The Indian state refuses to recognize Hindus as the varied trees of the same forest and instead considers them worth protecting only if they conform like the uniform vegetation in a small grove or a garden.
Raghunandhan (Raghu) Bhaskaran is a Bharathi and like many today, he for long, ignored his heritage and was focused towards Artha, to the exclusion of the other Purusharthas and is yet another IT consultant. But now he is increasingly a seeker of what it means to be a Hindu, a follower of Dharma in every sphere of life - personal, social, cultural and political. Towards this, he uses writing as a sadhana, to attain clarity and shares his learning with others, learns from others. He considers himself as the 'Mongoose of Mahabharatha', from the Ashwamedha Parva. Serendipity has led him to some yagna-salas, the works/company of some wonderful people - from heritage, family, friends, teachers and even on social media. He rolls around in the crumbs of their wisdom and some stick to him. And he shines in parts, from those borrowed crumbs of knowledge.
Hinduism was a colonial construction
People who deny that the caste 'system' was a colonial construction, happily proclaim that Hinduism was a colonial construction. Funny that, and yet I think both are true. The concept of an umbrella Hindu identity indeed was a colonial construction along with it the formalization of jaatis into a 'system', made rigid with its associated privileges and abuses etc. It is natural to be so, and I will explain why.
Prior to the arrival of invasive Islam, there was no need for an umbrella identity. The land itself had an identity - Bharat, India, Hind, Sindh etc., but the people themselves did not subscribe to a shared identity. Even the presence of Shramanas did not enforce that, because following Buddha or Mahavira was akin to just following another Sampradaya among many. In one family - Chandragupta, Bindusara, Ashoka - each followed a different Sampradaya which was not considered an oddity. The Sampradayas, of course, competed for royal patronage but it was not an existential conflict pitting people against people, and rarely descended into general violence.
But Islam changed all that, it brought existential violence. The kaffirs had to be erased or subjugated completely. Still, there was no need for an umbrella Hindu identity for there were only two groups - the ruling Muslims and all others, degrees of dhimmis, mushriks and kaffirs. But once Christian colonization came with the Europeans, and British captured power, they had many reasons not to go with just 'ruling British and others', but rather 'British, Muslims and Others'. The reasons were twofold:
* Primary reason was of course to divide and rule, that became the basis of the two nation theory.
* Secondly, the colonial Christians had more affinity towards the monotheistic Muslims than with the heathen idol worshipping Hindus, hence they did not merge them into the same group.
This is how the umbrella Hindu identity came into play, for political and legal reasons. Though it meant little in the daily life of the ordinary person who did not particularly identify himself as a Hindu. He (or she) had his Jaati, his Kula devata, his Ishta Devata, association with some panth, sampradaya etc., that is about it. Sure he shared things like Ramayana and Mahabharata, the deities like Shiva and Vishnu etc. with a lot of other jaatis and regions, but yet there was little sense of belonging to the umbrella identity.
But with the success of the two nation theory resulting in partition and the continuation of the colonial state now ruled by Brown Sahibs instead of the White Sahibs, a constitution which is still interpreted with disdain towards the Hindus using colonial definitions, started causing the umbrella Hindu identity to coalesce and expand.
Therefore the Hindu identity is a colonial legacy, only in the sense that a considerable number of people started self-identifying themselves as Hindus in various aspects of life; starting from the colonial period and due to the impact of colonial and post-colonial policies, otherwise they generally were and are aware of the common legacy - the civilizational continuum from the Vedic origins.
Yet it must be considered whether such identification and consolidation into an 'Umbrella Hindu Identity" is a good thing or not, in relation to forces acting upon that dynamic.
(1) The institutional or the constitutional apathy
As shown in the Sabarimala and other such cases, by defining Hindus as an amorphous ‘all other’ group of people, the constitution is interpreted to deny them the protections given under Articles 26-30 to preserve and practice their customs and religion as they see fit. Basically, they are considered a-religious and the size of the amorphous population makes them a non-minority.
Hence the travesty of a Parsi judge, whose own religion does not allow women into their Fire temples, sitting on judgement and declaring that a Hindu temple can’t do something similar. Because Parsis are a clearly defined denomination, a minority religion of exclusive practice, which can manage its own affairs in matters of religion.
But a Hindu, well he is a cipher, he will today go to a Shiva temple, tomorrow worship Ayyappa, will even go to a Church or Mosque, he is an ARSE “All Religions are Same and Equal”, The thinking is why do the beliefs of such a person need any protection, when he is incapable of being exclusive to any one belief?
So such people are deemed incompetent in managing their temples as well, the states can take over them and the donations Hindus make to the temples, can be swallowed into the public funds, The state can dicker with the traditions and customs, whenever they want, whatever is convenient to the public good, as the state determines it. The Hindu opinion does not count.
(2) The Socio-political enmity
While the law and institutions are against the Hindus as an identity, because of its size and amorphous nature, that the increasing consolidation of Hindus, frightens the socio-political powers based upon other ideologies – Islam, Evangelizing Christianity, Communism and its many shades of red etc.
They fear the consolidation and try their utmost to break it. In that sense, they started it during the British colonial era itself: making a “system” out of castes, the Aryan-Dravidian divide. And today it continues with narratives such as “Brahminical Hinduism”, Dalitism, and Regionalism etc. The disguises of liberalism, feminism, environmental protection etc. are used to strip the religiosity and make Hindus into a characterless dummies – Spiritual But Not Religious. SBNR.
So which way do we go?
Grow in size, while constantly letting our institutions infringed, identities diluted, diversity denied and discriminated against?
The Sangh is aligned with this approach, as a strong proponent of the umbrella Hindu Identity, it appears willing to sacrifice all diversity of beliefs and practices. It does not willingly fight the institutional assaults upon the diversity of practice and seems to find that an acceptable cost for the consolidation of the umbrella Hindu identity. It is often accused of a Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan version of a congregational uniform cultural movement, which for appearance sake is Hindu, but shorn of the diversity and the divinity could be any generic product. Hence the willingness to taken in exclusionary people such as Muslims and Christians. But again since it is Hindus alone who have the flexibility of belief to accept such generic product, the traction the Sangh has is predominantly among Hindus alone.
Or agree to split up, in a million sects and religions – ISKCON, Lingayat, Smartha, Vaishnava, Shakta, Ayyappa, this panth and that, Jaggi religion, Baba Ramdev religion etc. Be exclusionary, say nasty things about each other, refuse to accept the diversity of divinity and the paths to achieve it i.e. be like a Christian or Muslim in everything but in name.
- Forest for the trees:
The Indian state refuses to recognize Hindus as the varied trees of the same forest. It considers us worth protecting only if we are a uniform vegetation of a small grove or garden. For it sees only (the size of) the forest and not the (variety of) trees.
- Trees for the forest:
The ideological enemies would like to see us as separate pieces, so that they can infect and erase us, and hence only see the (variety of) trees and ignore the (connectivity of the) forest.
We are caught between the hammer and the anvil. Should we:
- Stay together, and be denied the protections offered to minorities while the state butchers us one temple at a time, one custom at a time.
- Stay apart, obtain constitutional protection and be ineffective against the predatory religions that hunt us.
That is the conundrum of the Hindu identity, today.