January 7, 2015 By Shajahan Madampat

Ghar Wapsi and the Need for a Principled Resistance


“One sordid motive violates the whole preaching. It is like a drop of poison, which fouls the whole food. Therefore, I should do without any preaching at all. A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon …The fragrance of religious and spiritual life is much finer and subtler than of the rose.”

“I disbelieve in the conversion of one person by another. My effort should never be to undermine another’s faith but to make him a better follower of his own faith. This implies belief in the truth of all religions and therefore respect for them. It again implies true humility, recognition of the fact that the divine light having been vouchsafed to all religions through an imperfect medium of flesh, they must share in more or less degree the imperfection of the vehicle.”   (Mahatma Gandhi)

It is the season of homecoming. ‘GharWapsi’ (homecoming) is such an innocuous-sounding expression that it fills one’s heart with nostalgia and affection. After all, who in her right frame of mind can possibly look askance at people returning to their profusely welcoming ancestral home after centuries of disloyalty or captivity,and at people facilitating such momentous spectacles of reunion? In the ceremonies held to solemnize the homecoming of long-lost sons and daughters in places as varied as Agra and Alappuzha, there was a palpable sense of accomplishment, even pride. They seemed to convey that India was at long last redeeming its civilizational glory, cultural glamor and religious grammar, which she had lost as a result of 1200 years of invasions by foreign aggressors!

Many seemed more surprised than anguished at the turn of events. How can Narendra Modi, the messiah of development, let his lofty ideals be hijacked by ‘fringe elements?’ He should rein them in and steer clear of unpleasant distractions on the path to development, they cried in unison. The credulity with which large sections of the liberal intelligentsia bought into the good cop-bad cop narrative was astounding; the sense of betrayal many of them expressed was downright hilarious. The backdrop to the cacophony on homecoming could not have been more ominous: Exactly 100 years after Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa to lead India’s struggle for independence, a BJP Member of Parliament declared his assassin Nathuram Godse a patriot inside the premises of the Parliament. A few years prior to that, in 2003, the portrait of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the man accused of plotting and inspiring the assassination, was hung on the walls of the same Parliament. The Hindu MahaSabha now has the temerity to publicly announce with absolute impunity that it will install statues of Godse in cities and towns across India and even build a temple in his name. (What an insult to Hinduism! Building a temple for the assassin of the greatest Hindu ever and one of the greatest human beings of all times.)

Opportunism and Conviction

Before we proceed further, let me make a few points that I guess are crucially important to make sense of the whole situation. 1. The simpletons who wish that a life-long Pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayam sevak Sangh (RSS) like Modi will betray his Hindutva convictions at the pinnacle of his political career are living in fool’s paradise. Make no mistake: Narendra Modi is here to implement his and his party’s larger agenda, not yours and mine. In fact; of all the political parties functioning in India now, the BJP is the only party that is totally true to its ideological convictions. 2. The idea of a secular democratic India as enshrined in the Constitution is now a fringe idea and those who defend it are the actual fringe elements in Indian society today. Hindutva, the exact antithesis of everything the Constitution of India stands for, is now the cultural and political common sense in the country.3. The credit for the mainstreaming of Hindutva should go largely to its various opponents, most notably to the Congress Party. The joke that a committed Sikh by the name of Manmohan Singh took revenge on the Congress Party for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots by wrecking it from inside and handing over the country on a platter to its bête noir actually bears mention here. I mention it not because of the truth of its content, but because it effectively shows that the grand old party did commit almost all acts of omission and commission that we charge the Sangh Parivar with. The only difference between the two was that the former committed them out of opportunism while the latter did so with total conviction. 4. The GharWapsi campaign by the Sangh Parivar is by far the sharpest weapon it has unleashed on the idea of the pluralist India precisely because it will put substantial segments of Indian society that are opposed to it on the defensive. There was no other occasion on which we saw the Sangh Parivar effectively putting all its opponents on the defensive. 5. The only way to counter this vicious campaign is to develop a principled and coherent approach to all aspects of religious conversions, missionary activities and proselytization campaigns (under duress or over enticements). To believe that all religious conversions take place as a result of people weighing the pros and cons of various faiths is like imagining an India full of mystical philosophers seeking answers to profound metaphysical questions!

Conversion and Citizenship

The GharWapsi program is the most assertive manifestation of the Hindutva idea of nationhood, its most radical shift away from the idea of equal secular citizenship that the Constitution propounds. The founders of Hindutva made it amply clear that only those who embraced India as their fatherland and holy land were entitled to full citizenship in the country. In that sense, GharWapsi is not just a conversion of faith, but a transition from citizenship as defined in Indian Constitution to citizenship as expounded in Hindutva. So the home to which one returns in a GharWapsi program is actually a new and imagined nationhood that conforms to the basic tenets of Hindutva, a nationhood that is fully at odds with the Constitution of India. Do the ideologues of Hindutva actually believe that all Indians can be thus returned home? Obviously not.

The symbolic act of GharWapsi serves to cultivate their idea of nationhood and citizenship in such a way that eventually makes it the national common sense, creating a defeatist sense of second class citizenship in all those who do not conform to the Hindutva notion of Indianness. The second and more sinister objective behind the program is to create a political atmosphere conducive to passing, with the least amount of opposition, an anti-conversion legislation which bans or restricts conversion of Hindus into other religions (especially religions of foreign origin) on the one hand and allows the conversion of adherents of other religions into Hinduism on the other on the ground that it is a mere return to one’s ancestral home. The third and most obvious objective is to create an atmosphere of terror and intimidation among religious minorities so that they gradually inch farther and farther away from the national mainstream and become a passive and inorganic presence, the prerequisite for majoritarian rule in any country with such bewildering diversity. The fourth objective is to divert attention away from and minimize public scrutiny on the neo-liberal policies being implemented with a predatory zeal by the Modi government in its eagerness to placate its corporate benefactors and global stakeholders.

Pakistanization of India

What is happening in India right now is sure to bring us closer to Pakistan, not in terms of bilateral friendship but in term of national characteristics, mindless violence and bloody fissiparous tendencies. This is not unnatural as the founders of Hindutva believed as vehemently in two-nation theory as did the founders of Pakistan. The process of Pakistanization that is currently in full swing in India can be stemmed only if a principled opposition to the core tenets of Hindutva can be consolidated. The problem right now is that much of the opposition comes from selfish and confessional motives rather than from ethical and moral convictions. Let us take the example of conversion itself and the concept of apostasy. All mainstream Muslim organizations will converge on the criminalization of apostasy and on the need for punishing apostates although they diverge on most other issues. They will unitedly argue for the right of Muslims to propagate their faith and of non-Muslims to convert to Islam if they so please. While I agree both are legitimate and constitutionally guaranteed rights, will any Muslim organization support the right of Muslims to convert to other faiths if they so please? Is there a single Muslim organization with a substantial support base in the community that openly endorses pluralist democracy as the best option for a Muslim majority country? Let me quote a venomous sentence from a well-known book by one of the most celebrated figures of 20th century global Islam Mohamed Asad, a man with all the zeal characteristic of a new convert. Can any Islamic scholar or Muslim organization openly express disagreement with its content and say that the idea of equal citizenship is applicable to all situations, regardless of Muslims being in majority or minority?

“One must, therefore, frankly admit from the outset that without a certain amount of differentiation between Muslim and non-Muslim there can be no question of our ever having an Islamic state or states in the sense envisaged in Quran and Sunnah. ……………………………..One cannot escape the fact that no non-Muslim citizen – however great his personal integrity and his loyalty to the state – could, on psychological grounds, ever be supposed to work wholeheartedly for the ideological objectives of Islam; nor, in fairness, could such a demand be made of him……………those who are to wield supreme authority in the Islamic state and are to be responsible for the shaping of its policies should always be Muslims; and this not merely de facto, by virtue of their majority in the country, but also de jure, by virtue of a constitutional enactment. If we are resolved to make Islam the dominant factor in our lives, we must have the moral courage to declare openly that we are not prepared to endanger our future by falling into line with the demands of that spurious “liberalism” which refuses to attribute any importance to men’s religious convictions; and that, on the contrary, the beliefs a man holds are far more important to us than the mere accident of his having been born or naturalized in our country.” (Muhammad Asad, The Principles of State and Government in Islam, Kuala Lumpur, Islamic Book Trust, 1980, page 40 -41)

The quote above unequivocally shows that brutal notions of majoritarianism are not the monopoly of the Hindu zealots. What we need in India today is a political and cultural resistance based on ethical and moral principles rather than on notions of real and imagined notions of victimhood. We know for sure that the victim in one context can very well empathize with the oppressor in another context unless we cultivate a principled political position with the ideas of equal citizenship, freedom of expression, pluralism that goes much beyond mere tolerance in all matters and non-violence as its core tenets. If it is ever possible to mobilize and consolidate Indians opposed to the Hindu zealots on such a principled platform, then only we will be able to decisively put an end to the ever-increasing assault of communal fascism on the idea and people of India. Putting the house in order, and not holding obscene spectacles of homecoming, is the need of the hour for all communities in India right now. Our larger house, India, is on fire.

Shajahan Madampat is a cultural critic and commentator based in Abu Dhabi. E-mail: shajahan98@yahoo.com

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