THE SANGH ON DHARMA, CASTE, GENDER AND SEXUALITY
- Family and Sexuality
1. Dharma: Another Word to Universalize Hindutva We have argued in our report that the HSCs present a largely benign façade of themselves by clothing sectarian ideologies of animosity and hatred in cultural and religious garb. We here provide an example that is somewhat typical of the way that the Sangh borrows older, syncretic, pre-Hindu concepts into their world scheme. First, they reach into the Vedic tradition to present a concept that is couched in philosophically universal terms. Next, they blend it into the Hindutva mix to make it part of their own, particular worldview, and to stamp ownership over that concept. Thus all who have used the concept so far down the ages seem to fall into a tradition that supports Hindutva. Third, they now begin framing the concept as one essential to the Hindu worldview as articulated by Hindutva, so that Hindutva appears as a grand universal scheme. To deny Hindutva becomes extremely hard, because one would be denying broad, universalistic principles. (The cross-cultural parallel is the Bush administration’s use of the word “freedom.”)To see how this ideological maneuver is carried out in a seemingly harmless fashion, let us visit the webpage that publicizes the Global Dharma Conference, the annual event organized by the HSC.
Step One: Approaching a Concept That Sounds UniversalThe ‘dharma conference’ website defines dharma as:“That which sustains the natural order of things”“Refers to the universal principles, laws and duties that bring peace, harmony and progress.”“Help to live life harmoniously and achieve ultimate human potential.”It is obvious that the above three could include within their ambit any religious or spiritual doctrine. The broad definitions that follow take full advantage of the ambiguities implied by the word.
Step Two: Owning the UniversalHaving broadly defined the term in a way that’s hard to disagree with, the website goes on sketch the concept of dharma with scattered wisdom from a diverse variety of sources that stretch from the Ramayana to Guru Nanak, and even Taoism! Thus the “dharma philosophy” includes quotes attributed to Sikhism, Buddhism, alongside decontextualized quotes from Confucius and from Taoism. http://dharmaconference.org/philosophy.html. Of course, Christianity and Islam are excluded from this universal vision, as are Bhakti and Sufi traditions, or traditions of anti-caste critique.The more well-known sources are then followed up by two treatises on dharma that imperceptibly merge in with their 1000-year old counterparts: one by an individual called ‘Vamadeva Shastri’ and another by the name Kanchan Banerjee. One would get the impression that these two somehow represent more authoritative sources of knowledge on the question of ‘dharma’ than all the saints, philosophers, and swamis briefly quoted in the selection preceding them. The ‘Shastri’ is none other than the infamous David Frawley, one of the Sangh’s army of pseudo-intellectual supporters, and the latter is Kanchan Banerjee a founding member and officer of Hindu Students Council. The Sangh dons the garb of inclusion (as problematic as this inclusion really is) while making its own ideologically motivated exclusion, and then stamps the entire patchwork of “universal traditions” with its mark by including lengthy treatises by Sangh ideologues. The universalism of the concept of dharma is used to legitimate a very particular, narrow-minded vision. The list of cosponsors of the ‘Dharma’ conference speaks volumes, overwhelmingly composed as it is of upper caste Hindu organizations, largely from diasporic communities. The speakers and participants at the event include mostly Hindu god-men and swamis, among whom are interspersed individuals included in order to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the effort. Again inclusion is strategic.
Step Three: Universalizing HindutvaAfter drawing plural religious and spiritual traditions in to establish the universality of dharma, and thereby to legitimize a particular vision of inclusivity, it now follows, as Kanchan Banerjee’s article shows, that the only truly universal religion is Hinduism. He writes:All religions of the world have some aspect of this spiritual tradition. Neither it means that religion and spirituality are same nor it means that all religions are same. All water can be same, but all water may not be fit to drink!So the broad, universal, and ambiguous vision of dharma does not include tolerance. This is further substantiated by his statement on Christianity and Islam: There is a ‘belief’ in one God, one prophet and one book of revelation. This is true especially in Christianity and Islam. The right ‘belief’ is said to bring about salvation and the wrong ‘belief’ is supposed to bring about damnation. Such religions are trying to convert the entire world to their ‘belief.’ By doing so they hope to bring about salvation for the entire humanity!These kinds of belief systems can state their beliefs in clear and uncomplicated terms and they often sound more like slogans or stereotypes. These are often appealing to an emotional need for certainty and security.Life is not so simple and eight or ten formulas are too inadequate to solve life's problems! Why should belief be asserted? Why should any truth have to be imposed as it is done by religions of the world?”In Banerjee’s terms, Hindutva’s vision of Hinduism thus remains outside “religion” and retains flexibility as an open, all-absorbing worldview that includes the skepticism articulated above. Underneath this skepticism, however, is a deep, abiding fundamentalism. Let us listen to Banerjee:
The Sanskrit name for Eternal or Universal Truth is Sanatana Dharma, sometimes translated as ‘perennial wisdom.’ Almost all spiritual leaders of India have equated Sanatana Dharma with the Hindu Dharma. Through thousands of years of research and experiments the truth has been revealed through many different rishis (sages) and created a vast tradition, which is also called Sanatana Dharma. This tradition is conceived as inherent in the cosmic mind, arising with creation itself. This tradition or system, based on the ETERNAL UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES gave birth to certain teachings and systems which comprehend universal life and consciousness, including religion, yoga and mysticism, philosophy, arts, science and culture as part of single reality. THIS SYSTEM OR TRADITION IS BEING CALLED ‘HINDU SYSTEM’ OR ‘HINDU TRADITION’ AND THE WORD HINDU REPRESENT THE SYSTEM AS A WHOLE. THE HINDU SYSTEM IS THE ONLY COMPLETE APPLICATION OF THE Sanatana Dharma. Once people in the world learns to look at the Hindu system as a complete system based on Dharma, they will take out the stigma of religion, belief and dogma from it and accept it as logical and scientific.So what begins as a concept of universality now becomes a means by which Hindutva can assert its own brand of Hindu universality as an eternal truth. Dharma, a concept that began as one so flexible and universal that multiple spiritual visions endorsed it, now becomes an unchanging truth of the world vision called “Hindu” system. The ideological journey is complete: start with a universalistic concept, use it to selectively appropriate multiple perspectives, gain legitimacy for Hindutva, and then turn around to claim the universality of Hindutva itself. Does not Operation Global Dharma resemble Operation Enduring Freedom?
Next: Caste and the Hindutva Movement