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Three Essays and a Story

 

RELIGION AND POLITICS
Understanding Contemporary Hindu Politics: Exploring a People's Project

Introduction

This is not meant to be a definitive essay on Hinduism. It does not deal with the theological, spiritual or ethical aspects of Hindu Religion. For readers who want to explore these aspects more they can start with the excellent monograph, ‘Hinduism’ by K. M. Sen. Acharya Kshiti Mohan Sen was at Shantiniketan with Tagore and was an authority on medieval Indian religion. His ‘Madhyajuger Sadhana’ is a classic contribution in this field.

This essay is meant mainly to remove a lot of confusion and vagueness that surrounds the term Hindu and Hinduism, and to understand the how and why of the mischief and violence carried out by the ‘Sangh Parivar’ in the name of Hinduism. The essay is addressed to the so called layman, who has wisdom to understand but may not have access to technical and academic jargon.

Terminology

The political and social system we live in today is called capitalism. It is a system based on exploitation of labour and natural resources by the bourgeoisie or the capitalist class. Since it is a complete social and political system, it affects every aspect of life including religion. The way it does is referred to as the project of the capital. As opposed to this the working classes too struggle against it and struggle in various ways, including in the religious domain. This is referred to as the project of the proletariat or the project of the people.

The word Hindu comes from the river Indus (Sindhu in Indian languages) and was used by medieval world of Arabs and Europeans to refer to people living east of the river. Hinduism or Hindu Dharma is a relatively modern term (the traditional word in India was Sanatan Dharma) and is an omnibus word referring to the religious practices, rituals, philosophical and theological ideas of these people. The words Hinduism or Hindu Dharma do not signify a homogeneous religion or people. The word Dharma does not mean religion. It means a set of duties and obligation according to one's station in life. This could be based on caste or that of husband, wife, father, son, teacher, and student and so on. These were defined originally by Manu in Manusmriti or Dharmashastra around 200 BC. The word for religion in the Indian tradition is Sampradaya and not Dharma. In this article the word Hinduism is used in both the senses, that is, as a set or group of religions (sampradayas) and as Dharma, that is, a set of duties and obligations or code of conduct.
 

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