The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in New Delhi

Of Lankesh, Ambedkar & Hinduism

Published Sep 13, 2017, 12:35 am IST
Updated Sep 13, 2017, 12:35 am IST
The impact of Lankesh’s ideas could go beyond the fact that she challenged Hinduism.
Gauri Lankesh
 Gauri Lankesh

It is an easy explanation for her death at the hands of suspected Hindu extremists that Gauri Lankesh stood for secularism, gender equality and human rights, which offended her foes. These are all causes associated with Indian liberals who oppose Hindutva.  However, some from this club have truly targeted the right-wing quarry’s beating heart as Lankesh and her ideological soulmates did. And they did it by rejecting their Hindu identity. That is by far the bigger challenge for Hindutva — people disowning their Hindu identity. Muslim- and Christian-baiting is a means to dealing with this potentially insurmountable challenge. Lankesh and her fellow apostates, include, but are not confined to, social reformers in the Lingayat community of rationalists and Shiva mystics. Unlike many of her supporters, Lankesh’s sympathy for causes she embraced was firmly aligned with her aloofness from Hinduism, which goes beyond the fact that she was buried and not cremated. Let us stay with the crucial point. Lalu Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi are perceived as ideologically disparate politicians fighting Hindutva in their different ways.

In their opposition to the extremists, they indeed reject Hindu majoritarianism as well. But they do not disown the popular perception that they belong to the religious majority, which their Hindu identity constitutes. They may see themselves as good, kindly, or even atheist Hindus, followers of Nehru, perhaps, or Bertrand Russell or even Karl Marx. Yet, for better or worse they would perhaps struggle to denounce their Hindu identity, as Lankesh did.  Communist cadres carrying Ganpati idols in Kerala in recent years offer as good an evidence as any that being overtly Hindu may have become a political requirement in this era of religious surge. Right-wing groupies may deride admirers of Lankesh as anti-Hindu but her liberal supporters do not, in their own reasoning, see the Hindu identity as problematic, which Ambedkar and Gauri Lankesh did. 

Lankesh saw Hinduism not as a religion but as a hidebound hierarchy ranged against women and the lower classes. The difference is that she underscored her non-Hindu minority identity in the battle with Hindutva. And, for rejecting that identity she became an apostate worthy of matching retribution. Consider this: The clarion call of Hindutva is: “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain.” And what was Lankesh saying? “I am not a Hindu.” To be sure, apostates have been a feature almost exclusively within Semitic religions in which there is only one God, one Satan and one Book. I once unburdened on Shimon Peres my knowledge of Judaism, which I had picked up from The Ten Commandments, the movie. I asked him why Israel, which should follow the tenet “Though shalt not kill”, does just the opposite with Palestinians. Peres, who was visiting Delhi as deputy PM, cleverly dodged the question, and said a brilliant mind like Einstein’s could be snuffed out with a bullet. And a brilliant mind needed to be protected. 

The secular-communal binary, shared enthusiastically by Lankesh’s liberal admirers, was not her winning card, however, we can see that the more vociferous the call for secularism the greater the victory graph of the communalists becomes. Ambedkar had warned against the trick. But he also gave the antidote, emphasising that Hinduism is constructed around self-absorbed castes that have little in common except when there is anti-Muslim violence. Muslims provide traction to Hindutva and vanquishing a community may not necessarily be the chief aim of the extremists. The real objective, in Gauri Lankesh’s view, was her fear of the subjugation of the vast intractable majority of Hindus by the elite.  The impact of Lankesh’s ideas could go beyond the fact that she challenged Hinduism. A less consolidated Hindu identity was possible had Ambedkar won his battle. Had Lankesh been around to assist Ambedkar before Partition she would have challenged Jinnah and Gandhi alike. 

By arrangement with Dawn





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