If you come across a Communist, with a Hindu name, and ask him about his identity, he will deny being a Hindu. Yet, a Muslim Communist often claims his identity without hesitation. One wonders what causes this difference in attitude.
It is interesting to probe into the psyche of identity, which often is a source of security, insecurity, conflict and comfort. Perhaps the following reasons would answer the identity crises of the Hindus. The broadmindedness of Hinduism, its inherent inclusiveness and secularism, makes Hindus feel guilty about claiming their identity, as it is embedded in their philosophy that it is wrong to exclude others. Claiming a religious identity makes them feel they are excluding others and so they shy away from doing so.
Hindus have been traditionally groomed by the Vedanta to drop all identities. This has deeply influenced the Hindu psyche. Hindu philosophy is woven around egolessness. Let alone their religion, some sadhus don’t even say their name; they would say, “What’s in a name?” Sanyasis are even shy to talk about their parentage. A renowned ascetic in Rishikesh would meet with everybody, but not his own mother and family. When asked, he would say, “I am Vedanti; once I have taken sanyasa, I have dropped all my identities.”
This is an erroneous understanding of Vedanta. Why do we fear the identity so much? Seeing identity as stumbling blocks for one’s growth is ignorance. Sanyasa is transcending identity; it is being in that centredness from where you have equal love and compassion for all. It is the unshakable light and richness that one has found in one’s Being which is universal. Transcending identity is different from denying identity. When religious leaders themselves denounce their identity, the community follows suit. This is akin to the thought that secularism is anti-religion.
Caste identity is in some places much stronger than religious identity. The normal tendency is to go for one single identity than for a dual one. So, between caste and religion, many Hindus seem to go for caste. Hindus feel ashamed of the ills of Hinduism — its superstition, untouchability, and practices like sati are usually highlighted in the media, rather than its unparalleled philosophy and scientific temperament. Thus, for several centuries Hindu bashing has been a fashion.
The media seems to have given the prerogative of Hindu identity to the RSS and VHP and secular-minded Hindus would not like to associate with these two organisations. As a result they shy away from their own identity.
Within India itself, we witness a great deal of ignorance about the Hindu religion and its scriptures. Although Hindus form 80 per cent population of India, there is still only one university which teaches Hinduism — whereas there are five which teach Islam, five which teach Christianity, two which teach Sikhism and one that teaches Jainism. You would find every Muslim would know a couple of verses from the Quran; you can hardly find a Christian who has not read the Bible.
But Hindus who know Sanskrit or a few shlokas are rare. Most educated Hindus know the Bible; they know Christmas carols. When they know nothing about their religion, how can they take pride in it?
There are 1.25 billion Hindus in the world, a little over one-sixth of the world’s population, but you hardly find a single Hindu lobby at international forums. You will find a Christian lobby, a Muslim lobby or a Jewish lobby, but you can’t find a Hindu lobby. Just 12 million Jews in the world are such a powerful voice. Buddhists also have a voice and make their presence felt at world forums.
In countries of south and central America and in Europe, although they are secular democracies, they are not shy to proclaim their allegiance to Christianity. You will find the religious symbol of the Cross placed in their parliaments; chaplains offer prayer before every official dinner. While associations like YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) have gained wide acceptance. Why then is it that Hindu associations are viewed with scepticism?
A strong community is an asset to any nation. A weak community will always be in fear and because of insecurity will become aggressive. It is the pride in one’s identity which strengthens the community. Identity is in no way contradictory to universality.
People often ask, “Will not the concept of global family, Vasudhaiva Kutambakam, contradict patriotism? Similarly, will your religious identity not conflict with your universality?’’ The answer is “No”. Your duty as a family man is not a hindrance for your realisation that you are Brahman. You don’t need to run away to the forest to realise “All this is Brahman”. Your being spiritual in no way contradicts your being a socially responsible citizen. In fact, it enhances your ability to care and share.
The conflict in the world is because people are either stuck in their identity, and die for it, or shy away from their identity and lose their roots. One has to opt for a middle path. The ideal situation will be when every religion transcends its identity. Until that time, it is unwise for the Hindus to let go of their identity. We cannot, and should not, eliminate differences on this planet. We need to celebrate the differences. And this is the uniqueness of Bharat — from the atheism of Charvaka to Bhakthi Panth and Sufism, it’s one beautiful bouquet.
An identity is related to an action. Denial of identity will dump you in inaction, sloth and lethargy and hence Krishna reminds Arjuna of his Kshatriya identity even while giving “Brahma gyan” to remind him of his duties and responsibilities. Otherwise while giving this High knowledge of the Self, why would Krishna remind him again and again of his limited identity. The limited identity in no way contradicts the universal one. A policeman cannot perform his duties — steer the traffic — if he fails to acknowledge his identity. Similarly, if a businessman shies away from his identity, he cannot function. The same is the story of Hindu identity. India cannot make a distinct mark on the world if it ignores its religious and spiritual heritage.