By Chetan Bhagat
2 Nov, 2013
One is always apprehensive about writing a column on religion. Most Indians don't discuss it in public, fearing misinterpretation. The only people who talk about religion are passionate extremists. Consequently, in our society extremists control our religion and politics panders to this.
Important religious issues are ignored in the process. One such issue is confusion that exists in the minds of youth about interpreting their own religion and its place in modern society.
Let us begin with Hinduism. There is a section of Hindus who believe in mutilating themselves to please the Gods. They poke their cheeks with javelins. They pull chariots with metal hooks dug into their back. Hindu Sadhus live the life of ascetics.
Meanwhile, millions of Hindus go to the temple only occasionally. They believe in God. However, they neither follow nor are aware of every guideline given in Hindu scriptures. Many Hindus eat meat and consume alcohol, but also pray to God and celebrate the major festivals.
So let's pose a question — what is a Hindu supposed to be? Is the cheek-poking devotee a benchmark? Is a Sadhu the ideal Hindu? Or is a regular middle-class person, working in a bank, consuming chicken, drinking beer and occasionally visiting a temple also a good Hindu?
Obviously, there is no clear answer. Everyone in the examples above is a Hindu. So what does it mean to be a Hindu in India? We can only guess, but here's an attempt at a list of modern Indian Hindu values.
The modern Hindu prays to Hindu gods, celebrates a few Hindu festivals. He follows at least a few of the Hindu practices, which vary from person to person. He does not impose his beliefs, rituals and faith on anyone else and is tolerant of others' beliefs. He ignores regressive tenets in our holy texts suggestive of gender inequality, caste discrimination or violence.
The above list is neither exhaustive nor accurate, for we have never intellectually discussed what it means to be a Hindu in 21st century India. The final list can emerge only after much debate. However, such a list is needed as it attempts to build a practical consensus on religion's place in our society.
We also need to ensure that this list not only follows what the religion prescribes, but is also aligned with aspirations and progress of the country as a whole. If we went back to strict orthodox Hinduism of the 16th century, for instance, it would hamper us from being part of today's globalised world.
Similar discussion and list of values are needed for other religions, particularly the other main Indian religion — Islam. There are nearly 50 countries in the world where Muslims are in a majority. However, there is no one interpretation of Islam.