This is a touchy subject but we need to grab the bull by the horns if India has to improve. Our touch-me-not attitude towards this matter is responsible for a lot of ills our society is going through today.
We often come across phrases such as Minority Issues, Muslim Issues, Dalit Issues and the like in various fora. Despite – some may say, because of – our great preoccupation with these, our religious and caste divide appears to be increasing day after day. This will continue to happen till certain fundamental Hindu issues are not addressed and no one is doing it at present – not our media, not our political parties and not our social activists. This is because these critical issues include the word 'Hindu' as a 'beneficiary'. This is something that seems to be a taboo in today's India where the sword of being labeled "communal" is omnipresent.
Yes, Muslims have issues. Christians have issues. Dalits have issues and Sikhs have issues. So do non-Dalit Hindus. If we ignore the concerns of a majority of our population and hope that things for the minority will improve just by paying heed to their own concerns, we are living in a fool's paradise. The prosperity and well-being of all Indians is tied together in a manner that we cannot deal with just one part and ignore the other larger one.
To the best of my knowledge, no political party has used the term "Hindu Issues" in its manifesto. Nor have they tried to understand India from the point of view of what Hindus may be thinking. Yes, some organisations such as the VHP tend to put their own twist on what may serve Hindu interests. Often, this is done in a jingoistic and aggressive manner and little effort is made to remedy the underlying problem. Furthermore, such an intervention is usually specific–item-based. Most such points raised by VHP do not address the primary issues faced by Hindus.
What issues do Hindus have? Let us only focus on issues which are specifically religion related and are not socio-economic ones like inflation, security etc.
The first issue which Hindus face today is discrimination in their own country. This discrimination is in various areas. Hindu temples can be managed by the government while the religious places of other faiths are independent of government control. Religion-based reservations and other forms of affirmative action are another area of discrimination. The playing field is not level. This causes resentment amongst Hindus.
The second issue which Hindus face is with the definition of "secularism". This has come to mean "anti-Hindu" in today's India. The Muslim League can be termed secular by our authorities but if one forms a Hindu League, it will be immediately dubbed "communal". Thus, the Congress, SP and other parties can espouse the cause of Muslims and keep trumpeting their secular credentials but anyone who espouses the cause of Hindus is promptly dubbed "communal".
The third issue for Hindus is the neglect of their poor unless these belong to certain castes. This has become another focus of resentment among Hindus. An impoverished Brahmin is as hungry and suffers as much as an impoverished Dalit but one gets government support and the other is punished for historical discrimination perpetrated by his forefathers. This is not the modern India a Hindu would be proud to claim as his own.
Another issue that is causing resentments and ill-will is the foreign funded proselytization and conversion activity, especially in the tribal regions. This is a cause of concern even among Hindus who themselves contribute nothing towards the upiftment of their fellow Hindus. That the government appears to condone this is highly perplexing.
The fifth issue is rather fundamental. Hindus believe that if we respect all religions, all religions should respect us. This idea is based on the wrong premise that other religions have the same belief system as Hindus have. Many religions insist that they must be respected but that they will respect only those who believe in them, not merely respect them. All those who are not true believers will forever remain outsiders, whose interests will be considered sub-par as compared to the interests of the believers. This is reflected in our day to day interactions. Hindus have the feeling that they must keep bending over backwards to keep peace at any cost. Often these resentments boil over and we see communal riots.
Not all issues are related to the government or the media. There are a number of things Hindus themselves have to deal with. These issues are no less important than the others mentioned above. One such is elimination of the deeply rooted caste feeling. Another is the complicated superstitions we are involved in and their deleterious effect on our social life, such as dowry deaths and honor killings. Then there is a lack of effective religious leadership. This may sound strange, given the plentitude of religious leaders but there is no unity, in either their social conduct or their effect on society as a whole. Each appears to be leading a separate sect and hardly any of them address Hindu Issues as a whole.
A result of this has been that Hinduism appears to have lost its spine. Atrocities are committed against Hindus in India and abroad that are not taken up by the leaders of the community. An idea of the dimensions of the problem can be had from the 8th report of the Hindu American Foundation which documents such atrocities across the globe in its survey titled: Hindus In South Asia And The Diaspora: A Survey Of Human Rights 2011. This is available on the internet but none of our religious, political or social leaders seem to be moved enough to discuss the issues raised in this. Our government, too, is silent. This is something Hindus themselves have to address.
The HAF report cited above does not deal with atrocities and discrimination on Hindus in India. These can be elicited in a Sacchar Committee type investigation. However, no one will think of instituting a Sacchar Committee for Hindus because, after all, Hindus are not minorities and their concerns appear irrelevant. This is a very short-sighted view of the problem and such an attitude is coming home to roost in our increasing intolerance.
Why, one may ask, do political parties subscribe to the above? The reason is not far to seek – they do so because, rightly or wrongly, they think that minorities will vote as a block while the Hindu vote will be divided. Everything must be sacrificed to the God of Votes in today's India. Whether it will be good for the country appears to be irrelevant. Thus, our politicians wear the mask of faux secularism and try to fool the minorities. In the meantime, Hindus are busy fooling themselves that all is well.
Unless the Hindus are confident of being treated fairly by the state in their own country, their resentment will continue to fester and the divisions on the basis of caste and religion will continue to increase. We are already seeing a reaction against the faux-secularism of our leaders. When a leader arises who speaks forcefully for Hindus, there is wide upsurge in his support. We are witnessing this in Gujarat at this time. This is soon likely to become an all India phenomenon.
History will be the judge as to whether this polarization of Hindu support will be good or bad for true secularism in India. If it is not a good development, our self-serving "secular" leaders of all hues will be to blame for not heeding the concerns of Hindus and leading them to a situation where the TINA factor kicks in.
What can be done to address the concerns of Hindus?
The first thing is to avoid the knee-jerk reaction we so often see whenever anyone talks of Hindu issues, "Aha, so now he shows his true colours. He is really communal." Talking of Hindu issues is not communal. It is our patriotic responsibility because without discussing these concerns, India cannot improve.
The second is to recognize that Hindus have issues which need to be looked into. A Committee similar to the Sacchar Committee can be formed and they can go into feelings of Hindus and list out actionable priorities.
The third is to orient our country's affirmative action effort towards all the underprivileged and not only towards those belonging to certain castes and religions.
The fourth – and this is not so much a Hindu issue as an Indian issue – is to give primacy of place to meritocracy in deciding our country's future. When we dilute this principle in the name of our often-twisted notions of social justice, we result in excellence being sacrificed. All of India suffers. The minorities included in India, suffer too. Just an example will suffice – imagine if India's cricket team was decided on the basis of caste and religion based reservations. Will India win any matches? Who will benefit? Forcing such measures on our country causes greater harm on more than one level. We can achieve the same ends through a variety of other measures which are not so narrow-minded in nature and address the concerns of India as a whole.
This note is meant to promote debate on this critically neglected and assiduously avoided topic. It is not an exhaustive one. Much more debate is needed with an open mind.