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What is the problem with a civic nation bound by the Constitution?

Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit lays great emphasis on India being a state of civilizations, but then why couldn’t it give rise to a good civic nation? If these civilizations really turned India into a civilized nation, why do Hindus rabidly hate Muslims, Christians and Dalits? What kind of civilization is this where Dalits are killed for riding a horse or for sporting a moustache? asks Kanwal Bharti

Speaking on 19 May 2002, the second day of a three-day seminar on “Revisiting the ideas of India from ‘Swaraj’ to ‘New India’”, organized by the University of Delhi (DU), Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said, “Reducing India to a civic nation bound by a Constitution disregards its history, ancient heritage, culture and civilization.”

What problem does Dhulipudi have with a civic nation? Why is it wrong for the Indians to consider themselves as a civic nation? Does citizenship divorce them from their religion, culture and civilization? It will be difficult to find a single Indian citizen who agrees with this view. Has any Indian lost his religious identity? Every Indian is living with his identity as a Hindu, Muslim Christian, Sikh, Parsi, Jain, Buddhist and so on. How is being bound by the Constitution making them lose their identity? 

If Dhulipudi means that the Constitution ignores the ancient civilization and culture of ancient India, she is simply parroting what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership has been saying for decades. The RSS and other organizations of its ilk have been opposed to the Constitution since it was drafted and promulgated. There is no RSS leader or sant who praises the Constitution. Ask any RSS man about the Constitution and he will promptly say that it is anti-Hindu. In this context, Ramchandra Guha’s article “Which Ambedkar” (The Indian Express, 21 April 2016) is particularly relevant. 

Guha writes that the RSS had voiced its opposition even while Ambedkar was drafting the Constitution. The organization had also objected to the Hindu Code Bill aimed at empowering Hindu women. Referring to the draft of the Constitution that was presented to the Constituent Assembly by Ambedkar, RSS’s organ The Organiser, in its issue dated 30 November 1949, said it in its editorial, “The worst thing about the new Constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bharatiya about it. There is no trace of ancient Bharatiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it. There is no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”

Had the Manusmriti laws been so valuable, Ambedkar wouldn’t have burnt the book. Manu’s laws sanction social discrimination. Are they the best laws in the world or the worst? Can we approve of Manu’s law that says that Shudras should be made to work like slaves, they should be given leftovers in wages and all their wealth should be snatched away from them? Can Manu’s laws make Indian citizens civilized? It is Manu’s laws that disallow Hindu women from marrying outside their religion and caste; which consider marriage an eternal and unbreakable union, which prescribe that no matter how cruel and worthless a husband is, the wife can’t abandon him. It is the Constitution that has freed Hindu women from such restrictions.

Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, vice-chancellor, JNU; Dalit author and critic Kanwal Bharti

Dhulipudi’s concern is probably that if India remains bound to the Constitution, it can become a civic nation, but not a theocracy or a Hindu Rashtra. The problem is that since the Constitution does not recognize India as a nation, it cannot become a religious nation. The Constitution describes India as a union of states. Every state has its own cultural and linguistic nationalism. India is a conglomerate of so many nationalisms that it is not even a nation-in-the-making.

Hindutvavadis are in power in the country. They are trying their utmost to transform India into a Hindu Rashtra. But they don’t propose to do this under the Constitution. They want to sidestep the Constitution. The RSS has ensured that Hindutavvadis are appointed to top positions like directors and chairpersons in most of the government institutions and bodies. They are in a majority in the administration as well as in the judiciary. The Constitutionally mandated reservation regime for Dalits and OBCs is being dismantled. Special campaigns are being run to recruit Brahmins. Ten per cent reservations for the economically weaker section are being used to push more and more Brahmins into government services. Hindus have been filled with extreme hatred against the Muslims. Conspiracies are being hatched to replace Muslim places of worship with Hindu temples. Those opposed to the RSS brand Hindutva are being lynched and jailed. Dalit and OBC castes are being drawn away from the pursuit of education and employment and instead being made a part of the aggressive Hindutva project. Sidestepping constitutional provisions, Hindu Raj is being brought in, along with the Varna system, which is its integral part. According to a Hindustan Times report, Dhulipudi said that the idea of a country was “not only a geopolitical concept but a civilization concept.” According to her, “There are only two civilization states that have a tradition with modernity, a realm with the region, and change with continuity. Those two states are India and China.” 

There is no doubt that India is a civilization state but what kind of civilization? Did this civilization change with the times? RSS thinkers say that while many civilizations have vanished, the Indian civilization survives even today. What Ambedkar had to say on this issue is pertinent here. He wrote, “It is true that civilization is not the privilege of all … But it is also true that to those who are possessed of civilization, their civilization may be a hindrance rather than a help. It might have gone on a wrong track, it might have based itself on false values and false premises. Such a civilization might easily cause stagnation of the Community and the stunting of the individual. It would be better to be without civilization than to be burdened and shackled by such a civilization.” He wants to know what use is the civilization whose light does not reach the primitive tribes, Criminal Tribes and Untouchables. He adds, “One also hears a Hindu say that his civilization has inherent strength because it has survived while all other ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Babylon, Judea, Rome and Greece have vanished. Such a view, however legitimate, misses the main point. The main point is not whether the civilization is ancient and whether it has survived. The main point is what are the merits of a civilization? What is its worth, if it has survived? In other words, the principal question is, is this Hindu civilization, the social heritage, a burden or a benefit?” Ambedkar also writes that many patriotic Hindus like to believe that the knowledge of man and nature began with the Hindus – then, let them say what was the contribution of Hindu Civilization to the knowledge of man and nature? 

In her speech, Dhulipudi mentioned the Chola Empire. She said, “The Cholas ruled for 2,000 years but is there any mention or any roads named after the great kings of Cholas? Not one in Delhi … There is a huge bias, agenda-setting that needs revisiting.” She noted that the Cholas conquered through culture, trade, and commerce, and not through genocide, murder and rape, emphasizing India’s contribution towards multiculturalism.

By invoking the Cholas, Dhulipudi is actually targeting the Mughals. Not only her but all nationalist intellectuals of the RSS fold have been insisting that Mughal Empire was established in Indian through massacres, murders and rapes. These people ignore the fact that when the Mughals invaded India, it was not a unified country but was made up of hundreds of big and small independent kingdoms. If the Mughals had really committed mass massacres, how come so many Hindus survived?

Two other questions deserve mention. The first is that when outsiders, whether they were Turks or Huns attacked India, why were they not stopped by the native rulers, despite the fact that the invaders must have been small in numbers? Why did the residents of the villages through which they passed give them safe passage? Why doesn’t history mention a single battle between the invading armies and the local residents? The second question is why the huge armies of Hindu kingdoms could not get the better of the handful of invaders. 

It is true that states founded on massacres cannot be called civilized, but did Indian rulers and princes establish their rule without committing massacres? Didn’t the battle of Kalinga involve mass killings? Didn’t Pushyamitra Shunga massacre Buddhists? Aren’t massacres of Brahmins and Kshatriyas part of Hindu mythology? If India is a state of civilizations, which definition of civilized behaviour does the massacre of 2,000 members of a minority community at the beginning of the 21st century fall under? Dhulipudi lays great emphasis on India being a state of civilizations, but then why couldn’t it give rise to an excellent civic nation? If these civilizations really turned India into a civilized nation, why do Hindus rabidly hate Muslims, Christians and Dalits? What kind of civilization is this where Dalits are killed for riding a horse or for sporting a moustache? If the judiciary, which is a creation of the Constitution, could take action when it found the civilized nation seething with hatred, it was because the Constitution makes India a civic nation. A civic nation can come into being only when it is imbued with a nationalism that binds people together. Without it, how can India become a nation, let alone a civic nation? 

Presumably, Dhulipudi referred to the Cholas because she comes from south India. The Chola Empire was confined to today’s Tamil Nadu and the neighbouring southern states. On the same basis, she describes China as a civilization state because the Cholas had trade relations with China. Old Chinese coins, found in some ancient temples in Tamil Nadu, prove this. But when she asks why no road in Delhi is named after Chola rulers, she should also enlighten us on the contribution of Cholas to the development of Delhi. Which building constructed by the Cholas in Delhi still exists? What kind of civilization did the Chola Empire build? What did the Cholas do except reviving the Shaiva and Vaishnav religions and constructing a web of Hindu temples in the south. Their rule was also based on the Varna system. They did not open the doors of education to the Shudras. They did not end untouchability. Then, which great civilization should they be commemorated for? 

 (Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)

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About The Author

Kanwal bharti

Kanwal Bharti (born February 1953) is a progressive Ambedkarite thinker and one of the most talked-about and active contemporary writers. Dalit Sahitya Kee Avdharna and Swami Achootanand Harihar Sanchayita are his key books. He was conferred with Dr Ambedkar Rashtriya Award in 1996 and Bhimratna Puraskar in 2001

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