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.
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