October 20, 2015

India: An apology for pluralism (A S Dasan)

Deccan Herald

An apology for pluralism
By A S Dasan, Oct 20, 2015, DHNS:

Recent happenings bother all of us who subscribe to certain secularist ethos cherished in the midst of diverse religious beliefs and practices. Acts of violence perpetuated through the desecration of a few churches in and around Delhi and the Dadri stain related to alleged beef eating, that too just on a rumour, evident in the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq, a middle-aged Muslim in Bisada village, Uttar Pradesh, are all too serious to be bypassed as ‘sad and unfortunate’.

They are a pointer to what havoc fringe elements can cause upon human psyche or lives when they get indoctrinated in radical Hindutva ideologies, when the state fails to act. The orchestrators have the gumption to see these acts as acts of patriotism. What is worrying is the subtlety with which indoctrination happens in connivance with RSS-promoted saffronised agendas routed through the Narendra Modi government. This is a fraudulent way of dealing with the people who voted for the BJP on the strength of Modi’s social-media-hyped rhetoric on development.

Reflecting on these happenings makes us concerned citizens to aver that ours is a land of diversity vis-à-vis religion, tongues and culture. Our constitution provides sufficient space for eclectic accommodativeness, a prime-value principle, ingrained in the assimilation of India’s cultural ‘polymorphic constants’. The credentials of India, and
by extension the true credentials of Hinduism too, lie in “sarvébhavantu sukhina, sarvésantunirāmay, sarvébhadr ipashyantu, maākashchid dukha-bhag-bhavét (well-being of all)”.

It is in such accommodativeness that the meaning of India shines forth and Hinduism becomes a way of life appealing to people of varied faiths across continents in terms of diverse and inclusive spirituality. The Hindutva ideology has a myopic assumption that it stands for the principles of Hinduism and fabricates baseless theories equating India as ‘Hindu’ and seeking legitimacy for a partisan and chauvinistic politics.

Its attempt to redefine the notion of building ‘a secular India’ on Hindutva ideology is bereft of any historical sense, either of the past or the present.

Its nationalism has nothing common with the Hindu view of life as enunciated by philosophers like S Radhakrishnan, or with the essentials of Indian philosophy outlined by philosophers like Hiriyanna, or with the Indic eclectic worldviews discerned across readings of ancient Vedanta texts. Sadly, Hindutva forces are not open to the idea of cultural and religious pluralism.

Their fears that the demography of ‘Hindu India’ is being disturbed by that of minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, often boil down to aversions towards minority communities. But, census data of Christian population remaining around 3 per cent even after 18 centuries of Christian presence in India belie their fears.
What haunts the citizenry is the silence of the state, its failure to act against hooliganism. Inaction breeds forth more violence. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s attempt to colour even honest indignations of a galaxy of eminent writers as ‘manufactured paper rebellion’ speaks of the mindset of the Modi government. The silence of the prime minister who otherwise is talkative on many other issues, is not tenable.

Statements like ‘the onus of reining in violence lies with the state government, not with the Centre’ emanating from him only show his unwillingness to act for the fear of displeasing a section of his known core supporters. They make his rhetoric on development look like a hallmark of his prowess for ‘salesmanship’ rather than ‘statesmanship’, marking the difference between him and leaders like Vajpayee.

If he cannot listen to the voices of intellectuals whose reasoning in freedom and personal integrity are beyond doubt, it is time that at least his admirers – gurus and ammas of the new-age evangelical Hinduism, Indian diaspora and business tycoons who see brighter prospects for ‘ache din’ under his leadership speak up and remind him of the constitutional obligation to protect innocent people. Silence animated by self-interest does no good to anyone.

Change in attitude
It is time that Hindutva forces change their attitude towards minorities. It is time that they see value in educational philosophy and leadership that endorse diversity and plurality which are very relevant to living in contemporary times when citizenship itself is becoming global, transnational, and multicultural, when there are genuine attempts from diverse religious point of view towards ‘creating a sacred cosmos for protecting humanity against the nightmare of chaos’ as an Indian theologian puts it.

It is time that they get attuned to ‘capacity building-mode’ towards appreciating and assimilating eclectic ‘polymorphic constants’ in the course of arriving at truth, a process with which most of the Indians are fine. Their liberation lies in their journey towards that ‘heaven of freedom’ envisaged by Tagore in his most memorable poem Gitanjali. Definitely, not in concerns and sentiments associated with cows.

Readers may be aware of the miracle that happened at Ganesha Mandir in Wadala, Mumbai, on October 5. The spontaneous act of kindness of some of the women-devotees towards the Muslim woman in labour pain, left stranded by the conscienceless-cab driver, is an eloquent testimony to how communal harmony and human solidarity can be promoted, how people can become Man or Woman-Fridays in the midst of angst caused by human pettiness. The catharsis such miracles evoke comes with compunctious ‘Vistings of Nature’, to use the phrase of Shakespeare, to sensitise the citizenry to discern like the Indian swan.

When one dies, in the event of an encounter with God, God is not going to ask to which particular religion he/she belonged during his/her sojourn on earth. There are more serious moral and ethical questions that will determine the outcome of the encounter. Our passage to eternity is mediated through the fragrance of manyness, diversity, multicultural diversity we are privileged to live with. It is through this free that we transcend our particularities. Hinduism, not Hindutva, is one religion that could usher us towards such realisation.

(The writer is Professor of English and Director, Shukrodaya’s Academy for HRD, Mysuru)