Iam proud to be a Hindu. I am proud to be a Hindu not because Hinduism claims that it is in any way better than any other religion. Nor does this pride I feel in being a Hindu arise from a feeling of being ?holier? than a non-believer. I am proud to be a Hindu because it is characteristically inclusive, liberal, pragmatic, egalitarian and individualistic. In a way it is not even a ?religion? in a stricter-sense, since it does not have a hierarchical structure of command-and-control. Neither does it have an office of the Pope, nor does it have a single Pan-Hindu scripture. It is rather an age-defying ?way of life??the ?sanatana dharma??which has been readily and generously welcoming, like an ocean, every stream of thought, into its organic whole, over several millennia.
Hindutva never talks of kafirs and ?infidels? to inject xenophobic fervour, or missionary zeal into its believers. Hindutva is rather a spiritual and socio-cultural umbrella which accepts, and happily so, even its staunchest critics as part of its larger whole. So inclusive is this way of life that Buddha who used to be an ardent critic of prevalent Hinduism of his times, instead of being silenced, or being targeted by any fatwa or being burnt at stake, was Himself embraced as an avatara i.e. incarnation of Vishnu. Consequently Buddhist along with Jain teachings got assimilated into the then prevalent Brahmanical and Vedic Hinduism to bring out the later version of Vedantic Hinduism comprising of Upanishads, Puranas and the great Bhagwad Gita.
This pragmatic and liberalistic attitude of Hindutva, is seen at its best in the Bhagwad Gita, where in the final Eighteenth Chapter, after all the prolonged and persuasive discourse, Krishna tells to Arjuna:
?Iti te jnanamakhyatam guhyaat
ichhasi tathaa kuru.?
(Hereby I have imparted to you the most secret and sacred of wisdom. Nevertheless you can apply your judiciousness of mind and then do whatever you wish to.)
Perhaps this degree of individualism, through openness and freedom given to the individual to choose his manner of living cannot be seen in any other religion, and for this very reason Hinduism is more of a ?way of life? than a mere institutionalised religious entity. Bhagwad Gita amply professes this concept of individualism as opposed to a codified and institutionalised religious system.
Aatmaiva hyaatmano bandhu
(It is the Self that could elevate the Self, and it is the Self that could denigrate the Self. The Self itself is its own greatest friend; the Self itself is its own greatest enemy)
When Swami Vivekananda quoted the great Sanskrit shloka in the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago, he underlined this great appreciation of Hindutva that all paths ultimately lead to the ?One?.
?Aakashaat patitam toyam yatha
Sarva deva namaskaaram
keshavam prati gachhatii.?
(Just as rainwater falling from the sky takes different routes and channels but ultimately end up in the one same ocean, prayers directed at any god ultimately reaches that ?One? god.)
When Dr K.M. Munshi selected the great Vedic aphorism as motto of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan he wanted to specifically highlight this inclusivism of Hindutva.
?Aa no bhadra kritavo yantu
(Let noble thoughts come from all corners of this universe and fill my mind.)
And no religious discourse on Hindutva is complete without the much talked about shloka which hails the whole world as one single family.
?Ayam nijah paro vetti ganana
Udaara charitanam tu
(?This is ours?; ?that is other?s? is being perceived by the narrow-minded. The magnanimous always sees this whole universe as one single family.)
We should now conjoin this lofty vision of ?sanatana dharma? into the geographical concept of Bharatvarsha as elucidated in Vishnu Purana.
?Uttaram yad samudrasya
Varshtad Bharatam nama
Bharati yatra santati.?
(That which is north of ocean and south of Himalayan ranges is the Bharatvarsha, and the progeny of this place are Bharatiya.)
Here is a text that tells us of a geographical-identity devoid of any sectarian or religious differentiation. All people born and brought up in this Bharatvarsha are Bharatiya. We have to emphasise this identity of ?Bharatiya? as paramount to all others; and that the pronounced silence over any other religious or sectarian references is singularly because of Hindutva influence on the concept of Bharatiyata.
?Bharatiyata? can be a more acceptable euphemism for ?Hindutva?. Even while emphatically stating that one need not be least apologetic of calling oneself a Hindutva ideologist. But each time we try to point out that Hindutva is not just a religion or an exclusive sect but rather a ?way of life?, the loud cries of ?secular? brigade silences this point and prevents it from penetrating the masses. To get across to the larger public who hardly bothers to go deep into the semantics of this dialectic, and to bring to our fold the fence-sitters who wish to ?appear? more ?secular? than they actually are, we should propagate the concept of Bharatiyata as a Pan-Indian ideological furtherance of Hindutva.
The Hindu ideology of universal egalitarianism i.e. belief in inherent equality of all creations, leave aside merely amongst human beings, is put at its best in ?Gita?.
?Vidya vinaya sampanne brahmane
Shuni chaiva shwa-pakecha
(One who is ennobled by humility of real knowledge would see inherent one-ness in a Brahmin, cow, elephant, dog and a dog-eater.)
There is a famous anecdote centering around Shankara'slife. Once when Shankara was going along the street with his pupils to take bath in the Ganga, he met a Chandala who was also passing along the street with his dogs by his side. The disciples of Shankara shouted and asked the Chandala to clear off the road. The Chandala asked Shankara: ?O, Venerable Guru! You are a preacher of Advaita Vedanta and yet you make a great difference between man and man. How can this be consistent with your teaching of Advaitism? Is Advaita only a theory?? Shankara was very much struck by the intelligent query of the Chandala. He thought within himself, ?Lord Shiva has assumed this form just to teach me a lesson?. He composed then and there five shlokas called the ?Manisha Panchaka?. Every shloka ends thus: ?He who learnt to look on the phenomena in the light of Advaita is my true Guru, be he a Chandala or be he a Brahmin?.
A major perversion of Hinduism owing to historical or socio-religious interpretations of scriptures, and deviant behaviour of certain followers, led to intra-Hindu classifications and discrimination on the basis of caste. Attempts were made to establish Brahmanical hegemony claiming scriptural legitimacy. It has to be clearly stated that scriptural concepts on varna and jati were more as mobilisation of cadre of common-professions based on inherent skills, inclinations and activities. Bhagwad Gita talks about ?varna? differentiation based on guna (inherent inclinations) and karma (activities).
?Chatur varnam maya sristum
(The four varnas are made by Me, differentiated on guna and karma.)
It should be clearly noted that it begins with guna and ends with karma and never was it envisaged based on janma. In other words, varna was not supposed to be acquired hereditarily.
Equally important to state is that varna was a horizontal cadre-differentiation and not vertical classification, as it is often made to be shown. Inter-varna marriages were very common but its differentiation as anuloma and pratiloma was a later interpolation which wrongfully picturised varna as vertical classification. A sizeable number of Deities and heroes of ?puranas? and ?itihasas? are products of inter-varna marriage, or from non-Brahmin-Kshatriya varnas.
Purusa Sukta in the Rig Veda talks of Brahmins emerging from the face and Shudras emerging out of the feet of the Almighty and this is used by many as a scriptural justification of vertical classification. But this theory innocuously presumes that ?head is holier than the feet?, which is a very misleading and incorrect premise. Perhaps the contrary can be argued more convincingly. And what is more important to note is that all are shown to be originating out of the same Almighty. I feel very ashamed and sad to see how the lofty Hindu ideal of universal equality has been misrepresented to legitimise and perpetuate caste-discrimination amongst the Hindus.
For those ships lost in the turmoil of life, Hindutva acts as a spiritual light-house, the light-house that guides and offers direction, silently and ceaselessly, without the least expecting any ship to come over and anchor at the light-house. It rather assists them in reaching their own destinations. Interestingly the very term ?Bharat? means ?one which is seized with and immersed in light?.
Hindutva does not talk of its followers as superior in any way compared to its non-followers. What it stands for is according to Vivekananda ?to make Hindu a better Hindu, Christian a better Christian and Muslim a better Muslim?. Religious bigotry, parochialism and xenophobia can never be part of Hindutva. And the very idea of ?Hindu fundamentalism? is a crude misnomer and inherently self-contradictory since a true Hindu cannot be a fundamentalist and a fundamentalist can never claim to be a true Hindu. And Bharatiyata is the carrier of this message, a living and vibrant Pan-Indian embodiment of Hindutva openness and reverence for the other.
Some people naively observe that Hindus are very tolerant. This is wrong. Tolerance means accepting the other person though you believe that he is wrong. Hindus believe that the ?other? is as much right as you are, and hence they are ?understanding?, and not just ?tolerant?. And the perversions and anomalies of other religions manifested at the social level are more out of misinterpretations of, and deviations from the core philosophy. At the foundation of Bharatiyata is this underlying respect for the ?other?, the ideal of sarvadharmasamabhava. Bharatiyata that talks of vasudhaivakutumbakam?the whole world as one single family. Bharatiyata that prays for loka samasta sukhino bhavantu?welfare of the entire world.
To respect others one has to learn to respect oneself first. Any feeling of mutual respect cannot be true and sustainable until that feeling sprout out of abundant self-respect. Otherwise a sense of insecurity would hinder true and boundless respect for the ?other?. While Hindutva should always be open to any criticism or correction or reformation, it should not end up being apologetic or defeatist, in front of its detractors. India is a secular country only, and only, because Hinduism is essentially secular. If ?secularism? is interpreted and practised as Anti-Hinduism, or forcefully pro-active minorityism to the extent of repeated Hindu-bashing, any self-respecting Hindu should stand up,and uphold his swaabhiman and Atma-gaurav.
And that is why I wish to stand up and proclaim to the whole world: I am proud to be a Hindu!!!