As Part of their entrenches power position, the British colonizers and later their Nehruvian successors have always tried to control the discourse on religions. Among other concerns, they have seen to it that the term "Hindu" got divorced from its historical meaning, which quite inclusively encompassed all Indian Pagans, in order to fragment Hindu society. In parallel with their effort to pit caste against caste, offering nurture to the egos of sect leaders by telling them that in fact they were popper in their own right of full-fledged religions, equal in status but morally superior to Hinduism. Hindu Revivalists have countered this effort by reaffirming the basic Hindu character of tribal Animism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and more recent reformist sects.
A more practical way of dealing with the question whether given sects are Hindu or not, is to study the specific claims made by the "separatist" ideologues of the communities concerned. When we do so, we find that Hindu Revivalist critique has pin-pricked (though not yet exhaustively) some of the cheap modern apologetics by which community leaders want to affirm the uniqueness and superiority of their own tradition as compared to Hinduism. This is especially true of the number one selling argument of all non-Hindu or would-be non-Hindu religions in India: that they, unlike Hinduism, are egalitarian.
If a man is poor and without social position, or if he is the target of accusations and the object of contempt, he finds himself quite alone. Even his relatives avoid and disown him. And if later on his name is cleared and his good fortune returns, the fair-weather friends will again come flocking to his company.
It takes little more than this very elementary psychology to understand anti-Hindu separatism among the offshoots of Hinduism. Nobody wants to get associated with a religion which is hated is hated and held in contempt. Conversely, when a religious tradition or doctrine gains prestige, numerous people and groups will surprise you with their discovery of how they had essentially been espousing it all along. We can safely predict that the day when Hinduism is held high esteem again, the Ramakrishnaites will echo Swami Vivekananda's call o "say with pride: we are Hindus". On the day, Sikhs too will quote the Guru' pledges of loyalty to Hindu Dharma.
Given the clumsy performance of Indian governments and the Hindutva leadership, it is a miracle that there are any Hinduis left at all. But somehow, without doing much, the Hindus or their Gods seem to get things done.
At the practical level, Hindus may explore the common ground with these borderline-Hindu communities, these "prodigal" daughters", simply by doing things together. No matter if neo-Busshists disown Hinduism but sit down to practise the Buddha's spiritual discipline; let Hindus sit down beside them and also practise what the Buddha taught. No matter if Sikhs refuse to visit non-Sikh Vaishnava shrines., Hindus will continue to visit Sikh Vaishnava shrines, and likewise to offer worship at the Mahabodhi temple, etc. Let the others call these places non-Hindu all they want; Hindus may claim them as their own simply by paying respect to them. Daughters may try to break away from their mother, but a mother cannot disown her daughters.
Dr. Koenraad Elst was born in Leuven, Belgium, on 7 August 1959, into a Flemish (i.e. Dutch-speaking Belgian) catholic family. He graduated in Philosophy, Chinese Studies and Indo-Itanisan Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven. During a stay at the Benares Hindu University, he discovered India's communal problem and wrote his first book about the budding Ayodhya conflict. While establishing himself as a columnist for a number of Belgian and Indian papers, he frequently returned to India to study various aspects its ethnoreligio-political configuration and interview Hindu and other leaders and thinkers. His research on the ideological development of Hindu revivalism earned him his Ph.D. in Leuven in 1998. He has also published about multiculturalism, language policy issues, ancient Chinese history and philosophy, comparative religion, and the Aryan invasion debate.
This book contains a part of my Ph.D. thesis, updated and adapted for general publication. It can best be read in conjunction with the main part of the thesis, now in print under the title Decolonizing the Hindu Mind.
My thanks are due to Mrs. Amini Liu, Mr. Gopi Maliwal, Mr. Krishan Bhatnagar, Mr. Pradeep Goel Mr. Satinnder Trehan, Dr. Tushar Ravuri and Mr. Vishal Agarwal, as well as to the late Prof. Kedar Nath Mishra. But any mistakes are of course due only to my own oversight. Corrections and other feedback are welcomed.
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