Hindutva Communal Violence
Fr. John Felix Raj.
The author is Director of Goethals Indian Library & Research Centre, St.
Xavier’s College, Calcutta – 700 016
“Father, forgive them; they do not
know what they are doing” (Gospel of Luke 23:34). This is the prayer of Indian
Christians, whose response has been through non-violent protests and repeated
representations to the Government while being persecuted or brutally murdered or
forcibly stopped from feeding the hungry, by divisive and communal forces.
Christianity was born of the Cross and Christians should consider themselves
privileged to reproduce in their own lives the death and resurrection that was
the central feature of Christ’s life on earth.
This does not mean that the
communal forces can be let loose to do what they want and that their challenge,
which threatens secular and pluralistic India can go unchecked. While tolerance
is a basic tenet of Hinduism, intolerance has become the hallmark of
fundamentalist “hindutva” forces that spread hostility towards minorities,
dalits and tribals. Their systematic attacks on Christians have increased in the
recent months especially after the BJP came to power. They are making a mockery
of the Rule of Law. The Government led by the BJP, which has close links with
the Sangh Parivar, is watching disinterestedly. One cannot but doubt the secular
credentials of the Government. “Justice delayed is justice denied”.
The world has witnessed too
much bloodshed in the name of religious fundamentalism. To cite a few examples:
the crusades in Europe, the Inquisition in the Middle ages, the massacre of the
Jains and Buddhists in South India, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the
destruction of the Babri Majid, the brutal burning of Rev. Graham Staines and
his two minor sons, the cold-blooded murders of Fr. Aruldoss in Orissa and Br.
George in Mathura, jihads, holy wars, communal riots, genocide and so on. “ What
a disgustingly savage people we are! Politics, progress, socialism, communism,
science – where are they before this black, religious savagery?” wrote a deeply
disturbed and impatient Nehru in prison in 1935.
It is worth quoting the Mahatma
here: “I can never be an enemy of Muslims, no matter what any one or more of
them may do to me or mine, even as I can never be an enemy of Englishmen……… My
remedy is to deal with the wrong wherever I see it, not to hurt the wrongdoers,
even as I would not like to be hurt for the wrongs I do”.
Gandhiji was a deeply religious
man and understood the role and impact of religion on individuals and
communities. He believed that genuine religion builds bridges of solidarity
between peoples of different faiths. He often referred to the religion “which
transcends Hinduism, which changes one’s very nature, which binds one
indissolubly to the truth within and which ever purifies”. That was the reason
why he was not afraid of religious pluralism or expressions of religious
He also knew that the
politicisation of religion could lead to unbridgeable tensions in a
multi-religious society like ours. The fundamentalist organisations are mixing
politics with religion. Hindutva is nothing but a mixture of sacred and secular
power in the name of Ram and Ayodhya, which is sectarian and dangerous to
national harmony and secular society, and should be checked before it is too
late. Otherwise, the worst will happen. Wait till 2001 – when the attempt to
build the Ram Temple at the site of the Babri Masjid will be made. This can lead
to a communal holocaust, which means that the worst of the religious hatred
It is not religion; it is not
Hinduism or Islam or Christianity that are at fault. It is fundamentalism. It is
those who use religion for their own narrow, vested interests who are
responsible for the sad state of affairs in India. It is the outcome of their
inadequate knowledge, their institutionalised perception of religion and their
fundamentalist attitudes and practices. It is their selective and literal
interpretation of their scriptures, which is unhistorical. Religion, as Sri
Ramakrishna explained, is like a river leading its followers to the great Ocean
of God. When the human relates to the Divine, there flows a process of the human
being elevated to the realm of the Divine. ‘To be fully human is to be divine’.
No religion preaches hatred. A true religion is transformative having the power
to create “a new heaven and a new earth”.
Christians are blamed for
“forced conversion”. But this term is self-contradictory. A “forced conversion”
is not a conversion. Genuine conversion is a personal matter. If there are
individuals or groups belonging to any religion, who convert by force, or insult
or defame another’s faith, or who in the name of their religion betray God, then
the law should take its course, not organisations such as the Sangh Parivar -
the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the RSS. Who are they? Who gives them the authority
to take the Law into their own hands?
I teach in St. Xavier’s,
Calcutta, a Christian College, where the majority of students are Hindus. Ask if
there has been any attempt to convert anyone, at any time or by any means. The
‘Hindutva forces feel threatened by the Christians educating and conscientising
the dalits and the tribals. It may be out of fear that some day the
“untouchable” proletariat will overcome and occupy the throne of power!
Communal harmony has been lived
in its best way by millions of our country’s “illiterate” yet wise villagers for
hundreds of years. I visited a village recently on the occasion of the village
feast. The Christian community, as usual, carried the statue of its patron saint
on a chariot along the streets. At one point, the chariot stopped and I saw the
Hindus in large number coming in a procession carrying the statue of their
goddess holding a garland in her hands. For a moment I was stunned expecting
trouble! But to my pleasant surprise, the goddess was made to garland the statue
of the saint and vice-versa. A beautiful event that moved me to tears. This is
what has been going on in our villages for centuries. People belonging to
different religions have been living in harmony and peace. But today this
harmony is disturbed and violence has erupted because of fundamentalist forces
with vested interests.
No God-fearing Hindu, whether
orthodox or liberal, will be comfortable with the ‘hindutva’ strategy. Its rise
and consolidation has sparked off a serious existential and relationship problem
in the whole country. Hinduism, with its non-Semitic, non-dogmatic, cultural and
religious pluralism, needs to be protected from fundamentalist and self-styled
crusaders. Efforts of many secular thinkers and academicians in this respect,
irrespective of their religious affiliation, are not to malign or degrade
Hinduism, but to save Hinduism from the clutches of Hindutvawadis who equate it
with ‘hindutva’, which is a strategic syncretism. We need to challenge and
strenuously expose the fundamentalist strategy of these communal forces, whose
sole aim, as stated in the BJP’s election manifesto of 1998, is: “India is one
country, one people, and one nation” (read: one ‘hindutva’ religion). The
hindutva seeks to devalue minority identities, and erase constitutionally
guaranteed rights, in order to institute the ‘hindutva’ religion.
As Neera Chandhoke rightly puts
it in her book “ Beyond Secularism” (Oxford 2000), “This, as we can see, has
serious implications not only for the multi-religious, multi-linguistic, and
multi-ethnic nature of Indian society, but also for the cultural and religious
rights that the Constitution has granted to the minorities. For somewhat
worryingly, the concept easily slides into the legitimisation of the dominant
culture and denial of other ways of life, as indeed it does in the formulation
Accepting the ‘hindutva’
strategy would mean the abdication of everything the freedom movement stood for.
From the beginning of this century, the leaders of our country’s freedom
struggle proclaimed their commitment to secularism. For Gandhiji, secularism, in
other words, the equality of all religions was founded in the doctrine of
Sarva Dharma Sambhava. Dr. Radhakrishnan phrased this concept aptly: “ We
hold that no one religion should be given preferential status, or unique
distinction, that no one religion should be accorded special privileges in
national life, or international relations; for that would be a violation of the
basic principles of democracy and contrary to the best interest of religion and
We all have a right to our
faith and culture, and if our faith and culture are being threatened through
acts of violence and calls for assimilation, it is time to think about
strengthening religious and cultural rights. The majority/minority issue is a
perennially complex problem. While the concept of ‘minorities’ is based on
religion etc, the majoritarianism, often misused and misunderstood, was a
general formulation for political ends, at the time of freedom struggle in order
to widen the anti-colonial base. It was supposed to mean a broad political
community, bringing all those who professed a religion other than Islam or
Christianity. It was meant to be “an umbrella coalition” not based on any one
religion or any one caste. This dimension needs to be stressed and understood in
the right perspective. The dalits and the tribals do not belong to this
“majority” Hindu community on religious or cultural grounds, as claimed by some.
They have their own distinct religious and cultural identities.
It is high time we learn from
our mistakes of the past and capitalise on what unifies different religious
traditions rather than on what divides them. We must enable each other to
establish a community of friends, a federation of fraternity and in short, and
“a paradise on earth”. “Where are you searching for God”, said Swami
Vivekananda, “ when God is in front of you in His various manifestations? He who
serves humanity with love and humility is serving God”.