To be a fundamentalist Hindu

That’s the only way to fight Hindu fundamentalists.

Written by Chinmaya R Gharekhan | Published:July 28, 2014 12:40 am
There is nothing wrong with the religions; it is only those who exploit them for their territorial or temporal purposes who are guilty. There is nothing wrong with the religions; it is only those who exploit them for their territorial or temporal purposes who are guilty.

That’s the only way to fight Hindu fundamentalists.

Yes, I am a fundamentalist Hindu. No, not a Hindu fundamentalist, but a fundamentalist Hindu. Let me explain.

According to Wikipedia, fundamentalism as a movement arose in the United States among conservative Presbyterian theologians in the late 19th century and soon spread to the Baptists and other denominations around 1910-20. Its purpose was to reaffirm five key theological tenets, such as the inerrancy of every word of the Bible, virgin birth of Jesus, bodily resurrection of Jesus, historical reality of Jesus’s miracles, etc. Those who subscribed to these five fundamentals came to be known as fundamentalists. Some Christian fundamentalists do not believe in the common Abrahamic origin of Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Wikipedia describes Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism as radical ideologies and suggests, how justifiably one is not sure, that the term “Islamic fundamentalist” was born as a consequence of the Iranian revolution of 1979.

About Hinduism, Wikipedia says: Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid set of beliefs, thus the basic definition of fundamentalism cannot apply to Hinduism as a whole. It does mention “a recent phenomenon in India, namely the rise of Hindu fundamentalism that has led to political mobilisation against Muslims”.

According to the prevalent discourse on the subject, the term “fundamentalist” is used to describe those who invoke religion to indulge in acts of extremism and violence against followers of other faiths, indeed often, against followers of their own faith. These fundamentalists demand strict adherence to certain aspects of their faiths or holy books, selected by them, in order to impose their worldview on the societies they live in, and beyond.

The term “fundamentalist”, however, need not indicate such behaviour. A fundamentalist should be one who believes in the fundamentals of his or her religion, and not someone who handpicks elements from it to wage violence against all those who do not subscribe to them. Scholars of inter-faith dialogue are unanimous in their opinion that the fundamental message of all faiths is the same: universal peace, brotherhood, compassion, tolerance, etc. In that sense, those who believe in the fundamentals of their respective religion ought to be described as “fundamentalists”.

Fundamentally religious persons are not necessarily religious fundamentalists; they are not extremists and hence do not subscribe to violence to force others to their points of view. The Hindu faith does not have one single sacred text or founder. Therefore, one cannot refer to any text to ascertain the fundamentals of Hinduism. This may be both a handicap and an asset. On balance, I believe it is an advantage. It suggests that observance of rituals is not at all essential to being a Hindu. My father-in-law never went to temples, but he was a good Hindu since he respected the fundamentals of the faith he was born in. (He was also called a “true Christian” by his American friends when he went to the US for higher studies.) Of course, many Hindus do go to temples, but that in itself does not make them good Hindus.

So, what are the fundamentals of Hinduism? One of them is “non-attachment” or “anasakti” as it is called in the Gita. One’s only right is to do one’s duty, without worrying about the fruit of one’s action. This sounds noble, but is extremely difficult to practice for mortal humans. We are often disappointed when our efforts don’t yield expected results.

There is also the doctrine of reincarnation or rebirth, which cannot be proved (or disproved). A Hindu does not have to believe in it to be regarded as a Hindu. The underlying rationale is that it provides an incentive to people to behave well in the present life in the belief that in the next birth, they will be born in better circumstances. The theory of rebirth is not fundamental to the Hindu faith.

The core of Hinduism is tolerance: tolerance for other faiths, tolerance for others’ opinions, tolerance for different and opposing points of view, tolerance for other races and ethnicities, tolerance for other creeds. Even among the Hindus, there are many deities and sects such as Shaivism and Vaishnavism, and all of them coexist peacefully.

All this is not an attempt to establish the superiority of the Hindu faith over others, but merely to suggest that sticking to the fundamentals of faith, any faith, is the key to combat fundamentalism. There is nothing wrong with the religions; it is only those who exploit them for their territorial or temporal purposes who are guilty.

Rituals are useful only to the extent that they might help in understanding the fundamentals, but they ought not to be allowed to replace core teachings. The only way to fight Hindu or any other faith’s fundamentalists is to become a fundamentalist Hindu, or that of any other religion.

The writer is India’s former permanent representative at the UN, and adjunct senior fellow, Delhi Policy Group

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  1. I
    IndianWellWisher
    Jul 29, 2014 at 12:26 am
    Agree. Important to note that if there is any 'regrouping' called for it is to counter the muslim threats - historical discrimination with taxes, forced conversions, pering of temples
    Reply
  2. K
    Krishna
    Jul 28, 2014 at 11:18 pm
    I think the core idea of Hinduism is "Live and let live". Integration of such ideas is important so as to be not divided by "Ideas" which doesn't want it to happen. btw, instead of "tolerance", its actually "respect" - from nature to people to religions/faiths, which in a way comes from trust. And that "respect" seems to be disintegrating...I think we all need Right Education.
    Reply
  3. G
    Guest
    Jul 28, 2014 at 8:15 am
    well said and explained. Thank you
    Reply
  4. A
    Apoorva
    Jul 29, 2014 at 1:58 am
    I don't understand, why these English Speaking and English Thinking people, can't get this simple fact that this so called Hindu Fundamentalism is a reaction of ongoing nourishing and support of Non Hindu Fundamentalism by State and some section of society.
    Reply
  5. A
    Arun Murthy
    Jul 29, 2014 at 2:36 am
    This post is just a blabber. Like the westerners, the author is confused on what Hinduism is about. Unlike the Abrahamic religions, it is not gods, prophets, sacred texts or rituals that define Hinduism. Hinduism is a way of life and can only be characterised by the way people who call themselves Hindus have conducted themselves over ages.The foremost quality of Hindus has been not just tolerance for other thoughts, but a readiness to embrace new thoughts, as well as stubborn refusal to adopt new ways of life that are anathema to their's or those imposed forcefully.
    Reply
  6. G
    Girish
    Jul 28, 2014 at 10:21 pm
    Islam is political ideology under the guise of religion. Unless people accept this fact, any other discussion is waste of time.
    Reply
  7. G
    Girish Phalke
    Jul 28, 2014 at 5:48 am
    After a long time a good article in express..
    Reply
  8. S
    Shashi Kiran
    Jul 29, 2014 at 5:13 am
    Journalism of Mediocrity.. Yes We copy paste from Wikipedia, without having an iota of Experience of Hinduism. Making pacifist claims about Hinduism by negating the Martial traditions of Hinduism seems a favourite exercise of 'liberals'.
    Reply
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