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Hindu Identity - Why and Why not

By: Kalyan Viswanathan
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(Author is The President, Sanatana Dharma Foundation, USA)

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Ever since the Rig Veda said "Ekam Sat Viprah Bahauda Vadanti", Sanatana Dharma has fostered a diversity of beliefs, systems, paths and practices. Even in the conception of the one Brahman, being manifested as many Gods, i.e. many Devatas, this essentially pluralistic, liberal framework has prevailed in our Aryadesha. Even as a spirit of "Live and Let Live" has informed and permeated our civilization, it has progressively given rise to numerous sects, sub-sects and sub-identities, that learnt to live together without conflict.

Today, with the long and hoary passage of time, Hindus generally have a stronger attachment to Sub-Identities, rather than their over-arching Hindu Identity. For example, Hindu people identify themselves as linguistic groups such as Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi etc. Secondly, they also identify themselves by caste - such as Brahmin, Bania, Reddy, Yadav, Jat, Kamma, Ezhava etc. Thirdly, they are also divided by Sampradaya identities - such as Vaishnava., Shaiva, Kashmir Shaiva, Vedantin, Vishishtadvaitin, Gaudiya Vaishnava, etc. Fourthly, many Gurus and Acharyas, emphasize their own specific version of the interpretation of the Shastras, and create new Paramparas and followings. So you have the specter of Ammachi followers, Sai Baba devotees, Art of Living group, this Swamiji and that and so on.

In this background, Hindus, even though they are a majority in India, do not behave like a majority. They behave more like a large collection of small minorities. While from a Spiritual / Religious point of view this is not a problem, and India has always valued a certain inherent diversity, and a co-existence of different paths, sects and sampradayas, this is a very serious problem, from a political stand-point. For example, when the Kanchi Shankaracharya was arrested, it was very difficult for a Hindu in Assam or Himachal Pradesh to feel personally impacted. Even the Hindus in Tamilnadu, did not get terribly agitated - Or if they did, they expressed it merely by doing more intense Puja and Abhishekam, not by taking to the streets, and making some kind of political statement. Similarly when the Kashmiri Pandits were being persecuted, it is difficult for a Hindu in Tamilnadu to feel any impact. The predominant Hindu sentiment is one of aloofness and alienation - "As long as it didn"t happen to me or my immediate family, or my caste or community, why should I bother about it". Even as Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh were being killed and persecuted by the thousands, the vast majority of the Hindus in India were able to ignore the problem completely. This makes them politically weak, and therefore they are unable to forge together any lasting alliance, amongst themselves i.e. the various sub-identities that comprises the Hindu mosaic. While they may be individually strong in some instances, they are collectively weak, in almost all instances.

One consequence of this behavior of being susceptible to being divided and sub-divided into many smaller groups and sub-groups, is that even if they do cobble together a significant alliance, it can fall apart easily. For example, they are unable to launch any major Pan-Hindu type of initiative such as creating a TV Station for themselves, or a News Media channel, or collect their will to fight specific issues on a national scale. Hindus keep fretting, fuming and wringing their hands, that the whole English language Media has been taken over, virtually by Non-Hindus right from under their nose. Even the newspaper called "The Hindu" is patently Anti-Hindu. Today, small minorities of Muslims, Christians and Communists wield a disproportionate influence in the affairs of the Country. Example, there are several Christian Chief Ministers in the country; We have a foreigner running the country more or less. A small minority of Muslims can influence the Politicians significantly - merely with the threat that they vote as a block. That vote block is important for any Politician - from the left, right or center. There is no use crying "Vote bank politics" as is so often heard amongst the Hindu community. The reality of a democratic polity, is that vote banks are important to politicians. And if we want to change the behavior of our politicians, we must create new Vote banks, new coalitions of powerful voting groups. The politicians will automatically respond to this change.

The Rama Sethu issue is a very important case in point. Whereas, when one small little Muslim group can complain and get the entire Delhi Metro re-routed and sent underground, on account of the possible damage that the Metro rail might do to the Qutab Minar and to the graves contained therein at an additional expense of over 500 Crores, even after enormous amount of protest from the Hindus, including lakhs of signatures, hundreds of protests, authoritative voices such as the Shankaracharyas and the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha speaking up and protesting, several cases and petitions in many courts later, the issue is still un-resolved. The Government of India feels no compulsion to honor Hindu sentiments whatsoever, and even the Supreme Court may finally go this way or that. Why? Because Hindus don"t really matter politically. They don"t vote as a block, and therefore, their vote can be splintered in a thousand different ways.

If this were the case of Hindus, in India, where they find themselves often being accused of being the oppressive majority, (In reality they cannot muster enough unity of thought to oppress anyone let alone themselves), little can be said of their situation in areas where they find themselves in the minority. The Hindus of Jammu, are fighting a losing battle, on the Amarnath land issue, given the carefully engineered majority that the Muslims of the Kashmir Valley have in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindus have no hope to achieve any worthwhile result on their own, without there being a sufficient groundswell of support from outside of Jammu and Kashmir. It is inevitable that their protest movement will slowly run itself aground, lose energy and get dissipated, in course of time. And the Governments in the Center and the State simply have to wait it out and allow this to happen. There is no other future possible, unless, we can ensure that the next Central Government is friendly to the Hindu sentiment which today it is not.

In any modern democracy, (where numbers matter) assembling a coherent identity, translates to influence and power. This has always been the case through history. Politics has always been about "Us" versus "Them". So unless Hindus learn to forge together a larger overarching identity, and start behaving like a more coherent and homogenous group, they are in for trouble. This is because, there are many forces, which are very insistent and powerful, and patently anti-Hindu in the world today, which are very active in India. More and more, Hindus will find that their rights are being taken away, and their freedom is being attacked, their institutions are being destroyed and they won"t even know why - and there are many examples - Rama Sethu, Amarnath, Plight of Kashmir Pandits, Arrest of Kanchi Shankaracharya, Distribution of Temple lands to Non-Hindu people, Usage of Hindu money for Non-Hindu purposes, such as for Haj pilgrimage, Ram Janmabhumi and so on. Each one of these issues is extremely intractable, and there is virtually no political energy behind the solution of any of these issues. Hindus will inevitably come out losers in their own country where they are supposedly a majority.

Now in foreign countries (such as North America - USA and Canada), Hindus are a growing community. But again, we have all the same weaknesses as a community, that we have in India. We are fragmented into hundreds of groupings, sub-groupings etc. What is the future of the Hindus if we continue on this path ? Will we be a very accomplished, wealthy, and advanced community, but at the same time, a community that has no real influence in the affairs of the State?

So the question becomes, what is the "connection" between living life as a Hindu, in one"s everyday life, doing Puja, observing festivals like Diwali, visiting temples, and occasionally hearing pravachans etc. and the activity of forging together a collective identity ? What is the relationship between Spirituality and Politics ? Does Dharma have a political component - such as wielding power in order to protect Dharma ? What do ideas such as Raja Dharma and Rama Rajya have to offer us in the context of a democratic polity? In the ancient days, the king was imbued with a sense of Dharma, by his upbringing and education. He ruled his people, consistent with the spirit of Dharma. But today"s uneducated politicians by and large do not. They are an Adharmic lot, mostly, irrespective of their political affiliation.

Do Spiritual Masters and Teachers, have a responsibility in this regard to foster, nurture and develop this Hindu identity? Or is it best for them to stay strictly out of Politics and focus only on Spirituality and Religion? Is there a way that we can infuse our Politics with a sense of Dharma? If so, where is the Hindu leadership which is focused on this activity? Or are we more are less relegated to living our private lives in whatever way we can, and leave the space of Politics to unscrupulous and Adharmic politicians who are any way interested largely in filling their coffers, and enhancing their personal futures?

From a spiritual and religious stand-point, we can take the view, that ultimately all Identity is a form of Maya or Mithya. We have to transcend all identities anyway, to attain Moksha. What is the use of harping on the Hindu Identity, when the real goal of Spirituality is to dissolve our Jivatma into the Paramatma? Further, Spirituality should not be corrupted by Politics. Therefore it is best for the Spiritually minded to stay strictly away from any activity related to Identity formation - especially if it is a Hindu Identity. In any case, it is easier to talk about "Peace" and "Love" and soft matters of the heart - than to demonstrate courage and fearlessly take up unpopular and difficult issues, and take a real worthwhile stand on anything.

From a Political stand-point, we can take the view that if we do not form a strong, coherent and unified Hindu Identity, we will never be able to exercise power on behalf of Hindu Dharma ever. We will never be able to make political choices that are beneficial to the majority group in the country. All political decisions will be secularized, cannibalized and made on behalf of arbitrary groupings of various minorities, and never for the Hindu community as a whole. And Hindus will forever remain at the receiving end of the prevailing political dispensation, being a majority in name only, enjoying none of the advantages of any majority nor any of the advantages of any minority community. This is the fate of the Hindus today - They are neither a majority (by behavior) nor a minority (by identity) - A sort of a Trisanku Loka, neither here nor there.

We must forge a middle ground here, for the sake of our future generations, where both the spiritually minded, and the Politically oriented can meet, where Politics itself can be spiritualized, and brought within the ambit of Dharma, where a Spiritually inspired Politics can become the order of the day. But both sides have to move, and find common ground. In this regard the greater share of the responsibility invariably lies with the spiritually minded. They cannot remain embarrassed about ideas of Hindu Unity and political consciousness. They cannot say, "No, If I talk about Politics, and Hindu Unity or Identity, then I will become unpopular". This is the essence of Dharma. To move beyond one"s own likes and dislikes, beyond fame and infamy, beyond personal glory and do what is to be done (Kartavyam Karma). Perhaps, if they so choose, they can show the way, simply because they wield significant influence with their followers. To avoid this responsibility, and keep talking about Mukti, Bhakti and Yoga isolated from the life of the whole community, may in the final analysis, in fact be a dis-service to the community. Similarly the Spiritually minded must enter Political life, with a view to performing vital service to the nation, and to the people. Simply being concerned about one"s own Moksha, without regard for the life and future of the whole community, is to remain ignorant and insensitive to the vital needs of the time - the Yuga Dharma.

More importantly India"s Unity itself is Spiritually based. Only the Spiritually inclined can see the inherent unity that ties together the multi-faceted, many-sided nature of the Hindu Civilization. The Non-Spiritual, are easily misled by the seeming variety of our country, and easily caught in the ideologies of Communistic Class struggles, and Colonial dismissal of India"s native Civilization, and every other form of Western ideological proposition, they tend to be swept away in the notion that there never was a Hindu identity in the first place, and deem its emergence as inimical to the nation. I would even go so far, to say that it is not merely the greater share of this responsibility, but almost the entire share lies with the Spiritually minded - especially our Gurus, Acharyas, Yogis and Rishis. For I have much lesser hope that the politically minded may move closer to the Spiritual, for any purpose other than some narrow self-interest. For self-interest defines the modern day politician, not Dharma. His entire politics is one of convenience, not of ideology and character. The modern Politician, will exploit Ram Sethu, Amarnath, and every other form of Hindu issue, if it will help him win power, only so that he may enjoy the spoils of power, but not so that he may render back to the community the service that he was elected to perform, in its full measure. He has to be dis-placed, first before there can be any transformation either in his heart or in the community as a whole.

Therefore we call upon the Spiritually minded in India, to take the lead, to demonstrate courage, and come out on the side of the Hindu Identity, for the sake of the Lokasangraha, for Dharmasamsthapana, for the sake of this Eternal Dharma called Sanatana Dharma. Let us not be complacent, and befooled into Universalist Vedantic and Buddhistic positions, and pretenses. Let us not pretend to be above all identities - and preach to the choir - For every time, anyone spoke about the need for peace, and Ahimsa, that message was directed towards the already mild Hindu, and not the aggressor. Let us not lose the distinction between the aggressor and the victim - simply because the aggressors have a habit of posing as the victim, while the real victims, being already mild-natured, will not mind yet another lesson in meekness. Let us have the Viveka to see through this game, and become aware that nothing less than the future of our entire Civilization is at stake at this time.

The "Hindu Vote is Sacred" - This must be our new Mantra. May this new Mantra ring in every nook and corner of India. We need a new Hindu Front - a Hindu wave; a Hindu friendly Government unfettered by the considerations of Coalition politics; free to pursue a Hindu agenda, for the sake of this land of Dharma. May such a Front, guided by the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, be formed, to consolidate the Hindu Vote bloc, as never before achieved in India. May us all participate in precipitating this Hindu Wave, and the possibility of a Dharma Rajya.

Kalyan Viswanathan

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