More than a Review: Here's what "Gita Press and the making of Hindu India" tells us about Hinduism
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
The Gita press in Gorakhpur is the world’s largest publisher of Hindu religious texts , started by two Marwari businessman- Jaydayal Goenka and Hanuman Prasad Poddar. As on 2014, Gita press sold 72 million copies of The Gita and millions of copies of Hindu religious magazines and thus the press had a huge impact on the way Hinduism was perceived, especially before independence and interestingly, these ideologies are still prevalent in Hinduism. From speaking against cow slaughter to the creation of Pakistan, the Gita press articulated various ideas that played a huge role in political decisions , perceptions of the masses and the formation of the “Hindu religion” as we know it today. Akshaya Mukul’s Gita Press and the making of Hindu India traces down this journey of the Gita press and the influence it has had over the years.
The stark similarities between the issues raised by the Gita Press before Independence and the issues raised by the Hindu politicians today surprises the reader and further confirms the huge influence of the Gita Press.
“Cow protection was also one of the pronounced goals of Gita Press, for which Kalyan was used as a vehicle with two special issues, Gau Ank (Issue on Cows) and Gau Seva Ank (Issue on Service to Cows)” (Page 10, last paragraph)
Another element that led to a huge following and immense trust in the Gita press publications was their take on Nationalism and how they made it synonymous to Hinduism.
“In 1893, Pratap Narayan Mishra castigated readers of his journal Brahman for not being serious in their commitment to the goal of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan.” (Page 17)
Apart from talking about religious-political issues , vedas, hindu mythology, the sanatan dharma , solving conflicts between the arya samaj , brahmo samaj and the sanatanis , the Gita press was also responsible for spreading regressive ideologies like ‘those who do noble deeds are born as Brahmins or Kshatriyas and those who indulged in bad deeds are born as chandals’ , it even attacked B.R Ambedkar for being a lower caste individual and marrying a Brahmin girl.
The Gita press propagated that women should stick to the household activities , it propagated that women’s education should be restricted to the Hindu religious texts and learning the household duties like cooking , cleaning , needlework and taking care of the kids. According to the Gita press publications, the women have no right to be independent, they must be governed by their fathers, then by their husbands and at last under the “care” of their sons. Clearly, the press was blocking the independence and education of the Hindu females, was spreading regressive ideas and ultimately causing a hindrance in creating an educated and developed nation. “An ideal women – Sushila” , a publication of the Gita press is still available on their website priced at Rs.6 , the book , like the other Gita press publications states regressive ideas against women.
The press also called Muslim men “libidinous, sexually dissipated and voluptuously lustful”, it stressed on the idea that the Hindu women must be protected from the Muslim men at all costs and thus sowed the seeds of hatred in Hindus and regularly watered it with their regressive ideologies.
The main aim of the Gita press was to make India a “Hindu nation” and for that they were ready to sow seeds of hatred, circulate regressive ideas and create religious divides.
“Gita Press's template is unchanged, and its political agenda remains undiluted, as does its fond hope that India will one day become Hindu.” (Page 29)
The book also sheds light on the Marwari community and their historical accounts , primarily because the Marwari community and the Gita Press were closely linked. Incidents involving Marwari community around the Swadeshi movement in India has been vividly described in the book. The active involvement of Mahatma Gandhi and his contributions and conflicts with the Marwari community have also been highlighted in the book.
“The rich private archives in Gorakhpur contain no reference to Gandhi's assassination. Even the series of monographs and laudatory biographies of Poddar ignore the event completely” (Page 58)
The people associated with the Gita press were not only publishing content that would create religious divides but also participating in events that could deepen this divide, cause riots, create an atmosphere of fear and cause political instability. The involvement of the people associated with the Gita press in the demolishing of Babri Masjid in 1992 leaves the reader astonished.
“Vishnu Hari would later become head of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and a front-line leader in the Ayodhya movement that resulted in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.” (page 63)
The fact that the Babri Masjid issue became a major political issue and was a major point of contention till 2020 reinstates the impact of the Gita press in framing the modern politics.
Akshaya Mukul’s book is descriptive in nature and provides some illustrations of the Gita press in between , it is an in-depth study of the spread of Sanatan dharma and Hinduism , it traces down the roots of various modern political issues and regressive ideologies , stresses on the religious divide specially among the Hindus and Muslims and what may have caused it , it also describes the involvement of Gandhi and his stand on the lower castes which caused a conflict between Poddar and the people associated with the Gita press and Gandhi. It also traces down the rise of “God-men” in the Sanatan dharma and how they used their power and influence to harass females.
“Gita press and the making of Hindu India” is a book that the “curious Indian” must read, the issues stated in the book are very relevant in the modern scenario and one might find himself comparing the incidents mentioned in the book to the incidents we read about in our daily newspapers. The book makes the readers realize the power of mass media and where it could lead the country if used inappropriately.
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