Dharm Sansad Haridwar

The open call for genocide against Muslims by some self-styled Hindu leaders at the recent ‘Dharam Sansad’ (Religious Parliament) at Haridwar has stirred a hornet nest.  It has evoked a sharp reaction against the government’s complicity to shield such perpetrators of hate crime and more its inability to punish those disturbing communal peace. However, at another level, it has opened up a debate whether Hindutva is closer to Thuggees or Hinduism.

The fresh debate on Thuggee has sprung up because of religiosity and murder, the twin features of the murderous cult were quite explicit at the ‘Dharam Sansad’ at Haridwar. The Hindu meeting gave a clear indication that the cult of Thuggee has resurrection in a new avatar in India.

It needs to be reiterated that Thuggee was a mysterious criminal cult that survived for nearly six centuries till the early nineteenth century in India. It was  Col. William Sleeman, the British officer, who is credited to wipe out the Thuggee criminals from India. The British police officer through intelligence gathering, systematic arrest, and punishment put an end to this murderous cult that operated in large parts of India.

Nonetheless, the Thuggee cult members played a huge role in shaping the religious outlook of India for centuries. The members of this ancient cult justified murder and loot by building a grand narrative that their ideas are synonym with Hinduism. As a result, the practice of Thuggee continued to thrive in India glorifying murder and loot having sanctions from the Hindu religion.

In the debate between Hindutva versus Hinduism, the protagonists of Hinduism calls Hindutva an affront to their tolerant, pluralistic religious ethos, while the Hindutva forces assert that their version of Hinduism is the core religious identity of the Hindus. However, when confronted with the questions that are they closer to the Thuggee practitioners, the grim and scorn don their faces.

However, in the context of the Dharam Sansad’ at Haridwar, remembering Thuggees has become relevant because the new version of Hindutva has some striking similarities with Thuggees. The open attack on the Muslim minority at the Dharam Sansad’ Hindutva forces indicates that it’s closer to Thuggee’s practices than the Santan Dharma belief system.

This comparison is important because at the ‘Dharam Sansad’ at Haridwar, the Hindutva forces shades of Thuggee practices that are almost forgotten in India.  However, the uttering by many religious figures forces to compare between Hindutva and Thuggee to bring out the complexity of the new avatar and its consequences on future India.

Thuggee was an organized cult that flourished in India nearly a century and a half ago. This is being resurrected now and some conspicuous features developing since the last few years points towards such a change. Therefore a comparison between Thuggee and Hindutva is needed to assess the nature and direction of change that India is making in contemporary times.

What appears clear is that the Hindutva is becoming more ambitious under the current ruling dispensation and a reincarnated version of the Thuggee cult is emerging under the grand umbrella of Hindutva in India.

While looking for similarities between Hindutva and Thuggee, it is the destructive, cultish nature of Thuggee and its manipulation of faith and murderous tendencies that make Hindutva the modern-day inheritors of the Thuggee tradition.

In the case of the Thuggee cult most, all its members were worshippers of Bhawanee, an avatar of the Goddess Kali. In the case of Hindutva, they are the followers of the grand narrative of current religious discourse centered on Lord Ram and Ayodhya.

The members of the Thuggee cult believed that they are helping their worshipping deity to maintain the worldly balance of good and evil and each murder they committed was to prevent Kali’s arrival, considered an apocalyptical event for humankind. A similar vision is seen in the image of the Hindutva forces that openly profess that they are on some kind of ‘civilizing mission’ to ‘protect Mother India’ and ‘Save Hinduism,’ even if it means to ‘destroy Hinduism’ to save it!

The real motivation for the Thuggee cult was the economic benefit from the loot and murder, making use of religious cloak to cover its sins. It was common among the Thuggee members to generously donate their ill-gotten wealth to the temples and religious establishment as a part of their religious obligation, at the same time filling their own coffers by material wealth. This is exactly what’s done by the Hindutva brigade and looks like a complete replication of the Thuggee practices especially since the BJP has come to power in 2014 under the leadership of Narendra Modi.

Ironically, just like the Thuggee, where the religious symbol of Kali was used to justify their horrendous practices, the Hindutva forces are using the popular deities like Lord Ram and others, to carry out the loot and murder in the name of religion. In the case of Hindutva, the loot consists of massive public funds that are diverted to religious activities and also to a small band of corporate chieftains who in return fund them during the time of elections.

It can be argued that the Thuggees had no public support while the Hindutva forces enjoy much popular support. The fact is Thuggees members were not suspected of being murderous or criminals and their public image were being that of worshippers of Kali. Similarly, the Hindutva folks are passed off as respectable tax-paying citizens and being tolerated for their acts of omission and commission.  However, the fact remains that in the Hindutva brigade, murderous and loot tendencies have infiltrated deep and are operating in the society wearing the mask of religion.  The main goal, of the Thuggee members, was to loot and murder and the same is also the objective of Hindutva forces.

The interesting fact is Thuggee cult had a close connection and complicity with the village chiefs and landlords who protected them; the same is the case with Hindutva that finds protection from the government and the corporate circles.

Another interesting similarity is the trademark of Thuggee followers was yellow scarves to strangle their victims, the Hindutva brigade use the saffron-tinged yellow scarf to display their identity.

This brings us to the question of how a human can kill another human and precisely this question brings both Thuggee and Hindutva on the same platform. This is because killing is at the heart of the matter and both justify this on the grounds of religious sanctions.  The follower of Thugee is believed to have killed some 50,000 plus people in 1830 alone, which is a chilling record unmatched butchery by a religious cult. Similarly, the Hindutva forces by engineering innumerable communal riots have indulged in the mass murder of Muslims that remains unaccounted and its trail of destruction is unparalleled in the world.

It is not to deny the fact that the link between Hindutva and Thuggee is tenuous but the fact is both murderer forces have held India hostage under the religious traditions.  It could be seen that just like the victims of the Thuggee were ordinary people, the victims of Hindutva’s machination are ordinary Muslim folks.

The development at the ‘Dharam Sansad’ at Haridwar makes many ponder that while the Thuggees system was finished by the colonial rulers, who will take on the similar challenges posed by the Hindutva extremists. This is a far more daunting task because the modern-day Thuggee operators have captured the power at the highest level in India. The Indian state, the police, the judiciary have become tacit supporters of modern-day Thuggee practices, in such a case, who will bell the cat?

As a result, many may agree that wiping out the modern-day Thuggee practices is almost impossible. It will be a real test of the ingenuity of the common Indians that can wipe out the modern-day Thuggee practices from our country.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com


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