I am a Christian, solely by the merit of my birth. I was born as one and later christened as George Jacob. George is English translation of my paternal grandfather, Varkey, and Jacob is my father. But if you ask me if I’m a ‘Christian’ in my life(I mean, as my way of life), I’m not sure I can place my hand on my heart and say ‘yes I am’……far from it. I have fallen short of adopting Christianity as my way of life. Religion or faith, whichever it might be to which people belong to, ought to be their way of life. India indeed is a pluralistic nation in which people of numerous religions coexist with reasonable amity. According to the 2011 census, Hindus constituted 80%, Muslims 14%, Christians 2.3%, Sikhs 1.7%, Buddhists 0.7%, Jains 0.4% and people belonging to other religions 0.9% of the population. Being an ‘Indian’, I have had immense opportunity to live among and interact with numerous people belonging to other faiths, at school, at college and at my work place, in the form of colleagues and patients (being a surgeon myself). Among the people with whom I associated myself, those that won my respect and appreciation as ‘good human beings’ were the Hindus first and the Christians last. There is something in Hinduism that endeared Hindus to me. You could make them out by what they are (isn’t that how it ought to be, ideally?) wouldn’t it be wonderful if you knew a person’s faith, the religion he belongs to, not by asking his name, but by what he/she is, as a person? What endeared Hindus to me? Hindus were tolerant in their views, never reluctant to accept and accommodate others as they are. It was the Hindus who religiously followed the golden dictum, ‘do unto others what you would have others do unto you’, much better than Christians. They never indulged in molding people they associated to their ‘comfort level’. Simply putting, they didn’t seek to proselytize or convert people belonging to other faiths to theirs. I am yet to find a single Hindu or a Hindu priest standing at street corners and spewing ‘our God is the only God, better than the others’.
They had no qualms about associating closely with a George or an Abdulla, without preconditions, and more importantly, preconditioning! I am no Hindu, and I do not know the intricacies of the faith which appealed to me. So, I went on a fact-finding trail. What did I find?
I discovered that Hinduism, arguably the oldest religion in the world is a way of life, more than a religion, and practiced most noticeably in India and Nepal, and that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single concept of deity, a single holy text, and a single system of morality, a central religious authority or the concept of a prophet. Considered as the world’s oldest organized religion, it consists of thousands of different religious groups that evolved in India since 1500BC. With 950 million followers, it enfolded 14% of world’s population. Apart from my association with Hindus, the only chances I’ve had as a youth to be associated with Hinduism, is the chance I’ve had to behold a framed picture of Swami Vivekananda that hung in the office room of my maternal grandfather, with whom I spent considerable years of my formative life as a teenager. To me, my grandfather has been the only ‘Christian’ I have seen, not by his name, but by his way of life. Along with the picture of the Swami was the picture of the then Pope, an item almost impossible to be chanced upon in the home of a Protestant (my grandfather belonged to the church of the Anglican order). The third framed picture was that of Christ! My grandfather, during vishu festivals, would see to it that my younger brother and I walked up to a bunch of kanikonna(a kind of flowers that formed one among other things that made up the vishukani, an assortment of auspicious things that is viewed when one opens one’s eyes on the day of the vishu festival, primarily a festival largely celebrated by the Hindus. We would be led with our eyes closed, to open them, to catch the sight of the flowers hung from door frames on the morning of the festival, a ritual meant to bring prosperity and happiness to one’s life.
Probably my only objection to Hinduism as a faith is that it is too ritualistic and procedural. Rituals and procedures, I believe leads one away from the Force or the central figurehead, which is the Deity being worshiped, to the objects meant to represent the deity. A stone, which is worshipped as representative of the Deity takes precedence over the deity. The stone ultimately becomes the deity, who takes the backseat. So with fire too. For these reasons I abhor curtains being drawn before the altar in churches belonging to certain Christian ‘denomination’, and the incense being burnt there, with the faithful standing there somnolent and uncaring! The whole thing is too dramatic, than ‘religious’.
Hindus, I found thus constituted the majority in India. Tolerance of the Hindus to people belonging to other faiths, and other faiths being practiced in India is primarily because Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, and not because the constitution confers on the people the ‘right to follow any faith of their choice’. The minorities in India gradually came to take things and the majority Hindus for granted. To the Hindus, Christ is just another deity like Krishna or Shiva. This religious tolerance of the vast majority of Indians was gradually used to the advantage of vote-hungry politicians. They detected a goldmine there! To them, religion became a favorite tool to stoke passions and garner votes. To them, communalizing Indian society became a masterstroke. They saw to it that India was torn asunder along religious lines. People in the country instead of being known as Indians, came to be increasingly known as a Hindu, a Christian or a Muslim. Blood flowed on the streets of the nation as people were ready to die for their religion, rather than for unity of the country. The one glaring example being the infamous partition of an independent India into a Hindu India and an Islamic Pakistan. Hindus were taken for a ride, and taken for granted by the lawmakers and politicians. They saw huge chunks of votes among minorities. They discovered that appeasing the minorities by dangling carrots of various sizes and shapes would bring in valuable votes. ‘Secularism’ became their catchword and ‘pseudosecularism’ a fact later! Different set of rules and laws were created for people belonging to different religions to appease them (for votes, of course). As an example, divorce is a cakewalk for a Muslim, difficult for a Hindu and almost impossible for a Christian. This unique situation mandated a common civil code for every citizen of this vast and pluralistic nation. While the minorities had things easy, being Hindu became a handicap for majority Indians. Laws on important issues like divorce, partition of ancestral property and assests differed from religion to religion. India, apart from being a union of states is also a union of religions and castes. The country stayed united, despite the mess and wrongdoings of the selfless politicians, only because Hindus formed the majority in the country.
Stark misdeeds of appeasement along religious lines became routine. The Shah Bano case being a glaring and shameful example to bag Muslim votes into the Congress’ kitty. Hurt came in its worst form through conversion, a favorite activity of the Christians, who almost considers conversion their ‘sacred duty’. Hundreds of Hindus were shown a ‘superior and a better’ God, and for the Hindus, accepting Christ too, along with their other deities was no big deal. Christians made merry in this exercise partly because it involved inflow of big money from the Christian dominated West. Carrots in the form of education, better healthcare, housing, clothing, food, homes and orphanages were dangled, and Hindus, especially those inhabiting the hinterland of India fell for them. Indigenous cultures and faith systems were dismantled by the overzealous Christian missionaries. What they considered pagan and heathen where dismantled and replaced by Christ, whom they pronounced the ‘only living God’. Hindus converted to Christianity by hundreds. Christians conveniently forgot the basic rule to make themselves better before seeking to make others better. They dared to declare Christ or Jehovah God as being far more superior, and more dangerously, the ‘true’ God, much better than Krishna, Shiva, Ganesh, saraswathi and Lakshmi. They had no business to do that. If they couldn’t see ‘salvation’ in Gods being worshipped by others, all that they needed to do, if at all, was not to worship them, and not to entice those worshiping them to better alternatives! While the First Commandment told them that ‘you shall have no other God set against me’ (Exodus20:4), they conveniently chose not to observe nine others! While they chose to religiously follow Christ’s bidding to ‘go forth therefore and make all nations my disciples’(Mathew 28:19), they conveniently chose not to ‘turn the other cheek’ (Mathew 5:39), to ‘love their enemies and pray for their persecutors’ (Mathew 5: 44) and the directive that ‘one of you who is faultless shall throw the first stone’ (John 21:7) and many others which Christ expects his so-called followers to observe. Christians in India chose to remove the speck out of others’ eye unmindful of the huge log in their own, exactly as Christ did not want them to do. Conversion therefore must be legally banned in this nation if its plurality and ‘secularism’ need to be preserved.
Hindus thus became the casualty of their tolerance, which was their most noble quality. In other words, Hinduism in India was taken for a ride! Different rules were put in place for the majority, while each of the religious minorities had their own laws to govern them. To quote an example, Devaswoms, which are socio-religious trusts that comprise members nominated by both government and the Hindu community were put in place to manage Hindu temples and their assets and to ensure their smooth operation in accordance with traditional rituals and customs. One simply cannot, in the wildest dream imagine institution of a similar mschanism to ensure state control over churches and mosques. The other contentious evil that turned against a Hindu in India was the system of reservations, which are a series of affirmative actions undertaken to address the historic oppression, inequality and discrimination faced by members of the Dalit and other communities, creating great social, economic and political disadvantage against them. Reservations were instituted to realize the promise of equality enshrined in the constitution. Reservations ensured access to seats in the different legislatures, government jobs, and to enrolment in higher educational institutions for castes and tribes recognized in the list of Scheduled castes (SC) and Scheduled tribes (ST) recognized by the Indian government. Reservations never took into account the economic wherewithal of the so-called beneficiary. A Hindu converted to Christianity or a Muslim would qualify as a ST or a SC, going by the list. But they could be rich enough to afford higher education, for example. Yet they enjoyed the advantages of reservation. While a Brahmin, good at studies, but unable to afford higher education due to poverty remained on the wayside unable to secure a seat in a prestigious central institution simply because he did not belong to a SC or ST. Reservation thus threw merit out of the window. Every undeserving Tom, Dick and Harry on the strength of their inclusion in the list of SCs and STs garnered the icing which should have gone to more deserving and meritorious, but economically underprivileged individuals who especially belonged to the higher strata among the Hindus. Reservation ideally ought to be offered only on the economic wherewithal of the citizens, and not the caste or the tribe to which they belong. It can also be argued that the experiment of reservation in India must be scrapped altogether, as India, even after 70 years as an independent nation has failed to effect better opportunity and progress through the system reservations. it is therefore a failed system!
A fractured India stood testimony to Hinduism’s innate greatness, ironically. Hinduism, as it was meant to be, lost its bearings in the country. Where the majority formed aggrieved Hindus, a situation just about ‘easy meat’ for political outfits emerged. Political outfits and wannabes took it upon themselves to restore to the Hindu majority what was rightfully theirs. Rightwing political outfits turned messianic overnight to deliver the majority, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ‘sister concerns’ like the VHP, the RSS and bajrang dal leading from the front. Their vitriolic rhetoric about a suppressed majoritarianism, though right, was adopted and accepted by the Hindu majority without much second thought. None was actually required. The silent majority suddenly became assertive and vitriolic, surprising the minorities having a ball of a time in the country. When rightwing political parties took it upon themselves to ‘liberate ‘the majority Hindus from the yolk of injustice meted out to them in the name of ‘secularism’ and ‘plurality’, by adopting a political tenet, which went on to become their propaganda tool and manifesto at the hustings later, Hindutva was born. Hindutva, a political tool adopted by the right-wingers to restore to the majority what was rightfully theirs, gradually pushed Hinduism from its pivotal and unique character within Indian nationhood. Hindutva, the political instrument replaced Hinduism, which was the way of life for India and her majority. A suppressed majority woke up from its slumber with a vigor and vitality which surprised many, though it was logical, and in fact inevitable.
The Hindutva forces showcased Babri Mazjid, the 16th-century mosque at Ayodhya, claimed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram by the Hindus, and contented vociferously by Muslims who have been worshiping there as well, as being representative of the injustice meted out to them over the years. Babri Mazjid came to symbolize the injustice suffered by Majority Hindus. It became the raison d’être for the Hindus in India. mass hysteria was created out of this cause which replaced all other. BJP’s powerful leader and strongman, L.K.Advani set out on a rath-yatra leading a bunch of highly motivated and indoctrinated karsevaks(volunteers) to undo the injustice shoved on them over the years. Their destination was the Babri Mazjid, and their intension, its destruction. On December6 1992, the VHP and the BJP organized a rally at the site involving150,000 karsevaks. The rally turned violent and overwhelmed the security forces and the bari Mazjid came crumbling down. To the majority Hindus, the wrong over the years seemed to have been corrected, all injustices paid for, but to the Muslims, the act represented bullying by the majority on the minority. Subsequent intercommunal violence between the Hindus and Muslims left at least 2,000 dead, and scores injured. But more than the human tragedy involved, India was fractured along communal lines like never before. If the picture of Jesus Christ found along with the picture of numerous deities in the puja room of the Hindu represented Hinduism, the tearing down of the Babri Mazjid represented Hindutva. If Arjuna riding along with lord Krishna in the rath onroute to the Mahabharat war represented Hinduism, L.K. Advani’s rath yatra to pull down the Babri Mazjid represented Hindutva. With the tearing down of the Mazjid, India’s vast Hindu majority was converted enmass as Hindutvs on December 6 1992. Hindutva did not stop at that. It made sure the tempo was maintained and the gusto preserved. The political tenet that hindutva is, caught the nation’s imagination and placed the first rightwing candidate of the BJP, Narendra Modi on the Prime ministerial chair on 26 may 2014, when he BJP-led National Democratic Alliance rode to power taking 336 seats in the 16th Lok Sabha, decimating the incumbent Congress-led UPA front in the process. To the vast majority of ‘liberated Hindus’, Modi came to represent their messiah, their yugpurush. Only time will tell what he intends to do for India and her Hindu Majority. Demolition of the Babri Mazjid was not taken lightly by the average Muslim, who historically considered himself a minority, at the receiving end of a vast majority. To him, in the list of grievances which piqued him most, Babri Mazjid joined Palestine and Kashmir. Hindus having converted enmass as Hindutvs, it remains to be seen how their newfound messiah in the form of a resurgent rightwing socio- political outfit fuelled by an extreme right-wing tenet of Hindutva would take India from here. Would Modi the yugpurush be able to turn India around from a nation where nationalism is measured by the volume and harmony with which the national anthem, a mere song is sung, and the smartness and the upright posture in which the tricolor, a mere piece of cloth is saluted, the kind of food one eats in this country, audacity with which intellectuals are slighted and asked to leave the country, the intolerance to free expression of disagreement is encountered with threat to life and property and loud incitation to ‘leave the country’, to a country which is safe for women, the girl child and even the female fetus, to a country where everybody is allowed to eat anything of his/her liking, to a country where children are taught in schools and not put through hard labor, where nobody dares to turn traitor by conniving with antinationals from within the country and without who seek to shed innocent blood through terrorism is appropriately dealth with, without delay, to a country where the person next door is known as an Indian, and not as Christian, Hindu or Muslim? Only time will tell. As an Indian I hope Modi will do just that!