In his third book in the quartet on Hindu identity and self-images, academic-author Jyotirmaya Sharma busts many myths around Swami Vivekananda. He comes across as a Hindu supremacist, and not so much a social reformist. Excerpts from an interview with Satish Padmanabhan:
The book seems to suggest that Vivekananda was a right-wing Hindu leader. Is that correct?
This book, like the previous two (Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism and Terrifying Vision: M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS and India), is an attempt to delineate a genealogy of Hindu identity. In this context, Vivekananda provides the most influential restatement of Hinduism. His religious nationalism is the decisive influence behind Hindu nationalism. Also, unlike many writers, I do not distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutva. For me, Hindutva is merely the politically dominant face of Hinduism today.
So the Sangh parivar appropriating him politically—for instance, Narendra Modi in the Gujarat elections recently—is quite valid then?
The Sangh parivar has only one ideology, and that is political expediency. The question of appropriation is complex. Vivekananda’s thought has been appropriated by others as well. I am more interested in the way in which Vivekananda provides the basis for a so-called official ‘Indian nationalism’ that transcends ideology and remains largely unquestioned. He is an icon for people who have little to do formally with the Sangh parivar but celebrate what they perceive of as his liberality and inclusiveness.
You say Vivekananda considered Islam and Christianity as mere sects and the larger ideal all of them merged to was Vedanta. So he wasn’t exactly inclusive and generous as his master Ramakrishna taught him to be?
No, he wasn’t. This idea of his inclusiveness and liberality is a powerful shared myth in our country but entirely based on a limited, partial reading of his works. Forget Islam and Christianity, Vivekananda wasn’t particularly generous towards many sects and schools of thought within Hinduism.
Vivekananda has always been projected as a big reformer but the book says he was the greatest champion of reinstating and furthering caste?
In my view, he was against untouchability, but for caste. So was Savarkar. The project was to create a single, seamless, undifferentiated and monochromatic Hindu unity with caste as the glue that holds this mythical unity together.
What are the other myths you bust about him?
The book is about Hindu identity and the myths that we have internalised as part of constructing a distorted self-image: the myth of the soft, mild, reasonable, non-violent, non-threatening, non-proselytising, non-converting Hindu. Vivekananda is the most decisive and influential intervention in creating this self-image.
Wendy Doniger distinguishes Hindutva from Hinduism
"I do watch with growing apprehension as the right-wing , Hindutva-driven factions gain increasing power in India, but the responses I've had to my books, in both personal notes and published reviews, have been enormously encouraging. The kind of people whose texts I found throughout the history of Hinduism — open-minded , intellectually omnivorous people, capable of self-irony and generous to views other than their own — are still alive and well and living in India. I do believe that the great strength of Hinduism — its openness to contradictory ideas — will prevail and carry it through this present danger.
"Hindus have generally been very tolerant about ideas; they did not persecute people whose beliefs about the gods were different from their own. This is the source of their quite justifiable pride in Hindu tolerance. But Hindus have not always been tolerant about behaviour — about what people ate, touched, or wore — and this, of course, makes for trouble with Muslims and Sikhs. What worries me most about the Hindutva brigade is that they are just as intolerant of behaviour as Hindus have often been, but now they are also intolerant of ideas, engaging in censorship of a fundamentalist nature that has never infected Hinduism until now."
its interesting to see what a magazine edited by a porno mag editor has to offer about Vivekananda ,
all foolish and distorted view , interviewee has not even read Vivekananda , he was not castiest at all , and never said about Brahmin supremacy ,read his books fool
Mr. Shayamal Barua first of all I would like to know why have you mentioned that Rajagopal Chakravoty was student of Ramakrishina Vivekananda Mission or topped WB Board Exam or IIT Kharagpur because any of these do not prove the authenticity of his book. The phrases "Swamiji received propaganda from Hindu Maharajas" or "received quite luckworm response" and many others in your comment which are fully contray to the actual fact raises question about the intention of you and the author. The most authentic work on Swami Vivekananda in the west has been done by Marie Luis Bark and Shankari Prasad Basu. Please go through their work. Please read some authentic biography of Swamiji also.
Jyotirmaya Sharma splendidly reveals himself as a talentless hack whose only claim to fame are outrageous claims. As others pointed out before, he spectacularly fails in his assertions on Ramakrishna. His blabbering on Vivekananda is equally trite and shallow (whoever conducted this interview shines in incompetence).
The best riposte to this terrible interview is from the man himself. Fortunately, the speech of Vivekananda in Chicago was recorded. That will live on much longer than these distortions today of whoever is taking Vivekananda's name or fame, in vain.
Just because the Sky is higher than the Earth or Oceans; it does not become "A Supremacist". Hinduism and Vedas seek and propagate the good and beneficial of the whole universe (without distinguishing between muslim, christian, tribals, fishes or animals). Please note there is not a single word called "Hindu" in the Vedas. Hinduism is not a primitive tribal religion that says magnificient things like "only people following it will reach heaven and the other infidels and kaffirs will go to dark hells" Most (may be not all) fundamentalist Hindus, even kings like Shivaji treated other religions and their places of worship with respect. Comparatively, even in the "modern" "developed" 20th century Hindus have been openly decimated, destroyed and raped in our neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh or even in Kashmir (places where the "Religion of Peace" reigns), with the media turning a blind eye. From around 20% of the population in these regions, Hindus now constitute a persecuted minority of 1-3%.
Only Vivekananda stood up and openly declared this 120 years ago. As for Caste, Swami Vivekananda was not a brahmin like Jyotirmay Sharma and by supporting caste, he only meant to organize and awaken people along those lines --this was the only possible option to organize during his times.
Congratulations to the Outlook Magazine for throwing shit on not just a great Hindu but a great Indian on his 150th birth anniversary standing on the back of a nobody like- Jyotirmay Sharma. It is a well known fact that Vivekananda was an inspiration for most of our leaders of the freedom struggle –from Mahatma Gandhi to Chandrashekar Azad to Subash Chandra Bose. Observing the injustice and destruction during the British rule, Swami Vivekananda, though a monk, had once declared that he wished to be publicly shot by the British for opposing them, so that a fire of revolution would light up the entire sleeping nation and unite it in the fight for independence. May be the Secular, Elitist Journalists at Outlook even consider our getting political freedom from the British as not such a good idea –since the British were “Secular,” thought us English (of course), secularly massacred masses at Jallianwalla Bagh etc., secularly destroyed indigenous weaving and other industries, secularly hung every young man who did not bow to them and did such other things in keeping with their highly inclusive secular civilizational values.
It is not surprising to read such "contrarian" and "opportunistic" articles in Outlook as Hindus do not issue fatwas or behead people. The Outlook culture and that of its founders (who founded and ran the Debonair mag) who made money selling nude photos of exploited young women still shows, despite their transition to a national news magazine.
It is good to read an iconoclastic magazine like "Outlook" --but please do not be iconoclastic just for being iconoclastic.
(sorry posted it again, wish there was an edit button for the remarks!)
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT