Hinduism and Colonialism. Was: Rajaram's bull/Hindutva (response to BhG)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 15 19:18:41 UTC 2000

>"...the poems of virtually all nirguNI saints beginning with Kabir and Guru
>Nanak repeatedly refer to 'Hindus and Turks' and 'Hindus and Muslims
>[musulaman]' in contexts that clearly show that the authors had in mind
>religious, and not ethnogeographical, communities."

Does Hindu vs. Turk convey no ethnogeographical meaning to you? Hindu vs.
Musalman reveals a clear religious division to everybody. Doesn't it follow
from the above quotes that Turk was somehow synonymous with Musalman?
Clearly, the Musalman was seen as an "Other", not only because of his alien
religious practices, but also because of his foreign origin as a "Turk". Why
do you not leave room for the idea that the term Hindu also conveyed both a
religious and a geographical meaning, at the time of Nanak and Kabir? Was it
possible to have a Hindu "religious" community in the 16th century, that was
independent of ethnic and geographical identities?

One question you need to ask is whether Kabir and Nanak even made a
distinction between the category of the religious and the category of the
ethnic/geographical. Another question you need to ask is whether they made a
distinction between Hindu and Jain, or Hindu and Bauddh. After all, Jains
were never absent from the regions where Kabir and Nanak lived. And if you
notice, people like Kabir and Nanak opted for a syncretism that included or
accommodated Islam in some sense. The asymmetry lies in the fact that only a
"Hindu" environment could allow for such a syncretism.

Indians have for long been used to fuzzy boundaries. Binary logic, that
thinks primarily in terms of X vs. not-X fails miserably in understanding
things Indian. The deliberate erasure of rigid boundaries is an integral
part of the same system that once created the varNa and Azrama boundaries.
That most of the bhakti poets rejected varNAzrama distinctions is just a
symptom of this. But if one thinks that this rejection was somehow
egalitarian or socialistic or democratic or any other modern category of
Western origin, one is very much mistaken. Today you have the Kabirpanthis,
the Nanakpanthis, the Sikhs ---- yet more boundaries, if not along the lines
of varNa. In other words, in the 15th and 16th centuries, those who rejected
the varNAzrama distinctions ended up creating more groups within the
categroy of the "Hindu". Only some of these groups became a distinct
"religion", other than "Hindu". The 19th century definition that made
varNAzrama central to "Hindu"-ism was clearly a flawed definition for a
society that inherited the attitudes of Kabir and others.

Classical Indology can very easily assert that the "Vedic" is different from
the "Hindu", but the biggest problem that remains is that the "Hindu" defies
definition. Just like the nirguNa of these saint poets. If, following the
quoted comments about Kabir and Nanak, you insist that the word Hindu
denoted primarily a religious category, ask yourself if varNa and Azrama (as
described by most Indologists, and based primarily on the texts) was all
that pivotal to a "Hindu"-ism that made room for those who rejected varNa
and Azrama.

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