Tolerance and Hinduism
Continued from Part XXXI
It’s often held that Hinduism, more than a religion, is a cultural way of life which embodies plurality in terms of accepting different divine paths to achieve envisioned goal of life. Unlike Abrahamic religions, it does not say that the believer will go to heaven and non-believer shall be condemned to death only to rot in hell. Hinduism endorses there can be different beliefs, philosophies and paths of life to achieve the same end, and all must be respected. Each person should be allowed to choose what suits him best according to his conviction and faith. Consequently, Hindus believe and respect unmanifested God, manifested God, even accept atheism and practices of other religions. A popular Hindu way of thinking is “Like many rivers reach the same ocean, there are different paths to reach the same God”. Unlike most other religions, Hinduism is neither known to spread such belief nor indulges in the missionary work. Notwithstanding these attributes, allegations are often made that Hinduism teaches intolerance and violence towards other religions.
There have been several instances in the last few years wherein known public figures and celebrities made such allegations against the religion treating Hinduism and Hindutva as two different concepts. The term ‘Hindutva’ is a fusion of two words Hindu + Tattva, which literally means ‘Hindu Principles’. On December 11, 1995, a three judge Bench of the Supreme Court concluded that the words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ should not be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the People of India. The Court ruled that Hindutva is a way of life or a state of mind and is should not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism, and also it is a fallacy and an error to assume that use of words Hindutva or Hinduism depict an attitude hostile to people practicing any other religion. Some self-proclaimed secular parties and organizations considered this judgment as blow to ‘secular democracy’ asserting the need for a review by a Constitutional Bench comprising of at least five judges. The Supreme Court bench comprising of seven judges ruled out again in October 2016 that there was no further need far a larger debate on ‘Hindutva’. Notwithstanding the Apex Court verdict, some pseudo-seculars and vested interests continue to put Hindutva on trial with own twisted interpretation.
Post-independence, India has mostly been ruled by the political dispensations which actively pursued policy of appeasement of minorities and pampered them, particularly Muslims, often at the cost of the majority community to derive political mileage. Consequently, when the National Democratic Alliance came in power in May 2014 with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) as its main constituent which insists on the country’s ancient heritage, cultural legacy and national pride, a debate started in the country that the religious intolerance has increased and the survival of minorities is endangered. Needless to mention that such a narrative was deliberately created by the pseudo-secularists and pseudo-liberals camouflaged as true secularists and liberals, who have traditionally received patronage from the left and left-centric political dispensations in the country in the past. Here the author intends to analyze if intolerance has indeed increased in the Hindu way of life as alleged or it is just a deliberately created myth to achieve certain ends by the vested interests.
Instances Triggering Debate on Intolerance
India is a vast country with a population of about 1.35 billion comprising of people of different castes, creeds and religions, and occasional conflict and violence on account of various reasons do occur like any other country. Ordinarily, when such incidents involve two or more communities, such occurrences are categorized as communal incidents. The compiled data for the last about two decades indicate that communal violence is on decrease during the recent years. However, some self-proclaimed secularists and liberals have always tried to paint this picture otherwise with a propaganda and campaign that the minority communities are not safe during the reign of the present political dispensation.
For illustration in 2015, a major controversy started when a famous Bollywood actor Aamir Khan set a narrative during a journalism awards ceremony about rising intolerance in India by saying that he was alarmed at the rise in acts of intolerance in India, and that his wife had even suggested leaving the country for good. Soon he was joined and supported by a section of politicians, filmmakers, writers, scientists, artists etc. on predicted lines raising temperature against the ruling dispensation in the country. This climaxed into the opposition parties charging the Central Government promoting the Hindutva agenda to create disaffection and disharmony between communities and several awards were selectively returned in the name of rising intolerance in the country. It took several months before the dust and dine of the alleged Jinn of intolerance subsided.
A similar controversy was recently raised by Naseeruddin Shah, another veteran and noted film artist, in February 2019 when he gave interview to Karwan-e-Mohabbat making allegations of rising hate crimes against Muslims. Later the same actor gave another interview to a United Kingdom based NGO making serious allegations against the NDA government and their alleged Hindutva agenda. Incidentally, it was the previous NDA government that honoured him with the Padam Vibhushan award without any discrimination on religious ground. Shah's anger or fear reminds me of yet another episode in July 2015 when he actively pursued and signed a mercy petition to the President of India for Yakub Menon, a dreaded terrorist convicted and sentenced death penalty for his role and participation in Mumbai blasts of 1993 which claimed 257 lives and 713 injuries of innocent civilians on a single day. Needless to mention, this petition was made after his death penalty was already reviewed and upheld by the Supreme Court of India. The actor pretended about his having great expectations from Prime Minister Modi while reportedly as back as in 2013 he had even launched a website to mock and demean him. The outrage created by Shah was actively supported and exploited by the main political opposition party in the country.
To get a clearer vision about the alleged intolerance, one may have to look a little farther in the past. Due to irreconcilable differences and insistence of the Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and perhaps some key leaders of the Indian National Congress, the country was divided on communal lines into two dominions of India and Pakistan in August 1947. After independence, while Pakistan opted to become an Islamic country but India remained a secular democracy despite Hindus being in an overwhelming majority after the country was divided to create a separate homeland for Muslims. In the remote past, Hinduism and Hindus faced a lot of adversity and persecution at the hands of barbaric Islamic invaders and Muslim dynasties for over six centuries. Later on, the British too tried to destroy Hinduism by allowing and encouraging Christian missionaries to carry on evangelism for conversion of Hindus.
If we look at the other ancient cultures and religious civilizations, Persia (present day Iran) faced the brunt of Islam and was converted to Islam in only about two decades. Those who did not convert were persecuted and killed, and only a few fortunate ones reportedly escaped on boats to erstwhile India and today represent a small Parsi community in India and Pakistan. Similarly, almost entire Europe was converted to Christianity in about a century. As against this, despite Muslim rule for over six centuries followed by another about 150 years of colonial rule that systematically worked to destroy Hindu culture and religion, the Hinduism survived with a significant Hindu population which itself validate its innate strength and ancient nomenclature “The Sanatana Dharma”. The religion allows complete freedom to its adherents, including atheists, in their choice of worship and following because the basic attributes of Hinduism are accommodation and acceptance.
In the context of the alleged intolerance, India is perhaps the only country on the earth where people have liberty to do what they want to do as also can say what they want to say irrespective of their creed, faith or religion. Also this is the only country where minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, have been given many social and religious privileges and freedom, at times even at the cost of the majority community. Notwithstanding this, some political parties, organizations and individuals constantly indulge in their appeasement for own vested interests. This also gives fuel and ammunition to minority leaders, celebrities, clerics and ambitious individuals aligned to them in some or other way to make controversial statement about intolerance in the country from time to time in an endeavor of projecting self as leader and spokesman for the community.
What is Tolerance?
Tolerance literally means capacity to endure with continued subjection to something disagreeable and/or unacceptable. This is of course negative connotation of tolerance which in positive sense may imply to forbearance and open- or broad-mindedness. The negative connotation would be that one does not like or agree with something yet bears with that for some reason(s). In other words, one’s mind and soul do not accept it yet one is resigned to accommodate and bear with it. The positive connotation would of course be that one considers a situation or nemesis with open mind and is ready to accommodate or bear with it without any prejudice or malice. It is the latter kind of tolerance that the Hinduism has traditionally accepted and allowed to prevail since ancient time by accepting and accommodating all creeds, faiths and religions of the world.
To that extent, the tolerance becomes a positive and divine attribute that Hinduism is widely known for. This religion acknowledges and respects nuances and diversity of creeds, faiths and religions world over with underlying spirit that only paths are different but all religions lead to the same universal God. In another words, Hinduism acknowledges the rights and privilege of all religions to grow and prosper according to their tenets and beliefs. Needless to mention that this kind of tolerance is the real one because it arises from conviction, knowledge, vision and understanding of human attributes and traits rather than the same being forced through some dictum or decree on people.
When Hinduism Justifies Intolerance
One may occasionally notice intolerance among the Hindus and Hinduism but it cannot be equated on the same pedestal with that of the Abrahamic religions like Islam or Christianity. Occasionally, some Hindu scholars and even common people vent their dissatisfaction and displeasure towards other religions but it comes mostly in reply or reaction to criticism and insult heaped on Hinduism by clerics and followers of other religions. Intolerance in Hinduism is seldom violent, open debate and discussions are encouraged, and disagreements and displeasures are conveyed to opponents in mostly subtle and scholarly ways. In doing so, the tenor and texture of opposition and criticism remains by and large same whether the issues relate to inter-sect differences within the Hinduism or with other religions.
While tolerance towards other people, cultures and faiths have been endorsed by many Hindu scriptures, some illustrations given below will largely explain its nature and intensity:
(i) In the ancient times, Buddhism and Jainism evolved as offshoots of Hinduism around the 6th century BCE and these religions tried to make inroads among the adherents of the Hinduism to increase and expand their following. It led to religious debates, arguments and conflict among these competing religious groups. The unpleasant situation thus created led to a prolonged tussle portraying each other in poor light through vicious oral attacks and writings, at times even resorting to untruth, exaggerations and distortions. Buddhists and Jains campaigned against Hinduism and the scholarly Hindus too in turn criticized and opposed the newly born religions.
(ii) Even at the state level, emperor Ashoka of Maurya dynasty converted to Buddhism and worked for spreading religion in India and far east, at the same time discouraging Vedic religion and sacrificial ceremonies. When Sungas succeeded Mauryas, they patronized and restored Vedic religion, and reportedly even destroyed some Buddhist monasteries in revenge.
(iii) Since ancient times and till modern ages, the foreign invaders such as Greeks, Sakas, Pahlavas, Muslims and European colonizers invaded, looted and exploited this country; and even tried to destroy Hindu culture and religion through conversion and by systematically attacking and destroying temples and other religious symbols. In turn, Hindus too disliked, showed contempt for them and even violently fought against them in some cases.
(iv) Muslim invaders and rulers destroyed many key temples and symbols of Hinduism in the past, and even erected Masjids at many of these sites. In one extreme case in modern times, a vast gathering of devout Hindu Karsewaks destroyed an existing dilapidated structure of Masjid in 1992 at a site in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, which most Hindus believe is the birthplace of Rama, a much venerated Hindu god.
These instances suggest that though Hindus have been very tolerant and peaceful towards others since ancient times but when their faith and religion is violated or endangered, they defend self with a resolve and vengeance. As such, in Hinduism intolerance towards the evil doings is fully justified and recommended. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that anyone should not compromise with or surrender to evil. Two great epics in Hinduism namely Ramayana and Mahabharata as also several Puranas even endorse violence to punish the evil forces. Hinduism talks of Dharma and Adharma; the former relates to good represented by gods and the latter is evil represented by demons that delve upon selfishness, arrogance and violence. Bhagavad Gita attaches utmost importance to fight for one’s rights and duties, and in doing so no sin is incurred.
Sukha-du?khe same k?itva labhalabhau jayajayau
Tato yuddhaya yujyasva naivam papam avapsyasi.
(Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 38)
(Fight for the sake of duty, treating alike happiness and distress, loss and gain, victory and defeat. Fulfilling your responsibility in this way, you will never incur sin.)
In discharging one’s duties, Lord Krishna asks Prince Arjuna to do his duty without any attachment to the outcome of his actions. When Arjuna expressed his apprehension of killing his enemies would incur sin, Krishna even went deeper to justify action against the evil doings by declaring His own indulgence on earth to liquidate evil forces in such a contingency.
Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata
Abhythanamadharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham.
Paritranaya sadhunang vinashay cha dushkritam
Dharmasangsthapanarthay sambhabami yuge yuge.
(Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 4, Verses 7-8)
(Whenever there is a decline in righteousness and an increase in unrighteousness, O Arjuna, at that time I manifest myself on earth. To protect the righteous, to annihilate the wicked, and to reestablish the principles of dharma I appear on this earth, age after age.)
Even the Vedas endorsed that in one’s battle against evil there is no place for tolerance or compromise. The evil should not be allowed to gain an upper hand and all evil doings should be firmly dealt with a resolute mind and body. Thus while Hinduism is tolerant and peaceful religion but it is uncompromisingly intolerant against the evil and evil doings.
Hinduism Has a Glorious History of Tolerance
Traditionally, Hindu scriptures and texts encouraged the spirit of tolerance towards other sects, creeds, faiths or religions while simultaneously favouring healthy discussion and debate to amicably resolve differences and conflicts. Even in the event of irreconcilable differences, there has been a practice of expressing intolerance only by withdrawing and avoiding interaction with the concerned person or group rather than indulging in violence and aggression. Barring exceptions, perhaps Hinduism is the only religion that has shown remarkable tolerance towards other religions even during the difficult times and testing conditions. Some illustrations and points given below will amply vindicate the above averment.
(i) In almost four thousand years of the known history, no Hindu ruler is known to have ever waged any political or religious war against other countries. Even the great Hindu Emperor Ashoka avoided nurturing ambitions and adventures beyond the South Asia (Erstwhile Greater Bharat).
(ii) Most kings of the ancient India practiced their own faith and seldom tried to enforce their religious beliefs upon others. They built many temples and places of worship, patronized scholars and spiritual gurus in their courts but avoided indulging in oppression of the people of other sects and faiths.
(iii) Within or outside religion, Hindus are not known to have persecuted ever the religious teachers and spiritual leaders who questioned the authority of Vedas or held unconventional beliefs or propounded new dogma or religious theory. Spiritual gurus like Ramakrishna and Vivekanand exhibited remarkable understanding and tolerance towards other faiths.
(iv) Post-independence in August 1947, the country was divided into two dominions on communal basis. The Dominion of India had overwhelming Hindu majority yet the country opted for secular democracy granting equal status and opportunity to all citizens irrespective of their creed, faith or religion. Following independence too, the country has constantly faced threats from Islamic terrorism, evangelism and communal violence leading to conversion, widespread destruction of property and loss of life. Notwithstanding grave losses of life and property, Hindus have largely remained peaceful and tolerant against such provocations. Even in the recent times, lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits were driven away from their homes by hardliner and militant Muslims but none of them took recourse to terrorism or other violent means to press for their rights.
(v) In spite of systematic religious persecution, destruction of temples and other holy places targeting Hindu culture, Hindus have largely remained friendly and conciliatory towards other faiths in India. Barring exceptions, it is only at extreme violation and provocation that Hindus have reacted violently to take revenge or punish the perpetrators. For centuries, thousands of temples were looted and destroyed by Islamic invaders. Perhaps ‘Ram Janm Bhoomi’ is the only known case in modern times where Hindus acted in a spur of moment but are now patiently awaiting verdict of the apex court in a long drawn legal battle for a peaceful resolution of the issue.
(vi) Hinduism does not believe in religious conversion. Underlying belief in the religion is that a person becomes a Hindu following his (or her) accumulated past karma and it is patently wrong to interfere with the karmic destiny. The only exceptions are a few isolated events where some Hindus converted to other religions were brought back to Hindu fold through purification rituals by some devout organizations.
(vii) Hindus see the presence of God everywhere - in nature, trees, animals, rivers, pious human beings, and so on so forth while others, particularly Abrahamic religions, look at them as creation of God for faithful’s consumption. Film makers and artists often portray Hindu gods in bad light or ridicule them but Hindus mostly remain tolerant towards such depiction of gods treating it as the freedom of expression. On the other hand, other religions are extremely intolerant; the Charlie Hebdo cartoon case may still be alive in the memory of many people where about a dozen people were killed in France in the broad daylight.
(viii) Hinduism provides room for every being - those who believe in manifested or unmanifested God, theist or atheist, without discrimination. One would not find a single verse in Hindu scriptures that incite violence against other religions. However, punitive action against the evil doers is fully justified. Hinduism has respect and consideration for all religions on the belief that only paths are different but the goal is same. The most persecuted minority communities of Jews and Parsis world over have lived in India for centuries but never faced any discrimination or persecution.
(ix) Hinduism has always promoted interactions and exchange of ideas as also mutual tolerance among the religious teachers and scholars of various sects and faiths since ancient age. Takshasila and Nalanda were known centres of excellence in traditional education and religious debates to promote universal knowledge and learning.
(x) The Bhagavad Gita largely talks of tolerance while endorsing punitive action against evil doers. According to Gita, there are many ways to reach God, the obvious viable paths being Karma Yoga, Jnan Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Unlike many other countries, India has traditionally been a pluralistic society with people of different ethnic, racial and religious background largely living together in harmony and peace. The fact that Hinduism itself is an amalgamation of various sects and traditions has significantly contributed towards inculcating the spirit of tolerance and accommodating other religions.
Paradoxes and Double Standards on Tolerance
As India remained under the colonial rule for over hundred and fifty years, the period also experienced emergence of a class of intellectuals and liberals duly patronized by British as a legacy of the Western culture, language (mainly English) and ideology. This class of people usually have left or left-centric ideology, favour English as the medium of communication, are well connected with the political legacy and blend well with the elite upper class or rather a part of elite in India. They are the ones who have traditionally dominated the Indian cultural and literary scene post-independence under the patronage of the political party and allies that ruled India for the most period following independence. Some of them have even authored the history, particularly of the medieval and modern India, under the political patronage which is which is lopsided and suffer with distortions and biased writing.
The ironical part is that this class looks down upon almost everything that is traditional and associated with the interests of the common Indian masses. This includes vernacular languages and anything exclusively and traditionally Indian inclusive of own religion Hinduism which many of them see as a backward and retrogressive religion. For instance, if an Indian speaks English with a Bihari or Tamilian accent, he will be mocked while another person if speaks it with a French or German accent will be considered exotic with due respect and consideration. As Indians are divided in a class system any way, this privileged class brands themselves as intellectual and tolerant people with the secular and liberal credentials.
A paradoxical part of their personal and professional conduct is that they conveniently go by their own definition of secularism and liberalism that suits their interests perfectly in the country. Their heart cries even if any stray event of wrong doing occurs with any minority communities, particularly Muslims and Christians, but more often they don’t even notice if a similar injustice is done to the majority community or minorities of the Indian origin. For instance, one would seldom hear them ever talking about the plight of Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir but they even move the Supreme Court for the illegal immigrant Rohingya Muslims. In the name of secularism, they strongly react to any incident or act of any reactionary Hindu(s) in the name of saving India from the Hindu invasion or domination but they will conveniently maintain silence when Islamic fundamentalists or Christian missionaries break Indian laws or even indulge in acts of violence and sabotage. They claim to be modern and rational but they seldom raise issues or speak against the medieval practices, gender inequalities and atrocities, coercive or evangelical practices that are being committed by some minorities in the name of religion. They call themselves as intellectuals and liberals but seldom realize that uniform social and religious freedom is needed by all for an all-inclusive growth of India.
To illustrate the aforesaid points, the author would like to draw parallels from the two major unfortunate incidents where communal angle was involved. In one case, following the murder of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by Sikh security guards on 31 October 1984, anti-Sikh riots erupted that led to massacre of over 3,000 innocent Sikhs in Delhi and other places. In another case, the fundamentalists and rioters of the minority community set ablaze few coaches of Sabarmati Express at Godhra, Gujarat in which 59 men, women and children were burnt alive on 27 February 2002. The incident triggered communal riots in Ahmedabad and other places in Gujarat wherein several Muslims and Hindus were killed but the number of dead of the former community was greater than the latter one. Even after so many years, these two incidents are differently seen and interpreted by these so called secularists and liberals in India. While they always tend to underplay the anti-Sikh riots, they try to rake Gujarat riot time and again and while doing so, they unilaterally highlight excesses against the Muslims while conveniently ignore the losses suffered by the Hindus in the same case.
These are some of the reasons why I treat them as pseudo-secular, pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-liberal people. Perhaps for own continued privilege and survival by aligning and sticking to a certain political dispensation in a sort of symbiotic relationship. In the process, they often tend to demean and defame Hinduism, its ancient heritage and culture, in an endeavor to project themselves as the saviour and spokesmen for certain minorities and religions. Like the author mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs, the same people are fighting a legal battle in the Supreme Court for retention of thousands of illegal Rohingya immigrants in the name of secularism and human rights as also constantly raising their voice in favour of millions of illegal Bangladeshis in Assam and Bengal while conveniently ignoring the plight of displaced tribals in the north-east who has become refugees in their own homeland and lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs uprooted from Kashmir and still languishing in the refugee settlements elsewhere.
In fact, the list of double standards and paradoxes is too long and it is a stark reality in India. Notwithstanding the fact that the Hinduism has largely been accepted as the oldest surviving religion in the world and the Vedas and Upanishads as the treasure of credible wisdom and knowledge, the alleged secularists and liberals continue to ignore the priceless wealth of Hinduism in their endeavor to glorify the Western culture and religions, and largely identify themselves with them. In the process, they are the ones who project Hinduism and Hindus as backward and intolerant religion and people by exploiting isolated and stray events. Perhaps India is the only country in the world with the strange paradox where the left and left-centric politicians, a large section of liberals, intellectuals and human rights activists follow a biased and lopsided approach to demean their own culture and religion.
Hinduism is undoubtedly the oldest surviving religion with a vast treasure of wisdom and knowledge on all aspects of a meaningful life. The religion endorses and accepts tolerance as a universal value for peaceful coexistence of all living beings since ancient times but it is also against remaining a helpless spectator against injustice and evil doings. The Bhagavad Gita makes it clear that it is a bounden duty of a person to fight against the evil. Hinduism is known for its tolerance and peaceful coexistence of people of all creeds, faiths and religions. The history would vindicate that Hindus became intolerant and gave befitting reply only when their faith, life and property was violated and attacked by any intruder or invader in the past.
However, the traditional religious tolerance in the present day Hinduism is also influenced by the values of democracy, modern education and conventional wisdom. Centuries of external influence, violation and aggression against the Hinduism and Hindus have forced them to relook and revise their attitude and strategic behaviour towards the religious tolerance. Consequently, not all Hindus now practice religious tolerance equally in their intensity and degree. One would come across the enlightened and knowledgeable Hindus who still exercise extreme tolerance even in the face of extreme provocation but there are many Hindu individuals and groups who prefer to respond and retaliate with equal vigour and force. In other words, they and answer violence with violence.
Notwithstanding all this, the majority Hindus continue to remain amiable, peaceful and tolerant. It is only in the event of extreme provocation when passions are incited and tempers run high that some Hindus react and respond, occasionally disproportionately, but same cannot be held true or justified for the community at large. Constant biased and unreasonable conduct of the pseudo-secularists and pseudo-liberals in the country is also a major cause of frustration and anger among many well-meaning Hindus who perforce then publicly react to express their anger and anguish. Many Hindus feel that they and their religion has suffered a lot, sacrificed a lot and endured enough for centuries; therefore, it is high time now that they realize their strength and put up together to counter and deter evil forces active against their common faith and overall well-being.