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Hindu Fundamentalism? What Is That?

That the contemporary world looks at Hinduism as a religion is a weak understanding of it. It is much more than a religion. It is beyond the defines of any theology that exists.

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There seems to be an itching for a debate on Hinduism and Hindutva with various leaders stoking the embers in a manner that can only be termed incendiary. Admittedly it is a very sensitive subject for most of the Hindus in India and in rest of the world. With a very senior leader comparing Hindutva with ISIS and Boko Haram, the die is cast truly and well. Several others erudite and informed too, joined in the recent past comparing it to hooliganism. Let’s explore what the truth then is. 

Hinduism is the World’s oldest ‘Religion’ with roots and customs dating back to more than 5,000 years. There are more than a billion followers with 95% of them living in India. For all of them, Hinduism is ‘Dharma’ or a way of life which defines a person’s true purpose in this life.

Hindus believe truth is eternal, that ‘Brahman’ is that truth, that Vedas are the ultimate authority, that everyone should strive to achieve dharma, that individual souls are immortal and that the goal of the individual soul is moksha or liberation. The idea of a soul in every living being, which also is a part of the supreme soul, paves the way for virtuous living. 

There are three paths of Hinduism which are practised. "karma-marga", “jnana-marga”, and “bhakti-marga”. Within the Hindu religious life, one could even be a member of more than one tradition at the same time. Is Jain not a Hindu? Are Nepalese not both Hindu and Buddhist at the same time? Is Hinduism then a religion in the strictest of definitions? By the way, Religion, a western term was first used by the British in the census operations carried out in 1871, for they believed that a human being can only subscribe to one thought in life. This effectively killed a true Hindu virtuosity of multiple identities.

Hindus strive to achieve the four ‘Purusharthas’ needed to lead a morally and ethically correct life such as dharma, kama, artha and moksha. Throughout their lives, Hindus attempt to end the cycle of ‘samsara’ and behave in a way that provides good ‘karma’ or deeds in this life so the next would be even better. Such explanation of Hinduism must point out the internal strength and unending internal energy. In a larger sense, are these not the basic values for anyone who practices any other religion or even for one who practices none?

That the contemporary world looks at Hinduism as a religion is a weak understanding of it. It is much more than a religion. It is beyond the defines of any theology that exists.

What then is Hindutva? For me, it is the practice of Hinduism. It is living in Hinduism. It is being a part of Hinduism. It defines the culture of Hinduism. In that sense every Hindu is a part of Hindutva. Or everyone who shares a culture of Hinduism is a Hindu. For me, Religion will divide. Culture will unite. As long as I practice the tenets or virtues of Hinduism, I am a part of Hindutva. Are then Hinduism and Hindutva inseparable? The debate will continue to eternity, I am sure. That Hindutva is being used as a political ideology or as a political tool may not be ethical. But is it bad in law?

People, whatever religion they follow, tend to go beyond the so-called social norms due to either ignorance or arrogance and then the societal structures and or the religious boundaries will work to bring them back into the folds of normative behaviour. It is made to happen through either the temples or the mosques or the churches or other abodes that people themselves have created for the Gods. Gods are only manifestations of our fears or our confidence. If political parties use these propositions, what of it?

That people have come to assign a negativity around Hindutva as a political philosophy is unfortunate. What people must realise is that Hindutva defines and qualifies the practice of Dharma enshrined in Hinduism. It does not build machoism around Hinduism. If Hindutva is construed as Hindu nationalism, what of it? Anyway, Hindus live and die by the ‘dharma’ that is defined by Hinduism.

It is utterly disparaging to separate Hindutva from Hinduism by considering it analogous to the relationship between Christianity and Christian fundamentalism or Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. What is the difference? 

Whereas Hinduism is a plural tradition, Christianity or Islam possess well defined universal creedal formulations. Whereas creedal formulations in Christianity focus on the unique Christian identity of God as presented in Scripture, Islam tenets are based on Mohammed Prophet’s teachings.  Hinduism recognises “trayastrimsati koti” or 33 million Gods and that all of them coalesce into one truth the “Brahman”. Unlike in Hinduism, there are codifications of beliefs or of opinions which are authoritative, formulated statements of the chief articles of Christian beliefs or Islamic beliefs. Hindutva only encompasses Hinduism in its beliefs whereas Hinduism extols the path of “karma” “renunciation” and “moksha”

Hinduism preaches tolerance. It is a civic and religious virtue for every Hindu. Has Hinduism not coexisted with many others such as Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam? Probably, Hinduism creedal tenets were too thin in religious content compared to other beliefs. How then can Hindu fundamentalism exist? 

Whereas Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL, or known as Islamic State and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS also known as Daesh is a militant Sunni Islamist group following a Salafi jihadist doctrine, Boko Haram is a Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching Jihad and a classified terrorist organization based in north-eastern Nigeria now a part of the Islamic State. The avowed aim of the caliphate of the Islamic State it claimed religious, political, and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. How can there be any comparison to Hindutva, whose roots are in Hinduism?

The dictionary mentions hooliganism as a violent or rowdy behaviour by young troublemakers, typically in a gang like that seen among the crowds coming to watch football matches. What has this got to do with a faith, ideology, a religious practice or a religion? It can happen within any group of people. How then is it sought to be identified with Hindutva? Are not such epithets mischievous? 

Of course, the modern India is built by all its citizens, and its future belongs to every one of them. But then, does Hinduism or Hindutva take away the rights conferred by the constitution on any of its citizens? Does Hinduism not offer secular credentials within its definition? Does it impose itself on other religions? Even Hindutva as understood by its critics doesn’t take away those rights. Is not secularism a separation of church and state? Then, what is the hue and cry about? 

India admittedly in the past 600 years, has been ravaged by foreign rulers. The ideologies and practices saw major changes. Hinduism, Hindutva and consequently the Hindu identity took a beating. Does a resurgence make them terrorists like the ISIS or Boko Haram? This is preposterous and misleading. 

Yes, there could be a debate about Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India and why at all erstwhile Hindu India was partitioned. There can also be a debate between a theocratic Pakistan and a secular India. That is for the intellectuals of the two nations to explain. However, that in itself cannot negate the fact that both are governed by their own ideologies. Like generations change along with their thinking and thought processes, why cannot ideologies change? Even Hindutva has undergone several changes over hundreds of years. If anything, it has eschewed several practices rooted in culture. How then can we brand it fundamentalist? 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Dr S S Mantha

Former Chairman of AICTE, Dr. Mantha is an eminent academician. At present he is Chancellor KL University and Adjunct Professor, NIAS, Bangalore.

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