Saturday, December 5, 2009

Talibans of India

Whatever be the etymological meaning of the word Taliban, commonly it's used as a synonym for utter misinterpretation of religious texts, religious or cultural regression, and off course extreme social injustice meted out to hapless people. If that's the case then who tells that Talibans are only in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Statistically India may have more Talibans!!

Let's consider each of the points that I've mentioned above to define a Taliban.

First let's take up the first point: Misinterpretation of religions texts. The Talibans in Pakistan and Afghanistan want to justify everything they do in the name of religion. They claim that everything is written in Quran - though any learned Muslim would vehemently protest against it. And any sane person, who hasn't read even a page of Quran would never believe that Quran actually justifies public lashing of women if they listen to music or not wear burqa or fall in love. There's no doubt that the entire Talibanism is caused due to serious misinterpretation of the religious texts. Well, let's now turn towards India.

Let's take a very simple example. A big part of India is vegetarian and the vegetarianism is linked with religion. I do accept that Jainism and Buddhism, which were very popular in many parts of India for a good amount of time in ancient time, do put stress on not killing lives, but no way can anyone say the same about Hinduism. To go back a bit into history, Hinduism got its origin from the Vedas. Though the term Hinduism is quite new, but the religion that is now loosely accepted as Hinduism, can also be called more correctly as the Vedic religion, something which took shape over three millennia with the ideas and philosophies of the Aryans synthesized with the same of the indigenous pre-Vedic people of India. The people of Indus Valley civilization, which predates the Vedas, would have also had their own religion. But not much is known about that. Many people believe (including Jawaharlal Nehru in Discovery of India) that the remnants of the Indus Valley religion may be found in the Vedic religion in many forms. Anyway, what so ever be it, there's no doubt that the Vedas are the earliest reference available for Hinduism and also the ancient history of the Indian people. No where it's found that the Vedic seers promoted vegetarianism. On the contrary beef was widely consumed. Not only that, even horse meats were consumed after the Ashva Medha Yajna (Horse Killing Ceremony). So when I find a Tamil Brahmin not renting his house to someone who takes meat, is it not a case of a gross misinterpretation of religious texts? The Rig Veda is considered to be the most sacred religious text for the Hindus and in that text there's absolutely no reference to vegetarianism. Well, you may say that equating this with Talibanism is ridiculous. That's true. Not renting a house to some one who eats meat is no match for the injustice meted out towards women in Afghanistan. But the point is indeed true - that a vast majority of Indians did misinterpret the religions text to justify something - vegetarianism in this case. In reality, no other religious book in any other religion is as pragmatic as the Vedas. There's absolutely no compulsion or restriction in the Vedas, especially the Rig Vedas - the earliest of the Vedas.

Well, there are several other cases of misinterpretation of religious texts in India. Let's take the example of the famous Puri Jagannath temple. Even Rabindranath Tagore was disallowed to enter the temple because he was actually a Brahmo, a sect started by the likes of Raja Rammohan Ray and Debendranath Tagore, based on the Vedas and the Upanishads. Even Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter because she had married a Parsi. Puri temple has a centuries old tradition of disallowing any non-Hindu. Well, here again it's a serious misinterpretation about who is a Hindu. If Hinduism is the Vedic religion, which I assume is never disputed, then how can a Brahmo be different from a Hindu - both are based on the Vedas and Upanishands. Also the Parsi religion was started by the same group of people who wrote the Vedas. Their earliest book Avesta has striking similarities with not only the language but also the content of the Rig Vedas. Even to this day the Parsis don't differ much from a present day Hindu. So if a believer of Vedas can be allowed into a temple, I find no reason why a Parsi won't be allowed.

Stretching my reasoning a bit more, etymologically, historically, geographically a Hindu is anyone who stays in India. So disallowing any Indian to any Hindu temple is anyway something that has no basis. Just because a non Muslim is not allowed to enter into the main shrine of Mecca, that doesn't mean that there has to be Hindu temples also disallowing a non Hindu. Bankim Chandra, the creator of Vande Mataram, had summed it up very well - Tumi adhom hoile ami uttam hoibo na keno - meaning if you're inferior then why can't I be superior?

Apart from Puri temple there's the famus Guruvayur Temple in Kerala. There also a non Hindu is disallowed to enter!! Again the same story of misinterpretation of the Vedas.

Now let's move to more serious stuff. The entire saga of untouchability is a matter of serious misinterpretation of the Vedas. It has nothing to do with the Chatura Varnas or the four Classes mentioned in the Vedas. It's understandable why Mahatma Gandhi fought so much against untouchability - because he was a staunch Hindu!!

Let's talk about social regression and injustice. Well, just do a google search on "caste killings in India" and see what you get. There's also an article in wikipedia about caste related violence. If you read through all those I don't think you'd anything more respectable from what you read about Talibanism.

I think the every tom-dick-harry has misinterpreted Hinduism in all possible ways and come up with really ridiculous traditions over the past one thousand years. Even now the practice of Sati is wrongly justified by some verses of the Vedas. More than 150 years ago people like Rammohan Ray and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar had tried in all possible ways to point fingers to such misinterpretations of the Hindu texts. But still you find miserable misinterpretations and subsequent social regression and injustice in many places. And the most sad part is that after Mahatma Gandhi no one has put any effort to eradicate these!!

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