June12 , 2024

Hindutva in the Present-day Context


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Written by Vinay Sahasrabuddhe   

To discuss ‘Hindutva in the present-day context’ is both, simple and difficult at the same time. Simple because ample has already been and is still being said about Hindutva by its adversaries as also its advocates. Difficult because it is hard to sift the ocean of literature about Hindutva and interpret it in the present-day context.


Hindutva in the Present-day Context


To discuss ‘Hindutva in the present-day context’ is both, simple and difficult at the same time. Simple because ample has already been and is still being said about Hindutva by its adversaries as also its advocates. Difficult because it is hard to sift the ocean of literature about Hindutva and interpret it in the present-day context.


What adds to the intricacies of the task is the confusion surrounding the concept of Hindutva – thanks mainly to the intellectual liberty, almost bordering on irresponsibility, enjoyed by both: adversaries and advocates alike. Too much political colouration of Hindutva and absolute apathy on the part of the academia and intelligentsia to understand its core message has made the task easier for its adversaries to paint it as a weird, unsustainable ideology.


No wonder that almost two decades after the Ayodhya Movement, Hindutva hardly figures in whatever serious intellectual discourse that is witnessed in India. On the one hand, adversaries of Hindutva indulge only in using it as an old stick to beat its advocates, while the latter do precious little to present it in the modern context and in the idiom, which the intelligentsia world over understands.


In the post-independence history of India, the nineties have their own importance. Early nineties saw the political consolidation of the forces behind the Hindutva movement only to be taken to its logical end in late nineties, manifested in the emergence of BJP-led governments in New Delhi. It was in this decade that Hindutva became a prominent, almost central theme of intellectual discourse in our country. Those who owed allegiance to Hindutva as a political ideology became a force to reckon with. Gradually, it became impossible to just ignore what was happening in the Hindutva camp. So much so that several political analysts of international standing attained fame for their very honest effort to understand what was happening in India. Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul believed that the movement was inevitable.


Ayodhya Movement


The Ram-Janmabhoomi movement was the perfect symbol of Cultural Nationalism and it communicated the message of Hindu Unity so very effectively that hundreds of Leftist scholars were at pains to explain as to how Hindus had come together through a movement, which was described by them as ‘Brahmnical’. While sound logical arguments in favor of Ram-Janmabhoomi made it acceptable in the educated urbanites and thinking circles, what was more important was the emotionality of the issue, which proved to be a unifier par excellence.


It was an issue, so very deeply rooted in our shared ethos that it became hard for even the staunchest secularists to gloss over it. At least for a certain period of time, Ram- Janmabhoomi made the Hindus forget their caste identities and in a way forced them to think of their larger cultural identity – the Hindu identity. A number of secularist journalists who witnessed the events in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 had to publicly accept the fact that the sea of humanity that they witnessed had only one inseparable identity and that was the Hindu identity. Regardless of the questions of legitimacy of the events on that fateful day, the one certainty was that in the entire length and breadth of our nation the entire Hindu society experienced an intense feeling of unity and solidarity, – so very unheard of about the Hindus earlier.


This emotional unity, howsoever short-lived it might have remained; was the greatest contribution of the Ram-Janmabhoomi movement. True, that Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other organizations had undertaken several programmes aimed at consolidation of all those who are essentially Hindus right after the Meenakshipuram conversions, still; the success of the Ram-Janmabhoomi movement was simply unparalleled.


This single event had given rise to the expectations that now, with solid popular support, Hindutva ideologues would strive to make inroads into the intellectual and academic arenas. Expectations soared further after the installation of BJP or BJP-led governments, both in some states and also at the centre. It was thought that the ideology that has proved to be instrumental in seeing BJP at the helm of affairs would also be duly recognized in the academia and the thinking circles. But, unfortunately, it just did not.


Notwithstanding the propaganda of the Left leaning academics about the so-called Saffronisation of education, Hindutva as an ideology, continues to be untouchable in the corridors of academics. This untouchability emanates from various factors. Granted that largely this ‘untouchability’ is thanks to the lure of political correctness, it is also true that there are sections in the opinion-making classes who have genuine misunderstandings and at times even serious complaints about this ideology. Not every objection deserves to be ignored, much less to be rubbished.


Demystifying Hindutva


While analyzing the challenge of demystifying Hindutva, it must be noted that the outer world has always been seeing Hindutva movement through a particular prism only. Three dimensions of this prism consist of three important events in post-independence history of India. These events include the most unfortunate murder of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, the destruction of the disputed structure at Ayodhya in 1992 and the post-Godhra violence against the Muslim community in Gujarat in 2002. Majority of the opinion-makers consider these three events as stereotypes and base their understanding of the Hindutva movement on them…


While it is true that there could be different angles of looking at these three events, it is also true that regardless of whatever angle one desires to take; what is required is to understand the backdrop on which these three independent events happened. All these three events could be described as expression of anger or pent-up emotions and hence the state of collective minds responsible for these events needs to be dispassionately analysed and a sound understanding developed before one chooses to either defend them or denounce out rightly.


Noted journalist Francois Gautier has brilliantly commented on this phenomenon of collective expression of anger. He says, “However reprehensible these acts of mass vengeance were, they have shown that Hindus keep quiet for a long time: they get riled at, they are made fun of, they are despised, their women raped, men killed, children burnt in trains and one day they blow up – and blow up badly. Riots don’t erupt in a few days: they are the fruit of decades, of generations even, of suppressed anger, of frustration, of a silent majority which sees itself more and more marginalized and taken for granted.”


Due to this widespread belief based on impressions; that persons responsible for these three events were all avowed supporters of Hindutva, the entire movement received a bad name and a negative image, extremely hard to erase. People are aware that thousands of service projects undertaken for the underprivileged sections by hundreds of dedicated life workers believing in Hindutva are functioning consistently for several decades. Yet, such commendable work has not helped this movement earn acceptance because the so-called progressive and secular forces have consistently and obdurately turned a Nelson eye towards the benign influence of Hindutva organizations and chosen to portray only the momentary aberration committed by a section of erring Hindus.


Destruction of Image


Behind this double whammy against Hindutva is the unwillingness of Hindutva’s adversaries to really understand the strong sense of denial of the Hindu aspirations, the feeling that historical wrongs against the Hindus were not addressed by the governments of the day despite, serious efforts of the Hindu community to focus attention on them and negotiate a solution. The result has been that the adversaries of Hindutva relish painting the entire movement black!


Their series of allegations against Hindutva consists of following five points: –

·        Hindutva is sectarian and hence anti-Muslims and anti-Christians.

·        Hindutva is communal, pro-upper caste, pro-Manu, and hence against the backward and weaker sections of the society.

·        Hindutva is anti-women, obscurantist and against gender justice.

·        Hindutva is against freedom of expression.

·        Hindutva is anti-modernity.


Most of the above allegations have been repeated umpteen number of times creating thick clouds of misunderstanding around the entire Hindu movement. No ideological movement in the world may have ever faced such a grave image crisis. Considering the extremely wide gap between the reality about the movement and its largely established image, Herculean efforts from the defenders of Hindutva are a must.


Spiritual Democracy


Before we examine the basis of these allegations, it is necessary to enquire as to what exactly do we mean by Hindutva. Hindutva consists of the term Hindu that is largely understood as a way of worship, a religion or a belief system. However, the term Hindutva per se does not refer to Hindu religion. Literally speaking, Hindutva means Hindu ness. Just as the Sanskrit term Manushyatva means being a human, Hindutva can be explained as being a Hindu.


Due to a huge multiplicity of worshipped deities and a vast diversity of the ways to worship them, no straightjacketing is possible in Hindu religion; and, as a consequence, in Hindu worldview. It is in this complete denial of straightjacketing that lay the roots of spiritual democracy, which is the most distinguishing facet of Hindu religion. Unlike Christianity and Islam, Hinduism never presents itself as the only way to seek salvation. On the contrary, Hinduism considers that every path leads an individual to the same truth and to the same almighty, which wise / knowledgeable persons refer to in different ways.


A firm belief in this concept, as communicated in “Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahudavadanti” (Truth is one, sages describe it differently) is the corner stone of Hindu religious thought. This notion has in effect, made all religions valid and reverential for all. It is due to this fundamental faith in the existence of multiple ways of seeking salvation that the concept of proselytisation and the resultant competition for converting people finds no place in Hindu religion. This is also true in other indigenous belief systems, be it Jainism or Buddhism. Let us not forget that this spiritual democracy, this fundamental spirit of accommodation alone could make India a shining example of centuries of peaceful co-existence of different religions and belief systems.


In other words, thanks to Hinduism, India could evolve a replicable model of sustainable pluralism. Acceptance of the fundamental equality of, and hence equal respect for all religions and all the ways of worship is the basis of such sustained pluralism. It must be remembered that if one commits him / herself to the cardinal principles of sustainable pluralism, one cannot talk of superiority of a way of worship and hence of the need to convert adherents of other faiths. Besides, once one decides to indulge in the concepts of superiority of a religion, no meaningful dialogue between faiths can happen.


Today, when the entire world is facing a sever threat of terrorist tendencies and the root cause of terrorism happens to be a particular religious belief system, can humanity survive without accepting spiritual democracy? The essence of the concept of spiritual democracy, I believe, has helped Hinduism survive. To put it simply, Hindu ness does not lie in a set of rituals, systems of worship or belief in any scriptures. It does not believe that there is only one path to attain salvation and openly concedes that belief, without any reservation. It is in this essential acceptance of, nay; welcome to other faiths and other gods that remains the crux of your Hindu ness, i.e. Hindutva. It is this very unique and supremely liberal characteristic of the Hinduism that makes one a Hindu. It is on this background that one has to look at the proposition that to be an adherent of Hindutva, one need not be a Hindu. It is in the light of this core concept of Hindutva that one has to examine issues such as social justice and gender equality.


No place for discrimination


Once one accepts that every path ultimately leads to the one and the same ultimate truth, the questions of caste and creed need to be settled once and for all. Hindutva has absolutely no place for discrimination on the basis of caste. Equality of human beings is the cardinal principle. In Hindutva scheme of things, superiority or inferiority of an individual just cannot depend upon in which family one has taken birth. When Hindutva aspires to put an end to such discriminations lock, stock and barrel, where comes the question of defending Chaturvarnya, untouchability or caste conflict?


The essential unity and equality of the mankind perceived by Hindutva just cannot accept any artificial divides promoted by politicians in the garb of academicians. Theories like Aryan invasion, conflict between indigenous people and non-indigenous people, differences between aboriginals or Adivasis and others, branding of certain social groups or communities as criminals by birth, or a conflict between the victor and the vanquished etc. cannot find any place at all in the concept of Hindutva.


It may be pointed out here that the adversaries of Hindutva always propagate that Hindutva is the other name of Brahmanatva. There cannot be any other statement than this that is farthest from the facts. Several references in what is known as Dalit literature are a testimony of the fact that the upbringing of Dalit children happens in the same religious-cultural ethos just like that of the so-called upper caste children. The way Brahmans celebrate Diwali is in no way different from the way Mangs or Matangs and other scheduled caste groups celebrate. Same is the case with Adivasis.


Several sociologists have established that Adivasis in India are not like aboriginals in Australia. There are several erstwhile nomads or even martial communities who took shelter in the thick forests during the times of turbulence, several centuries before. Today, they are identified as Adivasis, the original inhabitants, as if all others are either aggressors or outsiders. It is in this context that one has to have a re-look at the terms in which we refer to our own brethren.


Again, to say that simply because some of the Adivasis eat beef or worship nature and no idols, they go beyond the purview of Hindutva is a misnomer. When Hindutva can accept even Lord Christ or Prophet Mohammad, where comes the question of not accepting nature-worship? And above all, how can non-Hindus like church groups in India’s North-East sit in the judgment and decide as to who are Hindus and who are not?


Social equality


On this background, it is necessary to discuss the question of social equality in general and caste based reservations in particular. It must be noted that the universally accepted and widely acclaimed concepts of affirmative action and positive discrimination for social justice are at the root of caste based reservations. Supporters of Hindutva have realised long ago that larger and lasting Hindu unity will not be possible without the so-called upper castes cultivating a mindset for creating a space, at the cost of their own opportunity; for the underprivileged classes.


It would not be wrong to suggest that the privileged and comparatively less unfortunate sections of the society also have to ensure that the weaker sections not only get reservations but also are also duly empowered to take advantage of them. Those who are committed to the cause of Hindu unity just cannot afford to be unmindful of the fact that if emotional integrity is not achieved, Hindu unity will remain a chimera. For emotional integrity to sustain one has to promote this spirit of mutual understanding, accommodation with a sense of fundamental social responsibility.


Hindus will have to remain fully aware about the designs of anti-Hindu-unity forces aimed at dividing this society and breaking the cultural-emotional bonds and inter-community harmony, whatsoever. Having said that, it must also be mentioned that the whole gamut of issues concerning reservations need a re-look. Thinking out of box with regards to the ways and means of making caste-based quota more effective and result oriented is the need of the hour. For this to happen, the issue of caste-based quota requires to be de-politicized. Our politicians will have to choose between securing vote banks and protecting national interest. After all, high decibels while clamoring for quota from the rooftop cannot be the only yardstick for being progressive.


Quotas cannot be de-linked from the wider issue of social and community identity. Narrow and communal identities need to be accommodated and amalgamated with the wider national and social identity. Ironical as it may seem, but this can happen only through respect and recognition for smaller identities. Lest one forgets, such identities can never be crushed. They can only be accommodated.


‘Recognize first and then try to remold’ could be the only effective way of dealing with these issues. Creating an atmosphere where every part feels that it can lead a meaningful life only while remaining inseparable from the whole is a severe challenge before the Hindutva movement. For this, disadvantaged sections of our society need to be assured of equal respect, equal opportunity and equal protection. Mahatma Gandhiji’s principles of Antyodaya (Placing the last man in the row, first when it comes to benefits of a welfare state) as the mainstay of our approach towards policies for social justice and social harmony alone can halt the process of social divide.


Sustainable pluralism


The vexed issue of conversions has a close connection with social justice and equality. Firstly, demands for quota also for the new converts from formerly scheduled castes and tribes have rendered the argument that conversions bring social equality and respect, completely hollow. But more importantly, when Hindutva itself means broad-mindedness, how can one accommodate an argument that a particular faith alone is valid or have a monopoly right to take one to salvation?


Granted that in a spiritual democracy, one is free to worship gods of his/her choice. However, this cannot be stretched too far to accommodate some kind of a “sole distributorship of salvation” claimed by certain belief systems. It must be remembered that any argument in favor of conversion construes an acceptance to the attempts of proclaiming other faiths inferior and invalid. While there is nothing wrong in conversion per say, proselytizing through fraudulent means like claiming a particular faith as the only path, is totally against the very grain of spiritual democracy. In any truly secular democratic polity, conversions should find no place at all.


At several occasions in the past, those who swear by secularism have developed cold feet. The 45th Amendment of 1978 introduced in the parliament in India introduced the definition of “secular” as “equal respect to all religions”. However, the Rajya Sabha, with a Congress majority rejected this definition, mainly because some fundamentalist elements in non-Hindu belief systems were opposed to the same.


Yet another case in point of stubborn opposition to this equality of faiths is the fact that in year 2000, when UN had organised a an International Conference of all Belief Systems to mark the beginning of a new millennium, Vatican had chosen to stay away saying that they can not sit with other faiths and declare acceptance to equality of religions. Artificial or contrived conversions are an affront on Human Rights and if fraudulent conversion is allowed unabatedly, in the long run, it will render a body blow to sustainable pluralism.


Gender justice


The foundation of the Hindu ideology lies in scriptures like “sarvepi sukhina snatu sarve santu niramayah” (Happiness and health should be reaching all). Naturally then, the idea of Hindu ness encompasses welfare of the entire Humankind. If this is the fact, how can Hindutva ever be discriminating on the basis of gender? Hindutva worldview in the context of the present days presupposes both men and women are equal and complementary to each other, at the same time. Excessive insistence on mere equality may not ensure the desired creative co-existence.


On the other hand, stressing complementary aspect alone may elude recognition and respect for the individuality of a woman. Element of justice has to be the basis of any ideological concept in this regard. As advocated by renowned scientist Dr.R.D.Mashelkar, evolving a family system where woman occupies centrality is the need of changing societies. Modern families where women get equal opportunities, equal respect and equal protection as well as facilities alone can survive. For this to happen, men need to change and become more family oriented. This mindset change can happen only through greater awareness amongst the male members of families about gender sensitization and gender equality.


In the context of women related issues, on the one hand women can no more be treated like a slave, and on the other hand portraying them as deities or goddesses is also unfair. What all women need is a humane treatment. Practices such as Sati or for that matter any other traditions connoting inequality of sexes are outdated and hence condemnable. Such obsolete and irrelevant practices have absolutely no place in Hindutva.




Unlike what is being portrayed, Hindutva forces have always stood for freedom of expression and for most of the times, disapproved any attempts to suppress creativity. Instances like the brouhaha over the infamous Danish cartoons or Da Vinci Code are so very rare in the context of Hinduism that many progressive artists take liberty to play with Hindu sensibilities. Hindutva movement will have to handle such issues with dexterity. The kind of maturity shown by Hindutva forces during the controversy over Dr. Ambedkar’s “Riddles in Ramayan”, in early eighties was illustrious since it ensured that the cause of larger Hindu unity is not harmed.


It has to be underscored that concepts of democracy and liberalism form the core of Hindutva. As desired by Sant Dnyaneshwar, “Jo je wanchhchil to te laho” meaning everybody should get whatever he or she aspires for is the bottom line of Hindutva. Hindutva believes in autonomy in all respect. From food habits to fashions and from family systems to festivities, everything that is not against human justice and human rights should be generally acceptable. Any kind of straightjacketing is an anathema to Hindutva.


Hindutva recognizes the importance of reforms, and also recognizes the fact that reforms cannot be transplanted from without. Only those who identify themselves with the traditions can effectively change them. For those who believe that practices like celebrating Valentine Day are Western and hence need to be abhorred, the best way could be to draw a longer line and popularize the indigenous version of this festival of love. Indulging in violence while decrying revelers just cannot be the answer.


About the observation that Hindutva represents anti-modern views, has no base at all. Obscurantist elements are in every society and even the way some of the Hindus preach and practice, they sound extremely fanatic. But since Hindu religion is not book based, really speaking there is no scope for any fundamentalism. “Nitya Nutan – Chira Puratan”

(Innovation and Modernity going hand in hand with Ancient and Historical.) is the mainstay of Hindu thinking. The kind of resilience that Hindus have shown while accepting whatever is modern is a testimony of their being receptive to whatever is modern and in tune with the times.


For Hindutva to be embraced by the entire Humanity as a way of life, Hindus should be exporting their own cultural traditions, symbols and even social institutions. One pre-condition of this is that Hindus first of all, should come out of self-denial while understanding themselves. To that end, it has to start with the long overdue re-stating of Hindutva. An absolute lack of clarity and sheer absence of articulation, coupled with incoherence, and inertia, has made Hindutva forces appear like a bankrupt millionaire.


Hindutva has become a favorite whipping boy of the so-called progressives. Many consider that without assailing Hindutva, one can never be considered legitimate in the worlds of academia, scholarship and to an extent; even media. Let it be remembered that thinking circles in India let alone recognizing, are not even tolerating Hindutva forces. None of the Hindutva leaders have ever defended practices as irrelevant and anti-Humanity as either untouchability or child marriages.


From Swami Vivvekananda to Balasaheb Deoras or L K Advani, those who have taken pride in their Hinduness (Hindutva) have, in no uncertain terms denounced all such practices describing them as perversions. But then, hardly ever efforts have been made to tell the world as to what are the ingredients of this new age or modern or say contemporary “Hindutva” and present it once again, in the form of a theory or a thought. It was on this background that the Left – leaning thinkers had a field day, successfully hitting Hindutva with the same old sticks, wantonly indulging in self-flagellation and in the process demoralizing the cadre. That this further helped them consolidate their position and continue with their “Thought Hegemony”. The most dreadful and anti-democratic consequence of this was the cult of ideological untouchability indulged in by several members of the intelligentsia. Clearing every kind of confusion about Hindutva in no uncertain terms, once and for all; is the only way. Let us walk this way together…

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
  About the author:

Mr. Vinay Prabhakar Sahasrabuddhe is the Director General of Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, India’s only training and research institute for voluntary social workers and elected representatives.

He comes from Khandesh or the north Maharashtra region. Born in a middle class family, Mr. Sahasrabuddhe has done his post graduation in English literature. Since his student days, he has been active in the social sector. During the infamous emergency of 1975, he participated in a Satyagraha and faced imprisonment for one and a half months. As a student activist, he was closely associated with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and also worked as a full timer of this organisation for over four years. Since 1987, he is with Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini.

From 1987 to 2004, he was a Member of Senate of the University of Mumbai. He was also elected as a member of the Management Council of the University where he worked for five years. For three years, he was on the Board of Governors of ‘Yashada’ , a government institute for the training of officials. Today, he is on the Governing Council of Ahmedabad-based Sardar Patel Institute of Public Administration. During 2001-2004 he was the Chairman of the Western Region Committee of the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology, (CAPART) , a Government of India agency.

Mr. Sahasrabuddhe is also a freelance journalist and has been contributing columns to various journals regularly. To his credit, he has four edited books and one book written by him. One of his books has bagged the Government of Maharashtra award.

Mr. Sahasrabuddhe was selected as an Ambassadorial Scholar by the Rotary International in 1998 and was working as a visiting researcher at the University of Illinois in USA, during 1998-99. For the purposes of research, paper presentations, training and seminars, he has visited US, UK, Germany, France, Austria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Israel and China.

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