~ by Dr. Dev Desai
The thought process culminating in this article was provoked by few incidents of the recent past- the Tanishq ad withdrawal, beheading of a teacher in Paris by a radical Muslim etc. While Hinduism prides itself upon being the last significant pagan faith still left standing, despite nearly millennium long brutal repression under the yoke of slavery, today the challenges in front of Hinduism are of an entirely different nature and it will do well to reflect upon and find possible solutions for those. At the outset I wish to clarify that I am no great expert or authority on Hinduism; I merely express my feelings as someone who is born into a Hindu family and is increasingly feeling exasperated at the way the world at large continues to treat his faith and those who adhere to it.
While the challenges faced by Hinduism are manifold (hence the comparison with a Chakravyuh), for the sake of simplicity let us divide them in two main categories- the challenge on the ground level and the challenge on the narrative front. The former has existed in some form or other ever since Abrahamic forces knocked the doors of Bharatvarsha, while the latter is a relatively new phenomenon catapulted to the centre stage by globalisation, internet revolution and an inter-connected world. The challenging forces apart from major Abrahamic faiths include communism and ultra-woke liberalism, which as per me are no different from Abrahamic faiths in their puritanical adherence to a set of codes, acting contrary to which can endanger your right to voice your opinion, your livelihood and in some cases your existence itself.
At ground level, the influence sphere of Hindu culture which once spanned the entire landmass (and sea routes) from Kandahar to Cambodia, has been shrinking successively over the past millennium, faced with a relentless assault by hordes of invaders. History bears testimony to the fact that demographic secession has been a mere predecessor for a later geographic secession- large parts of that influence sphere are now separate countries where Hindus are hard to find even with a microscope. The zeal of the invaders to either convert or cleanse the land won over by them of non-believers has led to today’s situation where Hindus have found refuge only within Bharat. Even today, as if to complete the unfinished business of partition, whatever Hindus remain in other parts of the subcontinent are persecuted, raped, forcibly converted, abducted and murdered routinely and Hindu population continues to shrink. Even within Bharat, Hindus have been ethnically cleansed from Kashmir and are on the verge of being reduced to a minority in states like Kerala and Assam. Apart from Assam, several North-Eastern states have already seen large scale conversions of the indigenous tribals to Christianity over the past 100 years (a relatively short time span at the civilisational timescale).
A peaceful, non-missionary faith like Hinduism is woefully under-defended when faced with the zeal of the Abrahamics. For Hindus, religion and culture are a part of life, which has evolved and continues to evolve over the past thousands of years; there is no book or set of codes to which one has to swear allegiance to, nor is there any kind of teaching which motivates followers to bring more number of people into the fold by hook or by crook. Compared to the global funding of the Vatican or the petrodollar funding of the Wahabis, which oils the worldwide engine of Abrahamic faiths, the loosely organised Hinduism leaves large sections of its population vulnerable to falling prey to conversions. The various divisions and subdivisions of Hinduism and the lack of a common rallying cry which can unite them (say the call to Jihad against Kafirs, or spreading the word of the son of God) do not help the cause of Hinduism either. While much of the pressure to conversion flowed through state power held by the invaders for most of the last millennium, now the modus operandi is more through luring disadvantaged sections of the society through money power, while muscle power takes a back seat.
The second set of challenges is one of narrative. While we all would have heard the proverb ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, Hindus face the exact opposite- a sheep being perceived as an oppressive wolf by the world at large. The op-eds in leading newspapers across the world have written reams and reams about how the Hindu majority in India is oppressing the minority. The names of Akhlaq, Graham Steins etc have a recall value which is greater than that of Ankit Sharma, Palghar Sadhus and Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati by several orders of magnitude. A religion which is the epitome of inclusivity and tolerance for all faiths is being outrageously portrayed as a horde of savages out to suppress all other faiths. While Hindutva is quickly labelled intolerant for peaceful protest against the Tanishq ad which hurt the sensibilities of many Hindus, not a single question is raised on radical Islam for the murder of Kamlesh Tiwari. Hinduism is isolated in this battle of narrative with the troika of Islam, Christianity and Left-Liberalism on the other side. The near total stranglehold of the elitist left-liberals on the media at the global stage renders Hinduism defence-less in the face of relentless smear campaigns. Doyens of social media majors can afford to hold placards asking to ‘smash Brahmanical patriarchy’ but are seldom seen speaking even a word about polygamy, female genital mutilation or triple talaq and yet Hindus face the flak of being intolerant. To paraphrase a famous shayari- ‘Hindu aah bhee leta hai toh ho jaata hai badnaam, Voh katl bhee karte hain toh charcha nahin hota.’
Now that we have explored at length the various adversities which Hinduism finds itself surrounded in, let us look at some ways out of this ‘Chakravyuh.’ First and foremost, to learn from Krishna (the original master of Chakravyuh breaking), one must learn to identify and match the adversary blow for blow. The moment the Kauravas violated the rules of warfare and ganged up to kill Abhimanyu, Krishna too kept the rules aside and ensured Jayadrath was eliminated by Arjun come what may. Likewise, when faced with vultures on all side, Hinduism can not find its way out by playing Mr. Nice all the time. While this is not to say that Hindus must pick up arms like some of their counterparts from other religions and terrorise the world, what Hindus must learn is to assert themselves on the world stage.
On the ground level, Hinduism must adopt some type of preaching and missionary activities to bring new adherents into the fold. If every other religion is actively expanding its footprint, Hinduism cannot act like a frog in the pond and yet expect to survive for the long-term. In part, reluctance of Hinduism to act as a missionary faith stems from its background. Hinduism has been around from so long ago that for much of its existence, no other faith was known to its adherents apart from it. Hinduism was like the pioneer tycoon who had a monopoly on the market for a very long time, whatever smaller challengers it encountered, it simply co-opted them within the larger flexible framework of Hinduism. Things began to change when recent entrants like Abrahamic faiths started to compete with Hinduism, but Hinduism never really realised that the rules of the game had changed and it no longer had a monopoly. Like a deep-rooted but old business empire, it has managed to keep its neck above the water line till now, but for the future it sure needs to get ready to beat its competitors at their own games. Some encouraging starts on small scale have been made for example by the ISKCON movement which has attracted people from diverse countries like the US, Russia, European nations and even Ghana (look up Swami Ghanananda). This must be followed up rigorously the world over because there is no dearth of troubled souls who can find shelter in the robust spiritual ecosystem of Hinduism. Conversions out of Hinduism within Bharat, must be banned by law (several states already have done so) and reversion of converts (Ghar Vapasi) to Hinduism encouraged by the Hindu society and its organisations at large. For such a thing to occur, there is need of not only large-scale funding, but also of long-term visionary thinking and planning.
For this to happen, the Indian state must proudly own up to its Hindu identity, something it has refrained from doing so till now. The imbalance in the subcontinent after partition on religious lines which created a Muslim state but no Hindu state, has left Hindus orphaned (the largest community without a state to call their homeland) and must end at the earliest. The CAA is an appreciable but minor step in the right direction, as it acknowledges the fact that Bharat is the natural homeland of Hinduism and other Indic faiths. The funds of Hindu temples and charities instead of being funnelled to the government’s coffers, must be put to use in funding the above operations- be it appointing full time missionaries to spread the faith, opening of schools which not only provide latest education but also teach Hindu beliefs and practices, hospitals, food for the poor etc. Seva’ (service) and ‘Daan’ (donation) are important parts of the Hindu belief system, but being the gentlemanly faith, that Hinduism is, it has shied away from using Seva and Daan to bring more people under the faith’s umbrella. This shyness has to be discarded at once, if the continuing onslaught on Hinduism is to be countered.
The battle on the front of narrative requires not only funds, but also a change in the way Hinduism interacts with the world. Post World War 2, the Jews have ensured that the whole world never forgets the Holocaust and the atrocities meted out to them by the Nazis. Hindus have borne similar atrocities for nearly one thousand years and yet no one takes notice of the same, not even Hindus. Our own history textbooks romanticise the invaders as some sort of legendary rulers, who brought peace and prosperity to Bharat, while brushing the lakhs of murders, rapes and forceful conversions beneath the carpet. If what happened to the Jews was a tragedy, what the Hindus have faced in their own land is a thousand times worse, only the world needs to be told about it in a way that it understands. Like Holocaust museums, we need monuments which tell the stories of oppression faced by the Hindus on one hand and their indomitable courage to keep the flag of Dharma flying high on the other. A great start would be to have a museum right next to the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir which narrates the entire history of the usurping of the Mandir by the Babri Masjid (and similar fate of thousands of other temples across the length and breadth of India) and eventual restoration of the Mandir. Much like Holocaust denial is a crime in many European countries, similar laws must be brough in India for the history of Hindu oppression as well.
The world needs to be told how Hinduism is the world’s oldest liberal, progressive and egalitarian movement. None other than Hindus worship female Goddesses as the ultimate Shakti and in no other part of the world can sayings like ‘Yatra Naryastu Pujyante Ramante Tatra Devata’ (where women are worshipped, there resides prosperity) be found. It is only a Hindu God who can be shown dancing with female companions and worshipped alongside a female consort who was not his wife. It is only a Hindu epic which can depict a half woman-half man taking to the battlefield alongside Lord Krishna himself and it is only the Hindu nationalist government which undid the prudish Victorian law Section 377. It is only Hinduism which proclaims ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, Sarve Santuniramayah, Sarve Bhadarani Pashyantu, Maa Kaschid Dukhbhaagbhavet’ (may all be happy, may all be disease free, may all see only good, may no one be inflicted with sorrows). Yet, Hinduism faces flak from the liberals for being patriarchal, oppressive and regressive. Ironic, is it not?
For the narratives proposed above to find place in the global discourse, one needs to understand how the game of information and narrative peddling works. It is the generous grease of funds which keeps the press rolling out your narrative. Of course, having influential people at the high and right places on your side helps as well. As of today, the Hindu voice is hopelessly underrepresented among those who shape and create opinions (sometimes out of thin air). When the rules of the game are stacked against you, in the initial stages it helps to buy out a couple of umpires to give you some breathing space and accumulate strength, before aiming to correct the rules themselves. Simply put, many of these intellectuals and opinion makers have a price on their heads and are ready to rent out their platforms and influence to whosoever is willing to pay (ask yourself how there was barely a murmur against the Saudis even after the brutal Khashoggi murder). Such purchasable people and platforms must be co-opted for the Hindu cause and through them the rebranding of Hinduism as a liberal, progressive, egalitarian religion and Hindus as the survivors of a millennium of oppression must be put out to the world.
Simultaneously, domestically everything from textbooks to cinema must be realigned as soon as possible. Enough of movies caricaturing the Hindu as the evil, exploitative money lender and schools punishing students for wearing Rakhis or sporting a Tilak on their heads. Ideally the parents must take it upon themselves to teach at least some basic religious texts and values to their children, but since most Hindu households are not nearly as committed to making their children read the Bhagwad Geeta compared to other religions where 90% plus have read the Quran or the Bible at least once, the government and education system must step in. Only when the Hindus of tomorrow are aware of their glorious heritage, will they be confident to take their religion to the whole world. The approach for Hinduism to break out of this Chakravyuh is thus two-fold: moulding of narrative at one hand to reflect Hinduism as a tolerant, liberal faith and solid action at the ground level to fortify and expand Hinduism on the other. To put it another way, Hindus need to learn to project Gandhi to the world, but follow the ways of Krishna and Chanakya themselves. Hindus, much like their beloved Hanuman, have forgotten what they are capable of. What better time than Dussehra (when Hindus perform Shastra Pooja) to rekindle the spark and remind Hindus of their glorious past, their unmatched prowess and the possibility of an equally magnificent future if only Hindus awaken from their deep slumber and take the challenges thrown at them by today’s world head-on…