I must take issue with Ramachandra Guha’s latest polemic (Outlook, Nov 19). This is not the first time he has used the phrase ‘Hindu fundamentalist’. Five years ago, he asserted, also in this magazine, that “as long as Pakistan exists there will be Hindu fundamentalists in India”. Enough is enough. While I have no quarrel with Guha’s use of the word ‘Hindutva’, I suggest that he drop ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ from his vocabulary. The beast does not exist, ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ is an oxymoron.
A Christian believes that Jesus Christ was the son of God. It is fundamental to his belief. If he does not believe that, he cannot call himself a Christian. A Muslim has to accept that there is only one God and Mohammed was his prophet. Otherwise, he is not a Muslim. The Hindu does not have such a key theological tenet that is fundamental to his religion. We do not subscribe to one single dogma. In fact, ours is not much of a religion; it is a traditional way of life. That is the beauty of Hinduism.
My parents prayed every day. My father, a good Gujarati, was partial to Goddess Lakshmi! The only prayer I know is the Lord’s prayer, taught to me at a Catholic school many many years ago. I don’t have a clue on how to offer a Hindu prayer. But that does not make me any less a Hindu—it’s a given condition.
My parents did not touch alcohol. Many Hindus don’t. I drink like a fish. There is nothing in our scriptures that prohibits alcohol. You will learn from the Ramayana that Sita was partial to wine. The Mahabharata is loaded with references to liquor. Krishna drank with Arjun. Some of his clan, the Yadavas, were killed in a drunken brawl. We find Draupadi and Subhadra very drunk together.
The majority of Hindus are meat-eaters. On the other hand, a large minority are vegetarians who believe their religion prohibits eating of flesh. Yet, both groups coexist peacefully. The taboo against the eating of beef is perhaps the one distinguishing feature that binds together most Hindus. But here too the religion is flexible. Many poor Hindus eat beef, especially in the south, because it is the only meat they can afford. There was no prohibition against consumption of beef in ancient times.
Before the reader sends me abusive mail, here is what Swami Vivekananda has to say on the subject: “There was a time in this very India, when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain Brahmin; you read in the Vedas how when a sanyasin, a king, or a great man came into the house, the best bullock was killed; how in time it was found that as we were an agricultural race, killing the best bulls meant annihilation of the race.” (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume III, page 174.)
It’s great to belong to such an all-encompassing religion though sometimes we have to keep the company of some nasty people. The religion has a few drawbacks but I can live with them. First, you cannot convert to Hinduism. You have to be born a Hindu. Also, you cannot renounce your Hinduism. I am basically an atheist who happens to be born a Hindu. The only way I can stop being a Hindu is by converting to another religion. And there is no way I am going to do that.
In fact, I am a three times Hindu: at birth, marriage and death. It’s much more fun naming a newborn child on the basis of the alignment of the stars even if it’s mumbo jumbo, better than picking a name out of a hat. Our weddings are remarkably festive, the envy of other religions. My two daughters insisted on a Hindu ceremony when one married a Jew and the other a Southern Baptist! I hope when they cremate me I get the full works. The chants and rituals will at least give comfort to my relatives and friends.
Another thing, we do not take our gods very seriously. Recently, a prominent politician said that Ram was a bad husband, abandoning his wife the way he did. The heavens did not fall on him the way it did on poor Salman Rushdie. Krishna was a bit of a ladies man, with a fondness for older women. Devotees of Ram sometimes say nasty things about Krishna and vice versa. Nobody minds. There are dozens of other deities to pick from. One is a monkey, another is half elephant and there are sects that worship rats! Our religion is a conglomeration, there is no rigid set of beliefs.
Hinduism gives us a lot of leeway, Mr Guha. So, let’s stop this nonsense about Hindu fundamentalism. There is nothing fundamental about it.
(An ex-UN official, Bhaichand Patel is an author/columnist.)
Bhaichand Patel’s piece refuting Ram Guha’s Hindu fundamentalist premise is a dangerous item (Fundamentally Wrong, Dec 10). Extolling the beauty of one’s religion is fine, but to outright dismiss the existence of fundamentalism in Hinduism is both naive as well as perilous. Public assertions like these can and do influence gullible minds, and we definitely don’t want our younger generation to grow with the mistaken belief that Hindu fundamentalism is an oxymoron. To inculcate such a wrong sense of superiority and infallibility will be stupid.
Anand S. Jha, Gurgaon
Bhaichand’s views are more witty comedy than considered opinion. Some arguments are quite foolish, like Hindus don’t take their gods seriously. Then why did the Babri Masjid incident happen? What was the motivation behind such a slap in the face of the world’s greatest democracy? Or wasn’t that serious enough for Mr Patel?
Shamsudeen K.M., Malappuram, Kerala
Yes, quintessential Hinduism is a beautiful religion (if we dare straitjacket it in the confines of what ‘religion’ conventionally means). I am a proud Muslim but I have no hesitation in saying that Islam is very strongly influenced by the Vedas/Upanishads. Hinduism is the most doctrinally liberal of all religions but Islam comes a close second. The two are so distinct from each other, yet so complementary and synergistic.
Prof S.A. Abbasi, Pondicherry
I actually found the article very informative, especially the bits about the drunken women from mythology. Very funny, but then again, very plausible. From one wishful agnostic to a self-proclaimed atheist, I support your PoV.
Deepankar Joshi, Belapur
Refreshing article. Surprised to see Outlook move away from the standard line.
Girish Satarkar, on e-mail
The man is totally wrong here. He’s an atheist and thinks all Hindus are like him, which is false. Even regular, non-threatening Hindus are fundamentalist—about caste, for instance. Then we have the garden variety RSS fundamentalist, who is basically a lame imitation of Islamist and Christian fundamentalists. Thankfully, for the most part, the good thing about them is they are cowards and don’t have the courage to do anything beyond ranting on the internet anonymously.
Bharat Paul, San Francisco
Mr Patel seems to be living in some ivory tower for he has no idea of the kind of ‘Wahabisation’ going on of the common Hindu. This is especially true of the internet. As someone remarked in a contrarian article, “the Hindu fundamentalist wants a Hindu country run like an Islamic republic”.
H.M. Siddhanti, Richmond
I agree with Bhaichand Patel (Fundamentally Wrong, Dec 10). Ram Guha is a decent writer, but I don’t think he’s the last word on Hinduism.
Ramesh Nambiar, New Delhi
Loved Patel’s piece. I’m a practising Christian but a great admirer of Hinduism, in fact, of all religions. Hinduism’s beauty lies in its all-encompassing, tolerant outlook on life. Fundamentalism of any kind can only be blamed on politicians.
Col Romy Sakharia, Kochi
Hindu fundamentalism is not an oxymoron. A Hindu can surely be a fundamentalist, maybe a reluctant one. Malegaon and the Samjhauta Express blasts prove it.
Richa Jayal, Dehradun
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Mr Patel is right in some of the statements like the liberal part of Hinduism are true.I am a born Indian and living in USA and a Muslim.I agree that there is no strict adherence to faith in Hinduism.But there is a group that wants all the rest of Hindus to become fundamentals and that group are the Brahmins.People who follow religious scriptures are fundamental regardless of their religiious affiliation.This is because all religions in the world have a sacred book that they follow which is fundamental to their belief.Among the Hindus only Brhamins have the vedas in sanskrit that is their scripture.This they brought with them when they came to India.For all others who do not know sanskrit this is optional.Hence the Brahmin Hindus who formed the RSS are fundamental.The rest of the Hindus are not but in order to make them fundamental these brahmins do not want them to read vedas but want them to be anti Muslim,anti-Christian,anti-Buddhist etc.,This helps unleash violence.
Mr Patel must come to TamilNadu to know what the Brahmins did to their own fellow Hindus.In Kerala they drank mother's milk from the lower caste women and those who refused were punished by breast tax.The list atrocities are countless.Jainism was the dominant religion of India and the Brahmins finished it by destroying their temples and onverting them and killing the jain monks.This was followed by destroying the evidence of this enormity.Only fundeamentals will do that.Brahmins never called themselves Hindus till recently but were proud to be called Brahmin.Hence these kind of thousands of years of cruelity was possible only by being fundamentalist Brahmin who is called Hindu in the modern times.
Nehru despite being a Brahmin broke their backs by bringing in the Hindu civil code and land ceiling.Hence all the venom is directed on Nehru and Gandhi.A non Brahmin like Modi is a necessary to carry their fundamentalist agenda.But the same Hindus who support him will be the victims again as it was before the British period.
If Patel and his ilk wants to be liberal Hindu they should discard the fundamental Brahmin.Then his argument is valid.
My Point is, whatever Ram Jethmalani said, if it were MK what would be the reaction. All the blogsites will be full of swear messages.
The content is same, but the difference in person who says it would cause a difference in response.
So, the statement "Heaven did not fall down on him" is not right, because it kind of says Hindus tolerate anything. It is not the case.
One more important difference btw India and EU is here:
In European Union, the constituent nations have been a nation state for very long duration (with all the arms of a nation state be it judiciary, government, legal system, etc etc)
France has been a distinct nation (as a political entity) for 1300 years. So has been Spain, Greece, and many other EU nations.
Whereas in India with 27 states, each state has even more distinct cultural identity but they were not having a distinct national identity for any long duration.
Good example is TamilNadu. Tamils as a social group have been having a distinct language, culture and heritage going back to over 2500 years..
But TamilNadu as a distinct nation (encompassing present boundaries of the state of TN) was not existing for most of the 2500 year period..
The last time TN as a national entity having all the areas of present day TN in it was somewhere in 1100 AD... And even before that , for few centuries 2-4 political entities ruled the state and neighbouring AP as separate , warring nations..
So that is the big difference.. individual states in India have large differences with each other in terms of culture, but they dont have a "defined" nation state history in recent times.
As a society, and historically India was no doubt having many nations but the concept of nation (as a boundary defined government) has changed its borders so much that nothing can be done to revert to old situation since which old situation we will revert to?
EU can any day be dissolved and return back to individual countries. Soviet Union quickly broke into 15 nation states. India cannot break into 27 nations because these 27 states were not nations earlier.
That is precisely why India did not break the way western futurologists (aka fortune tellers) used to predict in 1950s and 1960s or even in late 1980s..
Mr. Patel, a Hindu today is regarded because, if God would want to take his life, the Hindu would try to protect himself by running away. I regard the Hindu for this reason, too and I am not apologetic about my regard. And, I am not sure I would run away. Does that make me, or the Hindu I regard any different?
Hitesh >> Cost of lot of things in Europe has been paid by others. (think of the long saga of wars among inbred royalty. It would be so much cheaper to resettle Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Charlemagne and Hohenzollern clans to moon :).Even right now, the burden of EU membership is much harder on the "lesser" and "newer" members of the eastern and southern europe.
Europe's post WW2 prosperity came on back of the 2 centuries of lead that EU nations had over the poor, dirty third world Africa/Asia/LatAm nations in industrialization and applied technology. One must not forget that the real bedrock of a country's economy is not just physical resources but a well educated, and trained workforce. EU had 200 years lead on this say compared to India or Indonesia. Which is why EU quickly rebuilt itself after the deadly WW2 destruction and it helped that they rebuilt when energy was dirt cheap.
So in a way and very surprising that i am sort of agreeing with Hitesh and Dimwit on this.
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