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Opinion » Lead
What Hindus can and should be proud of
Those who care for the future of the religion should valorise the work of reformers who rid an ancient, ossified faith of its divisions, prejudices, and closed-mindedness
A bhadralok friend of mine is of the view that the Government of India should celebrate every December 16 as Vijay Diwas, Victory Day, to mark the surrender in 1971 of the Pakistani forces in Dhaka to the advancing Indian Army. My friend argues that such a celebration would take Indians in general, and Hindus in particular, out of the pacifist, defeatist mindset that he claims has so crippled them. The triumph in Dhaka represents for him the finest moment in a millenia otherwise characterised by Indian (and more specifically Hindu) humiliation at the hands of foreigners. I was reminded of my friend’s fond fantasy when reading about the posters in Mumbai recently put up by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party. These carry portraits of a prominent BJP leader, with two accompanying slogans: ‘I AM A HINDU NATIONALIST,’ in English, and ‘Garv sé Kaho Ham Hindu Hain’, in Hindi. The latter slogan needs perhaps to be translated for south Indian readers, and set in context for younger ones. ‘Proudly Proclaim Our Hindu-Ness’, would be a faithful rendition. The slogan originates in the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign of the 1980s and 1990s, when it was used by the VHP, RSS, BJP, and Bajrang Dal cadres to mobilise men and materials in the drive to demolish a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya believed by many to be sited on the birthplace of the (mythical) God Ram. Victory in Dhaka Should Hindus be proud of the Indian Army’s victory in Dhaka in 1971? Perhaps as Indians, but not specifically as Hindus. The war had its basis in the savage repression of Bengalis in East Pakistan by the West Pakistan Army. The refugees who came to India were both Hindus and Muslims. The help rendered to them by the Government of India did not discriminate according to their faith. As for the Indian military campaign, the chief commander in the field was a Jew, his immediate superior a Sikh. A Parsi served as Chief of Army Staff. His own superior, the Prime Minister of India, had notoriously been disallowed from entering the Jagannath temple in Puri because she had not married a Hindu. To be sure, many soldiers and officers in the Indian Army were of Hindu origin. Yet they never saw themselves in narrowly communal terms. In our armed forces, then and now, Hindu and Muslim, Christian and Sikh, Parsi and Jew, lived, laboured and struggled together. Hindu in intent and content Unlike the military campaign in East Pakistan in 1971, the campaign to build a temple in Ayodha was unquestionably Hindu in intent and content. No Muslims or Sikhs or Parsis or Jews or Christians participated in it. But should Hindus have been proud of it? I rather think not. In a society where so many are without access to adequate education, health care and housing, where malnutrition is rife and where safety and environmental standards are violated every minute, to invest so much political energy and human capital in the demolition of a mosque and its replacement with a brand-new temple seemed wildly foolish, if not downright Machiavellian. As it turned out, the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign led to two decades of strife across northern and western India, with thousands of people losing their lives and hundreds of thousands their homes and livelihoods.
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he attacked ‘untouchability’ while upholding the ancient ideal of varnashramadharma. Dr. deep-rooted caste and patriarchal prejudices remain entrenched in many parts of India. orthodoxy View comments(124)Post Comment 2 of 2 23-07-2013 19:16 . The person who stood most firmly against this idea was the first Prime Minister. mutually beneficial.thehindu. Mohandas K. His example was carried forward by other Bengali reformers. Ambedkar. 1947. Indian Army. should Hindus be proud of? The answer is that rather than seek for one defining moment. persistent work of reformers down the centuries to rid an ancient. A modernist and rationalist. He can be reached at ramachandraguha@yahoo. who was unarguably the first great Indian modernist. which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the epicentre of reformist and radical thinking in India. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there. ossified faith of its divisions. He too was intensely disliked by the sants and shakha heads who arrogate to themselves the right to speak for Hindus. and Nehru were the three 20th century figures who did most to rid Hinduism of its ills and excesses. have now to be fought afresh. did.What Hindus can and should be proud of . such as Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai. and eventually. Hindus still have much to be ashamed about. The work that they. education for women and the abolition of caste distinctions. Rammohun campaigned for the abolition of sati. What then. and carried forward by Ambedkar and Nehru and company. so much so that the Sankaracharyas once even organised a signature campaign that asked the British to declare Gandhi a non-Hindu. 1971 Indo-Pak war. they had to not look for favours from guilt-ridden reformers but themselves ‘educate. Nehru was a lapsed Hindu. giving ammunition to parties in India who represent the most sectarian and exclusive aspects of Hinduism themselves. are what Hindus should be most proud of. religious pluralism. Gandhi was pushed to take more radical positions by B. for greater rights for women more generally. Ram Janmabhoomi campaign. the outstanding lawyer-scholar who was of ‘Untouchable’ origins himself. Hinduism promotion. in Maharashtra. The abolition of caste prejudices. inter-marriage itself. The battles inaugurated by the likes of Rammohun Roy and Jotirau Phule. a central question the new nation faced was the relation of faith to state. among other things.. the elimination of gender hierarchies. and made even brighter. even if they want to. This commitment to religious pluralism he now renewed and reaffirmed. who was born into the faith yet decided in the end to leave it. who never entered a temple in adult life. who focussed on. Gandhi came back to India after two decades in the diaspora. the promotion of religious pluralism — these remain the elusive ideals of those who wish (proudly or otherwise) to call themselves Hindu and Indian. Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise. he progressively became more critical of caste discrimination. Living in South Africa. To begin with. Entrenched prejudices That said. Hindus who care for the fate and future of Hinduism should instead valorise the quiet. Ambedkar believed that for Dalits to escape from oppression.R. Ambedkar. we have got to deal with this minority in a civilised manner. for the embrace of modern scientific education and for a liberal spirit of free enquiry and intellectual debate. Then he began advocating inter-mixing and inter-dining. a mirror-image of the Islamic nation that was Pakistan. They have got to live in India. who was detested by the priestly orthodoxy. He remains an inspirational figure. In 1915. Meanwhile. through a dramatic conversion ceremony weeks before his death.” Gandhi was a heterodox Hindu. who worked most heroically to nurture the spirit of equal citizenship that the Laws of Manu so explicitly deny.com/opinion/lead/what-hindus-can-and-should-be. When India became independent in 1947. and the equally remarkable reformers who preceded them.The Hindu http://www. Meanwhile. Laws of Manu. This is a basic fact about which there can be no argument. whose work and legacy remain relevant for Dalit and Suvarna alike. but with the work in the early 19th century of Rammohun Roy. he had been seized of the need to build harmonious. Ambedkar was a renegade Hindu. (Ramachandra Guha’s books include Makers of Modern India. The war of 1971 was not a Hindu war. As the recent spate of attacks on Dalits and women shows. go anywhere else. and the destruction of the Babri Masjid was not something that could fill Hindus with pride. not with the surrender of the Pakistani Army in 1971. Epicentre of radical thinking The torch first lit in Bengal was taken over. agitate and organise’ their way to emancipation. its prejudices. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic State. one heroic triumph. and its closedmindedness. In a letter written to Chief Ministers on October 15. Jawaharlal Nehru.. There was a strong movement to create India as a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. who wrote searing tracts against patriarchal practices and motivated young girls to emancipate themselves through modern education. For all their lapses and departures from orthodoxy — or perhaps because of them — Gandhi. The pernicious practice of ‘untouchability’ was attacked from below by Jotirau Phule and from above by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. in countries that neighbour ours.in) Keywords: Hindu religion. The story of Hindu pride that I wish to tell also begins with Bengal. Hinduism. relations between Hindus and Muslims. he reminded them that “we have a Muslim minority who are so large in numbers that they cannot. among them Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Swami Vivekananda. Hindu Rashtra. Maharashtra also gave birth to India’s first home-grown feminists.
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