For the past few years the word hindutva has been interpreted as a form of fascism. Articles in the English language press often call it Hindu fascism. But is it, honestly?
-tva just means –ness in Sanskrit. So hindutva is merely hindu-ness. If the term ‘Christian values’ were translated into Sanskrit the word would be christ-tva, or something like that. So hindutva equals Hindu values.
The word Hindu is a cultural and geographical descriptor for who we are. In the past, being Hindu literally only meant belonging to this motherland. The way people lived in harmony with all of nature was called Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma has now been reduced to an anglicised ‘Hinduism’, though it isn’t the same thing. Dharma encompasses much more than –ism covers. It means ‘that which sustains everything, all that exists’. As the cliché goes, Sanatana Dharma is not a religion but a way of life.
There are no Hindu missionaries trying to convert people to Hinduism, and there is no government interference with citizens’ religious observances and what they want to call themselves. Vigilantism or violence in the name of Hinduism doesn’t become hindutva.
For people like me whose roots lie in the region of the Rivers Indus and Saraswati, hindutva is what our ancestors and more recent forefathers lived by, and were immersed in, all the time. It is not a set of religious customs and rituals; it is the milieu in which we live. It is also what makes us accept other religions and their avatars of god as equally valid, not to be desecrated or ridiculed.
The mainstream press generally handles words and images with deep meaning for religious people – of any religion – with care and respect, some religious words and images even with mortal fear! But the pejorative way in which hindutva is employed means the writers either don’t know what the word means to ordinary Hindus like me, or they haven’t really thought about the etymology of the word. Or, perhaps, their style guide doesn’t bother with cultural sensitivity and the need to avoid biases. Whatever their reasons, it amounts to taking a very simplistic view of it. I mean, what I understand by ‘atom’ is nothing compared to what it really is, and even when I say ‘really’ I only mean how physicists see it; there might very well be other ways of understanding the atom.
Calling vigilante violence hindutva is like saying that sexual abuse in churches (that was highlighted in the movie Spotlight) is part of Christian values just because some Christian priests indulged in it! That’s grossly unfair. Christians deplore such depredations by their clergy, and Hindus do not condone vigilante violence. These are aberrations, the way the massacre of Rohingyas in Burma is not Buddhism, and blowing up people and buildings is not Islam. Lynching people because they eat beef is not hindutva. Hindutva is not fascism.
Fascism is what Mussolini practiced in Italy from the end of the WW1 onwards, until the end of WW2. The fact that Mussolini and his people were Christian never came into it; it was never called Christian fascism. Hitler and his Gestapo were raised Christian (Hitler was baptized and confirmed), but their activities were termed Nazism. I have never heard anybody say Christian Nazis killed Jews; it is The Holocaust, that’s all. People even avoid calling it genocide! Likewise, I often wonder why people never say they eat pig – why is it pork, bacon, ham, sausage – anything but pig? And mutton, venison, beef, veal, poultry, never naming the unfortunate animals slaughtered for these meats?
Why does the world use euphemisms and delicately dance around some words and maul others mercilessly so they are rendered meaningless? When we sang ‘Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hand hath made…’ at Chapel in school, ‘awesome’ meant something sublime, it evoked awe and thankfulness. Does ‘awesome’ mean anything anymore? Hindutva has similarly lost its real meaning.
Indians had lost all hope that this country would ever improve, and that cross-border terrorism and the ‘Kashmir problem’ would ever end. Five years ago I had written a sad little blog post on how India is a spent force and will never improve! Now there’s a bit of hope, a bit of pride in being Indian, and it’s palpable all over the country and even among Indians living abroad. If there is triumphalism, it is in the media; ordinary people are quietly upbeat about what the government is trying to do, at least about schemes like jandhan and fasal bima. I don’t see any country thriving like a utopia, all peace and justice and booming economy. We have our share of problems too.
This is an elected government. It has only five years to effect change and it seems in a hurry. On the face of it, you could say it looks like the definition of fascism in the Cambridge dictionary: ‘a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control, and being extremely proud of country and race, and in which political opposition is not allowed’. But is the state of affairs in India honestly fascism? There is a powerful leader because he got the votes, there is state control only in some parts of Jammu & Kashmir to prevent violence at present, the people in government are proud to be Indian and don’t get pushed around by other countries the way they did earlier (and I don’t find their pride extreme), political opposition is allowed but is temporarily inadequate because the opposition parties are currently in disarray.
Placing the blame on hindutva for every act of violence in the country (like the rape of an elderly nun in 2017– the assailants were later found to be Bangladeshi Muslims), and using the word hindutva to mean fascism, does not help. I have chosen to write this post only because the gap between hindutva as we live it, and the way it is portrayed in the media, is too wide to ignore.