Jun 05, 2023
Jun 05, 2023
by Ajit Adhopia
|One can hardly read a newspaper or magazine now a days without coming across the word 'Fundamentalism' or its adjectives. This expression has acquired wide currency in media, and evokes negative sentiments. Although the Western media labels various religious groups as fundamentalists easily, it is very difficult to define 'Fundamentalism'. This term was first coined in 1920 in the US by a Baptist journalist, Curtis Lee Laws, following the publication of a series of pamphlets titled "The Fundamentals: A testimony to the Truth" between 1915-1920 (www.religiousmovements.lib). Since then, any religious movement that promotes the "Back to basics" approach in an aggressive and flaunting fashion is labeled by the Western media as Fundamentalist.
Ever since a few thousand militant Hindus demolished a historical mosque in the town of Ayodhya in India, certain Hindu groups there, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSSS), in particular, have also earned the dubious title of being fundamentalists. Does such a thing as Hindu Fundamentalism really exist? To answer this question, one must determine the characteristics that are found to be common to all fundamentalist movements around the world.
According to professor David Frawley, the author of many books on Hinduism, fundamentalists are absolutists who interpret their scriptures literally, and hold rigidly to their beliefs. They insist their scriptures alone represent the divine truth revealed only to their prophet; all other scriptures and prophets are false or redundant. They are monotheists, and totally reject pluralism. They are hostile to any renovation or critical scrutiny of their religion. Since they consider their religion alone to be true, they are intolerant to other faiths. Fundamentalists, generally, adhere to their religion's original social customs, and practice modernism selectively. Fundamentalist groups are always headed by authoritarian autocrats. Let us see if these characteristics apply to the two aforementioned Hindu groups. We have to judge their members and leaders by their religious beliefs and practices.
Unlike Islam and Christianity, Hinduism is not a "One Prophet, One Book" religion. All Hindus consider the four Vedas as their primary scriptures, but also highly revere other sacred books like Geeta, Ramayana, Puranas and many other supplementary literature that may offer differing interpretations of the Vedas. Hinduism has no single founder or prophet, as Vedas were revealed to a series of seers called Rishis over a period of time. Pluralism is the corner stone of Hinduism. Hinduism does not claim to be the only true religion and ladder to salvation. According to the ancient Vedas, there is only one God who has many names and faces; there are many paths to reach Him. Other religions may have different beliefs, but they all have the same goal- to elevate the human soul. The rudimentary but strong elements of democracy can be found in Hindu scriptures; each village was managed by an elected council before the monarchy system emerged.
There is nothing in Hinduism, despite its antiquity, that a fundamentalist group can interpret to suit or justify its extremist ideology. If fact, the ancient version of Hinduism practiced during the Vedic period was lot more liberal and moderate than what Hindus have practiced over the last two thousand years. Can such a religion produce Hindu counterparts of Pat Robertson, leader of the Christian Coalition of America or Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, let alone Mullah Omar, the Taleban leader?
I come from a family of Leftist political background, but I have personally met many members and officials of the RSSS and the VHP in India and Canada. I have always found them to be sophisticated and well informed people with a very progressive, modern outlook. They are not secretive organizations; anyone can join them. They promote Hindu culture and have an extensive network of social development projects, run by dedicated volunteers, in the poorest regions of India. They draw their general membership from well educated, modern urbanite Hindus who follow different versions of Hinduism. They are staunchly committed to democracy and human rights. Their leaders are much more tolerant of other faiths than Christian evangelists in the US or leaders of the major religious organizations in Pakistan, Indonesia or Bangladesh; they are now supporting the Taleban. The Pope who blatantly supports and promotes proselytization in non-Christian countries, can hardly be considered tolerant of other faiths.
The current Prime Minster of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been a life long member of the RSS. He can hardly be considered a belligerent and intolerant fundamentalist autocrat, a threat to minorities in India. I believe that Hindu fundamentalism is a myth created by the media. "Over time, I looked into these Hindu organizations to find these so-called intolerant and militant elements. I have never found them even until today." Concluded Prof. David Frawley in How I became a Hindu.
More by : Ajit Adhopia