Of courage, caste and ‘Hindu cowardice’

The ‘Hindu cowardice’ bogey must not shut the mouths of the brave followers of Swami Dayanand Saraswati when they are confronted by the very forces against which Swamiji fought and laid down his life

Ill–informed attempts have been made of late to project the concessions made to the hijackers of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi, as yet another illustration of the proverbial Hindu cowardice. Occasional and misleading references have been made, in this context, to the history and mission of the Arya Samaj. This calls for clarification on some basic issues.

The Arya Samaj was essentially a spiritual movement whose mission was to renew and reinforce the Vedic foundations of the Hindu society. The attempt to re–construct the ‘Hindu identity’ that historians and political analysts see in this movement needs to be seen in this light. Swami Dayanand Saraswati and, later, Swami Sraddhanand were reacting reformatively to the social and spiritual paralysis of the Hindu society on account of its apostasy vis–à–vis the eternal principles and ideals embedded in the Vedas.

"Back to the Vedas" was, hence, their battle cry. To them the solution for our chronic and all–round disabilities was not the propagation of a macho culture of physical assertiveness or ideological aggression. It was the creation of a wholesome and dynamic society undergirded by equality, truth, justice and human dignity.

Shuddhi was as much a protest against the caste–bound socio–religious paralysis of the Hindu society as it was to facilitate the home–coming of those who had left the fold, in case they wished to. It was a constructive criticism of the aberration that had been imposed on the Hindu social order by the high castes by making merit entirely birth–based. This turned the Hindu religious community into a semi–closed order from which people were free to escape but not free to return. And the oppressiveness of the caste system provided ample motivation for the lower castes to escape en masse. Out of this there arose a situation that exposed the inner–contradictions and non–viability of the caste system in a situation of free choice.

Such a situation leaves us with two options. The first is to dismantle the caste system and to replace it with the Varna Ashram Vyvastha as laid down in the Vedas. Birth–based human merit has no place in the Vedas. The Vedic worldview, as I have argued time and again, is a dynamic spiritual vision that militates against burying people alive in the graves of caste degradation. This was what the founders of the Arya Samaj advocated. The other option is to put down the rebellion against the caste system in the form of conversion to other theoretically more egalitarian faiths. This is done in two ways by the custodians of the caste system: (a) by creating an anti–conversion dogma, ruling out thereby freedom of choice leading to conversions, or (b) by the use of force either against those who convert or those who encourage conversion or against both. It was a return to the Varna Vyvastha that the Arya Samaj advocated. The logic of the times confirms that only the Arya Samaj approach to this problem is valid and feasible.

Globalisation, among other things, is the unconditional acceptance of a new global order based on free choice. Perpetuation of any birth–based handicap or advantage is utterly incompatible with its ethos. The custodians of casteism, if they are serious about their business, must fight global-isation with all their might as their foremost caste enemy.

But that is not what is happening. Most of them are in league with this pernicious process, conspiratorially crafted to rob the rest of the world for the greater affluence of the richer nations. The hijack drama is a milestone also in the globalisation of terrorism, in which the role–model was set by arbitrary American transnational aggressions in recent times.

While I am unhappy that the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane got away with some of their demands, after inflicting unspeakable suffering on more than 150 innocent passengers, I cannot fault the government on the way this crisis has been handled. On the contrary, I endorse the government’s concern that innocent lives be not lost through tactical dogmatism and ideological inflexibility. The courage to be inflexible at the cost of other people’s lives is embarrassingly cheap. The hijack crisis provided a glorious opportunity for the RSS leaders to prove their newly acquired Hindu virility. They could have offered themselves as substitute hostages, procured the release of the innocent passengers, and then advocated total inflexibility. It does no credit either to the Hindu community or to their macho image to have hid themselves in safety until the crisis was defused and to emerge soon thereafter to strike up comic–strip–like postures of courage that costs them nothing.

May be that is an illustration of the alleged Hindu cowardice! We need to get out of it. But, then, courage is not an abstract thing. It has to be exemplified in respect of addressing the real issues, irrespective of the cost involved. In Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Swami Sraddhanand we have two good examples of human courage imbued with spiritual significance. Both of them risked their life in pursuing their mission.

The most basic cowardice is flight from reality. This is what is writ large over the whole of our country today. As a society we are running away from the basic issues of social injustice, discrimination against the poor and the underprivileged, our moral and social degradation, and the large-scale sell-out of our country in the name of globalisation. This country could do better with a little more courage to speak the truth, to resist the forces of evil and injustice, the courage above all to live with the projected ‘backwardness’ and global isolation that we are warned against, unless we allow ourselves to be colonised by the West. True Vedic courage calls for doing battle with the predators of hedonist consumerism that assault human dignity and worth. It mandates a relentless struggle to free the Indian society from the evils of casteism, communalism and religious obscurantism so that we re-create the true Aryavarta: a country of noble men and women.

This was the vision that inspired the Arya Samaj movement. Swami Dayanand Saraswati was a liberated soul who maintained excellent relationships with people of other faiths. The very first donation of Rs. 5000 to the cause of the Arya Samaj came from a Muslim in Bombay in 1875. It was in the house of a Muslim, Rahmatullah Ansari of Lahore, that Swamiji formulated the ten basic principles of the Samaj. When Swamiji was poisoned by a Hindu cook, Jagannath, it was to a Muslim — Dr. Ali Mardan Khan — that he entrusted his treatment. Swami Dayanand’s concerns extended to the welfare of other religious faiths and he encouraged Bhai Jawahar Singh, who was general secretary of Arya Samaj, Lahore, to launch the Guru Singh Sabha around 1877.

Swamiji had excellent relationships with all religious leaders, including the Christians, besides being a good friend of Sir Syed Ahmed of the Aligarh Muslim University. The spirit of religious intolerance that is packaged as Hindu revivalism would have been roundly denounced by him. So also the compromise that some sections of the Arya Samaj have struck with the Sangh Parivar by providing the ritualistic paraphernalia for re–conversion into a caste-ridden Hindu order, rather than insist that the Hindu society be rid of this ultimate spiritual anathema. I do hope that "Hindu cowardice" will not shut the mouths of the brave followers of Swami Dayanand Saraswati when they are confronted by the very forces against which Swamiji fought and laid down his life.

(An abridged version of this article was first published by The Indian Express).

Archived from Communalism Combat, February 2000. Year 7  No, 56, Faith



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