Irfan Engineer

Hindu nationalists pin their partisan acts favouring the majority community on the ‘decolonisation of ideas and culture’ hook. Decolonisation is often used interchangeably with de-Westernisation. Enactment of the three laws pertaining to criminal justice system in 2023 – Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniya, and Bhartiya Nagarik Surakhsha Sanhita – with more than 85% of the contents from the earlier legislations were also brought in with the plea of decolonisation.

The 15% that is different from the colonial legislation, strengthens the hands of police by giving them longer custody of the accused with lesser accountability and stricter bail provisions. Construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple corridor and the construction of the Mahakali Temple in Ujjain were justified as the decolonisation process. Rakesh Sinha (the Rajya Sabha Member of the BJP) in his article “Temple Bells in Abu Dhabi” (The Indian Express, 15/2/2024) (Sinha, 2024) also lauds the inauguration of the Hindu temple, constructed by the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) at the hands of the Prime Minister Modi on the same grounds – decolonisation and de-Westernisation. He states, “Modi is the first statesman from a post-colonial society who has shown conviction to move towards the decolonisation and de-Westernisation of ideas and culture.” While Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis came up with the idea of clash of civilisation between the West and Islam, Sinha seems to suggest that the clash is also between the West and Hindu civilisation, at least within the boundaries of India (or Bharat if you may). The Hindu nationalists were never clear as to what the contours of clash between Western and Hindu civilisation are and which values or culture of the Western civilisation are unworthy and must be negated.

Sinha gives credit of being a statesman to Prime Minister Modi for “Bharat’s ability to achieve the goal of the unity of opposites in a world that is rife with hostilities based on religion and culture”. One fails to understand the role of the Prime Minister’s role in the whole mission. BAPS constructed the Temple, on 27 acre land granted by the Emir of the UAE. Modi only inaugurated the Temple and yet the credit, nay, statesmanship, according to Sinha, belongs to Modi. Sinha states in his article that the Hindu Temple in Abu Dhabi has the potential to redefine multiculturalism. In deed he is right. However, multiculturalism looks good in foreign lands where Hindu residents are numerically inferior and therefore must have freedom to follow their culture and religion. However, within the country where Hindus are a majority, their plea is that majority community’s religion, cultural practices and heritage must prevail and dot the social space. The BJP governed states are renaming the cities, streets, railway stations, etc. that have Muslim sounding names to invisiblize their cultural heritage. Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindu nationalist mobs and the act of demolition was held as illegal by the Supreme Court. State bulldozers are demolishing heritage Muslim religious structures that are centuries old, among them the Akhunji mosque, at least 800 years old, in Mehrauli, Delhi. New Delhi Municipal Corporation attempted to demolish a 150 years old Sunheri Bagh Masjid on the pretext that it is causing traffic jam, even though it is within the roundabout. The BJP CM of UP Yogi Adityanath asked the Muslim community to surrender the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and Idgah Mosque in Mathura to the Hindu community. The UP state implemented the order arranged worship of Hindu deity inside the tahkhana of Gyanvapi mosque within hours of court orders even though the order gave a week’s time. This was to ensure pre-emption of any challenge to the order. Many other Muslim religious places are being claimed by Hindu nationalists. Recently, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed Uniform Civil Code nullifying Muslim family law and practically imposing Hindu family laws on the people of the state, including the minorities. Hindu nationalist slogan has been – ‘one country, one culture, one law’. Homogenisation and imposition of the culture of elite section of the ‘majority’ community in India and advocacy of multiculturalism abroad to ensure that the elite section of Hindu community can practice and propagate their religion and culture seems to be the norm Sinha is prescribing.

The Hindu community has a rich cultural diversity. The People of India Project enlisted 4,635 communities on the basis of language, cultural and religious practices. Scholars of Hinduism have put the number of gods and goddesses in Hinduism anywhere between 33 and 330 million. Which means that many religious practices, traditions, customs, religiosity and ways of life. There are many texts and epics to follow. This diversity is strength of Hinduism. However, the Hindu nationalists find challenges in their mission to unite the community in the war against the Muslim and Christian community. Caste practices and internal oppression of Dalits and marginalisation of women poses its own challenges in uniting the community in its, what they think is 1500-year-old war with the Muslim community and Christians. The first step in this war is uniting the community by undermining the religious and cultural diversity within the Hindu community and constructing unified sacred symbols, texts, and rallying behind a leader or authority.

The Hindu nationalists are not only invisiblizing the religion and cultural heritage of minorities in social space, they are also homogenizing Hindu culture by imposing cultural practices of Hindu upper caste elite on the entire community. Cow is being projected such a unifying symbol and seems to be working at least for a large section in Northern and Western India. Vegetarianism is being made a cultural marker of Hindu nationalism. Lord Ram is being projected as a presiding deity of all Hindus – with a refashioned and re-emphasised image as a warrior rather than his central attribute of “Maryada Purushottam”, who is conscious of his duties and responsibilities and who upholds dharma. Even while Sinha extols multiculturalism in Abu Dhabi, the Hindu nationalist’s project in India is to semitize Hindu religion with imposition of sacred symbols, cultural practices and way of life. They display extreme intolerance using violence and state power against anyone who expresses different beliefs. This also needs construction of a huge mesmerizing temples. Rather than decolonising, the Hindu nationalists are emulating the western concept of nation with homogenous religion and culture and inventing the outsiders.

The colonisation referred to by the Hindu nationalists did not begin with the British imperialism. Prime Minister Modi in one of his addresses claimed that India had been colonised for 1,200 years. According to Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Sarsanghchalak (chief), India had been colonised for 1,500 years  (Times News Network, 2024). We are not sure which event they both were referring to as beginning of colonisation. Delhi Sultanate was established in early 13th Century, if that is the reference point for colonisation. Or, it is not clear if they include the period when the Arab Muslim commander under Umayyad Caliphate – Muhammad ibn al-Qasim invaded Sindh in 711 A.D. and established his rule in that province. All Muslim rulers who established their empire, lived within the region married local women, and their mortal remains are buried in this soil. There can be a debate about whether this can still be called as colonisation of Bharat whatever its boundaries then were. To a Hindu nationalist ideologue, their history is history of the continuous resistance to the “slavery” or “colonisation of the Hindus”. The principle of secularism that was adopted as a state policy after independence from the colonial rule stood between achievement of their objective of establishing a Hindu raj (state). Since the year 2014, when Prime Minister Modi’s party was elected with absolute majority, it is their time to restore the pristine “pre-colonial” Hindu culture, demolish the heritage and structures of the period built by Muslim rulers and remove “foreign” cultural influences with violence wherever necessary, and establishing a mighty authoritarian state to ensure predominance of “Hindu” culture and religion in social space. The pre-2014 history, according to the Hindu nationalists, was history of ongoing war between the two communities. The Hindu nationalists have no explanation to offer as to why Muslim ruler’s army had large number of Muslim soldiers and was in many cases, even commanded by Hindus, and vice versa – Hindu king’s army had large number of Muslim soldiers and posts in their army. Hindu religion, literature, art and culture prospered under the Muslim rule. However, to the credit of Bhagwat, one must say that, his speech on the occasion of Pran Pratishtha of Ram Janmabhoomi Temple, he called for end of all disputes (Pathak, 2024).

Rather than emulating the west in its essence with notions of homogenous culture and superiority over other religions, decolonisation should mean having an inclusive approach, freedom of thoughts and expression, freedom to follow any religion or belief, upholding the dignity of all human beings and treating everyone with equality. India, and Hinduism in particular always believed in the doctrine of “ekam Sat; vipra bahuda vadanti” – there is one truth, wise people have described it differently. Mahatma Gandhi accepted that there is truth in every religion. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad propounded that it is an inalienable part of Muslim faith to affirm all religions, prophets and texts that came before Islam to be true. These values are included in the preamble of our Constitution. Our Constitution is the document that emerged out of struggle against colonialism. The sooner we accept that as a unifying factor, the better. Hope this dawns upon the Hindu nationalist.

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