Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hinduism is about spreading terror?

It's common nowadays to get forwarded mailings telling us how "Islamofascism" is taking over the world, or in other ways saying nasty things about Islamists and the threats they pose to world peace and security. While some of these mailings are downright slanderous in their attempt to malign entire communities and religions, other warnings are not entirely negligible and I'm sure all liberals have had occasion to worry about the increasing incompatibility between the liberal viewpoint and the political agenda of some Islamic leaders.

Trouble is, it's not only Islamic leaders we have to contend with. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad ("World Hindu Council") has as its slogan: "धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः", which loosely means "religion protects when protected". One of their principal goals is "To protect, promote and propagate Hindu values of life, the ethical and the spiritual in the context of modern times."

Well to protect, promote and propagate Hindu values of life, these charming people yesterday did the following. They burnt alive a paralytic woman aged 20. Please imagine her fate. She was in a house that was set on fire by VHP activists and being paralysed, could not move as the flames engulfed her.

Perhaps she was not the intended victim, but then the people killed in bomb blasts are also not intended victims! And the VHP must take responsibility for this killing, since they organised the violent protest during which it happened. Moreover as per news reports, "Many churches, prayer houses and other Christian institutions were attacked in Kandhamal, Bargarh, Koraput, Rayagada, Gajapati, Boudh, Sundargarh and Jajpur districts. At least two prayer houses were damaged in the capital city [of the state of Orissa]."

Now all this is said to have been in retaliation for the recent killing of a VHP leader in one of the above districts. And that's my point really. If in retaliation for a killing of a member of my group, I kill innocent, poor and handicapped people and attack their places of worship, am I propagating "Hindu values of life, the ethical and the spiritual"?

Herein lies a conundrum for the VHP. If the answer to my question is "no", then they need to explain why they failed to propagate the desired Hindu values of life among their followers (who surely must learn the said values, otherwise how can they propagate them?). Remember that the Chandogya Upanishad - apparently not on the daily reading list of all VHP members - bars violence against all creatures and mentions ahimsa (non-violence) as one of five essential virtues.

Alternatively if the propagation of "Hindu values of life, the ethical and the spiritual" has come to mean burning paralytic women alive and pillaging poor villages, then let us all be aware that some kind of terrorists are attempting to run our religion too.

P.S. I can't help adding that every time this happens, the apologists for this kind of fake-Hindu organisation tell me "what are we supposed to do when our religion is under attack?". It's sad if they are unable to figure out the answer to that question from the texts of the religion they claim to follow. They should go back and study it better.


Rahul Basu said...

Sunil: You are attributing a level of intellectual development, logic, and overall humanity to a group which has shown no signs of any of these in the years that they have existed. If you seriously expect that the VHP activists (or even leaders) to have read the Chandogya Upanishad, dear Sir, I believe you are seriously delusional.

One of my respected colleagues, a highly intelligent man with much work to his credit believes that it is not possible for Muslims to live peacefully as a minority with those of other faiths. This is a considered opinion, not a gut feeling. He also believes that the liberal intelligentsia (read you, me and my uncle) treats people like Geelani with kid gloves but is severely contemptuous of Narendra Modi.

There are many such people with views like this. Of course the VHP is the extreme end of a basically fascist ideology, but we need to have answers for the rest whom one can respect for other reasons if not for these.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Rahul: On the first para of course I agree with you. I'm not delusional but only pointing out that VHP activists are clueless about the religion they claim to be propagating. And you clearly agree with that.

As for whether "it's possible" for Muslims to live peacefully as a minority - the considered opinion of your colleague deserves a hearing, but I'm not prepared to accept that it's right or even meaningful. Let me explain.

First of all the statement is as true, or false, if made about Christians or Jews living as a minority. Maybe even Hindus. Leafing through history, the impossibility of peaceful co-existence as well as the possibility, can be found. It depends where you look. History is only a bunch of anecdotes and not a systematic exploration of possibilities.

Also frequently the right comparisons are not made. When Hindus legislate against beef consumption in India, do we take account of the remarkable instances of Muslim-majority tolerance towards minority preferences, for example on the equally touchy subject (to Muslims) of alcohol? It's a fact (though rarely acknowledged) that Christian and other minorities are allowed to drink in the most repressive states (it's legal in Pakistan, and not legal but still well-tolerated in parts of Iran). This does not seem to get factored in when we compare the behaviour of religious groups.

So, much as the liberal intelligentsia is accused of being selective about who it criticises, conclusions like the one you quote might also stem from selective amnesia about history as well as geography.

Finally - as a physicist I would like to introduce here the important notion of time-dependence. What was not possible earlier could well become possible as a result of socio-economic changes. Take an example of a rather different sort. It has long been believed that it was not possible for gay people (also single women), to live happily as "minorities" in society. (Of course here the emphasis was on their being "happy" rather than "peaceful"). There was much evidence for this theory, in the form of depression, suicide and other pathological forms of behaviour.

But after all that, it turns out the main problem was society's own treatment of these groups, who internalised that treatment and responded accordingly. Changes in attitudes, in social practice and importantly in the law have brought about a different and better situation that is there for everyone to see.

There's no direct relation of this example to that of religious minorities, but it makes the point that what is not possible today can well be possible tomorrow.

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