Make space for true values of Hinduism

hinduismIt is depressing to witness a regime of intolerance sweeping across this country. The topic of religion is a sensitive one that has political connotations. I am no expert on religion and neither a hardcore supporter of any political party. I am a liberal, secular agnostic who has not set foot in any place of worship for the past many years. I remember the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at my ancestral place during my college and university days. I used to invite my friends to celebrate the festival with us, most of whom were Christians and Muslims. They all used to join in the festivities; nobody ever felt discriminated on the basis of religion. It is the spirit of the festival that matters.

There are many, including me, who feel that Hinduism is not a religion in the Abrahamic sense of the word: there is no one founder, no prophet, no one religious book, no ‘chosen people’ and no monotheistic or jealous god. It does not proselytize or hunt heretics. Instead, it is a set of rituals and practices of living in harmony with nature. It has to be noted that most of the traditions and rituals of Hinduism have a scientific explanation. In other words, it is a way of life. Many years ago, I received an e-mail titled, ‘Why I am a Hindu’, in which the writer explains to a young American girl the features of the ‘religion’. He claimed that anybody can be a Hindu: a person belonging to any religion, one who believes in many gods or even one god, or even an atheist. It is perhaps this feature that has given Hinduism a quality of being tolerant, accepting and broad-minded. I guess that is why all those people who invaded India in the past (except the Europeans) settled down and assimilated easily into the culture, creating a rich, multi-cultural milieu. There were also the Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Baha’is who fled to India to escape persecution and found refuge in this country.

Gurcharan Das in his book, ‘The Difficulty of being good’, says that Hinduism is a civilization based on a simple metaphysical insight about the unity of the individual and the universe and has self-development as its objective. He goes on to state that when he told his friends and acquaintances that he wanted to study the Mahabharat, they accused him of turning saffron, an accusation which left him peeved. There is a misconception that the Ramayana and the Mahabharat are religious texts. They are just what they state to be: epic stories, like the Iliad and the Odyssey, meant to be read by everybody, but with morals that are still relevant today. Even the Bhagwad Gita contained in the Mahabharat is more of a philosophical and moral discourse, if one has to contrast it with other religious books.

This is why it is sad to note a rise in regressive attitudes and intolerant mentalities on the part of the so-called guardians of the Hindu way of life, now that they have been unleashed from a position of power. It can be said that Hindu fundamentalism is a response to Islamic fundamentalism, but the fact remains that the liberal, tolerant nature of Hinduism is in danger. Although the RSS chief may not have been off the mark with his statement, but such statements embarrass liberal Hindus more than anybody else. The recent beef ban in Maharashtra is another example of majoritarianism. Just because 99% of Hindus do not eat beef, it does not mean that other communities should be banned from doing so. While many may argue that the Middle Eastern countries and Pakistan practise dictatorial religious majoritarianism, it should be noted that those countries were created by the colonial powers as Islamic countries. Islamism is in their DNA and their constitutions. It is not so in India.

A deeply patriarchal society means that sadly, it is women, the victims, who are blamed for the rape. Irresponsible statements by MPs make us hang our heads in shame. Men in khaki shorts who celebrate bachelorhood should not advise women on what to do or not to do. Instead of banning documentaries that expose our hypocrisy towards rape and comedy acts that roast celebrities, it would be better if the government banned hate speeches and people with criminal records from entering the Parliament, and ban the ban on books and films that have been banned, lest we end up becoming a nation of “bandhan”. While during UPA-2, the MPs were gagged by Sonia Gandhi, in this government, we see too many loose cannons firing.

This is where Goa can set an example. It is a state where all faiths have co-existed in harmony for centuries, whether in the pre-Portuguese era, the colonial period (except during the Inquisition) and post-Liberation. Most children in Goa grow up being exposed to a multi-religious and multi-cultural atmosphere of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, developing an open-minded outlook towards religion. In the Renaissance literature of Portuguese, I came across a concept called ‘aurea mediocritas’, which means the golden medium. This is the same philosophy that was preached by Gautam Buddha in the 600 BC. It means avoiding the extremes of anything to embrace the middle path, or moderation.

Gursharan Das lamented in his book that it is difficult to be a liberal Hindu today (he wrote the book in 2009). In an era when everything is expected to be in black & white, when a person with ‘X’ opinion/belief/thought is branded as a supporter of ‘Y’ political party, there seems to be no room for open-minded discussion, where things may have fifty shades of grey. I read a post on Facebook which said that in today’s society, Hindus have to prove that they are secular while Muslims have to prove they are patriotic. Now I am neither “sickular” nor an “AAPtard”, but it is disheartening to see liberalism fading away in today’s society. It is for this moderation and liberalism that we need to stand up, not as members of any political party, but as libertarians who want to live in a multi-religious and multi-cultural country in an ambience of tolerance, acceptance and open-mindedness, that embraces the true and inherent values of the way of life called Hinduism.

(The writer is a lecturer in Portuguese at the Goa University)

Source: The Times of India