The myths of “one nation” and “one Hinduism” in India

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Addressing the ‘nation’ on 15 August, to mark the 55th anniversary of ‘independence’, prime minister AB Vajpayee cut his task down to addressing “cross-border terrorism”. His main theme was how Pakistan is trying to thwart India’s ‘peaceful’ efforts to resolve the problems of Kashmir. By the end of his speech his audience had been persuaded to believe that all the country’s problems could be solved once Pakistan had given up its “cross-border terrorism” and paved the way for peaceful ‘elections’ in Kashmir.

On 20 August, the ‘integrity’ of the world’s largest democracy was exposed yet again in the northeastern state of Tripura. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed and many injured when heavily armed militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) ambushed their tank. The militants, positioned on hillocks on both sides of the road, hurled a grenade, bringing the tank to a halt, and then opened fire with automatic weapons, killing nineteen on the spot; one died later in hospital.

Tripura was never part of India. Even during British rule in the Indian subcontinent, Tripura was never annexed to British Indian territories, remaining an independent kingdom. Bir Bikram, the last independent king of Tripura, died on 17 May 1947. Three months later, when the British left India, the situation was fluid enough for India to annex the kingdom of Tripura. Indian agents spread the rumour that Muslim refugees from neighbouring East Pakistan were hatching a conspiracy to merge Tripura with Pakistan (a similar rumour was also spread in Kashmir). As a condition for India’s ‘help’, the Queen of Tripura was made to sign the Tripura Merger Agreement, whereby Tripura was annexed on 15 October 1949. Tripura has been under Indian rule since, and so the struggle for independence goes on. Similar struggles for independence are also going on in other northeastern states, such as Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland.

Geographically and culturally, the region now called northeast India is situated between the two traditions of Indic Asia and Mongoloid Asia. This geographical-cultural condition of “in-betweenness” is an important factor in the area’s crisis of identity. The leaders of the present-day “underground outfits” continue to struggle for independence, as the political integration of the northeast to India was brought about without the approval of its people. The people of northeast India, who are culturally Mongoloid, refuse to accept the caste-ridden social system advocated by ‘Indian’ culture.

The indigenous Tripuri people, for instance, who constituted more than 85 percent of the population in 1947, have now been reduced to less than 30 percent. They have also been branded “outcastes” in the Hindu caste-system. Such a derogatory categorization can never be acceptable to the northeastern tribes. The people’s experience of being despised as “untouchables”, and their fear of losing their identity, are the main factors that have led to the “ethnopolitical” movements of insurgency in the northeastern states of what is usually called India.

The notions of “one nation” and “one Hinduism” are myths promulgated by the Brahmin rulers of India to suppress the illiterate and poverty-stricken masses. India has never been a Hindu-majority country. The caste-system is the soul of Hinduism, and 85 percent of the population, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Tribals and the Dalits (untouchables), fall outside this four-tier pyramid. Thus the conventional identification of “India” with the terms “Hindu” and “Hinduism” is utterly wrong. According to its official statistics India may be a Hindu-majority state, but this does not mean that ‘India’ was ever populated predominantly by a people whose identity was formed by their collective identification with a religion called “Hinduism”.

Racism in India is sanctified, unlike in most other places in the world. The superiority of the Brahmins (who comprise less than 5 percent of the population) and their right to be rulers and priests are sanctioned by ‘religious’ scriptures. Dalits, the black ‘untouchables’ of India, are among the most exploited and oppressed peoples on earth, victims of a centuries-old experiment in forced political integration under conditions of cultural assimilation. They are not allowed to enter temples or touch the ‘Hindu’ scriptures, yet they are called ‘Hindus’ to give substance to the myth of India’s being a “Hindu-majority nation”.

The ruling class of India, comprising the media, intelligentsia and bureaucracy, are always telling the world that India is a “peace-loving Hindu nation”. With this claim India observed the International Anti-Apartheid Year in 1978-79. AB Vajpayee, then foreign minister, went to the UN general assembly and spoke in Hindi there to denounce apartheid in South Africa and racial discrimination in the US, Britain and other countries. Yet Moraji Desai’s government would not allow Thames Television, a British company, to make a film about India’s Black Untouchables because it would project a bad image of the ‘nation’ to the outside world.

Millions of bonded labourers are enslaved in “the world’s largest democracy”. Former deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram’s wish to be cremated beside Indira Gandhi’s grave was rejected because he was an Untouchable by birth. During the UN conference on racism in Durban last year, the Indian government refused visas to Dalit representatives to attend the conference, and India’s establishment persists in the view that the caste-system is not racism.

Today India is pretending that it is only the “Kashmir dispute” that threatens its ‘integrity’. Yet separatist movements have sprung up in the Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and all the northeastern states. In the Punjab, separatist movements were temporarily halted in 1984, when the Indian Army killed 3,500 men, women and children by attacking the Sikh temple at Amritsar. In other states, the government is apparently holding its own at the moment. In Kashmir, India’s hopes of maintaining its ‘integrity’ are being shaken every day. In the northeast, India is gradually losing control. Elsewhere in India the situation is volatile.

There is barely a state in India that shares a cultural, linguistic or religious bond with another state. The vast majority of ‘Indians’ do not read, write or speak Hindi, yet Hindi is the “national language”. A Bengali Hindu is culturally closer to a Bangladeshi Muslim, yet they are supposed to be “foreigners” to each other. The same Bengali Hindu is alien to a Hindu of Delhi, yet they are both “Indians”. So also with Kashmiris, Punjabis, Tamils and so on. The congress government ‘united’ India for 50 years, with difficulty, under a centralized Delhi-based rule. The current government by its policies is speeding up the process of disintegration. Kashmir will break away eventually, and the rest will follow suit.

In the nineteen-eighties the collapse of the Soviet Union was unimaginable. India’s disintegration, although almost as unimaginable now, will be as dramatic, and satisfy the aspirations of most of its non-Brahmin population. It is also as inevitable as hindsight shows the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet empire to have been.

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