WHERE IS VIVEKANANDA’S IN­DIA?

Sunday Express - - OPINION - T J S GE­ORGE

Here is the no­blest sum­ming up of civil­i­sa­tional val­ues by an Indian: I am proud to be­long to a re­li­gion which has taught the world both tol­er­ance and uni­ver­sal ac­cep­tance. We be­lieve not only in uni­ver­sal tol­er­a­tion, but we ac­cept all re­li­gions as true. I am proud to be­long to a na­tion which has shel­tered the per­se­cuted and the refugees of all re­li­gions and all na­tions of the earth... Sec­tar­i­an­ism, big­otry and its hor­ri­ble de­scen­dant, fa­nati­cism, have long pos­sessed this beau­ti­ful earth. They have filled the earth with vi­o­lence, drenched it of­ten with hu­man blood, de­stroyed civil­i­sa­tion and sent whole na­tions into de­spair.... The present con­ven­tion is in it­self a vin­di­ca­tion of the won­der­ful doc­trine pre­sented in the Gita: ‘Whoso­ever comes to Me, through what­so­ever form, I reach him. All men are strug­gling through paths which in the end lead to Me.’

— Swami Vivekananda Here are the most despicable un­der­stand­ing of val­ues that In­di­ans can pos­si­bly have:

Please do­nate to help Ker­ala Hin­dus. The Chris­tians and Mus­lims world­wide rais­ing lots of money to help mainly their own peo­ple and agenda.

— Ra­jiv Mal­ho­tra (USA). Floods in Ker­ala are due to tantric and mantric wor­ship. Tsunami was God’s wrath in In­dia for idol wor­ship.

— Evan­ge­list Lazarus Mo­han (Tamil Nadu)

In a way it is ab­hor­rent to men­tion in the same breath the names of Vivekananda, the swami of en­light­en­ment, and the lat­ter-day ped­dlers of re­li­gious ha­tred. Chicago, where Vivekananda ad­dressed the World Par­lia­ment of Re­li­gions, was picked as the venue for the World Hindu Congress re­cently. But Chicago heard this time a dif­fer­ent voice that called for a sec­tar­ian war lest “the lone lion is de­stroyed by wild dogs”. This lone lion must be a new con­trap­tion be­cause Hin­duism can never be de­stroyed, not even by those who are mis­us­ing it from within.

Vivekananda’s short ad­dress in Chicago is still re­mem­bered, 125 years later, as a his­toric marker in the march of ideas. At the as­sem­bled “par­lia­ment” of spir­i­tual lead­ers from all cor­ners of the world, Vivekananda stood out as a ma­jes­tic fig­ure—a 30-year-old in saf­fron robe with a ma­haraja-like tur­ban. His open­ing words, “My sis­ters and broth­ers of Amer­ica”, led to ap­plause that made the speaker pause for a while. The mes­sage of brother­hood and uni­ver­sal tol­er­ance he con­veyed in the next few min­utes made him the star of Chicago. It was the first time the West heard a cred­i­ble Indian voice from In­dia, and it helped de­mol­ish the Bri­tish­pro­jected view of a be­nighted In­dia lost in prim­i­tive su­per­sti­tions.

Vivekananda’s In­dia, too, ap­pears to be lost. Th­ese are days when, for ev­ery gen­uine holy man, there are a dozen fakes. Some flour­ish with ashrams spread across vast acreages. Some start busi­ness em­pires that con­quer ev­ery­thing they set their sights on. Some are in jail. The re­li­gious ex­ploiters come in many robes. Madrasas are rife with scan­dals of child abuse while con­vents are ex­plod­ing with charges of nuns be­ing used for the plea­sure of priests. Per­haps for the first time in the his­tory of the church in In­dia, nuns have come out in the open protest­ing against the sex­ual es­capades of a bishop. Un­der our pre­vail­ing crim­i­nal law, a for­mal charge by a woman is enough to take the ac­cused into cus­tody for in­ter­ro­ga­tion. But this bishop has proved to be spe­cial. Forces stronger than God are pro­tect­ing him.

When Vivekananda said, “I am proud to be a Hindu”, he must have had in mind the Hin­duism that re­spected all. The great­ness of Hin­duism—and the unique­ness of it—is that you can re­ject all the gods in the Hindu pan­theon and still be a Hindu. But the corol­lary is that you can wor­ship all the gods in the pan­theon and still be not a Hindu. The politi­cians who di­vide peo­ple on re­li­gious grounds are not help­ing their re­li­gion. They are just ex­ploiters.

A saint who said “we ac­cept all re­li­gions as true” is be­ing ap­pro­pri­ated by a party that sup­presses mi­nori­ties for po­lit­i­cal gains. Vivekananda was an orig­i­nal lib­eral. He pro­moted the cause of mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion and mod­ern sci­ence. The casteism in Ker­ala pro­voked him to de­scribe that state as a lu­natic asy­lum. How would he de­scribe the states where peo­ple lynch peo­ple in the name of re­li­gion? How would he de­scribe Raja Singh Lodh, BJP MLA in Te­lan­gana, who said, “Till the cow is ac­corded the sta­tus of Rash­tra Mata, killings for gau raksha will con­tinue”? Swami Vivekananda was blessed that he lived in an­other, civilised, In­dia.

Vivekananda’s In­dia, too, ap­pears to be lost. Th­ese are days when, for ev­ery gen­uine holy man, there are a dozen fakes. Some flour­ish with ashrams spread across vast acreages. Some start busi­ness em­pires that con­quer ev­ery­thing they set their sights on. Some are in jail. The re­li­gious ex­ploiters come in many robes.

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