Confusions around term Hindutva by Prof Ram Puniyani

Professor Ram Puniyani, PhD Rtd, IIT Bombay

Professor Ram Puniyani, PhD
Rtd, IIT Bombay

On October 25 (2016) the seven member Supreme Court Bench started hearing to revisit ‘Hindutva’ cases. These are group of cases where the use of term Hindutva-Hinduism to be used during elections is to be opined. One such case was that of Manohar Joshi who in his election speech said that if he is voted to power he will work for making Maharashtra as the first Hindu state in the country. In another incident Bal Thackeray, Shiv Sena founder and supremo of BJP associate Shiv Sena, said in November 1987, declared that his party is contesting elections “for the protection of Hinduism, we do not care for the votes of the Muslims. The country belongs to Hindus”.  And “[The Muslims] should bear in mind that this country is of Hindus, the same shall remain of Hindus… if Shiv Sena comes to power… everybody will have to take diksha (initiation) into Hindu religion.”

The 1995 Judgment, where Justice Varma opined that the word ‘Hindutva’, “is used and understood as a synonym of ‘Indianisation’, i.e. development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures coexisting in the country.” This came to be known as ‘Hindutva as a way of life’, judgment and became popular as ‘Hindutva judgment’, was used by RSS combine to reinforce their Hindu rashtra agenda. In Guruvayoor temple case again similar opinion was given. Also one recalls that way back in 1966 in a case involving Satsangis, who were asking for status of a separate religion, the court had given the similar opinion, that Hinduism is a way of life, so where is the question of Satsangis being given the status of a separate religion? This does not exhaust the list of such judgments in this category.

Teesta Setalvad, eminent social activist, has intervened in the court in the matter with an application stating that religion and politics should not be mixed and a direction be passed to de-link religion from politics. The hearing of the case is on. This is a great opportunity for the court to clear the air about the terms Hinduism and Hindutva. So far many opinions have been given that since Hinduism has so much diversity, so it is not a religion and that it includes all the communities so ‘it’s a ‘way of life’ The words Hinduism and Hindutva have been used interchangeably many a times.

The confusion and nature of the word Hinduism and Hindutva emerge as Hinduism is not a prophet based religion; with a clear cut single Holy book the teachings of the prophet or a single God. Its nature is different from prophet based religions like Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Sikhism for that matter. It has been identified with Vedas, where the life and norms of Aryans is expressed. In matters of faith starting from animism to atheism may come under its umbrella. The term Hinduism itself came into usage from eighth Century onwards. The term was coined by those coming here from Central Asia and they coined the word Hindu as a derivative of the word Sindhu which they had to cross to this part of the sub continent. Essentially what were prevalent here were multiple religious traditions, Brahmanism, Nath, Tantra, Siddha, Shiava Siddhanta and later Bhakti also. The first construction of Hinduism takes place to refer to these diverse tendencies. Later Hinduism as religion starts being referred to for the people around these sects. Jainism and Buddhism were also present in good measure. With British coming the construction of Hinduism became well delineated. With seeds of communalism coming up Hinduism started being contrasted against Islam and Christianity in particular.

In late early twentieth century ideologue of Hindu nationalism, Savarkar put forward the concept of Hindutva in a sharper way to present it as ‘whole of Hinduness’, i.e. it includes Hindu religion as conceived by them and also it includes the politics of Hindu nationalism. So inherent in the term was religion, Hinduism, which had the dominant part of Brahmanism, and it was blended with the Hindu nationalism. Hindu nationalism was being projected by the upper caste, landlord-kings sections of Hindus who were weary of the emerging “India as a nation in the making and accompanying ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The Hindu nationalists upheld the scriptures like Manu Smiriti, while the majority of Hindus led by Gandhi were aspiring for secular democratic ethos.

Hinduism is the most complex umbrella where interpretations are dominated by the caste factors. Ambedkar does point out that Hinduism is a Brahmanic theology. Other streams of Hinduism. Nath Tantra, Bhakti etc. have been marginalized and undermined and it’s around Brahmanical hierarchy that Hindutva movement has emerged. It’s clear that Hinduism is not the religion of all the Indians. Also that Hinduva has been built around Brahmanical stream of Hinduism. This complex understanding needs to be unraveled before opining on the Representation of People’s Act. In S. R. Bommai case the court the Supreme Court recognized the value of this understanding of terms Hinduism-Hindutva. Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy wrote, “To fight elections on a plank of religion, was tantamount to eroding the country’s secular fabric.” But, barely a year later, this was subverted when India’s secular credentials came to be undermined with the rulings known as ‘Hindutva cases’.

The foundation of this understanding is already there in what Dr. Ambedkar writes, B.R. Ambedkar, who played a sterling role in the RPA’s drafting; his aim was to ensure that the statute conformed to secular principles. “I think that elections ought to be conducted on issues which have nothing to do with… religion or culture,”. Further that “A political party should not be permitted to appeal to any emotion which is aroused by reason of something which has nothing to do with the daily affairs of the people.” This is the spirit of Indian Constitution which wants to separate religion from politics

It is a Historic opportunity for the Court to set the matters straight and put the norms back to the basic structure of Indian Constitution, the values of secularism. And finally Hindutva is revolving around Hinduism which is religion to be sure.


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