One of these boxes asked for the religion of the dead person. The form, or perhaps it was the operative, offered her two options: Hindu or Muslim.
“The Mullah sounds the dusk Aazaan —
The streets are red with splattered Paan!
To Christ’s mass the church bell calls —
We commit khoolla nuisance against walls!
In temples we pray to Hanuman —
Kabh hoga yeh swachh Hindustan?”
— From Songs of Shanty Niketan by Bachchoo
A friend, left in charge of another late friend’s estate, attempts to access this late friend’s savings and close her bank accounts. As all human beings know, dealing with the affairs (of every category) of the dead is not easy. In some cases, it involves the unbearable or annoying complications of bureaucracy. In this case, my friend tells me, she had to negotiate with the operative of an Indian-government-owned bank.
He offered her several forms to fill, which demanded details about the deceased. One of these boxes asked for the religion of the dead person. The form, or perhaps it was the operative, offered her two options: Hindu or Muslim.
My friend said the deceased was neither. She was Christian by birth and possibly by faith. The operative replied that that would be classified as Hindu.
This, gentle reader, was naturally puzzling and my friend enquired how such a classification came about. The operative, she says, told her that Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and perhaps atheists were classified as “Hindus”. The contrary or opposing category was “Muslims”.
Now this can be seen as a simple matter of the bureaucratic simplification, however mistaken, of categories — resolving Indians into two main religious groups. Or it can be seen as a categorisation which is severely sinister – a categorization which distance Muslims from the rest of Indian citizens.
The basis for such a division, if indeed my friend understood the forms or the operative’s directions accurately, is obscure. Is there an implication in this separation of religions of who belongs and who doesn’t? I mean to the soil, to Hindustan, to Bharat Mata? The report of her encounter with the Operative and his forms (note the capital “O”, used here in imitation of George Orwell’s capitalisation of “Big Brother” in 1984) is indeed disturbing as it seems to chime with the recent acts of the government in classifying the citizens of India by their religion of birth.
Even the panjandrums of organisations such as the RSS have at times said, perhaps not in so many words, that all citizens of India are “Hindus”. I believe, and am perfectly willing to be corrected, that they meant that being a Hindu was a nationality and not a faith.
The universally accepted definition of citizenship is that it is bestowed through the rights of “jus sanguinus” or “jus soli” — by connection of blood — meaning you are Indian if your parents are Indian, though you may have been born in Bechuanaland — or geography — those born on British soil can claim British citizenship. These criteria are logical and humane and should be universally followed. The process of naturalisation, the issuing of citizenship to people who live and dedicate their futures to a nation, is a logical path to citizenship — from Green Card to Stars-and-Stripes-waving American!
Alas, there are forces in America, personified in Trumpism who don’t respect this universal principle and classify as undesirable people from countries whose populations are dominantly Muslim. Has then the Statue of
Liberty in New York harbour sprouted two continuous fountains of tears?
What’s puzzling to my commonsensical mind is the basis on which such classifications are made. Perhaps the contention is that Islam is an imported religion. That truth doesn’t make the Muslims of India an imported population. They are sons and daughters of the soil and are maybe 99 per cent, though they may boast of Afghan or other ancestry, the descendants of converted Hindus.
So also with the Christians and Jews of India. They are indigenous converts to a belief with solid (or double-helix) Indian DNA in their being. Now, I venture to say, Parsis are different. They are not only Zoroastrian by belief, they are an imported race, albeit settlers in India for the last 1,200 years. But still “Hindu”?
It’s true that Sikhism is a religion inspired by Sufism, which in India borrows from Islam and Vedic belief, while discarding the ritual of the latter. It is arguable that Buddhism and Jainism are derived from “Hindu” belief.
And so to the fact or contention, certified by an absolute majority of world historians, that “Hinduism”, is an evolution from an amalgam of the beliefs of the Dravidian race with their worship of Shiva and the religion of Aryans who came from Central Asia and brought their polytheistic pantheon of nature gods with them.
The other conundrum which this classification of other religions as “Hindu” brings to mind is an episode in my long and happy career as a TV-wallah in the UK. Channel 4, where I worked, ran a programme called Devil’s Advocate in which the late, dynamic TV presenter Darcus Howe, a Trinidadian in origin himself, challenged controversial actions or statements of politicians and others before a studio audience. A female counsellor of a London borough, of African origin herself, had made some statement about banning Indians from certain appointments.
Darcus invited and challenged her. She denied that she had made a statement which discriminated on grounds of religion and blithely said “I am a Hindu myself!”
Darcus’s immediate rejoinder was “Really? So, what caste do you belong to? Are you a Brahmin or dalit…?” Answer came there none.
Ironically, in Britain today, there is much talk of “diversity”. This is the sociopolitical contention legislated determination to make every institution and activity fully representative of the UK’s present population by including, recruiting and nurturing people of ethnic origin, gay people and other minorities. Women, though they are 50 per cent of the population, sometimes seek representation behind this banner of “diversity”.
It’s a mark of Britain’s civilisation that it officially enshrines the embrace of minorities. Shouldn’t this be a universal principle in all democracies?