In the recently concluded World Hindu Congress (WHC) in Chicago, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu stated that “the only country that accepts all religions is India”. He also said, “Even though we have so much strength, we never attacked anyone in history.”
In 2015, love jihad and gharwapsi episodes have been topped by the lynching of a Muslim in Dadri over beef consumption rumours. 33 top writers had retruned their Sahitya Akademi and other awards to lodge their protest saying there was an extraordinary atmosphere of intolerance.
Responding to the Award Wapsi, Venkaiah Naidu (then union minister) observed, “They say tolerance in this country is coming down. However, India is the only country in this world where tolerance is observed, if not 100% at least 99%.”
Naidu further said, “If you go back to history, India was invaded by many foreign countries but there was not a single instance where we invaded any country. We respect all religions. That is the greatness of India. Tolerance is genetically ingrained in Indians’ blood.”
There are two strong assumptions in Naidu’s above utterances. First: That Indians, meaning in this instance Hindus, are unique because we have tolerance. We are ‘the only’ people to tolerate the conqueror living among us. Second: That India was only ever invaded and Indians never invaded another country.
First Assumption: We are ‘the only’ people to tolerate the conqueror living among us.
India is not unique here. Something similar has happened in many nations. England was conquered by the French in 1066. Even today, unlike India, the majority of English landed nobility and aristocracy are of foreign extraction. Queen Elizabeth herself is from the royal house of Saxe-Coburg Gotha of Germany. England’s aristocracy still holds its foreign origins with great pride and is not resented by the British.
Two centuries later China was captured by the Mangols under Kublai Khan. The Mangol dynasty of Yuan is celebrated in China. North Africa is made up of a mix of races that have mingled at least since 450 BC. Turkey was conquered by the Central Asian Turks and was occupied by a mix of people including Greeks. Cyprus is half Turkish and half Greek.
The name Hungary comes from Huns, a tribe from Central Asia, who conquered and assimilated with Europeans. Hungarian is not a language of Europe. The Greeks ruled and assimilated with Egyptians for centuries. Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, was actually Greek speaking. Many countries in American continent are ruled by invaders and the brightest example being the USA. Are the conquerors not ruling Australia and New Zealand?
These are just a few examples. There are many others. So Naidu’s (and many others’ too) belief that we, the Hindus, are in some way extraordinary or unique because we have managed to ‘tolerate’, or live next to those who have conquered us, is wrong.
Second Assumption: That India was only ever invaded and Indians never invaded another country.
No need to go very far to puncture this myth. Indian king Ranjit Singh’s generals captured Kabul at the end of his reign. Of course Ranjit Singh would see himself as being Punjabi rather than an Indian because this was a time before India became a nation state.
Samrat Ashoka had one of his famous pillars in Kandahar. Was it put up out of respect? He probably raided or threatened to raid if the Afghans did not submit. Some may say that Afghanistan is also a part of India. Afghans from Mohammed Ghazni to Ibrahim Lodi to Sherkhan Suri also conquered northern India. Can we say India is a part of Afghanistan? Then how can we term the Afghan conquerors as aliens?
The idea that Hindus are peace loving and reticent is a modern one. We have never had any problem spilling our own blood. The Marathas conquered Gujarat. This was not a peaceful or democratic takeover. Ashoka flattened Kalinga and massacred thousands of Odias. It was not tolerance or lack of visa that stopped him from attempting the same in China or Burma or Australia. It was the natural borders. North Indian dynasties had little geographic space in which to conquer ‘foreign’, meaning non-sub continental territory.
In the same period that north India was invaded by Mohamedans and England invaded by France, the Tamils under the Chola dynasty invaded Southeast Asia because they were the few Indian dynasties with a competent navy. But Saffron brigade and many others who chest thump that India never invaded any nation don’t find any incongruity in eulogizing this achievement of Chola dynasty as a triumph of India. How could Odia kings capture Bali island in Indonesia or a Hindu temple was constructed at Angkor Wat in Cambodia without attacking those nations?
Coming back to Naidu’s assertion that “the only country that accepts all religions is India”, the vituperative and vicious attacks on Muslims and Christians in the last four years are calling Naidu’s bluff adequately.
His ideological guru M S Golwalkar in his book ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’ says, “The non-Hindu people in Hindustan must adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture i.e. they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its age-old traditions but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead – in a word, they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen’s rights.”
Golwalkar also said, “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by” (We or Our Nationhood Defined, 1947, Page 42).
Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam. There existed many Brahminical and non-Brahminical religions and their sects in ancient India. Their adherents were not always friendly and mutually accommodative, but were, in fact, very often hostile to one another. The two Brahminical sects, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, fought among themselves, and they both were constantly at loggerheads with the followers of the Shramanic religions—Buddhism and Jainism.
Historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha in his book ‘Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History’ challenges the depiction of the “ancient period of Indian history as a golden age marked by social harmony devoid of any religious violence”. It is just as true that Brahminical sects “bore huge animosity towards the two heterodox religions, Buddhism and Jainism”, Jha writes. Bringing up “evidence” from famous grammarian Patanjali, Jha says, he “famously stated in his Mahabhashya that Brahmins and Shramanas are eternal enemies, like the snake and the mongoose. This rancour resulted in attacks and the appropriation of Buddhist and Jain sacred places.
Jha marshals a wide array of examples to show the enormous scale of religious violence in ancient India. For example, in the 7th century, King Shashanka cut down the Bodhi tree, under which Buddha gained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, and replaced the Buddha’s statue with that of Shiva in a local temple.
Seven centuries earlier, in 185 BCE, Pushyamitra Shunga overthrew the Buddhist Mauryan dynasty, destroyed the Ashokan pillared hall and the Kukutarama monastery in Pataliputra. He is also said to have vandalised the famous Sanchi Stupa, burnt down the Ghositaram monastery in Kaushambi, and killed Buddhist monks wantonly. As a consequence, the Buddhist Sanskrit work, Divyavadana, describes him as the “great persecutor” of Buddhists.
Jha cites several Brahminical destruction and appropriation of Buddhist/Jain monuments such as Sarnath, Sravasti, Mathura’s Katra Mound, Nalanda, Sialkot, Satdhara (in Katni district), Deurkothar (in Rewa district), Vidisha, Khajuraho, Kaushambi near Allahabad, Vaishali, Jayendravihara at Srinagar, Bodh Gaya, Somapura Mahavihara (Bangladesh), Bankura, Bochaganj in Dinajpur, Shripur in Raipur district, Puri, Bhubaneswar, Tagara in Osmanabad district, Karle near Lonavala in Pune district, Ellora in Aurangabad district, Chezerla in Guntur district, Amaravati, Nagapattinam, Kanchipuram and many many more. These are just some of the examples taken from Jha’s list of religious sites that were appropriated or destroyed, making it clear that ancient India witnessed a level of religious violence that was certainly not insignificant.
With regard to Naidu’s claim that ‘Tolerance is genetically ingrained in Indian blood’ and ‘tolerance is observed, if not 100% at least 99%’, the continuing caste discrimination, untouchability, atrocities against the oppressed castes, honour killings, the rant against Reservation and the violent attacks on the people of NE, Kashmir and African origin tell an entirely different story. Violence let loose on the bi-centenary celebrations at Bhima Koregaon in last January is another example of the much tom-tomed tolerance.
With such magnanimous caste Hindus are available in this Dharmic land, Naidu’s certificates on the so called tolerance are nothing but cruel jokes. Media headlines and briefs on the plight of the subjugated castes clearly tell ‘the percentage of observed tolerance’. It also reveals how genetically ingrained is the tolerance in Indians’ blood.
This is all well known to Naidu. Nothing new is revealed. But it is remarkable that despite all these shames, very many caste Hindus, even legislators, ministers and educated section believe the myths of acceptance of all religions and continue to utter outrageous lies on tolerance of Indians.
In the WHC, Swamy Vivekananda was quoted by one and all. Let me also quote the Swamy while concluding this article: “India’s doom was sealed the day it coined the word ‘Mlechha’. No religion on earth preaches dignity of humanity in such a lofty frame and no religion sits on the neck of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism.”
1) ‘Demystifying beliefs’ by Aakar Patel published in the newspaper Orissa Post/Oct 27, 2015.
2) ‘Monumental Absence: The destruction of ancient Buddhist sites’ By DN Jha | 1 June 2018 in the Caravan magazine.
3) ‘Why it’s essential for school students to learn about religious violence in ancient India’ by Ajaz Ashraf in Scroll.in/May 01, 2018.
4) ‘Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in “pre-Islamic” era’ published in Counterview/June 22, 2018.
[Sankara Narayanan is an independent writer. The above artilce is first published by CounterCurrents.org.]
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