‘Hinduism’ does not exclude rationalists and atheists from its confines. In fact, there have traditionally been schools of thought based on materialism, disregard for the metaphysical, hedonism, etc., which have found a place in an all inclusive debate. There has, of course, been a hierarchy of these doctrines, some recognised by the orthodox and others not considered worthy of being entertained by the scholars and high thinkers. Some of these schools transformed into cults, even ‘religions’ in the modern day meaning of the word, but all would be rootless without the context in which matters are debated. In the vast spaces of India, each has found a place for continuing the pursuit of truth till some resolution or transcendence is found.
So when DMK leader A Raja targets ‘Hinduism’ in very offensive words; or some Christian priest – unheard of till today – lectures others, including Rahul Gandhi – on why only his is the true faith, they need to be recognised as troubled souls, seeking to overcome their pain by attacking others. The truth is that, if they were truly interested in the rationalist approach, they would be better informed and express themselves in ways that would impact others in a positive way. Atheists like the late Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have understood the need for ordinary people to find comfort in faith, and are certainly not judgmental – they have based their arguments on facts, the scriptures themselves and recorded history. Listening to them or reading their works was always a revelation, regardless of one’s religious belief. In the case of A Raja, for instance, the impulse comes from a racist political ideology and not so much a study of history or religion. He would not be able to debate the issue among informed scholars – merely holding up Periyar as an icon does not prove anything. Ambedkar, too, is sought to be used in a similar way, but he had in his lifetime resolved many of these issues by choosing Buddhism as his ‘liberating’ faith – clearly stating his reasons while doing that.
Where the motive is hate rather than the desire to understand and express subjective truths, Hindus have every right to object, even counter with equally powerful propaganda. However, where there is sincere expression, the ancient civilisational principle of debate on the right forums and before a discerning audience should be the way to go. Hopefully, we will see some of that in the coming days.