In officially denying institutionalized racism, Republic of India has been glorifying its source: Hinduism. Heralding the philosophy as a peaceful way of life and a non-violent religion, the Hindus have largely repudiated charges of casteism, misogyny, and terrorism. Each instance of terror and injustice perpetrated by the Hindus upon oppressed minorities are eagerly dismissed as handiworks of tiny fundamentalist elements within the religion. Handful of opportunistic regional parties and disgraced cultural outfits proudly don the mantle as the revivalists, while the majority of Hindus cautiously tread away from being labeled.
Religious fanatics are everywhere, and in extremely small numbers. In the current world order of great religious intolerances, what must bother us more is the comfortable stoicism protecting majority of religious followers who thrive on their superstitions, uncritical silence, and eschewal of deep-seated biases. This majority Hindus, who unequivocally, and at times famously, perorate against the historic apartheid, racism and colonialism across the planet, remain obnoxiously phlegmatic about their own continued violence against the oppressed minorities. Shamelessly enough, our officials and scholars have refused to equate casteism with racism, and most have taken resort to a medieval differentiation between caste and varna to steer clear of internationalization of Indian racism.
How does a nation take pride in its civilizational history while having systematically mutilated its poorest for centuries, through well conceived genocides? How does the modern Indian citizens reconcile their beliefs about the golden culture of peace and tolerance with the suppressed facts related to heritage of methodical violence deeply embedded in their religious ethos? Perhaps only by preaching the exact opposite of what need to be deconstructed. As a result, Hinduism – the religion which apparently binds Indian nation, its gods and religious texts are upheld as what they clearly are not. Not only the myths of cultural purities are attributed to the Aryan invaders, it is also propagated through textbooks that social discriminations found no place in ancient self-righteous religious texts.
Vedic Myths and Aryan Violence:
Casteism, the most vigorously active form of human oppression in the world today is actively dissociated from Hinduism on the ground that the earliest Vedic scriptures had no mention of castes, and that the caste system was merely a product of later colonial phases. However, this is a dangerous legend of a great proportion. Rigveda’s Mandala VI (47.20-21) while clarifying Aryan invasion, pronounces the primary Hindu God Indra as a violent entity inflicting cruelty upon the dark-skinned indigenous peoples: “Day after day, from their seat he, Indra, drove them, alike, from place to place, those dark-looking creatures. The Hero slew the meanly-behaving Dasas, Varchin and Shambara, where the waters gather.”
Historian Irfan Habib alludes to violent behavior of Aryan gods: “With about 250 hymns addressed to him alone, and 50 more to him together with other gods, Indra occupies a practically paramount position in the Rigvedic pantheon. He is described as a great hero with long arms and the thunderbolt as his weapon. He is the god of war: he not only subdues demons, he also destroys the Aryans’ enemies.”
It was Rigveda which identifies not only the Dasyus and the Dasas as enemies of the Aryans whose mass annihilation (dasyu-hatya) alone can bring victory to Indra God, it was Rigveda which also in Mandala X (Purusha-sukta) presents the caste society the Aryans envisaged: “The Brahmana was his (Purusha’s) mouth; the Rajanya was made out of both his arms. His thighs turned into the Vaishya; from his feet was produced the Shudra.”
Hindu reformers often defend Vedic description by claiming the divisions as varna rather than caste, as if by doing so, the religion would then have no say in institutionalizing varna violence. Even if just deeds were to determine one’s varna, one needs to acknowledge the impacts hereditary privileges have on human capacity to excel. Kings and their priests invariably always continued their family traditions of conquering over people through might, deception and violence.
Historian Romila Thapar writes: “The great heroes of early Indian history Ajatashatru, Chandragupta Maurya, Kanishka, Samudragupta, Harsha, Pulaskeshin II, Mahendravarman Pallava, Rajendra Chola et al, are heroes primarily because they were conquerers. Year after year, thousands of students of history proclaim Samudragupta as the Indian Napoleon (after Vincent Smith) and glory in his actions in uprooting kings and tribal chiefs in victory after victory. One wonders where the nonviolence comes in.”
Indeed, more than Mahmud of Ghazni whose being Muslim is associated with his capacity as a breaker of idols, it was Hindu rulers such as Harsha – an eleventh century king of Kashmir – who organized and institutionalized despoiling of temples. Kalhan’s Rajatarangini describes at length how Harsha created a special position called the devotpatananayaka (literally, the officer in charge of uprooting of the gods), whose job was to plunder the temples for their wealth. Such monopolizations over territorial gains and associated historical Hindu aristocracy owe their violent flavors to the divine teachings of model rulers exemplified by epics.
Contrary to popular assertions, Mahabharata (in specific, Bhagavata Geeta)’s moralities are highly suspect. A tiny group of power hungry upper caste elites in the form of Pandavas unleash a war upon the majority of people comprising lower caste Yadavas to win it in the most deceptive manner. Yudhisthira considered in Hindu scriptures as a paragon of virtue is a habitual gambler who silently witnesses his wife Draupadi being dishonored owing to his own vices. Nevertheless, he harbors the ambition to rule over the world and conducts the Rajasuya Yagna where he endorses beheading of Sishupal whose crime is his jealousy. In the war he finally championed, Yudhisthira loses and yet his life is spared by Karna, for whom instead of gratitude, he maintains great disdain throughout, simply because of the latter’s identification with the lower caste.
Bheema, the mightiest one is another cruel and violent character the readers are asked to empathize with. Bheema while failing to assess why Yudhisthira could be in the wrong in gambling away his state and his wife, gets to kill Keechak, the commander of Virat’s army for evincing interest in Draupadi. When his teacher Drona remains invincible, Bheema kills an elephant and spreads a lie about Ashwathama’s death. He lets his son Ghatotkacha break all codes of war by fighting late into the night. And he breaks the mace fight law himself by hitting Duryadhana in the thigh with an aim to kill.
The great warrior Arjuna is idolized by the Hindus for being a humanist. And yet Arjuna’s personality is anything but. When Lord Shiva in disguise killed a wild boar to save Arjuna and the latter displayed his respect, Shiva offered him a boon, any boon. Arjuna requested for the Pashupat weapon from the lord to be used in the great war. Such was his propensity to kill that he took assistance of Krishna to kill Jaidratha through creation of a sunset illusion, in direct contravention of war policies both Pandavas and Kauravas had consented to prior to the commencement. Furthermore, unable to defeat Karna, Arjuna gets to kill him in the most cowardly fashion while he was fixing a chariot wheel.
The caste war prolongs in Mahabharata with its grandest personality, Bheeshma agreeing to join it only with the condition that he shall not kill any of the Pandavas, would not permit Karna to kill them and will not fight a weak opponent. The divine fighters on the side of the Pandavas then decide to bring in Srikhandi, an eunuch, to fight Bheeshma.
From subjugation of women and sexual minorities, to genocide of lower caste Yadavas who were gifted by Krishna to represent Kauravas’ army, Mahabharata is a great tale of outrightly violent caste war. Its immoralities only match the other epic, Ramayana – a tale of crude justification of Aryan invasion of the Southern India. In the garb of Hindu God Vishnu’s purpose of halting a demon, Ramayana was a saga of casteless indigenous who refused to assimilate with the Northern invaders. The indigenous were characterized as ugly and uncivilized, starting with Ravana’s sister Surpanakha (who possibly could have been a beautiful woman whose face was disfigured by Lakshmana). Earliest traces of misogyny manifests itself within the God himself who must put Sita on trial to prove her chastity. On the other hand, Lakhsmana and Hanuman, both great advocates of unbridled violence, emerge as the most beloved to Lord Rama.
So have we been worshipping the false gods?
Dalitbahujan scholar Kancha Ilaiah says it was violence alone that made Krishna so acceptable to brahminical forces: “When the majority were not willing to give up the land they had acquired through sweat and blood, Krishna resorts to violence and asks members of his camp to kill anyone – guilty or otherwise – from the majority camp, as they had rebelled against brahminical dharma.” Likewise Brahminical patriarchy glorying itself in violence and intimidation had held sway during the period of Ramayana. Ilaiah says, “With the killing of Ravana, many Brahmin rishis migrated from the North to the whole of South India, which had basically been a casteless society. It was turned into a caste-based society and the Brahmins established their ideological hegemony over the whole of South India.”
“The religion which regards the recognition of man’s self-respect as sin is not a religion but a sickness. The religion which allows one to touch a foul animal but not a man is not a religion but a madness. The religion which says that one class may not acquire wealth, may not take up arms, is not a religion but a mockery of man’s life. The religion which teaches that the unlearned should remain unlearned, that the poor should remain poor, is not a religion but a punishment.” – Babasaheb Ambedkar
“If he mentions the names and castes (gati) of the (twice-born) with contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers long, shall be thrust red-hot into his mouth.” – Manu Smriti: 271
“A Brahmana is to be addressed with ‘Speak,’ a Kshatriya with ‘Speak the truth,’ a Vaisya (while admonishing him) by (mentioning) his kine, grain, and gold, a Sudra (threatening him) with (the guilt of) every crime that causes loss of caste” – Manu Smriti: 88
Freethinking is an ancient Indian philosophical tradition. However, The Vedic manipulators/preachers not only forbade any questioning of the sacred words, but over time, they also eliminated those that did. Where it was not possible to purge the great rationalists, such as in the case of Buddha, the Hindu seers misappropriated them for religious ends. Vivekananda, a much esteemed revivalist did the greatest disservice to Buddhist heritage by proclaiming Buddha as a Hindu sage who had no command over his followers. Declaring Buddhism as merely “a fulfillment of Hinduism”, Vivekananda extolled the annihilation of the rational philosophy in such words, “Buddhists dashed themselves against the eternal rocks of the Vedas and could not crush them, and on the other side they took away from the nation that eternal God to which every one, man or woman, clings so fondly. And the result was that Buddhism had to die a natural death in India. At the present day there is not one who calls oneself a Buddhist in India, the land of its birth.” Not only have proponents of Hinduism basked in the glory of suppression of Buddhism, many have also firmly succeeded in obliterating traces of rational knowledge that founded Indian atheism. Subsequently, Charvaka and Lokayata philosophies have been unduly expunged.
Perhaps, Hinduism is not merely a way of life in India. It is also a most violent reminder of oppression countless Dalits face on a daily basis. Therefore, in contemporary times, with the growth of the Hindu terrorism, the religion and its codes need to be reassessed. If Ambedkar famously burnt down one of its symbolisms, the Manu Smriti, it was Vinayak Savarkar who continually upheld it as the core rule book of Hinduism. Declared a ‘Veer’ by the Hindu mainland, Savarkar used to famously impose Hinduism upon the ‘untouchables’, while forbidding them entry into Hindu temples.
Inspired by Savarkar, the Hindu Nation has found its modern day distinct ideology through writings of Keshava Hedgewar and Madhav Golwalkar. Full of hatred and parochial intents, Hindu supremacism has mesmerized the country today. Once, a communal outburst, Hindu nationalism today has gained not only a cultural admissibility in the form of RSS, but also a wide-scale political platform in the form of BJP. The killers of Gandhi are celebrated in the land of the Buddha.
The ancient religion, still barbaric, has metamorphosed into a sophisticated philosophical tool in the hands of the communalist preachers, and the majority of Hindus remain gleefully absorbed at their own religious appropriations. Time has come to revisit the myths, in order to disown the trends, and one should hope the world’s third largest religious identity has sufficient moral courage to do just that.
(Saswat Pattanayak, 2010)