An analogy can be drawn between a close family and a pluralistic, multi-religious, multi-cultural India. This family model can promote Hindu-Muslim unity more effectively than the Hindutva model.
By Abhay Vaidya
It may sound incredulous, but the fact is that Indian liberals and right-wing organizations such as the RSS have a common meeting point which is fundamental to India’s identity and ethos. Both agree that at the very core of India is its evolution as a pluralistic, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. This in itself is a good starting point for any discussion on India, although from this point on, the RSS and its political wing, the BJP, take a divergent, divisive path in its pursuit of a Hindu Rashtra.
Consistent with its dream of creating a Hindu Rashtra ― a nation with Hindus and Hinduism at the helm ― the RSS claims that India is fundamentally a pluralistic society because this is the very character of Hinduism. The RSS then rejects the word “secularism” calling it an unnecessary imposition of Western thought on India while interpreting it narrowly as “an equality of all religions” when in fact, secularism means the separation of state from religion and religious influence.
While addressing a seminar on secularism in Chennai, senior RSS leader and ideologue Manmohan Vaidya had said that “secularism evolved along the themes of separation of the Church and State in Europe and since India doesn’t have a history of theocratic states, the concept of secularism is irrelevant in the Indian context”. He noted that “the Bharatiya tradition has from time immemorial regarded all faiths and sects as one” and therefore, “the artificial injection of secularism is not needed in a society as hospitable and assimilative as Hindu society”.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke on similar lines on Constitution Day on November 26 when he termed “secularism” as the “most misused term” which caused tension in society and blamed the Congress for introducing it in the Preamble when even the chief author of the constitution, BR Ambedkar, didn’t feel the need for this.
Although the RSS acknowledges India’s pluralistic character, its ideology is fundamentally flawed when it gives the entire credit for Indian pluralism to Hinduism. The fact is that, over the centuries, it is the various streams of thought and religions, ranging from Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism and newer religions like Sikhism, that have contributed to the assimilative and accommodative character of India.
To therefore assert that Hindutva is the true and only identity of India and the only path forward is extremely divisive as has been witnessed in recent months when the intolerance debate reached its peak. A large number of people of eminence, including superstars such as Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan came under fierce attack from the right-wing for speaking in favor of communal harmony.
IDEAL OF FAMILY
Since there is no dispute between the RSS and liberals on India’s fundamental identity as a pluralistic and multi-cultural society, it would go a long way if the ideal of the family with its deep emotional roots is accepted as a metaphor for Indian society. A family that is born of common parentage and stands united against external threats in spite of all the acrimonies and jealousies among its constituents, is the right metaphor for a multi-religious society like India. This “family model” could promote Hindu-Muslim unity far more effectively than the “Hindutva model” which will succeed in dividing and destroying India.
Indeed, a large, joint family as a metaphor is a more accurate representation of India than the Hindutva model or the sanitized, secular model of Western societies that is presented as a vision for India by a section of the liberals and intellectuals. Our families as social units are far stronger and stable, carrying secular and liberal values that are also common to various religions.
A large, joint family is a more accurate representation of India than the Hindutva model or the sanitized, secular model of Western societies presented as a vision for India by some liberals and intellectuals.
What are the key features of a successful family? Family members recognize that they are united by blood and that they are children of the same parents. They recognize that they live in a shared space called home in whose welfare and upkeep they have a common interest. Family members, in particular siblings, recognize that they are all equals, although the eldest among them is accepted as the first among equals. The members of a family help each other in times of distress and are bound by their joys and sorrows. In the normal course, one family member does not rejoice at the misfortune of the other and most certainly, one family member does not rejoice at the death and ruin of a member of his family. Over time, the family grows and makes way for smaller families and everyone lives through all their likes and dislikes, pursuits and passions, fortunes and misfortunes; united, ultimately by an emotional bond. How is this family structure vastly different from a multi-religious and multi-cultural society like India which we incidentally refer to as “mother” India in our imagination, literature and folklore?
People of different religions are like children of the same mother. They are all equals and yet, the Hindus being the most dominant, are like the eldest child in a family, the first among equals with a special responsibility towards all the younger siblings, especially those who are weak and vulnerable.
Being the most dominant or the “eldest” does not give Hindus the right to dominate over others in a dictatorial manner and pursue their self-interest at the cost of others. The eldest sibling cannot decide what the other siblings should do with their lives just as Hindus cannot decide suo motu whether Muslims can or cannot eat beef. Points of differences have to be decided and settled through collective thought. Why can’t a magnificent Ram Mandir stand next to a magnificent Babri Masjid as a symbol of lasting Hindu-Muslim unity for generations to come? Why can’t this become the modern “Taj Mahal” of our times and be more relevant and meaningful than the marble structure at Agra that is famed for its shape and symmetry?
FUTURE IN JEOPARDY
Every constituent of a family is responsible for the peace of the household and this is what is expected of all the communities in a nation. It is better to learn to live and grow together than fight, suffer and destroy our own future, as has been the history of independent India.
The family has to live by rules which apply to all, even as some members are bestowed certain privileges and concessions. This is where a secular state comes in with the provision for reservations and concessions for weaker sections of society.
Just as the RSS-BJP’s attempt to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra could lead to serious civil strife, instability and communal clashes, it is not realistic to expect that a deeply religious society like India will become a sanitized, secular and liberal state like a Western nation simply because the constitution has the best elements of liberal, democratic states in Europe and America.
Many people of eminence, including superstars such as Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, came under fierce attack from the right-wing for speaking in favor of communal harmony.
While being deeply influenced by liberal and secular ideas, both Dr Ambedkar and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru were fully aware of the challenges before India on her journey as a liberal state.
While Dr Ambedkar pointed out that the area of operation of religion is so vast in Indian society that “everything from birth to death is a part of our religion”, Nehru told French writer and minister André Malraux that “building a secular state in a religious society” was the most serious challenge he faced.
Strong and stable families are an inherent strength of Indian society and it is this vision that must be extrapolated to India’s existence, progress and prosperity as a nation. Hindus and Muslims need not see one another as mutually opposed but as children of the same mother―just as Swami Vivekananda did. There is no reason for Hindus and Muslims to be trapped in the deeply divisive politics of the RSS, the Uddhav Thackerays and the Azam Khans of this country who play politics on communal lines. It is time to wake up and apply the “family model” to India.