The new generation of urban, educated and middle class Hindus in India is breaking the shackles of the caste system by marrying outside their caste and linguistic group with our without their parents' blessing. Young Hindu Canadians have gone one step further, choosing non-Hindu life partners against the wishes of their parents.
Interfaith marriages are on the rise among Hindus in Canada. According to Dr. Ravi Shrivastava, a volunteer priest at the Missassauga Arya Samaj, three out of every four wedding ceremonies he performed this year were 'mixed' marriages: young Hindus marrying mostly white Christians. Hindu-Muslim marriages, however, are still not very common.
It's been my experience that Hindu parents who oppose marriage outside the religion tend to eventually reconcile themselves, sometimes reluctantly, to their children's choices. Bitterness often melts away on the arrival of a grandchild.
When young Hindus quarrel with their parents over their choice of partner, they often misinterpret their parents' objections as bigotry or racism. I have found, however, that Hindu parents' opposition to cross-cultural marriages does not usually emanate from any dislike for other faiths or races.
Although Hindu Canadians tend to be religious moderates, they are nonetheless proud and protective of their cultural heritage and strongly desire to perpetuate it. They believe that children marrying within their own faith is the surest way to achieve their goal. Like other religious minorities, they fear that cross-cultural marriages eventually would result in the disappearance of their culture and religion in Canada. It is a question of survival, not bigotry, they argue.
Will Hinduism survive the tide of inter-religious marriages? This is a hot topic at social gatherings among Hindus.
Last week, I sparked a lively debate on this issue at one gathering. A variety of views and comments were expressed, but most were optimistic about the survival of Hindu culture in Canada. This optimism is derived from experiences. Hindus in India have survived the worst: genocide by fanatic Islamic invaders from Arabia and Central Asia; forced mass conversion by ruthless foreign rulers and missionaries.
When Hindus migrated to other lands 150 years ago ' Trinidad, Guyana, Fiji, Mauritius, Kenya and South Africa, for example ' their religion and culture survived and thrived in those countries. Trinidad and Guyana have more Hindu temples than North America has. Third-generation Trinidadians and Guyanese now living in Canada tend to have a far stronger attachment to Hindu values and traditions than their contemporaries in India.
In my mini-survey at the gathering, an array of other reasons were expressed to assert this optimistic outlook for the survival of Hindu culture in Canada. Hinduism, people said, contains fundamental democratic elements: freedom of thought and expressions; freedom to scrutinize its beliefs and dissent, without the fear of persecution and reprisal; freedom to choose any mode of worship from a variety of options. Such traditions are highly valued in North America.
The major Hindu concepts like Karma, yoga and incarnation are already known and are popular among Canadians. Hinduism declares, "God is One, paths are many, all paths are valid". North Americans find this all-inclusive and universal approach very attractive.
One of Hinduism's great strength is that it emphasizes a philosophy of life and personal experience rather than dogma or commandments. Hindus have the tradition and a great capacity to accommodate or accept new ideas from other cultures.
Hindu Canadians enjoy the reputation of being moderate and liberal people and young Canadians too, are more open to other cultures than the older generation.
Of course, Hindus want their culture to survive in Canada but love is a potent human emotion. Love can neither be planned or be targeted at a member of a specific race or religion. Love transcends caste, race, religion or culture. In a multi-cultural, multi-racial society, mixed marriages are inevitable.
Hindus in Canada do not live in the cocoon of their own culture. When a cross-cultural marriage occurs in a family, rejecting or condemning is more mean than meaningful. It is wise to accept than fight it.
Given the history of Hindu society in India, I believe Hinduism will survive and thrive in Canada.
Mix marriages will enrich other cultures.