Hindu Fundamentalism: What Is It?
As long Hinduism is devalued and misrepresented we must except some Hindus to take a stand against this in one way or another. Other Hindus should not simply criticize them if the stand they take may be one-sided. Hindus must try to defend Hinduism in a real way, not simply condemn those who may not be defending it in a way that they think is not correct.
This requires projecting a positive Hindu spirit, the yogic spirit, that can attract all Hindus and turn their support of the tradition in a spiritual direction. It requires not condemning other Hindus who are struggling to uphold the tradition as they understand it to be, but arousing them to the true spirit of the religion.
To routinely raise such negative stereotypes as fundamentalist or even fascist relative to Hindu groups, who may only be trying to bring some sense of unity or common cause among wake up and unit, to recognize their common spiritual heritage and work together to manifest it in the world today, just as modern teachers did not speak of Hindu fundamentalism. They recognized Hindu backwardness but sought to remedy it by going to the core of Hindu spirituality, the spirit of unity in recognition of the Divine in all, not by trying to cast a shadow on Hinduism as a whole.
Fundamentalism is an easily discernible phenomenon in belief-oriented religions like Christianity and Islam, which have a simple and exclusive pattern to their faith. They generally insist that there is only One God, who has only one Son or final Prophet, and only one true scripture. They hold that belief in this One God and his chief representative brings salvation in an eternal heaven, and disbelief causes condemnation to an eternal hell. Most Christians recognize belief in Christ as one's personal savior as the only true way to salvation.
While the news media of the Western World, and even of India, speaks of Hindu fundamentalism, no one appears to have really defined what it is. Is there a Hindu fundamentalism comparable to Islamic and Christian fundamentalism? Using such a term merely assumes that there is, but what is the evidence for it? Are there Hindu beliefs of the same order as the absolute beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity and Islam? It is questionable whether fundamentalism, as it is usually defined relative to Christianity and Islam, can exist at all in the more open and diverse religious tradition of Hinduism which has many
names and forms for God, many great teachers and incarnations, many sacred books, and a pursuit of Self-realization which does not recognize the existence of any eternal heaven or hell. There is no monolithic faith called Hinduism with a set system of beliefs which all Hindus must follow that can be turned into fundamentalism.
Fundamentalist groups insist that theirs is the only true God and that all other Gods or names of God are wrong. A belief in God is not even necessary to be a Hindu, as such non-theistic Hindu systems as Sankhya reveal. For those who are speaking of Hindu fundamentalism, we must ask the question: What One God do Hindu fundamentalist groups insist upon is the only true God and which Gods are they claiming are false except for Him?
Hindus are not of one faith only. They are divided up into Shaivites, Vaishnavas, Shaktas, Smartas and a number of other groups, which are constantly being revised relative to modern gurus. Those called Hindu fundamentalists are also divided up into these different sects. What common belief can be found in these Hindu groups which can be called Hindu fundamentalism?
No Hindus -- including so-called Hindu fundamentalists -- insist that there is only one true faith called Hinduism and that all other faiths are false. Hinduism contains too much plurality to allow for that.
Fundamentalist groups insist upon belief in the literal truth of one book as the Word of God, which they base their behavior on. Muslim fundamentalists insist that the Koran is the Word of God and that all necessary knowledge is contained in it. Christian fundamentalists say the same thing of the Bible.
Islamic fundamentalists consider that Islam is the only true religion, that no true new faith can be established after Islam and that with the advent of Islam all previous faiths became outdated [See Reference 2]. Christian fundamentalists hold that Christianity alone is true, and that Islam and Hinduism are religions of the devil. [See Reference 1] Even orthodox people in these traditions may hold these views to some degree.
Hindus have many holy books like the Vedas, Agamas, Gita, Ramayana and so on, which contain a great variety of teachings and many different points of view and no one of these books is required reading for all Hindus. Hindus generally respect the holy books of other religions as well.
Fundamentalist groups are often involved in conversion activity wherein they are seeking to get other people to adopt their beliefs. What missionary activities are Hindu fundamentalists promoting throughout the world?
Fundamentalists are usually seeking to return to the social order and customs of some ideal religious era of a previous age. Fundamentalists often insist upon returning to some traditional law code like the Islamic Shariat or Biblical law codes, which are often regressive by modern standards of justice and humanitarianism. What law code are Hindu fundamentalists seeking to reestablish? What Hindus are agitating for the return of the law code of the Manu Samhita, for example?
Fundamentalists are usually opposed to modern science. Many Christian and Islamic fundamentalists reject the theory of evolution and insist that the world was created by God some 6000 years ago. What scientific theories are Hindu fundamentalists opposed to and trying to prevent being taught in schools today?
Fundamentalism is often involved with militancy and sometimes with terrorism. What planes have Hindu fundamentalists hijacked, what hostages have they taken, what bombs have they planted anywhere? What terrorist activities are Hindu fundamentalists promoting throughout the world? What countries are stalking down Hindu fundamentalist terrorists who are plotting against them?
Hindus are called fundamentalists for wanting to retake a few of their old holy places, like Ayodhya, of the many thousands destroyed during centuries of foreign domination. Several Hindu groups are united around this cause. This, however, is an issue oriented movement, not the manifestation of a monolithic fundamentalism. It is a unification of diverse groups to achieve a common end, not the product of one uniform belief system. Whether one considers it to be a right or wrong action, it is not the manifestation of fundamentalism. It may be the awakening of a number of Hindus politically but it is not the assertion of any single or exclusive religious ideology.
Hindus are called fundamentalists for organizing themselves politically. Yet members of all other religions have done this, while Hinduism is by all accounts the most disorganized of all religions. There are many Christian and Islamic parties throughout the world, and in all countries where these religions are in a majority they make sure to exert what political influence they can. Why shouldn't Hindus have a political voice even in India? The Muslims in India do and no one is calling them fundamentalists for organizing themselves politically. There are many Islamic states throughout the world. Are all Islamic states fundamentalist?
There is no monolithic fundamentalism possible among Hindus who have no uniform belief structure. A charge of social backwardness and discriminatory attitudes can be made against a number of Hindus but this is not the same as the blanket charge of fundamentalism, which misinterprets Hinduism as a religion of exclusivity which it nowhere is.
Hinduism is a super tolerant religion. No other religion in the world accepts such a diversity of beliefs and practices or is so ready to acknowledge the validity of other religions. The idea of the universality of all religions was practically invented by modern Hindus like Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Gandhi. As Hinduism is a super tolerant religion, even a little intolerance among Hindus is regarded as Hindu fundamentalism. And the charge of intolerance can be used to discredit Hindu groups, who are extremely sensitive to such a negative portrayal.
Another related term that we meet with in the Indian press today is that of Hindu chauvinism. We do not see terms such as Christian or Islamic chauvinism in either the Indian or the Western press. Chauvinists believe in the special superiority of their particular group. Are Hindus to be called chauvinists merely for believing in the unique superiority of their religion? The Vatican recently told its monks and nuns not to experiment with yoga and Eastern forms of religious practice, which it branded as false and misleading. Should we not therefore call the Pope a Christian chauvinist religious leader?
It is clear therefore that such terms as "fundamentalist" and "chauvinist" have little applicability to Hinduism. It is time for Hindus to stop accepting such wrong designations or negative stereotypes of their wonderful religion.
And Hindus who accuse other Hindus of being fundamentalists should be ashamed of themselves for understanding so little of the real basis
of their religion. If Hindus are being intolerant or prejudiced, naturally this should be pointed out, but to routinely raise such negative stereotypes as fundamentalist relative to Hindu groups, who may be no more than trying to preserve their traditions in a hostile world, is a gross abuse of language.
By- Dr. David Frawl