Calcutta Notebook


2000 Dalits in Gujarat recently abandoned Hinduism. Former UP Chief Minister and head of the Dalit-centered Bahujan Samaj Party, Mayawati has said that she will leave Hinduism and embrace Buddhism if the atrocities on the Dalits did not cease. The immediate outburst may be due to her declining political fortunes. But the social environment for the outburst is created by the anti-people policies followed by the Modi Government. For example, the Jan Dhan Scheme has transferred about 30,000 crore of poor people's money to the big industrialists. GST has made it possible for large companies to reach their products across the country and eliminated the protection to small industries that was earlier provided by the state borders. The efforts of Modi Government to amend the Land Acquisition Act in favour of the purchasers was a step in the same direction, though it was aborted. The making of Bullet Train will not provide relief to the millions of poor people who travel in unreserved compartments. The silence of Modi on the death of Rohit Vemula has not gone unnoticed. These policies have created the ground for the conversions in Gujarat and the outburst of Mayawati.

The dissatisfaction of the poor has to be seen in continuation of the decline of Hinduism for the last 1000 years. Indians were the global leaders in economy as well as in thinking till the 8th century AD. The Gupta and Harsha empires flourished in India when ancient Greece and Rome were in decline. However, Hinduism has declined continually in the last 1000 years. One major cause of this decline has been the anti-poor ambience of Hinduism. For example, Lord Rama is perceived as anti-Dalit by many because of his killing of the innocent Shambuka. Celebrating the victory of Rama or making idols of him, without a remorse on the killing of Shambuka, does not go well with large numbers of citizens. The first challenge before Hinduism, and before Modi, is to create a pro-poor economic and social policy.

But there are other challenges as well. Hinduism has to face the emerging global challenges. The challenge is to surmount the "march of consumption". New technologies have opened new vistas of consumption such as space travel, computer games and vegetables of customized shapes. Man has become so overwhelmed by this newfound power that there is little space left for religion. Yet this march of consumption leaves a sense of emptiness. So young men from rich families embracing monkhood; and stars like Marilyn Monroe committing suicide despite having the whole world of consumption at their feet. Thus Luke Timothy Johnson, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins says that consumption of material things is not fulfilling: "People have a longing for something more than the everyday world offers them".

In an article titled "Challenges and Opportunities : Speculations on a Buddhist Future" Jeff Wilson says : "Asian cultures that have recently or are only now undergoing a shift toward materialism, the siren song of personal wealth, consumer floods, and individual consumption presents a strong challenge to older... values and ways of life". Thus, the common man of the country has no space for any religion including Hinduism. His single point focus is on more consumption. Then here the situation is more difficult. On the one hand there is a small section of the rich who have access to unlimited consumption, on the other hand large numbers of common people are largely deprived and want more.

The movement of Yoga being promoted by the Modi Government has a potential to face this challenge not only within India but across the world. On the surface, Yoga brings good health. Good health is often a path to increase in consumption. A healthy person can work more and eat more. Practised in this way, yoga adds fuel to the fire of ever increasing consumption. But the real import of yoga is to connect with one's inner being. If yoga is practised in this way, it can lead to reduced consumption. Marilyn Monroe may not have committed suicide and instead done documentaries for environment protection if she had practised Yoga and connected with her inner self. The challenge before the Modi Government is to turn the focus of Yoga towards the connection with the inner being.

The third challenge is that of environment. Luke Timothy Johnson gives two quotes from the Bible that explains the dilemma. It says, God blessed man and said, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28). At the same time God put man "in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it" (Genesis 2:15-17). God thus placed strict boundaries to the human exploitation of nature. The task before mankind is to use his dominion over every living thing in a way that conserves the environment.

Modi echoed this worldview when after taking over as the Prime Minister he said, "We have now to take nothing form the Ganga, only to give to her". But the record so far is not enthusing. The Ganga is being dredged from Varanasi to Haldia to enable movement of ships. Dredging is destroying the habitat of fishes and other aquatic life. The Turtle Sanctuary at Varanasi is to be denotified so that ships get the license to destroy these hapless creatures that clean up the water of the Ganga by eating the half burnt carcasses. The Government has not required hydropower companies to release even a litre of water to keep the Ganga alive. The river becomes totally dry below hydropower projects such as Srinagar and Vishnu Prayag. The Government even proposes to give clearances to new hydropower projects on the Ganga. Thus, in the present dispensation, there is only the establishment of man's dominion on the living beings without any consideration of environment.

The challenge before Modi is to deal with the problems of inequality, unlimited consumption and conservation of environment. Modi can take the first step towards meeting this challenge by redesigning his economic policies to create jobs for the poor; by linking yoga with the inner self; and by circumscribing limits on growth as required for the conservation of environment. Otherwise the decline of Hinduism will continue despite erecting huge statues of Lord Rama.

Vol. 50, No.20, Nov 19 - 25, 2017