The loss of the vibrancy of Indian Traditions

I would like to address a very basic issue that many of us have confronted. In its simplest form, the question is this: What should we, a small slice of the Indian intelligentsia, be doing? We can vent our anger and frustration at the way the Indian politicians are handling (or mishandling) the Kashmiri situation; we can express hurt and outrage that ‘Hindus’ are singled out for special treatment both by the ‘liberals’ and by a section of the Muslim population; we can propose a trifurcation of Kashmir; or that the Muslims be ‘taught’ a lesson (whatever that lesson consists of); indulge in abuse and name-calling; or whatever else that takes our fancy at any particular moment.

My question is: does it help alleviate the situation, which drew forth such a response in the first place? Apart from providing a sense of ‘satisfaction’ (?), which is extremely short lived, or earning a ‘reputation’ on this Sulekha site, what else is achieved? My suspicion: pretty little else. The problem between Muslims and ‘Hindus’ did not begin nor will it end in Kashmir: it is a centuries-old hurt (on both sides), which when left unaddressed properly for a long time turns into an all-consuming hate. Before such a hate consumes the other, it consumes the self first. Therefore, may I invite your kind thoughts on what a proper addressing should consist of by formulating the beginning of such an enquiry?

My formulation is tentative: feel free to shoot it down, but only under the condition that you will put a better alternative in its stead. Only then can a real dialogue grow between the many of us who want to do ‘something’ about the situation but not ‘anything’. Let me begin by soliciting your agreement on the following: most of us belong to the Indian intelligentsia, even if all of us are not ‘intellectuals’ in the sense of having made a profession of reading and writing articles and books. If this is the case, what should we, this slice of intelligentsia, be doing today? Of course, we can do many things: put pressure on the politicians, create public opinion, be very vocal, raise funds for the ’cause’ we hold to be just, etc. No doubt, each of these has its importance, but what should our primary focus be? Let me start the ball rolling by focusing on the long term goal first.

1. I would like to draw your attention to what is obvious to most of us: the ‘pluralism’ (let us make do with this word for the moment) of ‘Hinduism’. We need not be detained by the question whether it is unique to ‘Hinduism’ or not; it suffices to note that this ‘property’ does not appear extrinsic to ‘Hinduism’. What does this really mean? Even though different communities regularly clashed during the course of Indian history, it would be a miracle if people living together did not clash at all, no community was systematically persecuted by the other communities because the former worshipped some other ‘devathas’ or followed its own ‘sampradaya’. (Of course, the Saivites and the Vaishnavites clashed regularly; the Advaitins fought the ‘Buddhists’; the Alwars denounced the Jains vigorously, etc. But, as far as I know, nowhere was some community persecuted so systematically as the Jews were in Europe, or the Baha’is in the Middle East, and so on.) In fact, the active pluralism of ‘Hinduism’ consisted precisely of (a) vigorous clashes between different traditions on the one side and (b) the absence of systematic persecution despite such clashes on the other. There is another way of putting this: I want to propose that systematic persecution of some or another tradition did not take place precisely because of the vigorous clashes between the Indian traditions. That is to say, the active pluralism of ‘Hinduism’ depends on the vigorous clashes between its traditions. (This is a bald claim, I know, but I merely promised to make a beginning.)

2. We also know that both Christianity and Islam, intolerant as they are, nevertheless ‘peacefully’ coexisted with ‘Hinduism’ in India for a long time. What enabled this extraordinary situation? Neither Islam nor Christianity has changed in its character since inception. So, how could they co-exist – some of their followers undergoing substantial metamorphoses in the process? (Just think of Christianity in Kerala or the Sufis in the north and south of India.) Here is the answer, which each of us knows as well: it is in the nature of ‘Hinduism’ to thus influence other religions. In that case, why are we unable to further develop this aspect of ‘Hinduism’? To blame it on international conspiracies (like that of the Roman Catholic Church), or to the rich oil kingdoms, or even Pakistan is to play the ostrich. The answer, however unpalatable it might be, must be faced by each one of us: ‘Hinduism’ is obviously not so vigorous as it once was. Who are the culprits for this state of affairs? I am afraid the answer is in the mirror one looks at: oneself. We have failed in keeping ‘Hinduism’ alive and vibrant; that is why we are afraid of being ‘swamped’ by the Muslims or Christians or liberals or communists or whoever else. Surely, our forefathers (and I mean our distant forefathers) were neither worried nor afraid: they carried ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Buddhism’ throughout the vast continent that Asia is without being supported by huge temple funds, armies, kingdoms or merchant caravans. ‘Why did the Bodhi dharma come to the East?’ asks a Zen koan. Why indeed? Whatever the reason, the point is that this Zen koan talks about an individual and does not ask ‘why did the Buddhist missionaries come to China?’ What has happened to us, their descendants, that we have lost this strength and purity? Why do we hide behind invectives and abuses? What ‘Hinduism’ have we been imbibed with that we have ended up jumping at shadows? We are worried about modernity and the role of English in the Indian society; we fear that the Church and the mosque will swallow us whole; we hate our ‘backwardness’, embarrassed at the orthodoxy of our parents and grand parents; look down upon ‘the caste system’; denigrate ‘archakas’ or ‘poojaris’ and Sanskrit in the same breath… this list is virtually endless. (Please, I am not claiming that every one of us shares these ‘ills’. I am being, forgivably I hope, rhetorical.)

3. In other words, this is our first priority as the intelligentsia: to examine the nature of ‘Hinduism’ that we have imbibed. I do not mean that we examine our conscience, for that would the wrong path to tread. It is not an individual failure, any more than it is a psychological question. Rather, it is a social ill that has befallen us, to which we need to seek a remedy. That remedy is to be found in our traditions, but to find it we need a diagnosis of our present situation.

4. I have some idea of what the diagnosis is, and what the cure should be. Before shooting my mouth off any further, prudence suggests that I await your reactions, whether they be flame or flowers. Depending on them, we can continue this conversation.

Check the related post, legislations against proselytization demonstrate the weakness of Indian traditions.

  • In the case of Islam, my understanding is that a tension existed between those who considered Hindustan as ‘dar ul harb’ and thus a place where a ‘farz e kifayya’ (communally discharged duty) existed to wage jihad and convert or expel kaffirs, or if that was unsafe, then the duty became one of ‘hijrat’ (emigration). However some Muslim theologians said Hindustan was a ‘dar ul suluh’ and that if any danger to Islam existed then it came from Western Imperialism. However, the move towards representative govt.under the Raj meant that Politics became almost exclusively concerned with local elites monopolizing jobs and ‘rent seeking opportunities’. In that context both pragmatic politicians as well as ‘intellectuals’ like Iqbal could come to see Islam as essentially a political ideology which, if implemented, would enable Muslims to come forward very rapidly and even establish a World wide Caliphate.
    The vibrancy of Political Islam has a lot to do with institutional support and international networks which receive official sanction and protection.
    By contrast, Hinduism- which could be considered a rebellion against narrow, Caste based, ‘vyavaharika’ dharma- showed considerable vibrancy between 1880 and 1920 but was then lost momentum because of Khilafat and the false notion that India could only gain freedom by doing a deal with Political Islam. This wasn’t entirely Gandhi’s fault. The truth is, Motilal Nehru and C.R Das’s time wasting antics in the Legislative Council had the effect of continually giving concessions on the basis that by some magic the ‘high caste Hindus’ would rule the roost and therefore it was right and proper that they should pay in advance for the power which would inevitably come to them. The truth is that dominant castes, whether ‘Hindu’ or not, were determined to break the power of the old literary castes (not necessarily Brahmin, indeed the vast majority of Bhramins never belonged to such sub-castes in the first place) before the British left. In this game, some ‘high castes’ got the big Offices but the price was by discriminating against their own kind. Yet, ‘Hinduism’ remained necessary as a means of combating ‘vyavaharika dharma’ and low social mobility based on internalized stereotypes. The truth is things like Sanskrit and learning Yoga etc, help poor kids from the dehat to get a leg up in life. Shyamji Krishnaverma wasn’t from an affluent family. He rose to become a Balliol graduate and Dewan because of his Sanskrit oratory for which he got the title Pundit from Benares.
    Lack of vibrancy in Hinduism has to do with Indian politicians treating their parent community as the one which must make concessions and pay all the bills so that they can themselves enjoy office. It also has to do with a type of officially sanctioned Judicial hermeneutics which considers Hinduism to be a sort of monstrous machine whose aim is to exploit and humiliate non Brahmins and perpetrate atrocities against women. This begs the question, what magic did the numerically tiny Brahmins possess to have imposed this fraud for so long?
    The truth is the Hindu epics themselves give a highly rational solution to this conundrum. Yuddhishtra in Mahabharata has to learn Statistical Game theory to overcome his Vishada and to rule as a Just King. The theory of ‘costly signals’ vs ‘cheap talk’ explains the puzzling aspects of vyavaharika dharma. It also gives the whole of Society a way of moving forward to better co-operative equilibria. People like Chief Justice Gajendragadkar, in the Thirties, pointed out that all the Smritis say ‘follow the example of the best people’- i.e. one can always change the vyahara prescription on the basis of time and place. However, at a later point, after Independence, seduced by American Legal positivism and substantive due process praxis, such Judges and intellectuals jumped on the ‘Hinduism is primitive sutpidity’ bandwagon.
    Hinduism is not vibrant among Indian ‘intellectuals’ because it is not incentive compatible. It is individually rational for an office holder, or Magsaysay award winner, to pretend Hinduism is Hitlerism and that one is actually being very brave for denouncing it. The truth is very different. Still, if any foreigner happens to read this- let me quickly add- me Hindu man. Hindu they be very bad. Always worship snake and commit suttee and thugee on all and sundry. Me very brave to say to Hindu peeps ‘stop it! Remember Mahatma Gandhi! Why you all time raping and killing people and then tearing foetus out of their bellies and then raping and killing the foetus and dragging another foetus out of its belly so that you can rape and kill it? Such actions are not very nice. Let us set up an N.G.O instead.’

    • DocWhiteCloud

      windwheel, this site contains ideas by Balagangadhara. These ideas are not yet fully developed as theories that solve a set of cognitive problems. These ideas are just heuristics for those who want to do research further.

      Any comments on this board are not going to any response, as SNB and others have a dedicated list where you can pose questions and get answers. That site is:

      • cuddles

        I am disappointed to hear that this blog is not indeed a crazy Hamlet like soliloquy, uttered on some frigid North Sea shore, which cried out to heaven for punctuation by my equally solipsistic, vidushak type or grave-digger like comments, but is rather a fragment of some Credentialist Academic Research Program or Indological Availability Cascade which can only become truly mischievous if brought under the rubric of Public argumentation ethics or burlesque and Buberesque dialogic.