THE inevitable backlash to my column about the Gujarat horrors (and the version of it that was published in the New York Times) has come in, and a fair bit of it has taken the form of belligerent e-mails and assorted Internet fulminations from the less reflective of the Hindutva brigade. I have been excoriated as “anti-Hindu” and described by several as a “well-known leftist”, which will no doubt amuse those of my friends who knew me in college 30 years ago as perhaps the sole supporter of Rajaji’s Swatantra Party in those consensually socialist times.
One anguished member of the Parivar tried to whip up support for a full-page ad in the New York Times denouncing me, but fortunately his potential sponsors seem to have found the idea as risible as I did. And at least one correspondent, reminding me of the religion that has been mine from birth, succumbed to the temptation to urge me predictably to heed that well-worn slogan: “garv se kahon ki hum Hindu hain — Say with pride that we are Hindu”.
All right, let us take him up on that. I am indeed proud that I am a Hindu. But of what is it that I am, and am not, proud?
I am not proud of my co-religionists attacking and destroying Muslim homes and shops. I am not proud of Hindus raping Muslim girls, or slitting the wombs of Muslim mothers.
I am not proud of Hindu vegetarians who have roasted human beings alive and rejoiced over the corpses. I am not proud of those who reduce the soaring majesty of the Upanishads to the petty bigotry of their own sense of identity, which they assert in order to exclude, not embrace, others.
I am proud, instead, that “Hindu fundamentalism” is a contradiction in terms because Hinduism is a religion without fundamentals: no organised church, no compulsory beliefs or rites of worship, no single sacred book and therefore no such thing as a Hindu heresy. I am proud that Hinduism is a civilisation, not a dogma. I am proud that India’s pluralism is paradoxically sustained by the fact that the overwhelming majority of Indians are Hindus, because Hinduism has taught them to live amidst a variety of other identities.
I am proud to claim adherence to a religion without an established church or priestly papacy, a religion whose rituals and customs I am free to reject, a religion that does not oblige me to demonstrate my faith by any visible sign, by subsuming my identity in any collectivity, not even by a specific day or time or frequency of worship. (There is no Hindu Pope, no Hindu Vatican, no Hindu catechism, not even a Hindu Sunday.) As a Hindu I am proud to subscribe to a creed that is free of the restrictive dogmas of holy writ that refuses to be shackled to the limitations of a single holy book.
Above all, I am proud that as a Hindu I belong to the only major religion in the world that does not claim to be the only true religion. I find it immensely congenial to be able to face my fellow human beings of other faiths without being burdened by the conviction that I am embarked upon a “true path” that they have missed. Hinduism asserts that all ways of belief are equally valid, and Hindus readily venerate the saints, and the sacred objects, of other faiths.
I am proud that I can honour the sanctity of other faiths without feeling I am betraying my own. I am proud that Hinduism understands that faith is a matter of hearts and minds, not of bricks and stone. “Build Ram in your heart,” the Hindu is enjoined; and if Ram is in your heart, it will little matter where else he is, or is not.
I am proud of those Hindus, like the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, who say that Hindus and Muslims must live like Ram and Lakshman in India. I am not proud of those Hindus, like “Sadhvi” Rithambhara, who say that Muslims are like sour lemons curdling the milk of Hindu India. I am not proud of those who suggest that only a Hindu, and only a certain kind of Hindu, can be an authentic Indian. I am not proud of those Hindus who say that people of other religions live in India only on their sufferance, and not because they belong on our soil.
I am proud of those Hindus who realise that an India that denies itself to some of us could end up being denied to all of us. I am proud of those Hindus who utterly reject Hindu communalism, conscious that the communalism of the majority is especially dangerous because it can present itself as nationalist. I am proud of those Hindus who respect the distinction between Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism.
Obviously, majorities are never seen as “separatist”, since separatism is by definition pursued by a minority. But majority communalism is in fact an extreme form of separatism, because it seeks to separate other Indians, integral parts of our country, from India itself. I am proud of those Hindus who recognise that the saffron and the green both belong equally on the flag. The reduction of non-Hindus to second-class status in their own homeland is unthinkable. It would be a second Partition: and a partition In the Indian soul would be as bad as a partition in the Indian soil.
For Hindus like myself, the only possible idea of India is that of a nation greater than the sum of its parts. That is the only India that will allow us to call ourselves not Brahmins, not Bengalis, not Hindus, not Hindi-speakers, but simply Indians. How about another slogan for Hindus like me? Garv se kahon ki hum Indian hain.