I hear a lot of talk about the Hindu religion being at the risk of being maligned and degraded by those affiliated to other religions. It is being said that efforts are on to convert ours to an Islamic or Christian nation. I do not subscribe to this view. Ours is a secular country. The Indian society is a multilingual and multicultural one that is respectful of views that may or may not be in concurrence with its own. It is an inclusive one that has been successively ruled by Moghul and British rulers. But that has not impacted our religious beliefs or cultural heritage in a big way. The Hindu way of life has prevailed despite the effort by several intolerant rulers to suppress it. Our society has demonstrated to the world that freedom could be availed by non violent means. Why then is insecurity seeping into our lives? Why do we feel threatened and/or feel the need to protect our religion? I find it strange to call Hinduism a religion. It is a way of life. It is flexible enough to accommodate a person who is deeply religious as much as one who folds his/her hands to ask God a favor when in distress. It advocates the conservation of nature and compassion to animals. Yoga and pranayam have become universally recognized health promoting techniques. More than anything else it advises us to do our duty without expecting rewards. Could a religion of this stature be threatened by external factors? No way! On the contrary I believe that more and more people would take to the Hindu way of life whatever their religious affiliation.
Why then are we being told that the world is ganging up against us? Or that our media is the mouthpiece of the group that wants to systematically destroy our religion? If there was even an iota of truth in this claim, it does not speak well of our journalists and news channels. I do agree that Hindus belonging to the so called lower strata of the caste system opted for conversion to other religions hoping for a better quality of life as well as social acceptance. Unfortunately we have to admit that the caste system has successfully divided our society into divisions that are difficult to bridge and ought to take responsibility for creating an emotional distance between different groups by failing to recognize the dignity of labor and considering one group as being superior or inferior to another. But the caste system was the creation of society and our religion had nothing to do with it.
Coming to the point raised earlier - is it wrong if those at the receiving end of social discrimination opt to embrace a faith that they believe to be equal in its treatment of all human beings? Why not put ourselves in their shoe and see how it feels? Moreover, I am sure that caste discrimination prevails in all of the Indian society cutting across religious affiliations and social standing of individuals. Hindus may openly express it but it is there in other religions as well in a more subtle way. I can see it getting reduced to a very great extent but it will take some time more and a whole generation or two before it is completely erased.
I digress. Could an ancient religion like Hinduism to be decimated by a few fanatics and a bunch of irresponsible journalists and media persons? I do not think so. I see a good number of Westerners taking to the Hindu way of life by practicing pranayam, yoga and meditation, switching to vegetarian or vegan food and trying to research on the health benefits of herbal medicine. Let us then get over this insecurity and promote our culture not by pointing fingers at imaginary sources of threat but by leading by example. Let us try to analyze our rituals and attribute scientific reasons to our religious practices. Above all let the world make a choice and understand/appreciate the Hindu way of life and the logic behind it. Tending to plants that are of medicinal and cosmetic value and according divine status to rivers are means of supporting life on earth and need to be understood as universal requirements without being brushed off as Hindu rituals. Whether it is using plantain leaves as plates or brushing our teeth with margosa (neem) stalks each of our practice has been tried and tested for centuries and if we learn to respect them, the world will follow. The threat to our religion is not from external sources but from our own doubting minds that consider them as baseless, old fashioned and superstitious. Let us weed out suspicion and negativity from our minds and pledge to conserve natural resources, to be compassionate towards animals, be kind to fellow human beings and respectful to followers of religions other than our own. In doing so we would be serving mankind and promoting humanism as much as Hinduism.
These are just my thoughts. Let us first learn to understand our religion and culture before expecting the world to do so.
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