by Saumya Mishra
“India historically touts itself as a secular state, one where all religions are recognized and can peacefully co-exist. Well, at least in theory, it is. Unfortunately, the reality is much different.”
These are the words of Pew Research Center’s Analysis (December, 2011) which ranked India as fourth worst country in world for religious intolerance out of 198 countries. In the analysis, only three countries, namely- Syria, Nigeria and Iraq, which are infamous for religious hostilities, were listed before India.
Looking at the rank of India in the list, it becomes sine qua non to leave the romanticized idealism and analyze India’s position critically on real ground. The current situation of India can be summarized in three points:-
- Presence of multi-ethnic composition in India. The best example to explain it would be linguistic reorganization of Indian federal states in 1950 and 1960.
- Even though India has faced many radical violent events in past, they never escalated to a full scale civil war.
- The development and popularization of ideology of “Hindutva” since 1980s, which transformed India’s history into an execrable debate.
Here the first two points indicate religious tolerance and harmony, whereas the third and last point is suggestive of communal hatred, which possesses in itself the capacity of falsifying the other two points in future. Hence, I will be focusing on the third point in my article.
Mary Kaldor, in her book ‘Old and New Wars’ argues that “political goals of the new wars are claims to power based on identity. Labels (especially religion and ethnicity) are used as a basis for political claims based on fragments and inward looking communities.” In the context of India, Hindu “nationalist” groups and parties have developed their own definition of Hinduism as if it was a recent born idea. The strategy of homogenization of Hinduism through tactics like ancient God Rama desired all the Hindus to be unified impart message that India had always been a Hindu nation and should continue to work towards achieving the same position. These very nationalist groups create litmus tests to define a “good Indian” and “good Hindu”. Being anti-Hinduism is synonymous to being anti-National in this narrow skewed ideology. Communal riots of Gujarat (1969), anti-Sikh riots (1984) and ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus etc. are some examples showing consequences arising from such radical ideologies.
But when analyzed on real ground, India’s culture, values and history had been far more inclusive and incorporating in character. India has been a torchbearer of South Asia, which is a hallmark of the co-existence of multi-ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. As Ashoka divulges “There should not be honor of one’s own (religious) sect and condemnation of others without any grounds.” Hence, it becomes obligatory to investigate some of the major parts of Indian history which reveal the long lived tradition of peaceful co-existence of diversity.
Under the unfathomable layers of Indian diversity, the core reveals itself in the form of Indus Valley Civilization- a thriving urban civilization which flourished more than 5,000 years ago in the north-western Indo-Pakistan, it was contemporary of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations but was twice in area each of their sizes. People of Indus Valley Civilization did not build massive monuments like their contemporary civilizations; they did not bury riches with their dead in golden tombs. There were no mummies, no rulers, and most importantly no violent wars and bloody battles in their territory. When other civilizations were focusing on devoting huge amount of time and resources to the rich, the powerful, the supernatural and the dead, Indus Valley took a practical approach of supporting the common, secular, living, earthly beings. It would be injustice to claim that they did not believe in afterlife and were living without any social divisions. But despite these, they believed that resources are valuable only when in circulation among the living than on demonstration or entombed underground. Certainly, Indus Valley Civilization was a peaceful and harmonious civilization. Finding of very few weapons, no evidence of army, no signs of violence on excavated bones and no indication of battles on building remains; all these evidences point to a priority for harmony and success in its achievement. Apart from this, it is also known that there was intensive devotion to craftsmanship and trade instead of religion. Each time goods were traded and neighbored crossed the boundaries to barter, Indus valley culture was spread. Evidently, this civilization was far more inclusive and secular than modern times.
After this period, the most important event was arrival of Aryans in India, due to whom the oldest religion of the world- Hinduism came into existence. It is believed that Aryans, originally lived in the eastern region of Alps Mountains (presently Eurasia). Their cultural intermixing with Indus valley inhabitants gave birth to Hinduism. It is clear that neither Hinduism, nor Hindus are by origin Indian.
Now it is important to understand the peculiar character of Hinduism. It is perhaps the only religion in the world which does not claim to be supreme. It does not have one founder or core doctrine that can be referenced. There is no single scripture, nor is any absolute end. Hindu philosophy considers all the religions inherently same which are mere means to reach to the same God. It not only allows people to adopt any religion they please but also encourages by not setting forth any “punishment” if they change their faith. Its harmonious inclusivity can be understood by the simple fact that it has both acceptability and respect for not only theists but atheists as well (Carvakas and Lingayatas for example).
The process of the arrival and development of other faiths has always been simultaneous which never intended growth at the expense of other faiths. These faiths not only made India more diverse, but also reformed and enriched the existing religions. The brahmanical insistence on the sacredness of the cow and non-violence was not in Hinduism, it instead was derived from Buddhist teachings. Origin of Buddhism even when other strong religions were existing, and its presence in not only South and South-east Asia but also in Middle-east and Afghanistan (up to seventh century A.D) explains that the world appreciates non-violence. Bamiyan Buddha of Afghanistan (now destroyed), Angkorwat Temple of Cambodia, theatre art based on Ramayana’s stories in Indonesia, and the parietal art discovered in Tun-huang caves in China are its evidences.
It is clear that Hinduism never aimed nor desired to be the absolute only religion of India. Defining majority of Hinduism in India as its supremacy is unjust.
Apart from it, claiming 1200 years of Mughal Empire in India as “foreign rule” and viewing 200 years of British rule as unproblematic shows a radical skewed perspective of appraising diversity. While the founder of Muslim dynasty came from abroad, each Mughal ruler after him married Hindu women and immersed themselves in the fortunes of this land. Each Mughal emperor after Babar had less and less connection and allegiance to a foreign country. The second generation of Mughals was Indian as any other Hindu.
Development of Indian culture was always a two-way process. Indians acquired the craft of minting gold coins from Greeks and Romans. They learnt the art of growing silk from China, that of growing betel leaves from Indonesia, and several other products from the neighboring countries, whereas India was contributed in art, religion, script and language. It was an enriching and encouraging process of cultural expansion.
Hinduism, with its secular nature and openness, its respect for variety, its acceptance for other faiths, is one religion which has always been able to assert itself without threatening others. But this is not the Hindutva that destroyed the Babri Masjid, nor that spewed in communal hate. It is, instead, the Hinduism of Swami Vivekananda who asserts that Hinduism stands for “both tolerance and universal acceptance.”
It is clear that the history of India is not the history of one religion, nor the history of one religion fighting with other religions for assertion. It is, rather, the history of intermixing and peaceful co-existence of different religions, cultures and ethnicities.
History is the background and the creator of the present. If we start feeling compelled to discover the authentic truths and facts from history, it becomes evident that the present is being built over fallacious truths and distorted history. Today, in the era of post truth, it is seemingly essential to bring back the harmonious peaceful civilization from the North-western Indo-Pak and spread it throughout the expansion of India to achieve peaceful co-existence of diversity. Karl Marx once said, “history repeats itself”, a golden future can be expected to be in power if India repeats its history this way.