Would Rama Mind?


I can see the sentiments in India after the horrific massacre of innocents both by Hindus and Muslims, in the name of defending their religions. It is interesting that the Vedantis now feel that their religion is in danger of being sidelined because the politicians show favoritism to the minority so that they keep their power base intact. These kinds of manipulation of the population are not unique to India, as we have seen Democrats appeasing the African Americans and Republicans kowtowing to the religious right in the United States. So far the reactions of people here has been peaceful dialogue rather than resorting to bricks and bats and murder. But should current day white Americans pay reparations to descendents of blacks for slavery that was practiced more than a century ago? 

First let me consider history of Ayodhya. I accept that the Babri Masjid was built on the site of a Rama temple, as documented by Aurangzeb. From the Ithihasa - Ramayana, we know that Rama was born in Ayodhya. But Rama was a mythological character and there cannot be historical proof of the exact site of his birth. Muslim rulers in India have destroyed many temples. It is inconceivable that the current day Hindus should avenge history, the way the fundamentalists would urge us. Qutb-ud-din Aibak resorted to the destruction of many temples, as evidenced by the fact that the pillars and the architecture are strikingly similar to the temples, in order to build Qutb Minar. Aibak was said to have destroyed more than twenty-five temples to build the obelisk and the surrounding structures.  

A strange theory has been circulating that Taj Mahal is really called Tejo Mahalaya, taken over by Shah Jahan! Shah Jahan had resorted to destroying temples and idols as passionately as any other Muslim ruler in India, prior to building the masterpiece for which he is remembered.  

Should we raze all these structures to the ground and build temples in their stead? It is counterproductive for us to try to even the score now for atrocities committed in the past. 

An atrocity was committed more than five hundred years ago by an illiterate Muslim invader, in his ambition to establish supremacy and create an empire. No such acts have been committed at least in the last two centuries except when the Hindu fundamentalists, merely ten years ago, destroyed the Babri Masjid with the government watching on the sidelines. Lest we forget the crisis in Ayodhya was precipitated by this single incident by Hindu fundamentalists. Who will avenge this atrocity?

Better to retreat form it now before it becomes a larger quagmire and blows up on everybody's faces. To the mainstream Hindus, the effrontery of the minority Muslim sometimes seems intolerable, but cool heads need to prevail. Insulting and infuriating a sizable population that forms a minority with inflammatory statements can only inflate the situation and make the ultimate solution far more inaccessible. I agree with Shahi Tharoor who says in his article that the moderate Muslim population of India feels betrayed from this one act than any other in the history of India since independence. No doubt countless Hindus suffered during the Muslim rulers destruction of temples and Hindu ideology. I cannot see how one can hold the current Muslim population responsible enough to punish them. The similarity of the analogy of the slaves in America and the reparation demands of their progeny is striking.

If the moderates in India turn to militancy as a means of retaliation, the country as we know it will cease to exist. The fundamentalists, who are on the fringe, would have won a clear victory. Look around and see what has happened to religious states around the world. No one in any Islamic country, with very few exceptions, can boast of being a free society. The creation of Jewish state, Israel has been a facilitator of gross abuses from both sides. Israel, though a democracy, has been a tinderbox for the last fifty-four years, with no solution in sight. We do not want to emulate these countries ruled with religious fervor, do we? Religious dominance of politics will only push democracy into anarchy and dictatorship. Discrimination, dissatisfaction and disarray are perfect breeding grounds for despots.

Secularism is essential to maintain sanity in life and government. If not India will go the route of Pakistan and dissolve into chaos and anarchy. In a few short years India too will be unrecognizable. Secularism has been welcome in Hinduism since its inception. There is no other country or region in the world where all major religions are practiced freely, unhindered as in India. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity have existed side by side in India for many centuries. Even Judaism was tolerated as seen in the unique Jewish community of Cochin until recently. Hinduism espouses tolerance and to stray from this fundamental tenet would be unwise. 

The politicians have always been playing puppetry with the population in many ways. In India this does not only pertain to the Muslim minority. They also insinuate hatred into the lower caste Hindus to rise against the upper castes. Social injustice in Indian democracy has always played out with pitched battles between haves and have-nots, lower and upper classes. If the current common enemy, Islam is removed from the equation, I doubt if Hindus will live peacefully ever after.

Encouraged by power hungry politicians, the next frontier for battle would be between the castes, fighting perceived discrimination and favoritism. I agree that Hinduism has been fractionalized by castes and sub castes. Caste-ism has been present in Hinduism for many millennia, since the Vedic times. The foreign invaders capitalized on it during their divide and rule policies in the past. (However, the Muslim rulers helped in making the caste system more rigid by discriminating between the Brahmin class and the others-by levying a tax called jizya only on the lower castes). Now politicians are successfully doing the same. There needs to be internal reform within Hinduism to rectify this flaw and here is another opportunity for the religious leaders to act. Washing off their hands, saying the masses are out of control, is acceptance of defeat. Encouraging the masses to commit atrocities would be akin to the Mullahs riling up their subordinates into holy war. If we are critical of such behavior, we should not condone similar acts by our religious leaders.

Ayodhya is only the current puppet show. The problems lie in both politics and religion in India. The mass hysteria by the zealots does not bode well for India or Hinduism. The perpetrators do not understand the religion. An average Hindu is ignorant of his own religion and here is where the Swamijis can make a difference. They ought to be teaching the youngsters the basic Hindu Dharma. If everyone understood the basic tenets of Hindu religion and philosophy, the current fight over the real estate in Ayodhya would appear insignificant. Hindus, who believe that God is everywhere in nature (sarva-antar-yami), in stones, trees, animals and above all in one's own heart, ought not be bogged down with the details about a place for a temple. A true practitioner of Hindu religion, as per the Upanishads, would need no temple, idol or ritual. He is oblivious of his surroundings in his private meditations.

The current furor and ruckus over the temple site will soon blow over. It is nothing but rattling of sabers by two groups of people, who have complete disregard for their respective religions. As far as Hinduism is concerned this behavior is anathema to its teachings. Sadly, the participants have lost sight of it. Moreover, the benevolent Rama would not mind a temple in the adjacent street in Ayodhya instead of the disputed spot, would he?    


More by :  Dr. Neria H. Hebbar

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