My inner voice has been giving me a hard time again. In this new dawn of shining secularism, when ‘‘succular’’ (sic) thinkers, writers, artistes and politicians tell us daily that India’s social fabric has been saved from being ripped asunder by the ‘‘communal’’ BJP, my inner voice has been urging me to speak up. Stand up, it says, and point out that the word Hindu is being used as a term of abuse.
My inner voice is a bit of a nag and I might have told it to shut up had Madhu Kishwar not drawn my attention to the need for someone to examine how many times the word Hindu is used pejoratively. You might find, she said ominously, that it is used mostly in pejorative terms. After this I began to read and listen more carefully to ‘‘succular’’ voices and found to my horror that Madhu was right. Hindu fanatic, Hindu fundamentalism, Hindu nationalist, Hindutva. Mostly, that is how the word Hindu gets used and nearly always pejoratively.
I am not a Hindu, but with this I have a serious problem because the debate appears no longer confined to the cloistered world of priests, or even the self-serving one of politics, it has expanded into a challenge to Hindu civilisation. So, one of our new secular ministers tells us that the Sindhu Darshan festival, started by the last government to celebrate the river India gets her name from, will be made less communal. Excuse me?
From the venerable Arjun Singh we hear constantly about the need to ‘‘detoxify’’ textbooks and from the Congress president and her progeny come endless references to the collapse of our social fabric. This idea is picked up by loyalists, so last week in this newspaper an ex-MP called Madan Bhatia said of Gujarat: ‘‘What actually took place was an occurrence the like of which had never taken place in independent India. There was state-sponsored terrorism and riots in which thousands of innocents, Muslim men, women and children, were butchered.’’
Mr Bhatia must have been living in another country in 1984 or he may have noticed that exactly the same thing happened in Delhi with the Sikhs, only the toll was nearly double that of Gujarat and not a single Hindu was killed. He complains that the Army was not called out in time in Gujarat. Nor was it in Delhi until 3,000 ‘‘innocent men, women and children were butchered’’ and this despite former prime minister Chandrashekhar going personally to Rajiv Gandhi to beg him to deploy troops. As this column has pointed out before, under ‘‘secular’’ Congress rule, there were many riots as bad as Gujarat (Bombay, Bhagalpur, Moradabad, Meerut), not to mention that the Babri Masjid came down under a Congress prime minister.
But, let’s get beyond this to the wider attack on Indian civilisation that this pejorative use of the word Hindu represents. It bothers me that I went to school and college in this country without any idea of the enormous contribution of Hindu civilisation to the history of the world. It bothers me that even today our children, whether they go to state schools or expensive private ones, come out without any knowledge of their own culture or civilisation. It bothers me that when I ask a priest in a temple the meaning of a ritual he has no idea, or when I go to the Vishwanath Mandir in Benares and listen to the most powerful, magical aarti I hear from the priests that the knowledge of it will probably die because the temple is now controlled by secular bureaucrats.
It bothers me that when I wanted to do a profile of B K S Iyengar in my television programme, my young producer did not know who he was until Time magazine mentioned him as among the 100 most influential people of the last century. Young Indians have taken to yoga because it has come back to us from the West and because Madonna swears by it.
You cannot be proud of a heritage you know nothing about, and in the name of secularism, we have spent 50 years in total denial of the Hindu roots of this civilisation. We have done nothing to change a colonial system of mass education founded on the principle that Indian civilisation had nothing to offer.
For me, evidence of our contempt for our culture and civilisation manifests itself in the fact that there is not a single Indian city where you will find a major bookshop that sells books in Indian languages. Is this not evidence of a country that continues to be colonised to the core? Our contempt for who we are gets picked up these days by the Western press, which routinely uses the word Hindu in a pejorative sense. When Signora nearly became prime minister, respectable magazines and newspapers saw this as racism, which they equated with Hindu nationalism. For countries that gave us slavery and apartheid that really is rich, but who can blame them when we think so badly of ourselves.
As for me I would like to state clearly that I believe that the Indic religions have made much less trouble for the world than the Semitic ones and that Hindu civilisation is something I am very proud of. If that is evidence of my being ‘‘communal’’, then, my inner voice tells me, so be it.