April 14 is the 54th death anniversary of prominent Hindi writer Rahul Sankrityayan, author of Volga se Ganga. Popularly known as ‘mahapandit‘, Sankrityayan was truly a writer of the masses and participated in numerous public struggles. He went to prison several times and faced attacks from feudalists, but continued to be at the forefront of movements demanding freedom, equality and dignity for all. He is considered the father of travel writing in Hindi. He knew 26 different languages and was an erudite scholar. Born in Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, Sankrityayan was a writer who believed in mobility and travelled excessively. With his writings, he dreamt of doing away with societal inertia and putting humanity above religion. Here is an excerpt from his book Tumhari Kshay titled ‘Tumhare Dharm ki Kshay (The Decay of Your Religion)’.
In religions, differences abound. If followers of one face westwards to pray, those of another turn to the east. Some let their hair grow, others their beards; some want to keep a moustache, others shave it off; some slaughter animals slowly, others deal a single blow. They wear their clothes differently. One has castes further divided into various sects, the other doesn’t. While one vehemently rejects the possibility of a second god, for another everything and anything can be divine. For one the sacrifice of a cow is a holy act, while another is ready to kill humans to protect the cow.
And so, differences abound in religions across the world. These differences are not limited to ideas. The history of the past two millennia shows us how different faiths have persecuted each other over these differences. Why are the immortal artists of Greece and Rome lost today? Because a faith came to their country which considered the existence of idols a threat to itself. Why did Iran’s ethnic art, literature and culture become extinct? Because it came into contact with a religion bent on erasing humanity from the face of the Earth.
Everywhere – in Mexico and Peru, in Turkey and Afghanistan, in Egypt and Java – religions have proved themselves to be enemies of art, literature and culture. And, bloodshed? Don’t even ask. Each in the name of their gods and their books have spilt human blood as worthless. If the ancient Greeks considered it holy to get innocent Christian men, women and children mauled to death by lions or slain with swords, did Christians lag behind in cruelty when they seized power?
In the name of Jesus, they used swords openly. In Germany, a carnage was carried out to bring people into the fold of Christianity. Ancient Germans used to worship the Oak tree. To avoid people from falling back on the old path, all oak trees from near and far were uprooted. The pope and the patriarch suppressed freedom of thought of talented individuals with fire and iron. Many were crushed under wheels or burnt alive over ideological differences.
India too is no less a witness to such religious fanaticism. Before the advent of Islam, was molten lead and lac not poured in the mouths and ears of those that spoke or heard? With all his might, Adi Shankaracharya declared that Brahman alone is real, everything else is unreal. Even Ramanuja and others did little beyond preaching. In fact, they left no stone unturned in ensuring the oppression of the shudras and Dalits. Since the coming of Islam, its antagonism to Hinduism has plagued our country.
Though Islam professes to be the religion of power and universal brotherhood, and Hinduism as the religion of Brahma and tolerance, did either of them translate their claims into actions? The Hindus blame Muslims of murdering innocent people, defiling temples and holy sites or taking away their women, but have Hindus shown any restraint in spilling innocent blood when it comes to revenge?
Take the example of Hindu-Muslim riots in Kanpur, Benaras, Allahabad or Agra. Those who fall prey to the knives and lathis are innocent, oblivious men, women, and children. Hapless strangers from another village or neighbourhood passing by are stabbed, ignorant of their crime, while the attacker flees. All religions preach kindness but in all the incidents of violence in India carried out in the name of religion, humanity stands murdered. Not just the elderly, even babies have been butchered. Instances of religious enemies being burnt alive are not very uncommon even today.
We are related to each other by nation or by blood and to break the ties of blood is unnatural. In India, keeping aside the early differences, all Hindu castes have the same blood running through their veins. Can you tell a Brahmin from a shudra just by looking at someone? There are Brahmins darker in complexion than most shudras and shudras wheatish in colour. Men and women entering sexual relationships while ignoring caste differences is nothing strange.
Several dynasties are known for the slave son who became king or the son of the mistress who became prince. In spite of all this, Hinduism has kept people divided into thousands of castes. There are many who wish to unify the Hindus under one ethnicity, but where is that ethnicity? Hindu ethnicity is an imaginative concept. In reality, there are Brahmins, Sakaldwipiyas, Jujhautiyas, Rajputs, Khatris, Bhumihars, Kayasthas, Chamaars and many others.
For instance, the lifestyle, eating habits, customs and traditions of a Rajput would differ from the rest. Their social existence is limited. When a Rajput reaches a top post, he looks for another member from his own caste when it comes to offering a job or putting forth a recommendation. Such a limited vision is but natural when relations are formed with people from within the community.
Mocking Hindus over caste discrimination, Muslims often claim that they have broken social barriers and exist as one fraternity – but is this really true? If it were, the question of julahas, dhuniyas, kunjras and others would not arise and nobody would talk of lower and elite classes. The syeds, sheikhs, maliks and pathans treat classes beneath them the way their Hindu upper-caste counterparts do. Though what people eat was not a matter of contention in Islam, it is no longer so among Hindus either. The question is – what have the elite among Muslims done to culturally or economically uplift their brethren from the lower classes?
In India, four to five crore Hindus sought refuge in Islam to escape social, economic and religious persecution. But did the elite Muslim class allow them to prosper? Seven centuries have passed but a Momin Ansari is a victim of similar discrimination at the hands of upper caste landlords as his Kurmi neighbour. They ask for reservations in government jobs, but when those seats are to be distributed among them, the miniscule elite Syed-Sheikh community take away most from right under the nose of the 60-70% of the community comprised of Momins and Ansaris, citing lack of education as the reason. If even 700 years later they lack education, whose fault is it? When were they given a chance to get educated? When opportunities were provided for education, for scholarships, they were snatched by the elite. Momins and Ansaris are expected to work as cooks, peons and servants. If one of them gets educated, he cannot find a strong recommendation from within his own community, while the elite are busy recommending their own friends and families. All the pains undertaken for jobs and posts are not out of a passion to serve the country or their own community but for money and in the quest for a better life.
Are Hindus and Muslims then two different communities just because they have two different faiths? They share the same ancestry. They were born and brought up in the same country. Though their beliefs, their methods of praying and their customs separate them, yet they are one race. Is blood not thicker than water? Outside India, who acknowledges the different castes and distinguishes between them? In any part of the world, we are just Hindi or Indian.
Damned be the religion that divides people, that inspires its believer to kill his brother in its name! When religion becomes defined by the length of hair or the size of a beard, it is only exterior and artificial.
A Chinese, whether he is a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian or a Confucian, is a Chinese. So is the case with a Japanese. Similarly, an Iranian would not choose a non-Persian name. Why, then, are we Indians keen on breaking up our country along religious lines? Why must we tolerate such behaviour?
Roots of religions have been axed and only rarely do we hear of incidents of religious harmony. To say ‘Mazhab nahi sikhata aapas mein bair rakhna’ (Religion does not preach ill will against one another)’ is nothing but to lie. If religion did not preach ill will, why would hostilities over religious differences keep ruining the country for thousands of years? That thirst of one religious community for the blood of another, who inspires it even today? Who is pitting those who eat beef against those who eat dung?
To render Iqbal’s verse more real, one can say – Mazhab to hai sikhata aapas mein bair rakhna, Bhai ko hai sikhata bhai ka khoon peena (Religion does preach ill will against one another, it inspires brothers to drink each others’ blood). India will not be unified on religion but on its pyre. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf. Religion is like that disease which comes naturally and which only death can cure.
On the one hand, religions are baying for each others’ blood, preaching hatred against one another and following customs, speaking in languages, eating food antagonistic to each other. But when it comes to looting the poor and protecting the interests of the rich, they are of one mind.
The maharaja of Gadha village Baksh Singh was a fool of the first order in the seventh generation of his dynasty. Today, his annual earning amounts to Rs 50 lakh from land which he acquired without using an ounce of his brain and which he could not have managed longer than six days. It was not in his power to grow anything on it. Had the foolish maharaja been stranded in a jungle with a pile of rice, wheat, ghee and wood, he could not feed himself and would starve himself to death.
Today, the maharaja of Gadha village spends tens of thousands of rupees monthly on fuel for his motor car and owns breeds of dogs that cost 20,000 or more. Rs 2 lakh were spent on the palace built for him in the village which has an army of servants and family doctors. During the summers, ice slabs and electric fans are placed in the palace to keep it cool. And what to say of his eating habits! Even the servants of his servants bathe in milk and ghee. Where does all this wealth come from? What kind of life do those who toil to earn it live? They live in such extreme poverty that they would readily feed their children with the leftovers of the maharaja’s dogs.
Ask a pandit, what gives a foolish man the right to plunder the hard earned labour of another, and he would say, “Arre, he is just spending what he inherited. God made him one of the upper caste. It is written in the Vedas that men are born low or high by god’s will. And it is punishment from god that the poor don’t have a morsel to eat.”
Ask a maulvi or a priest the same question and he would reply, “Are you a kafir? You must be an atheist. God makes people rich or poor to run his world. It is not for humans to interfere in his ways. Consider poverty a blessing and live as per god’s will. On the day of judgement you will rewarded accordingly.”
In a melon city, where a foolish king like Baksh Singh can relish the fruits without any labour and enjoy paradise on Earth, what hope is there for devotion and loyalty to a god?
The nawab of Ullu (owl) city, Namaqool (nonsensical) Khan, is another epitome of wealth. Like Baksh Singh, he too owns large tracts of land and lives in affluence. The walls of his toilet are sprayed with perfume and washed with rose water. His men wander across the country and abroad in search of beautiful women to bring to him. They are rendered stale for him after just a glance. Hoards of hakeems, veds, and doctors prepare medicines and energising mixes for him. Expensive, aged liquor is bought from the basements of Paris and London.
Not even the tongues of Indra’s fairies could match the softness and redness of the nawab’s feet. Many husbands have been killed for coming in the way of his animal instincts, while many still rot in prisons over false charges. An annual income of Rs 60 lakh does not suffice for him and every year a loan of Rs 10-15 lakh needs to be taken. The government has bestowed him with several honours. In the viceroy’s court, he is seated right at the front. Namaqool Khan and Baksh Singh are assigned the privilege of giving lectures and reading out congratulatory letters in honour of the viceroy. Lords, big or small, sing praises of the intelligence, management skills and public service of the two. Pandits, maulvis, pastors and priests all say the nawab’s wealth is god’s blessing and a reward for his karma.
Ironically, those who incite violence against each other and oppose each others’ beliefs, hold the same views in this case. It as though the Vedas, the Quran, the Old Testament and the Bible all teach one thing – that it is the duty of all religions to safeguard the selfish interests of these blood suckers, and even after death the best palaces in heaven, with beautiful gardens, large-eyed apsaras, rivers of wine and honey are reserved for Nawab Namaqool Khan, Maharaja Baksh Singh and their likes because they built a couple of mosques or some temples and, at their doorstep, some sadhus and fakeers, Brahmins and mujawars, relished halwa-puri and kebab-pulao.
There is no reward for the poor for their life of poverty, but for those who fast every ekadashi or every month of Ramadan and go for pilgrimages to tiraths, on hajj and visit holy sites regularly without caring about anything; or those who feed the sadhus and fakirs even when they haven’t had anything to eat themselves. Then, they can manage to get a small corner in paradise and an apsara if any are left. And so, in the hope of such a heaven, the poor bears the burden of life and its troubles.
Earlier, Earth was believed to be a flat surface and beyond seven mountains and seven seas in the north was heaven. But in the 20th century, geography offers no place for heaven. The Sumeru mountain, the place of Indra’s Amravati and Kshir Sagar, the dominion of Shesha Naga are nothing but stories now. The paradises of Chrisitians and Muslims too have been rooted out of their originally-believed geographical spaces.
Is it not then fraud to keep people hungry on a false hope of heaven and paradise?
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman. You can read the Hindi version of this excerpt here.