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Hindu Fundamentalism: Does It Really Exist? (Repost)




[ Originally posted by mwcst1+@pitt.edu (Walia,Mohan) ]
[ Originally posted on Friday, January 13, 1995       ]

              This article was published in News-India-Times.

                HINDU FUNDAMENTALISM: DOES IT REALLY EXIST?
                            BY Dr.David Frawley

     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. Muslims daily chant "there is no God but Allah and Mohammed
is his prophet. " Most Christians recognize belief in Christ as one's
personal savior as the only true way to salvation.
     Fundamentalists are literalists in these traditions who hold rigidly to
their beliefs and insist that since their religion alone is true that other
religions should not be tolerated, particularly in the lands where members
of their religion are in a majority. Fundamentalists also generally hold to
their religion's older social customs, and refuse to integrate into the
broader stream of modern society which recognizes the freedom of belief.
Fundamentalism can usually be discriminated from orthodoxy. Orthodox
Muslims and Christians generally tolerate those of other religious beliefs,
though they may not agree with them. The orthodox are usually not involved
in the militancy and social backwardness of fundamentalist groups. They
usually have no trouble functioning in modern society. However the orthodox
may keep to themselves in matters of religion and may still regard that
their's is the only true religion.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 their's is the only true God and that
all other Gods or names of God are wrong. Islamic fundamentalists insist
that the only God is Allah, and will not accept Hindu names for God like
Brahman or Ishvara, even though these mean pretty much the same thing.
Christian fundamentalists will not accept Allah or Brahman as names for God
as they conceive Him to be. Hindus with their many names and forms for God
don't mind accepting the Christian name God or even Islamic Allah as
referring to the same reality. 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?
     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. Christian
fundamentalists hold that Christianity alone is true, and that Islam and
Hinduism are religions of the devil. Even orthodox people in these
traditions may hold these views to some degree.
     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? What common Hindu fundamentalist platform do the different
sects of Hinduism share? Is it a Shaivite or Vaishnava fundamentalism, and
how do such groups maintain their harmony and identity under the Hindu
fundamentalist banner? While one can make a code of belief for Christian or
Islamic fundamentalism, what code of belief applies to Hindu fundamentalism
of all different sects?
     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. Its tendency
is to not to coalesce into a fanatic unity like the fundamentalists of
other religions, but to disperse into its various diverse components and
fail to arrive at any common action, historically even one of self-defense
against foreign invaders.
     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. Again even orthodox or ordinary Muslims and
Christians, not only fundamentalists, may believe this 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. What single
holy book do Hindu fundamentalists hold literally to be the word of God,
which they base their behavior upon?  Christian and Islamic fundamentalists
flout their holy book and are ever quoting from it to justify their actions
and their beliefs. What Hindu Bible are the Hindu fundamentalists all
carrying, quoting and preaching from and find justification in?
     Fundamentalist groups are often involved in conversion activity wherein
they are seeking to get other people to adopt their beliefs. They
frequently promote missionary efforts throughout the world to bring the
entire world to their views. This again is true of many ordinary or
orthodox Muslims and Christians. Fundamentalists are merely more vehement
in their practices.  What missionary activities are Hindu fundamentalists
promoting throughout the world? What missions in other countries have Hindu
fundamentalists set up to convert Christians, Muslims or those of other
beliefs to the only true religion called Hinduism? What Hindus are
motivated by a missionary spirit to discredit people of other religious
beliefs in order to convert and save them?
     Fundamentalist groups not only condemn those of other beliefs to an
eternal hell, they may even make death threats against those who criticize
their beliefs. The fatwa of the Ayatollah Khomeni against Salmon Rushdie is
one example of this. What Hindu has ever condemned non- Hindus to an
eternal hell, or issued declarations asking for the death of anyone for
merely criticizing Hindu beliefs? Where have Hindus ever stated that it is
punishable by death to criticize Krishna, Rama or any other great Hindu
leader? There are certainly plenty of books, including many by Christians
and Muslims, which portray Hinduism in a negative light. How many of such
books are Hindu fundamentalists trying to ban, and how many of their
authors are they threatening?
     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 retuming 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 creates various political parties limited to members of
that religion only, which aim at setting up religious dictatorships. What
exclusively Hindu religious party exists in India or elsewhere in the
world, and what is its common Hindu fundamentalist platform? Who is asking
for a Hindu state which forbids the practice of other religions, which
allows only Hindu religious centers to be built, which requires a Hindu
religious figure as the head of the country, the return of medieval Hindu
law codes, or the Hindu Bible as the basis of all education - which is what
other fundamentalist groups are asking for in terms of their religions.
     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?
     The Ayatollah Khomeni is regarded in the Western world as a typical
example of an Islamic fundamentalist and militant leader. Many Western
people consider him to be a terrorist as well. What Hindu fundamentalist
leader has a similar record? We should also note that the government and
news media of India has not characterized Khomeni as a fundamentalist. The
government proclaimed a period of mourning upon his death as if he were a
true religious leader. Would they do the same for a Hindu recognized as a
fundamentalist and terrorist in the Western world?
     Saudi Arabia is usually regarded as a pious or orthodox Islamic
country, and is usually not called fundamentalist. No non-Islamic places of
worship are allowed to be built there. No non-Islamic worship is allowed in
public. Even American troops in the Gulf War had to hide their religious
practices so as not to offend the Saudis. Traditional Islamic law,
including mutilation for various offenses, is strictly enforced by a
special religious police force. If we apply any standard definition of
fundamentalism, Saudi Arabia is a super-fundamentalist country.  What Hindu
community is insisting upon the same domination of one religious belief,
law and social practices like that of Saudi Arabia? Which Hindus are more
fundamentalist in their beliefs and practices than the Saudis, whom few are
calling fundamentalists?
     Hence we must ask: What are Hindus being accused as fundamentalists for
doing? Belief in the unique superiority of their religion, the sole claim
of their scripture as the word of God, their savior or prophet as ultimate
for all humanity, that those who believe in their religion go to an eternal
heaven and those who don't go to an eternal hell, the need to convert the
world to their beliefs - these views are found not only in Christian and
Islamic fundamentalism but even among the orthodox; for example, the
Catholic church still projects these views. I was raised as a Catholic and
this is what I was taught. There are no Hindu fundamentalist statements of
such nature. Can we imagine any Hindu swearing that there is no God but Ram
and Tulsidas is his only prophet, that the Ramayana is the only true
scripture, that those who believe differently will be condemned by Ram to
eternal damnation and those who criticize Tulsidas should be killed?
     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. If it is fundamentalism, what is the
fundamentalist ideology, belief and practice behind it? Hindus, alone of
all people, have failed to take back their holy sites after the end of the
colonial era. If they are fundamentalists for seeking to do so, then what
should we call Pakistan or Bangladesh, who have destroyed many Hindu holy
sites and were not simply taking back Islamic sites that the Hindus had
previously usurped?
     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 are those who are warning that Hindu rule would mean the creation
of a Hindu theocratic state? Yet what standard Hindu theology is there, and
what Hindu theocratic state has ever existed? Will it be a Shaivite,
Vaishnava, or Vedantic theocracy? What Hindu theocratic model will it be
based upon? Is there a model of Hindu kings like the Caliphs of early Islam
to go back to, or like the Christian emperors of the Middle Ages? What
famous Hindu king was a fundamentalist who tried to eliminate all other
beliefs from the land or tried to spread Hinduism throughout the world by
the sword? Does Rama or Krishna provide such a model?  Does Shivaji provide
such a model? If no such model exists what is this fear of a militant Hindu
theocratic rule based upon?
     Traditional Hindus do exist. There are also Hindus who are caught in
conservative or regressive social customs, like untouchability or
mistreatment of women, which should not be underestimated. There are
serious problems in Hindu society that must be addressed, but these should
be examined as per their nature and cause, which is not some uniform Hindu
fundamentalism but wrong practices that are often contrary to real Hindu
thought. To lump them together as problems of Hindu fundamentalism fails to
examine them adequately but, rather, uses them as a scare tactic to
discredit Hinduism as a whole.
     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. The charge of
fundamentalism is usually made against various Hindu groups like the V.H.P.
(Vishwa Hindu Parishad), who do not support the caste system and other such
backward customs anyway.
     What is called Hindu fundamentalism is in fact generally a reaction to
Islamic, Christian and Communist fundamentalisms, which are all organized
according to an exclusive belief system and a strategy to take over the
world. These three fundamentalisms are attacking India from within, as well
as threatening it from the outside. For example, what Islamic state
politically supports India, particularly in its struggle with Pakistan
sponsored terrorism against India? Christian and Islamic missionary
activity continues very strongly in India. Do these missionary groups
portray Hinduism as a valid religion in its own right? Are they even
teaching respect for the government of India?
     Hinduism is a supertolerant 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 supertolerant
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.
     Islam and Christianity, owing to the exclusive nature of their beliefs
and their judgements of heaven and hell upon people, have been generally
intolerant religions (we do note, however, that there have been a number of
notable exceptions to this generality). They generally do not accept the
validity of other religious beliefs and practices, and contain in
themselves little diversity as compared to Hinduism. What Christian or
Muslim leaders proclaim that all religions are one or that Hindus and
Buddhists have as valid a religion as they do (and therefore do not need to
be converted)? Can we imagine the Pope declaring this? As they are
generally intolerant, members of these religions have to be superintolerant
to be called fundamentalist.
     Hindus have a double standard in religion. They try to tolerate, accept
or even appreciate exclusivism, intolerance and fundamentalism when
practiced by those of other religious beliefs.  For example, which Hindus
are criticizing the far more obvious fundamentalism and exclusivism among
the Christians and Muslims? On the other hand, many Hindus, particularly of
the modern socialist-communist variety, brand even pride in Hinduism as
fundamentalism.
     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. We mainly find this
term used relative to white chauvinists, who think that whites are
genetically better than dark-skinned people, or in the case of male
chauvinists or those who think that men are inherently better than women.
Which Hindus think that Hindus are inherently better than non-Hindus, and
on what grounds (race, religious belief)? Christian and Islamic religions
routinely believe that only members of their religion go to an eternal
heaven and everyone else, particularly idol worshipping people like Hindus,
go to an eternal hell. Which Hindu chauvinists have similar ideas?
     Are Hindus to be called chauvinists merely for believing in the unique
superiority of their religion? Christians and Muslims commonly believe in
the unique superiority of their religions.  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 also interesting
to note that many of the people who are branding Hindus in this light are
themselves members of more obviously exclusivist ideologies, which may have
an agenda to gain world-domination and to eventually take over India.
     It is time for Hindus to stop accepting such wrong designations or
negative stereotypes of their wonderful religion. Certainly aspects of
Hinduism do need to be reformed in the modern world for various reasons,
and Hindus are not all required to agree with each other or with any set
religious dogma, but there is very little in this beautiful religion that
warrants such debasing terms as fundamentalism and chauvinism. If we look
at all the aspects which are commonly ascribed to religious fundamentalism
we find very little of them among so-called Hindu fundamentalists,
rendering the term a misnomer.
     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.

*--- End of Forwarded Article ---*

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