We should have gotten used to random groups or individuals spitting venom out every time they opened their mouths. Vile language is not the product of feverish spirits. Nor does it emerge from the fringes of Indian politics. It is part of a political language used for political purposes, mobilization, the pursuit of definable goals and personal career advancement. Even so, the revolting language of the so-called âDharma Sansadâ sadhus in Haridwar and Raipur shocked the Indians. Saffron-clad men and women made religion ugly because they used their “religiosity” to demand the blood of innocent fellow citizens. They have defiled our body politic.
Prominent religious historians have argued that Hinduism is different from Semitic religions because it has no founder, no supreme church, and no sacred text. Social anthropologist TN Madan suggests that Hinduism is a religious tradition that resists incorporation into the idea of ââreligion defined by the Abrahamic religions.
The implication is that tradition allows for fluidity within religion. Hinduism gives us sophisticated philosophical systems, but it also allows localized gurus, swamis, and cult leaders to flex their muscles. Some of them command the following kind of worship that politicians might envy. They have established centers of power that rival the power of the modern state. This allows them to launch a call for arms and genocidal order. Calls by the Dharma Sansads challenged the belief that the modern state monopolizes power and instruments of coercion. His command over citizen allegiance was challenged. Its status as the depositary of sovereignty has been compromised.
Ironically, when the self-proclaimed guardians of the Hindus call for ethnic cleansing in the name of religion and dharma, they conveniently ignore the basic tenets of religion. The philosophy of Hinduism is made up of a deep commitment to satya and ahimsa. A series of stories from the great epic of the Mahabharata illustrate this commitment.
One story is that of a crow whose crooks disturb the meditation of sage Kaushika. The wise man is seated under a tree. Kaushika opens his eyes and looks at the crow angrily. His gaze reduced the darkened bird to ashes. The sage immediately regrets his inability to adhere to the norm of non-violence. He had violated his own commitment to the basic tenets of his religion. Grieved by his inability to control the lower passions, Kaushika begins to wander through forests and dwellings. He is obsessed with a question: What is the relationship between dharma and ahimsa? He found the answer in a butcher’s shop. Witness to irony. A higher caste sage receives dharma knowledge from a (so-called) lower caste meat seller amidst animal carcasses. He was taught that at the heart of dharma is ahimsa. We cannot realize Dharma if we cause death and destruction.
This was exactly the point made by Gandhi in his book Hind swaraj. The text, he later remarked, was his response to the Indian school of violence. I, he said, came into contact with some well-known Indian anarchists in London. âI was convinced that violence was not a cure for India’s ills. Its civilization required the use of a different and superior weapon to protect itself. Gandhi drew inspiration from Hindu and Jain traditions to oppose violence.
His argument can be summed up in three interconnected propositions. First, violence is a lazy way of playing politics; it avoids the transformation of the body politic. Second, Gandhi’s rejection of violence stems from a powerful argument about the nature of truth. The production and reproduction of violence follows the absolute conviction that we and we alone are in possession of the truth, and that the truth of others is necessarily false. They must be eradicated. But the truth, according to Gandhi, is as elusive as the proverbial wisp. It escapes us when we think we have accessed it.
Third, Gandhi’s rejection of violence is based on Advaita or non-dualism. Unlike the biblical injunction – do to others what you would like others to do to you – Gandhi suggests that others are part of us. An act that harms others hurts us. “I believe in Advaita [monism or non-dualism]. I believe in the essential unity of man and elsewhere of all that lives. Therefore, I believe that if a man wins spiritually, the whole world wins with him, and if a man falls, the whole world falls to that extent.
It is time to reinvent Gandhi as a political philosopher capable of showing us the way in these troubled times of violence. Today it is reduced to a pair of glasses on advertising posters for Swachh Bharat. Yet his ahimsa, often beaten at the helm of realpolitik, remains a moral ideal. Gandhi did not invent ahimsa – the value is found in the Yogashastra of Patanjali. The Mahabharata epic speaks of fratricidal war, but throughout the epic the phrase resonates ahimsa paramo dharma – non-violence is the first dharma. Gandhi turned a religious tradition into a political weapon. It is time for the community these so-called guardians of Hinduism claim to speak for to speak out in favor of Ahimsa as a political norm.