It’s not everyone’s cup of tea to read and decode the writings of Shashi Tharoor. The depth of his intellect is unfathomable to the average millennial and his speeches usually go above our heads.
I specifically used the word ‘millennials’ and not ‘adults’ because the 62-year old’s insights and interpretations are probably more coming-of-age than any 20-year old out there and as the inheritors of an increasingly intolerant nation, we must understand what Mr. Tharoor has to say.
Through his book, Why I Am A Hindu, Shashi Tharoor shares his reasons for being a proud Hindu. He also aims to provide logic to those who are misinterpreting Hinduism and as a result, alienating themselves from the faith.
Here are some important snippets from his book, that hopefully help readers get a better view of Tharoor’s Hinduism for all:
#1. Hinduism was always an informed choice:
“Every morning, after his bath, my father would stand in front of the prayer room wrapped in his towel, his wet hair still uncombed, and chant his Sanskrit mantras. But he never obliged me to join him; he exemplified the Hindu idea that religion is an intensely personal matter, that prayer is between you and whatever image of your Maker you choose to worship. In the Hindu way, I was to find my own truth.
I think I have. I am a believer, despite a brief period of schoolboy atheism (of the kind that comes with the discovery of rationality and goes with an acknowledgement of its limitations). And I am happy to describe myself as a believing Hindu: not just because it is the faith into which I was born, but for a string of other reasons, though faith requires no reason.”
Shashi Tharoor talks about how his faith was his active choice and not simply an accident of birth. He speaks about how he found his truths from within, and how his father never urged him to join him in prayer.
Tharoor was allowed to be an atheist, and his parents would have accepted him wholeheartedly even if he had opted for any of the non-Hindu choices, just like most millennials nowadays whose parents believe that their children are a helpless byproduct of an increasingly atheist world and hence give them religious freedom.
Shashi Tharoor writes about cherishing the lack of compulsion, and the richness of the various ways in which Hinduism is practised eclectically.
#2. Hinduism and liberalism co-exist:
“ I have long thought of myself as liberal, not merely in the political sense of the term, or even in relation to principles of economics, but as an attitude to life. To accept people as one finds them, to allow them to be and become what they choose, and to encourage them to do whatever they like (so long as it does not harm others) is my natural instinct.
Rigid and censorious beliefs have never appealed to my temperament. In matters of religion, too, I found my liberal instincts reinforced by the faith in which I was brought up. Hinduism is, in many ways, predicated on the idea that the eternal wisdom of the ages and of divinity cannot be confined to a single sacred book; we have many, and we can delve into each to find our own truth (or truths).”
Time and again, Shashi Tharoor has stressed on the importance of Hinduism being a faith for all. He calls himself a liberal, politically and economically, and writes about how Hinduism is a faith that reinforces his liberal instincts.
He stresses on the all-pervasive, inclusive and accommodating nature of Hinduism, throughout the book. He regularly criticizes right wingers for equating Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism.
Mr. Tharoor believes that “majority communalism is, in fact, an extreme form of separatism, because it seeks to separate ‘other Indians’, integral parts of our country, from India itself.”
#3. Hinduism does not claim to be the best:
“I find it immensely congenial to be able to face my fellow human beings of other faiths without being burdened by the conviction that I am embarked upon a ‘true path’ that they have missed.
This dogma lies at the core of the ‘Semitic faiths’, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father [God], but by me’ (John 14:6), says the Bible; ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet’, declares the Quran, denying unbelievers all possibility of redemption, let alone of salvation or paradise.”
He says that out of the many faiths in the world, Hinduism is one of the only major religions that believe in the doctrine of universal acceptance, which acknowledges the importance and truth of all religions and does not pronounce itself as the best.
#4. Hinduism and Hindutva are very different:
“To my mind, a religion that respects different points of view, and is open to the possibility of finding the truth in various, often contrasting ways, is the perfect religion for our times. Of course, most Hindus have never been brought up to believe, as unfortunately, members of the Sangh Parivar do, that Hinduism is the best faith and that anyone who disagrees should be hit on the head — that’s not our belief.”
Shashi Tharoor has openly criticized the Rashtriya Sangh Parivar for trying to jeopardize his faith by limiting it to a skewed extremist definition. He openly refers to Sanghis as fanatics and bashes the violence that is perpetrated by the RSS in the name of Hinduism.
He believes that Hinduism, just like all other faiths, can’t be aligned with the left or the right wing. He writes about the things he is not proud of in a list, and his list openly hints at some of the events that BJP-RSS leaders have been in the news for.
“I am not proud of my co-religionists attacking and destroying Muslim homes and shops.
I am not proud of Hindus raping Muslim girls, or slitting the wombs of Muslim mothers.
I am not proud of Hindu vegetarians who have roasted human beings alive and rejoiced over the corpses.
I am not proud of those who reduce the lofty metaphysical speculations of the Upanishads to the petty bigotry of their own sense of identity, which they assert in order to exclude, not embrace, others.
I am not proud of those Hindus, like “Sadhvi” Rithambhara, who say that Muslims are like sour lemons curdling the milk of Hindu India.
I am not proud of those who suggest that only a Hindu, and only a certain kind of Hindu, can be an authentic Indian.”
#5. India needs pluralism and not secularism:
“I believe that in the Indian context, secularism just means pluralism. A Western dictionary will tell you secularism is the absence of religion, but in India, with our profusion of religions, such a definition would never work. In India, therefore, secularism is intended to mean respect for all faiths, where the government doesn’t privilege any one of them. The Congress’ attitude has been, and remains, that all religions are equally valid to their believers. So if you wish to follow a different kind of worship from me, it was not my place to judge it.”
“In my own constituency, as a Congress politician now having won two elections, I go to mosques, I go to temples, I go to churches. Because ultimately, it is not being untrue to my faith; it is just a way of showing respect for the beliefs of others. It is not, in any way, less Hindu to respect a Muslim worshipper at his mosque on Eid. It is a way of saying I respect you for who you are, but it’s not my belief. That is the kind of sincere pluralism the Congress party aspires and works towards.”
A staunch Congressman, Mr. Tharoor does not shy away from lauding his party’s interpretation of religion in India. He thinks that secularism is not a viable option available to India because religion is deeply rooted in the Indian soil, and the only way to move forward as a unified country is to opt into pluralism, the policy regarding the diversity of beliefs co-existing in society.
#6. Hinduism does not oppose Islam:
“I do think that the faith in itself is open and accepting enough to embrace and accommodate those who practice different religions and faiths within the same society, and given the melting pot of nationalities, backgrounds, traditions, customs, cultures and indeed even experiences that communities in the modern world are coming to represent, that is exactly the kind of religion we need.”
“I am proud of those Hindus, like the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, who say that Hindus and Muslims must live like Ram and Lakshman in India.”
Bashing religious fundamentalism and extremism, Shashi Tharoor once again reinforces the idea that Hinduism is not in opposition to Islam or any other faith.
He begins his book by saying that Hinduism is a civilization and not a dogma; for those that don’t know, the definition of dogma states that it is ‘a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.’
Starting from its controversial and yet beautifully intriguing first line, Why I Am A Hindu by Shashi Tharoor, is an interesting read for literally everyone.
Image Credits: Google Images
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