Is Hinduism only a way of life, not a religion?
by Ram Kumar Ohri on 18 Oct 2009 10 Comments

A Critique of Inane Popular Rhetoric
A famous judgment pronounced on 11 December 1995 by a three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court about the use of “Hindutva” as a slogan during an election campaign by Manohar Joshi and two other candidates has become a popular refrain often mouthed by Hindu leaders without much thought about its far reaching consequences.

After tearing away the electoral context of the judgment, they have started shouting from the housetops that Hinduism is not a religion, only a way of life. By denying that Hinduism is a religion they are contradicting what Lokmanya Tilak has written in his famous treatise, Gita Rahasya, and even ignoring Swami Vivekananda’s famous pronouncement that “Hinduism is the mother of all religions.”

The time has come to remind today’s Hindu leaders that Lokmanya Tilak clearly stated in Gita Rahasya that Hinduism is a religion. According to him “acceptance of  the Vedas with reverence, recognition of the fact that the ways of salvation are diverse; and realization of the  truth that the number of Gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of  Hindu religion.” As pointed out by Koenraad Elst in his book ‘Ayodhya and After,’ Swami Vivekananda had exhorted Hindus to say with pride: “We are Hindus” i.e., “garva se kaho hum Hindu hain.”

The writings of most Hindu scholars and philosophers conclusively prove that by pronouncing that Hinduism is not a religion and that it is merely a way of life, Hindu leaders are skating on thin ice. This strange stance of Hindu leaders has greatly disillusioned the Hindu masses. As pointed out by Changrath Vikram on the Internet, Hinduism has all the necessary attributes to classify it as a religion, namely common scriptures like Vedas, the Gita, the Ramayana and several other holy texts, a common mode of worship, common temples and a number of deities uniformly worshipped by all Hindus. He has drawn pointed attention to the agony of the President of a Ganesh temple in New York, who recently expressed her anguish at a function that she felt extremely hurt when she hears anyone say that Hinduism is not a religion. 

There is a growing impression among Hindu intellectuals as well as the masses that the rhetoric of chanting the secular mantra that Hinduism is a way of life and not a religion, is being done in order to win the votes of Muslims and Christians. It is said that this cross-eyed strategy of redefining Hinduism was evolved by Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former aide to LK Advani, but it miserably failed to secure the Muslim and/or Christian votes for the BJP in the recent general elections.

Apart from alienating the Hindu masses, this myopic strategy will have another pitfall, and a very serious one at that. By repeating ad nauseum that Hinduism is a way of life, not a religion, ultimately the Hindu claim to Ram Janmabhoomi and other important historic temples such as those at Mathura and Kashi will evaporate into thin air! The Muslims will argue that if Hinduism is not a religion, how do you claim Ram Janmabhoomi or Krishna Janamsthan? It is a matter of time before the shoddy politicians put across that kind of half-clever construct to corner and shame the comatose Hindu leaders, lacking both in strategic vision and statesmanship.

Hindu civilization today is passing through a very difficult phase. After being a “civilization in retreat” for one thousand years consequent to the defeat of the brave heart Shahiya rulers of Kabul by Subutkgin and Mahmud Ghaznavi in the eleventh century, in recent decades we have become a “civilization under siege.”

Surely there is something morbid and ugly in the spectacle of Hindu leaders denying that Hinduism is a religion par excellence. The time has come now to recall the spirited exhortation of Dr. Annie Besant, president of the Indian National Congress in 1917, who called upon  the Hindu masses to defend their ‘dharma’ and motherland with a soul-stirring call: 
If Hindus don’t maintain Hinduism, who shall save it? If India’s own children don’t cling to their faith, who shall guard it? Indians alone can save India, and India and Hinduism are one.”

Will Hindu leaders heed this fundamental truth?  

The author is a retd. Inspector General of Police, Arunachal Pradesh  

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