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Communalism in India

Communalism in India

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Published by Erin Parker
About the tradition of Communalism in india
About the tradition of Communalism in india

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Published by: Erin Parker on Dec 11, 2009
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Communalism in India
Through SACW, I caught a link to a long Pankaj Mishra piece on the origins of "Hinduism" in Axess, a Swedish magazine of the "liberal arts and social sciences."Mishra's piece appeared in an issue a couple of months back called India Unleashed. Thesame issue has an essay by Subash Agarwal, who also has a more recent piece written inthe wake of the Indian elections (results that disappointed him).Mishra has written on the subject of the misuse of "Hinduism" several times before. You can find a Feb. 2002 article from the New York Times here. And then anApril 2002 a two-part piece on the same topic, this time for the Guardian. He also wrote a piece for the Boston Globe in December 2002 on the same topic (no longer online). Andthen a Feb 2003 piece for the New York Times Magazine (via SACW), on theanniversary of the assasination of Mohandas K. Gandhi.These various essays use some of the same material over and over again. Mosthave one or two immediate anecdotes and first-hand interviews, while relying heavily onaccounts of the history of the RSS, V.D. Savarkar, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, Nathuram Godse, a small host of familiar suspects. Most essays also place the movementto take down the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya at the center of the current history of theHindu right. Ayodhya casts the longest shadow for Mishra: one finds explanations of Ayodhya even in the pieces written in the wake of the February-March 2002 riots in andaround Ahmedabad, Gujurat.Don't get me wrong -- this is all good work. Mishra is performing a valuablefunction in educating western readers about the history and current status of communalism. But it gets a little repetitive. I'd been longing to see him approach thecommunal question somewhat more deeply, or with a fresh perspective.The most recent piece (in Axess) partially fills this demand; it has some surprisesin it even as it also rehashes. Most importantly, perhaps, Mishra writes approvingly of  people like the poet Mohammad Iqbal (one of the patron saints of Pakistan), SwamiVivekananda (one of the sources of inspiration for the Indian nationalist movement), andAngarika Dharampala (a major figure in the Buddhist-Sinhala nationalist movement inSri Lanka). All were roughly contemporaneous -- they were active in the late 1800s andearly 1900s. Both Vivekananda and Dharmapala made a big splash at the WorldParliament of Religions in 1893. Most importantly, however, all were reformers andmodernizers. In Mishra's interpretation of Vivekananda in particular, the emphasis is onthe inspiration taken from the west, not on the personal connection to Hindu spirituality.Mishra posits a divergence between Vivekananda's approach to worldly sprituality andhis master's (Ramakrishna's) inward-looking mysticism. For Mishra, Vivekananda'sdesire to indigenize western civilization was secondary.This contradicts what some other recent critics have said about Vivekananda(most notably Meera Nanda, who is directly hostile to both Vivekananda and Gandhi).
Are religious reformers who develop a modernized theological language to be placed in the camp with the modernizers and secularizers, or are they in fact mainlymotivated by strong, primoridal religious feeling, which they merely market with moderntrappings? Mishra puts them in the former camp; critics like Nanda place them in thelatter.But this is a manichean question, which overlooks the possibility of situatingreformers in between the religious and secular viewpoints. People like Vivekananda andDharampala are secularizers, but specifically within their respective religiouscommunities. By ignoring this middle-ground, I think Mishra oversimplifies the historyof religious reform movements in South Asia. He makes this oversimplification for agood reason -- he wants to show that the stories told by the Hindutva advocates todayabout the history of the concept of "Hinduism" are on very thin ice. But theoversimplification leads to a somewhat patchy history.The article in Axess is to convince readers that Hinduism is an artificial constructof the British imperialists along with a few Brahmins. I am surprised you did notemphasize that, although the heading of the article makes it amply clear. Even though hisHindu and India bashing is nothing new, this time along with Hindu bashing he comeswith this new Eurocentric theory. Accordingly all progress is linear and it comes fromThe West, including Hinduism. However this entire essay is based on half truths,omissions and plain incorrect statements.“British scholars and their Brahman interpreterscame up with a canon of sorts, mostly Brahmanical literature and ideology, which they began to identify with a single Hindu religion""Brahman interpreters" ? There is no such thing as a Brahman interpreter,Brahman is Pure Consciousness perhaps he means Brahmin, but rest of the articlecontains serveral instances of "Brahman collaborators", "These Brahmans" and so forth.Author seems completely ignorant, incapable of differentiating between Brahman andBrahmin. Left unsaid is what Brahmanical literature is and what is not."He [Vivekananda] set up a monastic order devoted to social service and to reformingHinduism which he saw as a decadent religion. ... he died young, at thirty-nine.Nothingmuch could come out of what was mostly well-intentioned rhetoric"Swami Vivekananda never considered Hinduism as a decadant religion. He hadthe highest regard for the Hindu spirituality and philosophy and remained a staunchHindu observing Hindu traditions of fasting, worship of Goddess(Mother Kali) and so on,till he attained Samadhi. In his short life Vivekananda made Hinduism or SanatanaDharam which was under vicious assault of the missionaries, intellectually respectable.He continued his Master Sri Ramakrishna's work of Hindu revival which influencedluminaries like Subhas Chandra Bose. His own Ramakrishna mission is still doingimpeccable work. It is upto Mr Mishra to explain why nothing came out of SwamiVivekananda's endeavors.
Again no examples of what he borrowed from "British-constructed Hinduism andEuropean realpolitik" which was not part of traditional Hindu philosophy, whichencompasses six major philosophies(Sankhya, Nyaya, Yoga, Vaisheshika, Purva mimsa,Uttara mimansa). Just because William Jones is hailed as Justian of India by thecolonizers does not make him one. Jones translated a small portion of sanskrit texts. AndVivekananda was a learned scholar of Sanskrit and Panini. He read the originals and notthe translated versions. He was an original thinker and exhorted his disciples to makeoriginal reflections and commentaries on Shastras.Instead of super imposing his own jaundiced view Mr Mishra should look at a lifewell lived. All through his short life Sri Ramakrishna was tirelessly working, teaching hisdisciples inspiring a vast array of people including luminaries of Indian Independencemovement like Eshwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bakim Chandra Chatopadhaya on one endof the spectrum to members of Brahma Samaj including Keshab Chandra Sen. Among hisown disciples, Gauri Ma opened a women's school , Surendranath opened a college inCalcutta. Vivekananda started Ramakrishna missions in India, U.S and Europe.Vivekananda always had the highest regard for his Master and never distanced himself from his Guru. Vivekananda claimed that he is doing his Guru work and that he is theinstrument of his Guru. There is no reason why one should disregard Vivekananda's ownwords regarding his Guru. Judging from the results Ramakrishna engaged the secular world quite vigorously.This entire essay starts with unsubstantiated statements and then goes on to makeoutrageous conclusions like India is headed "for intellectually and spiritually oppressivetimes" as Vivekananda's prominence grows. Vivekananda was for plurality and againsthomogenizing of the world, full of compassion for the downtroden. So, If Indian middleclass follows his ideals India would modernize at the same time maintain its spirituality,not westernize. It is Mr Mishra who is throughly confused and ignorant, Vivekanandanever proposed an alliance between Indian Elite and modern west nor was he enarmored by the later. His interpretation of Vivekanada is certainly not based on facts.When Mr Mishra comes up a radical new thesis about Hinduism, onus is on him to atleastget his facts correct.The Author is incapable of differentiating Brahman and Brahmincomes up with unsubstantiated facts and with some pretzel logic concorts grandiosetheories about Hinduism. Being annointed columnist of NYT does not absovle him of theneed to get his facts straight. His thesis has no basis nor did he make a case for it. I recently read Pankaj Mishra's book on his travels and insights "How to be Modern:Travels in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan".I found the book very interesting to read. His style of writing remids me an article byBernard Henry Levy that appearedin The Atlsmtic Monthly. Mishra intersperses his observation of everyday life withdeeper insights.

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