A response by Dr Shrinivas Tilak*:
Review of Breaking India by Gita Ramaswamy
Review of Breaking India by Gita Ramaswamy: a response by Dr Shrinivas Tilak*
When I first heard of “Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan (hereafter M&N) I said to myself “Oh my God, India is finally coming apart at seams by any number of hostile forces interior to India itself: caste divisions or religious, regional, and linguistic differences. Then reason prevailed: I remembered Mark Twain’s witty (and yet remarkably insightful) one-liner: Reports of India’s forthcoming demise are exaggerated and premature. Knowing Mr Malhotra as I do, I also realized that such a fine patriot and a seminal thinker must have in mind another possible meaning of the title: a design to break up India by external forces hostile to India’s very existence and aided by some disenchanted group/s indigenous to India. Indeed, that is what M&N have done in this very thoughtful yet unsettling book with endnotes and glossary running to more than eighty ages and a bibliography to sixty pages. Breaking India is not about political rabble rousing; it records the agony of a deeply wounded civilization of India that may die a slow death. It records with dispassion the ongoing Christian missionary objectives and campaigns in India and how they ruthlessly devalued and eventually decimated other ancient cultures and peoples. It seeks to spark an honest debate on the extent to which human rights and other “empowerment” projects are cover-ups for these activities.
Ilaiah and his ilk
While visiting Kolkata recently, I showed a copy of Breaking India to a young, IT professional, who eagerly leafed through it for a few minutes. While returning it to me he said with obvious unease “very alarmist!”Indeed, the book will rudely alarm (and hopefully awaken) those Indians who smugly retire to bed in the belief that India and the sanatana dharma (that sustains and holds it together) will be here for ever. But more importantly, it throws a gauntlet to those disgruntled and hateful Indians like Dr. Kancha Ilaiah, a professor and a former head of the department of political science at Osmania University, Hyderabad) (he is also the author of Why I am Not a Hindu: A Critique of Sudra Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy published in 1996) who retire to bed every night dreaming that the next morning will bring an India without Hinduism.
Review of Breaking India by Gita Ramaswamy (OutlookIndia, May 16-23, 2011; hereafter GR) is representative of the writings by Indians like Ilaiah and his ilk. A strong anti-Hindu and a left wing bias obtain in the Indian print and visual media particularly in the English language media. Most young Indians who enter university journalism departments or the media are already thoroughly ‘secularized’ and ‘westernized.’ The fact that most of them happen to be graduates of the English medium high schools operated by the Christian missions reinforces their anti-tradition and anti-Hindu stance. They are not trained to think and write about cultural, political, religious or social issues from an insider’s (i.e. an emic) perspective. The humanities and social science departments of the universities they typically attend (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi [JNU] for instance) are regrettably politicized where the search for truth is subordinated to left wing ideology. Commonly, graduates of these departments see Indian culture and society through an ideological prism of Marxism-Leninism and secularism that reinforces perceptions of Hinduism and hindutva not on the basis of ‘objective’ observation and fact but on an ideological ground and emotion.
Lookout for OutlookIndia
A prevailing belief, endemic among the secularized Indian elites, that India’s ills are the result of its Hindu legacy pervades Ramaswamy’s shabby and shallow piece. Obviously, she is a product of an academia that is convinced that Hindus, Hinduism, advocates of hindutva, and the RSS are all responsible for the sorry state that India finds itself in. It is not surprising that Ramaswamy’s tirade has appeared in OutlookIndia, a newsweekly published from Delhi that is more interested in subverting hindutva; not reporting objectively on it. Vinod Mehta, editor of OutlookIndia, once openly admitted, “I am giving away no secrets when I reveal that for some years Mr [Narendra] Modi [the Chief Minister of the Western state of Gujarat and the leader of the state BJP] has been Villain Number No. 1 for our journal.” This admission comes even after his acknowledgment that “Modern day journalism requires publications to present a balanced and holistic portrait of a public figure they unreservedly abhor” (OutlookIndia, Feb 5, 2007).
François Gautier, a French journalist now based in India, has noted that although most of India's intellectual elite is Hindu, the great majority of them are Hindu haters who are ashamed to identify themselves as Hindu. Their reports always come out sprinkled with the same clichés to slam Hinduism and hindutva: the Saffron Brigade, the Hindu fundamentalists, fanatics, fascists, or communalists (Gautier 2002). Courier International, a prestigious French magazine, which is read by diplomats and politicians, published a special issue on ‘Hindu fundamentalism’ with a cover photo of the RSS members doing their drill holding a wooden staff. The ignorant Westerner who read it must have had the impression that India indeed is in the grip of fascist, nazi-like Hindu groups where civil liberties are curtailed. When the editor-in-chief of that magazine was contacted, he pointed out that all the pieces had been translated from articles written in the Indian Press by Indian journalists. “If I did not know India,” wrote Gautier in one of his writings, “I would tend also to believe what I read about India in the Western press: a nation torn by caste discrimination, and Hindu extremism. But after living more than thirty years in this country, my experience is totally different: Hindus are probably the most tolerant people in the world” (Gautier 2002).
GR’s shoddy review of Breaking India betrays how the English media in India have more regard for the principles enunciated by Thomas Babbington Macaulay and Karl Marx than the culture of India while demonizing everything that is traditional and Hindu in India. India is the only major country, which while historically continuous with its past in terms of culture and languages, cultivates a Macaulayan mentality that rejects its past in order to appear modern and progressive. Reading Ramaswamy’s review, one might get the impression that India indeed is being invaded by “Yankee Hindutvavadins” or that the Christian, Dalit, and Muslim minorities of India are being cruelly persecuted.
Divide and demonize
Ramaswamy cleverly isolates Rajiv Malhotra from his co-author Aravindan Neelakandan (a Tamil like herself) and targets Malhotra for her vicious attacks. She does not really provide any specific cases or instances where Breaking India does injustice to the Tamils, Tamilnadu or the Dalits in Tamil Nadu; nor does she explain what her understanding of hindutva is. Her piece is sanctimonious and infused with a holier-than-thou attitude that talks down to Mr. Malhotra and engages in name-calling. It is amusing to read that Mr. Malhotra is a Hindutvavadin! She does specify if Mr. Neelakandan, too, is a Hindutvavadin. As far as I know, Mr. Malhotra makes it quite clear, at every possible occasion available to him, his distance from hindutva as it is commonly understood. Having said that, it must also be recognized that he is deeply committed to securing a fair deal and play for Hindus everywhere: in India or abroad. There is no evidence in Breaking India or in Malhotra’s other writings to suggest that he is ill-disposed towards non-Hindus though he would refuse to abandon or throw Hindus to the wolves simply to please non-Hindus or to embellish his credentials as a secularist. There is no question of him ignoring, ridiculing, or distrusting non-Hindus, but there is also no intention on his part of giving them the power of a veto over the destiny of India or over Hindus in India or abroad either. To him all action is “grist to the mill of the Indian nation.” In that faith, he is ready to meet in the political field with his adversaries just as they will choose: a friendly clasp of the brother/sister or the resolute grip of the wrestler.
Dalit dalliance with the [Yankee] doodle
In her review, GR asserts: As long as the Indian state and society oppress Muslims, Northeasterners, Kashmiris and Dalits, it is natural for [Dalits] to garner what support they can. She therefore is not averse to the Dalits seeking help even from the Yankees she hates so much and after denouncing Malhotra for [allegedly] seeking help from them! As far as I can see, Breaking India is critical of the Dalit leadership for trying to lead the Dalits away from the mainstream Indian society by claiming special rights and privileges for them. M&N argue that appeasing the Dalits (or the Christians for that matter) as minorities by conferring upon them special rights and privileges in order to promote social peace or harmony is really paving the way for India’s disintegration.
It seems that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (who heads the Art of Living Foundation in India with branches all over the world) would support M&N on this point. In an article published in The Times of India (November 5, 2005; Pune edition), he criticized the actions of Dalit leaders like Kancha Ilaiah who took the issue of discrimination against the Dalits and deprivation of their human rights in India to the United States Congress. In the name of Dalit upliftment, Shankar believed, they were pursuing an ideological agenda and damaging the image of the country. “If they were really interested in the betterment of the Dalits, they should work in the villages in India instead of going to the US Congress,” argued Shankar.
Kancha Ilaiah, Gita Ramaswamy and company would do well to learn a thing or two from the [accursed] Yankees: national pride. There are three million homeless beggars in America, a little over one percent of the population. Yet, the American media generally does not publicize this fact abroad and, on the whole, American blacks have not asked the United Nations or any another country to interfere in the internal matters of the United States on their behalf (Shankar 2005).
What hindutva is and is not
Hindutva does not imply a Hindu hegemony in the public life of India. When Dr Radhakrishnan described Hinduism as a way of life, he was only partly right. Actually, it is hindutva that is a way of life for the people of India and Hinduism is only one of the modes of worship for the majority of Indians. Literally, the term hindutva denotes ‘hinduness’ i.e. a cultural, economic, political, and social way of life (mind you this does not include ‘religious’) in India that is informed and colored by the master signifier of the majority population of India--hinduness. In a landmark decision the Supreme Court of India concluded that simply referring to hindutva in a speech does not automatically constitute an appeal to [Hindu] religion. Nor, in the Court’s view, does such a reference necessarily “depict an attitude hostile to all persons practising any other religion other than Hinduism.” The Court rejected the argument that the use of hindutva per se necessarily constitutes a violation of sections 123(3) 2r (3A0 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. There is nothing inherent in the term hindutva that betrays any overt or covert hostility, enmity or intolerance to any other community (see Tilak 2008 for more details).
Hindutva also does not connote the imposition of a Hindu state in India. It was Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966), one of the prominent leaders of the freedom struggle and a revolutionary, who developed the term hindutva as a cultural concept in a small tract called Hindutva: Who is a Hindu first published in 1923. In his presidential address given to the Hindu Mahasabha session at Ahmedabad in 1937, Savarkar made quite clear that hindutva did nor connote a Hindu state where only those who belonged to the Hindu religion will be in power and those Indians who are adherents of non-Hindu religions will have no rights. He further stated emphatically: “Let the Indian state be purely Indian. Let it not recognize any invidious distinction whatsoever as regards franchise, public services, offices, taxation on the grounds of religion and race. Let no cognizance be taken whatsoever of man’s being Hindu or Mohammedan, Christian or Jew. Let all citizens of that Indian state be treated according to their individual worth irrespective of their religious or racial percentage in general population” (Savarkar 1964: 290).
Savarkar thus considered Hinduism and other religions to be encompassed within hindutva as a composite Indian culture. The religion of Hindus was not directly implicated in the formulation of the ideology of Hhindutva. M.S. Golwalkar (second leader of the RSS; 1906-1973) similarly located hindutva within the framework of the nationalist discourse and his understanding of hindutva provided ample space and opportunities to sub-identities, sub-cultures, languages, personal laws, cults, and philosophies to exist and flourish in a secular milieu. But he also mounted a slashing attack on the modern Hindus’ deeply ingrained habit of seeking the sources of their ills within Hinduism, but their cures outside of it: more particularly in secularism and ‘communalism’ (see Tilak 2001).
Indian secularists, subalternists, and media personnel routinely slam advocates of hindutva for seeking to impose a monolithic culture upon all Indians. Golwalkar was commonly asked: “India typically exhibits a wide diversity of sects, castes, languages, customs, and races. How can you call its society one? How can you call it one lifestyle?” Golwalkar’s reply was, “This question arises only if you look at the heritage of India and the Hindu lifestyle superficially. Take an example of a tree: it has different parts: from root, stem, branches, leaves, flowers, to fruits. There is lot of divergence among them in terms of color, shape, size, fabric, form etc. They all look very different from one another. But this difference (which is quite welcome) is only external. They all are manifestations arising out of one root: dharma. They arise from that one life source; one sap runs through them all” (see Golwalkar 9: 115).
The pashmina variety of expensive shawl, for instance, is not produced by stitching different pieces together. It has to be carefully woven from one fabric with much care. India’s integration is only possible if it is attained organically and when Indians do not betray a feeling of separate identity. India’s history records that not all minority communities saw themselves as distinct or apart from the majority Hindu community. In 1943 the then Secretary of State, L.S. Amery, invited some prominent representatives of the Zoroastrian community and suggested that they should ask for separate representation in various legislatures. The suggestion was emphatically spurned in a representation sent to Mr Amery signed by nearly two thousand leading Zoroastrians and which affirmed that ‘our interests are safe in the hands of sister communities.’ Recalling this episode, Sir R.K. Sidhwa, a prominent Zoroastrian member of the Constituent Assembly, said that if minorities were encouraged to think in terms of permanent minority safeguards, “there will be a perpetual instinct in the mind of the minority community representatives that the safeguards are to remain for ever and it will be difficult for these small communities to come nearer to major communities.” Sir Sidhwa added, “The ultimate phase of political life of all Indians should be one nation, not communities” (Golwalkar 9: 173).
In other words, the term ‘Hindu’ for him connoted a master signifier of India’s national and cultural (not a religious) identity and Sir Sidhwa was quite happy with it. Golwalkar gave another example in support of his thesis: In the 1960s Indonesia passed a bill requiring all citizens to belong to one of the religions recognized by the government. This measure was taken to neutralize the communist declaration of their creed that they did not believe in religion. When the bill forced the communists to opt for one of three recognized religions of Indonesia: Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism they generally declared themselves as Hindu (Golwalkar’s speech at VHP convention, Hardwar; 5: 83). In the ultimate analysis, the communists felt more at ease with a Hindu identity since it was least likely to interfere in their political activity.
Cut the funk
As far as I am concerned, an important message of Breaking India is: Cut the funk and say what you mean and mean what you say. Let me explain by first narrating an actual incident that occurred in Pune some time ago: A gentleman goes to a book store owned and operated by a Muslim. As he is browsing, the owner asks him "Are you a Muslim?" "Ye….s," replies the gentleman sheepishly, "and a Christian, and a Buddhist and a J..." "Stop" interjects the exasperated owner. "I know who you really are. You are a Hindu!" "Yes," came the confession finally. Professor K. Dad Prithipaul (born of Hindu parents in Fiji), a retired professor of Hinduism from University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, has called this Hindu denial (or hiding) of self identity 'funk' (from Flemish fonck = terror, panic, fear). The educated Hindu of today (says Prithipaul) has to overcome an inner resistance when the occasion requires him to say: “I am a Hindu” as a noun or “I am Hindu” as an adjective. He is afraid to say it or to own it. The funk which inhabits his consciousness is evident when he hastens to qualify his Hinduness with a ‘but’ when he sets forth the damper: “I am a Hindu, but I am an Indian first.” In the West it would be difficult to hear someone saying: “I am Christian (or a Christian), but I am a Canadian, or a Frenchman, or an American first” (see Prithipaul 2005).
“There are some people against whom you build up malice without knowing them” wrote Khushwant Singh (editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India), the doyen of modern Indian ‘secular’ journalism, with exceptional candor, “and Guru Golwalkar had long been on the top of my hate list.” Singh was indeed honest and courageous enough to openly admit and make public his bias. Yet, he did not hesitate to seek an interview with Golwalkar and come away from it with many of his misconceptions dispelled (see Illustrated Weekly of India, November 17, 1972). Will Vinod Mehta and Gita Ramaswamy extend a similar grace to Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan?
Gautier, Fançois. 2002. Marxism and Saffron Wave. www.rediff.com accessed on Dec 22, 2006.
Golwalkar, M.S. 2005. Shri Guruji Samagra Darshan [12 vols in Hindi]. New Delhi: Suruchi Prakashan.
Malhotra, Rajiv and Aravind Neelakandan. 2011. Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines. New Delhi: Amaryllis.
Mehta, Vinod. 2007. Delhi diary. Outlook, February 5, 2007.
Prithipaul, K. Dad. 2005. Hindu Dharma and Indian Funk. Dharma The Categorial Imperative, edited by Arvind Sharma, Ashok Vohra, Mrinal Miri. Delhi: D. K. Printworld.
Savarkar, V.D. 1964. Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya [Writings of Swantrya Veer V.D. Savarkar] Vol.VI. Poona: Maharashtra Prantik Hindu Sabha.
Singh, Khushwant. 1972. Interview with M. S. Golwalkar. Illustrated
Weekly of India, November 17, 1972.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. 2005. Stick to your ground. Pune: The Times of India, November 5, 2005.
Tilak, Shrinivas. 2001. Hindutva—the Indian Secularists’ Metaphor for Illness and Perversion. Hinduism and Secularism After Ayodhya edited by Arvind Sharma, 123-134, London: Pallgrave Publishers.
Tilak, Shrinivas. 2008. Reawakening to a secular Hindu nation: M. S. Golwalkar’s vision of a dharmasapeksha Hindurashtra (Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publications .
*Shrinivas Tilak (PhD history of religions, McGill University, Montreal, Canada) is an independent researcher based in Montreal. His publications include Religion and aging in the Indian tradition (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989), Understanding karma in light of Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical anthropology and hermeneutics (Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publications, 2007), and Reawakening to a secular Hindu nation: M. S. Golwalkar’s vision of a dharmasapeksha Hindurashtra (Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publications, 2008).