PART 3 -- [Religions must be rationalised as much as possible]
[A] All those who aim at creating a United India, should remember that India is a land of many faiths and many religions; that these faiths and religions, again, are divided into sections and sub-sections; that these sections and sub-sections practise numerous religious observances ceremonials and rituals; and that some of these rituals and observances conflict with one another. It is impossible for any Government to guarantee to all these religions, sections, and subsections, full and complete freedom in the matter of the observance of all their rituals and ceremonials, especially when they are in conflict with one another. Some of these ceremonials and observances, moreover, are inhuman, cruel, and immoral. To insist upon, and to emphasise, the right of every community, small or large, to a strict and full observance of all their religious rituals and cermonials is, therefore, a clear impossibility, besides being directly opposed to the idea of a United India. The British Government, in spite of its professions of religious neutrality, have, from time to time, interfered in the matter of religious practices; for example, they stopped by legislation the inhuman practices of Sati and infanticide which Hindu orthodoxy contended was a part of its religion./7/
[B] It is not my purpose here to enter into details, but a student of the religions of India will easily be able to confirm my statement that the advent of British rule in India, followed by a diffusion of Western knowledge and Western sciences, and accompanied by a revival of the study of Sanskrit and Arabic, led to a number of religious reform movements being started, in order to purge the religions of India of all such superstitions and excesses as had been engendered in them by centuries of ignorance and blind faith. In the light of their new knowledge, people found that many of the rites and ceremonials and observances practised in the name of a religion were not sanctioned by the scriptures of that religion, and were opposed to the spirit of the founders and the early expounders of that faith. It cannot, bowever, be denied that there are communities in India who still believe in the necessity and efficacy of various kinds of [] rites and ceremonials which are positively inhuman and immoral. Society cannot interfere with the beliefs of anyone, but no progressive society can allow such practices to be carried on with impunity even in the name of religion, as are revolting to the sense of humanity and morality of the vast bulk of its members. Even allowing the largest possible liberty in the matter of religious observances, no nation can for all time tolerate such practices.
[C] From a political point of view it is all the more necessary that religious differences be narrowed down. It is obvious that if everyone in India is, as of right, entitled to practise, in the name of religion, whatever he believes to be a part of his faith, no unity is possible. The idea of a United India demands that emphasis should be laid more on the points on which different religions agree than on the differences that divide them. The idea of a United India necessarily demands, therefore, the rationalising of religion and religious practices to the farthest extent possible. The claim that everyone has a right to full and unrestricted observance of all that he believes to be a part of his religion cannot possibly stand the test of analysis. Not only is everyone's right limited by the just rights of others, but insistence on the observance of conflicting ceremonials has to be actively discouraged, and all such ideas based on false notions of religion as increase hatred, estrange one community from another, and create barriers between different communities, and thus make communal consciousness more acute and bitter, have to be gradually eliminated.
[D] Unfortunately for us, even religious reform movemcnts in India have in some cases taken a wrong turn. They have brought into prominence the observance of very many rites and ceremonies which do not form .an integral part of the religions concerned and have nothing to do with Dharma. Communal consciousness, again, has come to be synonymous with the observance of such petty ceremonials as perpetuate differences and form a solid wall separating one community from another. The Arya Samaj, the Muhammadan reform movement, and [the] Sikh reform movement, all illustrate this tendency; and it cannot be denied that Mahatma Gandhi himself and the Khilafat movement, of which he was the strongest pillar, have also accentuated this feeling.
[E] Mahatma Gandhi's personality is to a certain extent, a puzzle. [] In practice he is a liberal of liberals and a broad-minded humanitarian. He declares untouchability to be inhuman and is pledged to root it out, in spite of the fact that tens of millions of Hindus regard it as an essential part of their religion. In theory, on the other hand, he sometimes seems to be supporting narrow-mindedness, even superstitious sectarianism in some of its aspects. This has brought about a reaction, and has given a new life to those Pandits and Maulvis who, before his advent, were fast losing influence among their respective communities. The result is that within the last three or four years, Hindu sectarians have become more bigoted than they were ever before, and Muhammadan and Sikh sectarians still more so. The reactionaries amongst the followers of these religions have again come into power, and are exercising a baneful influence in keeping the communities apart from each other, and in bringing into prominence very many petty observances practised in the name of religion, and calculated to divide instead of uniting the several communities.
[F] I have no intention of offending anybody's susceptibilities, but if the existing conditions are properly analysed it will be seen that sectarianism and narrow-minded bigotry have been very much strengthened within the last three years. The Khilafat movement has particularly strengthened it among the Muhammadans, and it has not been without its influence and reaction on the Hindus and Sikhs. We do not ignore the important part which communal representation under the Reforms scheme has played in bringing into existence strong communal consciousness, thus making the relations between the two principal communities more acute and bitter than ever before, but our present concern is with this particular aspect of the matter.
[G] If we really and honestly want a United India, we, i.e. the different religious communities in this country, shall have to make a clear distinction between essentials and non-essentials in religion. Full religious freedom does not mean or imply full and unfettered liberty in the matter of observances and practices which affect the just rights of other communities or otherwise injure their feelings. The assertion of such a right, either individual or communal, and the belief that the British Government will enforce the practice of such a right, has done a great deal of mischief in India. Take, for example, the case of the North-West Frontier Province. In a village [] where the population is 99 percent Muhammadan and only 1 percent Hindu, the assertion by a Hindu of his right to carry his idol in procession along the streets of the village where many mosques are situated, would be an extremely foolish act. The assertion of the right of sacrificing cow by a Muslim in a place like Ajudhia, Mathura, Bindraban, or Hardwar would be of the same nature.
Unhappily the British rule has encouraged both Hindus and Muhammadans to assert such rights, and to fight if they are denied. The philosophy of individualism and the idea of absolute religious freedom, both of which, as I have already pointed out, are wholly wrong, and which in India are at the present time directly traceable to British rule, have taken such a firm root in the minds of Indians that they are playing a havoc in all phases of our national life; and consequently the first step towards the creation of a real national life would be a widespread propaganda carried on to educate public opinion in matters of this kind on right lines. To me it is an unpleasant paradox in this connection, and a puzzling commentary on the present situation, that men and women who break every day of their lives almost every canon of Hinduism or Islam by acts of omission or commission, should not only pose as leaders of their respective communities but should actually be accepted as such.
[H] The sum total of my reasoning is this, that one of the causes of the present tension between Hindus and Muhammadans has been the unfortunate revival of the idea of absolute freedom in the matter of religious observances. As I have already said, no one can interfere with or question the belief of another. Such belief is entirely the concern of the individual so long as it does not enforce itself in action. But when we come to observances, we have to consider the environment in which we live, and in the interest of peace and neighbourly goodwill, to avoid social collision, have to sacrifice a certain amount of our freedom.
[I] In a country like India, to inculcate the idea that every religious practice so far observed or presumed to be sanctioned or enjoined by one's faith, is holy and sacred and unchangeable, is, in my humble judgment, mischievous, and requires to be counteracted. At the present stage of its development India requires more of rationalism and toleration than orthodoxy and bigotry. Unhappily, during the last decade we have created an atmosphere which smells [] more of orthodoxy and bigotry than of rationalism and toleration. The non-co-operation movement itself has materially contributed to the creation of this atmosphere. It was unfortunate that the Khilafat movement in India should have taken its stand on a religious rather than political basis. There were political grounds to support it. It was still more unfortunate that Mahatma Gandhi and the leaders of the Khilafat movement should have brought religion into such prominence in connection with a movement which was really and fundamentally more political than religious.
The desire to seek religious sanction for the various items of the Non-co-operation programme was another great blunder. It led directly to the revival of a sectarian zeal, and to the re-enthroning of influences and forces which were antagonistic to the idea of a united India. Non-co-operation, which was based on the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity, thus became one of the forces favouring disunity. Never before did I see educated Hindus, Mussalmans, and Sikhs attaching so great an importance to insignificant and petty things in the name of religion as they do now. Shastras and Shariats have been studied and requisitioned only to create an atmosphere of narrowness and bigotry. I have seen young Muslim gentlemen being vigorously attacked by Maulvis for daring to shave their beards, and all India saw the spectacle of a Muslim President attempting to stop the playing of instrumental music at an annual meeting of the National Congress. We have heard of many more amusing claims being put forward in the name of religion, which could never have been imagined before. The last four years, by the way, have brought into existence a legion of Maulanas, Pandits, and Gyanis whom no one had ever credited with any religious sanctity or spiritual prestige.
[J] I mean no offence to anyone, but I am stating these facts to illustrate my point. Take, for instance, the playing of music before mosques. In my experience of the last forty years I had never felt that the question was of any importance at all, and yet I had been a constant reader of newspapers, and a faithful observer of events. It is similarly a matter of pain to me to notice that some of the most broad-minded Hindus, who have travelled all over the world, should feel the necessity of observing any sort of untouchability towards Muhammadans. You cannot expect India to be ever politically united as a single nation, as long there are Indians who believe that it is against their religion to drink water or eat food touched by a [] non-Hindu. I remember a great Samaj leader once denouncing Congressmen for having sold their religion for the sake of unity; and the selling consisted, in his opinion, in their freely eating and dnnking with the Muhammadans.
The fact is that a large number of Hindus and Muslims who profess a desire for Hindu-Muslim unity and who talk of a united India, do not realize that unity has a price which they will have to pay before it can be achieved. I do not maintain that either Hindus or Muhammadans should sacrifice the essentials of their religion for the sake of unity. For me, personally, the essentials of Dharma are very few indeed, and they are such as make for unity not only in India but throughout the world. But I have no right to, and do not, expect that the large body of Hindus and Muhammadans will share my views on this point. I must, however, say frankly that unity is a dream never to be realised unless Hindus and Muhammadans, Sikhs and Christians, make up their minds to be more liberal and rational in their religious and social life than they at present are.
[K] The narrow religious atmosphere which at present dominates Hindu and Muhammadan and Sikh communal life is fatal to the idea of a united India, and the sooner the leaders of all these communities realize the truth, the better for us all. I cannot subscribe to the proposition that either Hinduism or Islam is so narrow as to make it impossible for the followers of the two religions to become politically united. To be frank, we will have to follow Europe in this matter if we really desire political freedom. Religion must be divorced from politics. Social life must be broadened, and political life based only on broad national policy: I don't mean to say that religion should be divorced from our lives or that our political structure be divorced of religious influences in the higher sense of the term. Healthy religious influences are undoubtedly necessary for the development of character, personal as well as national. I say nothing against religion or Dharma in this sense, but I do mean that [the] ceremonial aspect of religion should only be the concern of individuals or of communities, and should not be permitted to create barriers or political distinctions between tbe followers of different religions, or between different religious communities as such.
[L] P.S.-- Since writing the above, I have re-read Mahatma Gandhi's
articles on Hinduism and on Hindu and Muslim unity. His views on Hinduism
are fairly liberal, however much one may differ from his []
explanation of the caste system and from his interpretation of the worship
of [the] cow. In one of his articles he says: "I hold that we may not dignify
every trifle into a matter of deep religious importance"; and further:
"In all non-essential matters, a Hindu must yield for the asking." As an
instance of non-essentials he remarks: "One can easily appreciate the Mussalman
sentiment of having solemn silence near a mosque the whole of 24 hours."
In the whole of his writings I have failed to come across one sentence
where he administers similar admonition to the Muslims. His pleadings for
the protection of [the] cow are couched in a different style. I have come
across other observations, somewhere, to the effect that he would not have
either of the communities give away even a little of their religious faith
for the sake of unity.
/7/ Sati was declared illegal by William Bentinck on 4 December 1829 in the Bengal Presidency. Various measures were adopted by the Government from 1795 onwards to stop female infanticide among different classes of the Indian people, particularly among the Rajputs.