DHARMIC NATION: Freeing Bharat, Remaking India. R Jagannathan. Rupa Publications India. 2023. Pages 232. Rs 595.
This is a book meant for Hindus, particularly those who wish to be neither Yati Narsinghanand nor Shashi Tharoor.
It is a pithy and practical guide on how to approach life as a Sanatani in Bharatvarsha.
Easy to read, the Dharmic Nation: Freeing Bharat, Remaking India is a badly needed and refreshing smorgasbord of compelling ideas which ought to be in the list of basic armaments Hindus require to equip themselves and face the multiple crises confronting Bharat today.
This book is unapologetic about the source of the troubles with which Hindus need to contend — our good natured behaviour during oppressive ingresses into the collective life of our community, and our unwisdom in handling these attacks, which further emboldened and continues to embolden these destructive elements.
It provides the reader with a definition of the Hindu Rashtra, unobscured by the imprint of the bogeyman the word is made out to be.
The Hindu Rashtra is described in terms of what one cannot do, ie placing restraints on the exercise of rights, rather than codifying what one can do.
This is reflective of the intrinsic pluralism and tolerance present in Bharat’s civilisational ethos, in opposition to an exclusionary idea of ‘secularism’, which is a confused, foreign idea transplanted from a completely different historical context.
The same problem regarding other parts of the Constitution, including the Preamble, is highlighted in no uncertain terms.
The Preamble itself is an import from the ideas of the French Revolution, strengthening the case that the Constitution is stitched together from elements from the corpus of other constitutions, none of which are reflective of Bharat’s historical and cultural evolution, nor its aspirations.
Parts of the Constitution are self-contradictory, and enable drastic discrimination against Hindus, clothed in the legitimacy of legal letters.
In particular, the discriminatory character of Articles 15(4), 25, 29, and the 93rd Amendment of Article 30, is criticised — the Constitution imposes peculiar and discriminatory restrictions on Hindus alone, and robs our sampradayas of minority protections.
In particular, the horrible fact that 100,000 temples in five south Indian states have been mercilessly captured by the states in the name of ‘mismanagement’ and self-respect movements, is a fact which may not be so well known to Bharatiyas beyond south India.
This explicit mechanism of neutering Hindu institutions, culture, and social management, even as other religions retain their freedoms, has had a particularly debilitating effect on Hindus and their Dharma.
This book also provides a much-required criticism of the Indian Judiciary.
Post the 1960s, the Indian judiciary has taken a narrow and sometimes demeaning view of Bharat’s civilisational sensitivities, choosing to import their personal views and alien legal doctrines, both being thrust from foreign contexts.
Hence, perverse judgments such as those witnessed in the Sabarimala case, as also the artificial distinction drawn between what is ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ since the Shirur Mutt case, continue to salami slice the social life of the Hindu community.
The asymmetries which Hindus face cause an absurd situation, where the Constitution, judiciary, and the state squeeze the largest and yet weakest community in the country, that too in the name of equity.
Most pertinently, the book offers an alternative narrative of how Hinduism can reinvent its approach to both co-religionists as well as outsiders.
A strong case is made for Hindus to proselytise actively, to counter the onslaught of global missionary activities triggering hazardous demographic changes in the only geography wherein the global minority of Hindus can find refuge.
Hindus face a severe asymmetric playing field, where the state, the judiciary, and the present deracinated sensibilities of the Hindus themselves are stacked against them.
It is and has been made easy for Hindus to leave the fold, while entering the fold itself has been made otiose.
Here comes the most novel idea in the book, an elegant solution based on both historical experience and dispassionate analysis — Hinduism lite.
Different aspects of Hinduism need to be presented to different categories of people being targeted — more esoteric streams of Hindu thought for persons of such persuasion, and simplified tenets of faith weaved in with even simpler practices for the common man.
Archaic inconveniences such as the jati of a converted person need to be dealt with deftly; perhaps the converted taking on the jati of the converter is a simple solution.
Much like detergents, a costly Ariel has its appeal to a certain class, while a Nirma has its own irreplaceable place.
Hinduism lite’s novelty is also in emphasising Sanatana Dharma’s compromise between monotheism and polytheism, a modus vivendi which needs to be drilled into the common man of the country.
The false differentiation between Hinduism and Hindutva is also a great addition to the book. One can be a Hindutvavadi without being a Hindu, but Hinduism cannot sustain itself without Hindutva.
The most difficult yet important part of the book are its views surrounding jati, varna, their distinctions, their false conflation, and their “reinvented” roles.
Operationalising the jati system in its novel form, as presented by the author, is both promising as well as fraught with a number of potential issues.
The jumbling into a single term ‘caste’ of jati and varna systems simultaneously has been devastating, as has been rightly pointed out. Certain ideas, such as Christians and Muslims becoming Dharmic, while curiosity invoking, are difficult for these reviewers to agree with.
The book starts in an easy way, luring the reader into delving deeper. Ideas have been broken into pieces which can be both grasped and digested in a friendly manner.
Each chapter is crafted as a separate article, which makes for highly effective outlining of ideas which can otherwise confound oneself.
The book approaches its end with an incredibly apt extract: “The past is over. Hindus have the world to conquer by looking at the future.”
This futuristic approach in the book is combined with a clinical view of our past, which is a refreshing relief.
A key point, which is perhaps its most forceful takeaway, is to suggest ways and means to institutionalise a core tenet of Sanatana Dharma — unity without uniformity, diversity without divisiveness.
Gautam R. Desiraju is in the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and is a member of the Engagement Group (India) of Science20 (G20).
Deekhit Bhattacharya is a law student in the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi
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