Equal Rights for Hindus: The Time is Now
One year ago, on Autumnal Equinox, 21 September 2019, Hindus organized a conference in Delhi devoted to the discrimination against Hindus in the Constitution, and, on this bedrock, also extant in India’s laws and effective policies. This was not a Sangh initiative (though VHP leader Alok Kumar was present and being honored), rather it had been called to formulate demands addressed to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Formally, it was the work of an ad hoc group, the Hindu Charter (www.hinducharter.org).
Some discriminations are rather academic and only consequential at several removes. Thus, the understanding of religious freedom as guaranteed in Article 25, especially the inclusion of the right to propagate one’s religion and thus to encourage others to convert, is tailor-made for the Christian mission. This interest group had successfully lobbied to ensure that the right to convert be included in the Constitution. It also fits the Islamic design to Islamize all of humanity, but the notion of conversion is foreign to Hindus and even more to Parsis. So, the constitutional right to convert seemingly creates a level playing field, counting for all religions, yet in practice it upholds a right central to Christianity and Islam but meaningless (except negatively) to Hinduism. It legalizes the aggression by the foreign and conquering religions to the detriment of the indigenous religion.
At the initiative of the Scheduled Tribes, targets par excellence of the missionary efforts, several Indian states have enacted laws against forcible or fraudulent conversion (which according to the missionaries and their secularist allies are non-existent anyway). But these state laws can never acquire teeth as long as the Constitution guarantees the right to propagate religion. Thanks to this unshakable guarantee, the missionary apparatus considers these anti-conversion laws as but an impotent scarecrow, useful only to underpin its own internationally propagated image of hapless victims being persecuted by an overbearing Hindu majority.
The most consequential and effective discrimination is comprised in Article 30. It guarantees to the minorities (leaving the majority unmentioned) the right to found and manage educational institutions. This means that Hindu schools can be nationalized or subjected to other government controls from which minority schools are exempt. In the application of this discrimination, the Right to Education Act, enacted by the Congress-Communist combine in 2008, imposes a back-breaking burden on Hindu schools (putting hundreds out of business), and from which it exempts minority schools.
But before this too, the discrimination was already palpable. Thus, in the 1980s the Ramakrishna Mission’s schools in West Bengal were harassed by the Communist teachers’ unions and threatened with nationalization. Instead of appealing to Hindu society to come to its rescue, and instead of challenging the discriminatory rules which made this hostile takeover possible, it dishonorably decided to abandon Hindu society and distance itself from all other Hindu sects that invest in schooling. The Ramakrishna Mission approached the Court to get itself recognized as a non-Hindu minority, exemplifying the scramble for the exit from Hinduism.
The RK Mission failed in its attempt at de-Hinduization, as had happened before already to the Sri Aurobindo Society: the Court had to admit that the respective founders, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, had explicitly stated that they were Hindu and had never intended to found a new religion. But the Arya Samaj at the Punjab state level, the Jains, and the Lingayats did succeed in getting recognition as non-Hindu minority religions.
The point is that Article 30 is a constant invitation to the Hindu sects to leave Hinduism. It tends to fragment Hindu society. Apart from the sheer injustice of this anti-Hindu discrimination, its power to trigger the fragmentation of Hindu society should be reason enough for pro-Hindu activists to do something about it. It also helps to confirm the state’s right to interfere in other fields of Hindu life, especially the places of worship, again unlike the minorities’ inviolable churches and mosques.
These two areas — education and places of worship — are extremely important in today’s world. In centuries past, children became Hindu by spontaneously absorbing the religion and culture because these were all around them. That is much less the case today. By contrast, formal schooling is far more important than ever before. Keep the teaching of Hinduism out of the schools (a requirement of enforcing “secularism”, but only on the Hindus), and it will enter the children’s minds less and less. Unknown makes unloved, and it makes Hindus unable to defend the choice for Hinduism to others and even to themselves. This way, they become easy prey for whomever wants to seduce them into abandoning their ancestral religion and entering other worlds and embracing other worldviews and ways of life. For Hinduism, removing these discriminations is a matter of life and death.
The conference a year ago resolved to try and influence the government into finally taking up the problem of this Constitutional inequality. But it can be doubted whether anyone except the participants has even heard of it. For the Government, it has not made any difference. In 2018 there was a Private Bill by BJP MP Satyapal Singh, but both the party and the Government refused to take it up.
If the BJP and Narendra Modi had cared about Hinduism, they would have prepared the correct parliamentary procedures before acceding to power and set to work in 2014 itself. Failing that, they could have come to their senses in the next phase, and belatedly set to work anyway. Instead, while they may have done their job on the development front, they remained emphatically passive on the “communal” front. Many in there are just timeservers satisfied with enjoying the perks of being in government.
The slightly more principled types, of RSS provenance, had absorbed so much of secularist thought that the idea of recognizing and abolishing anti-Hindu discriminations that were strangling Hindu life, just did not even occur to them. Instead, they take pride in outdoing Congress in minority appeasement, having replaced Hindutva with “BJP secularism” as their ideological backbone. Even independent activist Hindus tend to get carried away by minor issues and muster no more than fleeting attention to the main issue.
The problem here is that Hindus are suckers for tokenism. With superficial gestures, wearing Hindu clothes, and getting filmed visiting a temple here and there, BJP ministers can assure themselves of Hindu votes. A child’s hand is easy to fill, and Hindus will gladly believe that only economic issues are “the real issues”, while the reforms that would make a difference to the life and future of Hinduism are but “boutique issues” (to borrow the term that a Hindu actually used).
When put on the spot, BJP supporters defend the BJP’s actual performance against the ideals to which they were once committed, like “justice for all, appeasement of none”. They insist that the leaders “need time”: even after more than six years in power, without discerning any BJP intention to stray from the Nehruvian path of minority appeasement (for that is what maintaining the anti-Hindu discrimination amounts to), many are still not ashamed to say this, all while consistently remaining passive on the issues for which they supposedly needed that time.
What to do?
If you want to achieve any goal, you must be coldly realistic. Let us face the fact that there is very little commitment among even activist Hindus to abolish these discriminations. This is an instance of a situation with which leaders ought to be familiar. Some policies have popular appeal, but other policies, though the best-informed and most prescient leaders see how necessary they are, just don’t ring a bell among the people. Yet, if a leader explains the need for abolishing these discriminations, every parliamentarian of the BJP (and many others too) will fall in line. Many don’t think it is a priority, some had never thought about it, but no one will object to it.
This is all the more true because abolishing the Constitutional inequality between Hindus and non-Hindus is not hard to do. First of all, it may not even be necessary to amend the Constitution; possibly it is enough to approach the Supreme Court for an authoritative opinion. The judges may point out that the Constituent Assembly could not have meant to deny Hindus the rights they were giving to the minorities. At that time, Muslims and Christians were on the defensive, acutely feeling how that were deemed guilty of the Partition massacres, and the just-concluded colonial exploitation. The Hindu members had no reason at all to enact discriminations against themselves.
Secondly, if amending the Constitution still proves necessary, this need not be insurmountable. Many opposition MPs may support reforms amounting to more equality. Congress and other parties still have their eyes on the Hindu vote-bank: maybe they never would have taken the initiative for this reform, but they will hesitate to oppose it once it is there. And with the thumping majority that it has, the BJP needs very few votes from outside. What a luxury, which they and you will miss it when it’s gone.
The normalization of the Kashmir situation was harder, needing lots of security precautions and triggering many negative reactions from the usual suspects. But the BJP was ready to take these challenges on, partly because it was a safely secular issue. Everybody knows the separate status of Kashmir was due to its character as a Muslim-majority state, yet the relevant laws did not mention religion. It could be framed in terms of national unity, a discourse in which the RSS and the BJP are more at home than in anything pertaining to Hindu aspirations.
Once religion comes into the picture, the going gets tougher. This was clear from the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) controversy earlier this year, about the welcome to be given to non-Muslims oppressed in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Here, the enemy had it easy to deduce BJP “fanaticism” from the obvious “inequality” between religions in the CAA. This inequality between oppressed communities and the oppressor community had its justification, but the mere mention of inequality counted as criminal to most outside observers. The episode ended as a publicity failure, a loss of face for the BJP government.
Well, here you don’t have to accept the burden of a word that triggers negative knee-jerk reactions. Here you don’t have to justify inequality, only to advertise equality. Who could be against equality?
That the Constitution discriminates against Hinduism, and that this has large-scale consequences for the transmission of Hinduism to the next generation, is one of India’s better-kept secrets. Most academics suppress this information and pretend loudly that India is a secular state, i.e. a state with equality of all citizens before the law. It is not, and the good implication is that for secularists it will be hard to object to a reform that would turn India into a secular state, one in which no religion is discriminated against.
Of course, the secularists are going to resist this normalization of India’s interreligious relations. They will for the first time be put in a position of openly having to defend inequality, but some will find a way of stooping that low without getting a bad conscience. Thus, some will say that in order to achieve equality, a little bit of inequality is necessary. That is the principle behind America’s “affirmative action”.
So, they will claim (and we already have heard some professors, when pressed to pronounce on this, affirm it) that as a majority, the Hindus owe the minorities something. But in a secular state, there is no such thing as a minority: there are only equal citizens. To insist nonetheless on this point, they will allege that the American white majority has kept the black minority as slaves, ergo majorities commit injustice against minorities (an unjustified generalization); ergo in India too the majority has oppressed the minorities.
Well, we have news for them: no, the Hindus have never oppressed Christians nor the Muslims. The reverse, yes. So, if inequality can be justified as a compensation for past injustice, then it is the Christians and Muslims who must pay compensation.
But we should not go that far. For the present and future, simple equality will do.
The achievement of equality is not the end. Once the state has created a level playing field, civil society has the task of using the opportunities that arise. Hindus will have to take initiatives. A religion that relies on state patronage will become weak.
Hindus should not want (and fortunately, by and large don’t want) to replace a system discriminating against them by a system where they can discriminate against others. Just equality will do, and then let the best principles and way of life win. But that very limited goal of equality is really necessary and is now becoming urgent.
After 2019 even more than before, BJP supporters smugly assume that they are natural election-winners, so that they can safely postpone any jobs till next term. Right now, the opposition is in relative disarray and not in a position to win against the BJP. But this can change. One of my farthest memories about Indian politics concerns the accession to power of the Janata Party, prepared by Jayaprakash Narayan’s mass campaign that galvanized the opposition against the seemingly invincible Indira Gandhi. In the coming years too, we might see the rise of a leader who manages to unite and motivate the opposition.
If the BJP loses power, many Hindus will rue the missed opportunities. What are the chances that an avowedly secularist government will care about justice for Hinduism and take the initiative to revise Articles 25-30? Crying and gnashing of teeth, that is what many Hindus will feel when they realize that the seemingly timeless window of opportunity has passed, and that an ever-shrinking Hindu society has little chance of ever bringing it back.
But it need not come that far. You still have more than three years to get the job taken up and finished. What have you done to persuade the BJP leadership to use the unique window of opportunity that still presents itself?
Photo credit: Indiafacts
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