13. Postscript: a lasting solution
13. Postscript: a lasting solution
13.1. Say it with poetry
It happened a whole decade ago, but the method could still be tried out today. In the dying days of Khalistani terrorism, secularist Prime Minister V.P. Singh visited Panjab and proposed as his solution for terror and separatism this colourful formula: ‘We must open the treasury of our hearts.’ He was indulging in mere poetic sentimentalism to avoid facing the real problem of Khalistani terrorism. But it is true that the Sikh masses had kept the treasury of their hearts open and felt hurt when the Hindus were victimized. And a few years later, Khalistan was only a bad memory.
So who won Panjab back? There is no doubt that Khalistani terrorism was defeated by the courage and steadfastness of K.P.S. Gill and other men in uniform, many of whom gave their lives in the effort. However, some people in cosier places decide in favour of the eloquent Prime Minister: poetry defeated the Kalashnikov.
One these privileged people is Amit Jayaram who knows that India’s secularism has to appeal to Hinduism to turn Hindus in general against its vanguard, Hindu Revivalism. He has tried his armoury on the Ayodhya controversy with the poem: ‘Let’s build a temple’.1 I will only reproduce a few interesting fragments for savouring and comment.
‘Let’s build a temple to Lord Rama.
‘Let’s build the temple in our hearts,
‘A goodly temple, soft and gentle,
‘In peace, without these fits and starts.’
None dare object to that. indeed, the secularist campaigners ought to ask themselves, daily before going to bed: ‘How many bricks did I lay up today for this temple of gentleness in my heart?’ Now that they are preaching about how ‘true Hinduism’ amounts to secularism, they too ought to build this temple in their hearts, chiselling away all the calumnies and hatred which have disfigured their discourse for too long. Instead of clamouring for Stalinist ‘hard secularism’, they should develop a kinder, gentler secularism: dialogue with the Kar Sevaks or, better still, listening sessions where they shut their own mouths and sincerely try to get a fair understanding of what Hindu Revivalism is all about.
And why should peace surround only the construction of the temple in the heart? Let us be more ambitious and bring peace even where the Rama temple of stone is built. Only one factor is standing in the way of peace in Ayodhya: secularist-backed Islamic intransigence against the proper Hindu adornment of a Hindu sacred site. I am happy to enroll Amit Jayaram in the coalition of people who are trying to make the Muslim-secularist fanatics see reason, provided he means what he says in the following lines:
‘Let’s build it, in our Hindu vein,
‘Without a trace of hate or blame
‘Let’s build it with red bricks of love
‘And light in it compassion’s flame.’
Note how Amit Jayaram finds something typically Hindu in hatelessness, love and compassion. To be sure, there is room for blame somewhere. If this controversy exists, it is because someone at some point decided to trespass against the religious arrangement established on that hill in Ayodhya. Someone demolished the temple, and he is to blame, along with the prophet or doctrine that made him do it. Alright, in moments of religious focus and serenity we should keep mundane thoughts of guilt and blame outside our consciousness. But when coming down to earth, we should not delude ourselves that all the religious forces in the field are equally benevolent. He goes on:
‘We do not need to etch our faith
‘With iron on the stones of time
‘It’s all around, within, without
‘It needs no mortar, bricks or lime.’
The poet has a point: the dharma is the essence of the universe. It was there long before anyone built temples or wrote poetry, well before Prophet Mohammed intoned the Quran, and long before the Muslim conquerors thought it necessary to impose a structure of brick and mortar onto a Hindu sacred site. You can conceive of the dharma as immaterial, without name or form, without qualities.
However, there is no need to confine it to this disembodied existence, nor is it lowered or deformed by giving it a tangible shape once in a while. ‘Emptiness is not different from form, nor is form different from emptiness’, as the Heart Sutra says. Many Hindus have practised religion without temples or idols for thousands of years, but many others have decided it was right as well as feasible to express their experience of the Divine in specific shapes of sculpture and architecture. Temples are not necessary, but neither is the absence of temples that stratospheric bricklessness to which Amit Jayaram is so attached. To say that Hindus don’t need a temple just when Muslims are trying to deny them the right to build a temple sounds like devious Gandhian submissiveness to the bully: too proud to admit to cowardice, but cowardly all the same. We conclude quoting him the following lines:
‘We do not need to stress, define
‘Our faith against another’s creed
‘One of the world’s most ancient faiths
‘Has no need to resort to greed.’
Exactly. Hinduism was there all along, and never needed an ‘Other’ against which to define itself. This is in contrast with Islam, which defined itself from the start as the mortal enemy of the traditional religion of Arabia and of all other religions. In its core vow, Islam swears to eradicate all God-concepts except Allah and narrows down the ways of knowing God to the so-called revelations transmitted through Prophet Mohammed. Hindus will find it heartening to read a secularist’s plea for the Hindu and against the Islamic approach.
As for ‘greed’, this word means ‘desiring what is not yours’ or ‘desiring what you don’t need’. According to Jayaram, the Islamic conquerors were guilty of greed when they took temple sites from the Hindus. That is certainly not the whole explanation, as religious zeal had a lot to do with it too, but let that pass for now. So, the Muslims took what was not theirs because they were greedy. it does not follow that this is a conflict between two greedy parties.
Greed means: wanting what is not yours. It does not mean: keeping or reclaiming what is yours. By definition, a robber is greedy. His protesting victim, by contrast, may or may not be a greedy person, but he is not proven to be greedy merely by his protesting against the crime. In reclaiming the Rama-Janmabhoomi site, Hindus have ‘no need to resort to greed’. Amit Jayaram, like most secularists, easily lapses into the symmetry fallacy, the facile assumption of moral equivalence. Well, there is no equivalence between Islamic aggression and Hindu self-respect.
13.2. Reject the Indonesian model
Shortly after taking office as RSS Sarsanghchalak, K.S. Sudarshan gave a speech in which he developed an idea which had already been popular for long among soft-line RSS ideologues: Indian Muslims should follow the example of their Indonesian co-religionists. These, he said, are Muslims who tell the Ramayana to their children and who don’t mind a little Hindu symbolism in the background, particularly Ganesha and the Garuda bird. If only the Indian Muslims could be like that, Sudarshan mused. For one thing, they would then entertain a certain veneration for the Ramajanmabhoomi site, so the whole Ayodhya dispute would be resolved at once.
What is wrong with this idyllic picture? First of all, the empirical fact is that even in Indonesia, this open-minded and Hindu-minded Islam is in decline. The remaining Hindus in Indonesia have the good fortune of living separate from the Muslims on their own island (Bali), but with the ongoing Muslim Javanese immigration there, their peace is by no means guaranteed. As the massacres of Christians in Ambon and Sulawesi demonstrate, the Indonesian variety of Islam is acquiring the same fanaticism and cruelty as its Pakistani counterpart has always had. Does Sudarshan want Indian Muslims to emulate their Pakistani brothers?
Secondly, the Indonesian Muslims, even if open-minded and respectful of Hinduism, are at any rate Muslims. Their ancestors gave up Hinduism, Buddhism or Animism to embrace Islam. A case may be made (Sudarshan avoided making it) that these conversions were insincere, prompted as they were by physical force or social pressure. But fact remains that most Indonesians are now Muslims and not Hindus. Sudarshan sees them as beaming a message: ‘Indian Muslims, respect Hindu tradition like we do.’ However, the message they are sending might just as well be read as: ‘You Hindus, convert to Islam like we did.’
Thirdly, as Muslims, Indonesians feel united with a billion people who don’t share their nationality but do share their religion. Sudarshan and other RSS spokesmen like to tell Indian Muslims that they should join the Indian ‘mainstream’, and that they would profit from becoming part of a bigger community. But if there is any virtue in joining a larger mainstream, why choose the Hindu mainstream, roughly limited to just one (admittedly big) country, rather than the larger Islamic mainstream?
Muslim leaders made short work of Sudarshan’s daydream by pointing out that the logic of ‘joining the mainstream’ yields a good reason for staying within Islam. Or even, in the case of Hindus, for abandoning their religion and joining Islam. If all the Hindus converted to Islam, India would be the leader of the Islamic world, custodian of the Islamic Bomb, and, reunited with Pakistan and Bangladesh, the most populous country in the world, free of all this wasteful Hindu-Muslim tension.
The nationalist discourse which avoids questions of religious doctrine, inevitably fails in convincing Muslims to be more Hindu-friendly or India-patriotic. On the contrary, it offers new reasons for preferring Islam to Hinduism. The reason for rejecting Islam is not political, is not a matter of national unity and greatness. Rather, it is doctrinal, it is a matter of truth. If Prophet Mohammed’s belief system is true, then all Hindus should convert to Islam, and India’s identity be damned. If it is untrue, all Muslim inside and outside India should give up Islam.
13.3. No more Ayodhya disputes
I have said it before and I need not apologize for repeating it here: it is useless to stir up controversies by demanding that temple sites with mosques on them be given back to the Hindu Gods from whom they were stolen by Islamic onslaught. The Ayodhya struggle has been fun, so to speak, or at least it has been a very instructive episode, but as a general rule, the Hindu position regarding Islam should not be focused on real estate disputes.
A good side-effect of the Ayodhya dispute has been the increased awareness about the ongoing debate over Indian history-writing. The ‘eminent historians’ have been complaining that the writers of evidence-based history are polluting the stream of history scholarship. Those who are too remote from the available sources or not intellectually equipped or simply too lazy to verify these claims may well be taken in by this allegation. Those who care to inquire, however, are bound to find that it the other way around: it is the ‘eminent historians’ who have polluted the channels of history teaching with their systematic distortions. I dare hope that the present volume has contributed to exposing their fraud.
The most important lesson which I personally have drawn from my involvement with the Ayodhya debate and my acquaintance with India’s ‘communal’ conflict is that the real struggle is not over real estate, nor really over history textbooks, but over a fundamental religious and philosophical commitment. The problem with Indian Muslims regarding Ayodhya is ultimately not their aggression and unreasonable claims over what is not theirs; rather, it is their belief in a religion which sanctions such behaviour. The point is not getting the Muslims out of Ayodhya, it is getting Islam out of the Muslims.
One attempt in this direction, and one of which a Hindutva leader like Sudarshan must be aware, was pioneered by the Hindu reformist movement, the Arya Samaj: Shuddhi or ‘purification’ from adharmika entanglements. In common English, it would be termed ‘conversion’, or in a larger historical perspective, ‘reconversion’ of Indian Muslims to their ancestral tradition. Though it was only in the late 19th century that the Arya Samaj devised the programme of reconversion, the practice has been attested here and there since the earliest days of Muslim rule in parts of India. People forcibly converted to Islam were welcomed back into Hindu society after going through a purification ritual.
However, as a matter of historical fact, the Shuddhi movement was not a great success. One problem was the inertia of Hindu society, which did not go out of its ways to make the reconverted Muslims feel at home. Another was that the national or ancestral argument for reconversion to one national religion was not good enough. if Islam is the true religion, sacrificing the link with nation and ancestors may be a fair price to pay in order to establish a link with God. Every single Muslim has a history of severing the link with his national heritage, either he himself or someone in his family tree. So, all it took for Islamic propaganda (tabligh) activists to immunize Muslims against the lure of Shuddhi was to remind them of the truth claims of Islam. What we have to do now is to take them at their word and examine these truth claims. Once Islam has been disproves for all to see, it is only a matter of time before it will implode. With modern communication, it should not be difficult to provide a billion Muslims with the data necessary to make them doubt and reject the Islamic beliefs.
In a world-wide perspective, all Muslims should explore their own way out of Islam, depending on local heritage as well as on the gifts of modernity. Westerners are going through the same experience: believing in the bizarre dogmas of Christianity is no longer tenable, so we are groping around for new answers to the spiritual needs of Western man and of mankind in general. Numerous individuals in the Muslim world are going through the same process of emancipation from irrational beliefs.
No one can do it for them, they will have to free their minds from the ideological conditioning instilled in them from childhood. Non-Muslims can help them in this process by ensuring that the best scholarship debunking Islamic beliefs is made available to all, and by opposing and thwarting policies which shield Islam from rational scrutiny and strengthen the hold of obscurantist leaders over their flock. it also helps if the Hindus set an example by freeing their own tradition from some superstitious deadwood.
The end result will be that the Muslims abandon Islam and the claims made on behalf of Islam. They will gladly bring the stolen sacred sites back into Hinduism. And they themselves will build a temple in Ayodhya for Rama, the god who redeems the victims of kidnapping. Rama will free the Hindus who were forced into Islam, and their children who were mentally chained by Islamic indoctrination until they became the Indian Muslim community. He will take them back with him to his birthplace Ayodhya, to celebrate.
Amit Jayaram: ‘Let’s build a temple’, A Temple in Ayodhya and Other Poems, Rupa, Delhi 1993, p-5-6. ↩