January 03, 2015

STOP RADICALIZING HINDUISM

PROTEST AGAINST 'PK' SHOWS HOW INTOLERANT WE HAVE BECOME

At the onset, let me make one thing clear; I am a Hindu and extremely proud of that and I have no qualms whatsoever in saying this even on a public platform like Blogger though there are several aspects in modern day Hinduism that I do not approve of or practice at a personal level. Before I am appalled by netizens as being 'communal', I would like to make it clear that I do respect all other religions. Anyway, the concept of Karma, the principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is a family) and worshiping the various elements of Mother Nature are some of the things that differentiates Hinduism from the rest. However, the protests against the religious satire 'PK' connotes that a section of modern day Hindus is hell bent upon scuttling all kinds of criticism and imposing their narrow-minded views on others with utter disregard for freedom of expression and speech. And by doing this, these 'self-appointed' monitors of Hinduism are destroying that very essence that the religion of the Vedas is based on - Tolerance.

Good cinema or any piece of art is a reflection of the contemporary state of the society. Whether we like it or not, nobody can deny that in a country like ours where spirituality continues to be an integral part of life, commercialization of religion is a reality. In the last few years, there have been several cases of self-styled godmen, rather 'conmen' across all major religions, taking thousands of innocent and naive people for a ride and exploiting them financially, sexually and emotionally while promising to get them rid of the problems ailing them. The larger message that movies like 'PK' and 'Oh my God' before that are trying to make is that we need to stay away from such people who act as 'middle men' or 'Dalals' between God and the people. Hinduism is a faith where the relation between the Parmathma (God) and the Athma (Human Soul) has always been a personal one; it is for every Hindu to find a way to connect to the Lord and there is no need for any Guru or saint to act as a mediator. Hence, instead of protesting against the movie, saffron groups need to look at the message at the center of the movie and educate people so that they are not 'used' by pseudo-religious leaders to serve their own selfish interests.

Keeping the controversy around the movie aside, what worries me the most is the growing 'concern' amongst Hindus that their religion, their ancient traditions and customs are under some grave threat in modern, secular India. Call it successive Congress government's pro-minority policies or propaganda spread by left wing saffron outfits, a significant number of Hindus are feeling threatened that they will be reduced to being a minority in their own land - the Subcontinent. The persecution of followers of Vedism in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, which once were a part of what the saffronists refer to as 'Akhand Bharat' has only added fuel to the fire. The protest by fringe elements against 'PK' is yet another manifestation of these 'fears'. What baffles me is that how little these men who are supposedly fighting to protect 'Hinduism' know about it.

One of the oldest faiths in the world, Hinduism has seen several tough phases in its over 3,000 long history, only to bounce back and emerge stronger than ever. Be it negotiating the challenge posed by the rapid rise of Buddhism between 3rd BC century to around 6th century AD or the advent of Islam in the Sub-Continent in medieval ages or forced conversion by European missionaries beginning with 16th century, it has faced bigger challenges in the past all thanks to its unique ability to adapt and re-invent itself to stay relevant. In my opinion, as Hinduism, its doctrine and principles travel far and wide and reaches millions of people outside the country, the real threat that the religion is facing as of today is the rise of 'extremist' ideology that may rob it of some of its greatest strengths under the guise of protecting it.

While ancient religions in places like Egypt, Central Asia and Europe are a part of the history books, Hinduism has survived, rather it is thriving. The reason for this is the fact that it is, as the Supreme Court of India once defined it, 'a way of life'. Unlike several other prominent faiths, it is not based on a particular book, neither does it have one particular way of worship and more surprisingly, the Hindu pantheon consists of over 33 crore Gods including the holy cow, trees, animals and so on. Hindus in different parts of the country follow diverse religious customs and traditions, sometimes contradicting each other. However, accepting and respecting difference of opinion and beliefs is one of the most important tenets of Hinduism. Hence, unlike several other faiths that are rather 'rigid' in their outlook, Hinduism is far more accommodating. Moreover, in its long history, it has seen important reformist movements wherein archaic and irrelevant practices like animal sacrifice and Sati have been largely weeded out. However, the philosophy at its core - of love, of compassion, of non-violence, of having a broader outlook and of being tolerant towards diverse views has always remained the same. Unfortunately, this is this very core that the right wing groups are attacking. It is not about 'PK' or 'Oh my God'; it is about how we Hindus want our great religion to evolve as we move ahead. The choice we make today will be crucial, perhaps the most defining phase in the history of our religion.