Book Review: Why I am a Hindu
Author: Shashi Tharoor
Rating: Four stars
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Hinduism can be interpreted in a multitude of fashion but more as a lifestyle rather than a religion, a glasnost to its adherents. Shashi Tharoor’s book: “Why I am a Hindu” depicts what it means to espouse the religious values of Hinduism that has always boasted of tolerance and openness while emphasising on the free will to practice religion, irrespective of Islamic, Christianity, Hindu or Zoroastrian faith reflecting India’s plurality, right from the ancient age to modern civilization. Since times immemorial, the basic tenet of Hinduism has distinguished itself from other religions in embracing openness of faith where the author explains his own personal belief in what being a Hindu holds for him.
In today’s times, the Hindu faith is at a cross-road with right-wingers and fundamentalists dictating an aggressive Hindutva representing a symbolism that Hinduism has never been in the first place. Shashi Tharoor brings to the fore the practice of Hindu religion from a theological perspective where casteism had no place by showcasing the role and contribution of eminent scholars such as Adi Sankaracharya and Swami Vivekananda but facing harrowing times with a spate of incidents that don’t honor true Hinduism that shaped Modern India.
Varna system, Brahminism and Vedic practices:
Shashi Tharoor describes Hinduism as a polycentric faith with multiple structures and rightly points out in the words of Radhakrishna that ‘not all self-declared truths are of equal value’ with Sanathan Dharma being inclusive which has constantly evolved. An important aspect remains the word ‘plural’ with spiritual leader Dada Vaswani calling Hinduism variously ‘a fellowship of faiths’, ‘a federation of philosophies’ and ‘a league of religions’.
The foundation of Hinduism lies in the Varna system or what modern economists call the division of labour and hence, it’s a sine qua non to put the entire caste ideology in its historical perspective unlike today where the so-called Brahmin supremacy is enforcing the right-wing practices down the throat with caste making for electoral or religious equations. Unlike the Dharmashashtra through varna-ashrama-dharma, today caste is a bane in our society with a group of entitled Brahman enforcing the self-made rules destroying the image of India as a plural society that suits divide and rule for the political class.
Hinduism was and has always been a very accommodative and democratic faith as enshrined in its culture of folklore, Bhakti, music, dance, and poetry, as well as regional forms of worship, carried in its womb. There is a need to revisit the old age Hindu worship in the context of the Sabarimala temple chaos looking at the fact that one of the early philosophers Ramanuja not only spread worship but also allowed women in the sanctity of the temple. Call it a leap of faith or something else but the violence against women puts Hinduism in a bad light with ugly politics being played.
An important facet surrounding Hindu religion is the Vedic faith-based itself on the element of rituals and sacrifices, the homans surrounding ‘agni’ prayer rituals surrounding the fire. The Vedic practices involved ablution which Puranas borrowed and integrated the practices as part of its rituals. Ablutions surrounding the fire belongs the Vedic Hinduism which the Puranas imbibed. The stark difference lies in the fact that Puranas not only incorporated fire ablution but also injected idol worship that was absent from the Vedic way of life. It shows how Hinduism is flexible and is forever in flux.
RSS, Hindutva and Indian Constitution
At the outset, painting a picture of a secular India where our forefathers and freedom fighters relentlessly fought so that the idea of nationhood prevails, it stands important at the same time to remind ourselves on the role of the RSS that has always ideologically stood against the law of the land.
Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhaya of the Jan Sangh has always vociferously opposed the Indian constitution which is anchored in its foundation and which guides the RSS till date, opposing the notion of One land, One Nation theory on the ground that the absence of the Hindu Rashtra cannot be the basis of constitution, calling it Un-Indian, albeit, equating Hindu to being an Indian. Known to repudiate secular values, Tharoor infers on Upadhyay dogmatic belief on the constitution which he described as an English child born in India. It can be interpreted that Upadhyay and its ilk’s understanding of the Indian constitution whittles down to impose a Hindu Rashtra, making a ‘dangerous comeback’ with the rise of Modi and the RSS going on rampage in today’s times with the beef lynching or cow vigilantes in the country, threatening India’s values as a nation.
Of course, we are well acquainted with the turmoil, owing to our political history and present-day BJP’s attempt to re-write India’s tryst with destiny. The BJP, an offshoot of the RSS gained prominence to dominate modern politics, right from 2 seats in 1984 to 282 in 2014 out of 336 for the NDA-led alliance by evoking Hindu sentiments and the Muslim threat. The unfortunate politics over Ayodhya, destruction of the Babri Masjid and the Rath Yatra, the oft-repeated Mandir wahin banege’ represents everything which is wrong but, nonetheless helped them to gain a thumping majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha.
The role of BJP and RSS need to be understood in its context in constant opposition with India as a nation. Tharoor refers to Veer Savarkar’s letter of apology which BJP has omitted when the former wrote to the British asking to be released from jail which pushes us to question the hyper-nationalist hyperbole in those days and quite similar to the present Government’s policy of striking a deal with the west, something they always. There is no doubt about it that Minimum Government, Maximum Governance was and is a package sold to the masses yet the party who dare speak about nationalism has no galls in embracing the West to further global economic ties. Let’s go back to the famous Veer Savarkar’s letter:
“a prodigal son longing to return to the parental doors of the government….(If) the Government in their manifold beneficence and mercy releases me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English Government which is the foremost condition of that progress.”
The condescending and self-serving attitude of the RSS on one hand and the dichotomy of declaring war on the Indian constitution which in their view cannot be recognized because of the no mention of ‘Hindu’ serves as the biggest hypocrisy in today’s times when the BJP is in power. The 1990s was a dark era in this painful history of India with the demolition of the Babri Mosque and the awaited judgment in Ram Janambhoomi which is dividing the country on religious line, no doubt by the BJP and Hindu fundamentalist organizations like RSS and VHP.
Godhra, distortion of History, separation of State and Religion:
Tharoor writes on the failure of Narendra Modi as the most powerful Chief Minister during the Gujarat carnage where innocent Muslims were massacred. The army was called after three days and the rulers have a lot to answer following the pogrom so much that Modi received a public rebuke by then PM, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Modi days was counted in power but saved in the nick of time through the personal intervention by LK Advani.
Tharoor writes on the Hindutva vs secular India where the big question among liberals is: Will the constitution tame Hindutva or will the latter transform the workings of the constitution?
As India readies for 2019 mission and names changing from Allahabad to Prayagraj coupled with the distortion of Indian history continuing unabated with poster boy in UP Yogi Adityanath posing as the BJP trump card among the staunchest Hindus, several questions loom large on the destiny of the country.
It makes sense to quote the Hindutva ideologue K N Govindacharya who pressed for the amendment of the Indian constitution and declaring war on the idea of individualism against the Indian value system. He joined Deen Dayal Upadhyaya in rejecting the nature of constitution, pressing on the need to delete secularism, pretty much like human rights. The biggest dichotomy is the wrong use of checks and balances by fundamentalist in hitting at absolute freedom, inferring to ethnic minorities.
The distortion of Indian history with the present BJP in power cannot ignored with facts staring straight at us with his lame attempt to wipe off the mention of Mughal Muslim rulers in the Maharashtra Education Board class history book be it Razia Sultan, Muhammad Bin Tuqlaq where the educational system is witnessing a non-existent battle for Hindutva warriors. Of course, Rana Pratap is lauded as the Hindu warrior and Tharoor rightly argues on why Akbar and not the former ruled the country for three decades or Chattrapati Maharaj, seen as the most secular in Maharashtra replacing Muslim Kings. It remains the biggest irony in the attempt to colonize our rich legacy by Hindutva forces.
We are hinging on a dangerous path looking at assaults on writers, barging on the sets of Padmavati and trashing art exhibitions which loom large on us as a nation that once prided itself as the land of Kamasutra. The hatred when a respectful painted like MF Hussain was forced out of the country and one thing Tharoor fails to point out which I understand on account of being a politician on how all political parties, including the Congress Party played ugly politics and for that matter, Salman Rushdie wasn’t even spared the iron rod.
This is not Hinduism but brand Hindutva since the religion has always prided itself in being tolerant and accommodative of all faiths showcased through rituals which Tharoor himself points out. The whole whataboutery what if a Hindu painted Allah or MF Hussain didn’t paint figures belong to different religious faiths. I think we tend to make a dangerous analogy. I concur with Tharoor. As a Hindu, there is no insult on our faith but a metaphor on the form or description of a woman. The worst part is we worship our Goddesses confined in temples when many sick or deranged minds doesn’t think twice in assaulting or exploiting women, relegating them in the kitchen not just in India but where our Hindu population migrated across the globe. Patriarchy in reverse!
Tharoor rightly ignites the debate on the place of Khujaraho erotic sculptures, devadasi tradition, Kamasutra if not in the Hindu Sanskriti but where else, something I am proud as a person born in a Hindu family. This Puritanism doesn’t augur well with our faith when it comes to our erotic sculptures, embedded when intolerance looms large.
This quote holds significance on the relation between Hindu religion and erotic sculptures, inferred by the Indian Supreme Court judgment:
“Ancient Indian art has been never devoid of eroticism where sex worship and graphical representation of the union between man and woman has been a recurring feature…even the concept of lingam of the God Shiva resting in the centre of the yoni…representation of the act of creation, union of Parakriti and Purusha. The ultimate essence of a work of ancient India erotic art has been religious in character and can be enunciated as a state of heightened delight or ananda, the kinda of bliss that can be experienced only by the spirit.’
Cow Violence and Hindu Chauvinism:
The biggest irony about the BJP clean sweep to power was built not just on Hindu chauvinism piggy backing on the Modi wave but the reality was with a fair majority of voters not adhering to the Hindutva brand of hatred but on principles of economic reforms and investments. It was about the aspirations of the Indian middle class suffering a lot and let’s be honest, towards the end of its mandate UPA-2 was in free fall with rapes and violence against women post Nirbhaya, corruption and the price of basic essentials sky rocketing. People wanted change.
The unfortunate truth is the Modinomics has lost its significance with a bunch of idiots asking Hindu women to bear 10 children showing the scant respect of the RSS or BJP extremist brigade for women. Unfortunately, the PM himself has given a free rein to the loose-canons shouting hoarse about love jihad, forced conversion to Hindu with fanaticism riding high courtesy the lumpen political or religious elements.
The statistics are telling and rightfully so, Not in my Name as a Hindu stands important when we see the cow vigilante spreading fear, lynching and the killing of innocents over beef. The statistics make for a huge revelation with 63 percent of atrocities committed against the Dalit in states such as UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan attributed to cow vigilantism, triggered by Hindu Chauvinism moving with impunity due to the Government inaction. If this doesn’t scare us as a society, I don’t know what will in a plural society.
Of course, the author painstakingly goes through the hate crime subjected to one Muslim, Mohammed Akhlaq mob lynched and his son nearly beaten to death for keeping beef in the refrigerator which turned out to be mutton. The worse is the perpetrator of the crime was draped in the national flag. Such a dishonour to our Indian tricolor and it shows that since the BJP has been in power innocent Muslims, Dalits and defenceless women are paying a heavy price, for something as insignificant as meat. Now, who is the biggest anti-national?
The irony is that so many Hindus have consumed beef since times immemorial fits with the origin of Hinduism, Vedic practices. Tharoor does well to dispel the myth by referring to the Dharmashastric literature, Taittriya Brahmana with the cow as food or Vasaneyi Samhita supporting that the meat was eaten in those times.
Hindu Nationalism is not Indian Nationalism. The author rightly urges all Hindu to protest loud and clear to stop this divisive politics.
“When I say God, I don’t mean a particular God.”
These are the highs in an age of hatred that should make all of us feel proud being Indian and a rare instance where a Hindu priest is quoted telling someone. This represents the true essence of Hinduism.
Concluding Remarks: Plural India
India, as a secular democracy cannot thrive on hate politics. The basic fundamental of freedom is enshrined in Roti, Kapda aur Makaan but also our liberty to practice religious beliefs and values. As rightly remarked by Tharoor, Hinduism has always ensured the secular way of life in terms of religious freedom, its inherent flexibility and adaptability foraying into the post-modernism age with no self-imposed views. He stokes the debate on the need for all of us to speak of Hinduism as a culture rather than a religion for it has always been a way of life rather than a religion, unlike Islam or Christianity.
“I say this not as a godless secularist but as a proud Hindu who is mortified at what his own faith is being reduced to in the hands of bigots-petty men who know little about the beliefs, tradition and history of faith in whose ‘defence’ they claim to act.”
It couldn’t get better than that for we have always seen the dearth of knowledge about religion waging an aimless war making them ridiculous. High time we get rid of this dangerously communal rhetoric and threatening other ethnic groups by forcefully claiming, ‘Garv se Kaho Hum Hindu Hai.’ There is no pride in beating innocent people to death and the misogynist or raping of women hailing from minorities such as Muslims or Christians. Today, India must resist this Hindutva politics of hatred, distorting not just constitutional values but wiping our history.
If the recent state elections are something to go by, one can safely say the Hindu belt in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan rejected the politics of hatred, religious chauvinism and crushing of minorities that has dealt a huge blow to the BJP and RSS politics of hatred. India deserves better as a country for we have always been known for love, tolerance and not hatred. There is a huge difference between Hinduism and Hindutva, about time we restore the lofty principles of the former.