Shashi Tha­roor

Exclusive ex­cerpts from the au­thor-MP’s new book, Why I Am a Hindu, on the need to re­claim an an­ces­tral—and cho­sen—re­li­gion


Ex­cerpts from the au­thor-MP’s new book, Why I am a Hindu

II GREW UP IN A HINDU HOUSE­HOLD. Our home al­ways had a prayer room, where paint­ings and por­traits of as­sorted di­vini­ties jos­tled for shelf and wall space with fad­ing pho­to­graphs of de­parted an­ces­tors, all stained by ash scat­tered from the in­cense burned daily by my de­vout par­ents. I have writ­ten be­fore of how my ear­li­est ex­pe­ri­ences of piety came from watch­ing my fa­ther at prayer. Ev­ery morn­ing, after his bath, my fa­ther would stand in front of the prayer room wrapped in his towel, his wet hair still un­combed, and chant his San­skrit mantras. But he never obliged me to join him; he ex­em­pli­fied the Hindu idea that re­li­gion is an in­tensely per­sonal mat­ter, that prayer is be­tween you and what­ever im­age of your Maker you choose to wor­ship. In the Hindu way, I was to find my own truth.

I think I have. I am a be­liever, de­spite a brief pe­riod of school­boy athe­ism (of the kind that comes with the dis­cov­ery of ra­tio­nal­ity and goes with an ac­knowl­edge­ment of its lim­i­ta­tions). And I am happy to de­scribe my­self as a believ­ing Hindu: not just be­cause it is the faith into which I was born, but for a string of other rea­sons, though faith re­quires no rea­son.

One rea­son is cul­tural: as a Hindu I be­long to a faith that ex­presses the an­cient ge­nius of my own peo­ple. I am proud of the his­tory of my faith in my own land: of the trav­els of Adi Shankara, who jour­neyed from the south­ern­most tip of the coun­try to Kash­mir in the north, Gu­jarat in the west and Odisha in the east, de­bat­ing spir­i­tual schol­ars ev­ery­where, preach­ing his be­liefs, es­tab­lish­ing his mutts. I am reaf­firmed in this atavis­tic al­le­giance by the Har­vard scholar Diana Eck writ­ing of the ‘sa­cred ge­og­ra­phy’ of India, ‘knit to­gether by count­less tracks of pil­grim­age’. The great philoso­pher—pres­i­dent of India, Dr Sarvepalli Rad­hakr­ish­nan, wrote of Hin­dus as ‘a dis­tinct cul­tural unit, with a com­mon his­tory, a com­mon lit­er­a­ture, and a com­mon civil­i­sa­tion’. In re­it­er­at­ing my al­le­giance to Hin­duism, I am con­sciously lay­ing claim to this ge­og­ra­phy and his­tory, its lit­er­a­ture and civil­i­sa­tion, iden­ti­fy­ing my­self as an heir


(one among a bil­lion heirs) to a ven­er­a­ble tra­di­tion that stretches back into time im­memo­rial. I fully ac­cept that many of my friends, com­pa­tri­ots and fel­low-Hin­dus feel no sim­i­lar need, and that there are Hin­dus who are not (or are no longer) In­dian, but I am com­fort­able with this ‘cul­tural’ and ‘ge­o­graph­i­cal’ Hin­duism that an­chors me to my an­ces­tral past.

But an­other ‘rea­son’ for my be­lief in Hin­duism is, for lack of a bet­ter phrase, its in­tel­lec­tual ‘fit’: I am more com­fort­able with the tenets of Hin­duism than I would be with those of the other faiths of which I know. I have long thought of my­self as lib­eral, not merely in the po­lit­i­cal sense of the term, or even in re­la­tion to prin­ci­ples of eco­nom­ics, but as an at­ti­tude to life. To ac­cept peo­ple as one finds them, to al­low them to be and be­come what they choose, and to en­cour­age them to do what­ever they like (so long as it does not harm oth­ers) is my nat­u­ral in­stinct. Rigid and cen­so­ri­ous be­liefs have never ap­pealed to my tem­per­a­ment. In mat­ters of re­li­gion, too, I found my lib­eral in­stincts re­in­forced by the faith in which I was brought up. Hin­duism is, in many ways, pred­i­cated on the idea that the eter­nal wis­dom of the ages and of di­vin­ity can­not be con­fined to a sin­gle sa­cred book; we have many, and we can delve into each to find our own truth (or truths). As a Hindu I can claim ad­her­ence to a re­li­gion with­out an es­tab­lished church or


priestly pa­pacy, a re­li­gion whose rit­u­als and cus­toms I am free to re­ject, a re­li­gion that does not oblige me to demon­strate my faith by any vis­i­ble sign, by sub­sum­ing my iden­tity in any col­lec­tiv­ity, not even by a spe­cific day or time or fre­quency of wor­ship. (There is no Hindu Pope, no Hindu Vat­i­can, no Hindu cat­e­chism, not even a Hindu Sun­day.) As a Hindu I follow a faith that of­fers a ver­i­ta­ble smor­gas­bord of op­tions to the wor­ship­per of di­vini­ties to adore and to pray to, of rit­u­als to ob­serve (or not), of cus­toms and prac­tices to honour (or not), of fasts to keep (or not). As a Hindu I sub­scribe to a creed that is free of the re­stric­tive dog­mas of holy writ, one that re­fuses to be shack­led to the lim­i­ta­tions of a sin­gle vol­ume of holy rev­e­la­tion.

And while I am, para­dox­i­cally, list­ing my ‘rea­sons’ for a faith be­yond un­der­stand­ing, let me cite the clincher: above all, as a Hindu I be­long to the only ma­jor re­li­gion in the world that does not claim to be the only true re­li­gion. I find it im­mensely con­ge­nial to be able to face my fel­low hu­man be­ings of other faiths with­out be­ing bur­dened by the con­vic­tion that I am em­barked upon a ‘true path’ that they have missed. This dogma lies at the core of the ‘Semitic faiths’, Chris­tian­ity, Is­lam, and Ju­daism. ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Fa­ther [God], but by me’ (John 14:6), says the Bible; ‘There is no God but Al­lah, and Muham­mad is His Prophet’, de­clares the Qu­ran, deny­ing un­be­liev­ers all pos­si­bil­ity of re­demp­tion, let alone of sal­va­tion or paradise. Hin­duism as­serts that all ways of be­lief are equally valid, and Hin­dus read­ily ven­er­ate the saints, and the sa­cred ob­jects, of other faiths. I am proud that I can honour the sanc­tity of other faiths with­out feel­ing I am be­tray­ing my own. ...

A Travesty of Hin­duism

What does this ‘Abra­hamic Hin­duism’ of the ‘Sangh Pari­var’ con­sist of? The ide­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tions laid by Savarkar, Gol­walkar and Upad­hyaya have given mem­bers of the RSS a fairly co­her­ent doc­trine. It rests on the atavis­tic be­lief that India has been the land of the Hin­dus since an­cient times, and that their iden­tity and its iden­tity are in­ter­twined. Since time im­memo­rial, Hindutva ad­vo­cates ar­gue, Hindu cul­ture and civil­i­sa­tion have con­sti­tuted the essence of In­dian life; In­dian na­tion­al­ism is there­fore Hindu na­tion­al­ism. The his­tory of India is the story of the strug­gle of the Hin­dus, the own­ers and cus­to­di­ans of this an­cient land, to pro­tect and pre­serve their re­li­gion and cul­ture against the on­slaught of hos­tile alien in­vaders. It is true that the ter­ri­tory of India also hosts non-Hin­dus, but these are in­vaders (Mus­lims, Chris­tians) or guests (Jews, Par­sis); they can be tol­er­ated, depend­ing on their loy­alty to the land, but can­not be treated as equal to the Hin­dus un­less they ac­knowl­edge the su­pe­ri­or­ity of Hin­dus in India and adopt Hindu tra­di­tions and cul­ture. Non-Hin­dus must ac­knowl­edge their Hindu parent­age, or, bet­ter still, con­vert to Hin­duism in a re­turn to their true cul­tural roots.

Those po­lit­i­cal forces in India who are op­posed to the Sangh ide­ol­ogy are mis­taken, the doc­trine goes on, since they make the car­di­nal er­ror of con­fus­ing ‘na­tional unity’ with the unity of all those who hap­pen to be liv­ing in the ter­ri­tory of India, ir­re­spec­tive of re­li­gion or na­tional ori­gin. Such peo­ple are in fact anti-na­tional, be­cause their real mo­ti­va­tion is the self­ish de­sire to win mi­nor­ity votes in elec­tions rather than care for the in­ter­ests of the ma­jor­ity of the na­tion. The unity and con­sol­i­da­tion of the Hin­dus is there­fore es­sen­tial. Since the Hindu peo­ple are sur­rounded by en­e­mies, a polarisati­on must take place that pits Hin­dus against all oth­ers. To

achieve this, though, Hin­dus must be uni­fied; the lack of unity is the root cause of all the evils be­set­ting the Hin­dus. The Sangh Pari­var’s prin­ci­pal mis­sion is to bring about that unity and lead it to the greater glory of the Hindu na­tion.

The prob­lem with this doc­trine, co­her­ent and clear though it is, is its de­nial of the re­al­ity of what Hin­duism is all about. What Swami Vivekanand­a would have seen as the strength of Hin­duism—its ex­tra­or­di­nary eclec­ti­cism and di­ver­sity, its ac­cep­tance of a wide range of be­liefs and prac­tices, its re­fusal to con­fine it­self to the dog­mas of a sin­gle holy book, its flu­id­ity, the im­pos­si­bil­ity to de­fine it down to a ho­mo­ge­neous ‘Semitic’ creed—is pre­cisely what the RSS ide­o­logues see as its weak­ness.

The Sanghivadi quest for polarisati­on and unity is also a yearn­ing to make Hin­duism what it is not—to ‘Semi­tise’ it so that it looks like the faiths of the ‘in­vaders’: cod­i­fied and doc­tri­naire, with an iden­ti­fi­able God (prefer­ably Rama), a prin­ci­pal holy book (the Gita), a man­age­able ec­cle­si­as­tic hi­er­ar­chy, and of course a uni­fied race and a peo­ple to pro­fess it. This is not the lived Hin­duism of the vast ma­jor­ity of Hin­dus. And so the ob­vi­ous ques­tion arises: Must ev­ery believ­ing Hindu au­to­mat­i­cally be as­sumed to sub­scribe to the Hindutva project? And since man­i­festly most do not, does the vi­a­bil­ity of the project re­quire a con­tin­ued drive to force the dis­senters into the Hindutva strait­jacket?

Hindutva and His­tory

Un­sur­pris­ingly, a [par­tic­u­lar] pe­riod of In­dian his­tory, fol­low­ing the Mus­lim con­quests of north India, has be­come ‘ground zero’ in the bat­tle of nar­ra­tives be­tween the Hin­dut­vavadis and the plu­ral­ists. When, with the pub­li­ca­tion of my 2016 book An Era of Dark­ness: The Bri­tish Em­pire in India, I spoke of 200 years of for­eign rule, I found it in­ter­est­ing that at the same time the Hindutva brigade, led by Prime Min­is­ter Modi him­self, was speak­ing of 1,200 years of for­eign rule. To them, the Mus­lim rulers of India, whether the Delhi Sul­tans, the Dec­cani Sul­tans or the Mughals (or the hun­dreds of other Mus­lims who oc­cu­pied thrones of greater or lesser im­por­tance for sev­eral hun­dred years across the coun­try) were all for­eign­ers. I re­sponded that while the founder of a Mus­lim dy­nasty may have well have come to India from abroad, he and his de­scen­dants stayed and as­sim­i­lated in this coun­try, mar­ried Hindu women, and im­mersed them­selves in the for­tunes of this land; each Mughal Em­peror after Babar had less and less con­nec­tion of blood or al­le­giance to a for­eign coun­try. If they looted or ex­ploited India and In­di­ans, they spent the pro­ceeds of their loot in India, and did not send it off to en­rich a for­eign land as the Bri­tish did. The Mughals re­ceived trav­ellers from the Ferghana Val­ley po­litely, en­quired about the well-be­ing of the peo­ple there and per­haps even gave some money for the up­keep of the graves of their Chin­gizid an­ces­tors, but they stopped see­ing their orig­i­nal home­land as home. By the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, let alone the fifth or sixth, they were as ‘In­dian’ as any Hindu.

This chal­lenge of au­then­tic­ity, how­ever, cuts across a wide in­tel­lec­tual ter­rain. It emerges from those Hin­dus who share V.S. Naipaul’s view of theirs as a ‘wounded civil­i­sa­tion’, a pris­tine Hindu land that was sub­jected to re­peated de­feats and con­quests over the cen­turies at the hands of ra­pa­cious Mus­lim in­vaders and was en­fee­bled and sub­ju­gated in the process. To such peo­ple, in­de­pen­dence is not merely free­dom from Bri­tish rule but an op­por­tu­nity to re­store the glory of their cul­ture and re­li­gion, wounded by Mus­lim con­querors. In this Hindutva-cen­tred view, his­tory is made of re­li­gion­based bi­na­ries, in which all Mus­lim rulers are evil and all Hin­dus are valiant re­sisters, em­bod­i­ments of in­cip­i­ent Hindu na­tion­al­ism ....

Com­mu­nal his­tory con­tin­ues past the era of Is­lamic rule. Among those In­di­ans who re­volted against the Bri­tish, Ba­hadur Shah, Zi­nat Ma­hal, Maulavi Ah­madul­lah and Gen­eral Bakht Khan, all Mus­lims, are

con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence from Hindutva his­to­ries. And of course syn­cretic tra­di­tions such as the Bhakti move­ment, and uni­ver­sal­ist re­li­gious re­form­ers like Ram­mo­han Roy and Keshub Chan­dra Sen, do not re­ceive much at­ten­tion from the Hindutva or­tho­doxy. What does is the un­crit­i­cal ven­er­a­tion of ‘Hindu heroes’ like Rana Pratap (por­trayed now in Ra­jasthani text­books as the vic­tor of the Bat­tle of Haldi Ghati against Ak­bar, which begs the ques­tion why Ak­bar and not he ruled the coun­try for the fol­low­ing three decades) and of course Ch­ha­tra­p­ati Shivaji, the in­trepid Maratha war­rior whose bat­tles against the Mughals have now re­placed ac­counts of Mughal kings in Ma­ha­rash­tra’s text­books. The Ma­ha­rash­tra Ed­u­ca­tion Board’s newly-re­vised class VII his­tory book of 2017 has elim­i­nated all men­tion of the pre-Mughal Mus­lim rulers of India as well, in­clud­ing Razia Sul­tan, the first woman queen of Delhi, Sher Shah Suri and Muham­mad bin Tugh­laq, who no­to­ri­ously and dis­as­trously moved India’s cap­i­tal south from

Delhi to Daulatabad. (The ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem is the cho­sen bat­tle­field for the Hindutva war­riors, and curriculum re­vi­sion their pre­ferred weapon.) ...

Tak­ing Back Hin­duism

As a believ­ing Hindu, I can­not agree with the Hin­dut­vavadis. In­deed, I am ashamed of what they are do­ing while claim­ing to be act­ing in the name of my faith. The vi­o­lence is par­tic­u­larly sick­en­ing: it has led tens of thou­sands of Hin­dus across India to protest with plac­ards scream­ing, ‘Not In My Name’. As I have ex­plained... and would like to re­it­er­ate, I have al­ways prided my­self on be­long­ing to a re­li­gion of as­ton­ish­ing breadth and range of be­lief; a re­li­gion that ac­knowl­edges all ways of wor­ship­ping God as equally valid— in­deed, the only ma­jor re­li­gion in the world that does not claim to be the only true re­li­gion. As I have of­ten asked: How dare a bunch of goon­das shrink the soar­ing majesty of the Vedas and the Upan­ishads to the petty big­otry of their brand of iden­tity pol­i­tics? Why should any Hindu al­low them to di­min­ish Hin­duism to the rau­cous self-glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of the foot­ball hooli­gan, to take a re­li­gion of awe-in­spir­ing tol­er­ance and re­duce it to a chau­vin­ist ram­page?

Hin­duism, with its open­ness, its re­spect for va­ri­ety, its ac­cep­tance of all other faiths, is one re­li­gion which has al­ways been able to as­sert it­self with­out threat­en­ing oth­ers. But this is not the Hindutva that de­stroyed the Babri Masjid, nor that spewed in hate-filled di­a­tribes by com­mu­nal politi­cians. It is, in­stead, the Hin­duism of Swami Vivekanand­a. It is im­por­tant to parse some of Swami Vivekanand­a’s most sig­nif­i­cant as­ser­tions. The first is his as­ser­tion that Hin­duism stands for ‘both tol­er­ance and uni­ver­sal ac­cep­tance. We be­lieve not only in uni­ver­sal tol­er­a­tion, but we ac­cept all re­li­gions as true’. He... [quotes] a hymn... to the ef­fect that as dif­fer­ent streams orig­i­nat­ing in dif­fer­ent places all flow into the same sea, so do all paths lead to the same di­vin­ity. He re­peat­edly as­serted the wis­dom of the Ad­vaita be­lief that Truth is One even if the sages call It by dif­fer­ent names. Vivekanand­a’s vi­sion—sum­marised in the credo ‘sarva dharma samb­hava’—is, in fact, the kind of Hin­duism prac­tised by the vast ma­jor­ity of Hin­dus, whose in­stinc­tive ac­cep­tance of other faiths and forms of wor­ship has long been the vi­tal hall­mark of our cul­ture ....

I re­ject the pre­sump­tion that the pur­vey­ors of ha­tred speak for all or even most Hin­dus. The Hindutva ide­ol­ogy is in fact a ma­lign dis­tor­tion of Hin­duism. It is strik­ing that lead­ers of now-de­funct twen­ti­eth-cen­tury po­lit­i­cal par­ties like the Lib­eral Party and the pro-free en­ter­prise Swatantra Party were un­abashed in their avowal of their Hin­duism; the Lib­eral leader Srini­vasa Sas­try wrote learned dis­qui­si­tions on the Ra­mayana, and the founder of Swatantra, C. Ra­jagopalach­ari (‘Ra­jaji’), was a San­skrit

scholar whose trans­la­tions of the Iti­hasas and lec­tures on as­pects of Hin­duism are still widely read, decades after his death. Nei­ther would have recog­nised the in­tol­er­ance and big­otry of Hindutva as in any way rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the faith they held dear. Many lead­ers in the Congress Party are sim­i­larly com­fort­able in their Hindu be­liefs while re­ject­ing the po­lit­i­cal con­struct of Hindutva. It suits the pur­vey­ors of Hindutva to im­ply that the choice is be­tween their bel­liger­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Hin­duism and the god­less Western­i­sa­tion of the ‘pseudo-sec­u­lars’. Ra­jaji and Sas­try proved that you could wear your Hin­duism on your sleeve and still be a po­lit­i­cal lib­eral. But that choice is elided by the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Hindutva with po­lit­i­cal Hin­duism, as if such a con­fla­tion is the only pos­si­ble ap­proach open to prac­tis­ing Hin­dus.

I re­ject that idea. I not only con­sider my­self both a Hindu and a lib­eral, but find that lib­er­al­ism is the po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy that most cor­re­sponds to the widerang­ing and open-minded na­ture of my faith. ...

A Re­flec­tion of In­se­cu­rity

The irony is that Hindutva re­asser­tion is a re­flec­tion of in­se­cu­rity rather than self­con­fi­dence. It is built on con­stant re­minders of hu­mil­i­a­tion and de­feat, sus­tained by tales of Mus­lim con­quest and rule, stoked by sto­ries of de­stroyed tem­ples and looted trea­sures, all of which have im­pris­oned sus­cep­ti­ble Hin­dus in a nar­ra­tive of fail­ure and de­feat, rather than a broad-minded story of a con­fi­dent faith find­ing its place in the world. Look­ing back to­wards the fail­ures of the past, it of­fers no hopes for the suc­cesses of the fu­ture.

This seems to be con­ceded even by one of the fore­most voices of con­tem­po­rary Hindutva, the Amer­i­can Dr David Fraw­ley. Hin­dus, he writes in his foun­da­tional screed Arise Ar­juna! (1995), ‘are gen­er­ally suf­fer­ing from a lack of self es­teem and an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex by which they are afraid to re­ally ex­press them­selves or their re­li­gion. They have been beaten down by cen­turies of for­eign rule and on­go­ing at­tempts to con­vert them’. Fraw­ley’s an­swer is for In­di­ans to re­assert Hindu pride, but his di­ag­no­sis calls that pre­scrip­tion into ques­tion.

As a Hindu and an In­dian, I would ar­gue that the whole point about India is the re­jec­tion of the idea that re­li­gion should be a determinan­t of nationhood. Our na­tion­al­ist lead­ers never fell into the in­sid­i­ous trap of agree­ing that, since Par­ti­tion had es­tab­lished a state for Mus­lims, what re­mained was a state for Hin­dus. To ac­cept the idea of India you have to spurn the logic that di­vided the coun­try in 1947. Your In­di­an­ness has noth­ing to do with which god you choose to wor­ship, or not. We are not go­ing to re­duce our­selves to a Hindu Pak­istan.

That is the real prob­lem here. As I have men­tioned ear­lier, Nehru had warned that the com­mu­nal­ism of the ma­jor­ity was es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous be­cause it could present it­self as na­tion­al­ist. Yet, Hindu na­tion­al­ism is not In­dian na­tion­al­ism. And it has noth­ing to do with gen­uine Hin­duism ei­ther.

I too am proud of my Hin­duism; I do not want to cede its ver­i­ties to fa­nat­ics. I con­sider my­self a Hindu and a na­tion­al­ist, but I am not a Hindu na­tion­al­ist. To dis­crim­i­nate against an­other, to at­tack an­other, to kill an­other, to de­stroy an­other’s place of wor­ship on the ba­sis of his faith is not part of Hindu dharma, as it was not part of Swami Vivekanand­a’s. It is time to go back to these fun­da­men­tals of Hin­duism. It is time to take Hindu dharma back from the fun­da­men­tal­ists. ...

Hin­duism as Cul­ture

Thanks in many ways to the eclec­tic in­clu­sive­ness of Hin­duism, ev­ery­thing in India ex­ists in count­less vari­ants. There was no sin­gle stan­dard, no fixed stereo­type, no ‘one way’. This plu­ral­ism emerged from the very na­ture of the coun­try; it was made in­evitable by India’s ge­og­ra­phy and reaf­firmed by its his­tory. There was sim­ply too much of both to per­mit a sin­gle, ex­clu­sion­ist na­tion­al­ism. When the Hin­dut­vavadis de­manded that all In­di­ans de­clare ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ as a lit­mus test of their na­tion­al­ism, many of us in­sisted that no In­dian should be obliged to mouth a slo­gan he did not be­lieve in his heart. If some Mus­lims, for in­stance, felt that their re­li­gion did not al­low them to hail their moth­er­land as a god­dess, the Con­sti­tu­tion of India gave them the right not to. Hindutva wrongly seeks to deny them this right.

We were brought up to take this for granted, and to


re­ject the sec­tar­i­an­ism that had par­ti­tioned the na­tion when the Bri­tish left. I was raised un­aware of my own caste and un­con­scious of the re­li­gious loy­al­ties of my school­mates and friends. Of course knowl­edge of these de­tails came in time, but too late for any of it to mat­ter, even less to in­flu­ence my at­ti­tude or con­duct. We were In­di­ans: we were brought up (and con­stantly ex­horted) to be­lieve in an idea of nationhood tran­scend­ing com­mu­nal di­vi­sions. This may sound like the lofty obliv­i­ous­ness of the priv­i­leged, but such be­liefs were not held only by the elites: they were a re­flec­tion of how most In­di­ans lived, even in the vil­lages of India. In­de­pen­dent India was born out of a na­tion­al­ist strug­gle in which ac­cep­tance of each other which we, per­haps un­wisely, called sec­u­lar­ism was fun­da­men­tal to the na­tion­al­ist con­sen­sus.

It is true that Hindu zealotry—which ought to be a con­tra­dic­tion in terms—is partly a re­ac­tion to other chau­vinisms. As I have pointed out, the un­re­flec­tive avowal by many Hin­dus of their own sec­u­lar­ism has pro­voked the scorn of some Hin­dus, who de­spise the sec­u­lar­ists as de­ra­ci­nated ‘Ma­caulay­pu­tras’ (sons of Ma­caulay) or ‘Babar ke aulad’ (sons of Babar). They see such Hin­dus as cut off from their own cul­ture and her­itage, and chal­lenge them to re­dis­cover their au­then­tic roots, as de­fined by the Hin­dut­vavadis. ...

Hin­duism Is Not a Mono­lith

[F]rom time to time, a Hin­dut­vavadi, re­mind­ing me of the re­li­gion that has been mine from birth, suc­cumbed to the temp­ta­tion to urge me pre­dictably to heed that well-worn slo­gan: ‘Garv se kaho ki hum Hindu hain.’

All right, let us take him up on that. I am in­deed proud that I am a Hindu. But of what is it that I am, and am not, proud?

I am not proud of my co-re­li­gion­ists at­tack­ing and de­stroy­ing Mus­lim homes and shops. I am not proud of Hin­dus rap­ing Mus­lim girls, or slit­ting the wombs of Mus­lim moth­ers. I am not proud of Hindu veg­e­tar­i­ans who have roasted hu­man be­ings alive and re­joiced over the corpses. I am not proud of those who re­duce the lofty meta­phys­i­cal spec­u­la­tions of the Upan­ishads to the petty big­otry

of their own sense of iden­tity, which they as­sert in or­der to ex­clude, not em­brace, oth­ers.

I am proud that India’s plu­ral­ism is para­dox­i­cally sus­tained by the fact that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of In­di­ans are Hin­dus, be­cause Hin­duism has taught them to live amidst a va­ri­ety of other iden­ti­ties.

I am proud of those Hin­dus, like the Shankarach­arya of Kanchi, who say that Hin­dus and Mus­lims must live like Ram and Lak­sh­man in India. I am not proud of those Hin­dus, like ‘Sad­hvi’ Rithamb­hara, who say that Mus­lims are like sour lemons cur­dling the milk of Hindu India.

I am not proud of those who sug­gest that only a Hindu, and only a cer­tain kind of Hindu, can be an au­then­tic In­dian. I am not proud of those Hin­dus who say that peo­ple of other re­li­gions live in India only on their suf­fer­ance, and not be­cause they be­long on our soil. I am proud of those Hin­dus who re­alise that an India that de­nies it­self to some of us could end up be­ing de­nied to all of us.

I am proud of those Hin­dus who ut­terly re­ject Hindu com­mu­nal­ism, con­scious that the com­mu­nal­ism of the ma­jor­ity is es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous be­cause it can present it­self as na­tion­al­ist. I am proud of those Hin­dus who re­spect the dis­tinc­tion be­tween Hindu na­tion­al­ism and In­dian na­tion­al­ism. Ob­vi­ously, ma­jori­ties are never seen as ‘sep­a­ratist’, since separatism is by def­i­ni­tion pur­sued by a mi­nor­ity. But ma­jor­ity com­mu­nal­ism is, in fact, an ex­treme form of separatism, be­cause it seeks to sep­a­rate other In­di­ans, in­te­gral parts of our coun­try, from India it­self. I am proud of those Hin­dus who recog­nise that the saf­fron and the green both be­long equally on the In­dian flag.

The re­duc­tion of non-Hin­dus to sec­ond-class sta­tus in their own home­land is un­think­able. As I have pointed out here, and in my other writ­ings, it would be a sec­ond par­ti­tion: and a par­ti­tion in the In­dian soul would be as bad as a par­ti­tion in the In­dian soil. For Hin­dus like my­self, the only pos­si­ble idea of India is that of a na­tion greater than the sum of its parts. That is the only India that will al­low us to call our­selves not Brah­mins, not Ben­galis, not Hin­dus, not Hindi-speak­ers, but sim­ply In­di­ans.

How about an­other slo­gan for Hin­dus like me? Garv se kaho ki hum In­dian hain.


WHY I AM A HINDU By Shashi Tha­roor Aleph Book Com­pany Price: `699; Pages: 320

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.