THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
By contrast, the Nehru Ambedkar relationship has been consigned to obscurity.
THREE men did most to make Hinduism a modern faith. Of these the first was not recognised as a Hindu by the Shankaracharyas; the second was not recognised as a Hindu by himself; the third was born a Hindu but made certain he would not die as one.
These three great reformers were Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and B.R. Ambedkar. Gandhi and Nehru, working together, helped Hindus make their peace with modern ideas of democracy and secularism. Gandhi and Ambedkar, working by contrasting methods and in opposition to one another, made Hindus recognise the evils and horrors of the system of untouchability. Nehru and Ambedkar, working sometimes together, sometimes separately, forced Hindus to grant, in law if not always in practice, equal rights to their women.
The Gandhi-Nehru relationship has been the subject of countless books down the years. Books on the Congress, which document how these two made the party the principal vehicle of Indian nationalism; books on Gandhi, which have to deal necessarily with the man he chose to succeed him; books on Nehru, which pay proper respect to the man who influenced him more than anyone else. Books too numerous to mention, among which I might be allowed to single out, as being worthy of special mention, Sarvepalli Gopal’s Jawaharlal Nehru, B.R. Nanda’s Mahatma Gandhi, and Rajmohan Gandhi’sThe Good Boatman.
In recent years, the Gandhi-Ambedkar relationship has also attracted a fair share of attention. Some of this has been polemical and even petty; as in Arun Shourie’s Worshipping False Gods (which is deeply unfair to Ambedkar), and Jabbar Patel’s film “Ambedkar” (which is inexplicably hostile to Gandhi). But there have also been some sensitive studies of the troubled relationship between the upper caste Hindu who abhorred Untouchability and the greatest of Dalit reformers. These include, on the political side, the essays of Eleanor Zelliott and Denis Dalton; and on the moral and psychological side, D.R. Nagaraj’s brilliant little book The Flaming Feet.
By contrast, the Nehru-Ambedkar relationship has been consigned to obscurity. There is no book about it, nor, to my knowledge, even a decent scholarly article. That is a pity, because for several crucial years they worked together in the Government of India, as Prime Minister and Law Minister respectively.
Weeks before India became independent, Nehru asked Ambedkar to join his Cabinet. This was apparently done at the instance of Gandhi, who thought that since freedom had come to India, rather than to the Congress, outstanding men of other political persuasions should also be asked to serve in Government. (Thus, apart from Ambedkar, the Tamil businessman R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, likewise a lifelong critic of the Congress, was made a member of the Cabinet, Finance Minister, no less.)
Ambedkar’s work on the Constitution is well known. Less well known are his labours on the reform of Hindu personal laws. Basing himself on a draft prepared by Sir B. N. Rau, Ambedkar sought to bring the varying interpretations and traditions of Hindu law into a single unified code. But this act of codification was also an act of radical reform, by which the distinctions of caste were made irrelevant, and the rights of women greatly enhanced.
Those who want to explore the details of these changes are directed to Mulla’s massive Principles of Hindu Law (now in its 18th edition), or to the works of the leading authority on the subject, Professor J.D.M. Derrett. For our purposes, it is enough to summarise the major changes as follows; (1) For the first time, the widow and daughter were awarded the same share of property as the son; (2) for the first time, women were allowed to divorce a cruel or negligent husband; (3) for the first time, the husband was prohibited from taking a second wife; (4) for the first time, a man and woman of different castes could be married under Hindu law; (5) for the first time, a Hindu couple could adopt a child of a different caste.
These were truly revolutionary changes, which raised a storm of protest among the orthodox. As Professor Derrett remarked, “every argument that could be mustered against the protest was garnered, including many that cancelled each other out”. Thus “the offer of divorce to all oppressed spouses became the chief target of attack, and the cry that religion was in danger was raised by many whose real objection to the Bill was that daughters were to have equal shares with sons, a proposition that aroused (curiously) fiercer jealousy among certain commercial than among agricultural classes”.
In the vanguard of the opposition was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In a single year, 1949, the RSS organised as many as 79 meetings in Delhi where effigies of Nehru and Ambedkar were burnt, and where the new Bill was denounced as an attack on Hindu culture and tradition.
A major leader of the movement against the new Bill was a certain Swami Karpatri. In speeches in Delhi and elsewhere, he challenged Ambedkar to a public debate on the new Code. To the Law Minister’s claim that the Shastras did not really favour polygamy, Swami Karpatri quoted Yagnavalkya: “If the wife is a habitual drunkard, a confirmed invalid, a cunning, a barren or a spendthrift woman, if she is bitter-tongued, if she has got only daughters and no son, if she hates her husband, (then) the husband can marry a second wife even while the first is living.” The Swami supplied the precise citation for this injunction: the third verse of the third chapter of the third section of Yagnavalkya’s Smriti on marriage. He did not however tell us whether the injunction also allowed the wife to take another husband if the existing one was a drunkard, bitter-tongued, a spendthrift, etc.
But there were also some respectable opponents of the new Code, who included Rajendra Prasad, who in January 1950 became the President of India. In 1950 and 1951 several attempts were made to get the Bill passed. However, the opposition was so intense that it had to be dropped. Ambedkar resigned from the Cabinet in disgust, saying that Nehru had not the “earnestness and determination” required to back the Bill through to the end.
In truth, Nehru was waiting for the first General Elections. When these gave him and the Congress a popular mandate, he re-introduced the new Code, not as a single Bill but as several separate ones dealing with Marriage and Divorce, Succession, Adoption, etc. Nehru actively canvassed for these reforms, making several major speeches in Parliament and bringing his fellow Congressmen to his side.
In 1955 and 1956 these various Bills passed into law. Soon afterwards Ambedkar died. Speaking in the Lok Sabha, Nehru remarked that he would be remembered above all “as a symbol of the revolt against all the oppressive features of Hindu society”. But Ambedkar, said Nehru, “will be remembered also for the great interest he took and the trouble he took over the question of Hindu law reform. I am happy that he saw that reform in a very large measure carried out, perhaps not in the form of that monumental tome that he had himself drafted, but in separate bits”.
As I have said, by the strict canons of orthodoxy, Gandhi and Nehru were lapsed Hindus; Ambedkar no Hindu at all. Yet, by force of conviction and strength of character, they did more good to Hindus and Hinduism than those who claimed to be the true defenders of the faith.
Ramachandra Guha is a historian and writer based in Bangalore.
E-mail him at email@example.com
HINDUTVA (Hindu-Nazism) is a nationalist political philosophy that was defined primarily by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966), President of the ABHM (Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha = All India Hindu Assembly), along with K B Hedgewar & M S Golwalkar (1st & 2nd RSS chiefs), who were all enthusiastic admirers of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”:
– “From the Indus to the Himalayas, from the Himalayas to Tibet, from Tibet to Burma and from Burma to the Southern and Western seas run the lines of the boundaries of our Land.”, V D Savarkar, ABHM 21st Session, 1939;
– “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen’s rights.”, M S Golwalkar, 2nd RSS chief (1940-1973), 1938;
– “…if we Hindus in India grow stronger in time these Moslem friends of the league type will have to play the part of German-Jews … India must be a Hindu land, reserved for the Hindus.”, V D Savarkar, ABHM 20th Session, 1938;
– “…the Indian Mahommedans, Jews, Christians, Parsees, etc. are excluded from claiming themselves as Hindus”, V D Savarkar, ABHM 19th Session, 1937;
– “The RSS’ only aim is to polarise the Indian masses on communal lines, wherever possible in order to awaken a dormant Hindi nationalism”, K B Hedgewar, 1st RSS chief (1925-40);
– “All Hindutva opponents will get the death sentence”, Praveen Togadia, VHP secretary-general, Dec. 2002;
ORGANIZATIONS that champion Hindutva/Hindu-Nazism are known as the Sangh Parivar (Sangh Family) & include:
– the ABHM political party;
– the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) political party which is an offshoot of ABHM;
– the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh = National Volunteers’ Organisation) within India itself which was founded in 1925 by V D Savarkar’s deputy K B Hedgewar;
– the Rashtra Sevika Samiti (= National Women Voluteers’ Committee) which is the RSS’s women’s wing;
– the HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh = Hindu Volunteers’ Organisation) which is the RSS’s main international wing;
– the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad = All India Students’ Council) which is the RSS’s youth wing for students;
– the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad = World Hindu Council) which is an RSS-inspired Indian & international wing;
– the Durga Vahini (= Army of Durga) which is the VHP’s women’s wing;
– the Dharma Raksha Manch (= Religion Protection Forum) which is the VHP’s new wing for Hindu priests, holy men & “saints”;
– the HSC (Hindu Students’ Council) which is the VHP’s youth wing for students in the USA & Canada;
– the Bajrang Dal (= [Hanuman’s] Monkey Brigade) which is the VHP’s youth wing;
– even more extreme Hindu-Nazi organizations include Shiv Sena, Sri Ram Sena, Rahtriya Hindu Sena, Rashtra Raksha Sene, Hindu Munnani, Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu JanaJagruti Samiti.
Hindutva/Hindu-Nazi organizations claim it as a right, & indeed a duty, to impose their ideology throughout “Akhand Bharat”/”Akhand Hindustan” (i.e. “Undivided India” including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal & Bhutan, but not Myanmar/Burma). This would mean the forced conversion or expulsion or elimination of over 450 million non-Hindus in the region.
NOTORIOUS contemporary Hindutva/Hindu-Nazis include:
– Bal Thackeray (1926-), founder and chief of the Shiv Sena, who has called for the rise of Hindu terrorism & a Hitler-like dictatorship in India;
– K S Sudarshan (1931-), sarsanghachalak (appointed leader) of the RSS, who has said Muslm, Christian & Communist activities in India “must be curbed with an iron hand”;
– Narendra Modi (1950-), BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat & probable future president of the BJP, who has been implicated in the 2002 Gujurat violence that killed more than 1,000 people, injured about 2,500 & displaced about 150,000;
– Praveen Togadia (1957-), International General Secretary of the VHP, who has threatened death to opponents of Hindutva;
– Pramod Muthalik (1963-), founder of the Sri Ram Sena, Rahtriya Hindu Sena & Rashtra Raksha Sene, who claims to have over 1,100 Hindu suicide attackers in training.
SOMETHING FOR THE MEDIA TO THINK ABOUT
A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday, October 31, 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson. The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live. TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha (Women’s wing). After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.
What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the “scene” in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings? The Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right wing storm troopers. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going. So, while the Government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice? I can understand that the BJP’s Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention the from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured. But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same? Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or is it a question of ideological alignment?
October 31, 2010
[Thanks to Taha for his comment on Gujarat riot and role of Dalits that made me to remember this particular incident. I wanted to write about this since long but keep on postponing it as I didn’t have much material except what I heard at the seminar held in Pune University]
Almost two years ago, I met one activist from Chhaara tribe (a denotifed tribe that was legally notified as ‘criminals’ by British and were forced to remain in confined area and could never go out without police permission). All such ‘criminal’ tribes, basically nomadic, were forcefully settled in one place, from Maharashtra to Gujarat to UP to Rajasthan.
Though now denotifed but the society and the administration still treats them as criminals, even after 60 years of Independence from British rule. They hardly get any jobs, have very low penetration of education and are still seen as walking criminals and treated as such by all.
Still the police comes to these ‘criminal settlements’ to raid and ‘catch’ the culprits if there is petty crime anywhere in the city and also come to arrest youth from the community to ‘parade’ them as culprit for some unsolved crime and sometimes pay them for that in cash
Coming back to my narrative, this friends of ours named Dakshin (whom, unfortunately I have met just once that too no personal interaction) is quite well known activist from Chaara community in Gujarat. He is an educator, a theater artist and has formed a group from within the community to generate awareness among the community, to fight the stereotyping prevalent outside the society and also to fight against the police brutality that happens on almost daily basis.
He lives in a place called Chaaranagar (a ‘criminal settlement’ since British times) in the middle of Ahmadabad, Gujarat.In the seminar, he spoke on his group and his experience of using theatre as medium for generating awareness.
During this presentation, he showed his resentment against Tehelka’s sting operation on Babu Bajrangi and other rioters-in-chief, which happened just on the eve of last Gujarat elections.
According to him, Tehelka provided a space, though unwittingly, for people like Babu Bajarangi to gloat over ‘Chaaras being the true and robust Hindus who killed Muslims and we need all other Hindus to eat meat and become merciless killing machines like Chaaras’ and played directly in the hands of RSS and VHP.
However, the truth was according to Dakshin, that apart from few Chaaras, no one participated in the riots and the killings. And those who participated were all known criminals, not ordinary Chaaras.
According to Dakshin, who is very well respected in the Chaara community, he was present in the settlement and was active with his group to prevent the participation of their youth who were constantly being lured by the possibility of ‘riches and women’.
He challenged Tehelka to prove what Bajarangi said about Chaaras and closed the presentation by saying that if Chaaras would have participated in the riots, then why the Muslim shops and houses around their settlements were not burnt and looted, why all that happened in middle class localities.
But his voice never came across to all the secular brigades who started showing their deep ‘pain’ and ‘anguish’ over the ‘participation of dalits and especially tribes’ in killing of Muslims.
Even Tehelka never bothered to understand why Babu Bajrangi and others were so much gloating and talking about the role of Chaaras in Muslim killings in Ahmadabad. They never bothered that publishing whatever Babu Bajarangi was saying would further consolidate the stereotyping of the community that is already under seize and also help RSS and other right-wingers in their attempt of hinduising the community.
[ Please also read one of the past issues of our Insight magazine (Jan-Feb 2005 on Caste and Nationalism by clicking here http://archive.insightyv.com/?p=22]