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Chapter 5

Social Reforms

As we have said, the beauty of Hinduism, its high philosophy, the art it has developed, the possibilities it contains, nothing of all this will save Hindudom, no more than the beauty of Grecian Paganism and its wonderful growth of free thought could save the civilisation and society of ancient Greece.

The greatest gift of Hinduism to mankind is perhaps the religious sanction of free scientific thought, based, in all matters, upon experience alone. But a man can be a free thinker, and even a “realised” man, without being a Hindu. The greatest gift of Hinduism to present-day India may be the possibility, for her, of expressing her reborn nationalism through a vast national cult. But nothing proves that a future Indian will not be a nationalist, unless he remains a Hindu. His India would not be our India; but he would love it all the same, perhaps more than his religion, one day. (Are there not modern Romans, who put their nation far above Christianity? The future men of a hypothetical Mohammadan India might also put India above Islam. Nobody can tell before hand).

Therefore, to point out Hinduism as the highest synthesis of religious thought, on one hand, and on the other, as the cult of India, is not sufficient. All


this talk is well and good, when addressed to such Hindus who never even dreamt of leaving their fold. But in that case, it is useless; its only result can be to make these Hindus a little more proud of themselves.

When addressed to Hindus who have become Christians or Mohammadans, the argument presenting Hinduism as a scientific religion has no effect, for reason is seldom the motive that brings about a man’s conversion. The call of Indian nationalism is also without response. To a Hindu who leaves his fold, there are things dearer than India.

Before trying to defend Hinduism by arguments, one must try to understand why do Hindus desert the Hindu fold.

* * *

If the Hindus who leave their fold, were leaving it for religious reasons, they would be fools, for whatever is contained in any other religion, is to be found in this vast and complex and apparently contradictory record of religious experience, which is Hinduism. A Hindu does not become a Mohammadan for the advantage of worshipping one God alone. That, he could do, while remaining a Hindu. Nor does he, for the advantage of considering God as formless; many Hindus consider God as formless, and worship without the help of images.

Nor does a Hindu become a Christian for the satisfaction of following a personal Saviour, for that he could do, while remaining a Hindu. Moreover, that very Saviour he is attracted to, Lord Jesus, he could worship and honour without leaving the Hindu fold.


In more than one Hindu home, Lord Jesus has found a place. His image is garlanded, and offered incense, among other images. Still no Hindu thinks of excluding his worshippers from the Hindu society, as long as they, themselves, do not express the desire of being excluded. One of the signs of Hindu generosity lies in this broad-mindedness. A Hindu who pays homage to Christ is still a Hindu, while a Christian who would pay homage to Lord Krishna, along with Christ, would no longer be a Christian. The God of the Christians remains the “jealous God” of the Jews, inspite of all the Greek metaphysics that have influenced Christian theology.

One may think that many ignorant Hindus leave the Hindu fold, persuaded that they are doing so for religious reasons.

It is true that ignorance is the source of all trouble, and that nothing would stop the flow of conversion of Hindus to other religions, as well as the intelligent teaching of what Hinduism really is, to all Hindus, including the most depressed ones, throughout the length and breadth of India. Ignorant Hindus, recently converted to Christianity, will tell you that Christ is the first one in the world to have taught love to mankind. They know nothing of the immense love of Lord Buddha, nor of Krishna; nothing of all what India had given the world, centuries before Christ.

That is true. But one must not believe that, in every case, or even in most cases, if they had known, then, they would not have left the Hindu fold. Even ignorant Hindus do not leave their fold for religious reasons. It is neither because human brotherhood was preached “for the first time” by the Prophet of Arabia,


that they become Mohammadans, nor because love was preached “for the first time” by Jesus of Nazareth, that they become Christians. It is because, to become a Mohammadan means, to them, now, to enjoy the advantages of social brotherhood, in a society which actually practices it; and to become a Christian means, to them, now, to enjoy the advantages of some charitable missionary’s love. It is for social reasons, and, practically, for social reasons alone, that thousands of Hindus have abandoned the Hindu fold.

* * *

Three main things have been, during these last centuries, the cause of an enormous numerical loss for Hindudom:

(1) The denial of elementary social rights to the majority of the Hindus.

(2) The strictness of social rules, within the Hindu fold (resulting in the too easy outcasting of transgressors).

(3) The refusal of the Hindu fold to re-accept those who wish to come back to it, not to speak of those who may wish to join it, without themselves or their forefathers having belonged to it before.

Unless and until these three main causes of disintegration are removed, Hindudom will not be able to face the increasing dangers to which it is exposed. And, if it cannot remove these sources of weakness, Hindudom, inspite of its value, will ultimately be crushed. This is the bitter truth that


must be spoken, and understood at once and now; tomorrow might be too late.

* * *

We have mentioned many times the similarity between the present state of Hindudom, wherever it is “a dying race,” and the state of Grecian and Roman Pagandom, during the days it was also dying. We may add that the causes of death were about the same.

May the Hindus of present India never forget that it is for social reasons, and practically, for social reasons alone, that Christianity was able to spread all over the Western Aryan World, and settle itself upon the ruins of some of the finest civilisations that mankind had produced.

During the days in which the first Christian missionary propaganda was going on, the “Ancient World” had the most remarkable personalities, and the finest schools of thought. None of the illiterate Apostles, who are said to be God-inspired, nor their learned Greek successors could compete with such men as Porphyros, Iamblikhos, or Plotinos, who were both profoundly learned and God-inspired, if there be any such thing as heavenly inspiration at all. And no Christian woman was purer than Hypatia, the embodiment of all Pagan virtues, wisdom and beauty, in a feminine shape.

Yet, the Galileans have won, not the Hellenes. Why?

(Think of this, and rebuild Hindudom in its glory.) The Galileans have won not because they were wise,


not because they were virtuous, not because they brought with them a greater and higher inspiration than that of the last Hellene Pagans, but because they called all men (including Barbarians and slaves) to share their brotherhood, while the Hellenes did not.

* * *

The ancient Greek and Roman society was not a complicated caste-ridden society, like Hindudom. Yet there was, in it, a tremendous gap between the free man and the slave. There was also a tremendous gap between the Hellene (or the Roman) and the so-called Barbarian. With a very few later exceptions (perhaps due to the influence of growing Christianity), the born Barbarian had no place in the social life of the Hellenes. He was a foreigner, and it was admitted that a foreigner could not be assimilated on equal terms. To take part in the games of Olympia, for instance, Greek culture was not enough; one had also to prove his Hellenic descent. There might have been breaches to this rule during the later days; but the principle stood until the end. And the principle was enough to prevent the wholesale assimilation of outsiders.

In the same way, the son of a slave had no share in the glory of what was Hellenism. In Athens at least, he was not illtreated. He was allowed to thrive and multiply. This is so true that, in what is considered the golden age of the city (fifth century B.C.) there were about fifteen thousand free citizens, in Athens, and about one hundred and twenty thousand slaves.


As time passed, this numerical disproportion grew greater. The free citizens would cultivate eloquence and every art, first of all, the art of being beautiful, both in body and soul; they would talk with the wise men, honour the Gods, and rule the city; they would leave philosophical systems, marble temples, and the history of Greece, for the future generations to admire. But the slaves had all the hard, weary, and dirty work to do, without feeling that the glory of the city was also theirs. The Gods of the city were theirs; but the sublime teachings of the wise men were not 1 addressed to them; and they knew nothing, either of the value of Hellenic philosophy, or of the qualities of the Gods. They knew that they were born for servile labour, while others were born for leisure and higher thought, and all the possibilities of a more beautiful life. Slowly came a time when they began to consider their fate as a burden, and their sub-conscious mind was then prepared for revolt.

Paul and the first Christian missionaries came over, at that time, from Palestine. And, from the Jewish quarters of the Grecian sea-ports, the new teaching spread to the crowd of the slaves, throughout the Roman Empire; to the Barbarians, north and south; to all those who were denied equality: “All men are one, in our Lord Jesus Christ, the one and only Saviour.”

Nobody denies the existence of people of high education and noble birth, among the early Christian converts. But they were a small minority. The victory of Christianity appears mainly as the result of a widespread non-violent revolt of the slaves, as well as of the Barbarians, against the existing social order of


the Roman Empire (including, naturally, Pagan Greece).

Had the social order been changed in time, and by the initiative of the privileged Pagans themselves, no doubt, then, history would have been quite different. Slaves and half-hellenised Barbarians, vividly conscious that the cultural and national treasures of Pagandom were theirs, would have stood like one man on the side of Pagandom. But if one had spoken of social reforms then, to the learned, refined and few, to the aristocracy of the Graeco-Roman World, it is probable that the few would have answered just the same as many Hindus of noble birth, in India, do today: “Are we to renounce our birth rights? Are we to allow our immemorial traditions to be spoiled by the contact of low-born people and of Barbarians? We rely upon our value, not upon numerical strength, to save ourselves and our culture.”

What is the result? They have passed away, and Western Aryan Paganism with them, wholesale. Is there anyone now, in Europe, who can truly trace his descent from a noble family of ancient Greece or Rome, through an unbroken thread of pure-blooded generations? Is there a single modern Roman, a single modern Greek, who can earnestly assure, now, that among his ancestors there are no slaves and no Barbarians? No. When the new society came into existence, then the birthrights that used to rule the old were forgotten, and all was but confusion, until new privileges and new birthrights creeped in, inspite of Christianity itself.

So, what was the use of standing against the pressure of time and being crushed? To make place


for a hypocritical Christian Europe, who would first destroy half the treasures of Pagan cult, art and thought, and then, preserve the other half in its museums? That was really not worth while.

* * *

The fate of the European Pagans, fifteen hundred years ago, is the fate awaiting the Hindus of the present day, sooner or later, in all parts of India where their number is less than at least seventy-five percent of the total population. In those parts where they are less than twenty or twenty-five percent, wholesale extinction (through willful or compulsory exile, through conversion to Islam, or otherwise) is not far away if, at once and now, the Hindus do not make a desperate effort.

(1) to unite into one firm, invincible bloc, trained in the art of self defence.

(2) to keep all Hindus, without distinction of caste or creed, within that bloc.

(3) to bring within that bloc all those who can be of some use to Hindudom, specially,

the Indian aborigines,

the Indians once converted to Islam or to Christianity,

attracting them to Hinduism, as their own national cult.

* * *

We would like to make it clear that no Hindu is more sensitive than us to the value of that hereditary


refinement that has been, for centuries, the privilege of the high caste Hindus, specially of the Brahmans. There are people even outside India to recognise, in the Indian Brahmans, not merely the oldest, but still the finest aristocracy of our earth. And personally, if we had to pick out a man all round beautiful in appearance, mind, and character, to be the embodiment of superior humanity, we would, without hesitation, pick out an Indian Brahman, and most probably a Bengali, who would add to the virtues of his caste, the enthusiasm and charm of the most lovable nation existing. If India be compared to a vast lotus-pond, the Brahmans as a whole, still today, are its most beautiful, its purest lotuses. The defence of Hindudom means their defence. That, we entirely maintain.

But, at the same time, we remember one of the many names of the lotus: “pankaj,” that is to say: born in the mud. So mud and water are also necessary; without them, the beautiful lotuses would soon dry up. So the preservation of the spotless flowers means, first of all, the preservation of the pool where they are born and grow, that is to say of the fertile water and mud.

In the same way, Brahmanical beauty, Brahmanical culture, Brahmanical ideals, will mean nothing in the future Indian society, wherever that society will be cent percent Mohammadan. And that will be the case of North and East Bengal, in a few years’ time, if the flow of conversion of Islam is not immediately stopped, and a contrary current of reconversion to Hinduism, not immediately started. And this is not possible without an enormous amount


of sacrifice, on the part of the high caste Hindus; sacrifice, not in the name of “humanity,” not in the name of “justice” or of “democracy” (we do not believe in “democracy” at all) but, in the name of their own self-preservation. The alternative before the high caste Hindus — nay, before all Hindus, wherever they are, not an overwhelming numerical majority — is this: sacrifice caste prejudices at once and live, and, one day, rule India once more; or else, stick to caste prejudices, and, under the pressure of a formidable tide, growing every day, become Mohammadans in a generation or two.

Let the Hindus choose.

* * *

To what extent must caste prejudices be sacrificed, to save Hindudom?” will many say. Does the sacrifice of caste prejudices mean merely to get rid of Untouchability, and open the temples to all Hindus? Does it mean that high caste Hindus should take water from every Hindu? Does it mean that they should also take rice? Does it mean that inter-caste marriages should be allowed? Where is the limit? (if there be any limit to such concessions).

There is no answer to these questions, in detail. Means of defence have to be in proportion with the danger to face; so everything depends upon the danger. It is certain that in Midnapur district (West Bengal) where Mohammadans are only six percent, the problem facing the Hindus is not so tragic as in Bogra district, for instance where the Mohammadans are more than ninety percent. The Midnapur Hindus


can afford to wait, uninjured, another fifty years. The Bogra Hindus cannot; nor can those of Pabna, nor of Rangpur, nor of Dacca, nor of Noakhali, nor of Comilla, nor of Chittagong etc., in one word, all those of North and East Bengal, from Jalpaiguri, down to the Bay of Bengal, and to the frontiers of Burma and Assam; nor can the Hindus of Assam, where, along with Mohammadan propaganda, a well carried on and lavishly financed Christian missionary effort is continuing for the last few decades, throughout the hill tracts; nor can the Hindus of any part of India, where a strong, conscious, casteless society has grown or is growing to existence, by the side of caste-ridden Hindudom. Whether caste-ridden or sect-ridden, or compartmented in any other way, never and nowhere, in history, has a divided society stood competition with an undivided one.

To what extent must caste prejudices be sacrificed? That we cannot tell; it is a matter of every day’s application in every Hindu household, to be decided by the Hindus themselves, who earnestly wish to live. We can only say this much: the forces that are cooperating to crush Hindudom (if possible) are of such a nature, and the danger is so imminent, that it is now too late for any kind of patch-work. From what castes, considered up to this day as contaminating the purity of the higher castes, through water, will all Hindus agree, henceforth, to accept water? Such a question has no meaning. The bitterness of the downtrodden castes of Hindudom has reached such a depth, and the unconditioned equality offered to them, outside Hindudom, is so increasingly attractive, that it is not by granting them a few


scattered privileges, a few resented concessions, a few uncertain hopes, that it will ever be possible, now, to keep them for long within the Hindu fold.

The growing consciousness that it is the upper class Hindus who have unjustly deprived them of their rights, and outrageously exploited them, for so many years, is systematically being intensified, among them, by every democratical movement based upon common class-interest (such as labour movement, peasant movement, etc.) which has appeared in India recently.

The principles put forward in these different “movements,” were all imported through a few Indian idealists, belonging mostly to the upper castes of Hindudom. But the result of their preaching is, practically, the rapid formation of a united front of discontented lower caste Hindus and Mohammadans, set up, on the basis of common class-interest, to get rid of the privileged Hindus, wholesale. To the grievances of the half-starved peasant, of the tenant, of the labourer, of all the down-trodden ones, against the landlord, the moneylender, the “exploiter” in every form (who is generally known to be a Hindu) the religious fanaticism of the Mohammadan masses, cleverly kindled by the Mawlvis, adds itself most naturally. Now, since class-consciousness has been cultivated among them, no less naturally, and no less easily do the feelings of the low caste Hindu peasants and labourers creep in, mingled with a bitter spirit of revolt. Kept out of contact with upper caste Hindu society for long centuries, they are now rapidly experiencing a social consciousness of their own, a social consciousness apart from what they consider as


Hindudom. That consciousness has no cultural basis; but it has an economic one, which brings, day by day, the down-trodden lower caste Hindus nearer to the Mohammadans. Wherever the Mohammadans are a majority, and specially a majority of peasants and labourers, every democratical movement in India is, finally, a Mohammadan movement.

It is not the acceptance of water, or, occasionally, even of rice, from their hands, that will bring back the awakened Hindus of the low castes to their former submissive attitude. The time of obedience is gone. Everyday, the low caste Hindus are getting more conscious of their importance and of their strength.

The sacrifice of caste prejudices, on the part of the upper caste Hindus (in their own interest, and in the interest of Hindu culture that they represent) must be such that the lower castes, including the so-called Untouchables, will gladly use their strength to defend the whole of Hindudom, in case of danger.

* * *

Danger is not far away; in many places already, the Hindus have experienced it in violent riots, in which they have invariably been crushed, owing to their lack of solidarity and to their un-preparedness.

But riots worse than any of those India has seen in the past, may take place in an early future. India is preparing herself for political independence. And it is a fact that no country has passed from foreign domination to free self-government, without going through a period of confusion, in which the old


government is no more, while the new one does not yet effectively exist. No legal protection; no police. Such a state of things may last a month; it may also last a year. We ask the Hindus just to try to imagine what would probably happen to them, in North Bengal, in East Bengal, and wherever they represent less than twenty-five, and sometimes, less than ten percent of the total population, if, for only three days, they were left entirely to the grace of God and to themselves, without the protection of any government or police. What would happen to them in the villages where there are five Hindu families, in the midst of five hundred Mohammadans? And what would be the attitude of the discontented lower caste Hindus then, under the combined effect of labour propaganda, indifference to the fate of Hindudom which they do not feel theirs, hunger, and the primitive impulse of destruction? Who can assure that they will not side with the Mohammadan comrades, who have the same grievances as themselves, and share the loot with them, before sharing, soon after, the brotherhood of Islam? Who can assure that, on the contrary, they will stand by Hindudom, lending their strength to their upper caste compatriots, for the preservation of real India?

But what is “real India” to them? What was real Greece and its culture, to the slaves of Greece? And what was real Rome and its glory, to the slaves of Rome?

* * *

The least one can say is that caste privileges and


prejudices, and any social beliefs or social customs should be given up, to the extent that they are, at the present stage of Indian history, a hindrance to the growth of a united Hindu consciousness, as well as to the fighting capacity of the Hindus as a whole.

As long as all Hindus do not feel that within their fold, they are offered more dignity, more justice, and greater possibilities of personal development than without, they will not all love their fold; and an increasing number of them will leave it for good. The greater number of those who remain Hindus, will be indifferent to the fate of Hindudom not moving even their little finger to defend it or help it in case of need.

As long as all Hindus do not feel a certain amount of freedom and social toleration within their fold, there will be an increasing number of them who will willingly leave the fold to live as they like, or unwillingly be driven out of it, for having shown too much personal independence in social matters. Whoever they may be, good or bad, they are a force that Hindudom cannot afford to lose now. The Hindus should remember that, among the most dangerous Mohammadan leaders, there are descendants of Hindus driven out of Hindudom, for whatever good or bad reason it may be. It may have been, and probably was, once, a gain for Hindudom to purify itself by outcasting “undesirable” people. But now that Hindudom is not the only society in India; now that there are two rival societies by its side, eager to seize every opportunity of harming it directly or indirectly, strictness in social matters only brings loss. It is too easy for an outcasted Hindu, nowadays, to increase


the number of the enemies of Hindudom.

As long as all Hindus do not feel that the glory of Hindudom is their glory, and its artistic, cultural and spiritual inheritance their own treasure, there will be no united Hindu consciousness, no common aim, no common interest, no common enthusiasm, no common love, no solidarity among the Hindus — and no hope for Hindudom. The upper caste Hindus feel that the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Epics, the Shastras, all are theirs. Let such a new atmosphere be created in Hindudom, that every Hindu fisherman may feel that Vyasa Deva’s Mahabharata is also his, and be proud of it and of its author.

Then Hindudom will be one and strong.

* * *

As long as the hill-tribes of India (the so-called “animists” etc.) do not feel that their primitive forms of worship are one of the innumerable aspects of manifold Hinduism, and that they are a part and parcel of manifold Hindudom, their strength is lost to the cause of Hindudom. And it is a pity, for they are sturdy fighters. But they will never feel themselves Hindus unless the Hindus make them feel so, through their behaviour towards them; unless they are treated as Hindus.

In the same way, there will be no possibility of widespread reconversion to Hinduism of those who have left the Hindu fold, as long as it is not well established that, to the eyes of the born-Hindus of every caste, a reconverted Hindu is a Hindu, just as any of themselves. Until this is accepted, Hindudom


will remain constantly losing its numerical strength without the possibility of ever regaining it. A tragic position, in front of Christendom and Islam!

* * *

The reconversion of Hindus who have left the Hindu fold, is not such an easy matter as it looks.

It presupposes the possibility of accepting any outsider into the Hindu society, if proved worthy. For, the Hindu who has become a Mohammadan, giving up his traditional diet and Hindu habits, is, from the orthodox Hindu point of view, no better, no “purer” than any foreigner. It is not even proved that no mixture of blood has ever taken place, in the family of an Indian whose ancestors were once Hindus. So, logically, if Hindudom, forsaking its orthodoxy, can take back such a man, it should be prepared to take in anyone who earnestly wishes to join it.

Other religions encourage proselytism because they are creedal ones, of which the communal unity is based upon the acceptance of the same “truth” by all their followers. But Hinduism, we have said, is no creed. The unity of Hindudom, if any, is the unity created by a common cultural inheritance, a common civilisation, a common national existence. The principle of conversion to Hinduism would be nothing more nor less than the principle of nationalisation, accepted in all modern countries. Applied here it means: “Whoever is worthy of India can become an Indian (that is to say a Hindu), if he likes.” So far, apparently, no difficulties.


Practical difficulties come in with the consideration of caste. A Hindu caste will not take back one of its members who has spent six months as a Mohammadan. But let us, for sake of argument, suppose it did. To what caste would then a reconverted Hindu belong, whose ancestors had become Mohammadans, say, ten generations back, and who does not know which was their former caste? To what caste would belong a foreigner by birth, who admires Hindu civilisation enough to wish to share it, and who chooses to become a Hindu and an Indian?

Unless this question is answered, any movement in favour of Hindu proselytism is useless.

To give the new-comer a place in Hindu society according to his personal fitness is not even possible, as long as the born-Hindus themselves cannot get a place according to their merit. A reconverted or newly converted Hindu cannot be made a Brahman, whatever may be his knowledge, his culture, his virtues, since such a man as Aurobindo Ghosh is not accepted as a Brahman, in the present state of Hindu society.

* * *

In one word, it is not such and such a detail, such and such a practice, that has to be forsaken, but the whole social atmosphere of Hindudom that has to be changed, if Hindudom wishes to live, flourish and rule.

Hindudom can neither be united, nor strengthened, nor expanded, without the whole-hearted


collaboration of millions of people, feeling happy and proud to be Hindus, that is to say, without the suppression of all what prevents millions of Hindus from feeling happy and proud within their fold; without, also, the suppression of all what prevents, at present, millions of Indians from styling themselves as Hindus and standing by the Hindus.

We do not advocate the suppression of caste-system, but we advocate the suppression of social tyranny, whether it be enforced in the name of the sanctity of caste-system, or of anything else. And there is no doubt that caste must lose its rigidity, if social intolerance is to be got rid of, if the process of conversion of Hindus to other religions is to be stopped, and if conversion and reconversion to Hinduism is to be made possible, in the practical field.

Many Hindus are getting to appreciate the value of Hindu unity. They understand the causes of the weakness of Hindudom, and the immediate necessity of some sort of social changes. But they do not realise the meaning of social changes.

The basis of society is the householder’s home — not the market-place, nor the tea-shop, nor the tennis ground, nor the public meeting, nor even the temple, but the home, the most sacred place on earth, where the Gods and Goddesses worshipped in the temple, were born as men and women. Hindu unity in public festivities, even within the compound of the temples, is no unity if it does not persist, among all Hindus, within each Hindu home. Whatever may be the social reforms necessary to check the disintegration of Hindudom, they must boldly take place at home, or


remain of no use. And they should take place, as we have said, at once, and now, at least wherever the Hindus are a minority, like in North and East Bengal or a rapidly decreasing majority, like in Assam. Threatened on all sides, Hindudom cannot afford to wait.