Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting China on May 14. This three-day visit is being projected as most significant as Mr Modi was trying to ape China in several sectors of development as Gujarat’s chief minister. It is said that ever since the US denied issuing a visa to him, Mr Modi made China his favourite country for visits, and they were more than willing to host him in the hope of bagging some lucrative projects. Of late, Mr Modi has been referring to Buddha repeatedly on his foreign tours while his earlier pet Hindutva thinker, Swami Vivekananda, does not figure. This could well be because Vivekananda has little recall internationally.
As the media reported, Mr Modi is going to visit some Buddhist temples in China, that too with President Xi Jinping himself. But what is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s understanding of Buddha and the universal religion that has come to be established with the notion that Buddha himself is god? The RSS since its inception never promoted Buddhism. When the V.P. Singh government recognised Buddhism as a separate Indian religion and granted reservation to dalit Buddhists, the RSS and the BJP grumbled, though they did not protest.
Buddhism today is a dalitist religion and Hinduism is a brahminic religion with oppositional spiritual positions about human equality and man-woman relations.
There is no point if the Prime Minister just appreciates Chinese development without seriously considering the reforms that Chinese civil society adopted by using the Buddhist logic of “harmonious holism” with a dash of Tao and Confucian principles.
“Harmonious holism” implies that everything is interconnected and all parts are important to become the whole. With this spiritual theory, the Buddhists avoided caste system and human untouchability in its evolutionary process. Even the Taoist priesthood was never family or caste-centered and reading of spiritual texts was the natural right of every member who belonged to that religion. The RSS’ Hinduism believes that certain iniquitous social relation should continue to exist.
Religious ritualism and the notion of certain work and food being unclean (or clean) were never linked up in China. A shoemaker, potmaker or barber could become spiritual teachers. Food purity, pollution (like beef is pollution and vegetables are pure) was never a religious problem in China. Body untouchability was never allowed in the Chinese society. Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism historically taught the Chinese not to give importance to idol worship, though Buddha sits in temples in an idol form. China, therefore, has moderate idol worship with book-reading, not recitation, as an essential element of prayer. Hence, even the peasantry in China has great reading habits. The RSS refuses to work for such a reform in India.
Since attacks on Christians and Muslims are the main agendas of Sangh Parivar organisations, Team Modi must also study the history of Christianity and the role of beef in Chinese society if they are serious about unhindered development. Growth of Christianity in China has a much more chequered history than in India. Though several attempts were made to plant the Church in China 7th century AD onwards, nothing happened till the Jesuit missionaries arrived in the 16th century. Despite the attacks of Chinese monarchs, the Jesuit missionaries focused on South China, as it did in South India.
The most reformist rebellion, called the Taiping Rebellion of 1850, was led by a Christian convert called Hong Xiuquan, who announced that “he had received visions, in which he learned that he was the younger brother of Jesus”. Though it was a violent battle between the Manchu ruler and millions of masses, which finally got suppressed brutally, it changed the social structure of China.
Edgar Snow, the author of Red Star Over China and Red China Today, wrote this about the Taiping Rebellion: “Land was evenly distributed. Slavery and the sale of women were outlawed, as were foot-binding, prostitution, arranged marriages and polygamy. The Taipings were strongly against opium, alcohol and tobacco. In short, the Communist Revolution may have been but a realisation of an underground movement in China which began in the mid 1800s”. The later Maoist revolution was immensely benefited by the social reforms lead by the Taiping Rebellion.
We must remember that India, with the sanction of the Hindu spiritual system, continues prostitution around temples. Forced widowhood by Hindu high castes themselves renders millions of women disempowered in social, financial and familial ways. The condemned lives of widows who live in Benaras tells the most heart-rendering story of a religion that victimises the weakest. Changing this condition of our womenfolk should be part of development. The Modi government has not set out any agenda for this change.
India accounts for the highest number of women trafficked in the world. Who should reform this if not the RSS which also mobilises huge amounts of money in the name of social service?
The later history of Church in China has more serious lessons for the RSS. After the Communist revolution several churches were seized, their properties confiscated and as a result the Christian evangelism went underground. In the late 70s, the number of Christ followers increased threefold. Why did that happen? The Church activity shifted from open Church to closed-door “home Church”. Imagine if the Indian Church also goes underground because of present attacks. The history of global church also tells us that it has grown under oppressive regimes more than under friendly regimes.
What the Hindutva forces, and China’s Maoists, do not understand is that Jesus as a prophet evolved with a massive social reform drive — through education, cultural equality of man and woman and food cultural democracy.
Mr Modi’s development efforts would get shattered if the Church takes up an international campaign of the “right to religion” getting violated in India. Such a global campaign crippled China for some time after which China granted full religious freedom. At no point of time in history did the Chinese society allow food dogmas. Even now they laugh at food purity and pollution theories. With the recent beef ban in a city like Mumbai, the whole world is laughing at India. Food choices coupled with production of multiple food items — meat and vegetarian — are a part of the economic development package. The RSS’ theory of beef spiritualism is primitivist and uncivilised. I hope a big contingent of RSS leaders go with Mr Modi and taste Chinese black pepper beef (heijiao niúròu) and return to roll back all uncivilised agendas and begin to work on social reform without which development of India is like building a shining tomb for a person who is starved to death.
The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. The opinions expressed in this article are personal.