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Saturday, December 29, 2007

From the very same Gita from which Gandhiji derived non-violence and satyagraha, Lokmanya Tilak constructed the case for ferocious response

Home > Op-Ed > SPECIAL TO THE EXPRESS Hindutva and radical Islam: Where the twain do meet
Arun Shourie Indian Express: Friday, December 28, 2007
Every set of scriptures has in it enough to justify extreme, even violent reaction. The tectonic shift in the Hindu mind, that has been going on for 200 years, is being underestimated
'Your Hindutva is no different from Islamic fundamentalism’ — a fashionable statement these days, one that immediately establishes the person’s secular credentials. It is, of course, false, as we shall see in a moment. But there is a grain of potential truth in it — something that does not put Hinduism at par with Islam, but one that should, instead, serve as a warning to all who keep pushing Hindus around. That grain is the fact that every tradition has in it, every set of scriptures has in it enough to justify extreme, even violent reaction.
From the very same Gita from which Gandhiji derived non-violence and satyagraha, Lokmanya Tilak constructed the case for ferocious response, not excluding violence. From the very same Gita from which Gandhiji derived his ‘true law’, shatham pratyapi satyam, ‘Truth even to the wicked’, the Lokmanya derived his famous maxim, shatham prati shaathyam, ‘Wickedness to the wicked.’
In the great work, Gita Rahasya, that he wrote in the Mandalay prison, the Lokmanya invokes Sri Samartha, ‘Meet boldness with boldness; impertinence by impertinence must be met; villainy by villainy must be met.’ Large-heartedness towards those who are grasping? Forgiveness towards those who are cruel? ‘Even Prahlada, that highest of devotees of the Blessed Lord,’ the Lokmanya recalls, has said, ‘Therefore, my friend, wise men have everywhere mentioned exceptions to the principle of forgiveness.’ True, the ordinary rule is that one must not cause harm to others by doing such actions as, if done to oneself, would be harmful. But, the Mahabharata, Tilak says, ‘has made it clear that this rule should not be followed in a society, where there do not exist persons who follow the other religious principle, namely, others should not cause harm to us, which is the corollary from this first principle.’ The counsel of ‘equability’ of the Gita, he says, is bound up with two individuals; that is, it implies reciprocity.
‘Therefore, just as the principle of non-violence is not violated by killing an evil-doer, so also the principle of self-identification [of seeing the same, Eternal Self in all] or of non-enmity, which is observed by saints, is in no way affected by giving condign punishment to evil-doers.’ Does the Supreme Being not Himself declare that He takes incarnations from time to time to protect dharma and destroy evil-doers? Indeed, the one who hesitates to take the retaliatory action that is necessary assists the evil to do their work. ‘And the summary of the entire teaching of the Gita is that: even the most horrible warfare which may be carried on in these circumstances, with an equable frame of mind, is righteous and meritorious.’
Tilak invokes the advice of Bhisma, and then of Yudhisthira, ‘Religion and morality consist in behaving towards others in the same way as they behave towards us; one must behave deceitfully towards deceitful persons, and in a saintly way towards saintly persons.’ Of course, act in a saintly way in the first instance, the Lokmanya counsels. Try to dissuade the evil-doer through persuasion. ‘But if the evilness of the evil-doers is not circumvented by such saintly actions, or, if the counsel of peacefulness and propriety is not acceptable to such evil-doers, then according to the principle kantakenaiva kantakam (that is, “take out a thorn by a thorn”), it becomes necessary to take out by a needle, that is by an iron thorn, if not by an ordinary thorn, that thorn which will not come out with poultices, because under any circumstances, punishing evil-doers in the interests of general welfare, as was done by the Blessed Lord, is the first duty of saints from the point of view of Ethics.’
And the responsibility for the suffering that is caused thereby does not lie with the person who puts the evil out; it lies with the evil-doers. The Lord Himself says, Tilak recalls, ‘I give to them reward in the same manner and to the same extent that they worship Me.’ ‘In the same way,’ he says, ‘no one calls the Judge, who directs the execution of a criminal, the enemy of the criminal...’
Could the variance between two interpretations be greater than is the case between the Lokmanya’s Gita Rahasya and Gandhiji’s Anashakti Yoga? Yet both constructions are by great and devout Hindus. Are ordinary Hindus nailed to Gandhiji’s rendering? After all, at the end of the Gita, Arjuna does not go off to sit at one of our non-violent dharnas. He goes into blood-soaked battle.
The comforting mistake
The mistake is to assume that the sterner stance is something that has been fomented by this individual or that —in the case of Hindutva, by, say, Veer Savarkar — or by one organisation, say the RSS or the VHP. That is just a comforting mistake — the inference is that once that individual is calumnised, once that organisation is neutralised, ‘the problem’ will be over. Large numbers do not gravitate to this interpretation rather than that merely because an individual or an organisation has advanced it — after all, the interpretations that are available on the shelf far outnumber even the scriptures. They gravitate to the harsher rendering because events convince them that it alone will save them.
It is this tectonic shift in the Hindu mind, a shift that has been going on for 200 years, which is being underestimated. The thousand years of domination and savage oppression by rulers of other religions; domination and oppression which were exercised in the name of and for the glory of and for establishing the sway of those religions, evinced a variety of responses from the Hindus. Armed resistance for centuries... When at last such resistance became totally impossible, the revival of bhakti by the great poets... When public performance even of bhakti became perilous, sullen withdrawal, preserving the tradition by oneself, almost in secrecy: I remember being told in South Goa how families sustained their devotion by painting images of our gods and goddesses inside the tin trunks in which sheets and clothing were kept. The example of individuals: recall how the utter simplicity and manifest aura of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa negated the efforts of the missionaries, how his devotion to the image of the Goddess at Dakshineshwar restored respectability to the idolatry that the missionaries and others were traducing... The magnetism of Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi... Gandhiji’s incontestable greatness and the fact that it was so evidently rooted in his devotion to our religion...


Each of these stemmed much. But over the last 200 years the feeling has also swelled that, invaluable as these responses have been, they have not been enough. They did not prevent the country from being taken over. They did not shield the people from the cruelty of alien rulers. They did not prevent the conversion of millions. They did not prevent the tradition from being calumnised and being thrown on the defensive. They did not in the end save the country from being partitioned — from being partitioned in the name of religion...
There is a real vice here. The three great religions that originated in Palestine and Saudi Arabia — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — have been exclusivist — each has insisted that it alone is true — and aggressive. The Indic religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism — have been inclusive, they have been indulgent of the claims of others. But how may the latter sort survive when it is confronted by one that aims at power, acquires it, and then uses it to enlarge its dominion? How is the Indic sort to survive when the other uses the sword as well as other resources — organised missionaries, money, the state — to proselytise and to convert? Nor is this question facing just the Hindus in India today. It is facing the adherents of Indic traditions wherever they are: look at the Hindus in Indonesia and Malaysia; look at the Buddhists in Tibet, now in Thailand too. It is because of this vice, and the realisation born from what had already come to pass that Swami Vivekananda, for instance, while asking the Hindus to retain their Hindu soul, exhorted them to acquire an ‘Islamic body’. 1 2 3 Next Single Page View

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