Fundamentally Wrong

Guha is wrong, ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ is an oxymoron
Fundamentally Wrong
Illustration by Sorit
Fundamentally Wrong

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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