Sunday, March 7, 2010

Response to Shankar

Dear Shankar,

Same here, I too got excited when I first read this document. It is not very flashy and very down-to-earth but thoroughly sensible. Your question "why should we follow the traditions of Jesus and Mohammad?," is slightly misplaced. Actually, a considerable portion 'us' are already followers of them. The idea is to retain and even reinforce whichever good is in those traditions. For example, the idea of ‘all human beings are equal’ is in Islam and Christianity, while Hinduism's defining feature is fundamental inequality of humans.
I don't think anybody in this world is a genuine believer. There may be some. I have not come across a single person who actually believes in God. It is a different matter that they follow rituals, abide by many of the religious prohibitions, if not always in practice but at least in principle.
Atheists like you and me can and should reject all religions. Let me remind you what our Old Gramsci once wrote: "I don't go to church. I am not a believer. We must be aware of the fact that those who believe are the majority. If we keep on having cordial relations with atheists alone we shall always be minority."
Balijan Cultural Movement recognises the need to work with the existing traditions. It does so at two levels. Firstly, it traces and connects our emancipatory ideals from our own history and traditions. Secondly, it also seeks to provide a reinterpretation, reformulations of the traditions that oppress us.
In this way, it avoids the oft committed mistake of parochialism. It is much easy to locate and own up our own traditions and go ahead on our own. But, not every time we could afford to be so sectarian. We have to have a common cultural project with the others, particularly with those who oppress us. We have to work through the symbols and sensibilities that humiliate and alienate us. Making them historical, finding and showing how, many of our traditions and symbols and ideas have been appropriated and twisted, we can have a wider project of engaging with what is 'mainstream,' hegemonic and mass mediatised brand of brahmanical Hinduism.
To historicize is to subvert anything more fundamentally than the mere rejection can achieve. Through historicizing we can retain whatever is good and productive in the religious while stripping it of the aura and mystic and authority the timelessness or very ‘ancientness’  gives it.
Sanghis cannot yet completely silence any criticism of essential inhumanity and stupidity of Hinduism. Particularly because there is no such single thing on the one hand and the Parivar is not yet that powerful. They say, ‘Okay, you can criticise if there is anything wrong with our religion, but don’t do it by being in the company of Christians and Muslims. They have no right to criticise our religion. We can criticise them, of course, because it is our country and our religion is majority here. This argument we need to strongly reject. Even a religion has a right to criticise another religion. In fact, the religions like Islam and Christianity with their principle of equality of humans before God should attack Hinduism strongly.
What is our problem with Christians and Muslims who are not dalits in this country? They don’t criticise Hinduism enough. They compromised with it. To appease Hinduism, they violated their own religious creed and started following untouchability and other Hindu practices. We should reject this logic of ‘my religion and your religion.’ Once we accept it, we are not far away from further succumbing to the Hindu fascist argument that ‘right or wrong, other religions cannot criticise our religion.’ This is again a variation of the standard Hindu theme. It is not the nature of the actions but stature of the person which determines its value. Rama killed Shambuka, why? Not for committing any crime. He was just educating himself and leading a decent life. Because Shambuka was a Dalit he could not lead a decent life.
We reject this line of brahmanical thinking and say that it is the content of the criticism not the beliefs of the critic which matters. We should further pressurise the people of universal religions like Islam and Christianity that they should mount more criticism of Hinduism. One must not be disqualified to use her reason just because of birth or belief.
And, what is this idea of MY religion? Hinduism is my religion just as polio is MY affliction. I don’t have to love it, I must do everything in my capacity to get rid of it. It is my moral responsibility to prevent it to happen to anybody else. We should treat Hinduism as OURS, just as we treat our deseases.
One good thing about the document is that it doesn’t simply argue for rejecting the Hinduism. I don’t think Hinduism is capable of internal reform the way Islam or Christianity are. Hinduism is incompatible with the age of democracy. The authors of the document wisely provide us a way out from this deadlock of either isolating ourselves by simply rejecting Hinduism or falling into the trap of avoiding the question altogether until the revolution comes (communist formula). Bahujan Cultural Movement opens up a way out by urging us to work through Hinduism. Reformulating it by reclaiming whatever was appropriated from our traditions and distorted or made subservient. In doing this, the document is clear-sighted enough not to fall into the trap of making it an internal affair of Hinduism but everybody’s right and responsibility to destroy this scourge of humanity.