Book Review & Summary: The Cultural Landscape Of Hindutva And Other Essays By Saumya Dey- I
The Cultural Landscape of Hindutva & Other Essays: Historical Legitimacy of an Idea by Saumya Dey is available for purchase on Amazon.
This collection of twelve brilliant essays by Dr Saumya Dey can have a clear alternative name: ‘The Dummies Guide to Deal with Communists and Liberals,’ and the Dummies are most of the Indians. The twelve arrows dipped in cold reason, logic, and hard facts aim straight into the heart of the philosophy of the rainbow left-liberal-secular-communist-Marxist-Nehruvian crowd. This book deconstructs their distortive discourses antithetical to our traditional cultures, philosophies, and social structures.
The power they hold, in the academic centers and the media, to manipulate public opinion is despite a shrinking political base. However, the tide seems to be slowly turning as people from the other side are making themselves heard. In this important group is Dr Saumya Dey who has the authority and the experience to take on their philosophies- inappropriate and dangerous in the Indian context. The authority comes from being an academic historian at OP Jindal University. The experience comes because he has studied at the two hottest eternal springs of these philosophies; the JNU and the University of Delhi. So, he has a rare insight into the deep workings of the elements who are hitting at the country at various levels in myriad forms.
Each essay makes an interesting point; and he divides the book into two parts: Politics and Culture; and History. In the first part, he looks at the evolution of ‘cultural Marxism’, which looks at themes of exploitation in practically anything and everything around us. This, when perpetuated by the sympathetic crowds in the media, causes immense damage to our cultural, social, and religious fabric. There is an urgent need to repair the damages and uproot the noxious influences, but before that it is a necessity to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the damage. This book fills that need. And admirably.
In the second part, the author traces the history of pre-partition Pakistan and the dynamics of Muslim bitterness as the idea of a country based on religion came into existence. People like Ambedkar did support the partition, but for completely different reasons than told to us. The author also looks at the evangelical basis of Orientalism in the colonial times, which helped nurture the Aryan-Dravidian dichotomy, continuing till date. The anti-Hindu propaganda of the colonial times did not die after independence unfortunately. Nehru’s dislike for the traditional values gave strength to the left oriented powerful universities and educational centers, who in turn wrote highly distorted versions of history.
HINDUISM IS GOOD AND TOLERANT; HINDUTVA IS BAD AND INTOLERANT
The author sets the tone in the very first chapter, ‘The Cultural Landscape of Hindutva.’ Hinduism is good and Hindutva is bad, say our liberals. Liberals are very slippery, as they pick up topics to fight for at an alarming pace, and it is difficult to pin them down to a single definition. But they exist in all forms and all colours, sometimes taking up gay rights, sometimes female oppression, and sometimes Islamophobia.
As elegantly said by Shashi Tharoor, the poster boy of liberalism, Hindutva is Hinduism malformed and misrepresented because it is a denial of ‘the diversity within Hinduism itself’ – the great variety of beliefs, practices, and social mores that it encompasses. Apparently, Hindutva amounts to a ‘Semitization’ of Hinduism since it is contingent upon belief in ‘an identifiable God (preferably Rama)’ and ‘principal holy book (the Gita).’ Hindutva is incompatible with the ‘lived Hinduism of most Hindus.’ Also, ‘Hinduism is an inward directed faith’ while ‘Hindutva is an outward directed concept.’ This about sums up the arguments against Hindutva. Dey disagrees completely.
Dey says that Hindutva stands for a genuine and vital expanse of the Indic civilizational mode. Hindutva was the conceptualization of a cultural frame which has been a historically vital component of the collective Indic self, says the author. ‘Hindutva is not a word but history’, the author quotes Savarkar, who saw this history enclosing ‘all departments of thought and activity of the Hindu race’. The Hindus are a ‘race’ since they inhabit a naturally delimited geographical space –the land that lies between ‘Sindhu and Sindhu’ – from the Indus to the Seas. Using the frameworks of past thinkers, the author says that Hindutva, when treated as the totality of their ideas, is an ethical continuum that binds Dharma with dharā (the land of India) and rājya (state).
With this understanding of Hindutva as a cultural truth, one finds it immanent throughout the course of Indian history. The uniquely Indic consciousness is a philosophical means to order the world and lend it ethical sense. All culturally authentic Indians are bearers of this consciousness and, hence, of Hindutva. Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Bose all confirmed to this philosophy of Hindutva as a dynamic fulfilling the three ideals of Dharma, dharā and rājya.
THE LIBERALS AND THE COMMUNISTS: APART OR UNITED?
The author shows that though they look very different, the two are fundamentally the same forms of an ‘elite reaction.’ Communism, in fact, is an outcrop of liberalism. It is from a stage in the development of liberalism – the European Enlightenment – that communism derives its assessment of religion as being mainly ‘unreason’.
Similarly, both liberals and communists share the militantly anti-traditional ‘utilitarianism’, which tests all tradition and custom on the benchmark of ‘utility’ and sought an obliteration of those that hindered progress. Liberalism and communism both have a similar reading of history- a linear, teleological process that should lead to an ideal goal – the universal triumph of ‘reason’ and ‘progress’ or the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.
Both naturally believe that the state ought to be an instrument in their hands and adopt, if not political, then economic means to turn it into one. In both instances, the major gains go to a small, entrenched, and reactionary elite in charge of the state in question.
Why has there been such an easy and large-scale transfer of values from liberalism to communism? The answer is simple, says the author. The class basis of both is the same – they are forms of authoritarian reaction emerging from the elite. The celebrated liberal thinkers have come from the elite or the gentry; and similarly, the most revered communist prophets too–Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara.
THE FILLING STATIONS AND THE EVOLUTION OF CULTURAL MARXISTS
Why does the JNU have an uneasy relationship with the Indian state? The Left parties of India though sinking in the political field, have active affiliated student bodies; and with a more than active sympathy from the teachers. This is especially true for the Social Sciences.
The discourses fed and perpetuated here have a constant anti-state slant, basically emerging from a communist mindset that the Indian freedom movement and the later nation-state is a bourgeois fraud played upon the masses. The rejection of any expression of national unity like in cricket or even Republic Day Parade is almost a normative behaviour.
JNU has many ‘cultural Marxists’, both teachers and students, in addition to the textual Marxists following the books of Karl Marx. According to them, the Indian nation-state is ‘Brahmanical’ and ‘patriarchal’; is ideologically rooted in multiple ‘evils’ of the Hindu social order; and is fundamentally inclined towards the oppression of women. They hold a ‘Brahmanical collective conscience’ responsible for the ‘judicial murder’ of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt. The author says, ‘these cultural Marxists continuously construct new oppressor-oppressed binaries; trace continuously the ideological premises of cultural production; and politicize identities to promote a culture of victimhood.’
An ‘anywhere mindset’ characterises these cultural Marxists- an attitude which ‘places a high value on autonomy, mobility and novelty and a much lower value on group identity, tradition and national social contracts (faith, flag and family).’ They are ‘just individuals.’ But these mindsets come from typically the well-healed minority of the college, ironically.
Satya and Sundara (Truth and beauty), in Indic thought, are facets of each other. A poster depicting a young sari clad woman with flowers in her hair arranging a Rangoli becomes a cause for ruckus since it denotes a ‘patriarchal attitude’ and grossly offensive for using a woman as a decorative motif. This is the practice of discovering the ‘ideological premises’ of cultural production and making it a cause of deep offense. Cultural Marxism has now this deep characteristic: in critiquing, what one feels about a work of art is paramount, not what it consciously intended to achieve or articulate. Apparently, this entitles one to critique it without taking recourse to the intellect; and accuse it of every sort of ulterior motive.
CULTURAL MARXISM AT THE ROOT OF THE VICTIMHOOD INDUSTRY
The author quotes Dr Mark Lila who wrote about the liberal breakdown by raising the slogan, ‘the personal is political,’ which implies that the individual’s political life is an extension of one’s preferred identity by race, gender, sexual preference and so on. The new politics was about seeking recognition for one’s ‘self-definition’, carrying the potential of infinitely fragmenting politics. This evolved into an oppressor-oppressed binary and spawning of the victimhood industry, with everyone claiming to be a victim of some oppressor. The blacks accusing the whites, the females accusing the males, the gays accusing the heterosexuals- the binaries multiplying ad infinitum.
Our Universities adopted this thinking not caring about inexorably fragmenting their own society and culture. The victimhood industry works by a theoretical contrivance called ‘deconstruction’, which diligently reduces a culture or society by its ideological underpinnings- ‘patriarchy’, ‘Brahmanism’ or ‘normalization of heterosexuality’; and thus demonstrate how those might be aiding the oppression of particular groups of people – women, Dalits and homosexuals. This goes by the more favoured academic term- ‘critical theory.’
Thus, there is no end to the discovery of fresher victims and the endless atomization of victimhood in our country. Indian academia craving for prestige by its association with the west become the willing and conscious allies of the Western academia in its quest of disrupting the cultural coherence of the non-western societies. The cultural Marxists have formed a curious alliance with the traditional Marxists and Islamists in India. The political Left’s embracing of radical Islamists is significantly due to the reason that the cultural Marxists have identified the Islamists as ‘victims’ of an Indian state whose premise is ‘Brahmanical Hinduism’.
ANTI-STATISM IN THE MEDIA AND ACADEMIA
Anti-statismisan intense dislike for any form of intrusion by the state into any aspect of human existence – social, economic, or personal. It has deeply infiltrated into our academia and the media; and the author worries about it. Why the soft corner for the breaking forces in the country- the Naxals and the radical Islamists? The Social Sciences Departments are mainly guilty of perpetuating this attitude.
Post-colonial theories which look at colonial knowledge systems with antipathy transformed in the Social Sciences into a postcolonial disaffection with the state. Indian academic anti-statism assumes that traditional Indian Dharmic thought is anthropocentric after the western fashion and installs the upper caste Hindu male as the Indian equivalent of the western white male.
Postmodern theories, which reject metanarratives or great stories possessing a unity and unfolding through history, are also at the root of disliking the state. The state unfortunately claims a long history, a metanarrative, through which it exists, or forms, and emerges upon the present. And by default, these metanarratives or grand stories belong to the elite upper caste Hindu males. The ‘postmodern’ frame of mind is generally why our ‘liberals’ and ‘radicals’ are so hard to engage with and are incapable of accessing truth or beauty of any kind. Being ‘postmodern’, they could use anything – some part of their ethical, social, and political outlook – to critique anything under the sun, even if they know or understanding nothing of what they are critiquing.
Subaltern Studies is the third approach that promotes anti-statism in the social sciences, which look for the ‘subaltern’, the subordinate non-elite, by exploring the ‘history, politics, economics and sociology of subalternity’ as reflected in ‘class, caste, gender and office or in any other way.’ It seeks to find the ‘small voice of history’ by rejecting statism, the idea that ‘the life of the state is all there is to history.’ The author says that the problem is that somehow, very patronizingly, the contributors to the project assume that the subaltern is inveterately irrational and violent. And this unity of violence and politics gets its justification because the Indian state is no different from the British colonial state.
Not surprisingly, many of the media ‘insurgents’ writing about victimhood of the innocent Kashmiri terrorists, or the caste atrocities, or the Dalit oppression stories are trained in these places which look at the state as an oppressive machine. The left-of-center politics of the major ruling party after independence allowed these dangerous elements in the media and academia to control the narrative in the country, with some sad consequences. Hence, no surprises when stonepelters in Kashmir get an indulgent coverage and a Dalit rape victim gets a screaming media coverage.
‘Liberals’ and ‘radicals’ in the media and academia possess a feverish imagination and privilege it above the intellect and reason, says the author. So much so, that they can be extremely imaginative in randomly accusing you of crimes you have not committed! Feelings and emotions are supreme, not allowing reason and logic to come in the way.
Another peculiar feature of these liberals is ‘Discourse-ism’, which treats all artistic and literary production as the constituent units of some discourse or the other -patriarchy, racism, colonialism, and so on- in terms of what they might be ‘talking about’. The conscious individuality of the author or the artist is increasingly discounted when evaluating literature or the fine arts.
INDIAN ACADEMIA AND ITS COLONISED SELF
Colonial consciousness has not left the academia, despite the talk of post-colonialism ironically. The social science disciplines (history, political science, economics, sociology) as we know them today originated in the west. This makes it impossible for a social scientist in a non-western society to speak with reference to traditions of knowledge indigenous to it. Our top academics, consciously or unconsciously, are eager to adapt their speech and describe their country in terms supplied by the west to gain legitimacy.
The author describes elegantly how colonialism has survived its political demise. And it is unfortunate that a civilization as vast, complex, and ancient as our still bears the imprint of colonialism in its thought and language when India becomes ‘South Asia’ as a mere fact of geography; Ravana gets a heroic makeover; and Krishna transforms like an Abrahamic Deity.
The implications of our academics viewing the Indian traditions of knowledge as being ‘truly dead’ are indeed serious. Since they have no scope of taking recourse to a language that is their own, they end up, instead of describing their country, articulating, and legitimizing the west’s description of it. As an example, they routinely translate Dharma as ‘religion’ when there is hardly a correspondence between the two ideas. Dharma is a far more expansive an idea than religion. The former includes ethics, morality and variedness of spiritual paths and choices; while the latter indicates set dogma and ritual. Similar is the case of the word murti as ‘idol’ when it is not quite that. The cow must be food since it is so in the western hemisphere. And so on- hitting hard and hitting fast at our civilizational roots.
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