Friday, September 29, 2017

Hindu Decline, Not Rejuvenation, Lies in Creating a Nation of Minorities

Gudi Pawda Procession (Courtesy: Times of India)
R Jagannathan’s take on the idea of dissolving ‘inward looking Hindu varna-jati’ set up in order to create a million minorities for the larger benefit of Hinduism is an idea that seems to be getting traction, especially in the light of decisions pushed under the acutely problematic Right to Education Act. There is this belief that this will enable Hindus to probably survive the onslaught of Abrahamism inspired secular state. However, this argument is problematic at several levels, and often does not seem to take cognizance of history completely, while also suggesting that exploitation of loopholes in the current legal set up will allow Hindus to practice their traditions. However, these assumptions do not hold water when examined against the current set up, which we shall discuss.

Overcoming the Caste Barriers - Dharma Has Always Been Fighting the IssueCaste barriers, caste and casteism are three distinct threads that often get confused in debate frenzy. Often it is the case that the three are conflated and a picture is presented that there has been no effort made to fight the scourge of casteism. It is however only within the larger Hindu fold that casteism has been fought, not outside of it. Much discussion has been done on this topic, so I would like to only delve on it in brief. One may say that Ramanujacarya was the only one within the Hindu fold who fought this problem at the root level; however, fact is that nearly all of the reformer saints didn’t see themselves independent of the Hindu fold in any way. Barring self declarations by their followers, the teachings of Kabir, Namdev or Guru Jambheshwar and many other did not identify the proponent independent of Hindu traditions. There is much similarity in these cases with the larger sannyasi-jogi traditions that have always existed, which did not necessarily ridicule tradition. Moreover, it is the strength of the Hindu tradition that all these rebel groups were accommodated at different stages with utmost respect into the same varna-jati fold that they supposedly fought against! Prime examples of the same can be seen in the way communities like Lingayats and Bishnois have been incorporated into the jati fold with time. Even within the Dharmic fold we see figures such as Chaitanya, Ravidas ji and much later Dayananda Saraswati taking the problem of casteism head on instead of advocating the abolition of caste. With these facts under consideration, one wonders how Hindu tradition cannot be considered strong, flexible and adaptable with umpteen examples of this kind, and it is this ability allowed the survival against an alternative legal and social ideology for a millennium, and still is in many ways, when one sees how followers of gurus and swamis today manage to identify themselves in the larger Hindu fold. Even the Sikh movements were an attempt to fight the problem of rampant casteism and untouchability, as Nanak Dev ji had repeatedly demonstrated and lived out in his life time.

Systematic Discrimination in the Current State is Inbuilt
For those who believe that taking a minority approach will help overcome this barrier, there is bad news. The current Constitutional state has always been discriminatory against the majority of the state in every manner, particularly when it comes to addressing institutional inequality. Temple control has always been a matter of much debate. The celebrated judgements of the Kamakhya Shrine or the Chidambaram temple do help walk a few steps, but essentially, the fundamental nature of how we can control our places of worship still has not changed. HR&CE department of Tamil Nadu still controls the temples, and Karnataka imposes a muzrai on the temples in its state. This has not come up in a vacuum - the distinctly flawed approach by our legal and judicial systems in dividing the secular from the religious in understanding Hindu tradition created a loophole that allowed unabated discrimination to be justified and implemented, as explained wonderfully by advocate J Sai Deepak last year. This stems from an Abrahamic understanding of the relationship between the church and the state, which was never the case in India. Similar is the case with education. Even if you may be under control of your educational institutions, the systematic discrimination propagated by the state even against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes when one compares just the scholarships given to them against religious minorities on a per student basis in India. As Arihant Pawariya pointed out in his lecture last year, an SC student in India gets less than half the scholarship compared to a minority student, while for OBC students, pre-matriculate scholarships are one-third of the minority students. Even though the Constitutional guarantee of reservation for students of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes exists in India, the guarantee of financial support is laughable when put into context. With a malicious reading of Article 30(1) of the Constitution of India being put into practice on a daily basis, one has to be somewhat naive to believe that doing away with exemptions for minority institutions of the Right to Education Act will be possible and implementable. You cannot have a one legged man participating in a 100m sprint.

Fragmentation Makes Castes Weaker

Fragmentation of society has created a further weakening of Hindu society, as the possibility of support systems that can aid other communities reduces, allowing vested interests to fill in the institutional vacuum. To believe that the adversaries are inflexible and will not adjust to shifting grounds is highly optimistic on the part of those advocating this line. There are sufficient examples to bring this to point. Several elements within the Sikh community have made attempts to show how the community is not a Hindu sect. Be that as it may, the attempts have led to efforts to insulate the community, making it inward looking. Its impact on the community has been largely negative, with the community today seeing a sharp decline in its share of India's population growth rate, and ever more vulnerable to efforts to break through it, as seen in the explosive growth of proselytizers in the state. Another example is the alarming rate of Hindu population decline in Kerala, where reform movements ended up in major groupings adopting isolationist approaches. A Nair Seva Samaj (NSS) worker and a Sri Narayan Dharma Paripalan (SNDP) Yugam worker will not see eye to eye, and their institutions will not assist the others necessarily. This hostility has been taken advantage of by communal groups of minorities, which have taken every opportunity to influence and convert people. Moreover, the state has also been systematically discriminatory against the Hindu community at large, and as a result Hindus despite being the largest community today are the poorest of the lot in Kerala, while Christians and Muslims are seeing high affluence levels, and Nairs and Ezhavas individually have lost much political capital with the political parties in the state, who seek minority votes more eagerly instead. This concept of minorityism allows Breaking India forces and fissiparous elements to gain strength, as can be seen for instance in the manner in which ‘Dalit rights’ movements have been completely hijacked today. Tamil Nadu’s ‘rationalist’ movement had killed Hinduism in fact, leading to a decline in the cultural vibrancy of the state, while giving strength to separatist elements. Moreover, such minorityism is now pushing for extending intended Constitutional protections and reservations to those outside the Hindu fold, which if allowed, will weaken them further, as can be seen in how sections of the Lingayats have played right into the hands of the forces that keep insisting that they are not Hindus, and have the potential to reduce their political relevance in Karnataka.

What is needed is not a million minorities, therefore, but the amalgamation of the various Dharmic entities to come together on a common platform and fight the various challenges they are facing together with a single voice. Minorityism does not take any community anywhere, and in fact will end up weakening them, even as the state in its present form will continue to find ways to discriminate against them and not identify them as anything else but Hindu. A modern Hindu movement, not a million minorities, is where rejuvenation of Dharma truly lies.

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