Books, Articles and Essays
by FR. FELIX RAJ, SJ, DIRECTOR | «
Orissa – a killing field of the
By Fr. John Felix Raj.
We are all pained by what is going on in Orissa these
days: destruction of Churches, rape of nuns, killing of priests, harassing and
terrorising of minority communities, re-conversion of dalit and tribal
Christians, and so on. These are nothing but inhuman and barbaric manifestations
of the fundamentalist forces, which point to an insecure and dangerous future.
In all these, one sees a serious threat to secularism and consequently, a danger
to democracy, and peaceful and harmonious co-existence of Indians belonging to
diverse religious faiths and belief systems.
In Indian context today, more than ever, as Romila Thapar, one of India’s
eminent historians, says, caste, regional and other identities are replaced by
religious identity, which “is used as the basis for political and social
ideology. Such identity irons out diversity and insists on conformity for it is
only through a uniform acceptance of the religion that it can best be used for
political ends. The attempt is always to draw in as many people as possible
since numbers enhance the power of the communal group and are crucial in a
mechanical view of democracy. The political effort requires domination over
other groups and where the number is larger becomes superior and majority group.
The major one is said to be Hinduism today”.
Let us take the break-up of the Indian population on the basis of religious
community: SCs: 15 per cent; STs: 7.5 per cent; Non-Hindu community: (Muslims,
Christians & others): 16.2 per cent; Forward Caste Hindu community: 17.6 per
cent; and Backward Caste Hindu Community: 43.7 per cent.
The Scheduled Tribe and the Scheduled Caste people of India together form 22.5
per cent of the total Indian population. They are two distinct communities by
themselves. Each has its own independent cultural and religious identity. How
can they be called Hindus? The Other Backward Class Indians who form nearly 44
per cent of the population also have their own socio-cultural and religious
identity. Can we easily ignore these identities and conveniently bury the rich
diversity present in this country from time immemorial?
The attempt to establish a single Hindu community or Hindutva in India by
violent, fanatical and fundamentalist groups is a development of recent times.
It is an attempt to make Hinduism a Semitic religion like Christianity and
Islam. It is a departure from the past when Indian society was constituted of a
variety of communities based on location, occupation, caste, sect and so on, but
not bound together by one religious identity. Romila Thapar, puts this in
correct perspective in her book, History and Beyond, Oxford, 2000:
Early history suggests the existence of multiple communities based on various
identities. The need to create the idea of a single, Hindu community appears to
have been a concern of more recent times which was sought to be justified by
recourse to a particular construction of history. The new Hinduism, which is now
sought to be projected as the religion of this community, is in many ways a
departure from the earlier religious sects. It seeks historicity for the
incarnations of its deities, encourages the idea of a centrally sacred book,
claims monotheism as significant to the worship of deity acknowledges the
authority of the ecclesiastical organisation of certain sects as prevailing over
all and has supported large-scale missionary work and conversion. These changes
allow it to transcend caste identities and reach out to larger numbers.
Religions indigenous to India, which questioned brahmanical belief and practice
such as Buddhism and Jainism, have been inducted into Hinduism and their
separateness is either denied or ignored (pp.84-85).
But what is alarmingly surprising is to bring all diverse caste and religious
communities under the one umbrella of Hinduism! ‘The inclusion of the “lower
caste” people as Hindus was contrary to the precepts of Brahmanism. This
all-inclusive approach was a new and bewildering feature for the multiple sects
and castes’ (Thapar). Thus the present attempt to force these communities to
come under one Hindutva fold is both communally and politically motivated.
It is a type of syncretism. An unhealthy syncretism! Christopher Jaffrelot calls
it a “Strategic Syncretism”. “Syncretism because the content of this ideology
has been supplied to a large extent by materials taken from the cultural and
religious values of groups who were seen as antagonistic towards the Hindu
community. Strategic because it underlies an ideology that aims to dominate the
others, in terms of prestige as well as on a concrete socio-political
plane” (“Hindu Nationalism: Strategic Syncretism in Ideology Building”, EPW,
March 20-27,1993, p.517-523).
The strategic syncretism of Hindutva ideology is attempted at two ways: Firstly:
Vedic religion succeeded in integrating within itself indigenous popular
religions and sects. Deities were absorbed into the Vedic pantheon through a
process of identification or subordination. Buddha, for example, was given the
status of Vishuite incarnation. Even the Bhakti Movement with a large mass
support could not maintain its thrust and was ultimately domesticated by the
Hindu orthodoxy. As Dumont observes, “ A sect cannot survive on Indian soil if
it denies caste”, which is a creation of Vedic ritualism.
Secondly: With the coming of Christianity and Islam to India, Hinduism came face
to face with two Semitic religions from outside. This western challenge
initiated a strong intention to reform Indian society. That is why, reformers
like Ram Mohan Roy and Dayananda laboured hard to ‘discover’ in the Vedas what
they needed to resist the Christian and Muslim influences. The socio-religious
reform movements, as Thapar puts it, “ attempted to cleanse Indian religion of
what they regarded as negative encrustations and tried to find parallels with
the Semitic model”. The Hindu organisations like RSS and VHP aim at assimilating
within modern Hinduism those cultural and religious features and practices of
Christianity and Islam to resist them more effectively.
The RSS, VHP and similar organisations provide the required ecclesiastical
structure, and the BJP, which has deep and enduring ties with the RSS and VHP,
creates a conducive political climate for such strategies. As Amrita Basu says,
“ Hindu nationalism undoubtedly represents one of the major challenges Indian
democracy has faced in its fifty years of existence, and the BJP is its
principal proponent” (Transforming India, Oxford, 2000, p.379).
Talking about syncretism, I am reminded of the beautiful approach of the Bauls
and Sufi Fakirs of Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore observed in his introduction to
Haramoni by Mohammad Mansurudin (1927), “ The real history of our country bears
testimony to the devotion of synthesis which has been shared by the common
people as the innermost truth in their emotional depths. This devotion can be
located among the Bauls – their syncretic tradition emerging as a common
heritage of both Hindus and the Muslims who came close without hurting each
This is what all should encourage. Otherwise, the syncretic endeavour would
sound more like the anecdote told of a group of students who wanted to fool
Darwin. They assembled together the limbs, wings, feelers and tail of different
insects and brought the odd creature to him and asked, “ What bug is this?” With
a quick eye, Darwin seemed to have replied, “ A humbug”!
Hindutva organisations, argue that the state should favour the interests of the
majority over those of minorities. They propose to do away with minority rights.
This explains the BJP’s opposition to the National Minorities Commission, its
desire to review the Constitution and to abrogate Article 370 and its attempt to
introduce the Christian Marriage Act in parliament. The BJP seeks to redefine
Indian secularism is subverted by over zealous communalists. They dig the
Scriptures and Holy Books and concoct falsity in order to attack the minorities.
It is a dangerous move, a move that could take us to the darkest period of the
middle Ages. Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘I like Christ, but I do not like
Christians’. I want to repeat it a bit differently: I like Hindus, I respect
Hinduism, but I do not like the Hindutva strategy of violence and destruction.
The development of Hindu nationalist ideology and consolidation strategy has
forced the emergence of other nationalist consolidations and identities like:
Dalit, Tribal, caste, regional, and so on. Let me explain briefly one such
consolidation namely Dalit:
The last hundred years have seen the emergence of a new consciousness and
identity among the 200 million people who have been considered ‘outcaste’ or
‘untouchable’. Today they call themselves as Dalits, and aggressively
demand their share in the shaping of the destiny of the nation. This is one of
the many protest and reform movements among the ‘untouchables’ against both the
Vedic ritualism and the Brahminical caste rigidity.
The conversion of Dalits to Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, besides
being change of religion, was also search for equality. Dr. Ambedkar believed
that neither bourgeois nationalism nor traditional Marxism provided any
satisfactory solution to the problem of caste. Hence he turned to religion. He
rejected Christianity and Islam, because though formally egalitarian in nature,
they did not face in their origin the task of fighting the caste system. For
him, the only Indian religion, which arose and grew out of the struggle against
the caste system and never succumbed to it, was Buddhism.
Today we live in a global context of secularism and democracy. In the last
hundred years, secularism has come to be accepted as an alternative to religious
orthodoxy and fundamentalist ideology. Secularism, we know, is lived and
practiced in diverse ways in different countries. There cannot be one,
homogenous way of practicing it. A secular state is one that allows its citizens
to profess and practice their respective faith freely and fearlessly. Secular
state does not interfere with the religious and spiritual affairs of the people.
It should respect all religions equally. It should not prefer one to the other.
Secularism in India is different from the western concept of the state in
confrontation with the Church. Indian secularism was born out of an experience,
a painful process of national liberation struggles. The Fathers of our
Constitution had reasons to introduce secularism in our country: fear of
disorder arising from dangerous forces of political movements associated with
militant Hindu nationalism, Muslim separatism, Hindu-Muslim communalism and so
on. Nehru condemned casteism and communalism. He observed that communalism was
fascism in India and favoured secularism. For him, secularism was necessarily a
civilized behaviour. This was to transcend religious, cultural, caste
differences and combat militant communalist forces.
Human civilization has brought into focus the significance of secular ideals,
and there is a growing consciousness to support and nurture this type of
societies. Today almost all the countries in the world have come to accept that
secularism is sine quo non-for democratic governance. To establish a
peaceful and just society, secularist principles and democratic polity are
All true religions have an immense potential for tolerance. Each religious
community claims that theirs is the most tolerant religion of our time. Their
claim is true so long as they recognize other religions as different ways
leading to the same goal. Tolerance is a normative value, yes, but it is not an
answer to the fundamentalist danger to unity and integrity of our country. In
today’s context what we need is to affirm and perpetuate:
Rootedness of every believer in his/her religion;
Acceptance of the other and his/her religious belief and
On going dialogues between different religions.
These are the principles that will pave way for a healthy
atmosphere of respect, tolerance and acceptance of each other, of each religious
tradition and enable us to live together as Indians in peace and harmony.
It is time now for all academicians, thinkers, philosophers, theologians and the
like to come out openly and speak out against the dangers of fundamentalism and
its offshoots of disorder, and undo, with the weapon of their wisdom, all that
has gone wrong. Politicians in my opinion are not capable of doing this job. All
that they normally seek after is power and for power they justify any means. If
the age of Enlightenment and of Science has brought changes in the west, our
intervention at this juncture will definitely put the wheels of our country on
the right track. What German Bishop Niemoler said about the situation under
Hitler might teach us something:
|“When Nazis put communists in the concentration camp, I
did not protest because I was not a communist; when they persecuted the
social democrats, I did not protest because I was not a social democrat;
When they massacred the Jews, I did not protest because I was not a Jew;
When they banned all political parties and trade unions, I did not protest
because I was not one of them; when they came for me, there was no one to
speak for me.”