By Swami Agnivesh

The suggestion by Prof. Tahir Mehmood, Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, that Hindus in Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Punjab be granted minority status, seems plausible in principle but is unfortunate in its consequences. This is irrespective of the intentions in suggesting such a step. In public life, good intentions are not enough. We need to act in consonance with the warnings of history and the witness of the present realities. Both go against the step suggested.

The move envisaged assumes that minority status is a statistical phenomenon. Also, most people think of this rare constitutional provision in terms of some privileges alone. It is high time we realized that minority rights are meant to facilitate dynamic and healthy relationships between religious and linguistic minorities and the national mainstream. It is to enable their creative participation in the mainstream. It is not a security measure; though it may result in better security. Minority status is not a privilege. It should be deemed a responsibility to be exercised in extreme sensitivity to the well-being of our society and the nation.

The suggestion under consideration assumes Hinduism to be a 'religion' in the mould of Islam and Christianity, which it is not. It is the 'missionary' character of these religions that makes minority status so important for them. Hinduism, in contrast, has been a way of life that embraces all, without being obsessed with the fine contours of its social structure, doctrinal formulations or the instruments of its polity. Its greatness has always been the geniality and hospitality of its spirit that welcomed all. It is an outlook that cannot be obsessed with its enemies.

The problem with minority status is that it is a concept of fear and insecurity. It cannot but breed negativity and fear in those who are, ironically, sought to be protected under its umbrella. That is why all minorities come, sooner of later, to suffer from 'minority complex'. For all the good intentions underlying it, the minority status as extended to the designated minority communities has corrupted and weakened them. Undoubtedly this has corrupted the idea of the national mainstream and adversely affected their harmonic integration with it.

The history of minority rights as envisaged under Article 30(1) is an unhappy one. The minority communities have not been responsible stewards of this sacred constitutional trust. This has forced the Apex Court to initiate, suo motto, a judicial process to define the parameters of this right. Obviously, this is an issue of explosive political sensitivity and cannot be expected to make swift progress. But the truth is there for all to see. Vested interests thrive under cover of minority rights.

Consider, for example, the noise made in the name of Christian dalits. Had the Christian community used the freedom and facilities available to them to develop the poor and the downtrodden in their midst, the need to shout for governmental charity for the dalits in their midst would not have arisen. They seem to be unaware even of the embarrassment in labeling fellow Christians as dalits, contradicting the essential genius of that egalitarian faith. It is obvious that minority status did not result in the preservation and propagation of 'religious culture' in this instance. If anything, it only served to corrupt that culture.

As it is, there are already good reasons for worrying about what is happening to the Sanatan Dharma. Whatever might be the intentions, much of what is being done in the name of, and for the defense of Hinduism, could turn this family of faith into a different religion, a replica of the Semitic religions, for example. Fortunately, now nobody talks about semiticizing Hinduism. But one is concerned that the Semitic spirit is infiltrating into the Hindu fold, as is evident from the recent unfortunate and embarrassing turn of events.

Granting minority status to Hindus in some parts of our country will have the effect of further fragmenting the Hindu fold. Unlike the Christian and Muslim communities, the Hindus are not a homogenous lot. They are, on the contrary, a conglomerate of sects and groups reflecting the resplendent variety and exuberance of an oceanic faith tradition. The temptation of claiming minority privileges could make them split apart and become mutually competing, at least alienated, groups. This could devastate the precarious unity that today exists in this context. A great disaster than this cannot be imagined.

Rather than turn the nation into a crowd of minorities, the need of the hour is to foster a sense of unity and responsibility vis--vis the task of nation-building. In this context, minority status is increasingly becoming a liability. Sure enough, the noble consideration in making this unique provision was to help minorities to participate in nation-building. This aspect has been slowly forgotten, and religious minorities are increasingly obsessed with their communal privileges. They became ghettoized. This amounts to a betrayal of the purpose in providing for minority status.

Alienation is a necessary accompaniment of any privilege. This alienation increases with the decline of the spiritual culture of the religious minority in question. The community loses its unique spiritual culture, but continues to use minority rights. They come to be used in the service of activities (say, running a school or college no different from a secular one) which others manage well without such sweeping powers and privileges. It is only natural that this offends others. Minority rights have also tended to increase the alienation between the rich and the poor in the minority communities. Some of the well-meaning thinkers in these communities today wonder if these rights are conducive to the spiritual culture of their religions!

Apart from all these, 'Hindus as a minority' will initiate a fear psychosis in the community. Already there are some factions that seek to promote their political agenda by creating the impression that Hinduism is in danger. This can only cripple the community. No one ever gains by embracing fear. The need is to overcome fear, go out in the open and live out one's convictions in a world of responsibilities. The psychological state of the Hindus is of great consequence for this country. They are the overwhelming majority and our national character will be shaped by their outlook and understanding of religion. It will be a terrible tragedy if the Hindus were to be trained to think only for themselves, which is what the minority status brings about.

The fundamental issue is this: what is the purpose of religion? Is religion only a means for securing some advantage? Or is it an invitation to address the world around us and make it a better place for all to live in peace and fulfillment? The bane of the religious constituency (and this applies to all religions) is that obscurantism reigns supreme in it. A religious community that is self-focused cannot but succumb to obscurantism and occultism. Their only mission will be to protect their vested interests. This is a corruption of the true religious vision.

India will have no future if this bankrupt idea of religion is not challenged and reformed. It was such a potent reform movement that Swami Dayanand Saraswati initiated. Religion must regain its social dynamism; its righteous indignation at the sight of injustice, oppression and exploitation. It must enable people to rise above narrow vested interests, and experience the kinship of all people. The minority status, in contrast, is a dividing wall that pretends to be a protective wall. It is laughable to suggest that Hindus can be protected with a legal label.

Incidentally, what are we to be protected from? Are we to be protected, for example, from the Sikhs in the Punjab, the Christians in the North East, from the Muslim in Jammu & Kashmir? Are we to assume that the enmity between the followers of various religions is a natural and necessary thing, and that they cannot live together as brothers and sisters at all? Has it been like this from ancient times, or is it a comparatively new phenomenon? If it is, is it not the case that such enmities are man-made and whipped deliberately to attain some vested interests? In Jammu&Kashmir, the attacks on innocent Hindus are organized by the ISI and the Taliban. How will minority status protect them from these terrorist hands? At this rate tomorrow someone will suggest that farmers in drought-prone areas should be specially protected under minority status, that pedestrians in posh areas where inebriated youths drive wild in their BMWs should be covered under minority status, and so on!

The tragedy is that five decades into our life as a free country, we have not developed the culture of thinking for the country as a whole. Contrary to what was expected in the fifties and sixties, our oneness as a people has only declined. The disruptive forces of casteism, communalism and regionalism are more powerful now than ever before. And much of what is advocated from time to time only seeks to aggravate this disruptive tendency.

It is not a legal provision that will help, much less, save any one. People will be safe only when they become each other's keepers. For that we need to go beneath the skin (where differences are sketched) and discover the deeper truth of our oneness as children of God. We also need to learn the simple truth that in a society where even a single person is unsafe, none can be safe. Security can only be a collective treasure. It cannot be sought selectively. We are the sentinels of each other's life and liberty. And we must have the basic spiritual wisdom to know that any religion or religious or political leader who teaches otherwise, is fundamentally irreligious. Insecurity is a sign of social disease. The disease itself, and not only the symptom, needs to be addressed. The disease is self-centredness, which breeds aggression and injustice on the one hand, and apathy on the other. Hinduism was in its proper elements when it could co-exist peacefully with other religions and live in a relationship of dialogue. With the weakening of this spiritual core, all sorts of other forces have come into play. With that a host of self-appointed saviours of religion too have appeared in all religions. They have a need to create paranoia about external threats to their respective religions. This serves only to divert the attention from the real threat. The real danger to religion is not another religion. It was, is, and will always be, the materialistic worldview with its vulgar consumerism and soulless strategies, often employing falsehood and violence to attain its goals. But this will always be given a 'religious' costume, to mislead the masses.

Hinduism cannot be in danger because of Pakistan or China; or because of Islam and Christianity. It will be in danger because of materialism, consumerism, obscurantism and fundamentalism, all of which corrupt this faith from within. It is time those who love this great faith addressed the need to highlight its social relevance and its capacity to bring about a human revolution to create a just and wholesome social order. Applied spirituality, as I have been arguing these many years, rather than communal strategies should be the hall-mark of Hinduism. Religion must impact and transform the world around us. It must work tirelessly to create a just socio-political order. It must set people free from their prisons of poverty and caste oppression. This, and not the allurement of minority status, must inspire Hindus as they step into the new millennium.


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