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Hinduism and the Hindu Psyche Through the Eyes of the Mahatma

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

By Akankshya Anuska Babu

ABSTRACT

“Hinduism” is the name given to the religion which was followed by the people living around the Indus river. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was one of the many devoted Hindus of all time. He was born in the year 1862 and was a barrister. He was An Indian revolutionary who fought for the freedom of India. In his own accord he was an orthodox or Sanatani Hindu. His several ideologies were in line with Hinduism. Hinduism had hugely inspired him. He had coined the term Harijan to make the depressed classes excepted into the society. However he had some major fallout with B R Ambedkar due to that. He had also faced severe backlash as the atrocities faced by the Hindus in Noakhali were brutal and barbaric. He had a both positive and a negative impact on the physche of Hindus back in the day as well as today.

KEY WORDS: Hinduism, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Noakhali, Phsyche

INTRODUCTION

As per the Tattiriya Upanishad, “matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava, atithidevo bhava”.[1] This means that to one, their mother, their father, their teacher and their guest should be equal or equivalent to God. The history of colonialism of India can be said to have begun with the arrival of Vasco da Gama followed by the Dutch, English, French and the Danish-Norwegians. By the 18th Century France and Britain were at each other’s toes to fulfil the power vacuum which was created due to the Mughal empire’s downfall, weakening of the Maratha empire and at last due to the defeat of Tipu Sultan.[2] During the Mughal rule the Indians, believing in this idea of atithidevo bhava let the British East India Company in and what followed was centuries of abuse, tyranny and lawlessness in the name of civilising the presumed uncivilised population of the Indian subcontinent. Some sources claim that British colonialization of India can be traced back to the 1600s, 1612 to be precise right after the English traders came out as victors in the Battle of Swally.[3]

The one thing that remains interesting is the origin of the name Hindu. The modern term ‘Hindu’ more than likely derives from the name given to the people who lived in the areas surrounding the Indus River, located in what is now the modern day Pakistan. ‘Hindoo’ was originally a Persian word used to identify these people[4], demonstrating that it was originally a term of external definition and not a self-determined identity.[5]

One of the most devoted Hindus of all time was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s many followers regarded him as Mahatma, or “the great-souled one,” for his peaceful philosophy of passive resistance. In the early 1900s, he began his activism as an immigrant of Indian origin in South Africa, and in the years following World War I, he rose to prominence as a major figure in India’s campaign for independence from the United Kingdom. Gandhi was imprisoned many times during his pursuit of non-cooperation. He participated in a number of hunger strikes to protest the oppression of India’s poorest classes, among other injustices. He was known for his ascetic lifestyle. He often dressed only in a loincloth and shawl–and devout Hindu faith. He continued to strive for peace between Hindus and Muslims after Partition in 1947. A Hindu extremist in Delhi assassinated Gandhi in January 1948.[6]

HINDUS IN THE COLONIAL INDIA

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an Indian lawyer and freedom fighter who was born in the 1869 in Porbandar, Gujarat. He was born in the colonised India and as a young adult believed that the British Colonisation of India was for the best of interest of the vast population of India. Gandhi had forever been an advocate against violence, systematic racism and casteism. He remained a devoted Hindu. In the year 1933 Gandhi had said that:

“I am a Hindu not merely because I was born in the Hindu fold, but I am one by conviction and choice. As I know it and interpret it, it gives me all the solace I need both here and hereafter.”[7]

This statement shows that Gandhi was a proud Sanatani Hindu, whereas in common literature or pop culture he has been portrayed as a person who spoke against the religion and was against its practices. This blindfold, which has been put onto the eyes of the general masses often, blurs the reality and the truth about Gandhi’s beliefs. This often rubs people in the wrong direction and is a misrepresentation of his faith, practices and beliefs. Many people have put forward their words and ideas, as Gandhi’s which has again led to people believing several falsehoods.

Just as every coin has two sides. Mahatma Gandhi’s impact on the Hindu Psyche also has two sides or phases. The first phase is when Gandhi was alive.  Gandhi’s political and social thoughts were compendiously known as Gandhism, which is still followed by many people to this day was greatly influenced by Hinduism. His ethics were largely based on the moral teachings of several religions, but he paid focal attention towards Hindu religion or the Sanatan Dharma. He believed that politics should be a blessing for the mankind and in no way should come out as a curse. He was a spiritualist and he considered religion as a moralizing force. Gandhi’s interpretation of Hinduism was both complicated and unorthodox. His belief in the equality of all religions was clearly influenced by his strong connection to Hinduism, which he considered to be the most tolerant, peaceful, and inclusive religion. He positioned himself at the centre of what might be defined as the Hindu religious and cultural arena while also seeking to develop good ties with all other religions and achieve enduring unity among them, projecting himself as both an orthodox and progressive Hindu. Gandhi took inspiration from the Tulsi Ramayana and started referring the Dalits as Harijans, meaning God’s Children.[8] However there was a huge disagreement regarding the use of the word. He used the word in order to avoid the use of terms like untouchable or Bhangi. However as stated by B R Ambedkar this was deceitful and was an attempt to set up the main issue at hand aside. In reality, Ambedkar walked out of the Bombay Legislature on January 22, 1938, denouncing the usage of the term “Harijan”. He said

“I must say that the name ‘Harijan’ has now become practically equivalent to the term ‘Asprishya’ (meaning not-to-be-touched); beyond that there is nothing remaining in that name, and I would think that if the Honorable Prime Minister had felt in the same way in which we feel that the word ‘Harijan’ has now become identical with the expression ‘scheduled class’ then it was his duty, for the moment, to have withdrawn that word, and later on he could have discussed the matter with us with a view to find out some alternative term. His arguments, however, have not carried any conviction to us. I will, therefore, leave the Hall.”[9]

However, one might think that it was not much of a big deal as all Gandhi wanted to do was to make the SCs accepted and assimilated in to the society. However, it was far from being the truth as this was not bringing about any change in the mind-set of the people of the upper classes, but it was rather stripping the people of the depressed classes off their identity. This renaming and rebranding of the SCs was just a jingle to the ear and did nothing. It was just a calculated move by Congress to win them over and them and then eventually put them aside.

The next phase came after his death. In the year 1948 Nathuram Godse and his accomplices assassinated Gandhi at New Delhi. This caused widespread unrest throughout the country. More than 10 people lost their lives in the riots that took place in Bombay. The event of Mahatma Gandhi’s death was of global importance and leaders from across the world mourned his death. But his death had not only brought in grief for the Indians but had also opened a gate for discussion regarding his ideas and beliefs. Jawaharlal Nehru quickly took over as Mahatma Gandhi’s political heir. This move has been deeply criticised, as there were other leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel amongst many others.

Nathuram Godse’s ideas about and against Gandhi find support amongst many Hindus till this day. Many people including Godse have blamed Gandhi for remaining quiet and not standing up against the atrocities induced upon the Hindu and Sikh minorities during difficult times such as the India Pakistan partition. The idea that he had given up the likes of people who wished for the partition of India on religious grounds while saying that he believed in secularism and equality came of as hypocritical for some. On one hand he said that he believed in the peaceful coexistence of all religions but on the other hand he supported the partition which led to the influx of nearly 4 million Muslims into Pakistan but nearly 7 million Hindus and Sikhs were expunged from their houses. The atrocities did not stop there many non-Muslims were murdered and their houses were looted. They were subjected to other inhumane and unspeakable forms of violence at the hands of Islamist mobs and the Pakistan Army. Trains and buses were set on fire, women were raped, and Hindus were forced to march from Pakistan to India on death marches.[10] Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian Government could have intervened and stopped these atrocities which only caused bloodshed which soured the relationship between the people of both the communities. These incidents are still passed on from generations to generations and the mistrust and hatred against the other community is still as fresh as it was in 1947. Gandhi who was a famous and influential figure in the political and he social podium chose not take any practical action and stuck to the old method of fasting. Nathuram Godse in his statement listed this as one of the many reasons he decided to take the drastic step of assassinating Gandhi. These are the atrocities, which the non-Muslim population that chose to cross the border had to endure back in 1947. However to this day the Hindus and Sikhs who decided to stay back in Pakistan are subjected to communal violence and forceful conversions. To this day the mass killings of Hindus which took place during the partition are termed as riots where as it was no less than a genocide and Gandhi’s name will forever be dragged into this. The people on both sides of the border looked upto him, called him Bapu. But they were very well let down by Gandhi as he chose to remain silent. The perpatrators were never brought to justice by the governments as right after the partition, the politics of appeasement began.

MK Gandhi was a self-proclaimed orthodox Hindu but his words showed otherwise. His words came off as hollow and untrue when he recited verses of the Quran in a temple of the Valmiki Basti near New Delhi. He had received opposition from a woman who asked him not to recite anything other than Hindu scriptures inside the temple. The woman had received huge support from other Valmiki youths who also opposed the recitation of the Quran their temple. Gandhi who had not expected such a reception was taken aback and police was called onto the scene. This was not surprising as Jawaharlal Nehru was his friend and in reality it was just manipulation and tyranny masked under democracy, as even after this incident where a case of 107 was registered against the protestors, Gandhi continued to recite the Quran and also continued to hurt the feelings of the Valmikis.[11]

However, one question which lingers in the young minds of thousands of Hindu Youth is how many times had Gandhi recited verses from the Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta inside a Mosque or infront of a crowd of Muslims? As far as historical records go, NEVER. He had never recited a single verse from any Hindu scriptures infront of a crowd of Muslims let alone inside a Mosque. Did MK Gandhi fear for the worst? Did he fear of what might have been if the Muslims turned hostile against him? On the other hand, did he question or had doubts regarding the literacy and the level of understanding of the Muslims? Did he feel that the Muslims were not smart or literate enough to understand and decipher the meanings behind the teachings in the Hindu scriptures? He believed that Hinduism is the most tolerant religion in the world. But everything breaks after a certain point of stretching and the patience and tolerance of the Hindus broke during the Noakhali riots of 1946. During this semi organised riots Hindus were forcefully converted into Islam. Many Hindus were murdered, abducted and raped. Properties of Hindus were looted; Hindus had to seek permission from Muslim leaders to leave their villages. The atrocities did not end there; the Hindus were also forced to pay subscriptions to the Muslim League and other Islamic organizations.[12] Gandhi who wanted to do what he knew best, do nothing and just keep walking barefoot was met with utmost resentment from the Muslims of Noakhali. Eventually his paths were dirtied and the Muslims boycotted prayer meetings. Things got so much out of hand that two people were murdered on their way back from one of Gandhi’s meetings. After receiving so much backlash Gandhi decided to leave Noakhali and head for Bihar. He left the helpless Hindus at the mercy of the ferocious Muslim attackers and fled for his life. “Bapuji” who thought that his intervention would make things better for the Hindus ended up ruining the situation even more. His word and actions had a deep negative impact in the minds of the Hindus as rather than encouraging them to fight against the atrocities he asked them to either run away or die at the hands of the barbarians. His words broke the confidence of the Hindus but gave a new sense of victory and superiority to the Muslim miscreants. The New York Times reported that upon receiving telegrams from Congress leaders, regarding the attempts to burn Hindus alive he responded by saying that the Hindus in Noakhali should either leave or perish.[13] The great leader of India wanted the already distraught and displaced Hindus to leave their houses and everything behind and run for their lives like cowards. The Hindus had invested all their confidence in him but he let them down just because he did not want to upset the leaders of the Muslim League, as it would have acted against his dear friend Jawaharlal Nehru.

HINDUS IN THE INDEPENDENT INDIA

MK Gandhi saw both the religions as mere political categories throughout his political career. The Indian National Congress continues to do the same to this day. The nation remains divided on the grounds of religion. All the political parties are cashing in on these differences, which were created years ago.

The term Harijan which he had coined all those years ago is now banned. The use of the term Harijan can very well get people in to trouble. One might think that this cannot be that big of a deal but the points and arguments, which were given by BR Ambedkar cannot be ignored. Gandhi had a huge impact on the Hindu psyche back in the day. His ideas remain pivotal in shaping many young people’s point of view regarding the religion. In the present day unfortunately many Hindus turn a blind eye towards all the atrocities that the Hindus endured during the partition or even before that. The history textbooks choose to not to mention of those atrocities and all we read about is the grandeur of MK Gandhi’s actions. One might argue that the books were written much after his death and that he had no role in the framing of the textbooks whatsoever. However, the veil, which he put in front of the eyes of the millions of Hindus around the world, is not one to be ignored. It was because of him that Hindus to this day are subjected to high levels of scrutiny at the national and international level. His words were that of a Hindu saint but his actions spoke otherwise. He was the one who forced the government to pay a sum of 55 crores to Pakistan after the partition. His belief of harmonious coexistence in the form of two different nations was nothing more than a hoax. All he wanted to do was to let his dear friend Jawaharlal Nehru become the Prime Minister of India without any opposition or contest from any leader from the Muslim League. These actions are still having a rash effect on the people of both the sides, mainly the Hindus in Pakistan who are either being persecuted or executed. 

Back in the day he had painted such an image that any one who was not a Gandhian Hindu was regarded as a religious fanatic or extremist. To this day anyone who stands firmly for the Hindu community or dares to support any Hindu organisation like the Rashtriya Svayamsevaka Sangha or the Hindu Mahasabha is regarded as a zealot or a fantic. His actions have given other religious communities extreme confidence and power to speak anything and everything against a Hindu or Hinduism and all that a Hindu can do is keep quiet and endure the insult, just like he wanted the Hindus to do during the Noakhali riots. Just like the Hindus of the pre independence India, the Hindus of the post-independence India are expected to follow the path of Ahimsa or non-violence. This makes them look somewhat weaker in front of other communities. The persecution of the Sikhs and the Hindus during the partition is termed as riots however that was nothing less of a genocide. The younger generation or the students of this day are deprived of the information and actual accounts of what had transpired during 1947. This in turn effects their mind-sets in a negative way as the lack of data makes people believe that since time immemorial the Hindus have been privileged. Whereas, in reality they had been at the receiving end of an array of brutalities first by foreign invaders and then at the hands of their own countrymen, the Muslims.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

All these events and actions of the man on the Rupee led many Hindus into believing that they were somehow inferior than the Muslims. This sense of insecurity and helplessness made many Hindu nationalists like Nathuram Godse to take drastic steps. I am in no way in support of what Godse and his accomplices did. However, whatever unfortunate fate that Gandhi met was long in the making and were a direct result of his own partial practices. He came off as extremely manipulative as he took partial stances in many occasions. He only chose to speak when he saw that his words or his criticism might play a positive role to uplift the image of Congress and mainly Jawaharlal Nehru. He started off as a visionary who had the vision the make India great again, However somewhere along the lines he lost his way in the politics of appeasement. He chose a path which eventually led to his downfall. He brandished the term Hinduism to win popular support of the majority. However moving forward he turned a blind eye against the atrocities which Hindus endured at the hands of others. This irked the Hindus and turned them against him. Him tagging himself as an orthodox and Sanatani Hindu turned the Muslims against him. In his quest to do the right thing he treaded some rough waters which eventually sank his ship.

REFERENCES

  1. Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli I.11.2
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_India#East_India_Company
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_India_Company
  4. Orientalism and religion, Richard King, Routledge, London, 2006, P.98
  5. https://www.e-ir.info/2012/11/26/the-impact-of-european-colonialism-on-the-indian-caste-system/#_ftn1
  6. https://www.history.com/topics/india/mahatma-gandhi
  7. Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti Bhavan, New Delhi, India
  8. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/labelling-dalits-harijans-how-we-remain-ignorant-and-insensitive-dalit-identity-35486


[1] Taittiriya Upanishad, Shikshavalli I.11.2

[2] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Colonial India, 15 September 2021, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_India#East_India_Company (Last Visited 15th September 2021)

[3] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, East India Company, 29th September 2021, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_India_Company (Last Visited 29th September 2021)

[4] Orientalism and religion, Richard King, Routledge, London, 2006, P.98

[5] Ben Heath, The Impact of European Colonialism on the Indian Caste System, May/2012, available at https://www.e-ir.info/2012/11/26/the-impact-of-european-colonialism-on-the-indian-caste-system/#_ftn1 (last visited 19th September 2021)

[6] HISTORY.COM EDITORS, Mahatma Gandhi, JUL 30, 2010, available at https://www.history.com/topics/india/mahatma-gandhi, (Last visited 30th September 2021)

[7] Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti Bhavan, New Delhi, India

[8]Ramanathan S., Navayana edition, Labelling Dalits ‘Harijans’: How we remain ignorant and insensitive to Dalit identity, October 27, 2015, available at https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/labelling-dalits-harijans-how-we-remain-ignorant-and-insensitive-dalit-identity-35486 (Lat visited 30th September 2021)

[9] Ibid.

[10] Arti Agarwal, 4.75M HINDUS KILLED OR DISPLACED IN PAKISTAN DURING PARTITION, & THE PLIGHT OF THOSE WHO REMAINED, March 24 2019, available at https://hindugenocide.com/islamic-jihad/4million-hindus-persecuted-west-pakistan-partition-plight-hindus-remained/ (Last Visited 24th September 2021)

[11] AWAKENINGS, Gandhi Recited Quran Verses in the Temple of Valmiki Basti near Delhi, July 08, 2021, Available at https://etouch-jayanthinathan.blogspot.com/2021/07/gandhi-recited-quran-verses-in-temple.html (Last Visited 29th September 2021)

[12] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Noakhali riots, 19th September 2021, Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noakhali_riots, (Last Visited 30th September 2021)

[13] “Quit Noakhali Or Die, Gandhi Warns Hindus”. The New York Times. Associated Press. 8 April 1947. p. 23.

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