The Pervading Disquiet

By Roshmi Goswami

Opinions ranging from Chief Minister, Mr Conrad Sangma, Kam Meghalaya, several thinking citizens and netizens have been unanimous and rightly so in calling out against and resisting the ‘everyone is a Hindu’ sweeping statement of the RSS Chief. As a Hindu I too add my voice to that disquiet and denouncement firstly for its far- reaching implications for all other religions and belief systems and secondly the implications for the vast diversity of beliefs and practices of Hindus themselves.
There may be many who endorse the RSS ideology and many others who are happy to be subsumed under the Sangh fold for political expediency, financial support, power or questionable insecurities but there are equal numbers of Hindus who reject the RSS ideology of Hindutva – a belief system alleged to be inspired or informed by Nazi- Fascism of Germany and Italy as pointed out by various scholars and thought leaders. Although continuously and systematically underplayed by today’s sold out media there is enough resistance across the country today to this grand plan of subsumption.
All Hindus and more importantly Hinduism cannot be subsumed under this Hindutva fold and agenda for Hindutva and Hinduism are not synonymous. The overwhelming response to a recent publication by well- known Kannada writer Devanur Mahadeva which takes a critical look at the ideology of the RSS and is being translated into many languages including Assamese and Khasi is telling. At a personal level my beliefs and values come from what I have been taught by or imbibed from my parents, forefathers and ancestors while my deeper understanding of the basic philosophy of my religion is from readings and reflections on the writings of learned and respected scholars of Hinduism and others – not from google downloads, IEC materials or political propaganda of all and sundry. My inherited belief system has had enough room for critical thinking, questioning, debates, dissent, at times even humour at the cost of our multiple deities and their fables and above all a lived experience of diversity.
I have always been struck by the expansiveness and lack of the concept of blasphemy of my belief system. Today looking at the increasing levels of insecurity which I see as what underpins this tearing hurry to ‘subsume’ and flatten diversities I often think about the quiet dignity and confidence of my own ancestors. A self -assured self-respecting generation so different from now. I don’t remember a single male family member, many of them fierce freedom fighters as well as my grandfather a learned Vedantic scholar ever needing to display any markers of their piety or their religious identity on their physical self ! While markets and self- appointed gatekeepers come together to tell us what we ought to eat and how we ought to behave during this period of the auspicious Durga Puja my ninety two year old mother fondly recollects the array of meat and fish dishes that were lovingly prepared and offered to the Mother Goddess in her over two centuries old family tradition of worshipping the Goddess!
Yes, one highly values and lives with the strength and confidence of these traditions and one’s ancestry. At no point of time will these get dictated to or subsumed by Nagpur or Ayodhya. The other narrative that is being strongly promoted by a pliant media is that even though the RSS is an organisation that has been banned twice it has changed or is changing. The recent bout of violence in the city of Leicester UK which has sullied the reputation of India considerably, of course, tells another story but perhaps because of such like incidents a concerted effort is being made to present a more benign front. Part of Mr. Bhagwat’s grand tour of the ‘frontiers’ (interestingly and coincidentally State elections just happen to be round the corner!) is undoubtedly part of this ‘new face’ mission. Some sections extol the humanitarian services of the RSS and contend that they have a real concern for humanity, which may be true to some extent but the SEVA bar for me is the one set by the Gurudwaras and the SIKH community – unconditional and agenda free. To reach there the RSS has a long way to go.
Nevertheless, as an advocate for conflict transformation and peace building I would still try and give the opposite side the benefit of doubt. In the last eight years or so there have been enough occasions where the RSS could have redeemed itself, stood up and shown caring and humane leadership, but we have heard no RSS voice anywhere – none when Pehhlu Khan, Akhlaq Khan and many others were lynched, no calling out when 100 Muslim women were humiliated and defiled by the Bulli Bai App incident, no denouncement of the public call for genocide against Muslims which went out from sacred places of worship and by members of the Sangh family, no condemnation either of the depraved display of celebrations upon release of a pack of rapists and murderers in the recent Bilkis Bano case. And yet again no castigation of the horrific and gleeful reenactment of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by some members of the Sangh. This was a moment in the history of the Nation which shrouded the entire nation in darkness and unfathomable grief and to reenact it in this way is abominable and unconscionable. And yet there is this tremendous wannabe Father of the Nation – Rashtrapita syndrome catalysed perhaps by some subservient flippant remark by a political aspirant and propelled forward again by the ever- pliant media.
To reach the Mahatma’s status is to first of all arrive at the Mahatma’s level and depth of understanding of Truth – Satya and Non- Violence Ahimsa which needs an exceedingly profound level of engagement, commitment and sadhana. A core element of this journey is a respect for the truth of the ‘other’ – a respect for the ‘diverse other’. The key question in this quest would be – are the myriad communities of this nation, indigenous and non indigenous belief systems and practices given recognition and space as a different ‘other’ and yet fully respected? Or is respect conditional on accepting the politically endorsed ‘same’ ideology and belief system? That indeed is the ultimate test.

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