Hijacking Vivekananda

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Today, Vivekananda is hijacked by political parties and by intellectuals like Swapan Dasgupta, who recently authored Awakening Bharat Mata with pejorative selections from Hindu nationalist writers (Vivekananda being one) for their vested interests. His saying – ‘say with pride that I am Hindu’ is being misinterpreted by taking it out of context. Rafiq Zakaria observes:

He [Vivekananda] never associated himself with the campaign of hate against them [Indian Muslims]; it is a pity that some Hindu communalists are whipping this up in his name. The protagonists of Hindutva are spreading canard that Swami Vivekananda is their inspiration and mentor for promoting aggressive and militant Hinduism and for promoting ethnic and economic cleansing of the Muslims. From my study of the teachings and the activities of the great Swami I find what they contend about the Swami totally incorrect. He was, on the contrary, a convinced champion of good relations between Hindus and Muslims. As for his involvement in Hinduism, he was more an iconoclast than a revivalist; more a unifier than a divider; more a universalist than a sectarian (Communal Rage in Secular India 162-63).

 Vivekananda equals a Hindu with an Indian citizen. He never believed in sectarianism. His famous story of the pond of well in his Chicago lecture is reminiscent of his syncretised religious vision. Though he is a Hindu monk, nowhere he is confined to Hinduism only. His vision is a universal religion. He is energetic, revolutionary, and extremely conscious of the maladies of untouchability, poverty, superstition, illiteracy, and the pathetic position of women in the society of colonial India. He has shown the West through his 1893 Chicago lectures the mystic and ennobling eternal power of Hinduism in its true sense.

Hindutva and spiritual hollowness

Forgetting the basic motto of religion, we are all busy throwing mud at one another. The religious issues that the contemporary world is irking pathetically are all about the externalities of religion – whether one is wearing a scanty dress, burkha, keeping a beard or bearing other religious symbols. We are busy with symbols only, not on the inner soul of the man. Both the print and electronic media are flooded with the news of religious violence, communal clashes, and sectarian violence. The world is witnessing a tremendous surge of religious violence. There is no need to cite examples.

Religious violence

In India alone, from 2005-2009, over 4000 religious violence occurred. Is it Vivekananda’s religious vision of India? Billions of dollars are being spent to maintain the externalities of religion by the fanatics. In India, more than 50% of people go to bed unfed. The scenes of child labourers, ragpickers, street children, and homeless beggars do not pain us. The destitute are everywhere. If Vivekananda is to be followed, inhumanity is to be abolished first. Vivekananda cannot be confined to only a few intellectuals of Ram Krishna Maths and Missions who will go on conferencing on him, availing all the luxury of life; he is more for the decrepitude subalterns. He is not for a particular religion. He is the man of the masses irrespective of caste, creed, religion and country.  Suniti Kumar Chatterjee wrote that Vivekananda, in the first instance, knocked off a lot of nonsense in our Hindu social life and drew our attention to the Eternal Verities and not to the ephemeral accidental—social usages and such like—in our life. He was a sworn enemy of casteism. Untouchability was something which he abhorred both as a sannyasi and as a lay Hindu.   He looked upon the poor and the humble, the suffering ones and the frustrated ones of society, as if they were deities incarnate or fragments of God, to serve who was to serve God (Mukul Kantikar & Anoop A. J. 2019).

A force for all

He is an indomitable power that cannot be confined within a coterie of people with divisive and sectarian outlooks. He denounced the upper classes as “walking carrions” and “walking corpses.” He repeatedly stressed that the masses were the real foundations of Indian National life. It is only through their physical labour that the influence of the Brahmans, the progress of the Kshatriyas, and the fortunes of the Vaishyas. He proclaimed, let India rise out of the peasant’s cottage, grasping the plough, out of the huts of the fisherman, the grocer’s shop, from beside the oven of the fritter-seller. Let her emanate from the factory, from marts and markets. Let her emerge from the groves and forests, from hills and mountains…They have suffered eternal misery, which has given them unflinching vitality…

On Islam and its followers

Vivekananda has a tendency to cite the name of a particular religion and criticise it, but then, in the flow of the same speech, clarify that he is referring to the religion as it is practised as negative, and in no way he is alluding to the religion in its doctrinal sense which was, in his opinion, positive. He is critical of the Islamic invasion of India, and it is a historically related fact. But he praises the concept of Islamic brotherhood, though he comments that it is not universal.

The Qur’an stresses the casteless character of Muslims. Today, Muslims are being divided into hundreds of castes by social scientists. But even today a zola, considered to be existing in the lower rung of society can pray with a sophisticated Muslim together. This immense strength of Islamic brotherhood and fellow feeling is recognised by Vivekananda himself.

He praised Shahajahan for the love of his artistic sensibility, and he also paid esteem to Akbar for his liberal mind. Hindu-Muslim clash is a hindrance to the ethos of India. He knows that well. He has many Muslim friends and disciples. And he concludes that a new India can only be built with a Vaidantic heart and an Islamic body. (Chintanayak 280-281).

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I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, said George Orwell. As a writer, I never kowtow to the whims and dictates of the sacred godmen or godwomen, the political bigots and hypocrites, dealers of laymen, the dishonest and self-serving intellectuals, traders of religions, the betrayers of ‘other’ Indians who eke out a living by their sweat, who are living in fear for being lynched for this and that.

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