Before you condemn Hindutva

If you want to have a conversation about whether Hindutva and Hinduism are the same thing, don't have it with random strangers on the web. Have it with your own family on your own dinner tables and in your family WhatsApp groups. Use your voice as a Hindu to say you are against Hindutva.

And also make sure you actually disagree with them before you have this conversation. Understand what you have to reject in order to have this conversation. Here, I will help. The first thing you have to reject is the idea that India is a Hindu nation.

Some of you, despite saying Hindutva is bad, still subscribe to the idea that there is something fundamentally Hindu about India. That's one of the places Hindutva draws its power from. It's what Hindutva quarters use to justify their claim that India belongs to Hindus alone or that Hindus have some kind of special right to Indian soil.

This special status to Hindu religion also happens when you close your eyes to the fact that there is a significant presence of Hinduism in public life. There are pictures of Hindu deities in government offices, banks, police stations and we don't bat an eyelid about any of it. You think Hindutva - the claim that Hindus have a special right over India and all that it has to offer (including the basic human rights) could have taken root without this widespread religious flavour permeating the air? So this too, is something you are going to have to reject because we are not going to be rid of political Hinduism while it remains.

The second thing is something you don't always want to talk about, but it is important nonetheless. You have to reject - really reject - caste. This means that you will have to reject (as you should) not only the most visible aspects of caste-based discrimination such as murder and rape, but also the more insidious ones. Ask why sanitation workers are always from backward castes (you did know this, right?). Ask why your domestic help and other utility providers enter your home through the back door and sit on the ground?

You must reject also, the idea of merit as it is used in common conversations when discussing Reservation. You may have noticed that nobody talks about merit when they are not talking about people who are not from marginalised backgrounds. Your uncles and grandpas aren't worried about the quality of what our education system produces. If they were truly worried about that, they would have been scolding your stupid good-for-nothing cousin. Their arguments about "merit" are limited to people from backward castes and these arguments exist because of a belief prevalent among many upper caste Indians.

What is this belief? Well, it is that you are not casteist. You say you are not casteist because you don't violently oppress people from the so-called backward castes, but even your views about your own natural sophistication are fueled by casteism. Some call it "caste pride" but it is an euphemism. Tell me, if a White supremacist said he was not racist and instead only had "race pride", would you be able to take them seriously? The same goes for any privileged class and the same goes for dominant caste people saying they are not casteist for being proud of being a Brahmin.

The reason you can't be anti-Hindutva without rejecting caste in all its forms is that Hindutva stands on a foundation of Brahminism, just like modern Hinduism. All of its cultural values stem from texts composed by Brahmins. Its histories, its ambitions, its worldview, are all inspired by Brahminical literature. Even the mythological texts that we consider benign and even make into cartoons series for kids to watch and emulate perpetuate this exact same power structure. A power structure where Brahmins occupy a special space (along with other dominant castes) and that is shown to be a natural thing. It's not.

Opposing Hindutva while saying that Hinduism is its great and amazing polar opposite is like saying a steering wheel was responsible for a road accident. Sure, Hindutva is what drives Hinduism in modern times. But it is far from the source of the problem. If you, as a Hindu, yell hard enough, maybe the Hindutva loonies will retreat into the shadows. But unless you commit to fighting the root cause of the problem - the inherent ills of Hinduism, this problem is not going away. So before you declare Hindutva is not Hinduism, be sure you know what exactly the difference is.

I'll tell you what the difference is. The difference is something that doesn't exist yet. Whether or not it ever comes into existence is up to you. Maybe you will create that difference. Maybe you won't. Maybe you will one day oversee the creation of a truly equitable Hinduism. But that Hinduism doesn't exist right now. Right now, for all practical purposes, Hinduism and Hindutva are the same.

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