as the Treaty of Westphalia in 1645, which putan end to the religious wars in Europe <strong>and</strong> made a separation of powersbetween church <strong>and</strong> state. This was the beginning of the secular state,in which functions once performed by religion were taken over byother institutions, for example in health care, formal education, <strong>and</strong>social welfare. In various fields, institutions gradually differentiatedthemselves from religious institutions <strong>and</strong> thus became autonomous


The Indian Constitutional Vision 39 40 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Building<strong>and</strong> secular. The most important of these was the government. Thishappened in 1645 in Europe. When new countries developed <strong>and</strong>became independent, most of them chose to have a secular constitution,where religion was separated from the state. This was the case inIndia (D’Mello, 1999, 90).The third meaning of secular refers to the process ofrationalisation. Rationalisation involves the growing use of technicallyefficient, this-worldly criteria instead of supernatural, other-worldlycriteria for running our lives. For instance, earthquakes <strong>and</strong> famineswere formerly considered ‘supernatural acts of God’ <strong>and</strong> so peopleplacated the Divine through rituals. Now, such phenomena areexplained by natural, scientific causes <strong>and</strong> technical criteria are usedto avert them. We therefore say that the world has become “secular”in the sense that it is organised more rationally <strong>and</strong> scientifically <strong>and</strong>that people are moved more by rational-technical reasons than bysupernatural arguments.In the Indian context, the word ‘secular’ implies a ‘separation’between the state <strong>and</strong> religion. This approach to Indian politics hashistorically developed as a practical response to the country’s social,cultural, religious <strong>and</strong> political reality.2. The Meaning of Secular StateThe Constitution of India declares that India is a “Secular,Democratic Republic”. The term ‘secular state’ is commonly used inpresent-day India to describe the relationship that exists, or whichought to exist, between the state <strong>and</strong> religion (Smith D.E., 1998,177).According to Smith, a secular state involves three distinct butinterrelated sets of relationships concerning the state, religion <strong>and</strong> theindividual. First, it implies a relationship between the individual <strong>and</strong>religion from which the state is excluded. Second, it means arelationship between the individual <strong>and</strong> the state from which religionis excluded. A secular state must view the individual as a citizen,independently from membership in any particular religious group.Third, the institutional arrangements for these relationships are aseparation between state <strong>and</strong> religion. This effectively excludes statereligions. It should also be emphasised that a mere separation does notguarantee religious liberty, <strong>and</strong> that religious liberty <strong>and</strong> nondiscriminationin the political arena may exist without strict separation.The religion-state separation is, for Smith, the institutional embodimentof the principle of religious liberty <strong>and</strong> of the neutrality of the state inreligious matters (Bhargava, 1998, 18).“The secular state”, according to Smith, “is a state whichguarantees individual <strong>and</strong> corporate freedom of religion, deals withthe individual as a citizen irrespective of his/her religion, is notconstitutionally connected to a particular religion nor does it seek eitherto promote or interfere with religion” (Bhargava, 1998, 20).3. India as a “Secular, Democratic Republic”The Indian Constitution clearly affirms in Article 14 that “theState shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equalprotection of the laws within the territory of India”. This is one of theFundamental Rights guaranteed to the citizens of India. Article 15adds that “the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on groundsonly of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”.The Constitution acknowledges that there are differences amongIndians because of their religion, culture <strong>and</strong> language. But it wantsthe characteristics of the various communities to be retained by them<strong>and</strong> be respected by the State. The Preamble to the Constitutionmoreover expresses the solemn resolve to secure to all citizens “equalityof status <strong>and</strong> opportunity”.The Founding Fathers knew that it was the denial of the secularprinciple that had torn the country into two. The horrific <strong>and</strong>unprecedented holocaust caused by the partition showed the awesomeresults of a polity based on communal principles. Thus, the secularprinciples of new India were not only integral to her democraticconstitution but were the very foundations of the state. On the dayafter independence, the Prime Minister solemnly proclaimed: “Wecannot think of (a) state which might be called a communal or religiousstate. We can only think of a secular, non-communal democratic state,in which every individual, to whatever religion he may belong, hasequal rights <strong>and</strong> opportunities” (Sinha, 1968, 8).Nehru’s assurance was intended to allay the fears of the minoritiesthat in independent India their interests would be jeopardised. The


The Indian Constitutional Vision 41 42 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingsecular state could meet the dem<strong>and</strong>s of a multi-religious, multi-cultural<strong>and</strong> multi-lingual society like India. It was hoped that it would createa new sense of national citizenship strong enough to absorb <strong>and</strong>obliterate the communal cleavages.<strong>Secularism</strong> as defined by Professor Smith can fairly be applied tothe Indian State. The Constitution does guarantee individual <strong>and</strong>corporate freedom of religion, citizenship rights, etc. The state is notconstitutionally connected with any particular religion nor does itdeliberately seek to promote or interfere with religion. However, thereseems to be an important difference of opinion as to whether the IndianState has been neutral, as it is expected <strong>and</strong> needed.4. Indian <strong>Secularism</strong> Under Great Threat<strong>Secularism</strong> has never been taken for granted in India. From thedays of the independence struggle, two very different underst<strong>and</strong>ingsof secularism have competed for ideological dominance. JawaharlalNehru had a vision of secularism – described as dharma nirapeksata– which was based on a strong belief in the need to separate religion<strong>and</strong> politics. In contrast, Mahatma G<strong>and</strong>hi’s vision – sarva dharmasamabhava – rejected the idea of the separation of religion <strong>and</strong> politics,<strong>and</strong> was based instead on the principle of equal respect for all religions.The contest between these two visions can be seen within the broadercontext of the western conceptualisations <strong>and</strong> the debates regardingthe appropriateness of secularism for the Indian context (Cossman/Kapur, 1999, 56-57).The liberal democratic vision of secularism is generally seen ascharacterised by three principles: (1) liberty <strong>and</strong> freedom of religion;(2) citizenship, <strong>and</strong> the right to equality <strong>and</strong> non-discrimination; <strong>and</strong>(3) neutrality, <strong>and</strong> the separation of state <strong>and</strong> religion. The first twoprinciples have posed little controversy in India. Rather, the right tofreedom of religion <strong>and</strong> the right to equality <strong>and</strong> non-discrimination,are generally recognised as important constitutional values in theirown right as well as a foundation of Indian secularism.The problem arises, however, in relation to the third principle,that is, the separation of religion <strong>and</strong> state. In this regard, somecommentators have argued that India is not a secular state, or that ithas some but not all of its features; yet others hold that if India is to bea secular state, it must develop its own distinctive underst<strong>and</strong>ing ofthe requirements of secularism. It is in relation to this third principlethat the Nehruvian <strong>and</strong> G<strong>and</strong>hian models part company. Nehru wascommitted to a separation of religion <strong>and</strong> politics, whereas G<strong>and</strong>hiwas of the view that such a separation was neither possible nor desirablewithin the Indian context. Rather, a distinctively Indianconceptualisation of secularism was required – a secularism whichwould be more in keeping with the culture <strong>and</strong> tradition of the Indianpeople. Sarva dharma samabhava was, in G<strong>and</strong>hi’s view, such avision. It is this underst<strong>and</strong>ing of secularism as equal respect for allreligions that has come to dominate legal <strong>and</strong> political thought.Following the dominant underst<strong>and</strong>ing of secularism as sarvadharma samabhava, the constitutional discourse does not insist on awall of separation between religion <strong>and</strong> politics. As interpreted today,this vision is dangerously threatening the unity <strong>and</strong> integrity of theIndian State. Some political parties <strong>and</strong> religious <strong>and</strong> ethnicmovements indeed try to politicise religion in terms of majoritarianism.They do not believe in the equality of all religious communities inIndia.The Hindu Right has skillfully distorted the G<strong>and</strong>hian model <strong>and</strong>deployed its constitutional discourse on secularism to establish aHindu State. <strong>Secularism</strong> has now become the official banner underwhich the Hindu Right campaigns for a Hindu Rashtra, <strong>and</strong> underwhich the rights of religious minorities are being savagely attacked<strong>and</strong> delegitimised (Cossman/Kapur, 1999, 63-64). The Hindu Righthas explicitly argued in favour of sarva dharma samabhava <strong>and</strong>‘positive secularism’. The BJP has repeatedly stated its support forthis version of secularism.The particular meaning that the Hindu Right gives to “equal respectfor all religions” is based on an equal treatment that is formal.Accordingly, any laws or policies that provide special treatment forminorities are opposed as ‘pseudo-secularism’ or the ‘appeasementof minorities’. In the discursive strategy of the Hindu Right, thisapproach to secularism is made to sound quite reasonable. Beneaththe surface, however, this discourse on secularism <strong>and</strong> equality isan unapologetic appeal to brute majoritarianism <strong>and</strong> an assaulton the very legitimacy of minority rights. The formal equality of the


The Indian Constitutional Vision 43 44 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-BuildingHindu Right means that the dominant Hindu community becomes thenorm against which all other communities are to be judged <strong>and</strong> treated.This vision of secularism is nothing but majoritarianism. Seshadri,one of the Hindutva ideologues, writes: “Democracy in normal parlancemeans the rule of the majority. In every single democratic country, it isthe majority culture whose ideals <strong>and</strong> values of life are accepted as thenational ethos by one <strong>and</strong> all… The same applies to the laws of thel<strong>and</strong> … No religious group can claim any exclusive rights or privilegesfor itself” (as quoted in Cossman/Kapur, 1999, 67-68).One of the very cornerstones of democracy – the protection ofminorities from the rule of the majority – is thus simply discarded.Through this approach, the Hindu Right is attempting to establishmajority norms as the ostensibly neutral norms against which all othersare judged. Their norm is a Hindu norm. According to this vision, therole of the State in religion is thus not one of neutrality at all, but oneof fostering the Hindu nation.When the principles of secularism are ab<strong>and</strong>oned <strong>and</strong>majoritarianism takes over, the country faces serious communalproblems. According to Noorani, the attacks on Christians “mountedsteeply after the BJP-led Government assumed office in March 1998”(1999, 123). The DGP (Director General of Police) of Gujarat, whereattacks on Christians were frequent, observed that “the VHP <strong>and</strong> theBajrang Dal were taking the law into their own h<strong>and</strong>s” (The HindusthanTimes, 6/8/1998). A member of the investigation team sent by theMinority Commission revealed: “After initial reluctance, the officialsnamed the VHP <strong>and</strong> Bajrang Dal as involved in the mob attacks onChristians <strong>and</strong> Muslims” (The Indian Express, 12/8/1998). TheDirector General of Police of Gujarat confirmed this in an interviewto Teesta Setalvad on Oct. 8, 1998 (cf. above, p. 16).After the 2004 general election, there is some realisation thatcommunal mobilisation <strong>and</strong> the consequent riots in Gujarat wereone of the major reasons for the defeat of the BJP-led government atthe Centre. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) acknowledged that itsties with the BJP dented its minority base. It also recognised that theGujarat riots had a negative effect on minorities in Andhra Pradesh(The Indian Express, 10/5/2005). Pramod Mahajan, the BJP GeneralSecretary, said the BJP regretted the Gujarat riots. “This proved adampener to our resolve to turn India into a riot-free nation. Theincidents after the Godhra tragedy are a black spot for any civilisedsociety... We were (then) in the government both at the Centre <strong>and</strong> inGujarat” (ibid., 9/5/2005). The BJP itself admitted that Mahajan’sviews “reflected the ‘party line’ on the Gujarat riots” (ibid., 10/5/2005).An Editorial of The Indian Express thus commented on thisdevelopment: “If Mahajan’s regret is genuine, it must lead to his partytaking substantial corrective measures.” Mahajan should haveunderlined “that preventing riots is not simply an administrative affair”.The Gujarat riots were legitimised <strong>and</strong> prepared by “the kind ofideological mobilisation that the BJP carried out over the course of adecade. It is ideology that allowed minorities to be targeted withimpunity. Unless the BJP confronts the relationship between itsideology <strong>and</strong> violence, Mahajan’s regret will ring hollow” (ibid.).An Editorial in The Times of India expressed similar sentiments. Afterdescribing the recent events in the BJP-ruled Rajasthan, it concluded:“All this sounds uncomfortably similar to Gujarat, where the politicalleadership abetted a breakdown of law <strong>and</strong> order <strong>and</strong> minorities arestill feeling traumatised.” The BJP “must seriously debate whetherit still wants to go full steam ahead with Hindutva”. Yet, with theRSS “as its soul, it cannot take a leap” (10/5/2005).Social activists <strong>and</strong> people involved in social movements forcommunal harmony <strong>and</strong> nation-<strong>building</strong> must strengthen Indiansecularism by their inter-religious activities, dialogues of life, writings<strong>and</strong> animation programmes. The Hindutva underst<strong>and</strong>ing of secularismhas to be constantly challenged through anthropological information.People also need to be conscientised in their political choice oflegislators who believe in the pluralistic culture of India. The religiousminorities as well as the BC, OBC, Dalit <strong>and</strong> Tribal communitiesmust be united in opposing the anti-pluralistic <strong>and</strong> anti-secularHindutva ideology.


46 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Building4. THE DEBATE ON CONVERSIONS1. Religious Conversions <strong>and</strong> the Identity of IndiaConversion to Christianity has been one of the main issues raisedagainst Christians in recent years by Hindutva organisations. Almostevery day there is some news item in the press on this issue. A numberof statements have also been made by different Hindutva organisations.For example, the 8 th Dharma Sansad of the VHP asked for strict anticonversionlaws <strong>and</strong> a white paper by the Central Government on the‘foreign conspiracy’ behind conversions. The Prime Minister, AtalBehari Vajpayee, dem<strong>and</strong>ed a ‘national debate on conversion’,thereby implying that the attacks on Christians were due to theirconversion activities. “If Christian missionaries continue their religiousconversions, the government cannot stop reconversions”, he said. AshokSinghal from the VHP argued that Professor Amartya Sen’s NobelPrize was a Christian conspiracy to open more missionary educationalinstitutions to convert the poor. It was often alleged that missionariesuse force, fraud <strong>and</strong> allurements to convert people to Christianity <strong>and</strong>that funds obtained for welfare activities were used for conversion.The Hindutva organisations claim that India is a Hindu nation. Inearly 1999, K.N. Govindacharya, a BJP <strong>and</strong> RSS ideologue, forexample declared that India is “geo-culturally” a “Hindu Rashtra”(The Times of India, 30/1/1999). The idea of a Hindu Rashtra wasalso put forward in the 40-point “Hindu agenda” during the 8 th DharmaSansad of the VHP in February 1999 in Ahmedabad. Included wasthe dem<strong>and</strong> that Bharat should be reinstated in its true sanatan (heritage)<strong>and</strong> righteous form.The Hindutva forces are increasingly seeking to homogenise theculture of India in terms of an upper-caste, Sanskritic, BrahmanicHinduism. Anything outside this cultural orbit is denied legitimateexistence in Indian society. We already described the cultural changesexpected from Muslims by a Hindu Mahasabha leader (above, p. 28).The present Sangh Parivar members express similar views aboutChristians in India. For instance, the Bajrang Dal has threatenedChristian-run educational institutions in Karnataka with direconsequences if they did not “Hinduise” them by installing an image ofSaraswati <strong>and</strong> begin the day with Saraswati V<strong>and</strong>ana (Ram, 1999, 2).The RSS leader Rajendra Singh declared at a RSS camp in Meerut:“Muslims <strong>and</strong> Christians will have to accept Hindu culture as their ownif Hindus are to treat them as Indians” (The Asian Age, 23/11/1998).In this perspective, to be an Indian is to be a Hindu. Hence, anyconversion from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam is consideredanti-national. At the same time, conversions from Christianity toHinduism are encouraged <strong>and</strong> supported by the Sangh Parivar as“ghar vapasi” or homecoming.2. Historical Facts on the Identity of IndiaThe position of the Sangh Parivar contradicts the historical facts.A simple glance at the development of Indian civilisation indeed revealsthat, since the middle of the second millennium BC, several streamsof migrant groups from different parts of the world entered the Indiansub-continent. This advent at different points of time testifies to thepervasiveness of the migration process. The migrant groups <strong>and</strong>communities brought in their own traditions <strong>and</strong> behaviour patterns.In course of time, they lost contact with their places of origin <strong>and</strong>underwent an extensive process of indigenisation. The process ofadaptation <strong>and</strong> interaction among these various groups brought aboutIndia’s characteristic diversity <strong>and</strong> composite cultural l<strong>and</strong>scape. Thisfact is borne out by historical sources <strong>and</strong> contemporary surveys aswell as researches in folklore.The Hindu nationalists want to deny this history for the simplereason that it goes against their interest of consolidating the preeminentposition which they enjoy in the Hindu caste social order atthe expense of the Tribals, Dalits <strong>and</strong> lower castes, mainly the Shudras(Backward Castes). A quick look at the composition of Indian societyspeaks for itself. The Brahmins of India form only about 6% of theIndian population; the other upper castes are 14%. The BackwardCastes (Shudras) are 52%, the Dalits 16% <strong>and</strong> the Tribals 8% (Time,13/4/1992, 11).3. Politicisation <strong>and</strong> Distortion of ConversionsMany pronouncements on conversion by Hindutva-orientedjournalists, politicians <strong>and</strong> religious leaders deliberately <strong>and</strong>


The Debate on Conversions 47 48 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingsystematically distort the facts. They reflect a lack of knowledge ofIndian history <strong>and</strong> a disregard for human dignity <strong>and</strong> freedom.We need to analyse the issue of conversion with an open mind.Human history bears witness to the fact that social change is aninevitable process. Inventions, discoveries, invasions, diffusions <strong>and</strong>assimilations affect the lives of people throughout the world. Theprocess of religious conversion has to be seen in the broad context ofsocial change. Usually, the discussion on conversions in India is limitedto conversions to Islam <strong>and</strong> Christianity. In reality, however, the processof conversion has been going on all through the history of India (seeMichael, 1998, 2004).a) Hindu Methods of ConversionThere have been numerous cultural <strong>and</strong> religious encounters <strong>and</strong>interactions over the ages. This is particularly true for India. Thecultural diversity of the various pre-historical Tribal groups throughoutthe Indian sub-continent has been ascertained by archaeological <strong>and</strong>linguistic evidence. And a succession of new arrivals in historic timeshas contributed an uninterrupted stream of new cultural elements fromoutside. Aryans, Greeks, Scythians, Parthians, Shakas <strong>and</strong> Huns beforethe 8 th century, as well as Arabs, Persians, Turks, Afghans <strong>and</strong> Mongolsbetween the 8 th <strong>and</strong> 12 th centuries have all left their mark on the culturall<strong>and</strong>scape of India. Among the migrants to India in ancient times, itwas the Aryans who vigorously tried to establish a hierarchical order,the varnashrama-dharma as a universal social system in India.What we today call “Hinduism” gradually emerged in the medievalperiod. The term “Hindu”, originally derived from the name Indus,was used successively by the Achaemenids, the Greeks <strong>and</strong> the Muslimsto denote the population living beyond that river. Anthropologicalstudies show that ‘sanskritisation’ began in ancient India through aprocess of absorption, assimilation <strong>and</strong> conquest. Adivasis or Tribals<strong>and</strong> other indigenous people were drawn into the orbit of an Aryan,Sanskritic worldview. Jayant Lele describes the process as follows:“The Brahminic worldview succeeded in the past in modifying thediversity of cults, deities, sects <strong>and</strong> ideas (by making manycompromises) under the rubric of sanantana dharma” (1995, xviii).N.K. Bose thus speaks of the process of Brahminic incorporation,reinterpretation, appropriation <strong>and</strong> assimilation of Tribal <strong>and</strong> othercultures: “Once a tribe came under the influence of the Brahminicalpeople <strong>and</strong> was converted into a caste enjoying monopoly in a particularoccupation, a strong tendency was set up within it to remodel its culturemore <strong>and</strong> more closely in conformity with the Brahminical way oflife” (Bose, 1967, 214). Along with the Tribals, the non-Aryans (i.e.the Shudras <strong>and</strong> Ati-Shudras) were also assimilated <strong>and</strong> sanskritised.The powerful upper castes of a particular area exercised such aninfluence on the lower castes <strong>and</strong> outcastes that many wanted to beintegrated into the caste hierarchy by adopting the values <strong>and</strong> practicesof caste Hindus. This process is described as “sanskritisation” by thewell-known anthropologist M.N. Srinivas (1989, 56).b) Hinduisation of TribalsThe entire Tribal belt of central India is the homel<strong>and</strong> of“reconversion” from Christianity to Hinduism. It was here that in 1952a Maharashtrian Brahmin, Balasaheb Deshp<strong>and</strong>e, set up the VanvasiKalyan Ashram for the RSS. The l<strong>and</strong> was donated by Dilip SinghJudeo’s gr<strong>and</strong>father, Raja Vijay Bhushan Singh Deo. With theirconsciousness of being the original settlers, the Tribals of India callthemselves “Adivasis”. But the Sangh Parivar claims that the Aryansare the original inhabitants <strong>and</strong> so they belittle the Tribals as“Vanvasis”, i.e., “forest dwellers”. The Sangh Parivar does notrecognise the specific Adivasi identity <strong>and</strong> calls them “BackwardHindus”. This type of Hinduisation has been going on from ancienttimes through assimilation, absorption, integration <strong>and</strong> sanskritisation.A few instances will confirm the state of affairs. Around 1628AD, the Nagbansi Raja of Chotanagpur, who was the head of theOraons <strong>and</strong> the Mundas, was impressed by the pomp <strong>and</strong> show of theHindu Rajas of northern India <strong>and</strong> changed his surname into Shah ofShahi. He assumed the title of Maharaja <strong>and</strong> began to imitate the idealof royalty of the Hindu Rajas. A suitable palace was constructed <strong>and</strong>Shahi Maharaja soon gathered Brahman priests, Rajput courtiers <strong>and</strong>amlahs <strong>and</strong> palace-hunters. The Oraons <strong>and</strong> Mundas resisted <strong>and</strong>, asa consequence, more <strong>and</strong> more outsiders were called in by the successiveMaharajas; the heavy cost had to be borne by the villagers. This periodsaw the erection of a number of temples, such as the Jagannath M<strong>and</strong>ir<strong>and</strong> the Ram-Sita M<strong>and</strong>ir. The Bhils of western India also came intodirect conflict with the local rulers <strong>and</strong> Marathi invaders (Sharma &Sharma, 1998, 106-110).


The Debate on Conversions 49 50 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-BuildingBecause of their geographical isolation, some Tribals were stillable to preserve to a great extent their socio-religious identity, faith<strong>and</strong> practices. But when the British introduced roads, the postal system<strong>and</strong> civil government, easier transport <strong>and</strong> communication becamepossible in the Tribal areas. This attracted traders <strong>and</strong> moneylenders.They were followed by Hindu missionaries. This led to the subsequentHinduisation of the Tribals, who did not earlier intermarry with non-Tribals <strong>and</strong> did not practice untouchability. The sacred traditions ofthe Tribals were far removed from the Vedic Dharma of Hinduism.But the Hindus who became residents in the Tribal areas were able tointroduce elements of Hinduism into their religion, thus paving theway for their assimilation (Bose, 1975). Even today the process ofHinduisation is going on with the full political support from the State<strong>and</strong> Central Governments (Patel, 1999, 186-212). The Hindu Censusenumerators moreover categorised as Hindus all the Adivasis who didnot belong to Christianity or Islam (Michael, 2004).By repeating the lie that Hinduism is not a proselytising religion,the militant Hindu organisations want to convince the Indian massesthat, while Hinduism is a peaceful religion, Christianity <strong>and</strong> Islambring tension <strong>and</strong> strife in Indian society through their proselytisingactivities. But the historical facts tell another story. According to B.R.Ambedkar, “the history of India is nothing but the history of a mortalconflict between Buddhism <strong>and</strong> Brahmanism” (Ambedkar, 1987, 267).During Ashoka’s time, Buddhism was the religion of India, butBuddhists were later forcefully converted to Hinduism. For example,Pushyamitra Sung (180-151 BC) took up the cause of destroying theBuddhist state <strong>and</strong> reinstating the Brahmanic religion. He launched aviolent persecution of the Buddhists <strong>and</strong> put a price of 100 gold pieceson the head of every Buddhist monk (see Dahiwale, 2004, 7-8). TheSmritis <strong>and</strong> Puranas were written during the Gupta period (2 nd BC to4 th AD), after the triumph over Buddhism. The issue of religiousconversion in India is thus a very complex reality <strong>and</strong> requires athorough analysis.4. Underst<strong>and</strong>ing Christian ConversionsWe can trace the origins of Christian conversions in India to thefirst century. According to the tradition, Saint Thomas the Apostlecame to India in AD 52 <strong>and</strong> established Christian communities inseven places. The spreading of the message of Christ on a larger scale,however, did not begin until 1498. The conversions that have takenplace since then can be classified into four categories, those ofindividuals, groups, Dalits <strong>and</strong> Tribals. Most of the individualconversions came from Brahmin castes. The reasons seem to be “thedissatisfaction with Hindu religion, although this may be a reflectionafter the event” (Wingate, 1997, 13).With regard to group conversions, several Hindu fundamentalistsinsist that there have been forceful conversions during the last 500years. Studies however show that the matter is much more complicated.First, we have to assess various historical periods <strong>and</strong> political regimes;the very different situations make it difficult to generalise. Second, theidea that missionaries came with the sword to convert (i.e., that theyalways had the backing of the colonial power <strong>and</strong> the access to militarymeans to enforce conversions) is simply a distortion of the historicaldata. Some Hindu leaders also argue that Christian conversions areonly due to famines, poverty <strong>and</strong> starvation, but this is too simplistic.Many factors were at work in the significant conversion movementsin Indian mission history, <strong>and</strong> all of them should be taken into account.While Hindu fundamentalist organisations claim that Tribals <strong>and</strong>Dalits are Hindus, these groups mostly reject this superimposedidentity. Upper-caste Hindus have also done little to alleviate thedeprived conditions of the Dalits <strong>and</strong> Tribals, whom they consider“Backward Hindus”. These naturally resent such a mean appellation<strong>and</strong> seek their own ways of moving up the social ladder of Indiansociety. The conversion efforts among Dalits <strong>and</strong> Tribals havemoreover shown, despite some weaknesses, the potential of socialchange inherent in the Christian outlook. According to Natarajan forinstance (1977), the mass conversion of Tribals to Christianity broughtabout some tremendous socio-economic <strong>and</strong> cultural progressesthrough westernisation <strong>and</strong> modernisation. The study of Snaitang, aKhasi, further showed that Christianity provided institutions as wellas a new lifestyle <strong>and</strong> ideology, which protected the Tribal societyfrom the danger of detribalisation <strong>and</strong> loss of identity (1993).5. The Census Reports on Population by ReligionAs soon as the Census data of 2001 on religion were released, thethen BJP President Venkaiah Naidu said that the demographic trends


The Debate on Conversions 51 52 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingwere “a cause of grave concern for all those who think of India’s unity<strong>and</strong> integrity in the long run” (The Indian Express, 8/9/2004). Naidupointed out that, “while the rate of growth of Hindus, Sikhs <strong>and</strong>Buddhists had come down, the population of Muslims <strong>and</strong> Christianswas growing at a higher rate”. He commented: “The BJP believes thatthere should be a balance <strong>and</strong> more or less even growth in thepopulations of various communities in the country. Any imbalance inthis regard is not a healthy trend” (The Asian Age, 8/9/2004).According to the data published by the Census Commissioner,Jayant Kumar Banthia, India’s 24.1 million Christians accounted for2.34% of the country’s population in 2001, slightly up from 2.32% in1991. The detailed 1961-2001 data provided in Appendix 1 clearlyshow that the all-India Christian population is not growing at a fasterrate than the Hindu population. (Though the Muslim population isgrowing somewhat faster, the situation is certainly not alarming forthe Hindus, who outnumbered the Muslims almost 6 to 1 in 2001.)The way the Sangh Parivar targets the Christian community dayin <strong>and</strong> day out on its conversion activities does not therefore st<strong>and</strong>the scrutiny of the Census Reports of the Government.6. Conversion as a Human Right IssueSociologically, conversion is a process of change from one religionto another. It contains spiritual <strong>and</strong> faith elements, but it is alsosomething that is used by individuals to move forward in society, freethemselves from inherited shackles, <strong>and</strong> improve the conditions of lifefor themselves <strong>and</strong> their children. They might want to liberatethemselves from the bondage of caste, illiteracy, economic slavery, orpsychological apathy. But all these factors are interlinked <strong>and</strong> none ofthem should be considered in isolation. Converts do not perceive thespiritual <strong>and</strong> material aspects of conversion as separate things, butas a single phenomenon. It appears natural for them to use conversionas a doorway to upward social mobility in the society into which theywere born.Forceful conversion should always be condemned. But, can youblame a group of people for changing their religion when they realisethat their poverty <strong>and</strong> social degradation are due to the prevalentreligious values <strong>and</strong> structures of their society? The prospect of radicalchange can only seem subversive to those who are committed to thestatus quo. The selfishness <strong>and</strong> egocentric aspect of human naturebeing what it is, it is underst<strong>and</strong>able that the beneficiaries of thestatus quo resent radical changes. But to the oppressed <strong>and</strong>downtrodden, change is a lever of hope. At a time when the ‘right toinformed choice’ is upheld even in trivial matters, how can the rightto freedom of choice be denied to millions in matters of ultimatesignificance? Religious conversion is a human right issue.Blaming the Church for opening the door to the poor violates thespirit of the Indian Constitution <strong>and</strong> makes a mockery of Indi<strong>and</strong>emocracy, besides being an insult to human dignity. A condescendingpaternalism that denies the poor the right <strong>and</strong> ability to make rational<strong>and</strong> intelligent decisions will be condemned by all civilised people ofthe 21 st century. Does our Constitution exclude the poor from voting?Indian elections have often reflected the power <strong>and</strong> wisdom of thepoor <strong>and</strong> the common man/woman. They have their own wisdom <strong>and</strong>can see through fraud, pressure <strong>and</strong> coercion. Hence, anyunderestimation of the capacity <strong>and</strong> wisdom of poor <strong>and</strong> ordinarypeople by the upper-caste Hindu fundamentalists is totallyanachronistic <strong>and</strong> out of place in a civilised society.Moreover, conversion efforts are not only a Christian phenomenonbut are also common to all religions. Let us not forget the revolt ofDr. Ambedkar against Hinduism <strong>and</strong> the mass conversion to Buddhismin 1956. A deeper look into the history of India reveals that Buddhism<strong>and</strong> Jainism were once widespread in our country, but today they arereduced to small minority religions, partly because of Muslimconversions <strong>and</strong> partly because of the aggressive missionary activitiesof Brahminic Hinduism. The Arya Samaj <strong>and</strong> other Hinduorganisations like the VHP promote conversion <strong>and</strong> reconversion (gharvapasi) not only in India but also in many other parts of the world.There is so much distortion, so many rumours <strong>and</strong> politicalmisinformation with regard to Christian conversions that to lay bareall the facts would require superhuman efforts on the part of journalists<strong>and</strong> scholars. Hindu fundamentalists do not recognise the pluralisticnature of Indian society. Hence, they make a political issue of the ideaof conversion to Christianity. Behind their political agenda there is avision of a total Hinduisation of India. Such an agenda is out of tunewith the pluralistic tradition of India <strong>and</strong> makes a mockery of thefundamental rights of the people of India.


The Debate on Conversions 53The sweeping statements <strong>and</strong> accusations often made againstChristian conversions should not be taken at face value. They must besubjected to rigorous questioning <strong>and</strong> analysis. We should not loseour objectivity <strong>and</strong> allow truth <strong>and</strong> goodness to be dragged into themire of false subjectivity sustained by lies <strong>and</strong> distortions <strong>and</strong>propagated by biased <strong>and</strong> spiteful instigators, in order to influencepublic opinion against the Church <strong>and</strong> Christian mission.Playing the Hindutva <strong>and</strong> upper-caste cards, some stategovernments in the Indian Union have either enacted or are promisingto enact a law against religious conversions. This goes against thefundamental rights of Indian citizens.7. ConclusionIndia is a sovereign nation. It has a written Constitution, theinvaluable legacy of our founding fathers to the Indian nation; it is adocument especially treasured for its breadth of vision <strong>and</strong> egalitarianvalues. The Constitution was drawn up to protect the multi-cultural,multi-religious, multi-lingual <strong>and</strong> multi-ethnic nature of Indiansociety. No religious community can put forward the monopolisticclaim that India belongs to them alone.But today the notion of a modern, pluralistic, democratic India isin danger of being forcefully suppressed. Hindutva forces areincreasingly seeking to impose a strongly regimented cultural lifestylein terms of an upper-caste, Sanskritic, Brahmanic Hinduism. But theTribals <strong>and</strong> the Dalits are struggling for survival, human dignity <strong>and</strong>cultural identity. Sociologically speaking, conversion is being usedby the oppressed masses for their upward mobility <strong>and</strong> socialemancipation. All the same, the minorities must keep in mind thatconversion is a very sensitive <strong>and</strong> politically explosive issue.5. CONCLUSION AND PRACTICALSUGGESTIONSAs pointed out in the introduction, communal harmony <strong>and</strong>nation-<strong>building</strong> are a life-long process. Tensions <strong>and</strong> communalproblems do arise in any pluralistic society. We need to work for aculture of peace through mutual respect <strong>and</strong> with a vision to promotesocial justice <strong>and</strong> human rights.We have in this booklet attempted to clarify the cultural <strong>and</strong> nationalidentity of India, which is pluralistic, inclusive <strong>and</strong> promotingcommunal harmony. We also highlighted the informal dialogue, whichtook place during the freedom struggle for the purpose of defining theIndian nationhood. This past dialogue can guide us in our presentsituation.Indian nationalism should ensure the dignity of all Indians <strong>and</strong>make them feel wanted <strong>and</strong> respected citizens. But what we seetoday is that Dalits, Tribals, backward castes <strong>and</strong> other marginalised<strong>and</strong> suppressed communities are in search of a nation inspired byegalitarian values like social justice, economic opportunities <strong>and</strong>participation in political decision-making, whereas the upper castesare desperately trying to retain control of their privileged positionsthrough communal politics. Thus, culture <strong>and</strong> nationalism havebecome deeply polarised by the contrasting interests of the upper<strong>and</strong> lower groups, the former vigorously clinging to their traditionalstatus, <strong>and</strong> the latter fighting for justice, equality <strong>and</strong> human dignity.It has therefore become imperative for the country to answercertain questions. What does nationalism mean for the poor, oppressed<strong>and</strong> marginalised? Are they able to experience a sense of commonhumanity in the Indian nationhood? Or is nationalism the luxury ofthe rich <strong>and</strong> the powerful? As true patriots, we need to be concernedabout the human dignity <strong>and</strong> the integration of all Indians. In thecontext of the exclusive <strong>and</strong> narrow Hindu nationalism of Hindutva,we need to define nationalism in such a way that the poor <strong>and</strong> thedowntrodden receive due attention <strong>and</strong> care. Behind the dreams <strong>and</strong>aspirations of the marginalised groups lingers the hope that a nation


Conclusion <strong>and</strong> Practical Suggestions 55SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONSIn order to promote communal harmony, secularism <strong>and</strong>nation-<strong>building</strong>, we need to:1. Underst<strong>and</strong> the historical <strong>and</strong> current concepts related tocommunalism, secularism <strong>and</strong> nationalism.2. Develop an appropriate perspective towards communalism,secularism <strong>and</strong> nationalism. (These first two elements require theacquisition of knowledge in the socio-economic, political, cultural<strong>and</strong> religious fields.)3. Realise the seriousness of the threat of divisive politics based onreligion.4. Document the incidents of communal violence <strong>and</strong> the varied effortstowards communal harmony, <strong>and</strong> develop appropriate strategiesto prevent communal riots.5. Build bonds of respect, appreciation, friendship, collaboration<strong>and</strong> fellowship/solidarity between different communities throughdaily contacts, common celebrations (e.g., national <strong>and</strong>/or interreligiousfestivals), dialogue <strong>and</strong> prayer meetings, <strong>and</strong> involvementsin social work <strong>and</strong> action.6. Participate in workshops <strong>and</strong> campaigns on communal harmony,secularism <strong>and</strong> nation-<strong>building</strong>.7. Be aware of the constitutional <strong>and</strong> legal means available to overcomecommunal violence.8. Be involved in human rights issues (including those concerningthe minorities), nation-<strong>building</strong> activities, <strong>and</strong> especially thestruggles of the poor, marginalised <strong>and</strong> oppressed to meet theirbasic needs, get their rights <strong>and</strong> live with human dignity.9. Learn to network with various civil authorities, NGOs, actiongroups <strong>and</strong> people’s organisations/movements.10.Use the press <strong>and</strong> other mass media to dispel misconceptions <strong>and</strong>myths about the minorities <strong>and</strong> promote a proper vision ofcommunal harmony, secularism <strong>and</strong> nation-<strong>building</strong>.56 <strong>Communal</strong> <strong>Harmony</strong>, <strong>Secularism</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Nation</strong>-Buildingdevelop a more complete <strong>and</strong> integral underst<strong>and</strong>ing of the nation.The Church must take part in this comprehensive <strong>and</strong> multi-facetedmovement. Lay Christians, especially, should be encouraged to getinvolved in issues of justice, equality <strong>and</strong> fraternity <strong>and</strong> in ecologicalquestions. They must be active in civil society, including politics. Ahealthy civil society marked by pluralism will foster <strong>and</strong> ensure anauthentic <strong>and</strong> humanistic nationalism. Christian intellectuals shouldcollaborate with humanists of different faiths <strong>and</strong> ideologies to bringto light the history <strong>and</strong> cultural traditions of the Tribals, Dalits <strong>and</strong>other marginalised people. All this will greatly contribute to promotecommunal harmony <strong>and</strong> nation-<strong>building</strong> in India.The Church in India is situated in today’s complex <strong>and</strong> polarisedsituation. She must discover how Christianity can interact with thesocio-economic, political <strong>and</strong> culturo-religious processes of Indiansociety. According to us, the Church should be aware of the historicalprocesses that took place at the birth of the Indian nation <strong>and</strong> thusunderst<strong>and</strong> better the ongoing pulls <strong>and</strong> pushes in the socio-politicalarena. She should also be inspired by the past <strong>and</strong> engage herself in adialogue on present-day socio-political questions. The Church mustencourage <strong>and</strong> challenge all Christians <strong>and</strong> people of good will toinvolve themselves in <strong>building</strong> an integral humanistic nationalism.All should be called upon to join, or at least to support, people’smovements to build a just <strong>and</strong> humane society in India.of fairness <strong>and</strong> justice will be built – an inclusive, egalitarian, just,free <strong>and</strong> humane nation.All of us must promote this humanistic nationalism incollaboration with the emerging humanistic movements. Widespreadsupport for the cause of suppressed groups <strong>and</strong> identities will help

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