It’s important to listen to the other side
An international conference, “Dismantling Global Hindutva”, to be held in the United States in the second week of September, has sparked a storm of protests. The conference’s website shows that it is co-sponsored by departments from dozens of leading US universities with academics and activists from India and beyond scheduled as speakers.
The conference poster shows the nail-pulling side of a hammer ripping off saffron-colored images of what are clearly supposed to be depictions of RSS workers. Not surprisingly, social media is buzzing with indignation from Hindutva defenders as Hindutva opponents call for solidarity with the event. In such a busy atmosphere, it is imperative to apply the golden rule of conflict resolution. Namely that both parties listen deeply to decipher the concern, the hurt, the anguish behind the complaint or the agitation of the other.
Can each party apply the principle of purva paksha – understand and represent the adversary’s point of view with complete integrity and authenticity? In trying to do this, I will be describing not the extreme bangs on each side, but what I understand to be its fundamentals.
Let us start with the defenders of Hindutva for whom “Hinduism” and “Hindutva” are now interchangeable terms. They see Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion in terms of population, as threatened in a world of aggressive proselytizing by Christians and Muslims. There is discontent that predominantly Hindu India is not a Hindu rashtra, when there are many officially Christian and Muslim nations. Moreover, both in theory and in practice, Indian secularism is perceived as having privileged minorities to the detriment of Hindus.
Hindutva is therefore seen as a political ideology necessary to secure the future of Hindus, perhaps by making India officially a Hindu nation. Some adopt the militant modes of Hindutva because there is a self-image of Hindus as having been passive for too long and not responding adequately to various types of insults and slights, whether in a distant past or now. From this point of view, the call to “dismantle the global Hindutva” is seen as an open threat. The poster of the conference is thus seen as an insult.
Now let’s take a look at the worries and worries of those who oppose the Hindutva. In essence, this opposition is rooted in India’s experience as a multicultural, multi-faith nation with a syncretic culture to be proud of. The commitment to this rich cultural heritage of respect and space for all faiths is enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
Opposition to Hindutva has intensified due to the visible increase in social, verbal and physical violence against non-Hindu and / or anti-Hindutva people. Besides the random attacks on individuals, four prominent intellectuals – Narendra Dhabolkar, Messrs Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Gauri Lankesh – were killed by some Hindutva supporters. Although similar assassins could not reach him, the prominent author and actor, the late Girish Karnad, was at the top of a death list discovered by police. Those who bear the brunt of vigilante violence in the name of Hindutva find no comfort in being told that other religions are or have been much more violent and oppressive. Or that they are marginal elements that do not represent the Hindutva itself.
Opposition to Hindutva is also motivated by concerns over systemic changes. New laws in several states make it difficult, if not impossible, for interfaith couples to marry. The destruction of places of worship to avenge historical crimes is valued. Physical attacks on people for what they eat, or for any other reason considered anti-Hindu or anti-national, are tolerated.
Many of those who are deeply anxious about these tendencies are practicing Hindus who see Hindutva as an ideology deeply antithetical to the essence of Hinduism as a spiritual tradition. They are therefore opposed to polarization, shrinking identities and hatred for any reason.
It is the set of people who have the most to lose from any effort that frames Hindutva in binary or mechanical terms – as this conference poster does. What is currently taking place within Indian society is a complex, multidimensional socio-political and psychological process that has organic roots that Hindutva advocates diligently fertilize to intensify polarization.
Therefore, any further narrowing and refining of identities, whether along lines of religion or political ideology, helps Hindutva forces to undermine Hinduism as an open culture, a metaphysics, in order to promote a nationalism which is defined in competition with various “others”. ”.
The conference, even inadvertently, could stoke the fears of those Hindus who lean towards Hindutva in large part due to unresolved insecurities. This is gravely unfortunate because the need of the hour is to open up spaces where we can all be more confident in self-criticism and introspection. Those who lean towards Hindutva should explore how their anguish can be handled and sublimated in a creative and non-violent way. Conversely, those of us who oppose the Hindutva must find ways to reaffirm and restore the Indian ethic of “sarva dharma sambhav” by not treating the defenders of Hindutva as our “other”, as an opponent to be eliminated.
We are indeed in the midst of a great and historic struggle for the future of India and what it means to be a Hindu. But to see this challenge simply as a struggle between ideologies is to fall into the trap of a decoy. Why not instead focus on what is really at stake – India’s dream of the 21st century as an open society in which the unconditional and equal right to life, dignity and freedom of expression is lived so vibrantly that all authoritarian tendencies and hate-based programs become powerless.
This column first appeared in the paper edition on September 3, 2021 under the title “The golden rule: both sides are listening”. Bakshi is author and founder of the online platform Ahimsa Conversations.