The juggernaut of Hindu fundamentalism has emerged from the temple of intolerance and is on its yatra. Whoever stands in its way will be crushed under its mighty wheels.
In 2003, India’s most prolific author and best-known columnist, Khushwanth Singh, warned of the dangers of rising religious fundamentalism in India in his pithy, incisive book, ‘The End Of India’. Fourteen years after it was first published, Khushwant Singh’s fierce, uncompromising critique on the ugly face of religious fundamentalism and the rising tide of fascist Hindutva ideology, remains relevant to our times. In his inimical style, he writes:
Fascism has well and truly crossed our threshold and dug its heels in our courtyard. And we have only ourselves to blame for this. We let the fanatics get away with every step they took without raising a howl of protest. They burn books they did not like; they beat up journalists who wrote against them; they attacked cinema houses showing films they did not approve of; they smashed the equipment of film-makers ready to shoot film scripts cleared by the government; they vandlized the studio and paintings of India’s leading artist (not surprisingly, a muslim); they perverted texts from history books to make them conform to their ideas. We allowed them to do all this, as if none of this was our business…They foulmouth everyone who disagrees with them. To them, we are pseudo secularists.
Khushwant Singh’s understanding of religious texts and historical facts, (having spent years teaching Comparative Religion in the United States), lived experience as a young Sikh who narrowly escaped the horrors of partition (and the ensuing communal violence), have helped him connect the dots across history. He tells a compelling story of the disastrous consequences of religious fundamentalism and identity politics. His observations are poignant and full of empathy, yet acerbic and incisive. Narrated through a prism of historical facts combined with years of reporting, his writing reflects anguish and anger about the rise of religious fundamentalism and identity politics in India.
Highlighting India’s secular ethos, he takes the reader on a journey of why and how a concoction of politics and religion is dangerous and deadly for the people of India. In doing so, he takes no sides and spares none – the Khalistani movement led by Jarnail Singh Bindranwale, the 1984 riots perpetrated against the Sikhs by the Congress party, the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, the pogrom in Godhra in Gujarat. Yet, his fierce criticism is directed towards the rise of fascist elements that use Hindutva for political gains.
The fascist agenda of Hindu fanatics is unlike anything we have experienced in our modern history. After Partition, I had thought we would never again experience a similar holocaust. I may be proved wrong. Far from becomig mahaan (great), India is going to the dogs, and unless a miracle saves us, the country will break up.
In discussing this, Khushwant Singh does not hide the demons of history under the carpet nor does he attempt to whitewash history. In fact, he confronts it head-on by identifying communalism as an age-old problem that Indians have been grappling for centuries. In discussing the issue, he looks at the brief history of communalism in India – identifying atrocities of one religious group against the other, and charting how political parties have used this to their advantage. As he writes:
It would be wrong and counter-productive to pretend that communalism is something the Sangh parivar invented in India. The Sangh’s genius was in creating a monster out of existing prejudices. The Congress, especially under Indira Gandhi, played its own dirty role…Religion and community based political parties began to exploit religious and communal sentiments to gain political leverage. They succeeded beyond their own wildest dreams.
But he has identified a new dimension, the dangers of which he sought to explore in his book.
Ever since the BJP and its allies came to power, a sinister dimension has been added to the feeling of separateness. It is hard to believe that elements of the Sangh parivar have been able to convince a significant number of Hindus that they have been treated as second class citizens in a country where they form eighty-two percent of the population. Whence this inferiority complex? How have the likes of Narendra Modi, Praveen Togadia, Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishore succeeded in persuading the Hindus that they are discriminated against when there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate their claims?
The idea that India is a Hindu country has often been presented by the Sangh Parivar. With valid examples from history, Singh points out how fundamentalist political outfits – such as RSS, ABVP, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal – spew hatred and commit atrocities against minorities and anyone who challenges their point of view. Borrowing a term from Geeta Hariharan’s novella, Singh calls them “Fundoos”.
The murders of rationalists such as Dhabolkar, Pansare and Kalburgi; the murder and intimidation of journalists; cow vigilantes and lynch mobs killing people on the pretext that they were beef eaters, make it seem like Khushwant Singh’s predictions have come true.
Yet, his book is not without hope. Singh hopes that revulsion will build against such bigots and religious fundamentalists and that they will eventually be thrown into the ‘garbage can of history’, where they truly belong. He adds a note: “It’s the duty of every sane Indian to put them there.”
Khushwant Singh dedicated his book “to all those who love India”. If you love India, this book is a must read.
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