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Hinduization of Seva

Bhangya Bhukya

By R. Srivatsan
Routledge, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 198, Rs. 695.00


R. Srivatsan’s theoretical intervention through his recent book, Seva, Saviour and State: Caste Politics, Tribal Welfare and Capitalist Development is about the politics articulated within the concept and practice of seva—politics of caste, politics of Hindutva, politics of secularism, politics of nationalism and politics of development. Gopal Guru says in his Foreword that this book provides a theoretical, philosophical and historical basis for understanding the entity called the state in India. The Indian state evolved its developmentalism and welfarism on the foundation of seva in the first half of the twentieth century. The author argues that seva was essentially a political instrument used to achieve nationalist commitment to social reform, development and welfare to critique colonialism, to express aesthetic of activism and asceticism, and to express national commitment to. But in all these expressions necessary measures were taken to maintain the status quo of domination in a newer way. Rather upper caste domination was reinforced more powerfully through seva. Also the author argues that welfare in India is an expression of seva or charity, not a legal right of a citizen. Besides fighting against colonial rule, the Indian freedom struggle had a normalized and naturalized form of domination on which the new India was built. As pointed out in this book, the concept of seva had an interesting trajectory during the national movement. The discourse of seva in Hindu religious text ensures service to the dominant caste by the subaltern castes; particularly charity to brahmans has occupied great prominence in Hindu tradition. This was reversed from the last decade of the nineteenth century. Tilak, Ranade, Bhandarkar, Gokhale, Vivekananda and others were important personalities in this respect. Vivekananda’s Karma Yoga that preached that duty to the community is the only practical route to salvation was the foundation for such a shift. This was elaborated further both in terms of discourse and activism with the entry of M.K. Gandhi. Gandhi strongly believed that the colonial state can be weakened only through the strengthening of community; therefore he embraced community construction works throughout the national movement. However the paradigm shift (from service of the dominant to service of poor) was largely due to the crisis in Hinduism created by colonial rule. Of course this takes the subaltern castes to the receiving end. B.R. Ambedkar’s critique of Hinduism led Gandhi to talk of Harijan seva in a big ...

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