Hinduism in World’s Largest Muslim Majority Country

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Statue of Krishna and Arjuna at Jakarta Main Square in Indonesia.

With the escalation of Hindu-Muslim tension in India, Hindutva ideologues have started to brainwash Indian Hindus by trying to instill in them a sort of existential dilemma. They reason that Islamist Jihad in India will result in a situation where no Hindus will be left to live in Bharat. In order to substantiate their claim, they cite the example of Muslim majority Pakistan and Muslim majority Kashmir. When Pakistan came into being in 1947, the Hindu population of the state ran in double digits (percentage wise) but gradually this figure has descended to a percentage or two. Similarly, the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley has led to over 90% of the Kashmiri Pandits being forced out of their homes. Islamophobic intellectuals in India have stated that these warnings should not be taken lightly by the Hindus as Muslims are on a mission to convert India into Darul Islam. I wonder whether these academicians really understand the meaning of the term Darul Islam (Abode of Peace) which has been used in the Quran to describe heaven and not some Muslim majority country ruled by the Sharia as some Islamophobes would have us to believe.

If there is any person who is worried about the fate of Hindus in Muslim majority countries and intends to know whether the two communities can co-exist in such a situation then that person should look at Indonesia, the country with the highest number of Muslims in the world. According to the 2010 National Census of Indonesia, the island nation’s human force stands at 237.6 million. Muslims form the majority with 87.5% of the population. Christians happen to be the major minority in the country with 9% stake in the population whereas Hindus and Buddhists form 3% and 2% population share, respectively. Indonesia happens to be a secular state and the guiding force behind the idea of Indonesia is the Pancasila. The Constitution of Indonesia was formulated by such secular fundamentalists that in August 1945 they unanimously ratified and agreed upon the usage of the term “Tuhan” instead of “Allah” in the Indonesian Constitution. This was done particularly to strengthen the confidence of minorities like Hindus who preferred using the term “Tuhan” and could connect with it. On the same day ie 18th August, 1945 the constitution makers modified the first principle of the Pancasila from “Belief in Almighty Good with the obligation for its Muslim adherents to carry out the Islamic Law” to “Belief in Almighty Good”. This made the Indonesian Constitution all the more secular.

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Garuda Pancasila is the National Emblem of Indonesia. It has been inspired by the Hindu mythological bird, Garuda.

The official motto of Indonesia is “”Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” which can be translated as “Unity in Diversity”. The term unity and diversity is said to have been originally coined by Bahai Ullah, the founder of Bahai Faith. The national emblem of Indonesia is called Garuda Pancasila. In Hindu mythology, Garuda is a bird of great significance as it is the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. One of the most important Hindu scriptures called Garuda Purana describes the conversation between Lord Vishnu and Garuda regarding afterlife. Garuda Purana is also recited in Hindu households after someone passes away. Indonesia’s national airline has also been influenced by this bird of Hindu mythology and is called Garuda Indonesia. Lord Ram’s beloved “Hanuman” who appears in the Ramayana is the official mascot of Indonesia’s military intelligence. The National flag of Indonesia called the “Sang Saka Merah-Putin” (meaning “The Sacred Red and White”) has been influenced by the banner of Majapahit empire which was at the time of 13th century one of the largest empires of the region. Hinduism and Buddhism were the dominant religions in the Majapahit Empire.

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Inscription of Lord Ganesh on an Indonesian currency note.

Senior BJP leader and Former Deputy Prime Minister of India, Lal Krishna Advani visited Indonesia in July 2010 to attend the World Sindhi Conference in Jakarta. It is noteworthy to mention that Advani used to be the poster boy of Hindutva in India as it was him who headlined the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and ensured the rise of Hindu nationalism in the country. During his trip, Advani was left awestruck because of the pride bestowed upon Hinduism by Muslim majority Indonesia. On his return to India, he wrote a blog titled “Hindu influence in Indonesia” on 17th July, 2010. He concluded that write up with the following words, “Indonesia, I must say, seemed to know and cherish Ramayana and Mahabharata better than we (Indians) do.” Advani mentioned in his blog about the Ganesh inscription on a high denomination currency note of Indonesia ie 20,000 rupiah.

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The official logo of the island of Bali in Indonesia represents the Three Gods of the Universe ie Brahma, Vishnu and Shiv.

During his stay in Bali, Advani encountered the newly adopted logo of the island of Bali which in Advani’s words was a “manifestation of country’s Hindu traditions.” A publication of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism described the logo as follows, “The triangle (shape of logo) is a symbol of stability and balance. It is formed out of three straight lines in which both ends meet, taking the symbols of a blazing fire (Brahma – The Creator), lingga or phallus. The triangle also represents the three Gods of the Universe (Trimurti – Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa), three stages of nature (Bhur, Bwah, Swah and Loka), and three stages of life (Born, Live and Die). The tagline ‘Shanti, Shanit, Shanti’ represents peace be upon Bhuwana alit dan agung (yourself and the world) which will deliver a sacred and holy vibe that awakens a deep aura that balance and make peace to all living creatures.” During his short trip to Indonesia of 4 days (2 days in Bali and 2 in Jakarta), Advani also saw the Krishna-Arjuna Statue at Jakarta main square. While Advani was in Denpasar, capital of Bali, he saw another statue which even he was unable to decipher. When he inquired about the statue from the driver of his car, the driver replied, “This is a depiction of the Ghatotkach from Mahabharata.”

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Statue of Ghatotkach in Indonesia.

The driver’s answer won Advani’s heart. Advani wrote, “Indeed, even in India very few would be able to identify who Ghatotkach is. And here was the driver of our car knowing full well both Ghatotkach as well as his relationship with Bheema.” Indonesia’s pluralism and its respect for the various religious traditions being practised in the country is a matter of great pride for the entire world. The world’s largest Muslim majority country stands as a testimony for those who believe that societies which are dominated by Islam do not even exhibit the slightest form of tolerance. Advani’s respect for Indonesia stems from Indonesia’s respect for Hinduism. We hope and pray to God that Indonesia continues to prosper and remains a citadel of peace and tolerance across the globe. Advani stated in his blog, “In Indonesia, the names of places, of people, and the nomenclature of institutions also give one a clear impression of a benign Sanskrit influence.” We hope that this vibrancy of Indonesian culture never ceases and continues its existence till eternity.

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Caste Cauldron – Ambedkarite Approach vs Gandhian Approach

The caste system which is situated at the very heart of Hinduism rebuts its tall claims of tolerance. Hinduism is generally known for its open and dynamic nature which has been heavily praised and has often been cited by public intellectuals including Fareed Zakaria for being responsible for the growth and survival of democracy in India. On one hand, we’ve had maverick religious reformers who have weeded out evils and superstitious from the Hindu faith thus making it appear more attractive, inclusive and tolerant but on the other hand, the continued existence of the rigid and repressive caste system has not only institutionalized intolerance within different sections of the Hindu community but has also jeopardized Hinduism’s claims towards being a tolerant faith. This is somewhat similar to Islam’s claims to universality which appear weakened and morbid when one sees the situation prevailing in its two holy cities, namely, Mecca and Medina where Non Muslims are not allowed to enter.

The phenomenon of castes and sects is not specific to the Hindu faith as we are all aware of the existence of Catholics and Protestants in Christianity and Sunnis and Shiites in Islam. Protestants emerged in opposition to the Catholics and were seen as religious fundamentalists who rejected the primacy of the Pope and pressed upon the infallibility of the Bible. The two sides were embroiled in a number of bitter battles including the Thirty Years War in the Holy Roman Empire and the French Wars of Religion. The split within Islam has existed since the massacre of Karbala. While Shiites emphasize on the divine right of the Household of the Prophet to rule over the Muslim community, Sunnis remain critical of the approach. But the reason why the Hindu caste system is more worrying than sectarianism within Christianity and Islam is because in Hinduism there is scriptural sanction for the caste system. Castes have been a talking point in a number of scriptures including the Rig Veda and Codes of Manu whereas the divisions in Christianity and Islam have not happened due to scriptural sanctions but because of difference in opinion regarding the interpretation of the scriptures.

The persecution of the untouchables and the slavery imposed on the Shudras has no parallel in human history. Their condition was for more abysmal than the Afro-Americans in the United Sates or the bonded labourers of the Roman Empire. They did not have the freedom to profess an occupation of their choice nor did they have the right to reside freely as they were pushed outside cities to stay into ghettoes where they resided for centuries. They also did not enjoy the freedom of worship as they were not allowed to enter temples. The Hindu society’s crusade against casteism has been an old one. Over the past decades, two fundamental approaches have risen while tackling the menace of casteism. The first approach is the Ambedkarite approach. Ambedkar chose to alienate the Dalits from the orthodox upper caste Hindus by portraying them as a minority within a majority and tried to take them away from the fold of Hinduism. The second approach is the Gandhian approach. Gandhi pitched for Dalit rights by rejecting scriptures and by trying to get rid of untouchability as a whole from Hinduism.

I personally feel that while battling casteism, the triumph has been that of the Gandhian approach. Dalits haven’t ceased to be a part of the Hindu community and attempts are being made to integrate them into the mainstream by rejecting strict adherence to the scriptures. The second big issue is that of affirmative action. Due to the iconoclastic views of Dr Ambedkar, he was often at loggerheads with Mr Gandhi. This opposition to Gandhi was strange because Gandhi enjoyed such a towering stature within the Congress that his moves were hardly met by voices of dissent. During the Second Round Table Conference in London, Ambedkar proposed the idea of having separate electorates for Dalits. Gandhi opposed the idea as he felt that this would lead to irreparable divisions within the Hindu community. Ambedkar’s plea for separate electorates was accepted by the British and Gandhi undertook a fast from a prison in Pune in opposition to the move. The standoff came to an end with the signing of the Poona Pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar where Ambedkar gave up the demand for separate electorates in place of reservation of some constituencies for Dalits.

Looking back I feel that Gandhi’s fears have been proven correct. Identity politics of caste has taken a very detrimental toll on the Hindu community and today, it stays far divided than it ever was. Ambedkar’s scheme of affirmative action has failed to solemnly resolve the problems faced by the Dalits. Even after having a cumulative reservation bank of 22.5% along with the Scheduled Tribes, only 11.1% of the SC’s and 4.6% of the ST’s are employed in Group A Services of the Central Government. Out of the 93 Secretaries of the Government of India, there is not even a single Dalit. By churning out these statistics I don’t intend to reignite the debate of doing away with reservations. I am for it but there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way it is being implemented in this nation because the benefits of reservations aren’t flowing down to the Dalits as in most of the cases, seats reserved for the depressed classes stay vacant. It is this error which has to be overcome.