Prof. Rakesh Sinha is Associate Professor, University of Delhi. A Gold medallist in Political Science in his Master's at University of Delhi, Prof. Sinha did his doctoral on 'Ideological Organisational Transformation of the CPI(M)-1967 to 2007. An author of many books, some of his notable publications are Biography of Dr. K.B. Hedgewar (translated in five languages), Secular India: Politics of Minorityism (ed.), Rajniti Potrakarita, Sangh our Rajniti, Rajniti our Dharmnirpekshta and Philosophy of Social Revolution. He is also the Honorary Director of India Policy Foundation.
In modern Indian history the most fertile discourse has always been increasingly centered around is 'idea and movement of Hindutva'. During the colonial era, the meaning and concept of Hindutva underwent a dramatic change. Hindu thinkers were preoccupied with the protection of the interests of Hindus and wrote extensively on the challenges that lay within and outside the Hindu forces. Their writings were influenced by colonial policies, politics and the impact of Semitic religion on the Hindus.
Amid the plethora of books published on the subject, the intellectual works of some Hindu activists has generated much debate and continues to exercise its influence. A Dying Race by Col. U.N. Mukerji, Hindu Sangathan: Saviour of the Dying Race by Swami Shraddhanand and Self-abnegation in Politics by R.B. Lalchand are popular works that have been frequently quoted and made reference to in the present day writings. I first read these classics in 2002 and mentioned these in my work, the Biograply of Dr. K.B. Hedgewar published in 2003.
I classified Hindutva discourses into two distinct phases: that which preceded the formation of RSS and that which followed the formation of RSS. The discourse prior to the formation of the RSS throve on time- tested cultural and philosophical components of one of the oldest religions of the world. The RSS picked up these components to challenge the so-called invincible colonial modernity and the European imposed sense of nationalism, secularism and above all, the factors contributing to the making of a nation state. Moreover, in the pre RSS phase, the discourse was quite amorphous and mostly interpreted by the Hindu Mahasabha, but was corrupted by the present day Hindutva movement. Its central focus was not on intrinsic values but instead on the essential characteristics of Hinduism.
Under the influence of the Semitic religions, Lalchand's work inspired the formation of the Hindu Sabha in Punjab while Swami Shraddhanand influenced politics and programs of the Hindu organizations, particularly the Mahasabha. However, it was Col. Mukerji's writings that had the most formidable impact on the Hindu psyche. These authors have been quoted out of context to prove many obnoxious propositions against the contemporary Hindutva movement. An in-depth study of these classics is essential to understand both the evolution of the Hindutva discourse in the late 19th and early 20th century and also the ideological alternatives of the critics of the Hindutva movement. Col. Mukerji has been denounced as a Communalist for creating a divide between the Hindu and Muslim communities. An incisive reading of his narrative, even through the prism of hostility shown by the Muslim elites or by the colonial state, makes it abundantly clear that his work is of rare scholarly significance. This is precisely the reason why I undertook the task of editing these scholarly works in the context of contemporary contestations and argumentations. Although many of the details which were mere repetitions have been suitably eliminated, the original content and intent remain the same. I am indebted to my colleagues at India Policy Foundation (IPF), without whose support the book would not have seen the light of day. I acknowledge the valuable assistance extended to me by Dr. Lokesh Sharma, Chief Librarian of Ratan Tata Library, Delhi School of Economics and the University of Delhi.
In the last quarter of the 19th century and early 20th century, India witnessed social, communal and political upheavals. Colonialism had an extremely adverse and debilitating effect on Hindu society with respect to its political importance, social mores and cultural beliefs.
Social conservatism and discriminatory social and religious practices like untouchability, caste-based hierarchies combined with a feudal economic order, religious and social resistance towards widow remarriage, prevalence of child marriages and several other regressive measures had enfeebled Hindu society. The Census had reported an increase in the number of widows below the age of two years. The brutality inflicted on the girl child through these cruel customs remains unparalleled throughout the world. Furthermore, social, religious and cultural exclusion deprived them of their basic civil rights.
Any attempt to eradicate the society of such regressive practices remained localized and could not be sustained. The 1911 Census report states:
From time to time religious reformers appeared and gained disciples, sometimes from one particular class, sometimes from all sections of the community, but it was seldom that the fervor they evoked was sufficient to break down the growing strength of social barriers.
The social discourse was dominated by the caste elites who further controlled the political and economic resources. Insensitivity and individualism were two important features of the dominant social and political elites. Aspirations of the underprivileged and socially marginalized Hindus wanting to be co-sharers in the religious and cultural traditions and practices were discarded, at times violently. The observation made by the Census Commissioner appropriately reflects the mindset of the dominant Hindu elites:
According to them, the Hindu religion is one thing and the Hindu social system quite another. It is immaterial that a person is excluded from temples, denied the ministrations of the Brahmins, kept rigidly apart and regarded as so unclean that his mere proximity causes pollution. If he believes in "the Hindu religion" he is just as good and complete as a Brahmin. One of the exponents of this theory objected to certain suggested texts on the ground that these would exclude Mrs. Besant, a staunch Hindu.
To strengthen their dominance in the country, British imperialists initiated the postal system, railways and the decadal census. The purpose of the Census was two-fold. It not only aimed at understanding the nature, customs and temperament of the people who inhabited this vast land, but also helped the Christian missionaries to spread Christianity. Paradoxically the introduction of the railways and postal system benefitted the indigenous people and helped in the evolution of national consciousness.
The first Census took place in 1872 and thereafter, Censuses were conducted throughout the colonial era, giving birth to a new discourse and leadership that challenged the hegemony of the existing leadership of the Hindu society. However, the colonial enumerators and policy makers were amused as well as confused by the inferences of the Census.
The first thing which struck them was the strong bonding among the Hindus despite the unimaginable diversity and prevalence of social ills. The Census Report of 1911 stated that:
In this country no one has any objection to stating his religion, and if all the creeds were clear, definite and mutually exclusive, there would have been no difficulty whatsoever in the way of obtaining an accurate return. With the exception of the exotic religions, such as Christianity and Islam, there is no such thing as a definite creed.
The report further explains, The Hindu word "dharma", which corresponds most closely to our word "religion", connotes conduct more than creed.
Religious pluralism and freedom were the unhindered creed of the Hindus. However this merit was diluted due to false concern for social status. The report added:
In India the line of cleavage is social rather than religious, and people have the tendency to identify their neighbours, not according to their beliefs but according to their social status and manner of living. No one is interested in what his neighbour believes, but is rather concerned about whether he can eat with him or take water from his hands.
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