The Hinduism I know
Posted online: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 0016 hrs
The Indian Express
I have read with chilling apprehension Arun Shourie's two articles on Hinduism in The Indian Express (December 28 and 31) because these are not just his individual views but seem to represent the BJP's election strategy. He claims that Hinduism also includes a fundamentalist face of ferocious response, even violence. He tells us that the Bhagavad Gita supports the maxim of 'Wickedness to the wicked' and for these pearls of wisdom Shourie quotes Lokmanya Tilak as his source (I refuse to attribute this sacrilege to the great Tilak I hope more knowledgeable people will scotch this heresy). Naturally, Shourie ridicules Gandhi for claiming inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita for his law, 'Truth even to the wicked'.
Even Hinduism's opponents have not suggested Shourie's view of Hinduism as a religion that includes vengefulness. Most people accept Radhakrishnan's definition of Hinduism as a way of life. 'Vasudhaiva kutumbakam' (the world is one family) is the proud Hindu dictum of tolerance. Of course, fair-minded people also accept that the same message of humanity and common good runs through all religions. Thus the Holy Quran proclaims, "All the created ones belong to the family of God... so, an Arab has no precedence over a non-Arab, a White over a Black." And Christ said succinctly, "All are children of God."
Shourie's objection to Muslim women wearing headscarves is not on the grounds of gender discrimination incidentally Shourie must have seen Muslim women in India and more in Lahore and Karachi without head scarves; as well as Hindu women in villages in
Rajasthan and UP covering their heads and faces. He does not treat this as a cultural practice separate from religion, but as a Muslim ploy to underscore separateness.
Like Shourie's family, my family is also from West Punjab (now in Pakistan). Maybe he is too young to remember, but after Partition, when Hindus came to India, all the older women and some of the younger ones from rural and even urban areas willingly covered their heads in public as part of the cultural tradition they had been brought up in, though they were all devout Hindus. Carried to the extreme, the conclusion would be that men in South India who wear dhotis are trying to announce their separateness from the North, where we wear pyjamas. Hindus and Muslims in the South wear the dhoti so how does the communal divide come in?
Shourie has his pet theory that Islam was spread in India by the sword. Vivekananda, the greatest exponent of Hinduism, best repudiates this "the Mohammedan conquest of India came as a salvation to the downtrodden, to the poor. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Mohammedans." He also said it was "the height of madness" to claim this was achieved by the sword.
Vivekananda, in fact, profusely praised Islam saying, "without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind. For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam Vedanta brain and Islam body is the only hope".
Vivekananda was not, as Shourie obliquely claimed, referring to the 'Islamic body' as brute strength but to the freshness of approach and message of equality brought in by Islam. Vivekananda castigated the orthodoxy: "No man, no nation, my son, can hate others and live; India's doom was sealed the very day they invented the word 'mlechcha' and stopped from communion with others".
Shourie castigates Christians because they oppose idolatry and refers to Ramakrishna Paramhans's devotion to the goddess of Dakshineshwar. The spiritual height of Ramakrishna Paramhans is undisputed. But then Christians are not the only opponents of idolatry. Swami Dayananda, one of the greatest exponents of the Vedas in the 19th century (though born in a priestly family and brought up to worship the idol of Shiva), says, "There is not a single verse in the Vedas to sanction the invocation of the Deity, and likewise there is nothing to indicate that it is right to invoke idols." He also said, "Idol worship is a sin."
I am firm in my conviction that any attempt to dilute the composite culture and inclusive democracy of our country can only bring harm. As Maulana Azad's soul-stirring speech (1940) put it, "I am a Muslim and proud of the fact. I am indispensable to this noble edifice. Without me this splendid structure of India is incomplete. Everything bears the stamp of our joint endeavour. Our languages were different, but we grew to use a common language. Our manners and customs were different, but they produced a new synthesis... no fantasy or artificial scheming to separate and divide can break this unity".
The writer, a retired chief justice, was chairperson of the prime minister's high-level committee on the status of Muslims
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