Sunday, October 3, 2010

Is Hinduism really in danger?

 Over the last couple of days, numerous hoardings have been sprung up on the streets of Nagpur depicting Narendra Maharaj (who is claimed to be Jagadguru, the spiritual mentor of the world, by his followers) proclaiming Hinduism is in danger as it has no state support anywhere in the world (particularly in India). These posters are apparently a part of the bigger agenda of the Hindutva Parivar to polarize the Hindus against the non-Hindus and thus create a vote bank for the Hindu fundamentalist parties. Though such efforts particularly appear to the common man, these also do raise serious questions in the minds of those Indians who are proud of the principal of secularism enshrined in the Constitution of India.
Is Hinduism really in danger? From whom? Left us handle this question a bit systemically. A Hindu state has been a longstanding demand of the Hindutva fundamentalists in India dating back to the early years of the 20th century when V. D. Sawarkar coded the philosophy of Hindutva in his book Hindutva. India, as claimed by the Pariwar, itself is a Hindu nation because of its Hindu majority. But India also has a large population of Muslims too. India has the third largest Muslim population in the world only after Indonesia and Pakistan. As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has correctly noted, “Too see India just as a country of Hindus is a fairly bizarre idea in the face of that fact alone (the fact of its Muslim population), not to mention the intermingling of Hindus and Muslims in the social and cultural life of India.” Also India has been home to a large number of Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Jews, Parsis, and so on. All these people are Indians by Nationality, and due to this fact, claiming India to be a solely Hindu nation is really a “bizarre India.”

Another aspect of this question is does Hinduism (or any religion for that matter) really needs state support? Indeed, religious have been spread and flourished for ages by state help. State support of Ashoka to Buddhism, of Arabs to Islam, of Romans to Christianity have been helped a lot to spread those religions all over the world in the past. Hinduism had spread to Java and Sumatra with the imperialist kings of South India. But those were the things of past. Is it possible in this age to convert a mass of people from one religion to another by force? Yes, conversions still occur, but there are various reasons behind those and force has little, if any, role to play with it. Religion is supported by its followers. If state has any role to support it, it is secondary. We have seen in the history that religion like Din-e-Ilahi, which was founded by the Akbar, could survive even in his lifetime though it was the regions professed by the emperor himself. And as a matter of fact, Hinduism has survived for ages despite the fact that India has been a subject of various foreign powers for a vast period over this time. This proves that state support is absolutely secondary force in survival and flourishing of any religion. An in a secular state like India, it is absolute unnecessary.

 Let us move towards our main question: Is Hinduism really in danger? It is totally impossible to believe that such an overwhelming majority can be in danger for the minorities. And not merely a majority of numbers, but a majority in every aspect of state – legislation, executive, judiciary, press, military, etc. But this is a less important argument. Hindus are safe not because they are in majority, but because of the multireligious harmony that has been a core part of our Indianness.

Despite the interreligious harmony, conversions do happen in India, and sometimes en masse, but state has nothing to do with it. The Constitution of India has given us a fundamental right to accept and profess a faith of our own choice. What make the people to give up the beloved faith of their ancestors is the most important question . The hostile approach of the upper-class Hinds towards the depressed classes make the poor people to incline towards any love shown by others to them. Many peoples of scheduled tribes have accepted Christianity because of this reason. Another prominent example is of the so-called untouchables who converted to Buddhism en masse, about 400,000, under the able leadership of Dr. Ambedkar. We cannot blame them for their act, because they had been treated rather inhumanly by the Hindus for ages.

The above examples light up the fact that if there is any real danger to Hinduism in a long run, it is from the fundamentalist Hindus themselves who have hijacked the term Hindu for their selfish aims. Their hostility towards their own people and their belligerent attitude towards the others have made a common Hindu to think seriously about his being a Hindu. As Bhalchandra Nemade, a prominent Marathi author, has noted:
"Once Hindu meant all the people living on this side of Sindhu (Indus) River. But now Hindu has become a word in the hands of Hindu fundamentalists, it has been a matter of shame to call yourself a Hindu."
This is not a feeling of Nemade alone. It is a feeling of every common Hindu who is proud of India’s multireligious harmony. To protect our Indianness, the antisecular agenda must be fought against with all of our strength. We are not a Hindu, Muslim, Christan, Buddhist, or Sikh nation – We are Indian at first and Indian from the heart.

To quote Amartya Sen again, “There are good reasons to resist the antisecular enticements... The winter of our discontent might not be giving way at present to a glorious summer, but the political abandonment of secularism would make India more wintry than it currently is.”

1. Sen, Amartya (2005), The Argumentative Indian, “Secularism and Its Discontent”, London: Penguin Books. P. 308
2. Nemade, Bhalchandra, “Reviving the true Hindu Ethos”, An interview with Meena Menon, The Hindu, July 4, 2010.