Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What is Hinduism?

No, not a rhetorical question, but one that is being asked by the Allahabad High Court [Aside: why is there a High Court in Allahabad? One would think it would be in Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh? Hmm ... shows how ignorant I am ...] An intriguing point -- my understanding has been that Indian law has tended to define Hinduism and Hindus in the negative: those in India who are not Buddhist, or Sikh, or Muslim, or Jain, or Christian, or Parsi (Zoroastrian) are by default Hindus. [The word itself is a foreign word, derived from the Greek word for those living beyond the Indus.] It's interesting what rests on a proper and unambiguous legal definition of Hinduism -- things such as conversion, or the Sangh Parivar's fantasy of an equation between India and Hinduism.
Judge S N Srivastava, who heard the petition on March 16, expressed his consideration by saying: “What is the definition of the religion? Should one consider Hindus as members of one religion or a combination of various religious groups born and brought up in India from time to time? Can all religions born and practiced in India be grouped under Hinduism? If the answer is yes, how has the government made a notification declaring Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains as religious minority groups?” Srivastava said the answer to this question should be sought in censuses made in the period under British rule from 1851 to 1941.
[snip]
John Dayal, secretary-general of the All India Christian Council and president of the All India Catholic Union told AsiaNews that he was happy with the statements of the judge and hoped it would prompt the Allahabad court, the Government of India and eventually the High Court of India to take the bull by the horns and attempt to define Hinduism.

Dayal said: “The government and courts have long hidden behind theological mumbo jumbo and have never defined Hinduism. This has given an opportunity to proponents of Hindutva and other communalists to evolve a definition of Hinduism which is overwhelming, all encompassing and which makes it difficult for any other religion to survive or be counted. A direct result of this has been the denial of constitutional rights to Dalit – a group which does not belong to any caste – Christians and Muslims because a distinction was made between religions born in India, which now include Sikhism and Buddhism, and religions not born in India like Christianity and Islam. If Buddhism is Hinduism, then all of China, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma are Hindu. So why complain about conversions?
[Via Asia News]

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