An alternative Marxist interpretation of Hinduism and Hindutva – Arvind Sharma

Indian Marxist

While the Marxists are prepared to view the history of Hinduism as internally oppressed by caste, they are unwilling to view the same history as also involving the oppression of the whole community at the hands of non-Hindus. – Prof. Arvind Sharma

There is a regnant Marxist interpretation of Hindutva, which goes somewhat like this. All human history is the history of class struggle. When we contextualise this dictum in the Indian context, however, caste replaces class. But this poses a problem.

The classical formulation of the caste system speaks in terms of the four (rather than just two) varnas, because it speaks of (1) Brahmanas, (2) Kshatriyas, (3) Vaishyas, and (4) Shudras. The Marxist paradigm works on the binary opposition of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, or the exploiter and the exploited. However, these four can be reduced to a binary opposition in two ways. The first three classes, which are called dvijas in classical literature, can be pitted against the Shudras, who were denied the right to Vedic initiation, unlike the first three classes. This is one way in which Marxist analysis could be applied to Hindutva, which is identified as an upper class or dvija phenomenon.

The other way in which the fourfold classification can be reduced to a binary is by pitting all these four varnas against the former Untouchables. Classical Hinduism views the former Untouchables as contained within the category of the Shudras. Marxists, by rejecting this view, can derive another binary opposition by pitting all the four varnas against the former Untouchables.

Hence Hindutva is routinely castigated, in Marxist discourse in India, as oppressive of both the Shudras and the former Untouchables. A third binary can be posited between men and women across all the varnas, and the former Untouchables as well. Hence Hindutva forces are also castigated for oppressing women. This explains the lumping together of the Shudras, former Untouchables, and women, in the same breath, as victims of Hindutva in Marxist analysis.

A very different application of Marxism to Hindutva is also possible, although it has been largely ignored. It emerges, curiously, from the context in which Marx famously dubs religion as “the opium of the people”. In the same context, Marx also says that religion is the “sigh of the oppressed creature. The heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions”. Hindutva, in its self-perception, views Hindus as representing the “sigh of the oppressed creature”.

Hindus are the oppressed creature here. This may surprise some readers, and many Marxists, because Marxists view Hindus as the oppressors, rather than the oppressed, because they typically view Hindus as internally caste-ridden. They either fail or refuse to appreciate that the entire Hindu community can also view itself as an entity which has been externally oppressed by Muslims, Christians, and secular rulers, in its perception of itself.

This seems a bit odd.

This is triply surprising. First, Marxists take history seriously but, in this case, they seem disinclined to do so. One could say that Hinduism has no sense of history. Perhaps. But Hindutva does. Second, Marxism is very sensitive to oppression but not in this case. One could say that this is so because Marxism regards religion as an epiphenomenon. It could be that Hindus are seen suffering under “false consciousness”, but it is perhaps worth considering that they feel they have suffered, and are suffering, if only in their imagination. Then there is a third point to consider. Marxists operate with binaries, and the binary of the Hindu/not-Hindu stares one in the face.

One final point: Marxists also like to depict Hindutva as a disease. So if only they asked the “patient”, where is your pain?, as doctors do, then in this case, the patient is likely to answer: “In history”. History is home turf for the Marxists, but once again they choose to ignore it.

Perhaps an increased dose of opium for the patient? – Firstpost, 6 February 22022

Arvind Sharma, formerly of the IAS, is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal Canada, where he has taught for over thirty years. He has also taught in Australia and the United States and at Nalanda University in India. He has published extensively in the fields of Indian religions and world religions. 

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