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Aditya Mani Jha: Revenge of the Offence Collectors

August 12, 2014

An Indian politician retaliates against religious offenses by compiling his own, even more blasphemous, thoughts on religion.

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Image from Flickr via jamelah e.

By Aditya Mani Jha

A “blueprint” is supposed to be a plan, a sketch, a road map; the word itself has scientific roots, referring to the process used to replicate a technical drawing or an engineering design. Clearly, this is a word that indicates our grudging acknowledgment of a higher intellect’s mischief. At the time of writing this article, news of a fresh blueprint for the Indian education system was about twenty-four hours old.

On July 31st, in an interview with the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), eighty-five-year-old educationist Dinanath Batra announced that he was “preparing a blueprint for the Indianisation of the education system.” Batra is the president of the Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan (SBA), the organization that filed a civil suit against scholar and professor Wendy Doniger. In an interview with Time in February this year, Batra said: “Her (Doniger’s) agenda is to malign Hinduism and hurt the feelings of Hindus.”

This business of “withdrawing” books is in vogue these days, as opposed to the Rushdie era, when there would, at the very least, be a pile of charred paper before a defensive government would ban your book.

In response, Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History was pulped by Penguin. Since then, SBA has added to its tally: publisher Orient Blackswan has withdrawn two books, in response to a legal notice sent by Batra; Sekhar Bandopadhyay’s Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India and Megha Kumar’s Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad. The arguments remain old and familiar: the books contain “hate propaganda against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).”

This business of “withdrawing” books is in vogue these days, as opposed to the Rushdie era, when there would, at the very least, be a pile of charred paper before a defensive government would ban your book. Withdrawal, of course, works just as well for the likes of Batra while hedging the publisher’s losses. People – especially publishers – don’t want to fight men like Batra, inside or outside a court of law.

As for the rest of us, we ought to take heart in the fact that there exists a book that has the potential to offend followers of about half-a-dozen major religions of the world, including Hinduism. That book is Bunch of Thoughts, a collection of the speeches of M.S. Golwalkar (1906-1973), the second Sarsanghchalak (Supreme Commander) of the RSS.

The League of Offence Collectors lives to offend and be offended. They can recite section 295a) of the Indian Penal Code by heart, in six Indian languages.

Imagine, if you will, an Oslo of outrage, a grand summit of offence where representatives from several religions have gathered to discuss the aforementioned tome, especially with regards to a potential lawsuit. Such a meeting of minds can only be described as the League of Offence Collectors, men and women adept at scooping out offense from the most innocuous of sentences. They live to offend and be offended. They can recite section 295a) of the Indian Penal Code by heart, in six Indian languages. (“Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class…”) Their knees were made for jerking; outrage is the only amrit (ambrosia) they know of. A Right To Information (RTI) petition is but a plaything, a child’s scribble for them. They can “mobilize” a crowd at no more than an hour’s notice.

To begin with, Parsis would not be too pleased with Chapter IX, where Golwalkar writes, “Even Iran was originally Aryan. Its previous king Reza Shah Pehlavi was guided more by Aryan values than by Islam. Zend Avesta, the holy scripture of Parsis, is mostly Atharva Veda.” In Golwalkar’s (and now, Batra’s) magical mystery Hindutva-land, all other holy books are merely plagiarized country cousins of the Vedas.

It is similarly difficult to see Jains taking things lightly; after all, in Chapter X, Golwalkar lists them among the “sects and sub-sects” of Hinduism. Sub-sects and subtexts: one can hear the paralegals scribbling now.

Then there’s the question of Christians and the German “spiritual aspirant” in Chapter IX. Golwalkar narrates the heart-wrenching story of a German man who “gave up his body in the holy Ganga”, but not before leaving a note that said, “I am giving up the body of my own accord. May the offering of my body in the sacred waters of Ganga merit me with a rebirth in Bharat and with that new chaste body I may be able to realize God.” According to Golwalkar, this is proof enough that India is “verily the chosen land of God Realization.” But then, he chooses to jump, in a stunning authorial segue, from German hippie to Jesus, by saying, “Even in the case of the great saint, Jesus Christ, nowhere is there any reference that he had actually seen God. He had only come across angels and once Satan. When put on the Cross, he was even tormented for a moment by a doubt regarding the mercy of God and he exclaimed, ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”

Nobody at our Oslo of outrage would feel Catholic towards such ill-advised acrobatics.

The Sikhs know a thing or two about offence. 1984, Sardar-ji jokes, Punjab’s crippling opium problem; they’ve been having a rough time of it for a long time now. At what point do they go the Batra route and say, “Someone’s getting banned for my trouble”? They need look no further than Chapter X. “‘A true Sikh is one who has faith in the Vedas and Bhagavad-Gita and who worships Rama and Krishna.’ It is undiluted loyalty to these words of gurus that makes a true Sikh.” Attempts to find a source text featuring this “quote” by Guru Gobind Singh are futile. I might be wrong, but I think this is a textbook case of libel.

The Buddhists place a high premium on the code of non-violence, to the extent that they will surely consider any potential lawsuit a breach of the same. But it is Golwalkar’s aseem anukampa (limitless compassion) that might change all that. In Chapter XV, he alleges that Buddhists are really Hindus who wished to avail of “exclusive political and economic privileges” and thus “proclaim(ed) themselves to be different from Hindu Society.” Also, in Chapter X, he starts to play match-the-column with their entire history. “We know as a matter of history that our north-western and north-eastern areas, where the influence of Buddhism had disrupted the caste system, fell an easy prey to the onslaughts of Muslims. Gandhar, now called Kandahar, became completely Muslimised. (…) But the areas of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, which were considered to be very orthodox and rigid in caste restrictions, remained predominantly Hindu even after remaining as the citadels of Muslim power and fanaticism for a number of centuries.”

This is the man who banned Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul, a biography of Mahatma Gandhi that had the temerity to hint at a possible homosexual relationship in his life.

Times have changed. Had Golwalkar been alive today, he would have seen the Bodu Bala Sena, an extremist faction of Sri Lankan Buddhists, taking a cue from some of his own followers; like the ones led by Maya Kodnani, the former Gujarat minister found guilty in the Naroda Patiya massacre (that claimed the lives of ninety-seven Muslims), one of the worst bloodbaths of the 2002 Gujarat riots. That some Bodu Bala Sena monks wear saffron robes is a coincidence, one feels, but their modus operandi is not: indoctrination, military posturing, war-mongering; someone has been taking notes.

The two groups that ought to make up the remainder of this conclave are the Muslims and the Hindus. Golwalkar, of course, devotes considerable space in Bunch of Thoughts to the evils of “the pugnacious fighting Mussalman” and how their “aggressive mode of the Moghul days” is the single greatest internal security threat that India faces (Chapter XII). As for the Hindus, perhaps they’ll just be a group of people—distinct from the RSS and its wise supporters, of course—who see no reason why Batra and the SBA should be the sole guardians of Hindu interests, in India or anywhere else.

Actually, these Hindus may also point out that Golwalkar’s spiritual descendant, one Narendra Damodardas Modi, has derived much of his “animalistic” metaphors from Bunch of Thoughts. Consider, for instance, Chapter XII, which has a section titled, “Hindu: The Sacrificial Goat”, pointing towards the stereotypical portrayal of the Muslim-as-butcher. In Chapter XI, Golwalkar narrates another touching anecdote about a jackal adopted by a lioness, who raises him along with her own cubs. When the jackal is scared of an elephant instead of licking his chops and swooping in on the prey (as the cubs do), the author benevolently suggests, “The newcomers should bring about a total metamorphosis in their life-attitudes and take a rebirth, as it were, in that ancient national lineage.”

The year is now 2014, the “jackal” has now become a “kutte ka bachha” (a puppy) but the melody remains the same. Modi, the “Virat Purush” (an impressively large or significant man) himself is now in power and the business of book-banning (read withdrawal) is set to flourish under his watch. Remember, this is the man who stood up in the Gujarat state assembly and delivered a speech explaining his decision to ban Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul, a biography of Mahatma Gandhi that had the temerity to hint at a possible homosexual relationship in his life.

The Offence Collectors would have a field day with Bunch of Thoughts, but even they would concede that in some ways, Golwalkar was eerily prescient. Call it coincidence, call it bizarre translation, or call it an act of God, but in Chapter X, the phrase “Virat Purush” has been translated to “Corporate Person.” “Corporate Persons” are just like you and me, except that their speech sounds more like really manipulative advertising and their eyes glint smugly with their faith in Photoshop; anything they don’t like just bounces off their ears like winter sunshine.

If we leave the future of free speech in the hands of the Corporate Person, we shall soon kiss it goodbye. Because whatever else its merits might be, freedom of speech just isn’t a high-margin commodity, not in the way offence is.

Aditya Mani Jha is a 25-year-old writer living in New Delhi, and working for The Sunday Guardian. His short stories, poems and articles have also been published at Helter Skelter, The Four Quarters Magazine, Open Road Review, NewsYaps and The Dead Beats Literary Blog.

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One comment for Aditya Mani Jha: Revenge of the Offence Collectors

  1. Comment by John on August 12, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    This is a powerful and penetratingly well written article from a fascinating country. The essay lays bare the complications that characterise India – at once full of hope and honesty, and appalling violence and hypocrisy.

    On my regular visits to that country I have been struck by the marvellous and remarkable people, so steeped in the potential for the best that can be found in humanity yet so dangerously close to bloody chaos.

    Aditya Mani Jha in his perceptive analysis, confirms my view that religion is a form of mental illness, which is very evident in his subcontinent ,but also in the western world with its endless wars against those it does not approve of; Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and of course Palestine, where unspeakable horrors are visited on those poor people by US and UK criminal governments and delivered by Israel in an unholy alliance of terror.

    India at least only delivers terror in Kashmir.

    It’s not all bad however, as any society which offers an escape from stress into the possibility of being a wandering sadhu is one which displays a degree of healthy wisdom utterly lacking in western society, where stress results in mass murderous shootings as in the US, and mental illness in Europe.

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