Posted by: Bal Patil | January 16, 2007

The Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006: Jains and Buddhists as Hindus

  Following the pattern set by several Indian states that include Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the Gujarat state assembly has not simply passed an anti-conversion law but recently amended its contents, classifying two distinct Indian religious identities – Jains and Buddhists – as Hindus. Not only is such a classification an unwarranted assault on these distinct religions but it also amounts to a violation of the principles of plurality as guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.The state of Gujarat has a population of close to five-and-a-half lakh Jains. It is a state with the third largest Jain population in India, the first being Maharashtra, with a Jain population of 13,01,842, and the second, Rajasthan, with 6,50,493 Jains, according to the 2001 census. The total population of the Jain religious community in India is 42,25,053. This means that there is one Jain among every 243 Indians. Though few in number, Jains are to be found in 34 out of 35 Indian states and union territories. Moreover, Jains are the only real religious minority after the Buddhists because they are a minority in every state. For instance, Sikhs, the other national minority, are a majority in Punjab and Christians, otherwise a minority, are a majority in the eastern Indian states while Hindus are a minority in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and the eastern states.

Since the first census conducted under the British in 1873, Jains have been regarded as a significant religious community along with Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.

Ironically, it is the Gujarat government’s Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006 that has suddenly awakened the Gujarat Jain community, which belongs mainly to the Shwetambara sect, to the dangers of being subsumed by the majority. (There are two major sects, the Digambara and Shwetambara, among the Jains, just as there are Shias and Sunnis among Muslims and Catholics and Protestants among Christians.) This section of the Jains, the Shwetambaras, have so far taken the position that while they remain Jains as far as their religious identity is concerned, they are Hindu by culture, whatever that means. There have also been some contradictions in their stance vis-à-vis their minority status itself: while they have been ambivalent in claiming this status in general, the religious heads of their educational trusts, like the Tapovan Trust, have not dithered in securing educational minority status for their institutions!

Before commenting on the constitutional and legal aspects of the Gujarat government’s bill classifying Jains and Buddhists as Hindus, relying (inaccurately) on Article 25, Explanation II of the Constitution, it would be useful to discuss the current religio-Hindutva environment in India and the historiographical context in which these two Sramanic-Indic religions – Jainism and Buddhism – arose in ancient India. There has been near irreparable damage done to the religious identity of these two major religions by a conscious attempt at “Hinduisation” of these faiths or appropriation within the “all-Hindu” fold, in large measure attributable to a Vedic-Brahmanic influence. Prior to independence and the adoption of the Constitution, the ideologues of a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu state), including Veer Savarkar, consciously appropriated anti-Brahmanic religions like Jainism and Buddhism as part of Hinduism.

Thereafter, right from India’s birth as a republic and our adoption of the Indian Constitution, a significant section of the Jain community has been disturbed by their inclusion along with Sikhs and Buddhists in Explanation II of Article 25 of the Constitution within the “Hindu” definition, done, ostensibly, to carry out certain reforms of religious institutions.

On January 25, 1950, a delegation of Jains met the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and other central leaders to draw their attention to the anomalous position of Jains under sub-clause (b) of Clause 2 of Article 25 and a petition was submitted to him. Jawaharlal Nehru clearly assured the delegation that Jains were not Hindus and their separate status would be preserved.

Six days later his principal private secretary, AV Pai replied to the petition where he said: “It is clear that Buddhists are not Hindus and therefore there need be no apprehension that the Jains are designated as Hindus. There is no doubt that the Jains are a different religious community and this accepted position is in no way affected by the Constitution.”

Addressing a public meeting in Allahabad on September 3, 1949, Nehru had said: “No doubt India had a vast majority of Hindus but they could not forget the fact that there are also minorities, Moslems, Christians, Parsis and Jains. If India was understood as a “Hindu Rashtra” it meant that the minorities were not cent per cent citizens of the country” (The Statesman, September 5, 1949).

It may be recalled that the then deputy prime minister of India, Vallabhbhai Patel, in his letter of August 25, 1946 addressed to Bhagchand Soni, president, All-India Digamber Jain Mahasabha, assured the Jain community that they need have no concerns about their religious rights and promised that “in free India there would be no restrictions upon the religious liberty of any community and there need be no apprehensions in this regard”.

It is important to note in the foregoing context that during the pre-independence period, in a decision of the erstwhile Madras High Court, the acting chief justice, Kumar Swami Shastri, held in Gateppa vs Eramma & Others (AIR 1927):

“Were matters res integra, I would be inclined to hold that modern research has shown that the Jains are not Hindu dissenters but that Jainism has an origin and history long anterior to the Smritis and Commentaries which are recognised authorities on Hindu law and usage. The Jain religion refers to a number of previous Tirthankaras and there can be little doubt that Jainism as a distinct religion was flourishing several centuries before Christ. In fact, Jainism rejects the authority of the Vedas, which form the bedrock of Hinduism, and denies the efficacy of the various ceremonies which Hindus consider essential. So far as Jain law is concerned, it has its own law books of which Bhadrabahu Samhita is an important one. Vardhamana Neeti and Aradhana Neeti by the great Jain teacher, Hemchandra, deal also with Jain law.”

In Hirachand Gangji vs Rowji Sojpal (AIR 1939, Bombay 377), a judge of the Bombay High Court, Rangnekar observed:

“It is true that the Jains reject the scriptural character of the Vedas and repudiate the Brahmanical doctrines relating to obsequial ceremonies, the performance of Sraddhas and offering of oblations for the salvation of the soul of the deceased. Amongst them there is no belief that a son by birth or adoption confers spiritual benefit (…) Hindus in their conduct towards the dead, omitting all obsequies after the corpse is burnt or buried. Now it is true, as later historical researches have shown, that Jainism prevailed in this country long before Brahmanism came into existence or converted into Hinduism. It is also true that owing to their long association with the Hindus, who formed the majority in the country, the Jains have adopted many of the customs and even ceremonies strictly observed by the Hindus and pertaining to Brahmanical religion.”

In Ratilal Panachand Gandhi vs State of Bombay (1954, ’56 Bom. LR 1184 (SC)) the Supreme Court, taking a wider view of fundamental rights and a more realistic view of what religion is and how its nature and content should be determined, laid down:

“It may be noted that ‘religion’ is not necessarily theistic and in fact there are well-known religions in India like Buddhism and Jainism which do not believe in the existence of god or of any intelligent first causes. Religious practices or performances of acts in pursuance of religious beliefs are as much part of religion as faith or belief in particular doctrines” (Religion, Law and the State in India by J. Duncan M. Derrett, 1968).

When the National Minorities Commission arrived at its recommendation that the Jain community be declared a minority religious community this was done in consideration of the following: 1) the relevant constitutional provisions 2) various judicial pronouncements 3) the fundamental differences in philosophy and beliefs (theism vs atheism, principally) vis-à-vis Hinduism, and 4) the substantial number of the Jain population in the country who resolved to recommend to the government of India that Jains deserve to be recognised as a distinct religious minority and that, therefore, the government of India may consider including them in the listing of “minorities”. The commission’s recommendation was issued on October 3, 1994.

So far Jains have been declared a minority in Maharashtra (which has the largest population of Jains in India), Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal. I am currently pursuing the issue of national minority status for Jains in the Supreme Court of India.

Hindus and Jains are fundamentally different. Scholar, social reformer and freedom fighter, Lokmanya Tilak said: “In ancient times innumerable animals were butchered in sacrifice. But the credit for the disappearance of this terrible massacre from the Brahmanical religion goes to the share of Jainism” (Bombay Samachar, December 10, 1904).

Thus instead of saying that the Jains assimilated so-called Hindu culture or customs it would be more appropriate to say that the Hindus of modern India have adopted Jain culture. There was no such thing as Hindu during Vedic times. It is significant to note that Jains do not believe in the most characteristic Hindu-Vedic-Brahmanic ritual, Sraddha (ceremonies performed to honour the dead).

Impact of so-called Hindu cultureThe principle of ahimsa (non-violence) and the prescription of strict vegetarianism are the prime and unique characteristics of Jain religion and ethics. They could not have developed in Vedic-Brahmanic Aryan culture. There is ample evidence to show that meat-eating was not a taboo among immigrant Aryans. However, abstention from meat came naturally to the native inhabitants of India because of the region’s climate. That the concept of ahimsa was foreign to Vedic culture is demonstrated by eminent Indologist, W. Norman Brown, in his Tagore Memorial Lectures, 1964-65, Man in the Universe

“Though the Upanishads contain the first literary reference to the idea of rebirth and to the notion that one’s action – karma – determines the conditions of one’s future existences, and though they arrive at the point of recognising that rebirth may occur not only in animal form but also in animal bodies, they tell us nothing about the precept of ahimsa. Yet that precept is later associated with the belief that a soul in its wandering may inhabit both kinds of forms. Ancient Brahmanical literature is conspicuously silent about ahimsa. The early Vedic texts do not even record the noun ahimsa nor know the ethical meaning which the noun later designated… Nor is an explanation of ahimsa deducible from other parts of Vedic literature. The ethical concept which it embodies was entirely foreign to the thinking of the early Vedic Aryans, who recognised no kinship between human and animal creation but rather ate meat and offered animals (in) sacrifice to the gods (pp 53-54).  

Therefore Brown concludes: “The double doctrine of ahimsa and vegetarianism has never had full and unchallenged acceptance and practice among Hindus, and should not be considered to have arisen in Brahmanical circles. It seems more probable that it originated in non-Brahmanical environment and was promoted in historic India by the Jains and adopted by Brahmanic Hinduism.” 

Hermann Jacobi, the renowned German Indologist, said: “In conclusion, let me assert my conviction that Jainism is an original system, quite distinct and independent from all others; and that, therefore, it is of great importance for the study of philosophical thought and religious life in ancient India.”

However, the personal law Acts, the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, the Hindu Succession Act 1956, the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956 and the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act 1956, all apply to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs – as is declared by their opening provisions.

All four Acts clarify that the “expression ‘Hindu’ in any portion of this Act shall be construed as if it included a person who, though not a Hindu by religion, is nevertheless a person to whom this Act applies by virtue of the provisions contained in this section.”

Clearly, this is a rule of interpretation that cannot, by any dint of imagination, be treated as a definition of the word “Hindu” in general. Nor can it ever be stretched to claim that in law Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are one and the same religion. It is necessary to differentiate between “Hindu by religion” and “Hindu for the purpose of application of laws” – the latter expression referring to those non-Hindus who share with Hindus certain laws. This is true of the so-called “definition” of the expression “Hindu” in Article 25 of the Constitution as well as in the Hindu law Acts of 1955-56 and the legislation relating to Hindu religious endowments.

Thus the provision of Explanation II in Article 25 has no religious connotation. Instead of saying the same thing four times of four different religious communities – Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs – Article 25 (2)(b) says it once, for the Hindus, and then adds that the same provision be read in the Constitution for three other communities as well – the Buddhists, the Jains and the Sikhs. The authors of the Constitution did not intend to merge the Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs into the Hindu religion nor were they indeed competent to do so. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism remain, under the Constitution and the law of India, four different faiths, and their followers, four different religious communities.

Although Sikhs and Buddhists have been distinctly recognised as religious minorities and notified as such, the Sikhs, being unsure of their constitutional position, made a strong representation to the Constitution Review Commission headed by former chief justice of India, MN Venkatachaliah, that the anomalous position of the Sikhs, along with Buddhists and Jains, being included in the definition of Hindus in Explanation II of Article 25 (relating to religious freedom) be amended and got a recommendation to that effect.

As regards Buddhists, the case is not very different. Buddha is almost universally adopted by Hindu theology as an incarnation of Vishnu. Philosopher and educationist, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, himself had no philosophical or theological difficulty in calling Buddha a Hindu.

It is a well-attested historical Indological fact that Buddha was a junior contemporary of Mahavira (the 24th Jain prophet erroneously called the founder of Jainism) during the sixth century BC. Moreover, no less a person than Indian Buddhist, Bhikshu Dharmanand Kosambi (father of the eminent scholar-historian-archaeologist, DD Kosambi) has written, on the basis of Buddhist scriptures, that Buddha was for some time a disciple of Mahavira in the initial stages of his search for an ascetic/renunciatory discipline. But finding the Jain renunciatory practice too severe, Buddha left to search for his own Middle Path.

Hermann Jacobi also believes that “Jainism goes back to a very early period and to primitive currents of religious and metaphysical speculation which gave rise to the oldest Indian philosophies. They (the Jains) seem to have worked out their system from the most primitive notions about matter.”

In the Buddhist scripture, Majjima Nikaya, Buddha himself tells us about his ascetic life and its ordinances, which are in conformity with the Jain monk’s code of conduct. He says: “Thus far, Sariputta, did I go in my penance. I went without clothes. I licked my food from my hands. I took no food that was brought or meant especially for me. I accepted no invitation to a meal.” Buddhism scholar, CAF Rhys Davids has observed that Buddha found his two teachers, Alara and Uddaka, at Vaishali and started his religious life as a Jain.

In Digha Nikaya’s Samanna Phal Sutta, the four vows of Lord Parshvanath (who flourished 250 years before Mahavira’s liberation) have been mentioned. The Anguttara Nikaya Attakatha contains references to Boppa Sakya, a resident of Kapilavastu, who was Buddha’s uncle and who followed the religion of the Nigganathas i.e. Jains.

Critical and comparative study has brought to light several words such as “asrava“, “samvara” etc that have been used by Jains in the original sense but which have been mentioned in Buddhist literature in a figurative sense. On the basis of these words Jacobi concluded that Jainism is much older than the religion of Buddha and it is therefore incorrect to assume that Jainism is an offshoot of Buddhism.

As regards Hinduism being the “parent faith” of India, this is the most deep-rooted Hindu shibboleth from which even Radhakrishnan was not immune. Within such misrepresentations no exception is made even for Buddha or Buddhism. It is incredible but true that in his foreword to the book brought out to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana (death), S. Radhakrishnan stated: “The Buddha did not feel that he was announcing a new religion. He was born, grew up and died a Hindu. He was restating with a new emphasis the ancient ideals of the Indo-Aryan civilisation” (2500 Years of Buddhism, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1956). 

Notwithstanding several such irreconcilable inconsistencies and reservations on the meaning of the term “Hindu”, in practical terms the majority of those residing in India – those who believe in the Vedas and those who do not believe in them (such as the Jains, the Sikhs and the Buddhists) – are all clubbed together as Hindus on the specious consideration that they all follow a Hindu way of life and hence are taken to be followers of Hinduism. This is precisely where the crux of the minority problem, its communalisation, lies. Merely because Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs have grown together through the centuries side by side with Brahmanic Hindus and, inevitably, other religious and ethnic minorities, and there is thus an intermingling of custom, tradition and culture, this cannot mean that the non-Hindu or non-Vedics have forsaken their individual religious and ethnic identities.  

The whole terminological muddle and the fundamentalist division in the Indian context can be traced to the desperate and impossible quest of fanatic elements within the original Vedic-Brahmanic i.e. those committed to the so-called Hindutva philosophy to fraudulently gobble minorities like Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs as part of their grand design to create a Hindu Rashtra as a theological counterpoint to the dominant minority, the Muslims in India. This was accomplished, in a skilful bit of constitutional draughtsmanship, by distinguished members of the Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee comprising stalwarts like Vallabhbhai Patel, BR Ambedkar and KM Munshi when Article 25, relating to religious freedom and, in particular, Explanation II (which included Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs in the definition of Hindus) was finalised without proper discussion.

Article 25 and religious freedom A careful reading of Article 25 as a whole makes it crystal clear that there is no reference to the Hindu religion except with regard to Hindu religious institutions of a public character in sub-clause (b) of Clause (2). It is also clear that the provision for social welfare and reform or throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus also specifically refers to the Hindu religion. It is therefore impossible to fathom what constitutional purpose the founding fathers had hoped to serve by construing the reference to Hindus to include a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion. Why was it necessary to drag in these three – the Sikh, Buddhist and Jain religions – and club them together with the reference to Hindus?

Granted, the founding fathers were keen to provide social welfare and reform, to throw open Hindu religious institutions or temples to all classes and sections of Hindus, they were moved to end untouchability by law or hoped to bring about other unspecified social or religious reforms vis-à-vis the Hindu religion.

This concern does not however explain the rationale of including the other three religions of Indian origin under the specious umbrella of the Hindu religion. Jainism and Buddhism do not recognise or propagate casteism. In fact, Mahavira, the reformer of the ancient religion of Jainism, specifically spread the message of a casteless society and also spoke out against the slaughter of animals in sacrificial Vedic yajnas. Buddha did the same. Sikhism too does not propagate untouchability.

The question thus remains: What constitutional purpose was sought to be fulfilled by the inclusion of Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists as Hindus? As B. Shiva Rao’s classic exposition, The Framing of India’s Constitution: A Study, reveals, Article 25 relating to religious freedom, and particularly its Explanation II, was finalised by the Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee without proper discussion. The real conundrum is why the founding fathers resorted to this devious means of social welfare and reform of Hindu religious institutions through a blatant invasion of admittedly distinct Sikh, Buddhist and Jain religious identities.

Clause (b) of Article 25 and its specious Explanation II is truly a religious Pandora’s box. There is no reason why the religious institutions of the Sikh, Buddhist and Jain faiths should be treated on par with the Hindu religious ones to push forward Hindu social welfare and reform. It is nothing but a surreptitious if clumsy attempt to take away the religious freedom guaranteed by that very same Article under a phoney Hindu pretext.

It is an extremely unconvincing and untenable endeavour that cannot be sustained by constitutional rationalisation and only confirms suspicions that the particular clause was not discussed threadbare. Nor does it appear from the Constituent Assembly debates that Jain, Buddhist and Sikh protagonists were given a fair opportunity to discuss its implications.

If our constitutional stalwarts, even its very architect, Ambedkar, who had earlier publicly burnt the Manu Smriti (one of the most controversial works of Hindu literature on Hindu law and ancient Indian society, widely criticised for its discrimination of women and codification of the caste system), could be such unwitting victims of the so-called Hindutva tradition that they would obliterate the separate religious identities of well-defined religious minorities (albeit under the constitutional cover of certain limited objectives) one can well understand the logic behind the Frankensteinian spread of Hindutva today, intent as it is on eliminating smaller religious denominations such as Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. While Sikhs and Buddhists cannot be easily dealt with, given the militant and uncompromising character of the one and the universal impact of the other, Jains alone are left to fend for themselves within their non-violent creed.

This constitutional subterfuge, or terminological sleight of hand, was very much in evidence in the then law minister, Ambedkar’s comments during the clause by clause discussion of his Hindu Code Bill in Parliament from February to September 1951 when various eminent members, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in particular, took serious objection to the term “Hindu” comprising Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. They objected to its communal and discriminatory character and were strongly critical of its indirect, circuitous definition of who a Hindu is. Some members very clearly stated that the bill, in whatever form it was passed, should not be forced on any section of the Hindu community or on the Sikhs or Jains.

Ambedkar tried to brush aside these objections in a magisterial manner by saying that the:

“peculiarity about the Hindu religion, as I understand it, that it is one religion which has got a legal framework integrally associated with it… it would not be difficult to understand why Sikhs are brought under the Hindu religion, why Buddhists are brought under the Hindu religion and Jains are brought under the Hindu religion… In this country although religions have changed the law has remained one… The Jains come and ask: ‘What are you going to do to us? Are you going to make us Hindus?’ The Sikhs say the same thing. The Buddhists say the same thing. My answer to that is this: I cannot help it. You have been following a single law system and it is too late now for anyone to say that he shall reject this legal system wholesale… That cannot be done. Therefore, the application of the Hindu law and the Hindu code to Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs is a historical development to which you and I cannot give any answer” (Dr Ambedkar and the Hindu Code Bill, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Volume 14, Part Two, 1995, pp 886-888).

Ambedkar’s contention of the historical and hegemonic operation of Hindu law in India was categorically rebutted by Hukam Singh and BS Mann. BS Mann quoted JD Mayne’s Hindu Law and Usage, which says:

“As regards the village communities, the Punjab and the adjoining districts are the region in which alone they flourish in their primitive rigour. This is the tract which the Aryans must have first traversed on entering India. Yet it seems to have been there that Brahmanism most completely failed to take root and the religious element has never entered into their secular law.” 

Commenting on this, Mann said: “If I have enjoyed emancipation from Manu for so long a time, will it not be tyranny of the times if I have to submit now to a modern Manu? Let me give credit to Manu that at least he was original in many respects, but my modern Manu – Oh, what a fall has he had!”

This misinterpretation of history is compounded by what that doyen of Indian Indologists, RG Bhandarkar, wrote: “India has no written history. Nothing was known till within recent times of the political condition of the country, the dynasties that ruled over the different provisions which composed it and the great religious and social revolutions it went through. The historical curiosity of the people was satiated by legends. What we find of a historical nature in the literature of the country before the arrival of the Mahomedans comes to very little” (Early History of the Dekkan Down to the Mahomedan Conquest, 2nd Ed. 1983, p. i-ii). 

Tara Chand’s seminal work entitled Influence of Islam on Indian Culture brought out the impact of Islam on Indian religious and cultural life. In its preface he stated:

“The history of India which furnishes a striking illustration of the impact of many divergent cultures which were gradually transformed by a process of mutual adjustment surely needs the attention of a student of sociology and history who endeavours to understand the interaction of human mind and the effects of cultural contacts as presented in the customs, religion, literature and art of a people.”

Misleading stereotypes about JainismApart from a few exceptions, most histories and encyclopaedias of world religions fail to mention Jainism as an independent religion. There are pervasive misconceptions about the origin of Jainism, about its relation to Vedic-Brahmanic Hinduism, about Mahavira being the founder of Jainism, about Jainism being an offshoot of Buddhism or Hinduism, or a reformist sect of Hinduism. There are misrepresentations galore. Jainism is overshadowed by Hinduism and Buddhism and, if noticed at all, is mentioned in passing as one of the ancient Indian religious movements subsidiary to Buddhism.

Such is the pervasive impact of misleading Indian historiography; its deleterious effects are noticeable in the work of even the most eminent historians, both right and left wing. One of the consequences of this failure is the dominance of misleading stereotypes about the nature of Indic religious thought and practice. I believe this has a vital bearing on the devastating impact of misconceived Indological and “oriental” stereotypes in Indian ethno-religious historiography, enough to necessitate a paradigmatic revaluation.

In her Representation of Jainism and Buddhism in Indian History Textbooks, Tara Sethia of the history department, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, has noted how “In reviewing six leading college textbooks on Indian history, however, I find a very different message. In this paper I will demonstrate that in these textbooks the coverage of Jainism and Buddhism is less than adequate; and their representation in historical narrative is often superficial, impertinent, misleading and at times even reminiscent of orientalism. This is a particularly vexing situation given the emerging scholarship pertaining to India as well as world history. Recent scholarship about India has questioned the orientalist approach in the Indological discourse. Over the last few decades, specialised studies about India have increasingly become far more inclusive in both content and approach. Historians are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary in their analysis…”Further, “For instance, it will be reasonable to expect to learn about Jainism and Buddhism from an Indian history textbook in terms of the following. What was the historical milieu of their ‘founders’ and the larger context in which these ‘religions’ emerged and subsequently evolved? How are Buddha and Mahavira represented in Indian history? What do we learn about their world view, key concepts and fundamental teachings or lessons? What do we learn about their followers, patrons and persecutors? What has been their larger historical significance in terms of the historical change and impact within and outside India? Equally important is the question of how this information about religious traditions is integrated in the larger scheme of historical narrative about India.”“Indian history has acquired something of a religio-cultural bias. Whole chapters devoted to the teachings of Buddha, the mathematical and musical theories of ancient India or Hindu devotional movements are standard fare in most Indian histories” (Keay, p. xix).

Chandragupta Maurya and JainismBut such distortions are not confined to orientalist interpreters of ancient Indian history. I quote below an excerpt from The Age of Mauryas by the eminent historian, Romila Thapar: “Chandragupta is said to have accepted Jainism in his later years, and in fact to have abdicated the throne and become a wandering ascetic dying through slow starvation in the orthodox Jain manner. Considering the difficulties that he faced in making himself king and building an empire, it is hardly likely that he would have abdicated at the end of his reign in order to become a wandering ascetic. It is possible though that he accepted the teachings of Mahavira and became a Jaina. This interest may be excused as originating in the fact that he was of low origin, a Vaisya, and by accepting Jainism he eluded the contempt of the higher caste nobility. The teachings of Mahavira were at this period regarded more as an offshoot of Hinduism, an extreme discipline, and the Jainas themselves as a sub-sect of the earlier religion, we can discountenance the above idea. The interest it would seem was largely intellectual. Accepting Jainism did not raise one’s social prestige in the eyes of high caste Hindus whose social ethics were already being determined by caste rules” (emphasis added).  

I am aware that this is an earlier historical reading by the eminent liberal progressive historian, Romila Thapar. I am also aware that that her readings of ancient Indian history have progressed from her A History of India (Pelican, 1966) to Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300 (Allen Lane, 2002). 

In A History of India (Volume I) Thapar has perceptively noted that “much of the early history of India was reconstructed almost entirely from Sanskrit sources i.e. from material preserved in the ancient classical language” (p. 18). In her latest version, “substantial changes in the readings of early Indian history” are made. Mauryan India is Thapar’s special field of historical study. That is why one is forced to question her cavalier and even presumptuous remarks – so unhistorical in character – regarding Chandragupta. 

I quote once again the particular sentence: “This interest may be excused as originating in the fact that he was of low origin, a Vaisya, and by accepting Jainism he eluded the contempt of the higher caste nobility.”

I simply fail to understand this judgemental remark on what Chandragupta did, making a totally unhistorical presumption on his alleged inferiority complex as a Vaisya and the even more questionable presumption that he did so to elude the contempt of “higher caste nobility”. One is almost led to wonder whether Chandragupta’s soul materialised by some transmigratory power before Romila Thapar to make the guilty confession, stating: “Well, Madam, you know how embarrassing it was to be a Vaisya with such glittering nobility around me!” 

I only make an issue of such “historical” interpretations or misinterpretations in order to demonstrate how even personal historiography from historians apparently unaffected by any transparent cultural bias can go astray. But since the issue has been raised it must be dealt with in a rational historical manner. Here I can do no better than to quote the celebrated historian, Radha Kumud Mookerji.

Radha Kumud Mookerji has commented at length on the theory of the base birth of Chandragupta in his Chandragupta Maurya and His Times (1943):

“The theory of the base birth of Chandragupta Maurya was first suggested by the derivation which a commentator was at pains to find for the epithet Maurya as applied to Chandragupta by the Puranas.”

After explaining how the commentator on the Puranas was wrong in obtaining, grammatically, Maurya from Mura, and how it is impossible “to derive by any grammar Maurya as a direct formation from Mura”, Mookerji states: “The derivative from Mura is Maureya. The term Maureya can be derived only from masculine Mura, which is mentioned as a name of a gotra in a Ganapatha in Panini’s Sutra (IV. I, 151). The commentator was more interested in finding a mother than in grammar! The only redeeming feature of the commentator is that not merely is he innocent of grammar and history, he is also innocent of any libel against Chandragupta. For he has not stated that Mura, the supposed mother of Chandragupta, was a Sudra woman or a courtesan of the Nanda king… Thus even the commentator of the Purana cannot be held responsible for the theory of Chandragupta’s low origin” (pp 9-10).

Mookerji also makes an earnest invocation that is echoed by all those in pursuit of serious history: “Heavens save us from commentators who supplement texts by facts of their own creation!” This is precisely the watchword in my humble efforts to trace the evolution of the Sramanic religious tradition of Jainism and Buddhism and its impact on the Indic civilisation.

Further, to press home the conclusion drawn from Jain and Buddhist sources, Mookerji notes that the “Mahavamsa (a Ceylonese Buddhist account from about the fifth century AD) states that Chandragupta was “born of a family of Kshatriyas called Moriyas (Moriyanam khattiyanam vamse jatam)” and that the Buddhist canonical work, Digha Nikaya (II, 167), mentions the Kshatriya clan known as Moriyas of Pippalivana.

Even more monumental evidence, according to Mookerji, derived from both the Buddhist and the Jain tradition, connects the peacock, mayura, with the Moriya or Maurya dynasty. Thus the Ashoka pillar at Nandangarh has been found to bear at its base, below ground, the figure of a peacock, while the same figure is repeated in several sculptures on the Great Stupa at Sanchi associated with Ashoka. Therefore Mookerji concludes that the “Buddhist and Jain tradition are at one in declaring for him (Chandragupta) a noble birth” (pp 14-15, ibid).

The date of the foundation of the Maurya dynasty by Chandragupta is believed to be about 322 BC. This was determined on the basis of known dates of corresponding individuals or events such as the invasion by Greek king, Alexander the Great, which brought the Greeks into contact with India, or historical fragments of Greek traveller and geographer, Megasthenes’ Indica. Chandragupta Maurya’s ascension to the throne and his historicity is an important landmark or even a high watermark in the vague almost non-existent ancient Indian historical accounts. 

I emphasise the significance of the Chandragupta Maurya dynasty in ancient India because Chandragupta’s role was also crucial in the spread of Jain religious and cultural traditions in the whole of South India. In a remarkable monograph, Jainism or the Early Faith of Asoka with Illustrations of the Ancient Religions of the East From the Pantheon of the Indo-Scythians with A Notice on Bactrian coins and Indian Dates (read at the meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society, February 26, 1877, published Trubner & Co, London, 1877), Edward Thomas describes Chandragupta’s Jain Sramanic faith.

Thomas also quotes Abul Fazl, “accomplished minister of Akbar… known to have been largely indebted to the Jaina priests and their carefully preserved chronicles”, from Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari, “three very important entries, exhibited in the original Persian version quoted below, which establish: (1) that Asoka himself first introduced ‘JAINISM’ into the kingdom of Kashmir, (2) that ‘Buddhism’ was dominant there during the reign of Jaloka (the son and successor of Asoka), and (3) that Brahmanism superseded Buddhism under Raja Sachinara…” which evidence he uses “to infer that Asoka’s conversion to Buddhism occurred late in his life or reign” and that the “annals of Kashmir, on the other hand, more emphatically imply that either he did not seek to spread, or had not the chance or opportunity of propagating his new faith.”  

Thomas emphasises that the “leading fact of Asoka’s introduction or recognition of the Jaina creed in Kashmir, above stated, does not however rest upon the sole testimony of the Muhammadan author, but is freely acknowledged in the Brahmanical pages of the Rajatarangini.”

The BJP and Hindu RashtraA pertinent pointer to the implicit concept of Hindu Rashtra in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology is available in the former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s letter dated July 17, 2000, commenting on the Islamic scholar, Rafiq Zakaria’s book, Discovery of God, and displayed on the back cover of Zakaria’s book, Communal Rage in Secular India. Vajpayee’s appreciation states:

“Yet you have succeeded in presenting it in a fresh, simple and highly persuasive manner, with the power of your central thought that GOD IS ONE. This monotheistic thought is the defining principle of India’s age-old civilisation. Our ancient sages articulated it in these words: Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti (The truth is one, wise men describe it differently). They also taught us the secular canon which is the basis of our nationhood: Sarva Panth Samabhava (Equal respect for all faiths).”

It is worth noting here that as a true swayamsevak (volunteer of the RSS), Vajpayee knows what he means. Remember his proclamation: “The Sangh is my soul.” Yet he makes a glaring linguistic slip in translating panth (religious sect or order) as faith. When he received the RG Joshi Foundation’s Rashtriya Ekatmata (National Unity) award in Mumbai in 1995, Vajpayee had declared that Hindutva and Indian-ness are one and the same. The former prime minister’s well-known expertise in doublespeak notwithstanding, is there any dictionary – apart from the unique RSS glossary of Savarkarian Hindutva – that translates “panth” as “faith”? Can this be seen as anything other than a systematic linguistic sabotage of the basic structure of the Constitution?

Given the Vedic pedigree and genesis of the term Hindutva, one can appreciate Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s somewhat tortuous journey towards accepting the “synonymity” of Hindutva and Bharatiyatva (Indian-ness). But does this mean that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will change its name to the “Hindu” Janata Party? It is inconceivable that the BJP will ever take this ultimate nomenclatural ideological leap. The term “Hindutva”, for all its rigmarole about all-inclusive Hindu-ness, cannot connote the comprehensiveness, breadth or a certain secular cultural synthesis peculiar to the confluence of a medley of religions, eastern and western, that have grown together over centuries in the term “Bharatiya”. And if ever the BJP rechristens itself in reckless Hindu manifestation, it will immediately be branded as “fundamentalist” and “communal”, as the Muslim League or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) are. It is thus easy to see why despite all its ideological compulsions to paint the Indian map a saffron colour the BJP has prudentially continued with the term “Bharatiya” and still harbours inner reservations that “Hindutva” and “Bharatiyatva” cannot be one and the same.

Yet while the BJP is willing to strike but afraid to wound the “Bharatiyatva” concept frontally (despite Vajpayee’s categorical assertion that Hindutva is synonymous with Bharatiyatva), because it is still the Bharatiya Janata Party and not the “Hindu” Janata Party its Hindutva ideology received judicial imprimatur from the Supreme Court of India in its judgement in the 1995 Manohar Joshi election petition case. The Supreme Court judgement in cases against elected representatives of the Shiv Sena and BJP, which upheld the concept of Hindutva as a “way of life of the people in the subcontinent”, reveals how even the highest judicial forum is not immune to the deceptive spell of Vedic Hindu metaphysical concepts and so-called Hindu tradition.

The judgement is at once a high watermark of Hindutva’s impact on the highest judicial echelons of the country as well as a crucial challenge to the preambular secular constitutional character of the Indian nation. In this case the Supreme Court chose to act outside its jurisdiction and to do so unnecessarily i.e. arriving at a definition of “Hindutva” and “Hinduism” – something even leading scholars have shied away from. The apex court rushed in where angels fear to tread only to open another Pandora’s box. The court did not pause to consider that if Hinduism and Hindutva per se was a way of life this could equally be true of Islam, Christanity or any other religion. In ancient times India was known as “Jambu Dvipa” or “Bharat Varsha”. As Sanskrit scholar and author Mahamahopadhyaya PV Kane says in his monumental History of Dharma Shastra, the correct word to describe our country must be “Bharatvarsha”.

It is incredible therefore to encounter such colossal ignorance of our ancient heritage and culture. Yet perhaps it is not ignorance at all. Perhaps the learned judges were simply unable to dissociate from the profound impact of their Hindu upbringing and look dispassionately at the fundamentalist manifestation of the “Hindu” spectre flaunted by the BJP. Such “faithful” aberrations at even the highest judicial level are sufficient indication of the irreparable damage being wrought on India’s secular constitutional fabric.

In a strong rebuttal of the Supreme Court’s pronouncements in an article in the Economic and Political Weekly of September 21, 1996, writers Brenda Cossman and Ratna Kapur have argued that “Hindutva continues to be a political category that at its core is an attack on the legitimacy of minority rights” and that the “Supreme Court has failed to understand the assault on religious minorities that is a constituent element of the concept of Hindutva. From its roots in the writing of Savarkar to its contemporary deployment by the likes of Bal Thackeray, Manohar Joshi, Sadhvi Ritambara and LK Advani, Hindutva has been based on the idea of Indian society fractured by the conflict between Hindus and Muslims, wherein the majority of Hindus have been and continue to be oppressed at the hands of the Muslim minority. Hindutva is a call to unite against these religious minorities; at best it is a call to assimilate these minorities into the ostensibly more tolerant fabric of Hinduism, and at its more modest assimilationist mode and in its more extreme and violent mode, Hindutva is an attack on the rights, indeed, on the very legitimacy of religious minorities. As a call to assimilate or otherwise undermine the very identity and integrity of minority communities, it is based on a total disregard and lack of respect for other religious groups.”

This is precisely the dilemma and danger the Jain community is contending with in its fight for recognition as a minority community. In a powerful theoretical exploration of Hindutva and fascism and the RSS’ ability to capitalise on such anti-secular traditions, political commentator Aijaz Ahmad says in his book, Lineages of the Present: Political Essays, that we in India need to be especially careful in our understanding of the relationship between fascism and the oppression of minorities. As Ahmad puts it, “Racism, in our case, communalism, can arise as the centrepiece of fascist demagogy and fascists can then fashion a comprehensive programme for organising the heretofore unorganised mass morbidity; countless members of the minority can undoubtedly suffer in the process and there may be even a fully fledged holocaust; but the real object of the fascists is not the elimination of the minority but the construction of a fascist state, hence the subjugation of the whole society.”

The basic ideological ambivalence in the terms “Bharatiya” and “Hindu” can be best appreciated by comparing two statements made by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one in 1980 and the other in 1995. In 1980 Vajpayee said: “I still feel that instead of the phrase “Hindu Rashtra” we should use “Bharatiya Rashtra”. Contrast this with his statement in December 1995: “There is no difference between Hindutva and Bharatiyatva, in Hindutva alone are the roots of Bharat.”

Vajpayee’s ideological evolution over a decade and a half, his progression to “Hindutva” being indistinguishable from “Bharatiyatva”, clearly demonstrates the Bharatiya Janata Party’s inexorable march towards a “Hindu” India, thus returning full circle to Savarkar’s vision of India in his book, Hindutva:

Asindhu Sindhu Paryanta yasya Bharatbhumika pitrubhu punyabhu sarvaih hindu iti smritah” i.e. “One who considers the country or nation spread between the Sindhu river and the sea as his Fatherland and Holy Land is verily a Hindu.” It is pertinent to note that instead of “Motherland” Savarkar calls the country “Fatherland”, a peculiar definitive patrilineal concept characteristic of Vedic and “Hindu” Brahmanism that later developed into the racist and fascist Nazi concept of a pure Aryan “Vaterland“, thus making the fascist genealogy of Hindutva clearly evident.

According to this convenient portmanteau definition of “Hindu”, most Indians, except of course Muslims and Christians, comprising those who believe in the Vedas as well as those who do not believe in the Vedas (such as Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs) are lumped together as “Hindus”. As explained by Hindutva ideologue, JS Karandikar, in his Marathi book Hindutvavada: “Although Jains, Buddhists, Vedic, Burmese, Arya, Sikh, Manbhava, belong to different religious sects, Hinduism is alone the spring source of all these sects and these have grown into separate branches at various times for various reasons. This leads to the pan-Hinduistic position of Vivekananda, stating that any religion in the world has its ultimate origin in Hinduism, but we do not want to connect Christian and Islamic religions by such far-fetched relationship.”

Yet the Jains, Buddhists and the Sikhs have been counted as separate religious denominations right from the first census in India in 1873 under the Indian Census Act.

On April 11, 2006, Mahavir Jayanti day, LK Advani, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, issued a press statement in Pune under the following headings:

Ø “Communal reservations, fuelled by the politics of minorityism, could lead to fragmentation of Hindu society.Ø “Let there be a national debate on extending quota obligations to minority education institutions.”After paying his tributes to Mahavira, Advani went on to say: “I salute the Jain samaj in India which has shown how, in spite of being relatively small in number, a community can prosper in trade, commerce and various professions solely on the strength of the hard work and dedication of its members. The Jain community has always been in the forefront of philanthropic activities in education, health care, care of the destitute and the disabled, care of animals. It is also a model to all others in terms of national integration and social harmony.

Demand for “minority status” to Jains is flawed and fraught with peril: Lately I have heard a few voices – marginal and not mainstream – from within the Jain community that they be declared as a minority community. The principal reasons behind this demand are twofold:

“Firstly, those who raise this demand think that with the Congress party and some other parties announcing religion-based reservations for minorities, securing a “minority” status for the Jain community would enable its members to enjoy the benefit of quotas in education and jobs…” (Press Release issued by the BJP office, Pune, April 11, 2006).

This was definitely a prelude to the Freedom of Religion Bill in Gujarat.

Impact of the Hinduisation process on the Jain populationIn this context it is imperative to note the insidious impact of the Hinduisation process on the Jain population. Hinduism has never been a proselytising religion like Christianity or Islam but the relentless Hindutva propaganda that Jains are Hindus results in the surreptitious “conversion” of Jains through their misleading enumeration as Hindus in the census. This becomes glaringly evident if we look at the census figures.

The growth rate of the Jain population between 1951-1981 was, on an average, 24-25 per cent per decade as the community’s population doubled, over 30 years, from 16,18,406 in 1951 to 32,06,038 in 1981. This more or less conforms to the demographic pattern whereby a given population doubles, on an average, in three decades. In previous decades i.e. before 1951 the census enumeration of Jains was faulty. Hence, in pursuance of a Jain delegation’s representation to Vallabhbhai Patel, the government of India issued a direction that Jains should be properly designated as distinguished from Hindus. As a result, for the next three decades there was a reasonably dependable census enumeration of Jains.

However, in the 1991 census the Jain population is enumerated at 33,52,706, which shows a growth rate of just four per cent even as the rest of the Indian population registered a growth of about 23.8 per cent. Contrast this with the growth rate of the Jain population at 26 per cent in the very next decade i.e. from 1991-2001. This only confirms the apprehensions of the Jain community that the BJP-VHP propaganda that Jains are Hindus is taking its demographic toll.

Historiographical ambiguity of “Hindu” and HinduismTracing the genealogy of the term “Hindu”, which was in use among Europeans from the early 17th century, Will Sweetman, the distinguished scholar of Asian religions, said:

“One of the most striking advances in modern scholarship is the view that there is no such thing as an unbroken tradition of Hinduism, only a set of discrete traditions and practices reorganised into a larger entity called “Hinduism”.”

Perhaps the first to criticise the term Hinduism and to advocate abandoning its use was Canadian scholar of religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith:

“The term “Hinduism” is, in my judgement, a particularly false conceptualisation, one that is conspicuously incompatible with any adequate understanding of the religious outlook of Hindus. Even the term “Hindu” was unknown to the classical Hindus. “Hinduism” as a concept certainly they did not have. And indeed one has only to reflect on the situation carefully to realise that it would necessarily have been quite meaningless to them.”

The far-reaching and politically damaging consequences of such an inherently deceptive connotation are documented in a clinching argument by the American historian of India, Robert Frykenberg, who argues that: “the concept of “Hinduism” as denoting a single religious community has already done enormous, even incalculable, damage to structures undergirding the peace, security and unity of the whole Indian political system. What’s more, continued popular use of this concept and popular belief in the existence of a monolithic “Hinduism” – in short, fervent adherence to any doctrine which assumes that there is one single religion embraced by the “majority” of all peoples in India – can still do even greater damage. If such usages and beliefs continue to be dogmatically and persistently maintained, there is no telling how much more harm such a notion may do to the well-being of India’s peoples.”

As famed German sociologist, Max Weber has pointed out: “Only in recent literature have the Indians themselves begun to designate their religious affiliation as Hinduism. It is the official designation of the English census for the complex of religion also described in Germany as Brahmanism.” And as explained by him further: “In truth, it may well be concluded that Hinduism is simply not a ‘religion’ in our sense of the word.”

How did this modern myth of Hinduism begin? It had its origin in the “orientalism” created by the colonial Sanskrit scholars of the 19th century. In his book, Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory, India and ‘The Mystic East’, religion and philosophy scholar, Richard King observes:

“William Jones in his role as Supreme Court judge in India, initiated a project to translate the Dharmasastras in the misguided belief that this represented the law of the Hindus, in order to circumvent what he saw as the ‘culpable bias’ of the native pundits. In taking the Dharmasastras as a binding law book, Jones manifests the Judaeo-Christian paradigm within which he conceived of religion and the attempt to apply such a book universally reflects Jones’ ‘textual imperialism’. The problem with taking the Dharmasastras as pan-Indian in application is that the texts themselves were representative of a priestly elite (the Brahmin castes), and not of Hindus in toto. Thus even within these texts there was no notion of a unified Hindu community, but rather an acknowledgment of a plurality of local, occupational and caste contexts in which different customs and or rules applied.”

King goes on to say: “It was thus in this manner that ‘society was made to conform to ancient dharmasastras texts, in spite of those texts’ insistence that they were overridden by local and group custom. It eventually allowed Anglicist administrators to manipulate the porous boundary between religion as defined by texts and customs they wished to ban’” (author’s italics quoting from Rosane Rocher’s British Orientalism in the Eighteenth Century, p. 242).

This colonial construct of “Hinduism” contributed, according to Richard King, to the merging of the Brahmanical forms of religion with Hinduism, which is notable in the “tendency to emphasise Vedic and Brahmanical texts and beliefs as central and foundational to the ‘essence of Hinduism’ and in the modern association of ‘Hindu doctrine’ with the various Brahmanical schools of the Vedanta”(p. 102).

Hindutva ideology and infiltrationIn October 2006, during a public meeting on the Malegaon bomb blasts organised by Citizens for Justice and Peace, Mumbai, hard-hitting speeches were made by BG Kolse Patil, former judge of the Bombay High Court, and SM Mushrif, former commissioner of police, Pune, on how the RSS has infiltrated the Indian administration.

There has long existed a strong suspicion, ever since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, that RSS cadres have infiltrated various administrative departments in the country. This fact was also noted by Vallabhbhai Patel when the RSS was banned in the wake of the Mahatma’s assassination. Describing the antecedents of the conspiracy to murder the Mahatma and the lack of security despite the bomb explosion at a meeting that Gandhi was addressing in Delhi on January 20, 1948, Gandhi’s personal secretary, Pyarelal observes in Mahatma Gandhi: the Last Phase (1958):

“What, however, surprises one, is that in spite of the definite and concrete information of which the authorities were in possession, they should have failed to trace and arrest the conspirators and frustrate their plan. The failure was an index of the extent of the rot that had permeated many branches of the services, not excluding the police. In fact later it was brought to light that the RSS organisation had ramifications even in the government departments and many police officials, not to mention the rank and file, gave their sympathy and even active help to those engaged in RSS activities… A letter (to) Sardar Patel after the assassination of Gandhiji from a young man, who according to his own statement had been gulled into joining the RSS organisation but was later disillusioned, described how members of the RSS at some places had been instructed beforehand to tune in their radio sets on the fateful Friday for the “good news”. After the news, sweets were distributed in RSS circles in several places… The rot was so insidious that only the supreme sacrifice could arrest or remove it” (p. 756).

If the poisonous rot of RSS ideology ran so deep at the dawn of India’s freedom, one can only shudder at its hydra-headed extent and its cancerous damage to the body politic today.

There is striking evidence that even supposedly independent arms of the Indian administration, such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), are now under the RSS’ sway. According to reports, while addressing an RSS rally former director of the CBI, Joginder Singh proclaimed that the “RSS is the only hope of the nation”.

In 1964 I corresponded at length with the chairman of the Gandhi Memorial Fund, RR Diwakar, expressing shock and indignation at the revelation of a Poona editor that six months prior to the actual assassination, Nathuram Godse had divulged his plan to murder Mahatma Gandhi. Diwakar then consulted some highly placed individuals and there was a furore in Parliament. Ultimately, the government of India appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate once again the conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi. Twenty years after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, the Jeevan Lal Kapur Commission of Inquiry concluded: “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”

Inspiration for the RSS cadres and their paramilitary training was derived from Benito Mussolini’s fascist paramilitary groups, the Blackshirts, after RSS mentor and founder, BS Moonje visited the Italian dictator in 1931. As detailed in Marzia Casolari’s article, “Hindutva’s foreign tie-up in the 1930s: Archival evidence” (Economic and Political Weekly, January 22, 2000):

“To understand militant Hinduism, one must examine its domestic roots as well as foreign influence. In the 1930s Hindu nationalism borrowed from European fascism to transform ‘different’ people into ‘enemies’. Leaders of militant Hinduism repeatedly expressed their admiration for authoritarian leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler and for the fascist model of society. This influence continues to the present day. This paper presents archival evidence on the would-be collaborators.”

As Marzia Casolari notes: “Defining the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and, in general, the organisations of militant Hinduism as undemocratic, with authoritarian, paramilitary, radical, violent tendencies and a sympathy for fascist ideology and practice, has been a major concern for many politically oriented scholars and writers. This has been the case with the literature, which started with Gandhi’s assassination and continues up to the present day with works such as Amartya Sen’s “India at Risk”, (The New York Review of Books, April 1993) and Christophe Jaffrelot’s The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India (Viking, New Delhi, 1996). The latest book published on the subject is the well-known Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags (Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1993), which came out soon after the destruction of the Babri Masjid. As a result, the fascist ideological background of Hindu fundamentalism is taken for granted never proved by systematic analysis. This is an outcome that is, to a certain extent, explained by the fact that most of the aforementioned authors are political scientists and not historians.

“It is a fact that many of those who witnessed the growth of Hindu radical forces in the years around the second world war were already convinced of the Sangh’s fascist outlook. Particularly acute was the perception that the Congress had of these organisations and their character. There is no need to mention the already well-known opinion of Nehru who right from the beginning had pointed at these organisations as communalist and fascist. Less well known is the fact that, as shown by a confidential report circulated within the Congress most probably at the time of the first ban of the RSS after Gandhi’s assassination, the similarity between the character of the RSS and that of fascist organisations was already taken for granted…

“To demonstrate this, I will reconstruct the context from which arose the interest of Hindu radicalism in Italian fascism right from the early 1920s. This interest was commonly shared in Maharashtra and must have inspired BS Moonje’s trip to Italy in 1931. The next step will be to examine the effects of that trip, namely how BS Moonje tried to transfer fascist models to Hindu society and to organise it militarily, according to fascist patterns. An additional aim of this paper is to show how, about the end of the 1930s, the admiration for the Italian regime was commonly shared by the different streams of Hindu nationalism and the main Hindu leaders.” As emphasised by Casolari: “More generally the aim of this paper is to disprove Christophe Jaffrelot’s thesis that there is a sharp distinction between Nazi and fascist ideology on one side and RSS on the other as far as the concept of race and the centrality of the leader are concerned.”

Hope for the JainsFor the Jains in India, however, there are some encouraging judicial straws in the wind. The latest division bench judgement delivered by Dalveer Bhandari in the Supreme Court is a significant pointer that all is not lost for the Jain minority.

The judgement dated August 21, 2006, in the case of Committee of Management, Kanya Junior High School Bal Vidya Mandir, Etah, UP vs Sachiv, UP, Basic Shiksha Parishad, Allahabad, UP & Others, delivered by judges, SB Sinha and Dalveer Bhandari, emphatically states: “(The) Jain religion indisputably is not a part of Hindu religion. The question as to whether the Jains are part of the Hindu religion is not open to debate. Jains have a right to establish and administer their own institution. But only because an institution is managed by a person belonging to a particular religion the same would not ipso facto make the institution run and administered by a minority community. A minority is determinable by reference to the demography of a state. Whether an institution is established and administered by a minority community or not may have to be determined by the appropriate authority in terms of the provisions of the statute governing the field. Furthermore, minority institutions are not immune from the operations of the measures necessary to regulate their functions. To what extent such regulations would operate, however, again is a matter which would be governed by the statute.

“Minority communities do not have any higher rights than the majority. They have merely been conferred additional protection. This has been laid down by an 11-judge bench of this court. [See: PA Inamdar & Others vs State of Maharashtra & Others, (2005) 6 SCC 537.]

“The court in the said judgement also dealt with the object of Article 30 (1) of the Constitution. The court in para 97 of the judgement observed the relevant para which reads as under: “The object underlying Article 30 (1) is to see the desire of minorities being fulfilled that their children should be brought up properly and efficiently and acquire eligibility for higher university education and go out in the world fully equipped with such intellectual attainments as will make them fit for entering public services, educational institutions imparting higher instructions including general secular education. Thus the twin objects sought to be achieved by Article 30 (1) in the interest of minorities are: (i) to enable such minority to conserve its religion and language, and (ii) to give a thorough, good, general education to children belonging to such minority. So long as the institution retains its minority character by achieving and continuing to achieve the abovesaid two objectives, the institution would remain a minority institution.””

In view of the foregoing evidence I would respectfully submit that the proposed Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006 as passed by the Gujarat assembly is clearly a violation of the constitutional religious identity of Jains and Buddhists and urge that it should be rejected.

(Bal Patil is a former member, Maharashtra State Minorities Commission)


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