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Reflections on dubious agenda

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Reflections on dubious agenda

Attempts at distorting life-saving reform movements of the most threatened sections of the society, as is being projected for narrow unquantifiable electoral gain, should be discouraged, says Sashanka Banerjee

As a student of history, the political debate kicked up by the Indian National Congress, demanding a religious minority status for the Shaivite Lingayat community of Karnataka, I am reminded of Oxford Professor Arnold J Toynbee’s theory of history — the law of challenge and response — as propounded in his monumental work, A Study of History.

According to him, following the onslaught — first Islam and later the rise of Christian power in India, both iconoclastic and proselytising Abrahamic religions originating in Jerusalem — Hinduism was faced with twin existential crises.

Responding to these threat perceptions, several reform movements within Hinduism, over a period of time, cropped up to defend the ancient religion. To name a few, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Vaishnavism in West Bengal, Dayanand Saraswati’s Arya Samaj in north India, Guru Nanak’s Sikhism in Punjab, Basava’s Shiva worshiping of Lingayatism in Karnataka, Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Brahmo Samaj in West Bengal among others were some of the leading examples. Apart from politics, these reform movements were essentially self-preserving off-shoots of Hinduism.

The important point to note was that they imbibed some of the egalitarian tenets of Islam and Christianity, like the abolition of caste system; endorsing equality of all men in the eyes of God; eating together without segregation; congregational prayers; worship of one God; Lingayatism’s abolition of cremation of the dead instead of burying them and so on.

Some of these reformed churches even went to the extent of rejecting idolatry. These churches, while essentially remained within the fold of the broad coalition of Hinduism, did not reject the formless Ishwar with no images as the paramount God while at the same time accepting such ideas as Nirakar Brahma — as described by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in his Bramho Samaj movement; Hari Om as deified by Sikhism; the liberalism of Arya Samaj; Shiva — the God of the Lingayats, Lord Krishna as is worshiped by Chaitannya’s disciples — to be the presiding deity or deities.

Attempts at distorting such life-saving reform movements of the most threatened sections of the society in the evolving history of the ancient religion during the past over 500 years, as is being projected so thoughtlessly for narrow unquantifiable electoral gain, should be discouraged both by scholarly opinion and popular debate.

(The writer is a retired Indian diplomat in London)




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