By Jug Suraiya
Feb 17, 2014
In an episode that recalls the book burnings that took place in Hitler’s Germany, an obscure right-wing group has prompted the publishers to withdraw from the market and destroy copies of a book on Hindus written by an American author, Wendy Doniger, on the grounds that the work would offend the religious sentiments of the majority community. Without going into the merits or otherwise of the book in question, liberals and all those who believe in the constitutional right to freedom of expression have denounced this enforced ban. The proscription of the book, however, does serve a useful purpose: it underlines, yet again, the unbridgeable gap between what has come to be called Hindutva and the many different, often divergent, schools of thought which over millennia have acquired the name of Hinduism.
As in the present case, the voice of Hindutva claims to speak for all Hindus and for Hinduism in general. Nothing could be further from the truth. The RSS-inspired ideology of so-called ‘cultural nationalism’ that has been labelled Hindutva can be said to be the antithesis of Hindu thought and belief.
Intolerance – dogmatic refusal to see any point of view but that which is your own – is at the core of Hindutva. If something so expansive and fluid can be said to have a core, the core of Hinduism is the exact opposite to that of Hindutva: not quiescent tolerance, but the rigorous obligation to acknowledge that which might be diametrically opposed to what any one of us may affirm.
The concept of Anekantavada, the imperative to adjudge the other’s affirmation to be as valid as one’s own, held up by Jainism, is the pivot on which the always revolving door of Hinduism is hinged. Anekantavada is the living embodiment of the proposition that the opposite of a great truth is not a great lie but another great truth.
Hindutva claims to have the answers to everything. Did Swami Vivekananda and M K Gandhi ever eat beef, as Wendy Doniger has said in her book, among many other objectionable things? Certainly not! To even suggest such a thing is utter blasphemy. Exorcise the demon of heresy. Ban the book. Ban all thought contrary to the thinking of Hindutva. Ban all questions, ban all doubt.
Hinduism doesn’t claim to have the final answer to anything. All that it claims, if anything, is that all answers can always admit of yet another question. What has been called the duty of doubt is the central tenet of both science and the spiritual DNA of Hinduism.
Science does not accord any ‘scientific truth’ the status of immutability, of being changeless and unchallengeable. What is called the scientific method deals not with ‘unquestionable truths’ – another term for dogma – but with ‘working hypotheses’ which continue to work only until they are disproven by another hypothesis.
This endless succession of hypotheses is reflected in spiritual Hinduism by limitless mind, consciousness unrestricted by the uncrossable boundaries of answers. A Hindu text on the cosmological beginning and end of the universe, ends with the words: “Only the gods know the answers to these questions, and perhaps even they know not.”
A Wendy Doniger? Hinduism can effortlessly accommodate her. As it can accommodate atheists, beef-eaters and blasphemers. The only thing Hinduism can’t accommodate is Hindutva.