Why Am I A Hindu? A Question Anyone Who Is Might Well Ask Themselves

Shashi Tharoor's book Why I Am A Hindu answers a few questions about the religion I am born into, and made me wonder where we're going with our collective interpretation of it.

Shashi Tharoor’s book Why I Am A Hindu answers a few questions about the religion I am born into, and made me wonder where we’re going with our collective interpretation of it.

Just finished reading Dr Tharoor’s latest Why I Am A Hindu, a book which set into motion thoughts long suppressed. While some of these have been addressed in this book, there is still a predicament or two which I seek a solution to. A conundrum which my own religion leaves me with.

I often wonder why most Hindus including myself are often seen flocking to temples and shrines of other faiths. Why do we show no hesitation while accepting with gratitude a Kada Prashad from the Golden Temple, or consume with relish Sheer Kurma at our friend’s house on Ramadan? Why do our children make secret wishlists for Santa, and we participate in Christmas gaiety, buying festive merchandise and even baking Christmas cakes? This compliment isn’t very often reciprocated with equal fervor.

My answer lies in Jinnah’s response to a Gandhian thought: “I am a Christian, I am a Hindu, I am a Parsi, I am a Jew” upon which Jinnah replied that only a Hindu could say this.

So do we Hindus lack a spine, or are we just a bit too malleable? But Why I Am A Hindu holds a solution to this particular mystery. We are a faith of as many as 33 crore gods, and we never insist upon the supremacy of this one god that I may choose to worship upon others. So a man hung on a cross is equally sacred to us as is the one wielding a flute.

Dr Tharoor has likened Hinduism to a Wikipedia like religion, a faith which has evolved and transformed itself with time. But I feel that Hinduism has a lot of shortcomings which need an overhaul of the system.

Discrimination of caste

Hinduism is an agglomeration of various smaller sects and numerous castes which are quite immiscible in nature. It’s not a confluence of this variety but a structure which lacks uniformity where a hierarchy of caste system has existed from time immemorial.

I remember my annual visits to my ancestral home where Kasabai used to clean the utensils, wash our clothes and did all the household chores, but she had to eat the left over food in a separate plate which would be kept in isolation, and the tumblers which she drank water out of needed to be sterilized with a charcoal cinder. The beddings and clothes that she so meticulously cleaned would be deemed fit for use only after receiving a generous sprinkling of goumutra. The perpetrators would later become victims at the hands of the pujariji who daily performed pooja in the family temple. He wouldn’t accept anything cooked by us, a step lower in the hierarchy.

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This caste and class system or Varna Vyawasta was a brain child of the priests who used it to their benefit to opress, deprive and humiliate people whom they had deemed to be of a lower caste. But we are stuck with these dictats even today, and surnames are those labels which identify the categories to which we belong.

Discrimination against women

Hinduism has always been discrimating against it’s women, and this I can say with a certain degree of confidence having experienced this first hand. In many castes and subcastes it is only the male folks who are allowed to actively perform poojas with the women just sitting by their sides in supporting roles.

Menstruating women aren’t allowed into these religious rituals. They are to be kept under a strict quarantine, and to add to your embarrassment the entire community comes to know of your dates. Some communites don’t even allow them into the kitchen. If they as much as accidentally touch something, goumutra as that ‘multipurpose steriliser’ comes in handy.

The Mahabharata says it’s the duty of a Hindu woman to be subservient to her husband, to respect him and obey him. A Hindu woman is Ardhangini to her husband, and no not the better half. Male domination has received the sanction of our shastras and we still abide by those.

We Hindus worship our female deities, but kill our girls who dare to fall in love without our consent, and have the audacity to call it ‘honour’ killing. We kill our daughters in law for dowry, and get rid of our newborn and at times unborn female children.

While steps are being taken to stop this discrimination what do we do about this typical Hindu mindset.

Hypocrisy and Prudery

Astrology has long been considered a ‘science’ in Hinduism. The planetary position at the time of one’s birth determines the course of one’s life. The matching of kundlis at the time of marriage is a common practice and mangliks particularly are made to undergo an array of poojas and a few absurd rituals like getting married to trees and gods before stepping into matrimony.

None of the incidences in a Hindu life from birth to death are complete without some ceremony or the other involving mantras and chants, most of which are incomprehensible to the common man who digs deep into his pockets to avoid the wrath that failure to perform these rituals would lead to. Why can’t I please my god in my own tongue? Why can’t I thank him (him? why not her?) in a language which I speak and he understands? Why can’t I beg for his mercy without having to resort to a language I know nothing of? My ‘omnipotent and omnipresent’ god should understand my suffering without my having to voice them through a paid mediator.

On Valentine’s Day, it’s not just about the couple in love and the shopkeepers selling the required merchandise. It’s also about the likes of Bajrang Dal and anti romeo squads who roll up their sleeves to ‘protect’ the Hindu Sanskriti. Ours is fast becoming an Indian version of Taliban: a woman cannot accompany a man who is not her father or brother, especially so on Valentine’s Day. These self appointed keepers ofHindu Sanskriti could get you married for this crime. But do they check the gotras of the couple before marrying them off, I wonder?

Censorship of arts

For once I fail to agree with Dr Tharoor on the liberties which authors, painters and film makers have taken over the time. James Laine’s controversial book “Shivaji The Hindu King in Islamic India” for example created a huge uproar when it was learnt that the author raised questions on Maharaj’s paternity. What one needs to understand here is that Maharashtra was just geography before Shivaji, he gave us pride, he gave us a distinct Maratha identity. He’s revered as a God in Maharashtra, so it’s not surprising that Marathas rose up against this slander.

We have coexisted in this land for centuries without stubbing onto eachother’s toes, why ignite sentiments which could disturb this equilibrium. The destruction of property, of books and paintings, and of film sets in the latest incidence of supression of creativity is in no way justified.

A fight over nothing

“Mandir wahi banayenge” this narebazi is again going to grip the nation now that elections are around the corner. Ramayana and Mahabharata are epics, that tell stories of kings and queens of those times, written by people who through the way of stories got people to understand dharma and follow the path of righteousness to finally achieve liberation of the soul. There is no concrete proof to the existance of Rama so it’s difficult to prove the exact place of birth of someone who could well be a fictitious character. The demolition of the Babri Mosque because it could be Ram lalla’s birth place and the brutual killings of innocents on both sides was absolutely unwarranted.

This stoking of religious fanaticism is a self serving tool for those looking to extract their pound of beef.. oops… flesh. Caste politics will always be that trump card which assures a clear win.

Hindutva and Hinduism are exactly on the opposite sides of the spectrum. While Hinduism has its own flaws due to misinterpretations and deliberate miscontruing to satisfy personal gains, Hindutva will continue to be best example of this distortion.

Garv se kaho hum Hindustani hai (be proud to be Hindustani)

Being a good Indian is my first Dharma and Hinduism comes later. The alligiance which we owe to our motherland is far more sacred than our religion which as Dr Tharoor says is an accident of birth. So our chest should collectively swell in pride and as we chant “Vande Mataram” in honour of our revered motherland. This one issue should be spared politicisation.

Let’s all together make Hinduism as Dr Tharoor desciribes it, a faith if equality, a faith of opportunities, a faith of acceptance, a faith of assimilation, a faith of tolerance, a faith which has no compulsions and a faith which lacks heresy. Let Hinduism be that faith which ultimately guides us to seek the ultimate truth and which realises, respects and accepts the paths which others persue to reach the same truth.

Published here earlier.

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Image source: By TED (https://www.ted.com/talks/shashi_tharoor) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons and Amazon

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