In the recently concluded World Hindu Congress (WHC) in Chicago, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu stated that “the only country that accepts all religions is India”. He also said, “Even though we have so much strength, we never attacked anyone in history.”
Some time ago, hundreds of the country’s top writers, artists, scientists, historians, film makers and other intellectuals had returned their national awards to lodge their protest against the growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country. Responding to this awardwapsi, Venkaiah Naidu, who was then a union minister, had observed, “They say tolerance in this country is coming down. However, India is the only country in this world where tolerance is observed, if not 100% at least 99%.” He further stated, “If you go back to history, India was invaded by many foreign countries but there was not a single instance where we invaded any country. We respect all religions. That is the greatness of India. Tolerance is genetically ingrained in Indians’ blood.”
There are two strong assumptions in the above utterances of Naidu. First, that Indians, meaning in this instance Hindus, are unique because we have tolerance; we are ‘the only’ people to tolerate the conqueror living among us. Second, that while India was invaded many times, Indians never invaded another country.
India is not unique here. Something similar has happened in many nations. England was conquered by the French in 1066. Even today, unlike India, the majority of English landed nobility and aristocracy are of foreign ancestry. Queen Elizabeth herself is from the royal house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Germany. England’s aristocracy still holds its foreign origins with great pride and is not resented by the British.
In the thirteenth century, China was captured by the Mongols under Kublai Khan, who established the Yuan dynasty. This Mongol dynasty of Yuan is revered in China. North Africa is made up of a mix of races that have mingled at least since 450 BC. Turkey was conquered by the Central Asian Turks and was occupied by a mix of people including Greeks. Cyprus is half Turkish and half Greek.
The name Hungary comes from Huns, a tribe from Central Asia, who conquered Europe in the 4th century AD and assimilated with the Europeans. Hungarian is not a language of Europe. The Greeks ruled and assimilated with Egyptians for centuries. Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, was actually Greek speaking. Many countries in the American continent are ruled by invaders, the most prominent example being the USA. Are the conquerors not ruling Australia and New Zealand?
These are just a few examples. There are many others. So Naidu’s belief—which is also held by many others—that Indians (he actually means Hindus) are in some way extraordinary or unique because they have managed to ‘tolerate’, or live in peace with those who have conquered India, is wrong.
No need not go very far to puncture this myth. Indian king Ranjit Singh’s generals captured Kabul towards the end of his reign. Of course Ranjit Singh would see himself as being a Punjabi rather than an Indian, because this was a time before India became a nation state.
Samrat Ashoka had one of his famous pillars in Kandahar. Was it put up out of respect? He probably raided or threatened to raid if the Afghans did not submit. To this example, some would say that Afghanistan is also a part of India. In that case, they should not consider the Afghans from Mohammed Ghazni to the Sultans of Lodi dynasty to Sher Shah Suri who conquered northern India as foreign conquerors.
The idea that Hindus are peace loving and reticent is a modern one. We actually have never had any problem spilling our own blood. The Marathas conquered Gujarat. This was not a peaceful or democratic takeover. Ashoka flattened Kalinga and massacred thousands of Odias. It was not tolerance or lack of visa that stopped him from attempting the same in China or Burma or Australia. It was the natural borders. North Indian dynasties had little geographic space in which to conquer ‘foreign’, meaning non-subcontinental territory.
In the same period that north India was invaded by Muslims and England by France, the Tamils under the Chola dynasty invaded Southeast Asia because they were among the few Indian dynasties with a competent navy. But the saffron brigade and many others who claim that India never invaded any nation don’t find any incongruity in eulogising this achievement of Chola dynasty as a triumph of India. How can there be so much Hindu influence in Bali island in Indonesia or a Hindu temple constructed at Angkor Wat in Cambodia without Indians attacking those nations?
Coming back to Naidu’s assertion that “the only country that accepts all religions is India”, the vituperative and vicious attacks on Muslims and Christians in the last four years are calling Naidu’s bluff adequately. Over the last four years, there have been innumerable love jihad and ghar wapsi episodes, apart from the several incidents of lynching of Muslims.
This is actually in tune with the ideology of ‘Hindu supremacy’ and ‘intolerance towards non-Hindu religions’ propagated by Naidu’s guru M.S. Golwalker, who is considered to be the foremost idealogue of the RSS, the parent organisation of the BJP, the party ruling India today. M.S. Golwalkar in his book We or Our Nationhood Defined says, “The non-Hindu people in Hindustan must adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture i.e. they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its age-old traditions but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead—in a word, they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights.”
In the same book, Golwalkar also said, “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
Actually, demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, goes back to ancient times in India, that is, much before the advent of Islam. There existed many Brahminical and non-Brahminical religions and their sects in ancient India. Their adherents were not always friendly and mutually accommodative, but were, in fact, very often hostile to one another. The two Brahminical sects, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, fought among themselves, and they both were constantly at loggerheads with the followers of the Shramanic religions—Buddhism and Jainism.
Historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha in his book Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History challenges the depiction of the “ancient period of Indian history as a golden age marked by social harmony devoid of any religious violence”. He says that it is very much true that Brahminical sects “bore huge animosity towards the two heterodox religions, Buddhism and Jainism”. Citing the famous grammarian Patanjali, Jha says that he “famously stated in his Mahabhashya that Brahmins and Shramanas are eternal enemies, like the snake and the mongoose. This rancour resulted in attacks and the appropriation of Buddhist and Jain sacred places.”
Jha marshals a wide array of examples to show the enormous scale of religious violence in ancient India. For example, in the 7th century, King Shashanka cut the down Bodhi tree, under which Buddha gained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, and replaced the Buddha’s statue with that of Shiva in a local temple.
Seven centuries earlier, in 185 CE, Pushyamitra Shunga overthrew the Buddhist Mauryan dynasty, destroyed the Ashokan pillared hall and the Kukutarama monastery in Pataliputra. He is also said to have vandalised the famous Sanchi Stupa, burnt down the Ghositaram monastery in Kaushambi, and killed Buddhist monks wantonly. As a consequence, the Buddhist Sanskrit work, Divyavadana, describes him as the “great persecutor” of Buddhists.
Jha cites several examples of Brahminical destruction and appropriation of Buddhist/Jain monuments such as Sarnath, Sravasti, Mathura’s Katra Mound, Nalanda, Sialkot, Satdhara (in Katni district), Deurkothar (in Rewa district), Vidisha, Khajuraho, Kaushambi near Allahabad, Vaishali, Jayendravihara at Srinagar, Bodh Gaya, Somapura Mahavihara (Bangladesh), Bankura, Bochaganj in Dinajpur, Shripur in Raipur district, Puri, Bhubaneswar, Tagara in Osmanabad district, Karle near Lonavala in Pune district, Ellora in Aurangabad district, Chezerla in Guntur district, Amaravati, Nagapattinam, Kanchipuram and many many more. These are just some of the examples taken from Jha’s list of religious sites that were appropriated or destroyed, making it clear that ancient India witnessed a level of religious violence that was certainly not insignificant.
So much so for Naidu’s assertion that “We (Indians) respect all religions.” With regard to Naidu’s claim that “tolerance is genetically ingrained in Indian blood” and “tolerance is observed, if not 100% at least 99%”, the continuing caste discrimination, untouchability, atrocities against the oppressed castes, honour killings, the rant against reservation and the violent attacks on the people of the North-East, Kashmir and people of African origin tell an entirely different story. Violence let loose on the bi-centenary celebrations at Bhima Koregaon in January this year is another example of such intolerance.
With such ‘magnanimous behaviour’ on display by caste Hindus in this ‘Dharmic’ land, Naidu’s certificates on “tolerance” are nothing but cruel jokes. Media headlines and briefs on the plight of the subjugated castes clearly tell ‘the percentage of observed tolerance’. It also reveals how much “genetically ingrained” is tolerance in Indians’ blood.
This is all well known to Naidu. Nothing new is revealed. But it is remarkable that despite all these shames, many caste Hindus, even legislators, ministers and the educated sections, believe the myth about peaceful acceptance of all religions in India and continue to utter outrageous lies on tolerance of Indians.
In the WHC, Swami Vivekananda was quoted by one and all. Let me also quote the Swami while concluding this article: “India’s doom was sealed the day it coined the word Mlechha. No religion on earth preaches dignity of humanity in such a lofty frame and no religion sits on the neck of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism.”