Deconstructing Tilak

Parimala V. Rao, Assistant Professor at the Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies at JNU has written extensively on the nationalist discourse on gender, caste and peasantry. Her new book, published by Orient Blackswan, is on Tilak.

Foundations of Tilak’s Nationalism: Discrimination, Education and Hindutva shows how, as opposed to being simply a struggle of the colonised against the coloniser’s oppression, the anti-colonial struggle in India was much more nuanced and complicated. In this process, it examines the role of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and draws attention to issues concerning education, gender, caste, peasantry and communalism, how these were interlinked and had a decisive influence on his anti-colonial nationalism. The study also deconstructs the categories of the moderate and the extremist, the reformer and the orthodox and questions the validity of calling reformers like M. G. Ranade, G. K. Gokhale, N. G. Chandavarkar and G. G. Agarkar as moderates, collaborators and compradors of colonial rule.

This book critically analyses Tilak’s stance against a single Indian nationality free from caste and religious prejudices and gender inequalities, of how he advocated the hegemonic control of the landed elites over society contrary to that of the Reformers and inquires into the debates concerning the Nationalist agenda of preventing women and non-Brahmins from gaining access to education. Tilak’s was a patriarchal and orthodox position, that ideated that teaching Hindu women to read and write would ruin their traditional virtues making them immoral and subordinate. Criticism of the caste system and allowing education to women and non-Brahmins, were according to Tilak, ‘un-national tendencies’ and ‘against the Hindu nation’.

The author also addresses the origin of the concept of ‘Hindutva’ and locates it not in the conflict of interest between the Hindus and Muslims, or the Hindus and the British, but in the discarding of religious neutrality and the enforcement of caste restrictions. In this context, the author presents the ideology of Hindutva as one further away from the concept of Hinduism, a rigorous representation of the ‘Muslim other’ and traces in it the consequent rise of communalism.

In refuting the value premises of viewing an individual independent of caste identity, this book also sheds light on Tilak’s constant ridicule of the Reformers’ emphasis on the Bhakti tradition as a source of spiritual guidance. It introduces the reader to the vehement Nationalist critique of Vedic revivalism, i.e., the advocation of the Vedic religion and a Vedic way of life, which included Vedic rituals, relaxation of rigid caste restrictions and improvement in the condition of women by adopting post-puberty marriage, widow marriage and the education of girls that attempted to incorporate the lower caste groups into its fold—shattering the social and economic hegemony of the Brahmins.

This meticulous piece of scholarship is a crucial insight into Tilak’s role in India’s struggle for independence and questions the basis of his status as an uncompromising champion of the freedom movement and his being projected as the greatest Maharashtrian.


In our History and Politics sections, in hardcover, 372 pages, Rs 795. ISBN: 9788125039198

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