Monday, May 28, 2007

Is Hindutva good for Hinduism?

The golden ages of Hinduism began ending around 1000 CE, when Ghazni and other invaders realized that rich plunder was to be had and turned their sights towards India. Since that time, Hinduism has been in decline for a millenium, suffering periods of intermittent persecution and defamation at the hands of various Muslim dynasties and Westerners.

Hindutva rose as a response to such persecution and defamation during the independence struggle. Hinduism had survived centuries of Muslim rule, only to be defamed by the British who were motivated by multiple factors: orthodox Christian distaste, a need to justify colonialism, and the need for a divide-and-rule wedge between Indian Hindus and Muslims. Several Hindus evolved a body of thought which ascribed positive qualities to Hinduism, recognized its past and strongly opposed its orchestrated erosion and systematic denigration. Today, Hindutva is represented by organizations such as the Shiv Sena (SS), Bajrang Dal (BD), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHS) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The stated goals of the Hindutva bodies seem reasonable: stop conversions of Hindus to other religions, ensure a level playing field for Hindus in India and stop denigration of Hinduism in popular media. Some of the functions that these organizations perform are essential if Hinduism and Indian culture are to survive. However, they often adopt methods that turn them into liabilities rather than assets to Hinduism.

Why Hindutva is Good for Hinduism

  1. Proselytism. Hindus traditionally did not proactively combat erosion via proselytism, restricting their opposition to resisting conversion. With the well-developed propaganda techniques and large funds available to Christian and Muslim organizations in India, a strong anti-conversion stance is required within Hinduism to prevent erosion.
  2. Scholarship. During the years of Hindu decline, Hindu scholarship was widely neglected among the Hindu population. This is in contrast to most of the other major religions, including Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It resulted in a dearth of articulation for Hindu viewpoints, and most scholarly voices on Hinduism were those of Westerners. Hindutva provides a Hindu-point-of-view critical evaluation of non-Hindu viewpoints on Hinduism.
  3. National Unity. The Hindutva movement strongly espouses the integration and non-differentiation of castes within Hinduism. In this sense, it acts as a counterfoil to parties like the Congress, which profit by splitting the country along caste lines. The Hindutva movement's solution, involving integration of all castes into leadership positions at all levels and fluidity of caste definitions, is preferable to the divisive policy of crystallizing caste lines by providing hard caste definitions and differential benefits to different castes.
Why Hindutva is Bad for Hinduism

  1. Proselytism. While Hindutva serves as a foil to proselytism, the methods adopted by Hindutva parties, which sometimes include physical violence, threats and rioting, lead to an unsympathetic attitude towards them. By association, any anti-proselytism movement, and sometimes even Hinduism itself, is viewed as violent. A major problem is that this viewpoint can take root even among Hindus (especially educated ones), who then distance themselves from any anti-proselytism stance.
  2. Scholarship. Hindutva provides critical evaluation of Western commentary on India. However, a lot of Hindutva scholarship and argument is of the quack variety. Unfortunately, it is clear from their writings that most Hindutva commentators have reached their conclusions even before examining the evidence, and the evidence is often manipulated and partial. Even respectable scholars whose views happen to agree with Hindutva positions are immediately suspect because of this. Additionally, Hindutva proponents are wont to subject scholars and artists they disagree with to violent defamation and even physical threats. This completely erodes any credibility that they might otherwise have had, since they are unable to participate in critical discourse. Again, Hinduism as a whole suffers, by association and because of errant behaviour by its self-proclaimed champions.

  3. National Unity. Hindutva actions are a form of feudalism that tend to polarize the nation. It is an ineluctable fact that India has large minorities of non-Hindus. This is not likely to ever change. The extreme steps taken by Hindutva organizations tend to create divisions along religious lines. While Hindutva organizations seem to work for Hindu unity, they simultaneously cause inter-religious rifts.

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