By Ashok Chowgule on Aug 21, 2013
On behalf of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, we are very pleased to read your article ‘In search of the modern Hindu’, that appeared the day before our country’s Independence on August 14, 2013, and is sourced here.
The introduction to the article is: “Its time to liberate Hinduism from politics”, and we would like to welcome you to the stream of reformers of Hinduism. We trust you will live up to the tradition set by Adi Shankaracharya, and carried on so many great souls like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Vivekanand, etc. You are perfectly correct when you say: “After all, traditions are best kept alive if revitalised anew for newer generations.” It is the work of such reformers that has kept Hinduism alive and relevant to the times. And that is why we are the oldest surviving civilisation.
Let us understand that this has not happened by accident. Our ancestors (and we are including yours as well) fought hard to preserve this civilisation. They fought at the intellectual level where necessary, and at the physical level where appropriate. Today, we in the VHP say that it is an obligation of the Hindus all over the world not to let this sacrifice go in vain.
However, we cannot but recollect the serious attempt you made in trivalising Sri Sri Ravishankar (Guruji) in your programme ‘Face the Nation’ (as it was then called) which was aired on November 9, 2011. What exactly was objectionable has been best narrated quite well by Mihir Sharma in his article ‘Look-Live Lies’, in The Indian Express dated November 12, 2011. It is available here.
As part of your effort to make amends, you made a personal visit to Guruji at his ashram in Bengaluru. As is the inherent nature of Hindu reformers, he most graciously accepted your apology, believing it to be sincere and that you would make sufficient amends in the future. At the time, you also mentioned that Guruji requested you to do the course in Sudarshan Kriya. The fact that you have today decided to be a Hindu reformer makes us confident that you did follow this wonderful advice of Guruji.
Furthermore, meditation is an important step to calm one’s mind. We are mentioning this because we know that there are trolls out there in social media who have made comments against you which a less tranquil mind would find it difficult not to get angry about. We believe that Sudarshan Kriya would have made your mind serene enough to absorb the abuses.
With these general remarks, let us come to your article.
In your last paragraph, you have set yourself an important task. In your own words, it goes as follows: “It’s time to try and liberate Hinduism from politics, identity and perpetual protest, and delve instead into its plurality of doctrines, stories and dilemmas. There’s no reason why explorations in Hinduism should not be a serious input into modern debates on caste, environment, sexuality and gender rights. To give Hinduism new life, the modern Hindu should resist simply remaining a political Hindu.”
Earlier in the article you have said: “As a journalist in Delhi, I report daily on Hindu nationalists and Hindutva politicians.” So, in a way, you are really not going to do too much different from what you are doing presently. The only change you may have to do is to travel out of Delhi much more often than you do at the moment. With the advent of technology, it would still be quite easy to appear on air as frequently as you do presently, even when you are not in Delhi.
We are sure you realise that it is the tradition of a Hindu reformer to go out and meet the people to explain to them what they need to do. After all, one of the great reformers, Adi Shanakacharya from what is now Kerala, twice went on foot across the length and breadth of India, to convey to them his thoughts. He discussed and debated with some of the finest minds of the time to get them to work together to reform Hinduism. One such discussion was on the banks of Narmada river between him and Mandana Misra, who was an acknowledged scholar. At the time, Adi Shankaracharya was around 16 years old and Mandana Misra was around 45 years old. It is a Hindu tradition that neither where one is born, nor the age, determines who the participants in a debate should be. It is the knowledge that matters. At the end of the debate, Mandana Misra accepted the perspectives of Adi Shankaracharya and became the latter’s disciple. (You may be interested to know that the arbiter of the debate was Ubhaya Bharati, wife of Mandana Misra. It is also a Hindu tradition that an umpire should be a fair person, and not take sides.)
You, of course, need not use the same means of transportation that Adi Shankaracharya did. In today’s age, and with the magnitude of the work that you will be undertaking, a faster means of communication would be much more sensible. At the same time, we are sure you do realise that it would be much more effective if you could go to the people rather than arrange the people to come to you. In this way you will meet and interact with a much larger group of people, and in diverse surrounding.
Before we deal with some specific points in your article, we would like to suggest that you not get overly worried about what we in the VHP say about you and your work. Many others, as individuals and as groups, will also comment on what you will be doing. Some of them would use language and tone even harsher than us. With your tranquil state of mind, post-Sudarshan Kriya, you will be able to take them all as constructive criticism (even if the others do not really mean it that way) or useful observations of what you are going to do in the future. Discard that which is not relevant, and accept that which is relevant. Deal with the content of what they are saying, and not the manner in which it is said. If they are wrong, be patient, and explain to them why they are wrong. In this way, you may well put them on a path better than they are treading today, and they can then become collaborators in your project.
Please pardon us if we have been impertinent in giving the above advice.
Much of what you have written in your article seems to give an indication that your interest in the reform of Hinduism has been motivated by what the Hindutvavadis have been doing over the last twenty years. That is, the new work as a Hindu reformer that you will now be actively involved in, has not been motivated by an inquiry in the happenings in the society, but as a reaction. We hope we are wrong in this assessment. However, we would like to point out to you that in a democratic situation, the Hindutvavadis will be around, and, as a reformer, you will have to deal with them. Explain to the people why they are wrong, wherever you find them straying away from the path of a pristine Hinduism. When Adi Shankaracharya went to the people, his approach was: ‘You are good, and you can do better.’ His was a positive approach, and we are sure you will agree with us that he was effective. Make the Hindutvavadis your collaborators in your project.
We would also like to suggest that you probably have some misconceptions of the work that organisations like the VHP do. When you sit with us and discuss the issues, you will probably find that we do not oppose anything for the sake of opposition. We do project our reason for opposition even though some may not accept our reasons. In the spirit of a reformer, please do tell us your reasons for disagreeing with us wherever you so feel. For example, on the issue of some of the paintings of MF Husain. Our objection to them is the depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses in nude and erotic positions, which we think are against the sensibilities of those who worship them. We do not comment on anything about the aesthetic qualities of the paintings, an aspect we are not competent in. Nor did we deny him his freedom to depict other male and female form in the nude.
We also do not have anything against the book 300 Ramayans by Ramanujan. We are against it being included in a list of recommended books when there are so many others, and more relevant, to choose from. Those interested in the subject can still read Ramanujan. We have not asked for the book to be burned.
You have said: “The repeated attacks and persecution of writer and scholar Wendy Doniger is a case in point.” Surely you are not really serious about the charge of persecution! Doniger still occupies her place in Hindu studies and her books have been published in India recently. For the moment, we will let it pass, assuming that it came with the flow of the article, and you are not really serious. (In your new avatar you will have to be careful to avoid such minor mistakes.)
Let us deal with the charge of the alleged attacks. To the best of our knowledge, there was only one physical attack on her — and egg thrown at her during a programme in London. (Incidentally, the thrower did not have a good throwing arm!) All the other attacks against her have been in the form of debates, articles, which we think are very legitimate forms of expressing disagreements. The problem is that she has refused to recognise the existence of the points, and hence is not dealing with them. We think it is sort of arrogant for anyone to say that his/her thoughts are correct, and that everyone else’s are false, without going into the merits. And an arrogant person cannot really be one who can take an effective role as a reformer.
You also say: “Historian Ramachandra Guha who recently wrote on the need to revive the reformist spirit of Hinduism was similarly denounced on the net as the “anti-Hindu” ravings of the Macaulayputras.” If anyone has a genuine desire to ‘revive the reformist spirit of Hinduism’, he cannot, by definition, be a Macaulayputra. A Macaulayputra is one who has disdain for Hinduism and the Hindu culture and civilisation, which would be exact opposite of the starting point of an authentic Hindu reformer.
Macaulay’s dream was: “We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, words and intellect.” This has been explained very beautifully by one Anand Coomarswamy in Modern Review, Calcutta, October 1908. “Speak to the ordinary graduate of an India University of the ideals of Mahabharata — he will hasten to display his knowledge of Shakespeare: talk to him of religious philosophy – you find that he is an atheist of the crude type common in Europe a generation ago, and that not only has he no religion, but is lacking in philosophy as the average Englishman. Talk to him of Indian music — he will produce a gramophone or a harmonium, and inflict upon you one or both. Talk to him of Indian dress or jewellery — he will tell you that they are uncivilised and barbaric. Talk to him of Indian art — it is news to him that such a thing exists. Ask him to translate for you a letter written in his own mother tongue — he does not know it. He is indeed a stranger in his own land.”
Finally, we could like to dwell a little bit on the term Internet Hindu that you coined in January 2010. In that month you tweeted “Internet Hindus are like swarms of bees. They come swarming after you every time any mention of Modi, Muslims or Pakistan!” And in May of the same year, you tweeted: “Stupid aggression of internet Hindus pours out in cyberspace. In a real war they’d probably hide behind their mummyji’s saris.”
In his article ‘India: Meet the ‘Internet Hindus’ (Globalpost.com, June 18, 2012), Jason Overdorf did say that this was meant by you to be a derogatory term. However, recently (April 2013), you tweeted: “Love the way people on Twitter say Internet Hindu is a term of abuse! The term has been used for so many mag articles and panel discussions.” We do think that in January 2010 you did mean it as a term of abuse, and those opposed to the Internet Hindus continue to use it as a term of abuse. (It is, of course, another story that the Internet Hindus use it as a badge of honour.) A true reformer would humbly accept a mistake he/she makes, because only in such an admission can correction can be made.
Anyway, we are sure that the Hindus will let bygones be bygones, because they are interested in the future. They know their past, and are justifiably proud of it. They also know that there are many things in the past that needs correction and reforms. They would like to concentrate on that, and will embrace anyone who has a genuine interest in helping them to do so.
In 1970, Arnold Toynbee wrote: “Today we are still living in this transitional chapter of world’s history, but it is already becoming clear that the chapter which had a Western beginning, will have an Indian ending, if it is not to end in self destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way — Emperor Asoka’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of non-violence and Sri Ramkrishna’s testimony of religions.”
In the new avatar that you have decided to don, we are sure you will make a significant contribution to ensure that the ‘self destruction of the human race’ does not happen.
Koti, koti pranams — millions of thank yous.