These days there is a lot of talk about the Ghar Vapsi (back to the fold or reconversion) program launched by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its affiliate organizations and various other organizations sympathetic to the cause of Hindutva. Mohan Bhagwat rattled the secular brigade in the past few day by his pronouncements at rallies and with the media. Mass reconversion programs are slated for the Christmas holidays. Lot of time is being spent in obstructing the Parliament, speakers are waxing eloquent in endless debates in the news channels while reams of paper are being used up covering this topic. Some are using the Ghar Vapsi progarm to put the present central government on the mat on other areas of governance. Others are using it to drum up support for passing an Anti-Coversion law. Then there are those who are using to inflame passions along religious-communal lines. In other words each one is using Ghar Vapsi to grind their axe on this topic.
There are both legitimate and illegitimate concerns that needs to be addressed. In order to do this, let us do this from a Secular and and Non-Secular angle.
Hindu – citizenship or religious identityEtymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. We think our language and our culture was a constant – unchanged in time hence, no Indian language lexicon studies this branch of linguistics. Seeking the etymology of a word, is a powerful way to understand how culture evolved over time and space. The ancient Greeks (Yavanas) referred to the Indians as Indoi, which translates as “the people of the Indus” which helps us understand the origin of the completely secular word – India – in English. The term Hindu is an Old Persian term and originates from the Sanskrit term ‘Sindhu’, which was the historical local term for the Indus River.“Hindustan” thus was originally a Persian word, used by Muslim Rulers, to mean “Land of the Hindus” and came into use around 13th century.
The term “Hindu” was used to distinguish ‘Vedic People’ from Yavanas (Greeks) and Mlecchas (barbarians/ non-vedic people – i.e. those outside the caste system) and was hence was initially a term of citizenship 700 years ago. In this context – Hindu and Hindustan – were secular words having no immediate religious connotation. Islamic rulers, in their desire to understand their subjects, were unable to grasp the religious identity of the various communities withing the Hindu society. To the then rulers (and still is) it was a challenge to understand a culture that is theist, agnostic and atheist all at the same time with no singular scriptural book even as it is divided into many many sects, sub-sects, each with its own set of rules, regulation and mythical stories that all revolved around the maintenance of Dharmic duties. Calling the religion of the people they ruled, as Hindu, solved this problem for the Islamic Rulers but the direct consequence was the secular nature of the term was in turn destroyed to soon become synonyms with religion. Sadly there are many in India who think that India is still being ruled by Moguls and cling to the citizenship argument to prove their secular credentials forgetting that time and tide has long swept this argument into the Bay of Bengal.
Hindu Rashtra or BharatvarshaThe Indian Constitution, very interestingly made a distinct attempt to define the term Hindu not in an overt but covert manner. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution probably did this in an attempt to retain the diverse cultural variety rather than in an attempt to define or defend secularism per-se. They just assumed that the diverse religio-cultural variety of the Hindu society will be preserved and thus ensure secularism without having the need to define it.
Hence in explanation II of Article 25 (2) (b) of Right to Freedom of Religion the Indian Constitution clarified that “…the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.” In fixing this explanation, the Constituent Assembly made it amply clear that the term Hindu no longer refers to citizenship of India i.e. Bharat (भारत) and was now firmly welded to mean the religious identity of a person and Hinduism the related term to mean Hindu religion of a Hindu.
In other words: EVERY HINDU IS A BHARATIYA NAGARIK AND NO LONGER CAN WE EVER SAY THAT EVERY BHARATIYA NAGARIK IS HINDU! Is it then not a wonder then that the Hindutva brigade is unable to let go the illegitimate Hindustan, a reminder that we were once slaves to Islamic Rulers, from its lexicon?
Which is our mother river Indus or Ganga?Have you really thought or wonder why the founding fathers of the Indian Constitutions rejected Hindustan and use “Bharat” as the preferred Hindi language name even as they readily accepted the modified Greek term – India – as the English language name for our Country? “Bharat” is derived from the heroic figure of Bharata in Sanskrit literature. Bharata was a legendary emperor of ancient India, who single handedly brought down Ganga, a river flowing in the heavens to earth even as he created a huge channel across the entire heart-breath of India. By selecting Bharat, the framers of the Indian Constitution, clearly sought to shift the focus from Sindhu-Indus (from which Hindustan is derived and post independence became part of Pakistan) to the most holy of all rivers in India i.e. Ganges or as it is fondly called Maa Ganga – mother Ganges. In any case, the Sindhu river did not have the same revered status that the Saraswati river had and which flowed parallel to Sindhu.
Probably in sheer comparative size River Sindhu appeared as a stream to the mighty Saraswati river. With River Saraswati having disappeared into the earth in a distant past and the Sindhu river being located in Pakistan, it was clear that a badly communally divided India at the birth of its freedom in 1947 needed an strong but clear icon that could be used to rally around the citizens. What better than Bharata or better still Bharat! The one who brought a mighty river from the heavens, and located in the heart of the country, thus subtly cementing the idea that India is Bharat and Bharat is India. THE GEO-POLITCAL NAME FOR INDIA IS BHARAT AND IT IS THE OFFICIAL NAME FOR THE COUNTRY. Check your Indian passport, if you do not believe. So why would any Hindu imagine that he lives in Hindustan and not Bharat? Why would today’s free Hindu imagine they are still slaves to Islamic Rulers now long dead?
Dharma Sankat of Caste PurityAccording to 5000 year old apartheid Hindu Dharmic Society anyone outside of the three varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas) is either low in the hierarchical social status (called Shudra) or were beyond the pale of caste and hence untouchables (the currently acceptable term is SC/ ST). It is a well known fact, that in the good old days no respecting Hindu (euphemism for high caste) would travel overseas on account of the fear of being unable to maintain the purity of his caste in matters of food, clothing, sex and other such day to day matters. In some communities, purity of caste even demanded that not even the shadow of an untouchable should fall on the high-caste! There were strict rules of segregation at every village (still found if one goes to rural India) to ensure such purity in caste.
By converting to a religion outside of the Hindu community such people had violated the caste purity their former dharma demanded. So why would any member of the Hindutva Brigade desire Ghar Vapsi of those who willingly or unwillingly left the religion? Is the maintenance of caste purity no longer a requirement for certain social ceremonies like marriage or even a qualification for becoming a priest? If true, it is definitely great news for all Indians! Hopefully the Hindutva Brigade will seriously target those Hindus who advertise for same caste brides/ grooms or those who use caste as basis of selecting priests in temples. I’m, and so should you, encourage this Ghar Vapsi movement.
In fact it would be even better if they could somehow enforce inter-caste mingling which is not just encouraged but also rewarded! But probably I’m going a bit on the limb with my enthusiasm. However, if Ghar Vapsi is a clear violation of Hindu Dharma and the Hindutva Brigade is not looking to break the hold of jati-gotra (caste-sub caste) in the minds of Hindus the it is clear that the Ghar Vapsi movement is meant only to foment religious-communal trouble in India i.e. Bharat.
Dharma Sankat of re-PurificationOnce the caste purity is violated by the intentional breaking the Hindu Dharma Code can that purity be brought back in any ritual or a function of penance? Does any of the scriptures allow ignoring the Hindu Dharma Code? If not, what are the rituals or penances prescribed by in the holy scriptures of Vedas or the Gita or in the Ramayana or other Hindu scriptural text to re-purify those whose purity was willingly or unwillingly violated? After the completion of one Ghar Vapsi program a swami, notorious for nearly upsetting the development plans of the Central Government, claimed that these back-to-Hindu-converts would be assigned the same caste (jati) and sub-caste (gotra) that their ancestors held.
In pronouncing this verdict (which incidentally has no backing of any scriptural text or prior Hindu tradition), converts, after their Ghar Vapsi, will discover the awful reality that they are back down the social order that their forefathers left in the hopes for a better tomorrow. If such jati-gotra assignment is not possible then they would be stuck in a social hierarchy that would be even lower than that which their forefathers started with in the first place.
By having done a Ghar Vapsi, the unenviable task of climbing up the Hindu social ladder which can only gained by series of births-rebirths will have to be restarted for them and their children. If the swami had only proclaimed a DWIJ-twice born status to every Ghar Vapsi candidate it would have been motivating and made the skepts into willing enthusiasts to join in the program. Probably he feared trouble from the original-existing Hindu folk who were in a DWIJ-twice born status? Probably he was not serious about solving the caste problem? Probably this is just a ruse to foment religious-communal trouble once again in India i.e. Bharat?
Dharma Sankat of using the Karma of RevengeMohan Bhagwat demands revenge – the avenging of the crimes against our ancestors. The Hindu Dharma clearly has one inviolable rule called Karmic Chakra. The person who does wrong Karma suffers from it in either the present or subsequent births. No where does karmic law permit another to seek vengeance or recompense for ills done to one’s ancestors. While it may be true that some Hindu god/s say that after 100 crimes, a Hindu must not forgive any crime, but nowhere does it say that the crime must or can be avenged by the 2nd, 3rd, or even the 10th generation. The real truth is that our ancestors are now dead and gone.
The Karma of Dharma clears states that these ancestors paid for their crimes/ sins by being reborn as some lower form – may be an animal or bird or insect of bacteria depending on the the quantum of tilt in their Karmaic Scale of Balance. There is nothing in the Dharmic Code of the Karmic Cycle that suggests that a child can help reset the Karmic wrong of a parent or grandparent. But wait, who among our Hindu ancestors committed the crime of conversion? The Muslims? Yes. The Christians? Okay, yes. What about the Hindus? Mohan Bhagwat says, no. Hindus did not indulge in conversion. Keep in mind the crimes, that Mohan Bhagwat points out, were committed were not by our Hindu ancestors but by the ancestors of the Muslims and Christians. But neither religious community believes in Karmic cycle. Then how does avenging the crimes committed by Muslims and Christians help our Hindu ancestors gain positive balance in their Karmic cycle? At best it may give karmic advantage to the ancestors of Muslims and Christians.
Can anyone logically clarify who is gaining Karmic advantage by vengeance using Hindu scriptures and tradition? At best vengeance of confrontation only tilts the scales of one’s own Karma into negative balance. Can one forget a famous quote attributed to MK Gandhi: “An eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth would lead to a world of the blind and toothless.” Now why would any Hindu, in the right mind either recommend or do that in order to gain bad Karma?! How would it help in upholding their Dharma in their Karma chakra? Or could the Hindutva brigade be inciting Hindus with poor logic to foment religious-communal trouble in India i.e. Bharat?
Dharma Sankat of ConversionMohan Bhagwat is partially correct that Hindus do not convert. (The partially correct will be explained in another article or you could read some of my other articles on Hinduism in Indian Exponent). More importantly the corollary to his thesis that nobody should try to convert Hindus to other religions does not follow. The fundamental premise is that Hindu Dharma does not believe or practice conversion. Unlike Islam or Christianity, the Hindu belief is the body is just a receptacle for the soul and the soul does not die. It is just seeks to be reborn into another body. This rebirth is a function of law of Karmic Cycle i.e. the next future destination of the soul is decided by one’s balance of good and bad Karma. There was never a need for conversion to reach a ‘higher’ or ‘better state’ with God. The attainment of Moksha did not permit it or make it a requirement.
Moreover those who wished to follow another path, were not denied that path. In Hinduism – all paths lead to God (Parmataman), eventually. Now, if the Hindutva brigade really believed in “all paths lead to god” then why the ‘noise’ about conversion? Moreover Hindus believe in vasudhaiva kutumbam – the world is my family? If this is true, then any change in religion does not remove the reality that a convert still remains a Hindu and even more wonderful, the entire world is Hindu. Yet some Hindus seek to distinguish between those who are ‘born Hindu’ and those who are not by way of nationality, and religion. Is vasudhaiva kutumbam – the world is my family a myth or a ploy? If conversion into Hinduism is impossible or immaterial, then Ghar Vapsi is a clear violation of Hindu Dharma and is meant only to foment religious-communal trouble in India i.e. Bharat. Looks like the angry Hindutva follower needs to do some ‘atma-chintan’ (soul searching) to discover a better truth.
Dharma Sankat of a Dwij (twice born) HinduThe framers of the Indian Constitution had a dream. A dream that one day we will be caste-less. The dream was written into the constitution as directive to achieve such an egalitarian society in a matter of 10 years. A 10 year provision of concessions and reservations were built into the Constitution to achieve this dream. But the dream soured as subsequent decades saw no end to the repeated extension and expansion of scope. Today we are resigned and even angry that the concessions being provided has not helped in achieving the dream. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat says, “Ab agar mera maal wapas aata hain, toh kaunsi badi baat hai? (If now we are taking back our property, then what’s the big deal?). Who can object to this simple and seemingly justified statement? None can!
So are the Hindutva Brigade planning to violate the strict Hindu Dharmic Code that prevents anyone outside of the three varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya) attain the status of a twice born (DWIJ) caste? Have the Hindutva Brigade received the blessings of the four Sankracharyas and the leaders of the innumerable sects – large and small to announce a change in the laws of Manu which every Hindu followed for the past 5000 years! Will those who were prevented from wearing the UPANAYANAM (the coveted sacred thread) for 5 millennium now get a chance to wear it and that right will, be a hereditary right? I’m not sure if the promoters of Hindutva really thought this ghar Vapsi through but I’m all for it, if it can help us create an egalitarian society – free from social hierarchy. It can help in other ways too. E.g. ○ it will reduce corruption – no need to have false caste certificates to get advantages of concessions.
○ it will stop honor killings on account of love marriages between different caste groups.
○ it will achieve a dream that our founding fathers could not achieve in their life time. If change of varna-gotra is impossible and the Ghar Vapsi program cannot make it happen then where is the question of converting Hindus? Into which caste will they get converted to? After all a Hindu is born into caste and not converted-baptized into a caste. So is Ghar Vapsi a violation of Hindu Dharma or a ploy to foment religious-communal trouble in India i.e. Bharat?