By Pavan K Varma
January 17, 2015
Among the many battles that will determine the further evolution of the world’s largest democracy, one is unfolding largely ignored. We are familiar with the normal fault lines: rich vs poor, left vs right, Muslims vs Hindu. But the deciding battle of the future will be between Hindus themselves, between those who conform to the Udarvadi, long established, liberal and tolerant stream of Hinduism and the Kattar Panthis who abrasively espouse the new, right wing, fundamentalist and intolerant brand of Hinduism.
Those of the latter school have found dramatic visibility after BJP came to power last May. They are whipping up a new fear psychosis in Hindus, arguing that their faith is under threat from several ‘others’ of which Muslims are the most important.
Many arguments are insidiously deployed to prove this point. The first is that the cultural and social behaviour of the minorities is inherently ‘inferior’ to the natural cultural ‘supremacy’ of the majority community. The second is that Muslims are seeking to ‘dominate’ Hindus and still behaving like ‘rulers’.
The third is that both Muslims and Christians are actively trying to convert Hindus to their faith, and that – laughably enough – ‘handsome’ young Muslim men are trying to seduce young Hindu women as part of a ‘love jihad’. The fourth is that Muslims are multiplying at a much faster rate than Hindus and that at this rate Hindus will soon become a minority in their own land. The fifth – and this is the most potent weapon of all – is that a policy of ‘Muslim appeasement’ is being follow-ed which is discriminatory to Hindus.
All the above arguments are either lies or half lies. There has been a great degree of syncretism over the centuries, which has created hugely visible bridges and commonalities between all Indians. There is no evidence that Muslims are seeking to dominate anyone.
Unlike the Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Chinese in Southeast Asia, who are often accused by the majoritarian communities of unfair economic and professional dominance, Muslims pose no threat to Hindus in India. Hindus have no reason, therefore, to feel intimidated by a presence which has been with them for centuries.
The belief that Muslims are growing at a faster pace than Hindus has been repeatedly disproved, but the Sakshi and the Sadhvi want Hindu women to have four children nonetheless! Conversions to Islam or Christianity could have happened in isolated cases, but these have never really made any dent in the overwhelmingly assured majority status of Hindus.
Two major proselytising religions – Islam and Christianity – conquered India by force in the past. Both invaders openly used their military superiority for evangelical purposes, but in spite of obvious rewards on offer most Hindus did not surrender their faith.
One has only to see what happened in other countries in similar situations to appreciate the difference. For instance, as the official religions of conquering or colonising powers, Islam and Christianity overwhelmed the people of the African continent; their success in Southeast Asia and Latin America was no less spectacular. In India they failed. Hindus were the overwhelming majority a thousand years ago, and remain so today.
The argument of ‘appeasement’ is heard most often. It is true that just as BJP aggressively cultivates a Hindu vote bank, other parties have cynically sought to attract Muslim support with unnecessary giveaways and selective application of laws that should apply equally to all Indians. Such blatantly motivated policies need to be condemned. However, to dub anything done for the minorities as appeasement is equally cynical.
The majority in the Muslim community is statistically at the bottom of society across a wide range of verifiable social and economic indices. In such circumstances, it cannot but be good policy to provide a backward minority, along with other deprived categories, special incentives and safeguards under the law to participate on equal terms in mainstream opportunities of the country.
The truth is that Hindus are not, and have never been, insecure about their religion. Hinduism has always existed in a remarkably self-assured way, largely immune to attack or demise because no one entity – scripture, church or god – limits its diffused omnipresence.
It is also a matter of historical record that Hindus have not been hostile to other faiths. The reason quite simply is that they were not afraid of them. Jews lived peaceably in India before they did anywhere else. Muslim traders from Arab countries practiced their faith undisturbed in Kerala more than a thousand years ago. Parsis came in the seventh century and Christians in the fourth, unsupported by armies.
Essentially, Hindus are a practical people; they – and especially the young – want to get on with their lives and benefit from the secular dividends of economic growth and development; they are temperamentally opposed to any prolonged instability and disorder that could be a consequence of religious violence, especially when it is amply clear that there is no alternative to coexistence.
It is my considered view that liberal Udarvadi Hindus far outnumber fundamentalist Kattar Panthi Hindus. Will the majority, in its own self-interest, now stand up and oppose the hijacking of their religion by the loonies of the BJP-RSS Parivar?