“I am a Hindu, but”

Author Gurcharan Das

A few months ago the confident and handsome friend of our son's gave a telling reply to a visiting English woman in Khan Market in Delhi. “I am a Hindu, but”, he said, and he went into a winding reply about his beliefs. He hastily added that he was an Indian first. It was a perfectly honest answer, and any other person might have given a similar one about Islam or Christianity.

But I sensed an unhappy defensiveness“ the 'but' betrayed that he might be ashamed of being Hindu.This happened two weeks after I got a call from one of Delhi's best private schools, asking me to speak to its students. “Oh good!” I replied on the phone. “I have been reading the Mahabharata, and in that case I shall speak about and the moral dilemmas in the epic.”

The principal's horrified reaction was, “Oh, don't, please! There are important on our governing board, and I don't want controversy about teaching religion.”“But surely the Mahabharata is a literary epic”, I protested, “And dharma is about right and wrong”. But my remonstration was to no avail. She was adamant and scared.

As I think about these two incidents, I ask myself, why should these two highly successful, young professionals be embarrassed of their heritage? Something seems to have clearly gone wrong. My fear is that modern, liberal Indians, and especially those at the helm of our private and public enterprises, may not have any use for their past, and they will abdicate our wonderful traditions to the narrow, closed minds of fanatical Hindu nationalists. In part, this is due to ignorance.

Our children do not grow up reading our ancient classics in school or college with a critical mind as works of literature and philosophy as young Americans, for example, read the Western classics in their first year of college as a part of their “core curriculum”. Some are lucky to acquire some acquaintance with them from their grandmothers or an older relative, who tell them stories from the and the Puranas. They might read the tales in comics or watch them in second-rate serials on Sunday morning television.

Meanwhile, the Sangh Parivar steps into the vacuum with its shrunken, defensive, and inaccurate version of our history and happily appropriates the empty space. And the richness of tradition is lost to this generation.If Italian children can proudly read Dante's in school, or English children can read Milton, and children can read the Iliad, why should “secularist” Indians be ambivalent about the Mahabharata?

Indeed, English children also read the King James Bible as a text in school “text” is the operative word, for they are encouraged to read it and interrogate it. So, why then should our epic be “untouchable” for a sensitive, modern and liberal school principal? It is true that the Mahabharata has lots of gods in it, and in particular that elusive divinity, Krishna, who is up to all manner of devious activity. But so are Dante, Milton, and Homer filled with God or gods, and if the Italians, the English and the Greeks can read the texts of their heritage, why can't Indians?

Liberal Christians and liberal Muslims, I am sure, have experienced the same misgivings. One can easily imagine hearing: “I am Christian, but” or “I am Muslim, but” In India. I blame Hindutva nationalists who have appropriated our culture and tradition and made it a political agenda. But equally, I blame many of our secularists who behave no better than fundamentalists in their callous antipathy to tradition.

We ought to view Hindutva's rise in the context of religious revivalism with a political bent around the world. wrote in the on January 15, 2005: “Almost anywhere you look around the world religion is now a rising force. Former communist countries are crowded with mosque builders, Christian missionaries and freelance spiritual entrepreneurs of every persuasion.” Philip Jenkins' insightful book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, describes this in the America of George W. Bush. This growth in fundamentalism around the globe makes one wonder if the secular agenda is threatened everywhere. And is it the project of modernity, as some think, that has contributed to this vicious, political religiosity?

(From : gurcharandas.org)
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