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The great ambition of Hinduism

Francois Gautier

It requires another foreign correspondent to provide a counterpoint to Delhi-based American journalist John Eliott’s rather condescending article: Can Hindus be ambitious (Outlook, December 21, 1998), where he says that Hinduism is the main obstacle to India’s modernisation and liberalisation. Because if an Indian had answered his attacks, he would have immediately been taxed of "nationalist", or even accused of being a follower of the Sangh Parivhar.

Let’s first start by what John Elliott gets right:

For some mysterious reason, Hindus appear to be the most undisciplined, collectively selfish, and nationally uncaring community in India, so that it requires a Mother Theresa to look after their own underprivileged. In the same way, they do, as Mr Elliott points out, tend to extend cleanliness only to their own immediate surroundings : their homes, or their front porches, but neglect the rest. It is puzzling for instance how a people which has worshipped the Ganges for thousands of years, treats it with so little respect, dumping every day thousands of chemicals in its waters. True again, Hindus are a tolerant people. India for example, is probably the only country in the world where the Jews not only were not persecuted, but were also welcomed with open arms when they fled the destruction of Jerusalem and allowed to practise freely their religion. True also: this tolerance can often become misguided: Naxalites ought to have long ago whipped in public Rahul Bajaj, who is responsible for polluting entire cities in the name of his petty, selfish interests.

But all the rest is wrong.
Take John Elliott’s view of Hinduism for instance : Hinduism has never been a religion, but a way of life, allowing countless sects, philosophies, creeds, to develop in its fold, as long as they were faithful to the central core of its essence - Santana dharma. Over the centuries, this way of life has subtly influenced even India’s invaders, be it Christians or Muslims, who are like no other Christians and Muslims in the world. Mr Elliott has also not bothered to study Hinduism in depth, when he says that basically Hinduism teaches fatalistic acceptance.

On the contrary, Hinduism admits for example that one can use violence if necessary : when one’s brothers, sisters, or country are in danger - this is the very message of Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhavagad Gita. It is Buddhism and Jainism which perverted that message and opened India to the first invasions of Alexander the Great and subsequently to the Muslim onslaughts. Later, it is Gandhi and his rigid and moralistic attitude of ahimsa, refusing even to fight Nazism, the most asuric force of our modern age, which paved the way for India’s splitting in two.

"Hindus lack ambition", accuses Mr Elliott! But Indian civilisation not only had the loftiest of ambitions, but it also achieved extraordinary realisations, which were unparalleled in the world. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, India’s great revolutionary, philosopher, and Sage: "It lived with a noble, ample and vigorous order and freedom; it developed a great literature, sciences, arts, crafts, industries; it rose to the highest possible ideals of knowledge and culture, of arduous greatness and heroism, of kindness, philanthropy and human sympathy and oneness. It laid the inspired basis of wonderful spiritual philosophies; it examined the secret of external nature and discovered and lived the boundless and miraculous truths of the inner being; it fathomed self and understood and possessed the world."

Debilitating and cruel caste system? The caste system is the most misunderstood, the most vilified subject of Hindu society. Let us again listen to Sri Aurobindo: "Caste was originally an arrangement for the distribution of functions in society, just as much as class in Europe, but the principle on which this distribution was based was peculiar to India. A Brahmin was a Brahmin not by mere birth, but because he discharged the duty of preserving the spiritual and intellectual elevation of the race, and he had to cultivate the spiritual temperament and acquire the spiritual training which alone would qualify him for the task. So it was for the Vaishya whose function was to amass wealth for the race and the Shudra who discharged the humbler duties of service without which the other castes could not perform their share of labour for the common good".

But, yes, Mr Elliott, there is no doubt that the institution of caste degenerated: It ceased to be determined by spiritual qualifications and thus lost most of its meaning. The spirit of caste arrogance, exclusiveness and superiority came to dominate it instead of the spirit of duty, and the change weakened the nation and helped to reduce us to our present condition.

And of course, Mr Elliott has to feed us the mantra of foreign (and sadly Indian) journalists : the "(Hindu) fundamentalists / Hindutva". But a bit of nationalism is indispensable for the well-being of a nation. Most of Europe’s culture is based on its Christian heritage and we the French are proud of our Greco-Roman tradition. Thus, India does need to regain a little of its self-pride, after having been trampled upon by so many invaders... and made fun by so many foreign corespondents! It is healthy sign that it is happening in a some small measure today.

Finally : has India failed, as Mr Elliott implies? But is not the very fact that India still exists a miracle in itself? This nation survived ten centuries of one of the most terrible genocide ever perpetuated on a race in the name of religion, the soul-stifling British colonial rule and 40 years of "secular" socialism; and it is going to survive the perils of industrialisation and westernisation, because, whatever Mr Elliott and his pairs say, no country which has survived so much when all other great civilisations, such as Greece or Egypt, are only memories in dusty text books, can be snuffed out by the winds of liberalism.

Thus, John Elliot’s malevolent vision of an India which will gradually be shaped by more materialistic forces, such as liberalisation and satellite TV, may never come true. Thank God! That would be the end of this country’s uniqueness and genius - whatever its faults.

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