Lofty words like secular, liberal, intellectual have mutated and been replaced by ‘sickular’, ‘libtard’, ‘urban naxal’ and are now fashionable jargon of derision among many urban middle class. One may call them the ‘Hindu bourgeois’ but I’m tempted to describe them as ‘Pseudo Hindus’. They don’t wear saffron, but you can see them from a mile away. Are these pseudo Hindus a bigger threat to Hinduism today than proselytising Christian missionaries and jihadi mullahs? Is Hinduism under siege with pseudo Hindus leading the charge?
Before we get to that, a few words about pseudo seculars and the damage they have caused — they cannot be ignored or easily forgiven. There are quite a few of them among us and you can spot them too without difficulty. If lofty words like secular and liberal have taken on different connotations today than what they originally meant to us, it’s because ‘pseudo seculars’ placed allegiance to a party, its politics and to a dead ideology above fealty to their own intelligence. They were also selective in its practice.
The pseudo seculars wished to uplift Dalits, which was noble, but condescendingly looked down upon their religious beliefs; wanted Dalits to embrace the Leftist ideology but on condition that they abandons their ‘faith’, that is, stop worshipping their village deities if they want to be emancipated. The pseudo seculars were not only contemptuous about everything traditional and cultural among the poor and lower class but were also scornful of Hindus and their belief systems, even though there is so much else to be ashamed of in our society. In the eagerness to uphold minority rights, the pseudo seculars turned blind to the terrorism of Islamic jihadis who killed Sikhs and Hindus in Kashmir that resulted in mass exodus.
The pseudo seculars did not hound them with the same zeal that they now attack the cow/gau jihadis and the crazed Hindus who are sowing seeds of hatred in India. In short, s/he became a pompous ‘secular fanatic’ and created a fertile ground for majoritarian backlash.
Great liberal intellectuals like Bertrand Russel and Albert Einstein — although non-believers — had a generosity of spirit and empathy for humankind. Einstein, not a believer of a personal God who rewards and punishes human beings, said — “I’m a deeply religious non-believer. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.”
This essay is not about politicians. They really don’t give tuppence about their religious beliefs or secular ideologies. Their concerns are votes. Ronald Reagan summed it up well: “It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.”
The danger lies within
Now, the pseudo seculars have been largely reduced to irrelevance today. In fact, the threat to Hinduism is not so much from political parties, pseudo seculars, Indian Muslims or even imagined Islamic invaders. It’s from within. The peril for Hindus in India, the society at large and for Hindus abroad is from pseudo Hindus.
The danger to a civilisation and its ethos is more when common people in a society turn to hatred to feed their demons and fill their day purveying falsehoods. Some days you are overwhelmed with stories that shatter you, senseless communal killings and arson when lives and livelihoods are destroyed. And there is a sinking feeling, leaving many of us guilty that we didn’t do enough. This is what I wish to talk about. Conflicts between various religions, wars among religious sects and ethnicities go back over 2,000 years of recorded history but a new measles, a contagion worse than the novel coronavirus, has infected people in many parts of the world but it is more virulent in India and corroding its very soul. Einstein said ‘nationalism’ is the new measles for mankind.
Not a day goes by when we don’t receive messages on our social media sites and WhatsApp groups spewing venom and inflaming communal passions. One ignores it if the senders and also the messages are anonymous forwards. But when you receive communications from childhood classmates, relatives and friends, colleagues from work who you thought were easy going, genial and loving, with whom you have broken bread over wine and loved and laughed with, what do you do? When you see them blindly sending to you and 20 others some nameless person’s opinion, or provocative comments and reports of incidents of prejudice full of malignant animosity, brazen falsehoods and improbable inventions of a sick mind, then you feel engulfed in despondency. When you show evidence and tell them that the audio of Lakshmi Mittal abusing Muslims in four letter words is fake or when you tell the NRI in the US that the anonymous viral message about Hindus becoming a minority in India by 2050 is mischievous, not backed by any evidence and he must not foolishly believe such things, then there’s no answer. If you ask them what do they mean when they say ‘Hindus must rise’, then all you get is more fake forwards.
You feel as though there’s iron in your soul. When you look at India’s great sages and saints, considered the greatest of Hindus — Adi Shankaracharya, Narsi Mehta, Mirabai, M.K. Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Vivekananda, Basavanna, Thiruvalluvar and many others — one trait runs common through all of them: they all breathed the divinity of unity through love and compassion and what one of Kannada’s greatest poet Kuvempu called ‘Vishwa Manava’ (Universal Man).
The shallow Hindus who can’t see
And to think that the old frail Hindu who made non-violence his creed, whom Einstein likened to Jesus and Buddha, was shot dead by a fanatic Hindu. Three bullets. Point blank range. And life extinguished. I imagined if Lord Ram, the embodiment of the noblest virtues, in whom everything desirable in a person was enshrined, if ‘He’ were to be walking invisibly and hear a political leader shout “goli maaro saalon ko (shoot the traitors)” in his name, then let alone Ram, even Ravana would have blanched and said, “These are no Hindus. These are pseudo Hindus”. These may be aberrations of unhinged individuals carried away by rage. But what stuns you is the indulgence and patronage they received by the senior functionaries and, more shockingly, the many ‘farzi Hindus’ who joined in chorus and echoed the politician’s call to murder.
Is Hinduism in peril? No, not in my opinion. It has survived 3,000 years of onslaughts and alien influences. The Charavakas, a sceptical and materialistic school of philosophy founded by Brihaspati around 600 BCE, which rejected the Vedic rituals and prevailing belief systems, were absorbed by Hinduism like a giant boa constrictor leaving no trace of them after a few hundred years. As Mexican poet and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz memorably wrote In Light of India: “Like an enormous metaphysical boa, Hinduism slowly and relentlessly digests foreign cultures, gods, languages, and beliefs. Hinduism does not convert individuals; it absorbs communities and tribes, their gods and rites.” It appropriates and assimilates everything that comes its way. It also spawned great religions — Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism — and allowed them to coexist and spread.
Will Hinduism morph itself into a religion of narrow outlook to compete with and resemble medieval Islamic States because of pseudo Hindus on a rampage? That will be giving too much credit to shallow men, the “hollow men, stuffed men, leaning together, headpiece filled with straw”.
But there’s a feeling: a ‘virus’ is debilitating and destabilising our society. And Hindus who believe in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family) must not succumb to this virus.
Something precious seems to have been lost.
William Wordsworth’s famous lines from Ode: Intimations of Immortality come to mind:
“The glory and the freshness of a dream.
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.”
Captain Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar Gopinath is the founder of Air Deccan and a writer. Views are personal.