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The Rediff Special/ Vaihayasi Pande Daniel

Why I am ashamed of being a Hindu

Travel editor Vaihayasi Pande Daniel's anguish at the turns of events in India.

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A flower in bloom!' gladly announced a billboard on Bombay's Marine Drive. The Union Bank was saluting India on Republic Day. The flower had a blue chakra for petals and orange and green leaves. I thought to myself… flower in bloom… a flower with a deadly fungus on it…

Every day I anxiously scan the newspapers. Another church attacked in the Dangs. At a public meeting in Nashik Christians are ordered to vacate the area by the end of March. Keralite Christians attacked in Allahabad. Nuns raped in Jhabua… and then the macabre public execution of two youngsters and a man with an honest, earnest face…

I feel my future is in peril. I wonder how many incidents like this I will read before it becomes apparent that the trouble is coming closer to home. Before I realise that I may have to consider leaving India. At least I have the option to do so… My four-year-old daughter has that option.

I have never wanted to leave India. I was not born here. I did not grow up here. But I grew up Indian. The child of a vigorously patriotic vegetarian Madhya Pradesh Brahmin… the grandchild of a freedom fighter who spent two years in jail during the freedom movement. In the 1970s America was not as multi-cultural as it is today. Indians were an oddity in school. And an oddity in society. I did not belong.

When I moved to India as a teenager, I discovered India did not feel that way. Anybody could feel at home. Everybody was loved. India was so kind. Warm. Loving. Even to half-Brahmins in Bihar. And I am sure to Australian missionaries in Orissa. India was the place to live. And though I went back to America, I returned soon enough. I missed that special Indian warmth, her real, asli democracy and the right to be whomever you want. The right not to be discriminated against.

For years now I have proudly told people how wonderful India is. How it did not compare with any other place. How people migrating to white countries for a better life were foolish. But now I am not so sure…

The reason? I married a Tamilian. A man much more Indian than me, though he too has spent many years abroad. A Tamil-speaking, rasam-eating Madrasi who loves his kadu manga pickle and cannot pronounce the letter 'h'.

But he is Protestant Christian. It was a difficult marriage to make. Plenty of parental objection. So many rituals to be satisfied. But today we struggle to bring up our half Hindu and half Christian child to be open-minded, temperate and, above all, an honest human being. She is vegetarian, but has not been baptised or Hindu-fied. We celebrate Christmas and Diwali. She is as intrigued by Ganpati as she is by Santa Claus.

India seemed the ideal place to bring up this dual identity child. India would not pressurise her to be a good Christian or a devout Hindu. India would not make her feel awkward if she turned out to be vegetarian. India would not find her name strange. Or her looks odd. India is all accepting. India would not mind if she was neo-Buddhist and saluted Mother Mary and Krishna too.

Today it looks like my faith is misplaced. Gravely misplaced.

I am worried. Scared. Upset. What future does she have in this country? Is this anti-Christian offensive a long term scourge? Will Christians suddenly be hunted out and massacred like Sikhs were during those terrible days in November 1984? Will my white, sari-draped, converted Hindu mother be mistaken for a missionary on a Bihar street? Will Bal Thackeray suddenly take sides and give the call in Bombay to cast out Christians? Are Christians going to be made to feel outcasts as Muslims often are? Is this the beginning of a terminal disease?

How will I explain to my daughter that Hinduism is a tolerant, non-violent religion with any conviction? I am ashamed to be a Hindu today. Other religions sometimes committed these dastardly deeds. Not Hinduism. Hindus are gentle, I believed. Were gentle.

I have felt ashamed of being a Hindu for some years now.

The rise of this fundamentalist, clownish, rath yatra toting saffron band has been an uncomfortable event for me. We Hindus have never needed to wave the flag of our faith or shout our mantras from the rooftops. Advertise our faith. Or seek conversions. Or quarrel over numbers. Or call for crusades or holy wars. Or bomb embassies.

Hinduism was a good philosophy of life. You knew your mantras. You practised the few rituals you felt were important, quietly and soberly. And, above all, you concentrated on being a good, decent human being deserving moksha. There was no fanaticism. No insane zeal. No dogma. And no unkindness.

And then the Bajrang Dals, Hindu Parishads, Bhajapas and Nazi Senas came into being. Came into being to spoil, forever, the name of Hindusim. I almost feel that perhaps they are CIA or Mossad sponsored. A wonderful master game plan to irreparably damage the Hindu faith.

They have defiled Hinduism. Brought Hinduism an Auschwitz kind of shame. And to think that there are hundreds among us who have welcomed them in our midst.

I feel ashamed.

And never more so than today. A band of people, practising some bizarre version of Hinduism, have brought shame to an ancient faith, one of the oldest faiths in the world. One of the more perfect faiths in the world. Never before, I believe in 10,000 years of history have Hindus been responsible for such dastardly deeds.

And today we have a prime minister and home minister who twiddle their thumbs. Mumble about a debates on conversions. Or about the purity of the Bajrang Dal.

Yes, Mr Vajpayee, please resign.

Resign, so that we Hindus may be able to hold up our heads once again in pride. So that our children can be able to recite: Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai.

The Rediff Specials

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