Hindi belt Metroplus

Lost in translation?

Akshaya Mukul

Akshaya Mukul

Gita Press, Gorakhpur is in the news as it faces a temporary shutdown on account of workers’ strike. This is rather unprecedented because despite being a household name in the sprawling Hindi region, Gita Press, Gorakhpur shuns publicity. Its reach is unbelievable and it will be difficult to find even one literate Hindi-speaking Hindu household that does not have a copy of Tulsidas’ “Ramcharitmanas” or Gita Press’s monthly journal “Kalyan” or both.

A large number of Hindu families would also be in the possession of many other publications of Gita Press that specialises in Hindu religious literature. What makes its books so popular is the quality of production and incredibly low prices as the entire enterprise has been subsidised by its supporters who are drawn mainly from religious-minded rich Marwari business families.

In view of its ubiquitous presence, it’s really surprising that it successfully kept itself away from the scrutiny of researchers for nearly a century. It’s only now that Akshaya Mukul, a senior journalist, has come out with an astonishingly well-researched 540-page monograph that tells the saga of its great march in minute detail. Titled “Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India”, the book has been brought out Harper Collins Publishers India.

Mukul was fortunate enough to get access to the archival documents related to the Gita Press enterprise as well as to the private papers of Hanuman Prasad Poddar, who was at the helm of its affairs since the very beginning to his death in 1971 at the age of 79. Mukul’s conclusion is that under the garb of religious propaganda and protection of Sanatan Hindu Dharma was hidden the agenda of making India Hindu. Thus, Gita Press and the RSS, founded in 1923 and 1925 respectively, were pursuing the same goal by following different paths that often converged in times of political crisis.

In life, nothing is in black or white while one can find shades of grey everywhere. Gita Press was founded by Jaydayal Goyandka and run by Mahavir Prasad Poddar for a few years as a modest effort to print the text of Gita along with its Hindi commentary. But, as Mukul informs us, the Hindutva project really came into being in 1926 as a result of a debate between Gandhian reformist Marwaris like Ghanshyam Das Birla and Jamnalal Bajaj and traditionalist obscurantists like Hanuman Prasad Poddar on the virtues of Sanatan (Eternal) Hindu Dharma. Later Poddar, whom Mahatma Gandhi treated like a son, fell out with the great leader on the Temple Entry Movement and other such issues of social reform.

The monthly journal ‘Kalyan’ was founded in 1926 to thwart the reformist threat to Sanatan Hindu Dharma. In its long tumultuous journey, it supported cow protection movement, Ramrajya Parishad of Swami Karpatri as well as Ramjanmabhoomi movement. It continues to publish even now, thus adding its invisible might to the cause of turning India into a Hindu nation.

Little wonder that despite his close relations with many leaders of the nationalist movement, Hanuman Prasad Poddar found himself among those who were arrested after the assassination of the Mahatma. He was actively associated with the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS and presided over a function at the Town Hall in Banaras to welcome the then RSS chief M. S. Golwalkar after he was released from jail in 1949. Four days after the Nehru government lifted the ban on the RSS, Hanuman Prasad Poddar attended a public meeting at Gorakhpur with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then editor of the RSS weekly ‘Panchjanya’.

Through ‘Kalyan’, Poddar propagated an undiluted form of Hinduism that supported caste system, subjugation of women, male dominance, anti-Muslim prejudices and a host of such other regressive ideas that were introduced to Hindu families under the guise of religion. B. R. Ambedkar was specially targeted for vicious attacks as he had, despite belonging to a Hinavarna (low caste), married a Brahmin woman. As Akshaya Mukul points out, one can get an idea about the moral universe of ‘Kalyan’ from the fact that through it, Poddar opposed the Sarda Act that fixed the age of marriage for girls at 14 and for boys at 18. The woman was supposed to be always loyal to the husband and her entire existence should be geared towards making him happy. Widow remarriage was unthinkable.

Akshaya Mukul has rendered great service to those who are interested in understanding the complex processes that led India to where she is now.

His book is an eye opener to those who think that Hindutva gained strength only after the Shah Bano verdict was upturned by the Rajiv Gandhi government and the locks of the Babri mosque were opened.

The writer is a noted literary critic.

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Printable version | May 24, 2022 3:47:51 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/lost-in-translation/article7616033.ece