Hindus & Hinduism (Part 3): What led to the development of an apologetic and defensive Hindu mindset?


What is Hindu apologetic mindset that one often hears about? In short, it is about being defensive and/or apologetic about the beliefs, teachings and practices of Hinduism. When many foreigners and some overtly righteous liberals raise questions on the need of hundreds of deities that Hindus worship or some rituals or age-old social issues like the caste system, many Hindus tend to be defensive or apologetic instead of being forthright to put these issues in their correct perspective. They fail to highlight the fact that Hinduism has always encouraged debate and evolved with time to remain contemporary and relevant. 

For example, take the caste system that was based on one’s profession. It invariably comes under fire for being discriminatory. Frankly, it may be argued, and quite convincingly, that in earlier times it worked fine without any friction between different castes. If the system was faulty and responsible for all kinds of evils in the society, there should have been protests and rebellions against the same. But surprisingly there were none for centuries. One would have to believe that it was fair and worked well for it to last so long. 

Such classifications existed in almost all societies across the world at different times. The only difference was that in Hinduism the caste system was formalised. Lateral induction from one caste to the other was part of the system. Depending on one’s education, skills and passion, an individual could aspire to shift from one caste to another. A prime example in this regard is the Gupta dynasty that belonged to the Vaishya caste but ruled most of Northern India from 320 – 530 BC. The hereditary nature of caste system came into force much later and was attributable to faulty social practices and not because of any religious dictate. 

There is no doubt that in today’s context the caste system is outdated and redundant. The fact that our constitution does not sanction it and the giant strides taken to eradicate the same since independence should be a matter of pride for us. It shows the flexibility of Hinduism to change with times. If the pace of eradication has been slow in some states, it is not because of Hinduism. The fault lies mainly with India’s politicians who have reignited the caste system for selfish political gains. 

The change in Hindu mindset started after the Muslim invaders came to India from the eighth century AD. In the process of establishing their dominance they also attacked the Hindu religion by forcing people to convert, imposing punitive taxes, destroying their places of worship and making it difficult for Hindus to practice their faith. Hindu way of life was systematically destroyed while free thought and discussion were suppressed. During British rule for over three centuries after the decline of Mughals, the situation was no better. Both the Mughals and British struck at the heart of the Hindu community by banning their festivals and restricting religious congregations. 

Under centuries of Mughal and British rule, Hindus lost the art and craft of governing themselves, something at which they were very proficient in ancient times. In their quest to survive under barbaric subjugation, religion received scant attention. Is it not surprising that for centuries not a single new religious establishment worth its name was built in Northern India? Even the destroyed temples and institutions were not rebuilt. All this led to the development of a defeatist mindset in Hindus. The inherent belief, pride and zeal that is essential for any religion was missing for centuries. Religious education became a casualty and successive Hindu generations were ignorant of the strengths and depth of their religion as also their enviable heritage. 

Once India became independent, the leadership, mainly western educated, opted for secularism. This in itself was a progressive step and perhaps need of the hour too. But when minority vote bank politics raised their ugly head, true secularism became the first casualty. On the other hand, caste-based politics became the norm in many parts of the country. Thus, minority appeasement and reservation policies became tools for politicians to exploit, cost to the nation and majority notwithstanding. Once again Hindus were on the receiving end.

The left leaning intellectuals who became guides and mentors of the establishment encouraged such policies. Many of them were engaged by the government to write the history of the nation. They deliberately chose to ignore the rich ancient Hindu heritage and history of the nation and instead focussed on Mughal and British rule only. The barbaric atrocities of foreign rulers were underplayed and many of them were portrayed as saviours of the nation. The Indian resistance to both Mughal and British rulers was glossed over in their enthusiasm to prove that but for the Mughal and British rulers, India would have remained a socially depraved and backward nation. Is it not surprising that Mughal ruler Akbar became Akbar the Great despite his anti-Hindu policies, but Hindu martyrs like Maharana Pratap, Guru Gobind Singh and Shaheed Bhagat Singh barely merited a mention in the History books? 

The fact that Indian civilisation was miles ahead of all other world civilisations from times immemorial did not matter to these Historians. They consigned the treasure trove of ancient Indian knowledge in the fields of science, medicine, philosophy, religion, governance and other subjects to the dustbin. In short, they felt that Hinduism had no role to play in an independent India because it was outdated and retrograde in its practices and beliefs. This resulted in successive Indian generations being kept ignorant of their glorious past and devoid of any local heroes. Instead, they were raised on a staple diet of history that eulogised the Mughal and British rulers while underplaying the extensive damage that they caused on the Indian nation, its heritage and Hinduism. 

Over a period of time, it became fashionable and politically rewarding to besmirch Hinduism and, in turn, the majority. Most governments since 1947 gave full freedom to minority religions in propagation, education and control of their places of worship but denied the same to Hindus. The inherent tolerance and belief in peaceful coexistence of Hinduism were exploited to the hilt without seeking any such assurance from the minorities. Successive Indian generations have been brought up in an environment of distorted history, warped secularism, unjust criticism of Hinduism and minority appeasement. This resulted in Hindus becoming guarded in their own nation while minorities made merry. 

If lies or half-truths are repeated again and again, they tend to become truths for some. This is exactly what happened to some Hindus who tend to be defensive and apologetic about anything connected with Hinduism. Instead of correcting the wrongs that were committed on the nation and Hindus during the Mughal and British rules, the nation has been deliberately led astray under the guise of secularism. Political parties, their leaders and western educated intellectuals with left leanings have always put their short-term selfish interests above the nation and its citizens. 

Surely India can be a secular nation without any need to muzzle Hindu voice at each step. The fact that India is predominantly a Hindu nation is neither debatable nor can it be just wished away. It is an axiomatic truth that has to be accepted. The current government is often charged with being pro Hindu and anti-minorities (read Muslim). This is nothing but political rhetoric of opposition and frustration of the pseudo liberals who find themselves out of the power corridors of the government – something that they are not accustomed to. They are afraid that the false anti-Hinduism edifices that they created over decades will come crumbling down at a fast pace under the current government. 

It is time for India and Indians to practice secularism in its true avatar. While the state ensures separation of governance and religion, it has to ensure equal and fair treatment of all citizens. If the state and society demand tolerance and peaceful coexistence from the Hindus, the same norms have to apply to minority religions too. It is but natural that in a nation with over 83% Hindu population, there will be a dominance of Hindu culture and thought. This inevitability has to be accepted as long as it does not infringe on minority rights by design. If the majority religion does not make any attempts to convert others, it is important for the minority religions to follow suit. Avoiding conflict or ill will cannot be the responsibility of the majority alone. 

The warped secularism that has been practiced in India for many decades has created an imbalance of power, between the majority Hindu and minority Muslim societies, with Hindus being on the backfoot. In contrast, both in Pakistan and Bangladesh where Muslims are in majority, such imbalances do not exist. Muslims societies in these nations act unilaterally in attacking minority Hindus since they take the complicity of their governments for granted in such misadventures. In fact, this audacity among Muslims in our neighbourhood rubs off on Indian Muslims too. Eviction of Hindu Pandits from Kashmir, demographic changes in many parts of Assam, Kerala and West Bengal are prime examples in this regard.  To make matters worse, governments in past have shied away from taking any decisive action against the minority, even under extreme provocation, presumably to defend secularism and to appear secular. Can anything be more absurd? 

This is the genesis of the changing mindset of Hindus in their efforts to seek an equal voice in their own country. Today, the nation has a government that supports this change without curtailing minority rights in any manner or bringing religion in governance. It is just ensuring that every individual in the country has an equal standing irrespective of his religion as envisaged in a truly secular nation. Politicians in opposition, Islamists, pseudo liberals and rationalists deliberately label this governmental support as spread of Hindutwa or Hindu militancy in their dual pursuit of minority appeasement and Hindu bashing. 

In doing so they deliberately ignore some hard truths. It is the combined will of India’s 83% Hindus that keeps India secular. The nation cannot scale new heights and reach its full potential unless 83% Hindus are part of mainstream India since their efforts and loyalties are directed, without reservations, only towards their nation. Perhaps nothing more needs to be said in this regard.

To be continued in Part 4 (The Way Ahead for the Nation)

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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