Public discourse in modern India seems to be a bundle of contradictions, dawdling in sophisticated arguments without a fundamental anchor. The resulting incongruence has come menacingly close to destroying the moral fabric of the nation. Is this driven by ignorance or hypocrisy? Is this a case of mistaken identity or one of double standards?

The English mainstream media’s step-motherly attitude towards the Hindus invariably results in their indirect support to fringe elements and extremists of non-Hindu groups. With the rise of social media, it has become rather easy for the average netizen to detect the mainstream media’s selective outrage. This not only vitiates anger in the average Hindu but also silences the voices of Muslim liberals.

In the recent outrage against “rising intolerance” by writers, poets, translators, and filmmakers, the deaths of ‘rationalists’ were mourned and ‘Hindutva forces’ were accused, but the death of the progressive Islamic scholar Chekannur Maulavi at the hands of Islamic radicals [1] went unnoticed. Maulavi’s sin? Reinterpreting the Qur’an. Activists from the Islamic group Popular Front of India (PFI) chopped the wrist of Prof. T J Joseph on charges of blasphemy. Would writers and journalists care to mourn?

In the following series, we list fifteen prominent inconsistencies of modern India that we have been unable to make sense of. In the first part, we discuss the social inconsistencies-

Freedom of Expression

Some of our communists and artistes (often not mutually exclusive) have expressed rage over the suppression of freedom of expression in India, particularly in connection with those they call the ‘right wing fundamentalists.’ Don’t they have anything to say about the systemic suppression of freedom of expression in every single communist regime of the past as well as many Islamic countries? Are they not advocating these regimes by choosing to remain silent on them?

Further, history has shown that the arts can grow only in an open society – not in an atmosphere overwhelmed by religious fervour. The reason why the arts (and debates) have always flourished under Sanātana Dharma is because it is not a religious or dogmatic system. Misguided Hindu groups who have reduced Hinduism to a religion should remember that by stifling freedom of expression, they distance themselves from the fundamentals of the faith they proclaim to uphold. Their obsession with religious sanctity should not stifle the natural growth of art and culture.

Environment and Faith

Some of our environmental activists have staked their careers to protect a river or a forest – no doubt a noble undertaking – but on the subject of meat-eating (and the beef-ban), their silence was deafening. Don’t they know that meat [2] increases the carbon footprint and is harmful to the ecology in the long run? Haven’t studies also shown the dangers [3]of consuming red meat?

Environmentalists suggest that Hindus should celebrate Dīpāvalī without fireworks or avoid polluting rivers and water bodies during the Gaṇeśa festival or on Vijayadaśami. This is a fair suggestion (for example, Hindus revere Ganga as a sacred river but have no qualms about polluting it.) But how many of these activists are ready to suggest that Muslims celebrate Eid without animal slaughter?

One group in Bhopal [4] did, and got attacked for it! We should also mention here that it is heartening to observe that more people are going back to the old tradition of making eco-friendly clay Gaṇeśas (and immersing it in a vessel in their own homes, thus recycling the clay as well). Natural colours are slowly gaining prominence during Holi. Even in the case of Dīpāvalī, it has traditionally been only a festival of lights and not of noise.

‘Hindutva’ Groups and Victorian Morality

Some groups who call themselves either pro-Hindu or ‘Hindutva’ and claim to protect Hindu society seem to be driven by tenets of Victorian morality rather than principles of Sanātana Dharma. There are many instances in our festivals and pastimes where young men and women, who have mutual affection, spend time together making merry. The spirit of Hinduism has no problems with young couples walking around in public places.

However, our ancients did not endorse public display of affection beyond a limit because that might embarrass the others.Traditional Hindu society had no problem with homosexuality [5]. Prostitution was legal but regulated, to ensure welfare of sex workers [6]. They didn’t have the concept of honour killings, female infanticide [7] or child marriage [8]. Divorce [9] and inter-caste marriages[10] were prevalent but society was not caustic about it . They were also quite broad-minded in matters of food and drink [11]. And in matters of sexuality, they were not obsessed with sex but at the same time, they did not abhor it or suppress it . But these are truths that some of the groups find blasphemous.

Instead of merely opposing Western festivals like Valentine’s Day, these groups can offer meaningful alternatives – for example, there is the Kāma dahana / Holi (festival of love, which is celebrated in spring). Our Bhīmeśvara amāvāsyā (to celebrate the victory of Bhīma over Kīcaka, a villain who tried to molest Draupadi) can easily be celebrated as Husband’s Day or VaṭaSāvitrī Vrata (to celebrate the victory of Sāvitrī over Death to save her husband’s life) can be celebrated as Wife’s Day.

Lord Kṛṣṇa’s birthday can be celebrated as Children’s day. In a similar vein, instead of opposing a certain musician or genre, they can promote Indian classical music. Instead of opposing a certain film that offends Hindu values, they can sponsor a film that does. In the long run, being destructive (or constantly opposing) tends to be unsustainable.

Indian Feminists

Some of our feminists cry hoarse about the ‘barbaric’ Hindu civilization and its legacy of male chauvinism, writing bitterly about Manu [12] and Āpastamba. The same feminists seem to have no problem with Mao Zedong, a known womanizer [13] or the manner in which Muslim men misuse the shameful practice of oral talaq in Islam (see for example, Qur’an 2:228-32).

According to the sharia, a woman also has the right to divorce men (khula) but under very specific circumstances and only if the husband has formally allowed it in their marriage contract (nikah nama). It is perhaps for this very reason that The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act of 1939 specifies several conditions under which a Muslim wife can initiate divorce. A Muslim husband, however, can pronounce divorce purely on whim[14].Further, polygamy is still legal in India for Muslim men as per The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. It is illegal for everyone else, as per Section 56 of The Indian Contract Act, 1872.

When the social evils prevalent in the Hindu society like sati [15], untouchability [16] and dowry [17] have been banned by law, can we not abrogate archaic Islamic laws? Won’t such a step benefit Muslim women?

Further, even in matters of inheritance and succession, with The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 a great deal of gender equality has been brought in. Overall, it seems that the Hindu personal law (and to a great extent, the Christian personal law) is fair to both men and women, in stark contrast with the Muslim personal law.

In fact, in light of Section 498A of The Indian Penal Code, the gender bias inherent in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, and the existence of provisions like strī-dhana in the inheritance laws, some feel that the law is more in favour of Hindu women than anyone else!

While Hinduism and other Pagan cultures have gods and goddesses, the Semitic faiths don’t have goddesses. They cannot imagine god as a female. Is this possibly an indication of the low status given to women in those cultures?[18] What do the feminists have to say about this?

Sexual Freedom and Objectification of Women

Some feminists and activists in the past have expressed their deep concern over the objectification of women in Indian cinema. But they are the same people who say that a woman should have sexual freedom; she must be free to choose what is appropriate for her and she must be free to express herself the way she wants. The actresses who agree to do item numbers or roles that “objectify women” are choosing to do it, not compelled to.

Similarly, if a woman, of her own choice, wishes to have sexual intercourse with a Hindu religious leader, these feminists/activists are up in arms and throw polemical missiles against Hinduism; when such a case is reported in a church where a pastor forces a nun to have sex with him, they say that such things must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Either we have to examine all such acts on a case-by-case basis or be willing to blame the religion in all instances (or when there is a substantial number of such cases). And modern-day feminists are willing to even protest against the porn-ban, keeping aside the untold miseries hurled upon women in the porn industry.[19]

(​To be continued in the next part)

The authors would like to thank:​

  • Vikram Phadke, for his painstaking efforts in ensuring that all the law-related references were accurate and for explaining some complicated aspects of the law.
  • Dr. Koti Sreekrishna, for his detailed feedback on topics related to religion and society.
  • Aditya Jeurkar, for his invaluable insights on presenting the points in a balanced manner​.

References-

1. See Ullekh N P’s article Going Radical in Kerala

3. See Helen Pearson’s article Red meat is strongly linked to cancer

5. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code dates back to 1860, clearly inspired by the Biblical prohibitions of having sexual intercourse against the order of nature (Romans 1:26-27)

6. Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra has an entire chapter (2.27) dedicated to the responsibilities of the gaṇikādhyakṣa (the officer in charge of regulating prostitution). Vātsyāyana’s Kāmasūtra as well as the Mahābhārata have many references to the humane treatment of prostitutes

7. From Manusmṛti 9.232 we know that killing an infant invited the death penalty. Further in many other places, bhrūṇa hatya (infanticide) is denounced as a great sin

8. Typically boys and girls were married only after attaining puberty. The Vedas don’t speak about child marriage. It seems to have started much later – possibly after 12th century CE (Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśātra. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1941. Vol. II, Part II. p. 441)

9. In the whole corpus of Vedic texts and even in many of the Dharmaśātra texts, there is nothing said about divorce; because marriage was seen as sacred and not to broken. However, we do find some examples (Parāśarasmṛti 4.30, Arthaśāstra 3.3) where ‘divorce’ was possible under certain circumstances

10. See Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśātra. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1941. Vol. II, Part I. Chapters 2, 3, and 9

11. For a detailed exposition, see our article The Hindu View on Food and Drink

12. See for example Sharmila Rege’s Against the Madness of Manu (New Delhi: Navayana Publications, 2013)

13. See Ross Terrill’s article What Mao Traded for Sex

14. This is possibly the reason why 93% of Indian Muslim women want the oral talaq abolished

18. For example, see Exodus 21:7 (a man can sell his daughter to be a maidservant), Leviticus 19:20 (if a man rapes a female slave, she is punished), Deuteronomy 21:11-14 (a man can force a captive to be his wife and can discard her when he wishes), Titus 2:5 (women should be obedient to their husbands), and 1 Peter 3:1 (wife should be in subjection to her husband). Also see Qur’an 2:223 (women are like fields to be ploughed to beget children), 2:282 (one male witness is equal to two female witnesses), 4:11 (in matters of inheritance, a man gets twice as that of a woman), 4:34 (men are better than women; men can punish their wives), and 24:6 (a man can accuse his wife of adultery without any witnesses)

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