Diversity in the Indian Constitution (Guha Chapter 6)

[Part of an ongoing series on Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi. Last week's entry can be found here. Next week we will skip a chapter, and go directly to Chapter 8, "Home and the World," which explains how India evolved its "non-aligned" status.]

I’ve actually written a longish post on the idea of “secularism” in the Indian constitution in the past, but of course there’s more to say. The entire proceedings (more than 1000 pages of text!) of the Constituent Assembly have been posted online by the Indian Parliament here. Guha’s account comes out of reading through those proceedings, and is also deeply influenced by Granville Austin’s classic book, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation, which is still as I understand it the definitive book on the subject.

As many readers may be aware, the Indian Constitution was worked out over the course of three years (1946-1949), by a Constituent Assembly that contained 300 members, including representation by religious minorities, members of marginal groups (i.e., Adivasis), as well as a small but vocal group of women.

Three of the profound disagreements that the members of the Assembly had to resolve included: 1) the proper role of Gandhian philosophy in defining the new nation, 2) the question of “reservations” for Dalits and Tribals (Scheduled Castes and Tribes), and 3) the status of Indian languages, and the idea of an “official” language.1. Panchayats.

Let’s start with the question of the Gandhian idea of village panchayats, which was essentially rejected by the Constituent Assembly in favor of a strong, modern, centralized government. The lead voice in rejecting the Panchayat system was of course the Dalit lawyer and political figure B.R. Ambedkar. Here is Guha:

Some people advocated a ‘Gandian constitution,’ based on a revived panchayat raj system, with the village as the basic unit of politics and governance. This was sharply attacked by B.R. Ambedkar, who held that ‘these village republics have been the ruination of India.’ Ambedkar was ‘surprised that those who condemn Provincialism and communalism should come forward as champions of the village. What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism?’

These remarks provoked outrage in some quarters. The socialist H.V. Kamath dismissed Ambedkar’s attitude as ‘typical of the urban highbrow.’ The peasant leader N.G. Ranga said that Ambedkar’s comments showed his ignorance of Indian history. ‘All the democratic traditions of our country [have] been lost on him. If he had only known the achievements of the village panchayats in Southern India over a period of a millenium, he would not have said those things.’ However, the feisty female member of the United Provinces, Begum Aizaz Rasul, ‘entirely agreed’ with Amdedkar. As she saw it, the ‘modern tendency is towards the rights of the citizen as against any corporate body and village panchayats can be very autocratic.’ (119)

(Incidentally, the entire text of Ambedkar’s speech is at the Parliament of India website, here. Go check it out — it’s a fascinating document.)

I know that there are still neo-Gandhian thinkers out there who value highly decentralized government as a way of preventing tyranny. And it has to be admitted since independence, the Indian “Centre” has often overstepped its bounds, culminating perhaps in Indira Gandhi’s 1975 “Emergency” (many other instances could be mentioned).

But the fact that the most prominent Dalit representative and one of the most prominent women in the Assembly saw the “village” as a site of backwardness and repression, not liberation, cannot simply be ignored. They saw the move to centralization — and a focus on individual, rather than group or “corporate” rights — as a necessary step towards nudging Indian society towards caste and gender equality.

In my view, it’s a remarkable thing that the Indian Constitution essentially rejected Gandhian thinking, especially given how powerful Gandhi’s ideas and political methods had been in achieving the state of independence that led to the writing of this Constitution to begin with. But it may be that Gandhi had too much faith that people were going to be good to one another, and even in 1948 itself some members of the Assembly were aware that something stronger than mere idealism would be required to guarantee the rights of the disenfranchised.


2. Reservations.

Reservations is a huge topic, one that I can’t possibly deal with in a very substantive way right now (see this Wikipedia page for a brief tutorial). Suffice it to say that when the Constitution was ratified in 1950, it contained reservations for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Tribe (ST) groups in Parliament and State Assemblies, but not for what were known as “Other Backward Castes” (OBCs), though reservations for those groups would be recommended later. (And this latter question became a hot issue yet again in 2006, though as far as I know the recommendation for national OBC reservations in Indian higher education has not yet been implemented.)

Guha’s brief account of the debate over this question focuses on an Adivasi (tribal) political figure I hadn’t heard of, Jaipal Singh from Chotanagpur in the southern part of Bihar. Jaipal Singh had been sent by missionaries to study at Oxford, where he became a star at field hockey, and indeed, won a gold medal in the sport in 1928. In the Constituent Assembly, he made the following remarkable speech:

As a jungli, as an Adibasi, I am not expected to understand the legal intricacies of the Resolution. But my common sense tells me that every one of us should march in that road to freedom and fight together. Sir, if there is any group of Indian people that has been shabbily treated it is my people. They have been disgracefully treated, neglected for the last 6000 years. The history of the Indus Velley civilization, a child of which I am, shows quite clearly that it is the newcomers–most of you here are intruders as far as I am concerned–it is the newcomers who have driven away my people from the Indus Valley to the jungle fastness. . . . The whole history of my people is one of continuous exploitation and dispossession by the non-aboriginals of India punctuated by rebellions and disorder, and yet I take Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru at his word. I take you all at your word that now we are going to start a new chapter, a new chapter in of independent India where there is equality of opportunity, where no one would be neglected.

You can see the anger and the pain — but also the impressive willingnes to turn a new page, and cooperate fully in an “independent India where there is equality of opportunity.”


3. “Hindi imperialism.”

Finally, one of the most divisive questions of all was the status of English vis a vis Indian languages. At the moment of independence, it’s not surprising that a large number of participants in the Constituent Assembly found it galling that the proceedings were occurring largely in English, and some were insistent that the Indian constitution be “primarily” written in Hindi. There was also a strong movement to make Hindi India’s national language, which was of course rejected.

The simple truth is that there is no one, universal Indian language, and the people who were insisting that Hindi should be become that language had to give way, or risk provoking separatist sentiments from South Indians. Guha quotes one particular figure, T.T. Krishnamachari of Madras, along those line:

We disliked the English language in the past. I disliked it because I was forced to learn Shakespeare and Milton, for which I had no taste at all. . . . [I]f we are going to be compelled to learn Hindi . . . I would perhaps not be able to do it because of my age, and perhaps I would not be willing to do it because of the amount of constraint you put on me. . . . This kind of intolerance makes us fear that the strong Centre which we need, a strong Centre which is necessary will mean the enslavement of people who do not speak the language of the Centre. I would, Sir, convey a warning on behalf of people of the South for the reason that there are already elements in South India who want separation. . . , and my honorable friends in U.P. do not help us in any way by flogging their idea [of] ‘Hindi Imperialism’ to the maximum extent possible. Sir, it is up to my friends in U.P. to have a whole India; it is up to them to have a Hindi-India. The choice is theirs. (131)

What’s interesting about this for me is the way it already shows the contradictions in the desire to have a strongly centralized government — it can’t be done easily in a country with such strong regional language traditions.

For more on how “official language” questions in India have evolved since the writing of the Constitution, see this Wikipedia entry.


People have lots of complaints about the Indian Constitution — it’s ridiculously long, for one thing, and punted on several highly controversial questions (one of them being language, the other being the “Uniform Civil Code”). People who dislike caste reservations also often cite the Constituent Assembly as in effect the starting point for a system they feel has spiraled out of control.

But what I think is impressive about this process is the strong attempt made to include as many of India’s diverse voices as possible, without sacrificing a vision of effective centralized government. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution may be clearer and simpler, but it was written exclusively by property-holding white men who all spoke a single language (early America was actually much more linguistically diverse than people think). Native Americans were not invited, though in fact this was their land before the colonists came. Women were not invited, nor were African Americans. Despite its flaws, India’s Constitution did a much better job at defining the new nation inclusively than America’s did.

134 thoughts on “Diversity in the Indian Constitution (Guha Chapter 6)

  1. On Hindu personal law (from an article by Guha):

    Ambedkar’s work on the Constitution is well known. Less well known are his labours on the reform of Hindu personal laws. Basing himself on a draft prepared by Sir B. N. Rau, Ambedkar sought to bring the varying interpretations and traditions of Hindu law into a single unified code. But this act of codification was also an act of radical reform, by which the distinctions of caste were made irrelevant, and the rights of women greatly enhanced.

    Those who want to explore the details of these changes are directed to Mulla’s massive Principles of Hindu Law (now in its 18th edition), or to the works of the leading authority on the subject, Professor J.D.M. Derrett. For our purposes, it is enough to summarise the major changes as follows; (1) For the first time, the widow and daughter were awarded the same share of property as the son; (2) for the first time, women were allowed to divorce a cruel or negligent husband; (3) for the first time, the husband was prohibited from taking a second wife; (4) for the first time, a man and woman of different castes could be married under Hindu law; (5) for the first time, a Hindu couple could adopt a child of a different caste.

    Also: In the vanguard of the opposition was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In a single year, 1949, the RSS organised as many as 79 meetings in Delhi where effigies of Nehru and Ambedkar were burnt, and where the new Bill was denounced as an attack on Hindu culture and tradition.

    A major leader of the movement against the new Bill was a certain Swami Karpatri. In speeches in Delhi and elsewhere, he challenged Ambedkar to a public debate on the new Code. To the Law Minister’s claim that the Shastras did not really favour polygamy, Swami Karpatri quoted Yagnavalkya: “If the wife is a habitual drunkard, a confirmed invalid, a cunning, a barren or a spendthrift woman, if she is bitter-tongued, if she has got only daughters and no son, if she hates her husband, (then) the husband can marry a second wife even while the first is living.” The Swami supplied the precise citation for this injunction: the third verse of the third chapter of the third section of Yagnavalkya’s Smriti on marriage.


    So the “orthodox” may have hated the laws at the time, but does anyone, including the most recalcitrant of the lot, debate these things seriously today? The constituents blew an opportunity to initiate similarly widespread and potent reforms on 1/10 of the ummah, out of fear more than anything else, imo.

  2. Selvan: I actually agree with you on the application of the Uniform Laws when it comes to issues of women and children. However I dont think the impetus for that is because the personal law issues are being settled in mosques. Thats untrue and irrelevant and thats where I disagree with you. The impetus should be because the Sharia itself favors men in the Indian context.

    ACfd, I have read news reports and quoted the link in my previous comments that talks about personal law issues being settled in mosques where women are not allowed. I understand that you agree with the need for the common civil code. if possible can you explain the inheritance laws . I think it is fairly biased against women. While the Hindu personal laws are reformed for giving equal rights to women, the other laws are not. I doubt that many people who oppose uniform civil code really know what they are opposing.

  3. ACFD:

    Whats up man? I dont see you around here anymore. We miss you!

    I restrict myself to two kinds of posts:

    1. Funny. Like some of Anna’s posts/photo captions

    2. Posts that call for or praise expansion of Government control over healthcare, marriage, Hindus, economy and other facets of life.

    risible #51, and other posts which say: does anyone, including the most recalcitrant of the lot, debate these things seriously today?

    I think most of those who are say this are missing the point.

    By all means, the Indian Constitution may have resulted in good results. But the method is flawed, and will not stand the test of time. These changes should not have been brought by Government dictat, but by the maturity of civic society. And yes, if this maturity comes about in the year 3092 AD, then so be it.

    What do you think is better: That widows and daughters are given a share of property because they are loved and cared for, or because the Government mandates it? What do you think will happen to those widows and daughters when a repressive regime comes about before a change in civic society? What do you think will happen if it’s cheaper to bribe Government employees to look the other way (tamper with records/affidavits) so that the sons can throw out the widows and daughters with impunity? What do you think is happening in India nowadays?

    The means are more important than the end.

    M. Nam

  4. Risible wrote: The constituents blew an opportunity to initiate similarly widespread and potent reforms on 1/10 of the ummah, out of fear more than anything else, imo.

    Expect that thew Hindu code bill went nowhere, due to the lobbying (in India, the term includes rioting) of Hindus. Real reform of Hindu Law (the kind that upsets JGandhi) took place in the 50s and has nothing to do with the constitution-making process. The constituents blew nothing — they was no window for reform.

    Again, Pakistan got around to reforming anglo-Muhammadan law in 1961, and the orthodox hated it. But (until Zia) they couldn’t do anything. But there are important, and tragic, structural reasons why Pakistan and Bangladesh can reform Muslim Personal Law and India can’t (remember, this is the same set of case law!).

  5. ” A few years ago, a young girl of 18, Sadaf Rizvi, broke conventions by praying in a mosque in conservative Lucknow city in northern India…”

    Ikram, do you have the link to that piece of information? I might know her from a long time ago.

  6. Are you a muslim woman, Ponniyin? I know that’s a hot topic at Sulekha, but I’m not sure it was ever resolved? I’m sure your views could be correct, possibly gleaned from having visited every mosque in India in a Burka, but as Al-Chutiya mentioned to you in the first Guha thread, woman are allowed in mosques in many places (that he knew of) in India.

    Good question.. Maybe you should also ask the same to Amardeep.

    Are you a Dalit, Amardeep?. I know that’s a hot topic at Sepiamutiny, but I’m not sure it was ever resolved. I’m sure your views could be correct, possibly gleaned from having visited every temple in India as a Dalit, but as many others mentioned to you in the many threads, Dalits are allowed in temples in many places (that he knew of) in India.
  7. Expect that thew Hindu code bill went nowhere, due to the lobbying (in India, the term includes rioting) of Hindus. Real reform of Hindu Law (the kind that upsets JGandhi) took place in the 50s and has nothing to do with the constitution-making process. The constituents blew nothing — they was no window for reform.

    You’re right. I shouldn’t have said constituents. As the article I cited mentioned, the Hindu Laws were passed in 55 and 56.

    What do you think is better: That widows and daughters are given a share of property because they are loved and cared for, or because the Government mandates it? What do you think will happen to those widows and daughters when a repressive regime comes about before a change in civic society? What do you think will happen if it’s cheaper to bribe Government employees to look the other way (tamper with records/affidavits) so that the sons can throw out the widows and daughters with impunity? What do you think is happening in India nowadays?

    Hmm. The South wasn’t ready for civil rights. Perhaps we should have waited for an organic change of heart to come over the southern white man before imposing our modernity on them too?

  8. this is from Asra Nomani, maybe Ikram and Al-C-f-d should provide her a list of mosques where women are allowed in India.

    Asra Nomani in Washington Post.. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50097-2004Jan2.html

    Arlington, Va.: I would hate for you to blame the separation requirements solely on one ethnic group, the Arabs. I used to attend a mosque in Cleveland, Ohio that was primarily Pakastani and the board members of the mosque mostly Pakastani. They required all women to enter from a different door and pray on the upper level as opposed to the lower level where the men prayed. This is hurtful to the Muslim society to put the blame on one ethnic group. Who and what is to blame is ignorance and backwardness that comes from a small minority of men and women that control the majority of the Muslim community. Asra Nomani: Dearest friend, Your point is very legitimate, and one that I have thought about deeply. After all, of the five members on our board, one is from India (my father) and the other from Pakistan. And let’s acknowledge that, along with Wahhabis and Salafis, scholars from other schools of jurisprudence have accepted the segregation and absence of women from mosques. I will tell you why my experience and reporting prompted me to identify Arab culture. In part, Islamic scholars chronicle the introduction of segregation and partition in Islamic history to Arab culture. Also, in talking to so many members of mosques in America, it is with the arrival of students and immigrants from Arab countries that partitions started getting higher and higher in mosques. You are absolutely right, however, that Muslims of other ethnicities cling to these ideas of separation and silence. I, too, am very sensitive to the point that you are making for in my travels through India and Pakistan, I was able to enter only three mosques and was not allowed to even enter the mosque next to my ancestral village home. Ultimately, you are absolutely right. We must liberate ourselves from oppressive thinking expressed quite universally throughout not only the Muslim world, but the larger global community.
  9. Ponniyin wrote:

    I doubt that many people who oppose uniform civil code really know what they are opposing.

    I think I know what I am opposing.

    A UCC is not necessarily more progressive. India could establish the Code of Hamurabbi as a UCC, or declare that all Indians will henceforth be coverd by Saudi law. Neither is progressive. On the other hand, each Indian state could pick the personal laws of a different Scandavian country — not uniform, very progressive.

    Aside from the political difficulties of a UCC (an idea which has been co-opted by communalist and seems to mean extending the Hindu laws to all Indians), there are good reasons why different communities should have access to different laws: they have different views on social relations.

    For example, Catholic marriage is a divine sacrament, an indissoluble bond between a man and a woman. Muslim marriage is a revocable contract, a transaction with no divine import. Two fundamentally different views of what marriage is — and it has practical implications. Muslim marriage contracts are supposed to have enforceable conditions, similar to pre-nuptial agreements. Pre-nups are not supposed to be enforceable in a Catholic marriage.

    So, in designing a UCC would the Indian government allow enforceable pre-nuptial conditions? Either way you go, you create a system of marriage that violates the tenets of one faith or the other. And neither is “wrong” or less progressive. It’s just a different way of viewing marriage. All UCCs would be non-secular because they would necessarily favour the beliefs of one faith over another.

    So what’s the truly secular solution? I’m glad you asked, Ponniyin, its freedom of choice in personal law. Allow any Indian citizen to live under any personal law system. Let Catholics have (obviously non-canonical) Muslim marriages with pre-nups. Let Muslims adopt using Hindu laws. And have some system to reconcile those who switch between systems. India’s (legal) diverstiy and depth of law is a strength, not a weakness, and shouldn’t be discarded.

  10. I, too, am very sensitive to the point that you are making for in my travels through India and Pakistan, I was able to enter only three mosques and was not allowed to even enter the mosque next to my ancestral village home.

    Wow, that is shocking.

  11. Either way you go, you create a system of marriage that violates the tenets of one faith or the other.

    Why do I need to care about not violating A,B or C faith. As I said before I’m arguing with a “human rights” perspective. Whether we really think men / women are equal before the law or not and whether the inheritance / divorce / etc and other personal laws are “just” .

  12. risible: >>The South wasn’t ready for civil rights. Perhaps we should have waited for an organic change of heart to come over the southern white man before imposing our modernity on them too?

    We’re not talking about freedom of individuals here – that’s not debatable. The widows and daughters are free to walk out and earn and keep their own wealth. We’re talking about what constitutes just and equitable distribution of ancestral property in various communities in a diverse India.

    I’m disappointed at your poor analogy – I’ve always read your posts with interest.

    Ikran #60 – Great post! I completely agree that UCC is anti-individualistic and should be scrapped. Hindus (along with the rest) should have their own personal laws that vary from caste to caste and region to region.

    M. Nam

  13. I’m disappointed at your poor analogy – I’ve always read your posts with interest.

    Oh well. We all have up and down days Moor Nam, c’est la vie :-)

  14. Ikran #60 – Great post! I completely agree that UCC is anti-individualistic and should be scrapped. Hindus (along with the rest) should have their own personal laws that vary from caste to caste and region to region.

    So what is your criteria for belonging to a caste?. caste determined by “birth” or determined by the “virtues” of a person irrespective of birth.

  15. Hindus (along with the rest) should have their own personal laws that vary from caste to caste and region to region.

    aren’t we privilaging “groups” here over “individuals”? the implicit assumption in your statement is that people voluntarily choose to live in groups and follow “group values”. but this is clearly not necessarily true. many people are born into groups and in such situations the values of such people are formed by this accident of birth. where is “free” choice here? also you seem to be gainsaying the implicit group pressure people feel to adhere to norms that they might find detestable, and that might be just as coercive as state enforced norms and laws. now i am not saying that the state should step in (since like you i too distrust most coercive organizations), but we should not romanticize civil society groups either (here lies the key to ambedkar’s animosity toward village life; similar groups pressures are present to a much lesser extent in cities).

  16. 23 DizzyDesi

    It aslo explained why India became one of the few countries where the constitution disciminated against the majority (putting it in the company of countries like apharthied South Africa).

    –> Can you please point out where the constitution discriminated against the majority ?

    A realization that these leaders’ claim to fame is this ugly document will allow people to rexamine todays ideas without a bias towards these leaders ideas.

    –> So, you want today’s ideas to be examined in a vaccuum ? Without referencing any historical influences ? Would that apply to your approach too ?

    24 DizzyDesi

    I kinda tend to think that the killing of a 80 year old leader does not even begin to compare to the killings that resulted becuase of direct action day and the creation of pakistan, even if the leader was held in very highy regard.

    –> Are we now discussing the role of muslim league in drawing up the constitution after independence in a vaccuum or are we bringing the entire history of muslim league, from its formation, while analyzing their role after independence ? Wouldnt it make sense for you to follow what you pointed out above ?

  17. So what is your criteria for belonging to a caste?. caste determined by “birth” or determined by the “virtues” of a person irrespective of birth.

    Who am I to decide what caste various people profess to belong to? I have neither the temerity nor interest to step on others’ individuality or freedom, and I want others to extend the same courtesy to me.

    If someone wants it to be based on birth, so be it. If someone else wants to be included in a particular caste because of his/her gunas, then so be it. If others want to take up the caste of a spouse, then so be it. To each his/her own.

    This is where the Indian constitution is flawed. It freezes a person’s identity based on his/her birth, and does not allow for personal change unless it comes under the parameters set by the Government. This will end in pain and social unrest. Communal and Caste riots are a symptom of the malaise.

    M. Nam

  18. –> Can you please point out where the constitution discriminated against the majority ?

    Articles 25 (b) and 30 of the constitution (comments 29, 31)

    The wording may have been just another case of badly written requirement, the constitution is littered with such examples, but the consequences have been huge.

  19. Who am I to decide what caste various people profess to belong to? I have neither the temerity nor interest to step on others’ individuality or freedom, and I want others to extend the same courtesy to me. If someone wants it to be based on birth, so be it. If someone else wants to be included in a particular caste because of his/her gunas, then so be it. If others want to take up the caste of a spouse, then so be it. To each his/her own.

    This looks like an “yes and no” answer. Since you are advocating the “laws based on caste”, don’t you think you should define “caste in more concrete terms”. Can a person belong to two or more castes simultaneously?. With a billion people and thousands of castes, what is the criteria to be used in solving problems that could arise between two caste groups. Can you clarify your position by giving some examples of real life scenarios?.

  20. PS,

    What I’m try to say is, as far as the Government is concerned, the caste of a person should be irrelevant. If there are caste-based laws, then people should be able to move in and out of caste groups (much like we move in and out of stocks) as and when they please.

    1. Have thousands of caste-based and religion based laws for inheritance etc. In addition,
    2. Have one Uniform Civil Code for everyone.

    Let (adult)people choose what they want to when they turn 18 (with the option of switching as and when they please). If there is a conflict between people of two different castes/religions, then the UCC prevails.

    M. Nam

  21. 29 DizzyDesi

    The fact that the state is doing this is particularly irritating in the case of Hinduism as Hinduism has become so inclusive that it cannot be sticltly called a religion any more

    –> What is it called now ? Way of life ? An amorphous blob entering people’s heads without their knowledge at birth ? Did any one tell the practicing hindus that they are not practicing a religion any more ? :)

    30 JGandhi

    I mainly want government to stop giving preferential treatment to any particular religion and I want the government to give Hindu insitutions the same autonomy other institutions get.

    –> Fair enough. It is high time indian constitution is changed to reflect separation of religion from state. Separating out the poison of (all) religions from state would be a good start.

    53 MoorNam

    What do you think is better: That widows and daughters are given a share of property because they are loved and cared for, or because the Government mandates it? What do you think will happen to those widows and daughters when a repressive regime comes about before a change in civic society? What do you think will happen if it’s cheaper to bribe Government employees to look the other way (tamper with records/affidavits) so that the sons can throw out the widows and daughters with impunity? What do you think is happening in India nowadays?

    –> And after the civic society has matured enough to let widows and daughters share property equally, government employees will stop taking bribes en masse and families will stop throwing out widows and daughters ? While it sounds ideal to wait for indian populace(or at least a majority of them) to provide a share of property to widows and daughters, wouldnt it be prudent to lay down a marker that it is bad to do that(toss out widows and daughters) and then wait for the society to catch up ? Arent you pointing to the lack of consistency and integrity in implementation(a very common problem in India) to the actual desirability of the law itself ? Isnt one different from the other ?

    60 Ikran

    All UCCs would be non-secular because they would necessarily favour the beliefs of one faith over another.

    –> If the UCC is declared by fiat, what you say is true. But a UCC arrived at through discussion would require (mostly retrograde) faiths to give and take from each other. And by doing that, maybe the entire edifice of faith might just take a knocking.

    So what’s the truly secular solution? I’m glad you asked, Ponniyin, its freedom of choice in personal law. Allow any Indian citizen to live under any personal law system. Let Catholics have (obviously non-canonical) Muslim marriages with pre-nups. Let Muslims adopt using Hindu laws. And have some system to reconcile those who switch between systems. India’s (legal) diverstiy and depth of law is a strength, not a weakness, and shouldn’t be discarded.

    –> What about equality before constitution ? Isnt separate but equal in the eyes of the constitution a perverse option ? Transaction costs ? Having one legal system at least concentrates costs of maintenance(updates, new laws, education, training, standards) while trying to resolve disputes. Having separate but equal personal laws is a recipe for disaster and a financial drain.

  22. MoorNam,

    Are you for or against Uniform Civil Code?. In one comment you say “UCC is anti-individualistic and should be scrapped” and in another say “there should be an UCC for everyone and in case of conflicts between groups, UCC should prevail”.

    Maybe I’m not getting the “nuance” ( because I am stupid as claimed by Ikram. :-) ) Can you explain with a real life scenario of how the “caste based personal laws” can be used to settle disputes within people of same caste and different caste. And if we are finally going to rely on UCC, whether the “caste based laws” are redundant and unnecessary.

  23. Fascinating discussion here. Heat and light.

    Would it be fair to state that the Hindutva/Secular view (these monikers used for want of a better defining term for what comes next) of the UCC is that cultural backwardness of the Muslim community has been codified in the Constitution which creates the unjust nature of secularism, as currently practised in India while the Muslim jurisprudential view, expounded above by Ikram and to some extent ACD, on this is that personal views and/or methods of practise of different sub-communities within the supergroup called the “Hindu Community”, explain, and justify, that personal laws should remain different for different groupings of people? (Btw, I know of no Shah Bano equivalent case within the “Hindu Community” where religious/personal law is considered binding, and not amenable to judicial oversight both in terms of socio-cultural acceptance and jurisprudential thought within the “Hindu Community”).

    Not baiting anybody, but it does seem unjust to individuals if, under the guise of a misguided secularism, we let groups decide the daily conduct of that individual’s life without any judicial oversight. When that group comes with as much baggage as the Muslims, not considering that this is an entire religious community which is by itself a major issue, then it becomes that much more unjust and complicated.

  24. 70 DizzyDesi

    Articles 25 (b) and 30 of the constitution (comments 29, 31).

    –> Thanks. I am assuming you were referring to the hindu religion, in your comment, as defined by the constitution(hindu, jain and buddhist) and not to hinduism alone. Because your comment pointed out only points where hindus perceived they have been victimized.

  25. Are you for or against Uniform Civil Code?.

    I am for the existence of UCC, but against the imposition of it on anyone against their will.

    Can you explain with a real life scenario of how the “caste based personal laws” can be used to settle disputes within people of same caste and different caste

    Let’s say there’s a caste A1, where the social experience of marriage (since thousands of years) has resulted in a culture where the caste members believe that in case the husband dies, wife’s share of the property depends on certain parameters.

    1. If they’ve been married for less than a year, she gets nothing.
    2. She gets 4% of his property for each year of marrage there after (from the second year).
    3. She gets 1% more for every child.
    4. If they were married for more than 15 years, she gets everything.

    Now, if both the husband and wife have registered under the same caste, there’s no conflict.

    Let’s say the husband has registered under caste A1 but the wife took up UCC (which says that wife should get everything even though they’ve been married for only a day). In this case, A1 will prevail over UCC, because the claimant cannot violate the rights of the claimee.

    Let’s reverse, and say that the husband registered under UCC and the wife registered under caste A1′s laws. In this case, wife (widow) lucks out because she’s getting everything by default.

    This was a simple example. By and large, if you let people decide for themselves, they’ll keep it simple and transparent. There will be less room for bribery and corruption if you leave the Government out of personal matters.

    M. Nam

  26. “This was a simple example. By and large, if you let people decide for themselves, they’ll keep it simple and transparent. There will be less room for bribery and corruption if you leave the Government out of personal matters.”

    This sounds like a marriage contract, which incidentally is permitted under Islam. Nothing prevents the parties from ensuring greater rights to property, granting the woman the right to divorce and restricting the right of triple talaq through the nikahnama.

    Dizzydesi

    “Any way you cut it the fact that ML was represented (esp. after Pakistan) and the Hindu Mahasabha was not, reeks of hypocrisy.”

    While the Mahasabha was not represented as a separate political party in assembly, there were several Mahasabha members in attendance, most prominently Shyama Prasad Mookherjee who was a member of Nehru’s cabinet. The Hindu nationalist voice did find space in the constituent assembly. The main opposition to the UCC came not from Muslim members (who were relatively few) but from conservative Hindu members who saw this as an attempt to tamper with Hindu law. The main proponents for the UCC were liberals like Minoo Masani and the band of fesity women led by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Hansa Mehta and Renuka Ray.

  27. Excellent post, Amardeep! I don’t have a whole lot to add, from a substantive point of view (especially since the discussion appears to have branched off into personal law issues)…but I did find this very interesting:

    I know that there are still neo-Gandhian thinkers out there who value highly decentralized government as a way of preventing tyranny.

    I think this was probably true of the Founding Fathers in the United States as well. The US Constitution was preceded by the Articles of Confederation, under which the federal government was largely powerless and more importantly, almost penniless. Even the Constitution leans heavily towards a decentralized government, given that the federal government’s powers are specifically enumerated and limited (even if the current size of the federal administration belies the limitations on power).

  28. I am for the existence of UCC, but against the imposition of it on anyone against their will.
    This was a simple example. By and large, if you let people decide for themselves, they’ll keep it simple and transparent. There will be less room for bribery and corruption if you leave the Government out of personal matters.

    Fine, You also talked about “free” movement between “castes”. In your example above, what happens if the wife decides to move to a different “caste” where the rules are more “liberal” towards women. What rules should apply then.

    And more importantly, does anyone need to be restricted to just one “caste”. Can he/she be a member of more than one “caste” simultaneously ?.

  29. PS,

    We are just debating here – not drafting laws. Suffice to say, left to the people themselves, they will work out solutions that will be agreeable to most.

    M. Nam

  30. By and large, if you let people decide for themselves, they’ll keep it simple and transparent.

    This is a huge fallcy. The “people” cant do sh$% … 40% of them cant even read or write in India. This whole “libertarian” thing does not fly in India (it doesnt even in the US.) I am always amazed at the so called libertarian politicians who campaign under “government should get out” mantra …. why the heck are they running for a “government” office??

  31. Moornam:

    We are just debating here – not drafting laws. Suffice to say, left to the people themselves, they will work out solutions that will be agreeable to most.

    I disagree. Even with the simple example between two individuals, you know how the problems can multiply if we follow your scheme for “personal laws for each caste” and there will never be a solution agreeable to the two until it is enforced by another neutral party, that is the government based on its own laws. And that is what we call a UCC. Why take all the trouble to finally end up with a UCC and why not dump all the personal laws.

  32. Krishnan wrote: the UCC is declared by fiat, what you say is true. But a UCC arrived at through discussion would require (mostly retrograde) faiths to give and take from each other. And by doing that, maybe the entire edifice of faith might just take a knocking.

    Why would catholics compromise about pre-nuptial conditions with Muslims? Their faith views marriage as a sacrament, not somthing to be haggled over with followers of a heretical prophet. And, with adjustments, vice versa. The “prize” of a UCC isn’t worth the “compromise” of going to Hell (or whatever).

    More importantly, the SM crowd is ‘under-religious’ compared with India. As “Razib the Atheest” could probably show with some numbers, South Asia is one of the most religious regions of the world. The “edifice of faith” in India isn’t going anywhere, and haggling over adoption laws won’t change that.

    Purush — I’m not sure I follow. Muslim Personal law has juducial oversight. That’s what Shah Bano showed. In fact, MPL is all Judge-made law. I think I explained that in comment #33 and #35.

  33. Ikram,

    You characterize those who support UCC as “communalist” and those who support different laws for different communities as secular, do you by any chance also believe “freedom is slavery” and “war is peace”?

    I consider a UCC to be the only real form of secularism. Of course most laws will violate some religious sensibilities but secularism is not defined by government accomodating religious beliefs. Secularism is government acting neither for or against religious beliefs and not supporting or inhibiting religious beliefs.

    You cannot claim to be a secularist and simultaneously support the force of the government behind laws based on Sharia, Dharma and the Bible. You can have one or the other but not both.

  34. Ikram -

    My point was that the Shah Bano case forced politics, whether due to mercenary or principled reasons, to take a stand against the standing, secular law on which the court judgement was based, because the religious/personal law, under which Shah Bano was unfairly discriminated against, left her with no recourse under Muslim law, as understood then. So the dichotmy is: You are either a good muslim and therefore you accept any injustice that comes with it, or you get secular justice, as generally understood, and lose your standing as a good Muslim.

  35. As many readers may be aware, the Indian Constitution was worked out over the course of three years (1946-1949), by a Constituent Assembly that contained 300 members, including representation by religious minorities, members of marginal groups (i.e., Adivasis), as well as a small but vocal group of women.

    Finally, going to comment on the blog..

    Though the assembly consisted of 300 members only 200 and odd of those members were elected. Close to 90 members were from the princely states appointed by the princes.. In order to appease them, constitutional safeguards were put into place that offered them privy purses for them and their families for eternity. It took a lot of effort on the part of Indra Gandhi (and a constitutional amendment in 1971) to get rid of those “princely privileges”. It is ridiculous to read that the Nizam of Hyderabad was paid 1 million dollars from the government treasury year after year as the “privy purse” when other people were living in famine like conditions. Someone should file a RTI to get the total amount paid to the “princes” over the 24 years from 47-71.

  36. 84 Ikram

    Why would catholics compromise about pre-nuptial conditions with Muslims? Their faith views marriage as a sacrament, not somthing to be haggled over with followers of a heretical prophet. And, with adjustments, vice versa. The “prize” of a UCC isn’t worth the “compromise” of going to Hell (or whatever).

    –> That catholics and muslims live in the same nation(india), under a constitution that promises all its adherents equality, is, in my opinion, enough for them to discuss the kind of code they would live with. If indians choose to hold their religious identity as superior to any other identity(national, economic etc.,), then what you say applies, most definitely. My experience of indians in India is that religious identity lives along with the rest of the identities in a jumble. While inter-religious communication in India has been rough(with quite a few lives lost in the process), that is no reason to stop discussion on a common code.

    More importantly, the SM crowd is ‘under-religious’ compared with India. As “Razib the Atheest” could probably show with some numbers, South Asia is one of the most religious regions of the world. The “edifice of faith” in India isn’t going anywhere, and haggling over adoption laws won’t change that.

    –> Everyone knows SM-ites are under religious(and hence, enlightened) while indians(I am not sure we are arguing about UCC for South Asia) are most religious. So, while SM-ites can have enlightened discussions on UCC, the teeming masses(not so enlightened) will prefer to focus on the virus of their faith and posting umpteen replies on SM is not going to change that. Did I cover the snootiness in your reply adequately ?

  37. Krishnan: I am assuming you were referring to the hindu religion, in your comment, as defined by the constitution(hindu, jain and buddhist)

    Yes.

    –> What is it called now ? Way of life ? An amorphous blob entering people’s heads without their knowledge at birth ? Did any one tell the practicing hindus that they are not practicing a religion any more ? :)

    Tough one: Here is what I have belived for some time now.

    Hinduism does not have any philosophy that is universally accepted. It does not have a book that is universally accepted (this came as a shock to me – I always used to think that no matter what other books Hindus differed on, they all followed the Vedas) It does not have a god who is universally worshipped. And here’s the kicker – it does not even require belief in god. Heck, an atheist Charuvaka follower would even have Brihaspati as a guru.

    By definition Atheism is incompatible with religion. Hinduism on the other hand encompasses both Astik and Nastik philosophies (which includes atheism).

    Philosophically Hinduism cannot be a religion.

    An individual who calls himself a Hindu typically belongs to a set of people who follow a distinct way of life/code, worship a specific god/ set of gods and have a specific theological view (dwaita, advaita, etc). Anywhere other than India, this would have been sufficient to term this individual as following a distinct religion. In India, more often than not, he would be considered to be following a ‘flavour’ of Hinduism.

    Since it does not define what characteristics make up a Hindu, ultimately, it is up to the individual’s community to define themselves as Hindus or not.

    For instance, I have had friends who listed their religion as Hindu and caste as Jain as well as those who just listed their caste as Jain. Even a follower of charuvaka’s philosophy can claim to be Hindu (and would even be following Brihaspati).

    Legally it is a bit of a mess (since there is an legal incentive for people to not be classified as Hindus, several communities have tried to classify themselves as non-Hindus, and courts have to try to define Hinduism a religion).

    Today Hinduism acts as an umbrella for a variety of distinct theologies, philosophies, practices and beliefs. This is wonderful to observe in one sense – so many widely differing beliefs get along with each other in Hinduism, while there is so much discord among many religions that differ only in a few details. A little amusing — Christianity has pan denominational churches, hindus have their pan religious temples!. On the other hand it can be disconcerting – after all if Hinduism accepts everything what exactly does Hinduism stand for?

  38. I am disappointed in Amardeep for calling anyone who criticizes anti-Hindu laws as “Hindutvavadis’.

    I had written my take on this topic on my blog. The three parts are I, II, III. From part III:

    Many years ago, I read Mr. Mohammedali Carim Chagla’s autobiography, ‘Roses in December’ Mr. M.C.Chagla was an eminent lawyer who worked for Jinnah and the Muslim League (Bombay) before it became separatist. He became the Chief Justice of the Bombay High court, Ambassador to the USA, Mexico, Cuba, Vice- chancellor University of Bombay, High Commissioner to England, Minister of Education (UGC pay scales etc. were his creation) and so on. This book was written in 1973-74. and published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. This is an excerpt from Roses in December, one of the truly great autobiographies written by an eminent Indian.

    Excerpt begins p84-88 The Congress government has also often followed what I can only call the old British policy of communalism. In my view, if it is communalism to pass over and ignore a man with merit simply because he happens to be a Muslim or a Christian or a Parsi, it is also communalism to appoint a person merely because he happens to be a Muslim or a member of some other minority community. It is injurious to the interests of the minorities themselves to have posts and offices filled by men who have no merit, merely because they want representation in high offices. The minorities come to expect that they will get certain posts whether the men deserve to get them or not. It is much better that they learnt to work hard and deserve the post.

    When I’m told that there is no minority representation in any particular post, I often ask the question; Is there any deserving person who has been passed over? If so, it is injustice, and we must fight against it. But if there is no deserving person, then to clamor for a post is really to be communal. And to yield to that clamour is also to betray a communal spirit. It amounts to a reproduction to the bad old days of discredited British policies. Such policies result in bitterness between majority and minority communities, and lead to a sense of frustration on the part of a member of the majority community, where legitimate claims were overlooked in favor of a less deserving member of a minority community.

    Consider the attitude of the government to the question of a Uniform Civil Code. Although the Directive Principles of the State enjoins such a code, Government has refused to do anything about it on the plea that the minorities will resent any attempt at imposition. Unless they are agreeable it would not be fair and proper to make the law applicable to them. I wholly and emphatically disagree with this view. The Constitution is binding on everyone, majority and minority; and if the Constitution contains a directive that directive must be accepted and implemented. Jawaharlal showed great strength and courage in getting the Hindu Reform Bill passed, but he accepted the policy of laissez-faire where the Muslims and other minorities were concerned. I am horrified to find that in my country, while monogamy has been made the law for the Hindus, Muslims can still indulge in the luxury of polygamy. It is an insult to womanhood; and Muslim women, I know, resent this discrimination between Muslim women and Hindu women.

    I believe in democracy as an article of faith. To me, it is much more than the general elections, adult franchise, parliamentary forms of government, cabinet responsibility, and so on. These are all very important, and they have to be maintained, but more than that, one must have an outlook on life and an attitude which is democratic. I believe in democracy because democracy means freedom, not unbridled freedom but freedom consistent with order and security of the State. It also means respect for the individual and his right to think his own thoughts, to express his thoughts freely and to experiment with his own life in a way that does no harm to others.

  39. I’m an Indo-American of South Indian origins (Tamil). These are my views of Hindi as being the national language of India (as opposed to being a national language of India, along with Gujurati, Malayalam, Urdu, etc.): 1. I personally don’t think that Tamils are anti-Hindi. We’re just pro-Tamil. 2. From what I’ve seen with my own eyes, I’ve seen very arrogant North Indians in Southern India. They are as arrogant as the Dubai Arabs that I had commented about (but without the financial wealth)! One of my Konkani friends studies in Anamallai University (sp?) in Tamil Nadu. He regaurds himself as “neither a NI or a SIndian”, and he told me very objectively that the Northies on campus were very arrogant. In the Bollywood films, there is very much an air of arrogance and racist superiority against the South Indians. For example, Westerners will watch dubbed foreign films or foreign films with the subtitles, however, the North Indians re-do the entire film with a cast of Meditteranean-features North Indians. I’ve seen clips of Hindi films which smack of racism and stereotype perpetuations agains South Indians. In light of all this, why would a South Indian (or a Tamil in particular) speak the language of a people with an imperialistic mindset? 2b. We associate Hindi with discriminating and arrogant people. If a South Indian goes to Delhi, I’ve never heard them really say good things about Delhi. If you go to an Indian Student Association, you’ll always see South Indians being lectured on speaking Hindi by North Indians. You’ll see cliques, without a doubt, based on ethnic-linguistic lines, a good bit.
    3. What’s wrong with accepting English as one of the official languages of India? It’s the defacto lingua franca of India, whether we accept it or not. Even anti-English people, mostly in the North, understand English and will attempt to learn English with more vigour than a South Indian language. Northies, just like Southies, all aspire to move out of the country to USA/Australia/etc. Moreover, even intra-state travel in India requires English, especially for more skilled jobs.
    4. I personally think that having Tamil, or some other Dravidian language from India, as a strategic military language is not a bad idea. Our historic enemies, Urdu/Punjabi speaking Pakistanis, can easily understand our intercepted radio transmissions. So it may be an idea worth exploring to have Tamil (or Kannada, etc) as a language of communication, in much the same way that Americans utilized the Hopi Native Americans during WW2.
    5. An Indian should only learn 2 languages in India: The language of the state that she/he is receiving their primary education and English. A 3-language solution is a bad idea and inheritently discriminatory against Southies. Why do I say this? Because a Hindi-speaker or a Sanskrit-derived speaker (i.e. Gujarat, Punjab, Bengali) would have a much easier time to learn Hindi than a South Indian. So in effect, a Sanskrit-derived speaker doesn’t have to work as hard to learn Hindi. It’s like an American learning German as opposed to Tamil. Also, A South Indian has no need to study Hindi, becuase 99% of us don’t care to move to the BIMARU states (Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, UP, Delhi). We’d rather move to the Gulf Countries, or Canada, where English is spoken. Come to think of it, so do N. Indians – they’d also rather settle down in the USA than South India (or even North India for that matter).
    6. I’ve heard North Indians tell me that “if you can speak Hindi, you can easily pick up German language.” Well if this is true, English is a Germanic language. Why can’t they speak Hindi like South Indians?
    7. One logic of Hindi being the only official language of India is that it’s the most widely spoken. Using this ‘logic’, shouldn’t the crow be the national bird of India VS. the peacock, since it’s more numerous? 8. The official language of the Indian courts – up until the 1850s – was Farsi!!! There are absolutely no Iranians in India!!! Even the Mughals were Turkic origins (i.e. Uzbekistan – borat lands). No Indian raised a fuss about this. Hmmmmm…I wonder why? The Muslims of India have no problems learning Arabic, even though this language has no commercial benefits within India (or perhaps even in the UAE?). Hmmmm… I wonder why.

    Finally, I like Hindi, and I actually speak a little of it. I took the initiatives to learn, and I’m OK at it.

  40. “But the fact that the most prominent Dalit representative and one of the most prominent women in the Assembly saw the “village” as a site of backwardness and repression, not liberation, cannot simply be ignored. They saw the move to centralization — and a focus on individual, rather than group or “corporate” rights — as a necessary step towards nudging Indian society towards caste and gender equality.”

    I think this represents a major flaw in the logic of the Indian Constitution. While at first, it would seem that having a strong, liberal, progressive central government is the best way to protect individual rights over majority-ism, and ‘passionate factions,’ it turns out that have a highly distributed system of power is actually far superior in this respect. One flaw is that those in power(the constituent assembly) made the mistake of thinking that they, or people like them, would remain in power indefinitely. They did not realize how their form of government is so ridiculously susceptible to ‘group’ interests. I suggest anyone who hasn’t read the Federalist Papers should read the 10th Paper by Madison, who presents an thought-provoking discussion about preventing the ‘violence of factions’ from overly influencing the new Nation’s policies.

    Another flaw is that the framers of the IC did not see that while distributed Village power might lead to cases of extreme backwardness, of caste oppresssion, and lack of Women’s rights, there will always exist the option for the opressed to ‘vote with their feet’ and move to another ‘village’ or city which is more appealing. Now I am not saying that in a place like India it is ‘easy’ to get up and move, but the fact that it is Possible makes all the difference. Generally if there must be government power, it is better that it exists at the State level than at the National level, at the regional Level rather than at the State level, and at the ‘village’ level rather than the regional level. This is not only important for preventing oppression, but for the simple fact that local governments will be better able to make decisions suited to the local condition. For example, one of the early effects of having a strong central government was the extensive promotion of Hindi…and we all know the potential catastrophe that could have had for the Integrity of the Union. Clearly an all-powerful central government was making an almost ‘administrative’ decision that would seem ridiculous and oppressive to a majority of its citizens. Lets say we have a fundamentalist Muslim village somewhere in India, and it decides to enforce a Burqa rule. If you cant live under such conditions, you can go to another village where you can dress as you choose. Now say you have a central government which bans the Satanic Verses….where can you go to read the book?

    I am not saying it is ‘ok’ for even a village to have oppressive laws. Fundamental rights exist for good reasons. But it is better that any governmental ridiculousness do not cause catastrophe for the entire nation.

  41. Boston Mahesh: You may find this tidbit interesting. It covers the Anti-Hindi agitations that wiped out the Congress permanently in TN as a contender as the ruler of the state.

    The points you made are echoed, in humorous manner. A couple of quotes from the article:

    “Since every school in India teaches English, why can’t it be our link language? Why do Tamils have to study English for communication with the world and Hindi for communications within India? Do we need a big door for the big dog and a small door for the small dog? I say, let the small dog use the big door too!”

    and “It is claimed that Hindi should be common language because it is spoken by the majority. Why should we then claim the tiger as our national animal instead of the rat which is so much more numerous? Or the peacock as our national bird when the crow is ubiquitous?”

  42. Incidentally language chauvinism is something other South Indians often accuse Tamils of which proves one thing — other South Indians cannot truly appreciate a wonderful language when they hear one :-)

  43. Why should we then claim the tiger as our national animal instead of the rat which is so much more numerous? Or the peacock as our national bird when the crow is ubiquitous?

    If the consequences of choosing a national animal and a national language on the Indian citizens are the same, then sure, we can apply the same logic to both. Otherwise, the two merit separate considerations. :) Besides, being chosen as the national animal hasn’t turned out so well for the tiger.

  44. 89 DizzyDesi

    Hinduism does not have any philosophy that is universally accepted. It does not have a book that is universally accepted (this came as a shock to me – I always used to think that no matter what other books Hindus differed on, they all followed the Vedas) It does not have a god who is universally worshipped.

    –> My understanding of hinduism is that there is a God who is universally worshipped, it is just that the shape in which He/She/It is worshipped differs. The lack of an universal holy book has to do more with its structure(after all, if you (historically) allow only a small proportion to access its holy books, you cannot claim universality). When hindus claim there is no universal book, they forget that it is because of the discriminatory structure of hinduism itself and not because of an enlightened approach.

    By definition Atheism is incompatible with religion. Hinduism on the other hand encompasses both Astik and Nastik philosophies (which includes atheism).

    –> If you consider hinduism as strictly a label, worthy of a bumper sticker instead of a religion, you can define it to be whatever you want it to be. Just be clear that it also means everyone(other than you) will define and sell it the way they wish to. After all, if hindus dont know what they stand for, how would christians or muslims know what hindus stand for ?

  45. I also agree that English should be the sole national language of India. Requiring people to learn Hindi AND English often causes the regional languages to lose out. Panjabi, Gujarati and Bengali aren’t endangered but India has lots of interesting minor languages (Kutchi, Sindhi, Kashmiri) that are declining because native speakers have a hard time teaching their children to be fluent in three languages.

    Making English a national language would aid in India’s integration into the world economy and simultaneously preserve the local cultures of India.

  46. #89 DizzyDesi Hinduism does not have any philosophy that is universally accepted. It does not have a book that is universally accepted (this came as a shock to me – I always used to think that no matter what other books Hindus differed on, they all followed the Vedas) It does not have a god who is universally worshipped. –> My understanding of hinduism is that there is a God who is universally worshipped, it is just that the shape in which He/She/It is worshipped differs. The lack of an universal holy book has to do more with its structure(after all, if you (historically) allow only a small proportion to access its holy books, you cannot claim universality). When hindus claim there is no universal book, they forget that it is because of the discriminatory structure of hinduism itself and not because of an enlightened approach. By definition Atheism is incompatible with religion. Hinduism on the other hand encompasses both Astik and Nastik philosophies (which includes atheism). –> If you consider hinduism as strictly a label, worthy of a bumper sticker instead of a religion, you can define it to be whatever you want it to be. Just be clear that it also means everyone(other than you) will define and sell it the way they wish to. After all, if hindus dont know what they stand for, how would christians or muslims know what hindus stand for ?

    The gods being aspects of a single God/reality is only one school of thought…it did not have much currency outside of Brahminical institutions until relatively recently. I can tell you that it is most certainly not the interpretation of people in my grandparents’ generation in my non-Brahmin rural community. What’s wrong with being a polytheist anyway ? What makes a Hindu ?…it’s hard to say and we get slapped when we are inclusive of all Indic philosophies (i.e the Hindu-phobic Vijay Prashad takes us to task for “taking credit” for Buddhist concepts…he finds it troubling that we put Buddhism/Jainism within the Hindu fold. Apparently it is better to be dismissive and intolerant). It is easier to say what we are not…Hindus who are not comfortable with this make up large numbers of the VHP/Sangh Parivar who for some reason envy the absolutism of other faiths. I for one am happy to be a member of a tradition that allows for personal & impersonal god(s) and has no single book that defines it in its entirety

  47. Diversity in the Indian constitution? When Hindi gets to lord it over every other language? Yeah right.

  48. the Hindu-phobic Vijay Prashad takes us to task for “taking credit” for Buddhist concepts…he finds it troubling that we put Buddhism/Jainism within the Hindu fold. Apparently it is better to be dismissive and intolerant

    Not sure that dismissal/intolerance is the only other response – there can be a sliding scale of responses between two extremes. :)

    I don’t know who Vijay Prashad is and why you call him Hindu-phobic, but there was a move among the Buddhists to not have their philosophy/religion be considered part of Hinduism. There is some thinking that Buddhism was co-opted by Hinduism, even to the extent of assigning to Gautam Buddha the mantle of Vishnu’s avatar, and a very negative one at that. I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility, if it’s true that the rise of Buddhism threatened the livelihood of Hindu priests. Xtianity did something similar with pagan rituals and celebrations. Acknowledging the possibility doesn’t make one Hindu-phobic, IMO, because the other side is the desire that every philosophy that emerged in India has to fall under Hinduism, and that there can’t be any philosophy independent of it.

    The core narrative usually goes something like this. Danavas and daityas, demon enemies of the gods, had gained supremacy over the sacred cities of the earth through their exemplary moral conduct and control of the fire sacrifices. (Moral conduct is following the rules of theology, not genuine goodness, which explains why the demons often had an advantage.) To win back the supremacy of the gods, Vishnu incarnates on earth as the Buddha and preaches a doctrine that there is no soul, fire sacrifices and other sacred rituals are useless, the Vedas just priestly scribbling, the caste system a useless contrivance, while the body is supreme and should be indulged as there is no life after death. Convinced by these pleasurable doctrines, the demons sin often and mightily, fall from grace, and the old religion was reinstated with relief by a people who were ostensibly yearning for it all the while. In some other versions, notably the Skanda Purana, Vishnu resorts to this trickery to get back the sacred city of Kashi for Shiva, who had been driven from it by the unbearable power of austerities practiced by the King Divodasa. [link] [link 2]