Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Curious Phenomenon that is Hindu Liberalism

While choosing a title, I was deciding between Liberal Hinduism & Hindu Liberalism. I'm not trying to indulge in bombastic word-play here, but you must understand both terms because both are in relevance today.
Liberal Hinduism, though fast replacing the more orthodox moorings of the "religion" per se (in heavy contrast to Islam which seems to be getting more radical by the day, the most recent case being that of this Kerala girl) is far from being the malaise, which Hindu Liberalism undoubtedly is.

I am not sure about the origins of this current version of Hindu Liberalism. Agreed, one of the main facets of Hinduism has been its liberal & flexible nature which has, in a way, contributed to its continued evolution and relevance even after (the British-historians-dated) 3000 years, but I have a feeling we have slightly gotten confused between "liberal" and "flexible".

The problem with the contemporary liberal (non Internet-) Hindu's understanding of Liberalism is that, to ensure "Live & Let Live", he ends up following "Let live irrespective of whether you are let" - this dire compulsion to acknowledge, accept, appreciate and most importantly, accommodate alien cultures without the realization that such cultures are potentially detrimental to local culture (for starters) and are eventually destructive for all non-adherents. Not surprisingly, all this seems to have clouded the Hindu Liberal's vision of what exactly is happening at ground-level. And this feeling now seems to have created an invisible phobia towards one's native (Hindu) culture. This is especially visible in urban societies wherein Christians & (more often) Muslims do not seem to have any problems in accepting and admitting their religion while Hindus will take that extra effort to avoid that acknowledgement (let alone proclamation). Any Hindu who makes no qualms about his religion culture is, oftentimes, mistaken for an over-orthodox, possibly partially-backward fundamentalist. You see, stereotypes are always in vogue and the stereotype of the Hindu bigot (ala Saffron terror) is the flavour of the season, promoted chiefly by Hindu liberals. Things have reached such a stage that a reasonably religious Hindu risks projecting a stereotype (mostly negative) of himself while depicting (as opposed to flaunting, projecting and hollering) his religious side - this, not in the United States or Europe in front of non-Hindus, but in India, specifically urban India, in front of fellow-Hindus (but "liberal").

There is another pernicious characteristic that is not necessarily a characteristic of the Hindu Liberal, but one that is widely prevalent among the non-stereotypical-Internet-Hindu populace - which is a marked indifference towards Hindu causes. By "Hindu causes", I refer more to the inherent local culture than Hinduism the religion. Hundreds before me have milked the Babri Ayodhya cow by now and I dont want to do any more damage to her, but I hope you understand where I'm getting at.

I have no statistical backing, but I will go ahead and say this - the ratio of the number of indifferent urban Hindus to the number of urban Hindus is way higher than that for Christians & Muslims.

In a similar statistical-but-not-backed-by-data vein, amongst all communities of the world, Hinduism is probably the community with the highest number of self-proclaimed adherents (no prizes for guessing that these "adherents" are liberal ones) who derive pleasure in making fun of (their-community)-related issues, especially issues of contention, often insensitively. There might be non-Muslims/atheists that make fun of Islam-related issues, but you wont find too many theist Muslims taking (often unfair) digs at their own religion. Similar is the case with Christianity. The Hindu Liberal, however, is always drawn towards Hinduism when it comes to ridiculing & mocking.

Hindu-turned-atheists are the cream of the lot. I'd probably have to write a separate piece on them, if I ventured to describe their characteristics. But one stunning aspect is how Hindu liberals/Hindu-turned-atheists often lose their sense of objectivity and tend to focus chiefly on Hindu-related issues, when it comes to taking a dig or pulling a leg (for starters).

Anyway, to each his own, and the liberal Hindu inside me, however small, also reminds me that Hindu liberals have every right to not be objective, and mock/criticize/deride Hindu customs/issues alone. Besides, mockery isn't really a big deal....ok so it is, but the bigger deal is the mindless and often poorly-reasoned support for anti-Hindu elements and vehement opposition to Hindu causes.
Classic examples of Hindu Liberals today are: Sagarika Ghose, Ramachandra Guha, Malini Parthasarathy (assuming she is not an atheist). I would've loved to add one Islamic-attire Dutt to the mix of things, but since she makes me wonder if the next step after "Hindu Liberal" is "Islamic radical", I leave her out.
Liberal Hindus, however, are fewer in number (not surprisingly) - Amitabh Bachchan and Anupam Kher, to name two.

Sometimes, in a slightly Inception'esque display of emotion, I feel a strange sense of pity-filled remorse, when I feel pissed & irritated with them. Men before me who have tried to decode them, have come and gone but they, rather depressingly, endure and it only appears as if they're here to stay.

There is, however, an unexpected, positive fallout of the fact that their voices are getting increasingly shriller. It means that more people can hear their nonsense. And despite the fact that we Indians, though endowed with reasonably exceptional brains, exhibit a serious dearth of logical thinking, especially on emotional issues, the Hindu liberal's logic-lessness is so resounding, it is sometimes what's exactly required to wake up the sleeping rationalist in you.
blog comments powered by Disqus