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Hindutva Fundamentalists Mirroring Thier Counterparts

by Jyoti Punwani, 5 November 2008

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The Times of India, 4 November 2008

Aping each other

The TV coverage of the arrest of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur brought about a sense of deja vu. Where had we seen this before - a preacher being charged with a terrorist act? Then it struck home. Mullah Omar, Maulana Masood Azhar, the Lal Masjid mullahs... and nearer home, MuftiAbu Bashir, the imam of Mumbai’s Musafirkhana mosque, the maulvi arrested after the Ahmedabad blasts.

One always suspected that the RSS was envious of Muslims. The RSS envied the hold it thought Islam had on its followers, which made Muslims ready to die for Islam. While it hasn’t managed to inspire Hindus to die for their religion, the RSS has, after a campaign lasting almost a quarter century, managed to convert its version of Hinduism into a carbon copy of Islam, but that version which the world is afraid of - militant Islam. The RSS’s version of Hinduism is Hindutva. It hasn’t only changed Hinduism as it is known and practised across India into some unrecognisable intolerant, violent force; it has also transformed the image of one of the most popular Hindu gods, in whose name it has effected this change.

The campaign began in 1985. Lord Ram, who has always been eulogised as Maryada Purushottam, gentle and patient, not given much to anger unlike his younger brother Lakshman, was depicted by the RSS in its campaign against Babri masjid, with his bow drawn. We’ve grown up amid pictures of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman, always together, with Ram and Lakshman holding their bows by their side, exuding serenity and compassion. The Ayodhya campaign changed this image into Ram the warrior. While Ram’s enemy was Ravan, a ruler of another kingdom, the RSS made their fellow citizens the enemy. In the preparations for his final battle with Ravan, Ram made many allies: Sugriva, Vibheeshan and others. But the RSS couldn’t get anyone ideologically different from it to ally openly with its campaign, though it managed to get the Congress to give it help at crucial times.

The RSS borrowed from Sikh terminology to call its followers in this campaign kar sevaks, and in doing so, distorted this term too. Kar sevaks volunteer to work in gurdwaras. But the RSS’s kar sevaks didn’t just carry bricks for a temple -one that was to be built after demolishing a masjid. They also shouted abusive slogans that terrified anyone opposing their cause and brandished trishuls onthe streets.

Post-1992, the trishul became the symbol of the militant Hindu; ‘Jai Sri Ram’ his war cry. In the communal riots of the 1970s and 1980s, Hindu rioters would shout ’Har Har Mahadev’. But police documents record that in the 1992-93 Mumbai riots, Hindus shouted ’Jai Sri Ram’ while lynching their victims. Rape victims of the 2002 Gujarat violence report their rapists saying it as they pounced on them. In Mumbai, three madrassa students were forced to say ’Jai Sri Ram’ during the July 3 VHP bandh, and most recently, the slogan was heard from those who attacked Christian tribals in Kandhamal.

After every communal riot, the police display arms they claim were found in Muslim homes in the affected area, including knives. At that time, RSS cadre in the area always bleat, "You won’t find even a paper knife in our homes." But post-1992, Hindu rioters have acquired a new image, one that can match weapon for weapon the "heavily armed Muslims" police always talk about. In fact, in a break-up of weapons seized, given by the Mumbai police to the Srikrishna commission inquiring into the 1992-93 Mumbai riots, more weapons, including sophisticated ones, were found to have been in the possession of Hindu rioters than Muslim ones. Now, this arsenal has come to include the one weapon associated with ’Islamic terrorism’, and the main suspect has turned out to be a preacher of the new Hindutva.

Finally, the unkindest cut. "Islam was spread through the sword" has been an item of belief for the RSS. Now in Orissa, the RSS is spreading Hinduism through the sword as it makes conversion to Hinduism a condition for survival for Christian tribals. Imitation, they say, is the best form of flattery. But do ordinary Hindus accept this new religion?

The writer is a Mumbai-based political commentator.