Militant Hinduism

People in Western societies often believe that Eastern religions are more peaceful, less fundamentalist, than Judaism, Christianity or Islam have historically been. And it may well be true that the fluid, polytheistic nature of Hinduism and Buddhism makes them more tolerant, more willing to accommodate differing beliefs, than the fiercely monotheistic religions whose gods are unable to abide any competition.

Nevertheless, every religion has its violent, fundamentalist wing, and Eastern religions like Hinduism are no exception. In India, the problem is mainly in the form of a right-wing, ultra-nationalist movement that calls itself Hindutva, which wants its version of Hindu religious law imposed on the world’s largest democracy. Among other things, proponents of Hindutva are virulently anti-Muslim as a rule – some have called for the expulsion of all Muslims from India (there are over 100 million Indian Muslims, so this would be by far the largest forced migration in human history) and the annexation of the disputed territory Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have come to the brink of open war several times. Other Hindutva members have been linked to bombings and other terrorist acts aimed at Muslims.

Hindutva extremists have also targeted their fellow Hindu believers for not being sufficiently strict about religious observances and rules – especially those having to do with sex. In 2009, for example, a mob of youths from a right-wing Hindu group Sri Ram Sena attacked partygoers at a club in Mangalore, beating several people so severely they required hospitalization. The Sri Ram Sena has also warned local businesses not to celebrate Valentine’s Day and couples not to show affection in public – although Indian feminists, showing some spirit of their own, have fought back by pledging to bombard the group with pink underwear.

Like most religious extremists, Hindu fundamentalists are also opposed to much of mainstream science and history. In 2006, for example, a Hindu nationalist group filed a lawsuit in California over the content of several world history textbooks which they claimed were discriminatory against Hinduism. In reality, most of the changes they were seeking were to whitewash history to cast their beliefs in a better light – they wanted to soften or delete references to polytheism, sexism against women, and the caste system in ancient India. Although the lawsuit was dismissed, it showed that Hindu groups are not above attempting to rewrite history to serve apologetic ends. (source; see also)

Hindus, like Christians, also have their own creationists who deny evolution and mainstream theories about the age of the earth and humanity – although, in this case, the Vedic creationists believe that humanity is far older than mainstream geology and the theory of evolution say. See this article for more (HT: Sensuous Curmudgeon).

Although these fundamentalists don’t have quite as much influence in India as the Christian right does in America or the Muslim right does in most of the Islamic world, it’s striking how similar their goals are. It implies that fundamentalism is the same kind of evil, no matter where it springs up; it’s only the outward trappings used to justify these actions that differ from one culture to another.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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