Lessons from Haridwar: Remove anti-Hindu discriminations in education, temple management, and truly secularise the system
It is because the government failed to address the problems that had troubled these Sadhus, that they came up with this crackpot advice
At a Dharma Sansad (religious parliament) in Haridwar, some second-ranking Sadhus pleaded for solving the “Muslim problem” through violence. One of them also drew attention by answering former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s (indeed scandalously communal) claim that Muslims have the first right to India’s resources, with a threat on his life. This recourse to violence calls for analysis.
By contrast, no thought needs be spent on the fact that one of them also incurred swift police action by criticising long-dead historical figure Mahatma Gandhi. The criticisms he formulated might be worthy topics of debate, but the threat of judicial action is a no-brainer: Very obviously misplaced. Gandhi was a politician who made choices, and for these it is normal to provoke doubts and misgivings, even a century later; nothing illegal about it. So, back to the calls for violence as a problem-solver.
First, is there a problem at all? Can you speak of the Muslim population as a problem? What the speakers presupposed was the threat of Muslims becoming too powerful as a community. Practically every Muslim state worldwide privileges Muslims over non-Muslims to varying extents, all the way up to violent oppression as in Pakistan and violent religious cleansing in Kashmir, so isn’t it reasonable if non-Muslims who are still in a position to avoid this, try to do so? In a democracy, numbers are an all-important factor of power, and demographic trends indicate that the Muslim percentage keeps on increasing, so that the prospect of a Muslim majority is not at all paranoid.
This prospect seems inevitable, in India as well as in my own Europe, at least if we ignore another evolution that will increasingly impact the demographic equation. As I have been writing since 1990, the Muslim world is subject to a race between on the one hand demographic and institutional gains, and on the other internal secularisation (with “secular” in its original international meaning of “religiously neutral”, not in its Indian sense of “anti-Hindu”). Contrary to impressions, the enormous losses suffered by Christianity in Europe, both in terms of a huge exit of members and a softening of doctrinal purity among the remainers, can and will affect the Muslim world too.
Every Western country with a sizable Muslim population now has a society for ex-Muslims. In the Muslim world, this evolution is less formalised but also taking place. The decadal Pew polls in the Arab countries show a continuous and sizable loss of faith, even if the apostates are more discreet about it than their comrades in non-Muslim countries. Among those who keep on profiling themselves as Muslims, there is a doctrinal softening, as in Saudi decrees to allow women more freedoms (these decrees have probably been intended as purely token concessions to modernity, but are likely to be the beginning of a revolution). Note also the increasing openness to other cultures, as in the success of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s network of meditation centres in West Asia. A good symbol of this trend is the opening of a Shiva temple in Dubai, in contravention of the Prophet’s prohibition of any “idol” worship in Arabia.
In India, this evolution is slow in coming because of the polarisation against the infidel surroundings, constantly encouraged by the secularist demonisation of Hinduism. In this siege mentality, leaving the flock feels like a betrayal. But in this age of globalisation, no one will remain unaffected in the longer run. So, no, your fear that India will get a Muslim majority is unlikely to come true.
Second, is violence the solution? There is, contra Gandhi, nothing intrinsically un-Hindu about violence. Sometimes a small amount of controlled violence is the lesser evil compared to its alternative. But in those cases, Sadhus are not the ones you turn to for strategic advice. In this case, for instance, their big talk has unstrategically alerted their adversaries and given fodder to the anti-Hindu propaganda mill.
In the doctrine of “just war” (dharma yuddha), all non-violent means have to be exhausted before you can opt for violence. If you care about the interests of Hindu society, you can start with consciousness-raising and legal reforms. As against the current all-out campaign of hate and ridicule against Hinduism, you can have the textbooks teach your kids true history including the momentous achievements of Hindus (which, contrary to international propaganda, has not been done or even pursued by the BJP government at all). As against the current anti-Hindu discriminations in education and temple management, you can secularise the system, institute equality and abolish the distortive and unsecular category of “minority”. Without one shot being fired, and without provoking any protests against notions like “Hindu Rashtra”, this would make a huge difference. Instead of the present chest-beating of “we are not Hindus” by every rat leaving the sinking Hindu ship, soon every sect will assure us: “We are the best Hindus!”
But have you done that, dear Sadhus? Of course not, for only the government has the power to do it. Well, have you put pressure on your supposedly Hindu government to do it? We have not heard from that, much less seen any results.
Suppose the government, rather than throwing some trinkets to the Hindus (like unveiling a Shankara statue at Kedarnath) all while appeasing the minorities, pursued a policy that made Hindus feel safe and cared for. The effect would be that activists, including loose cannon, would rally around it and refrain from pursuing their own “solutions”. It is because the government failed to address the problems that had troubled these Sadhus, that they came up with this crackpot advice.
The writer is a well-known Indologist from Belgium. Views expressed are personal.
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