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June 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.    Wishing You All a Happy New Year.       June 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:June' 2019

BOOK BAZAAR

Understanding Hindu revivalism

Rashida Dahod

“. . . And sectarian strife, dissension, blame and accusation, ranting and raving—they all are mere opinion, the opinion that good and bad lie outside us.” - Epictetus, Discourses III, 3.18-19

Manoj Dayal The turmoil in Ayodhya at the Ramjanmabhumi site which is a manifestation and a trigger of the Hindutva movement spreading across parts of India, also serves as the denouement of Anuradha Dutt’s book Redemption. It is a quest for the true spirit and practices of Hinduism. Centuries of power politics, conquests, and ultimately colonization altered and corrupted the basic tenets of the Hindu religion. She shows through extensive research that the caste system which was solidified—rather, codified—by the British was based on corrupted translations and recourse to unreliable sources. While this is one of the main threads of discussion in the book, Redemption is much more.
The book paints a breathtaking picture of the richness of Hindu philosophy on a broad canvas, rich in detail and multiple perspectives. The mythical personalities and events that underpin an ancient culture are deftly blended with the lives and actions of the sages, priests and rulers who have propagated and shaped it over millennia.
Intertwined with the evolution of the religion is the story of a family that begins in the late twentieth century, and follows one of its daughters, Tara, as she struggles to make sense of the past and find her place in the dynamics of the broader debates swirling around her. Through Tara, the author seeks to give us an understanding of the reasons for the current revivalist movement in Hinduism and offer her hope for an as yet elusive, unfolding future.
After all, what makes a great religion or philosophy enduring is its humanism, its belief in humankind, a flexibility that allows all creation to progress and aspire to a higher plane, both material and spiritual, a respect for all of creation. In Redemption, Dutt takes us back to the original, essential Hindu beliefs that encompass all of this. Sri Krishna is quoted, “Birth is not the cause, my friend; it is virtues which are the cause of auspiciousness.” Hence, caste is defined by character and achievements, not carved in stone based on profession or race or birth.
Drawing on recent genetic surveys and scientific analysis in the West and in India, the book refutes the global misconception that a “superior” Aryan race migrated eastward to the subcontinent and pushed the indigenous people southward. If anything, contemporary genetic studies point to a reverse movement from East to West. The word “Arya,” she points out, citing academic research in this area, is actually a Sanskrit term for an ethos of heroism and nobility.
The author is relentless in her debunking of superstition, both in her investigation and in the storyline that runs through the book in tandem with the research. Every misfortune is laid at the door of some arcane past event and expiation/propitiation is sought through intermediaries. So, “karma” is made subservient to superstition, just as the essential ethos falls prey to political expediency.

The British impact on Indian beliefs and mores has been brutal. Not only did it harm the society during colonial times, it continues to plague India into the twenty-first century, especially in its subversion of the social system, and the invasive encouragement of meateating habits, which was at odds with the veneration of the cow and the pantheistic nature of Hinduism. India’s Muslim rulers may have helped introduce meat in the diet but it was the British who seem to have inflicted it on the populace.

The British impact on Indian beliefs and mores has been brutal, as described in painstaking detail. Not only did it harm the society during colonial times, it continues to plague India into the twentyfirst century, especially in its subversion of the social system, and the invasive encouragement of meat-eating habits, which was at odds with the veneration of the cow and the pantheistic nature of Hinduism. India’s Muslim rulers may have helped introduce meat in the diet but it was the British who seem to have inflicted it on the populace.

It is a difficult feat to bind into a cohesive whole a tome that takes on a wide-ranging discussion of the diverse facets of the history of India, incorporating analyses of Buddhism, Jainism and the pantheon of gods, each with their underlying philosophy and method of worship. The author has done an admirable job of holding the readers interest. An index would be a welcome addition in future editions of this book! A glossary would be even better for readers uninitiated in the intricacies and myriad aspects of Indian history and religions.

Tara, the central character in the narrative, goes on a futile search for a reclusive ascetic at the beginning of the book. She navigates through personal loss and relationships. And ultimately, in December 1992, on assignment to make a news clip for a filmmaker on the gathering of kar sewaks at the Babri Masjid site, she watches the disintegration of the masjid under the tide of Hindu religious fervour. And instead of heading back to Delhi, she is drawn to Benaras where, in the embrace of its eternal history and watching its burning pyres, she finally comes to terms with her grief and her own transition into a different phase of life. It is synchronous with the passage of time; of turning a leaf in history; and a people’s quest for meaning in their cultural roots.