Author: Akhil Kodali.
All practices, traditions of Hindus can be classified amongst 2 groups: Those who live within society, and those who live outside of society – forests, caves, nomadic lifestyles, etc. These groups have found a harmonious and mutually respectable way to not only live with each other but respect each other.
Like everything else in Sanatana, this is one way of classification. Similarly, one can group Hindu society in many ways. All of them are valid. It is this complex multi-layered, multi-dimensional, multi-logic open architecture of Hindu society that allows it to constantly self-liberate itself from within.
The best of Hinduism is the tradition of renunciation i.e. Tyaga. Dis-engaging with society and all it’s attachments.
Sri Krishna as a house-holder in Mahabharata redefines “renunciation”, reversing the dis-engagement from society at a time when society was self-destructing . He does what needs to be done knowing that it would lead to the loss of his family, kingdom, life, and glory.
Similarly, Adi-Shankara as a sanyasi redefined renunciation that eventually led to the rise of Naga Sannyasis. These Naga Sannyasis dis-engaged from society completely, so as to protect it. These Sannyasis fought battles against the invasions that lasted over 600 years. They did it all along, not following any of the social conduct and mores of society, but by living outside it; by not seeking any gains.
Swami Vivekananda redefined the notion of renunciation again by re-organizing the renunciants back into society while keeping them dis-engaged.
This re-definition is a continuous process. And maintenance of the diversity of society has been constant and non-negotiable.
“Practicing Hindus” have always found a way to respond to society when needed.
Over millennia let’s look at some of the ideas that allowed Practicing Hindus to respond to society at large.
1. Ahimsa – the primordial principle of existence. This has resulted in the creation of infinite possibilities of traditions. All these traditions co-existed but inspired each other. For eg., Sabarimala is one of the tens of thousands of temples that cater to a cross-section of non-menstruating women and men who have lived a lifestyle of sannyas (temporary or permanent). Kamakhya Temple is about worshiping the menstruating divine. Aravan temple in Tamil Nadu specifically caters to transgender communities. Every possible permutation of individual need is catered to, provided the primordial principle is “Ahimsa“.
2. Ganga is the largest deity for Hindus (where everything and anything is sacred). And is one of the most worshipped deities in the world in any religion. This worked as a natural check against human excess at the first layer. It is no accident that the first world’s first eco-movement “Chipko movement” (tree-hugging) was started in Hindu society by rural and tribal women.
2. Sannyasi lifestyles including devadasis (both male and female renunciates, permanent and temporary). Sannyasis, both males and females dedicated their life in the pursuit of enlightenment. Their traditions are complex and wide-ranging from being cave-dwellers and nomadic beggars to politicians and administrators. Sometimes renunciates engaged in warfare, sometimes in providing healthcare, and sometimes providing sexual education. There is no one rule that fits them.
3. Freedom and self-sustainability of temples and gurukuls. It is common knowledge that temples were centers for learning, education, business, healthcare. It provided all the necessary support for individuals for both sannyasis and householders. It supported practicing Hindus (or anyone else) from the cradle to grave, meeting all manner of material and spiritual needs.
The vastness and complexity of the voluntary self-sustaining ecosystem created by Hindus is immense. The imperialists had to break the backs of the resistance. Anything that interfered with immoral occupation and exploitation of Hindus had to be outlawed. Most of that can be traced to the Criminal Tribes act of 1871. Any group at the forefront of the independence struggle was brought under criminal tribes i.e. categorised as criminal by birth. Over 400 communities ranging from Sannyasis to transgender, hill-tribes to traders, warriors to farmers were included in this list.
All Practicing Hindus are considered criminals by birth.
In 2020 , is there a country for Hindus ? (will there ever be one ?)
It just didn’t stop there, different laws were passed to cripple and take over education systems and the temple administration. Outlawing of all-female monastic traditions and the deliberate destruction of the Ganga were major policy events.
All these changes were brought in to protect Hindus from themselves. After 1947, the view taken by the British has not only continued, but continued to grow as well. The default assumption of the government is that Hindus are not capable of taking care of their religious traditions. Hindu DNA has a criminal disposition and their practices and thinking are out-dated.
All laws and procedures that govern Hindu practices assume the infantile nature and criminality of Hindus, much like their colonial masters. A person in India can claim to be civilized by declaring the barbarity of Hinduism. A Hindu has to defend his practices every day not only to the mainstream but also to government, bureaucracy , and the judiciary.
From 1000s of court judgments ( the list of swamis , sannyasis and gurus deliberately maligned and persecuted by the judicial system is in the lakhs , there are thousands awaiting trial in India’s jails … ) it is all but apparent that Hindu practices are considered criminal, barbaric, and unconstitutional. Even in cases where Hindu’s rights are protected by law, they need to constantly prove their legality under law. It is not uncommon for the Judiciary in their opinion, to declare all Hindu religious leaders and practices as undesirables and they don’t enjoy the legal protection of fundamental and human rights.
Practicing Hindus have not been robbed of their right to practice their religion in peace by the Indian State , in fact they have been declared as undesirable, a “Basket of deplorables” as well.
Mainstream Institutions not only tolerate the persecution of practicing Hindus but also give their explicit support and encouragement.
One could even say Mainstream Institutions at their core believe the elimination of practicing Hindus is essential for the betterment of society.
Today, practicing Hindus comprise less than 20% of the population in India and are the most persecuted lot. They do not enjoy the same legal protection of fundamental rights as other communities and individuals.