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.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
What absolute rot is this interview!
Swami was not a Brahmin. He was quite critical of casteism, and even stated how it made sense for many lower classes to convert to Islam/Christianity given treatment as low caste in Vedic Hinduism. So how could he be for caste, when he himself transgressed and took on the role of another caste? and understood why low castes converted?
As for his criticisms of religion
1. Did he not criticise many Hindu schools of thought past and present? And then did he not champion the reformers – Buddha, nanek, kabir?
2. Swami ji believed that everything should stand to reason – he rejected infallibility of the scriptures. This includes other works, but it also includes his own.
He pointed out perfectly valid criticisms of Abrahamic religions – eternal hellfire, infallibility, clinging to duality, universal brotherhood but only for believers, the idea that there is a final message or messenger, the fact that Abrahamic religions often came with swords.
Can any of you honestly, truthfully say that these are not true and valid criticisms from the standpoint of reason & ethics?
That does not mean swami didn’t also see the good in these religions. He merely pointed out the bad also. He did the same for Hinduism – he pointed out problems with the religion past and present. Does this make him a hindu hater?
Universal brotherhood means I respect you, your life, and your right to religion. It does not mean I pretend like you are perfect, your religion is perfect, and that I will lie down and take shit from you in the name of respect. Swami respected Muslims, he respected Islam as a religion, as with Christianity but what he disliked was that the tolerance and acceptance Hindus &Buddhists often shown in the past was not reciprocated by this children of Abraham in the past– and no, you cannot deny that as historical fact.
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.
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