As Barack Obama was concluding his historic visit to India he gave the Indian public an unexpected jolt. He warned the nation against possible divisive tendencies. He said, “India will succeed as long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith...” The US president quoted Article 25 of our Constitution which says that all people are “equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion...”
There was not much comment on that those days. Then suddenly there comes Deep Trivedi’s book “Don’t Teach Me Tolerance” (Aatman Innovations, Mumbai 2017) taking issue with Obama’s parting message. Trivedi’s contention is that no one needs to lecture to India with regard to religious tolerance since it is an in-built part of its cultural heritage. Unfortunately he weakens his argument from the beginning by basing it on the epics. He takes a pose as though they are historical documents. He further weakens his argument by placing Rama in Ayodhya seven thousand years ago, long before the rise of the Gangetic and Harappan civilizations.
The Land of the Adivasis
To whom did pre-Harappan India really belong when the Aryans were still in the steppes? South Asia in that period of history was inhabited by indigenous communities, who today would be considered dalits and tribals... who appear in the Aryan records as Dasyus, Asuras, Rakshasas, Mlecchas, Kiratas. All ugly names were reserved for them.
The days of name calling are not over. Even today tribal communities are benignly called “Vanvasis” as though they were mere jungle products. They have felt humiliated and have protested to no avail. They say, we have our own names: Mundas, Santals, Nagas, Mizos, Bodos, and others. And yet the ugly name remains. ‘Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams’ multiply round the country. This December they will be holding a sports event in Guwahati.
Humiliating tribal communities does not end there. It has gone into the DNA of the dominant classes. A Rajasthan MLA who belongs to the BJP, Gyan Dev Ahuja, was absolutely sure when recently he swore, “The world’s first tribal leader was Hanumanji. First saint among the Adivasis was Hanumanji.” The tribal people did not seem to be flattered by the compliment. But Ahuja remained unshaken. He continued to explain: when Ram was moving south from Chitrakoot, “Hanuman made his army of tribals and got training from Lord Ram.”
Ahuja could not bear to see a Hanuman-figure placed below that of Bhim Rao Ambedkar, who for the tribals is a known figure. He fulminated against Kirodi Lal Meena, BJP MP, “You should be ashamed. You call yourself tribals and then disrespect him.” He asked them to be proud that there were 40 lakh Hanuman temples in the world. More, of course, are deliberately being planted in the tribal belt. Tribal communities themselves are not aware of the complexes they develop unconsciously through such upper class religious stratagems.
Recently certain comments were discovered in Einstein’s diary that seemed to show that the great scientist thought that Indians were of inferior races. But the tragedy is that the Indian elite even today consider the weaker communities an inferior species (on the Darwinian scale), not just an inferior race. Ahuja’s spontaneous outburst bears witness to the deepest convictions of the upper layer of Indian society. Thus we see a continuity from the ancient Rig Vedic references to the Dasyus to Ahuja’s recent Hanuman-homage to the tribals.
What are the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams busy about? Could they not do something about the ‘Land Acquisition Act’ that has given almost unlimited powers to governments to deprive the tribals of their land? How much of the tribal land in Assam can be legitimately passed on to Patanjali? Someone has compared the situation in the tribal district of Bastar in Chhattisgarh to that of Syria, Palestine, and Kashmir: fake encounters, custodial deaths, fake surrenders, hunger deaths. These are issues, if neglected, will have mighty consequences in future.
We were discussing the historicity of Ram, whom Trivedi placed in Ayodhya 7000 years ago. To our surprise, a new book has been published by a Modi-admirer Prafull Goradia rejecting Ram’s historicity outright. We do not want to ask here, what then happens to the Ram Temple projections. But we would like to know the meaning of these historical juggleries of different people who can “invent histories” (Hamid Ansari) to suit their own political interests.
In Goradia’s “Krishna Rajya,” Krishna is the ethical model as a ruler whom Modi closely resembles. Trivedi is a semi-worshipper of Modi on whom he showers praises, “Mr. Modi, I look upon you as a person who has scaled the heights of spirituality” (pg 175), “...and you know Narendra, you have philosophy coursing through your veins...I am proud of you” (pg 180), “Mr. Modi, I have much higher hopes and far greater expectations from you” (pg 182).
As Trivedi stumbles taking the historicity of the epics for granted, Goradia trips over betraying his evident communal prejudices. The latter laments that the nation was for seven centuries under ‘Asura rule,’ evidently referring to the Muslim period. Here is where we are today! Volumes and volumes are being produced of shoddy research material, politically motivated, prejudice-filled, legends-loaded, personality-cult oriented, and heavily sponsored. The President Kovind was unwilling to spend public money for the celebration of Iftar. Has anyone asked how much public money is spent on research on Vedic science, and for establishing the existence of the internet in Mahabharata times? How much money meant for the promotion of culture is going to the religious promotion of the majority community?
Moving Towards the Unreal
In India we seem to be moving from the real world to the unreal world. Rameshchandra Fefar, a government officer in Gujarat, says he can’t come to office because he is the 10th Avatar of Vishnu!! Nothing less. He claims, thanks to the penance he is doing, the country has timely rains. He attended office only 16 days in 8 months.
Similarly, Dinesh Sharma the Deputy CM of UP, says, Sita was a test-tube baby. Her father found her in an earthen pot. These are public men speaking like half-witted entertainers. Our ancients prayed, “Lead me from the unreal to the real” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishads 1.III.28). Today’s political leadership is leading society ‘from the real to the unreal.’
Is Trivedi’s Tolerance Real?
Let us return to Trivedi’s thesis seeking to establish India’s tolerance. He tries to prove to Obama that Indians have always been “most tolerant,” “have shown great tolerance...in almost everything,” (pg 3). His arguments are based on ancient tales, while the US President was referring to the reported harassment of minorities in our own days, which have been increasing in frequency ever since the BJP came to power. Instances of mob violence against the weaker sections through public lynching have multiplied. There is a planned effort to construct a spirit of exclusivism brick by brick, strengthen polarisation between communities, and increase divisiveness among people. Religious warriors are being trained. The confessions of persons like Parashuram Warmare, 26, accused of being connected to Gauri Lankesh killing, are most revealing. Members of Hindu Yuva Sene, have been given a mission: attack pub-goers, Romeos, fragile women, and defend the Indian culture. Muscle men are getting motivated: deviants must be taught a lesson, critics eliminated.
It is against this background that we must understand Pranab Mukherjee’s words addressed to the RSS trainees in Nagpur. He did not mince words when he said, “Manifestations of rage are tearing our social fabric. Every day, we see increased violence around us. At the heart of this violence is darkness, fear, and mistrust. We must free our public discourse of all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal...We must move from anger, violence, and conflict to peace, harmony, and happiness.” This picture is a lot different from the Trivedi-claimed tolerance.
World opinion is questioning the inaction of the Government against religious unruliness in India. They little realise that it is a planned and patronised unruliness. Sponsored religious Senas are in action. The US State Department’s International “Religious Freedom Report” has accused India of not taking action against cow vigilantes who butcher or harass Muslims on suspicion of killing or eating cows. It refers to “reports of hundreds of religiously motivated killings,” riots, assaults, restrictions on religious practice and proselytisation. A Pew research Centre analysis of 198 countries ranked India as the fourth worst on the globe for religious intolerance, violence over conversion, and imposition of dress code. CIA considers the VHP a ‘militant outfit.’ The proud boasts of the RSS chief and the wild performance of the Bajrang Dal send a chill up the spine of feebler communities.
It is this anxiety that made Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi ask for prayers and Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa express his concern about the fate of the Indian Constitution. There are enough indications that the Constitution will fall the first victim to a BJP majority again. Unrestrainable spokespersons have already spluttered out that our present Constitution is built on Western premises, not on the Indian dharmic value-system. What about the Indian Penal Code then, and Lutyens Delhi? Those who reject everything ‘alien,’ may find themselves totally ‘alien’ when India’s true history is told.
Apart from that, the way a section of the media men treated Church representatives on that occasion is telling in advance what awaits the frailer communities in India if the next elections give the Hindutva-supremists a great margin. Media men are turning muscle men in dealing with spokespersons who would like to speak with dignity and decorum. Infantile accusations of Vatican interference send their convincing power plummeting to the bottom. The enlightened public can see through. Humiliation of a good cause is victory only for the unprincipled. International religious solidarity that the Vatican represents only adds strength to a believer’s commitment to the social good; as an individual citizen, his decisions are his/her own. Bullying tactics constitute shabby advertisement for an alliance that seeks to win elections. Those who feel threatened by prayer have something unholy up their sleeves.
Some in the opposition say: let them go ahead and make more mistakes, bear witness to their intolerance and display the aggressive styles of their henchmen, let them insult Taj Mahal and condemn Muslim rulers, let them humiliate dalits and tribals and show their disdain for Christian leaders, let them propagate puranic science and suppress independent thinking...in a few months’ time they will stand on judgement before the electorate. But no, they have grown cautious as the judgement day is approaching. There is less of ‘masala’ in the press after Modi’s warning against it. But, be sure, their undeclared objectives and hidden strategies remain.
To be fair to Deep Trivedi, we must admit that he meant well. He goes beyond the epics, refers to Buddha and Mahavira, speaks of Kabir, Vivekanand and Ambedkar. He is objective enough to allude to the British abolition of sati and slavery and to the tragedy of the Babri Majid. Even with regard to Ram, he frankly admits that there was a “war of epic proportions” (pg 4) which he waged. Trivedi is sincere enough to refer to the Mahabharata war too, due to “growing arrogance and intolerance” in the land (pg 34). All we say is that it is not easy to argue for the tolerance of ancient Indians while singing of the great battles that wiped out entire races, mostly of indigenous people.
The author could have developed a more convincing argument based on Buddhist and Jain philosophies or Asoka’s edicts, to which he makes only casual allusions. All our Brahminic records and legends concentrate on the ‘great deeds’ of the Aryans and their expansion to create a wider Aryavarta, using violence at every stage. Buddhism was an intellectual resistance proposed by the Mongoloid races of Eastern India to this carnage. They had a well-established tradition of equality and gave no importance dogmatisms and hierarchies. But since it posed a threat to the Brahminic superior role, it was effectively pushed out of India.
As he moves towards the end of this book, Trivedi calls for a sincere struggle against corruption, for the promotion of tolerance, and the cultivation of a sense of duty. Let us agree with Trivedi that Indian society is tolerant, but let us not be blind to the forces that are at work to make sure that it is not.(Published on 25th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 26)