Hinduism is at crossroads in India. There is a real danger that the religion is about to be hijacked by fanatical groups and the majority will be forced to follow suit. To us who are far away from the fray, it is unacceptable. These are not the values we grew up with. So what went wrong? What is pushing Hinduism, the gentlest of all religions, into this path of revenge killings and fundamentalism? Has all sanity left the practitioners of the religion in the name of defending the faith?
The Upanishads taught us that all humans are potentially divine. The custom of joining the hands in the sign of prayer is the greeting one receives from a stranger and is unique to Sanatana Dharma. There is no difference between prayer and greeting another human being. If a human soul has a piece of God in him (Aham Brhmasmi), it is only fit that he is greeted with the hands put together in form of prayer (Namaste, Namaskar). A religion that treated all humans as divine is now embroiled in hunting down others in order to kill.
What are we afraid of? That this religion that has been practiced in one form or another for at least three thousand five hundred years and practiced by a billion people is suddenly going to disappear, if we do not defend it with the might of the sword? Let me paraphrase from a British publication that was published about one hundred years ago. It predicted that Hinduism could not sustain itself with the arcane ideology it proposed and would be extinct within one hundred years. It spelt doom and gloom for the religion if there were no internal reforms. The book published under British India by the Christian Literature Society for India, at the turn of the 19th century claimed that Hinduism was hopelessly archaic, incapable of reform and mired in poverty, corruption and despotism. In another title in the same publication titled 'Hinduism incapable of reform', it suggested that Hindus give up idol worship, pantheism and renounce all the Vedas, Manuva Sastras and the epics Ramayana andMahabharata. It called the idea of Aham Brahmasmi - I am Brahma - blasphemous.
Here we are one hundred years later, greater in number, stronger than ever before, at least doubling in number in the last fifty years! The Hindu concept is alive and well.
The reforms in Hinduism in the last two centuries have been significant. Burning of widows (practice of sati), female infanticide and ostracized untouchables class have been reformed. Rajaram Mohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Ramakrishna Pramahamsa, Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi worked diligently to reform it. Perhaps it is time to reform the caste system all together.
India was modeled after the Western secular civilization and the intellectuals hoped that India could easily transform itself to imitate that model. They envisioned India as a secular society with its mystical religion practiced at a personal, private level as it was meant to be. Others viewed the gaining of independence and division into two countries gave them the mandate to 'rehinduaze' India. This faction is now becoming stronger.
There is no doubt that the caste system was exploited by foreign religions in the past. The Islamic rulers discriminated between Brahmins and other castes in levying of taxes and this naturally led to disgruntlement. Later the British played the upper class against the lower and neighboring princely states against each other in their quest to gain control. Hindus with their diverse views and practices seemed to be weak pushovers. But history attests to the fact that the religion has survived many onslaughts over thousands of years and today is one of the oldest continuous religions in the world.
This brings us back to the question - do we panic now that there is the appearance of fresh attacks on the Hindu doctrine? Today there is a lack of reformers and leaders in the country. Instead much energy is spent on condemnation of other religions. A neighboring country is trying to attack India and it happens to be a Muslim country. It is the duty of every Indian - Hindu, Muslim or Christian to defend the country from a foreign threat. Unfortunately, Pakistan is using religion and jihad to motivate their citizens. Should India do the same and use religion to rile up its citizens to counterattack? Or should it condemn the practice of exploiting the masses in the ruse of defense of religion? If Hindu principles are to be practiced, it should be the latter. Otherwise there is a danger of us becoming indistinguishable from the enemy.
India is in sore need of reformers and the time seems to be ripe for another Mahatma or Swami to come along and set the religion and country in the right track.