STATUS FOR HINDUS?
By Swami Agnivesh
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
than turn the nation into a crowd of minorities, the need of the
hour is to foster a sense of unity and responsibility vis-à-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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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