Who is a Hindu (anyway)?

Now that the sun’s rays have been imprisoned, kicking and screaming, under the Chennai horizon, my mind is ready to contemplate, cogitate and meditate (among other verbs) on the broader issue of religious identity. After about 2 minutes of the aforementioned neural activities, I gave up and decided to leave the job to technorati and google.

Yesterday, the great Indian Media monster partially digested and repeatedly vomited this story on our TV screens. A priest named Chenas Raman Namboodripad has indulged in A-grade gilma. He has seen fit to conduct “purification” rituals” after a 6 month old baby failed to produce a certificate to prove that he is “Hindu”. I touched on this briefly here . So after 2 fruitless minutes of introspection and 10 fruity minutes of googlospection (The process of forming ones opinions based on google search results for the issue at hand), I managed to frame a few questions.

Who is a Hindu?

The dangerous jokers at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (America chapter) define it thus:

According to the Parishad, Hindus are all those who believe, practice, or respect the spiritual and religious principles and practices having roots in Bharat. Thus Hindu includes Jains, Baudhhas, Sikhs and people of many different sects within the Hindu ethos.

Ah I see. So how do 6 month old babies “believe, practice and respect”? In my lifelong observation of 6 month old babies, this is what I have seen. Babies could “respect” Hinduism” by sitting through hours long boring rituals without crying. Improbable, but possible. But if the baby wanted to attend a call of nature, trust me, no omnipotent deities and all-knowing priests can stop it from relieving itself. So lets just say that “respect” is a very subjective term.

So, the moot point is that religious identity makes little sense in the context of a baby. For that matter, it makes equally little sense in the context of a patient of schizophrenia or somebody suffering from extreme mental disabilities

Lets move on the “practice” part of the definition. So somebody who demonstrates religiously visual jalsa and jilpa is a Hindu. In fact, a couple of youtube videos of yourself indulging in multifarious acts of flower throwing, smoke inhaling and milk-wasting will help bolster your “practice” score. Sounds silly?

And finally, “Belief”. In 2045, the Indian government will setup several “faithtest” centres equipped with neural faithscanners that can rate (out of 100) a person’s “Hinduness”. Individual tests include “Number of times Om is chanted in a day” and “Number of times caste system is praised and justified”. Since this is 2007, it is logical to conclude that “belief” cannot be tested by an outsider.

So where are we? Babies can’t respect religion, Practice can’t quantify faith and the government cannot test “belief”. So the solution:

CERTIFICATES

I did so much thinking only to find out that the priest at Guruvayoor has already nailed this problem. Why bother with the unfathomably deep irrationality of testing a person’s faith when a triplicate, double-notarized, single signed “Certificate of Hinduness” can be issued by philosophical guardians of religious purity – the Indian Bureaucracy.

If this isn’t gilma, I dont know what is.

23 Comments

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  1. This discussion does not apply only to Hinduism I suppose, this is applied to all the faiths. Come on, a new born baby or any creature in this world is free from any form of religion. Faith is the thing which is normally inherited to the next generation from the parents and this becomes stronger or weaker by the thinking capacities and rationalities of the indivisual. ‘Practicing a religion’ has got different types of meanings from religion to religion.
    Coming to Hinduism, more than a religion, it is a lifestyle. Anything which takes its roots from the culture of Indian subcontinent can be termed as a hindu thing. I am not surprised if any one calls a Sikh, Jain or even Indian Christian or Indian Muslim a Hindu. As long as they are part of this land they are Hindus.

  2. One more point, if one thinks that practicing the rituals make a person belong to the religion, then that is not necessarily right for Hinduism. This may be true for other religions. The one who doesn’t believe in single God Allah, the one who doesn’t do Namaz (and such five musts for a muslim) can not be called as muslim. But in Hinduism that is not the case. You can call yourself a Hindu even if you are an atheist. (In Veda period there was a strong atheist sect called Charvaakas) The word Hindu is of relatively modern origin, otherwise the Vedas would have called these Charvaakas as Hindu.

    In the western point of view,the rituals, holy-books, prophecies, saints and a single way of life style make up the whole of a religion. But Dharma is a concept which is broader than a mere religion.

  3. You put it perfectly astroshiva. The diversity of India is The concept of Dharma (when appropriately understood and interpreted) is the closest to the vision of a peaceful global spirituality. It is sad that the ritualization and politicization of religion has made this more difficult to achieve. A lot of Indians still equate dharma with blind adherence to the caste system and wasteful rituals.

    But I think all religions, at some point in their history, embraced egalitarian beliefs (the different sects of early christiantity, the sufis etc). So I believe that a truly global spirituality cannot simply be achieved by placing ancient Hinduism on a pedestal. There is ample room for a synthesis of profound concepts from all religions from when they reached their philosophical zenith.

  4. Who is a Hindu?

    Anyone who search after truth is a Hindu.

    There is ONE AND ONLY GOD and ONE TRUTH. The very first book of Hindus named RIG-VEDA proclaim, EKAM SAT, VIPRAH BAHUDHA VADANTI (There is only one truth, only men describe it in different ways).

    So a Jew or a Christian or a Moslem who is in search after truth is automatically a Hindu.

  5. Hi,
    @krishasok
    Could you please elaborate on how a ‘majority opinion’ can be dangerous? In other way round, how a minority opinion is not?
    and what according to you is the majority opinion?

    and thanks once again for posting such an interesting topic friend.

    @amiahindu
    Excellent way of interpreting Rigveda line. All the people should understand this point very clearly.

  6. Thanks astroshiva.

    By a spoonful of honey we can catch more flies than with a gallon of vinegar.

    It was on this basis I wrote and published my book AM I A HINDU? in 1988. That really paid off . This book is still on the best seller list after 19 years. Recently, Stephen Prothero, Chairman Religious Studies, Boston university reccomends every one to read AM I A HINDU?

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-03-07-teaching-religion-cover_N.htm?csp=34http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-03-07-teaching-religion-cover_N.htm?csp=34

    Many non-Hindus in India and rest of the world are very much attracted to HINDU CULTURE and what it stands for.

    Believe it or not many Christians especially in Kerala want to embrace Hinduism and they are looking for ways to do that.

    We have to deliver HINDU CULTURE to them in a very amiable manner so that they can embrace it.

    Voltaire in Essay on Tolerance wrote:

    ” I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it. ”

    Hinduism is the symbolic representation of what Voltaire wrote.

  7. I meant it in the general sense of mob psychology. In any democracy, the majority tend to have a huge psychological advantage of being able to have their way culturally and politically. My stay in the US showed me precisely how a minority can feel a little alienated at times.

    India, on the other hand, has had a history of tolerance in the ancient past, and politically motivated appeasement in the recent past. And this has resulted in the preponderance of religious nuts who take advantage of this. What we saw in Gujrat is a classic example of the dangers of majority rule combined with religious fanaticism.

    I have had the opportunity to talk to some very sensible people who happen to be from minority communities, and its their perspective of how intimidated and helpless they can feel in situations such as Gujrat and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots

  8. @krishashok
    Thanks friend for replying. I guessed it correctly. You generalised it to say ‘majority opinion’ is dangerous and it always works. Majority opinion is bound to work since it is the essence of democracy. But it is only in the political scenario. When it comes to religion even the smallest group in this country has the right to follow its faith. So there is no need to generalise this to the religion and cultural arena. It would be better if we take every case specifically.

    Since you have taken the issue of Gujrat, I would like to say few points here. What had happened in Gujrat is definitely one of the brutal incidents chronicled in India. Its everyone’s duty to oppose the brutal killings in the riots and think in the direction of avoiding such mishaps. I oppose the Godhra incident aswell in the same tone. But I dont tag it as a moinority opinion. There might be some of the Muslims involved in that incident. But it doesnt give me an opportunity to blame all the muslims as the supporters of violence. So why Gujrat riots are being potrayed as the hindutva movement. I am a hardcore hindu, but not at all a supporter of violence. Whenever I have a debate with closest of my Muslim friends, it turns out to be a healthy debate purely on the intellectual platform. Do you think the people who did riots in Gujrat had any basic knowledge of hindu philosophy? They are as ignorant as the psuedo-intellectuals who potray hindus as a violent race. My hometown is a sensitive area (Ullal where hindu is a minority section). What is the majority-minority equation for my hometown based on the religions? Is it different? or Muslims are always minority section? What is the majority opinion in my place?

    I can point out many incidents in the history where majority opinion was suppresed. In the time of moghals, hindus were still the majority people, but the demolition of hindu temples, massacre of hindus took place in great number. It was pre-democratic era but still I pointed out this because I wanted to show that majority-minority equation doesnt hold good for religion. In later period deviding India was a minority opinion (because it was based on religion). It worked. We see islamic terrorists killing hundreds of people in places like J&K, Chechenya etc. Can we blame our Muslim neighbour for that? He is a ‘muslim’. But not a terrorist. What we can do here is search for the roots of terrorism. The terrorists or terror groups are certainly not the roots. The source from which these terrorists take motivation should be discussed.

    I have seen many hindus who oppose RSS and other hindu activists just to potray themselves as ‘seculars’. I want to know whether opposing the majority community is the testimony of being secular? If yes then this is nothing but purely an appeasing policy. When Jamat-e-islami opposes Sangh parivar, I have no issues, because their opposition is based on the poilcies. They oppose anything which is against Qur’an (which is their policy) But when others oppose it, they just do it for the sake of doing it. What I expect is let there be opposition based on policies.

    My intention behind this comment is let there be discussions unbiased by emotions, for everything. Tagging a religion or a race is not a healthy development. Let us get into the core points and discuss the essence of religions and philosophy in order to find truth. That can give an end to the violence.

  9. @am i hindu

    Voltaire’s words are really the other way of putting democratic rights. The right (and duty aswell) to be rational and sceptic towards nature is the reason which makes me proud of being a hindu. When you opppose someone’s right to question beliefs it becomes the end of ‘jnaana’ (knowledge). Vedic lifestyle always supported debates and quests. Thank you Sir for that link.

  10. Astroshiva,

    Good points. Mughal superiority was based on military might. The people of the subcontinent have generally been fairly unsavvy in matters of war. Hindu fanaticism is a recent and unsavory development. While we believe a lot of us are fairly rational, anti-godhra people, the truth is that modi is in power in gujrat.

    The overall problem with religion is that, with time and political corruption, it creates barriers by amplifying trivial differences.

    At the end of the day, eating a cow vs not eating a pig is cosmically no different from everyone eating spinach. Cells of one kind eating cells of another kind. (I warned you, didnt I ๐Ÿ™‚ )

  11. @krishasok
    yes I do agree that their superiority was based on military might. This is to say that how they aquired power. In the case of Modi, his authority is because of the political posiston he earned using democratic system in his state.
    My point was to say that majority opinion is not always dangerous. It is the theory we use to draw this opinion which is dangerous. In case of Moghals, they belived in Qur’an and for every barbarian acts they gave the source of Qur’an and justified their deeds as sacred. It is same in case of islamic terrorists. They take shelter of some of the soorahs (verses) in Qur’an to justify the killings of Mushreeks (people who worship idols) and kaafirs (non-muslims). That is really dangerous. What we see in Modi type of social anarchy is a political one. They dont give any religious scriture or holy lines to justify their deed. Hindutva what they talk is purely a political issue. Both the Muslim terrorism and the voilence of saphron brigand is crime in my view and both should be punished under law. There is no issues with it. But I dont agree that both are similar type of crimes. (the motivational part of it)
    In hindus, we had Sutras like Manusmrithi, which contained some cruel laws against lower caste people. Gradually hindu society discarded it in the same way they abolished untouchability and Sati. That means hindu society is liberal enough to accept new ideology. But is it the same in other religions? Do you think the Muslims will ever reject the meaningless polygamy system, or the parda system in the same way? They will stick to the holybook whatever be the debate. They are not ready to reject even a single word of Qur’an. Stagnation of the flow of knowledge is what I think is the source to all the problems.
    In debate sometimes we have to amplify the trivial difference in order to find truth. There is nothing to be emotional about it. But the debate should continue in intellectual platform.
    As this line goes – “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it. โ€ – there is ought to be difference in opinions. When we accept the differences then only a strong foundation for a peaceful society can be built. Otherwise, everything is a waste. Hindu-muslim bhai bhai slogan becomes meaningless unless we are free to express our views about the others and our religion.

    Coming to other important thing ๐Ÿ™‚
    Cells of one kind eating cells of another kind. I liked this line. Really a wonderfull thought. I liked it.

  12. We are all deeply influenced by our immediate environment. We are also victims of our own temporal insignificance. Our average of 70 years (with about 50 years of serious rational thinking life) makes us uniquely short-sighted. We believe what we see and then we believe a lot more of what we read and assume to be correct. Ofcourse, one can point at Islam’s legacy of violence, Christianity’s crusades and yet be unaware of Toltec or Olmec history of human sacrifices.

    The point is that there are several christians who disagree with several things in the Bible and several muslims that dont interpret the soorahs literarily. These are rational people just like the vast majority of Hindus who disagree with Modi’s brand of hindutva.

    People say that the mughals represented 300 years of barbarism. In some other parts of the world, people say that the caste system represented 4000 years of insidious semi-slavery.

    In my opinion, nobody has a right to any moral high ground. We are all part of the same stupid species that is capable of incredible cruelty and unimaginable beauty and profundity all at the same time, in the same place and amongst the same people.

  13. No one in this world would ever argue over the golden periods in the history (including human sacrifices). It is the negative points and the glorification of barbarism which gives way to the debates.

  14. True. We wouldnt be Indian if we didnt enjoy a debate about our history, politics and society.

    The real beauty of a blog is that its not about who wins debates (as used to be the case in the past). Its about the conversation itself. In the end, I think all the participants learn something new.

  15. @martin Its stupidity to call all the humans as idiots after reading your comment. Similarly, its stupidity to call all muslims as stupids because of few idiots.

  16. A motivating discussion is worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you should write more on this subject matter,
    it might not be a taboo matter but generally people don’t discuss
    these topics. To the next! Kind regards!!

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