Hindus, Hinduism; Sense, Sensibility; hurting sentiments…

On February 11, Penguin settled out of court and withdrew an eminent piece of research. The reason? It ‘offended’ the sensibility of ‘some Hindus’.

On February 12 paper the Times of India carried two articles; one each from Arundhati Roy and Ramchandra Guha. Each has a clear tone of appeal; be it to the publisher or be it to politicians. There is however, another element that is being ignored and it is time this element stood up to be counted. I refer to the average Hindu.

Defining a Hindu

I use the term Hindu to define the person who in his life practices the simplistic form of Hinduism and its principles. I refer to the principles of tolerance, of acceptance (of counter points), action against the wrong and most of all, wisdom. In my book, Hinduism isn’t a religion consisting of countless gods; in its purest forms, Hinduism is a way of life. It is a path of self-discipline and discovery, not a dictat to meekly obey.

Where art thou, oh learned one…

I don’t know where this human has disappeared. I also don’t know why he has allowed a handful of individuals to become his representatives, without even a whimper of acceptance or dissent.

The so-called “Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee” is representative of every single element that Hinduism truly isn’t. On the issue of whether Ramayana is true or false, I could easily argue in favour of the committee by quoting Stephen Knapp, philosopher, writer, spiritualist, Indologist, part historian, quite a lot of Hindu and most of all, a good human being. In his article, he provides sufficient circumstantial evidence to state that Ramayana is an account that has a high probability of being true. He presents his case through the eyes of science, archaeology, and rational deduction. Perhaps the greatest argument he records is the one that concludes that it was virtually impossible for any single race, human being, kingdom or ruler to fabricate so much circumstantial evidence that survives even today. The evidence he presents begins before the rise of the Maurya Empire and archaeological evidence in existence today is from the time of Ashoka the Great.

And that is not the point.

An alternate view of Ramayana

What if there is another way of looking at the Ramayana? What if one looked at Valmiki’s version and stated that it is pictorial representation of a deeper Indian thought about the struggle of one human being alone? This human being is represented in Ram and the entire struggle is a between ignorance and self discovery.

Many scholars have researched another version of the Ramayana. It talks about Rama being a version of Mara or Nara meaning MAN. Dasharath the father of Rama represents the 10 senses that man is born with. Sita is a representation of Setu meaning bridge. The bridge is between consciousness and ignorance. Hanuman is the combination of two words Anu and Man (pronounced mun as in bun). Anu represents the smallest particle that exists independently in nature (like the Atom). Man (or mun) represents thought. The physical form of Hanuman is a monkey with supernatural powers and this form represents the primitive human who has the mind to possess superior thought.

In this version, the characters play out something like this.

When Ram the human leaves his worldly pleasures, his ten senses die (Rama’s father Dasharath dies when Ram leaves for the woods).

Hanuman is always lost in the thought of his maker. This is representing devotion at the atomic or sub atomic level – a state which every human being  should aspire to be at.

Ravana has 10 heads representing the evil side of the ten senses. And I could go on to tell all and tie the pieces together but that is not the point…

Ramayana whether true or not has sufficient merit, to begin a debate.

Of sense and hurting sentiments…

So an academic is trying to argue the question (of Ramayan’s existence) in favour of it being imaginary. So what is wrong in that? It hurts the sentiments, we are told.

Does it hurt the sentiments of an individual, a group, a minority, the majority?

Will the people whose sentiments are hurt please stand up and be counted?

My sentiments hurt too. And I am sure when I tell you what sentiments as a Hindu hurt me, many Hindus and Non Hindus will resound with similar sentiments.

Here are a few that cause me grief

As a Hindu…

  1. My sentiments are hurt when a woman is disrespected – every day she is being raped both mentally and physically. The physical rape is easy to see. The mental one is more subtle – lewd comments on the street, harassment at work, being leached at, suppressed behind closed doors, beaten, disowned and I could go on…
  2. My sentiments are hurt with child marriage and SATI. There doesn’t exist a Raja Ram Mohan Roy today who stands up against these practices. I am sure RRMR hurt the sentiments of many, in places where child marriage in particular is still practiced.
  3. My sentiments are hurt at unborn girls killed in the womb, of girls being sold as slaves, of women who give birth to daughters being abandoned. This is in the land where a Janak cherished the birth of Sita, where Durga is the power of women, where the Mother is synonymous with India.
  4. My sentiments are hurt when a young couple is killed because they married from different castes.
  5. My sentiments are hurt that caste prohibits some from entry into villages, temples, even from drawing water from a well.
  6. My sentiments are hurt that we don’t have basic public civic amenities. Public toilets for women are non-existent. Men treat Mother India as their private toilet. No dark street corner is spared. The stench of human waste doesn’t even make the vast majority even flinch!
  7. My sentiments are hurt that an accident victim lies helpless on the streets. No one wants to get involved with the police and our common sensibility is sacrificed at the altar of convenience.

I could write for days and never finish the list of all that “hurts my sentiments”.

But that’s not the point

So forgive me “Shikasha Bachao Andolon” if I am cynical of all that you agitate about. Forget being a Hindu, even as a human being I am cynical about the chaos around “Sexy Radha” in a song or “Ram Leela” in a movie title. Please don’t tell me as a species and as a nation we don’t have other more grievous sentiments to agitate about.

In this era of understanding, of knowledge and progress I see humans as actually regressed. The voices of dissent have lived through our evolution. There were kings and dictators who had their way and then there was democracy like a cool summer breeze soothing violated beings. With democracy came the ability to voice dissent more strongly; oppressed voices began to be heard. But with the oppressed came the fanatically obsessed who sought their own pound of flesh. The majority though kicked up their heels and sat back to watch another type of drama unfold. Remember Bollywood movies have the largest viewership in the WORLD!

We have recently learnt to protest against rape because of a couple of violent deaths. But look back in history and you will find such moments have a periodicity of flaring up. And then they quietly die. The obsessed select the weak the vulnerable and the easy. A foreign author published by a foreign publisher on a sentimental issue (read religious issue) is weak because of the foreign tag, is vulnerable because its “us vs them” and is easy because the author has no real clout in a foreign country.

Where is the “Shiksha” when women are raped every minute of every day (be it physical or mental rape)?

Where is the “Shiksha” when the girl child is killed before even being born? Or worse, being born and treated worse than the village dog?

It hurts me. It hurts that the Hindu of today is silent. This is not the knowledge of centuries; this is not the Hindu that Hinduism talks about.

It’s easy to blame a publisher who fulfils his job of dissemination. As a business he has to respect the law and unfortunately “hurts the sentiments…” is in the law. I wish the definition of “hurts the sentiments…” is expanded in law. I wish it qualifies that which hurts the sentiments of HUMANS, not just Hindus or Muslims or Christians or of any other religious entity. Its time we as humans first, gave up the narrow definition of hurt that so conveniently is a one size fits all.

Its time to awaken to knowledge, to understanding and most of all to tolerance of our own ignorance.

Forgive me oh revered authors if your pieces in mainstream media don’t really make sense to me…

As humans we hurt, but what hurts most is that we don’t really care unless it’s personal to us…

This is personal to me. I hurt.

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About Vivek Mehra

I am currently the MD & CEO of SAGE Publications India. But I wear many hats that make me the person I am. Between the (public) professional life and the very deep and private recesses of my brain lies a universe of thoughts, actions and beliefs. These have been shaped by events, people and perhaps Karma. It's this universe I seek to put in words. When everything else failed me professionally, it was the power of my words that not just resurrected a career but brought back life to life. It is with these words that I continue to make a difference with those whose karma connects mine. Sometimes it's direct and most times it's not. But the essence of who I am never changes and I remain a person searching for himself. Update: In 2014 I published my first book on Kindle. It was written in 1999 and it never saw the light of day. Reader input welcome... http://tinyurl.com/7shadesofgrey
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