V.K. SINHA, the Secularist

Hinduism and Hindutva

Editorial by Professor V. K. Sinha in The Secularist, November-December 2002. (Freedom First July-September 2003)

 

Years ago Arthur Koestler made a rather startling and provocative remark on India: “Hinduism has to die, if India has to live!” Koestler was no evangelist nor a tub-thumping Imperialist. A highly gifted person; he was at home both in modern sciences and in literature. It would be ofcourse easy to ignore the statement and yet one is compelled to reckon with it. What did Koestler find in Hinduism which he thought would destroy India?

 

If Hinduism means giving legitimacy to the Chaturvarna - the highly stratified and rigid caste system - if it means exploiting and humiliating the Dalits and denying them dignity and humanity, then that Hinduism does contain seeds of destruction which can prove fatal to India.

 

If Hinduism means assertion of majoritarian principle based upon which god or gods one worships, if people are divided on which places of worship they give allegiance to, if it means there are ‘true’ religions and there are ‘alien’ religions which can never live in harmony, then that Hinduism does pose a danger to the future of India. A country in which one out of every six citizens is held in suspicion or is distrusted cannot be stable.

 

If Hinduism means imposition of a superstition on others who do not share it- ban on cow-slaughter reflects this - and using the State to enforce it, then that Hinduism forfeits its claim to be tolerant. Gandhi was proud of being a Hindu and his paens on the cow are well known. Yet he was not only not in favour of ban on cow slaughter but said that he would oppose it. As a democrat, he believed that it is tyrannical for a ‘majority’ to impose its beliefs on others. The Togadias and Singhals, who claim to honour Savarkar, seem to be unaware that he never regarded cow as a sacred animal. As a rationalist, Savarkar would have hardly countenanced ban on cow slaughter.

 

If Hinduism means elevating “Sati Savitri” syndrome, which in reality demeans the status of women, if Hinduism means idealizing the self-effacing Sita of Valmiki’s Ramayana, if it means denying empowerment of women, then that Hinduism cannot build a modern, liberal and humane India.

 

Hinduism has never been a religion. It is a motley of beliefs and practices and this has been its real strength. Hundreds of temples have been attacked or destroyed in the course of the last 2000 years - some of them by Hindus themselves. And yet Hinduism survived. it did so because it never fully invested its faith in one or few or several specific places of worship. Many Hindus would scorn at the idea that god can be housed in a place built by mere mortals. On the other hand, there are millions of Hindus who worship their gods in the little shrines they have built in their homes and villages. It is these latter which give them the sustenance to withstand all challenges. It is these little villages which have witnessed the rise and fall of empires, both alien and indigenous, without losing their faith or beliefs. The very strength of Hinduism has been its lack of assertiveness. It has been pervasive because it has not been militant. There have been sectarian conflicts in India but nothing comparable to the sanguinary battles which disfigure European history in the 16th and the 17th centuries.

 

We can now perhaps better understand what Koestler meant. Did he mean Hindutva? The new votaries of Hinduism - the Togadias and the Singhals - have given Hinduism a character which is totally alien to its spirit. One can only hope that they do not succeed. Else, we face a grim future!

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