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Reforming Hinduism - Is this too much to ask?

By: B Shantanu
Aug-02-2007
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For the last several weeks, I have been deeply distressed by several comments, reports and other articles re. the question of caste and how it is destroying the very fabric of our society and ruining any chances of a united Hindu society.

See for example, the string of comments in response to my two posts Utterly shameful and inexcusable… and Periyar was against Brahminism, not Brahmins.

In response to one of the comments to the fore-mentioned posts, Selvan suggested I have a look at this site: NavyaShastra.

NavyaShastra’s aims are noble and its focus is clear. As it mentions on their site, while judicial activism can trigger change in society (as can constitutional provisions, e.g. reservations) they may not be “sufficient to transfigure the often miserable status of the so called lower castes” in India.

For example, even though a recent Supreme Court decision has confirmed that non-Brahmins are entitled to serve as temple priests, ”most religious leaders have remained conspicuously silent on the decision and, whether out of indifference or disapproval, have not publicly reflected on the potential consequences of the decision for Hindu society.”

Their silence is not surprising.

As I wrote in my post commenting on the barring of Dalits to the Jagannath temple in Kendrapara, “The news is the conspicuous silence of the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and others on this matter. “

…Why is there not more of unequivocal condemnation of this practise?
and why is not more being done to stop this? There can be no Bharat which alienates such a large section of our own - isn’t this obvious?”

In the post, I had suggested we enshrine the following words at the entrance of every temple across the country:

“Every Hindu, irrespective of his caste, has a right to enter any Hindu temple which is open to other persons professing the same religion,”

NavyaShastra however has decided to do something more about it:

“Rather than bemoaning…we have decided to take matters into our own hands by inciting a public debate on the caste issue and other salient social issues. Would a Navya Shastra (or a comprehensive reinterpretation of existing Dharmashastras), proposing a more egalitarian configuration of Hindu society, be a beneficial template for affecting change?”

I tend to agree with that sentiment. Even though there is a large body of evidence to prove that discrimination and untouchability were never part of any Vedic scriptures, the same perhaps cannot be said of the interpretations of some later day Shastras and religious texts (I may be wrong here, so please correct if you feel this is mis-leading or inaccurate).

As the NavyaShastra site says, “The caste system, as it is currently structured, spiritually disenfranchises the vast majority of Hindus” and unless there is a will to change ”from the Hindu leadership itself”, we cannot expect much. It also mentions how the traditional interpretation of Dharma leaves no place for “Non-Hindus who wish to convert to Hinduism” and how the established orthodoxy must put its full weight behind the reform to help it succeed.

The site also has a letter of apology on its site “for the atrocities committed on the sons and daughters of the depressed communities of India, including the tribals, the “untouchables” and all of the castes deemed as low”.

What more can be done?

A simple first step could be to publicly declare ourselves as Hindus first and last and agree to the following:

1. That we will treat every Hindu regardless of caste, region, birth or sex as equal and deserving of an honourable and respectful treatment within the great Dharmic tradition that has become distorted, has been misinterpreted and is widely misunderstood.

2. That we belive every Hindu has equal “right” and opportunity to participate fully in the great culture of Sanatan Dharma , regardless of caste, sex and birth and he/she should have free and unfettered entry to every temple, allowed participation in every ritual and access to every privilege which hitherto was limited only to certain classes (e.g. the “right” to become a priest or to conduct a “pooja”).

3. That we declare ourselves the true followers of Sanatan Dharma and commit ourselves to unite Hindu society against the onslaught of narrow-minded, casteist divisions which undermine our society, culture and traditions

Is that enough? Almost certainly not…but we have to begin somewhere. Inaction and indifferene is not really an option today.

Let these be the first steps towards reclaiming our great heritage and the core traditions & values inherent in Sanatan Dharma.

Please feel free to add other points to the short declaration above in comments.

Together, we can make a difference.

UPDATE: There is a lively debate going on in the comments section of this post on DesiCritics.Org. Have a look.


B Shantanu

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