Tharoor’s New Book Asks: Will Constitutionalism Tame Hindutva?

At almost the same time as the ‘Taj controversy’, came one over a film on the Rajput queen Padmavati, who is said to have immolated herself, together with 16,000 other Rajput women, rather than be captured alive by the invading Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji.

The historicity of the incident is somewhat in doubt; no contemporary account of Khilji’s attack on Chittorgarh, including by historians accompanying his forces, mentions the queen.

But Padmavati became legend more than two centuries later, when the Sufi mystic poet Malik Mohammed Jayasi devoted his lyrical epic Padmavat to her story.

It has been suggested that Jayasi did not intend his tale to be taken literally, and that he had chosen Khilji’s attack on Chittor because its name included the word ‘chit’ (consciousness); his poem is said to have been an allegory for the union of mind and soul, under attack from external forces, with the man-woman story a standard trope of the Persian mystic poetry tradition.

But literature, once published, acquires a life of its own. The tale was picked up and retold with enthusiasm — by Bengali bards, Rajasthani folk-tellers, and even the English Colonel Tod, who included Padmavati’s tale in his compilation, Annals and Antiquities of Rajputana.

In countless retellings, Padmavati was soon deified: she became the symbol of Rajput female honour and purity, nobly resisting the lustful Muslim, her self-immolation (jauhar) the ‘epitome’ of sacrificial Hindu womanhood.

The controversy confirmed once again that to some Hindus, the difference between historical fact and cultural myth does not matter; what is remembered and believed is as important as what is verifiable.I am indeed proud that I am a Hindu. But of what is it that I am, and am not, proud? I am not proud of my co-religionists attacking and destroying Muslim homes and shops. I am not proud of Hindus raping Muslim girls, or slitting the wombs of Muslim mothers. I am not proud of Hindu vegetarians who have roasted human beings alive and rejoiced over the corpses.

Excerpt #2: Why I Am Proud (& Not Proud) of Being Hindu

I am not proud of those who reduce the lofty metaphysical speculations of the Upanishads to the petty bigotry of their own sense of identity, which they assert in order to exclude, not embrace, others. I am proud that India’s pluralism is paradoxically sustained by the fact that the overwhelming majority of Indians are Hindus, because Hinduism has taught them to live amidst a variety of other identities.

I am not proud of those who suggest that only a Hindu, and only a certain kind of Hindu, can be an authentic Indian. I am proud of those Hindus who utterly reject Hindu communalism, conscious that the communalism of the majority is especially dangerous because it can present itself as nationalist. I am proud of those Hindus who respect the distinction between Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism.

Obviously, majorities are never seen as ‘separatist’, since separatism


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