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Fifth column

March 9, 2019

Hindu vs Hindutva

Opinion

March 9, 2019

The forced resignation of Fayyazul Hassan Chohan from his post as the information and culture minister for the government of Punjab has set a good example. I am not aware of anyone else holding public office having had to concede their position for disparaging a minority faith in Pakistan.

It is heartening to learn that Imran Khan’s decision to put an end to Chohan’s role in the Punjab government was welcomed across the board, leaving little doubt that in Naya Pakistan the display of religious bigotry is losing currency. In a fraying atmosphere of war cries, Chohan’s explanation that he was speaking about India might contain some merit but in doing so, he was, no doubt, being disrespectful to a faith.

Pakistan is not perfect. But, compared with India, it hasn’t had any concerted or deliberate planning at the official level to cause riots to target religious communities. Equally, no anti-minority rhetoric has assumed mass popularity as a tool to garner votes. But what has often dismayed me is the easy spirit with which the term ‘Hindu’ is used pejoratively in Pakistan. Also, any blame – real or concocted – that is invoked against India is often placed mindlessly on Hindus, reinforcing the widely-held notion of India being a Hindu-only nation, an idea that would be welcomed by the Hindutva groups whose claim to an exclusive Hindu Rashtra has catalysed street violence, mainly against Muslims.

Those with a good understanding of India, and who can distinguish between the state and Hinduism, are falling into another trap – conflating Hindutva with Hinduism. This is quite irritating, given that Muslims have themselves been victimised for their way of life, including cultural markers which have invoked suspicion. They have been blamed en masse for so-called ‘Islamic terrorism’, a term conjured by the West for anything and everything – genuine resistance struggles contained in several Muslim geographies to intellectual inquiry and arguments in support for a theological or political entity.

After Narendra Modi’s ascendance to power, the concept of Hindutva has started to gain some attention in Pakistan. The Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) has made attempts to understand the phenomena and its growing implications on the region. In the second year running, the IPS organised an international conference to raise awareness about it. In a recent day-long event titled, ‘Hindutva Policies and the State of Minorities in India,’ it tried to offer some nuanced understanding about the phenomenon that has led to the growing marginalisation of Muslims and other minorities amid increased institutional and raw violence on the ground.

Having attended both the conferences as a speaker, it became clear that there is a lot of misplaced fog – including outright bigotry – that has created a great void in understanding the phenomenon. Khalid Rahman, the executive president and the director general of the IPS acknowledges “a kind of knowledge deficiency persisting at the national level on this important subject” This year, consternated by the continued use of the terms Hindu and Hindutva interchangeably, I had to stress on the vast differences between the two concepts.

A day after the IPS conference, the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, organised a book launch of ‘Rising Hindutva and its impact on the Region’. The book, a work of more than two decades of research, according to the author, Group Captain (r) SM Hali, offers rich insights into the trajectory of the Hindutva – from its genesis to revival under the BJP government. He provides valuable details about Hindutva forces and their modus operandi in various socio-political environments, often illustrating with examples.

Hali is a prolific writer who has been contributing informed analytical pieces to various newspapers and attending television debates since a long time. His industrious engagement with the subject has created a valuable treatise that affords a great deal of understating on the subject hitherto absent in Pakistan. While evaluating the Hindutva and its relationship with the security and geopolitical outlook of present-day India, Hali exaggerates its influence.

The book seeks to differentiate between the terms Hindu and Hindutva. Senator Nisar Memon, in his introduction, concedes that “Hindutva as a creed is not about the Hindus but about extremist Hindus”. Similar distinction is emphasised in the foreword by Gen Ehsanul Haq or the review by Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.

The author himself raises the issue in his introduction but, in the end, falls prey to the temptation of conflating them. He offers a good analysis of various issues but hastily attributes the Indian government’s policies and actions to the spirit of Hindutva. This includes the growing Indian atrocities in Kashmir as well as many secessionist movements in the north-east. While placing the blame on Hindutva, he excises various nuances and historical contexts that have provoked and sustained their activities. The author agrees with me that he has, at times, used the terms interchangeably but tries to justify it by arguing that the Indian political system, from the Congress to the BJP, is influenced by Hindutva.

In his preface, the author narrates a childhood incident that reflects the anti-Muslim biases of a certain Hindu merchant – also called ‘baniya’ in derogative vernacular that is often employed in Pakistan without much thought. He wrongly labels this as Hindutva, discounting the fact that traditionally both Muslims and Hindus, despite living side-by-side for centuries, have often been locked in mutual contempt manifested through various forms of engagements or indifference, often non-violent. Regardless, the book is a valuable addition from a Pakistani perspective on the growing phenomenon of Hindutva.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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