Equality or Justice?

Would you choose justice or equality? Let’s see this through. Equality. Whenever this word comes up, I am immediately taken back to ‘Animal farm’ by George Orwell, one of my favourites. He so wonderfully stated that some animals are more equal than others. Equality as an idea is quite far fetched for a country like India that is laden with casteism, hierarchies and undertones in everyday life that don’t make equality a distant future, it sure hurts me to say that. Here, in this majestic country which we belong to, ‘we’ believe that the privileges that we enjoy as individuals because we were born in a particular section is our birth right, that these are quite inalienable much like our fundamental rights. Quite in contrast, we spot a lovely dichotomy. We fail to acknowledge the beauty of chance. How could it be our birth right when it was solely because you were lucky enough to be born in the family that you were, it entitles you to their property and share and all those materialistic things that one craves for. It doesn’t entitle you to superimpose your standing in the society.

A by-product of equality is reservation in India as of now. Now hundreds of people like me, who aren’t looking for a vote bank, would say that this concept ruins that of equality. Keeping in mind that yes, upliftment of the downtrodden is of utmost importance. Without it, we wouldn’t reach anywhere. But my proposition would be to enrich people and provide them with sincere educational facilities during primary and secondary stages. By reserving seats per se, we tend to send out the message that one is weak, that one needs such supplements to stand somewhere in the society, leave a mark on society, to achieve whatever one might want to. If the base level is clear then one would fight on the basis of merit, fight and prove that reservation doesn’t have to be. Reserving seats, moreover, serves as a discouraging factor for all the others who, after having met with reservation, now start to believe that hard-work doesn’t necessarily mean success. That ‘some are more equal than others’, that the way is paved up for a few. Feelings of inequality stem up in the society and somewhere justice lacks. Here’s when justice comes to play. Where ever there is inequality, injustice would be a given.

The human mind that is always in a state of chaos crops up to be in two frames of mind. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t break in too. Hence, the contradictory statements follow. This would also be the leftist in me that pours. If equality in a society means having a classless society where socialism prevails, everyone gets their fair share and none go home disappointed or deprived or discriminated, it would be the most ideal form of society. Then you have justice as well as equality sitting on a bench, hand in hand, being the best of friends. The rich would understandably have issues, their argument being that it is their hard earned money, totally valid. But what about the greater good? What about getting rid of the evil of inequality that is so deeply rooted and so prevalent? What then would you do? Would you rather have 10,000 men equivalent to one, or would you have everyone at par? My answer is pretty clear in which I see justice and equality, both.

I’m sorry to have asked such a trick question, the ‘e’ with which justice ends is the same ‘e’ with which equality begins, there is no separating both.

The author, Ahana Singh Rathore, is pursuing BA at Sophia College, Mumbai.

Hindutva: A Ghost Story

 

It’s easier battling the living. You can be sure where your weapon falls. The cut it makes. The blood that spills.

But, fighting a ghost is another thing.1 You can’t just begin right away. In order for the fight to be possible, you got to create the ghost. You got to work really hard.

Because, creating a ghost, is a huge issue. After you’ve done your bit, jotted the details, joined the dots, and can almost see the shape emerging before you, there are high chances of your discovering just another dot you’d completely overlooked, a little detail you’d previously missed.

And dots are generally too many. And they are all over the place. And the crazy thing about them is that you can join them to make whatever you wish. The ghost of a pumpkin. The ghost of a cactus. Anything.

And when that ghost is the ghost of Hindutva, things (usually) take a wrong turn. The cactus becomes the pumpkin. The pumpkin then becomes the pie. So, what was in the beginning a thorny plant, is gradually made to appear as a sweet-dish.

In this essay, I would like to un-do the picture a little. Un-join the dots. And then join them once again. To present the cactus as the cactus. The pumpkin as the pumpkin. And the sweet pie as a lie.

Here follows a set of three myths, which combine to create the pumpkin pie, the ghost, the giant myth of Hindutva.  The worshippers of the ghost—they who fly by night, they who chant its name, they who offer up flesh and blood to slake its monstrous thirst—they want us to believe in these myths. I argue against ‘them’. I argue against ‘their’ politics. I go like this—

            Myth Number One: ‘Hindu’ just means ‘Indian’, so chill !

This is kind of cute. Like Juliet calling the rose in ‘any other name.’

Well, to establish that ‘Hindu’ is not just ‘Indian’, but also the chauvinist, patriarchal, masculine Hindu, one must begin etymologically. Arguably, the earliest traceable use of the word ‘Hindu’ appears in Zend Avesta—

The first chapter of the Avestan Vendidad contains an allusion to a portion of Northern India in a list which it gives of sixteen lands or regions…The fifteenth of these domains, was Hapta Hindu, ‘Seven Rivers’, a region of ‘abnormal heat’, probably identical with the territory of Sapta Sindhavas, ‘Seven Rivers’, in the Veda.2

It is interesting that even in this very first instance (possibly) of the use of the word, the religious is not separate from the territorial. It is probably anticipatory of how the word eventually came to bear connotations both regional and communal.

The semantic bifurcation of the word established itself clearly for the first time, as the word travelled to the west and the east.3 In its Persian and Greek acceptation, the word became a signifier of region—‘the-whole-landmass-stretching-between-the-Hindukush-and-the-Hindu Sagar’ (yes, you’re right)—and, in its Chinese acceptation, it possessed a religious dimension—the followers of a religion, Hinduism.

For a considerable time in history, true, that ‘Hindu’ meant Indian. Yet, gradually by and by, the word came to be used (prominently, at least since the sixteenth century) in its religious sense. Ekanath (1548-1600) writes: ‘If I call myself a Hindu I will be beaten up, and Muslim I am not’ (Hindu kahan ta mariya, muslaman bhee nahe).

However, despite its lack of clarity (or because of it) the word Hindu, after a brief period of flirtation with other words, was ‘adopted by the British to characterise all things in India (specially elements and features found in the cultures and religions of India) which were not Muslim, not Christian, not Jewish, or, hence, not Western’, as affirmed by Frykenberg.4 Thus, came about the idea of pan-Indian Hinduism.

Now, the rise of this idea of pan-Indian Hinduism, coincided with the emergence of Indian nationalism. Hence, inevitable questions began to be raised about the relationship between the two: will Indian nationalism (or nationalisms) be territorial or religious in nature?  This issue, which remains unresolved to this day, went back to the ambiguity inherent in the word ‘Hindu’—does it stand for a country or a religion? The fact that both the words: India as well as Hindu, etymologically go back to the same word (Sindhu) dramatised this issue of ambiguity.

One can thus visualise two channels along which the energies released by the emerging nationalist forces in India could play themselves out. One channel was that of territorial nationalism—an aspiration represented by the Indian National Congress. Another was represented by the All-India Muslim League, formed in 1906, more in line with the optional channel of religious nationalism. Although there was an initial Hindu reaction also to move in that direction, it was basically checked by the rise of Gandhian influence in Indian politics from 1920 onwards and the primacy which the Indian National Congress began to enjoy thereafter. However, Indian and Hindu nationalisms did finally begin to diverge. This happened after the collapse of the Khilafat movement of 1919, which ended in a series of communal riots by mid-1920s. The founding of the RSS in 1925 clearly symbolised this vicious breach.5

It was during these times that neo-Hinduism began to emerge, as distinct from the other reformist Hindu movements as the Arya Samaj,6 Brahmo Samaj, and the Ramakrishna Mission. Neo-Hinduism began to display a distinctly ethnic streak and evolved a word to go with it—Hindutva.

The word was first popularised as the title of a book by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? The book is the real charter of the neo-Hindu ethic, and was written in prison, after he had come in contact with Khilafatists whose attitude apparently convinced him—a revolutionary till then—that Muslims were the real enemies, not the British.7

Savarkar’s stand is very close to the British stance of pan-Indian Hinduism. If you read carefully between the lines of Savarkar’s text, he is talking about an ethnic standardisation. National identity rests for him on three pillars: geographical unity, racial uniformity, and a common culture. Commonness, standardisation and adjustment are the watchwords. There is no place for diversity, difference or multifariousness.

Though in his text he affirms again and again, that ‘we have all along referred to the progress of the Hindu movement as a whole and not to any particular creed or religious section thereof’—never does he show whole-hearted acceptance of Islam or Christianity as valid ways of living. Rather, they are ‘others’ who must be ‘brought in’ and standardised, that is made to shed all differences of culture or community.

He asks, ‘But can we, who here are concerned with investigating into facts as they are and not as they should be, recognize these Mohammedans as Hindus?’ His reply is, ‘they cannot be called Hindus in the sense in which that term is actually understood, because, we Hindus are bound together not only by the tie of the love we bear to a common fatherland…, but also by the tie of the common homage we pay to our great civilization—our Hindu culture…our Mohammedan or Christian countrymen…cannot be recognized as Hindus. For though Hindusthan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu yet it is not to them a Holyland too. Their Holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and Godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin. Their love is divided. Nay, if some of them be really believing what they profess to do, then there can be no choice—they must, to a man, set their Holyland above their Fatherland…’8

Thus, even for Savarkar, the subtlest and the most muted of the Hindutvavadis, ‘Hindu’ and ‘Indian’ are not equal. The Hindu is whose ‘Holyland’ (whatever he meant by that) and ‘Fatherland’ (what would Freud have said about his choice of word?) are the same—India. He is the true Indian. But, oh for the ones less fortunate! They are half-Indians, however much they belong to the land, just because they are a follower of a different religion, and because their ‘holyland’ is not in India. He suggests that their only means of integration into this (now) secular democracy is to give up their religious identity. This includes, among other things, an acceptance of Hindu customs, the Hindu system of Caste, and the acceptance of Sanskrit as the one language of the nation.

Please note that this is not a call for secularism. This is not an appeal to citizens to see themselves as Indians first, and then as members of their religion. Because, simply, Savarkar’s advice is not for Hindus. He is not advising Hindus to forget that they are Hindus to qualify as Indians. This is something that the ‘other’ religions must do.

Cute. Isn’t it?

——-

Myth Number Two: Don’t worry, Hindutva is not Saffron Radicalism…

            Rubbish.

Hindutva is Saffron Radicalism. An emotion of a particularly bad sort.

Look up some excerpts from Savarkar’s book, Bhartiya Itihasatil Saha Soneri Paane (‘Six Golden Epochs in Indian History’).9 On pages 390-391 of the above-mentioned book, Savarkar takes to task the Marathas for not taking revenge on Muslims in response to the atrocities committed around the year 1757 by Abdalli. Savarkar would have liked the Marathas to not just take revenge, but to annihilate Muslim religion (Mussalmani Dharma), exterminate the Muslim people, and make India “Muslim-free”. He reports with great approval how Spain, Portugal, Greece and Bulgaria had done a similar thing in the past and ensured the safety of Christianity.

Further (page 392), Savarkar is unrelenting in his criticism of the Marathas for failing to exact revenge, not only on Abdalli and his forces for their atrocities on Hindus, but on those ordinary Muslims who continued to live in Mathura, Gokul, etc. According to Savarkar, the Maratha army should have killed ordinary Muslims (that is, not soldiers only), destroyed their mosques and raped Muslim women. The revenge was to be taken, not on the perpetrators of the earlier atrocities, but on those who had nothing to do with the earlier episodes, on those who were ordinary residents of these places and whose only crime was that they shared their religion with the perpetrators of the earlier atrocities. The above reference from Savarkar’s book indicates that he believed in the collective guilt of Muslims: they were to be punished not for what they had done, but for what their co-religionists had done.

What would you call this? Hindutva? Saffron Radicalism? Or both?

Or, would you finally say that they are the one and the same thing?

Here’s an excerpt of an interview, published on March 3, 2003, of the famous historian Bipan Chandra—

What exactly does Hindutva mean?

Hindutva is nothing but Hindu communalism. But the word ‘communalism’ is so dirty in our country that even communalists don’t call themselves communalists. The votaries of Hindutva have shifted from their initial stance on Hindu rashtra.10

Yet, the Supreme Court of India, in its Supreme Knowledge and Authority, has sought to define ‘Hindutva’: in its historic 1995 judgement, it conferred upon ‘Hindutva’ the status of a ‘way of life’. Hindutva apologists have, for long, clutched on to this piece of judicial ruling as conclusive philosophy. I will let it go by saying that whichever Hindutva the judgement talks about, it is not Savarkar’s Hindutva. In fact, the judgement doesn’t even mention Savarkar.

It is like delineating Marxism without talking about Marx, or the Gujarat of 2002 without Narendra Modi.11

———-

Myth Number Three: Join your Hands, and Close your Eyes, for Hindutva Rejuvenates Bharatiya Culture.

            Please. The only thing that Hindutva does to ‘Bharatiya’ culture is that it destroys it.

The other day, I read a sketchy post by a wannabe Hindutvavadi. In the twisted, little write-up he desperately sought to get one fact straight: Indian culture is under threat, and Hindutva is the answer.

Yes. Our culture is under threat. But Hindutva isn’t the answer. It is the threat.

Let’s get back to etymology for a while: have you noticed the tendency among Hindutvavadis and Hindutva-sympathisers to call India by the name ‘Aryavarta’? ‘Aryadesa’? ‘Aryabhoomi’?

If Lacan is right, and the unconscious is indeed structured as language, the preference for this particular term has an explanation. The Hindutvavadis often preach that this our Aryavarta has been subjected to invasions by foreign races, and their cultures have engulfed and replaced ours. Our only means of rejuvenating our great Aryavarta is through Hindutva.

This amounts to assuming that ‘Aryavarta’ is India Unadulterated. Its culture is India’s Original Culture.

Let’s begin by saying that when India was Aryavarta, there was no cricket, no chai (let alone chaiwallah), no Doordarshan (‘India ka Apna Channel’), no Tata Salt (‘Desh ka Namak’), no democracy. In other words, there was no India. It was another civilisation. It wasn’t us. Besides, if you think of it, anyway the original inhabitants of this land were not Aryas, not Hindus. Believe it or not, there was life before Hinduism. Perhaps, India’s Adivasi people have a greater claim to being indigenous to this land than anybody else.

On a graver note, this hankering after Authentic Indian Culture has tremendous connotations. Note, that this is racism at its highest worst. Note, that this authenticity was what drove Hitler to the murder of a generation of Jews. No wonder, Gowalkar, the respected RSS ideologue, its second chief after Hedgewar, and a great fan of Hitler, wrote—

In Hindustan, land of the Hindus, lives [sic.] and should live the Hindu Nation…All others are traitors and enemies to the National Cause…The foreign races in Hindustan…may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights…To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here…a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.12

To those who say, we need Hindutva to counter cultural invasion, I have just a few questions. Are nuclear bombs Hindu (Indian)? Is corporate-globalisation particularly protective towards what you call Indian Culture? …Yet, these are measures, either taken, or supported by the BJP, a political party that has (at least, had) ‘Hindutva’ as one of its official policies, both written in its manifesto, and publicised by its cadres.13

It’s interesting that just when Manmohan Singh, then the finance minister, was preparing Indian markets for neo-liberalism, Advani went on his first Rath-Yatra.  In December 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished. In 1993, the Congress government of Maharashtra signed a power purchase agreement with Enron—a contract, disastrous as it turned out, that kick-started the era of privatisation in India. Then, as the Congress whined from the sidelines, the BJP wrested the baton from its hands. The first act of the BJP in office was to conduct a series of nuclear tests. Across the country, sadhus and corporates alike, celebrated the Bomb. The VHP wanted to distribute radioactive sands from the Pokhran deserts as prasad to people all across India.

The BJP government conducted an extraordinary dual-orchestra. While one arm kept busy, selling off the nation’s assets in chunks, the other, to divert attention, arranged a baying, howling, deranged chorus of Hindutva. The inexorable ruthlessness of one process fed directly into the insanity of the other. Parts of the enormous profits generated by the process of indiscriminate privatisation went into financing Hindutva’s vast army—the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and the myriad other charities and trusts that run schools, hospitals and social services. Between them they created tens of thousands of shakhas across the country. The harted they preach, combined with the unmanageable frustration generated by the relentless impoverishment and dispossession of the corporate globalisation project, still fuels the violence of poor on poor—the perfect smoke screen to keep the structures of power intact and unchallenged.

Now talk about culture-invasion.

———-

Even as I write this, notifications pop up on my laptop screen, showing the rotund face of Uma Bharti. ‘Kuchh saazish nahi, sab khullam khulla hai, Ram Mandir banke rahega. Koi maai ka laal nahi rok sakta…14

Oh, the ghost of Hindutva!

Oh, the worshippers of that ghost!

Tell us something:

Have you heard Ghalib? Have you read the Book of Revelation? Do you know what nehari tastes like? Have you been to Kashmir?

Of course you haven’t.

Stay in your grave. RIP.

Notes—

  1. Jacques Derrida’s invocation of the spectral in Specters of Marx provides the basis for my metaphor of the ghost. In his text, Derrida introduces the figure of the spectre/ghost for its potential for deconstruction. The figure of the ghost suits Derrida’s deconstructive purpose, as well as my own essay, because, it ‘is neither substance, nor essence, nor existence, is never present as such.’
  2. See Jackson, A.V. Williams, ‘The Persian Dominions in Northern India Down to the Time of Alexander’s Invasion.’ In Ancient India, ed. E.J. Rapson. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, pp. 319-344.
  3. The findings about the etymology of the word ‘Hindu’ draw on Arvind Sharma, ‘On Hindu, Hindustan, Hinduism and Hindutva.’

The author, Suchismito Khatua, is a student of English at St. Xavier’s College, kolkata.

THE DEMAND FOR “COMMON” CIVIL CODE

“The Uniform Civil Code maybe described as controversy’s favorite child.”

Article 44 of Directive Principles of State Policy says “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India.” But it is a matter of regret that article 44 of the Constitution has remained a dead letter for the Indian judicial system. Article 44 is based on the notion that there is no viable relationship between religion and personal laws in a civilized society. In one hand, Article 25 of the Indian Constitution allows everyone the right to follow, profess and propagate his or her religion with utmost dignity, whereas Article 44 seeks to divest religion from social relations and personal law.

The discussion for having a proper Civil Code for all did take place during Constituent Assembly proceedings, where the then Law Minister of India, Mr. B.R. Ambedkar stood in favour of reforms in the society by having a proper Civil Code. But due to stiff resistance, this proposal was not allowed to be passed in the Assembly and hence was pushed to the category of “non actions” called the Directive principles of State policy. Therefore the meaning of Uniform Civil Code was articulated as a proposal to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major community in India with its own sets of laws governing every citizen.

When we talk about equality before the law to all in society, we cite the criminal laws of the country. But in civil matters such as marriage, adoption, succession, divorce and inheritance, the allowance of patriarchy is on a high. The dilution of gender justice done through ages has not awakened the minds of a common Indian. Therefore the idea of a “Common Civil Code” needs to be well conceptualized so that it can be understood by all. Religion cannot be used as a tool to justify acts of public immorality, public disorder or discrimination. The rightful interpretation of religious texts is essential to counter these draconian laws to the extent possible.

By setting aside the discriminatory aspects of existing personal laws and incorporating modern and progressive aspects, we can move towards a common civil code. The applicability of so many personal laws for different communities has created a deep-seated problem in the Indian judicial system. This fact has been acknowledged by the Honorable Supreme Court of India which has time and again stated that there is a “Total Confusion” when it comes to personal laws governing religious practices.

The Supreme Court of India has been very active on the issue of same Civil Code for all. It has given landmark judgments to support the cause of non biased civil laws in India whether it is in the famous cases of:

  • Shah Bano (1985), which talks about maintenance of Muslim women after divorce.
  • Sarla Mudgal vs. Union of India and Others (1995), which raised three pertinent questions for Courts; first, whether a Hindu husband married under Hindu law by embracing Islam, can solemnize a second marriage? Second, whether such a marriage, without having the first marriage dissolved, would be a valid marriage for the first wife who continues to be a Hindu? And last, whether the apostate husband would be guilty of the offence under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code?
  • Daniel Latifi vs. Union of India (2001), where the court stated that reasonable and fair provisions include provision for the future of the divorced wife with no confinement along the divorce period as stated in Muslim personal laws. This remains the final case law in this regard.
  • Shamim Ara vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (2002) ruling which supported the claim that arbitrary ‘triple talaq’ is invalid. 

These decisions support the view of Shri K. Kannan, a former judge of the Court of Punjab and Harayana that by borrowing from laws of various communities and making judicial pronouncements that assure gender equality, the nation can move towards a uniform set of civil laws in due course.

Assessing the present scenario, the government has asked the Law Commission of India headed by retired justice Balbir Singh Chauhan to formulate a report on the formulation of Common Civil Code. The Law Commission chief has said that people must be educated on this issue. People should know and understand this Civil law reforms from a humanitarian viewpoint to guarantee the equal rights of citizens, rather than from a non-moderate religious attitude. 

Till the time this matter is seen from a religious perspective, from a perspective of curtailing minority rights, then this issue will face the same resistance as other major reforms in India.

This is high time for introspection among citizens of India on whether they would like to continue to enforce principles of the 18th century that destroy the 21st century of India. Rigidity is inheritably imbibed in many of the personal laws of India. It is a fact that there remains greater rigidity in the personal laws of some communities whereas,in others, serious reforms have been introduced, that have contributed to the progress of those communities. But there is lack of comprehensive reforms even in those outdated laws.

Viewing this demand from a macro level perspective, the implementation of this matter will give a global outlook to India in terms of equal gender rights, equal minority rights and of course equal human rights. Moreover, it should not be seen as a concept presented by the Western World. Rather, it is the periphery adopted by the leftist governments in the east, where state and religion are seen differently and where state is above the question of religion.

There is hope that a call for a Common Civil Code will purge the nation of inequality by removing the evils of polygamy, child marriage, and arbitrary divorce, rigid grounds for a divorce, unjustified property rights and disparity in adoption laws. It is significant to note that the personal laws of the Hindus, such as those relating to marriage, succession and other issues, have all a sacramental origin in the same manner as in case of Muslims or Christians. The Hindus, along with Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains have forsaken the sentiments in the cause of national unity and integration; some other communities haven’t; although the constitution enjoins the establishment of a “Common Civil Code” for the whole of India.

Thus in order to generate wide consensus, any discussion on the issue of Uniform Civil Code in India must be cognizant of the undue stress given on the word “Uniform”. Uniformity in civil laws is often linked with majoritarianism  causing sections of society to resist this revolutionary reform. The very concept of complete uniformity in society is a farce and it is therefore essential that the codification of civil laws should encompass every person under its purview. It has rightly been observed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court that

“Justice to all is a far more satisfactory way of dispensing justice than justice from case to case.”

The author, Aditya Poddar, is a student of Commerce at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.