The Supreme Court, in its judgement delivered in 1995, maintained that Hinduism is a way of life rather than just a religion. Many political pundits opine that the verdict has empowered Hindu religious parties such as the BJP to exploit Hindutva to garner votes. Social activist Teesta Setalwad, who is the most vocal proponent of anti-Hindutva, urged the Supreme Court to step in to ensure that politicians don’t misuse religion in political speeches to garner votes in the name of faith.
When we think about religion, the first things that come to our mind are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They are considered to be the true religions by their followers. They all have some specific qualities which qualify them to be called as religions.
They have just one god (monotheism),
they have one prophet,
they have just one book (scriptural literature),
they have one prominent pilgrimage place
and, they have a uniform method of worship all across the world.
If we take Christianity as an example, they have only one god called Jehovah, one prophet called Jesus Christ, one book called the Holy Bible, one prominent pilgrimage place called Jerusalem and one method of worship. Though there are sects such as catholic and protestant, they are only doctrinal differences which arose during the process of the reformation of the Church. The same is the case with the other two Abrahamic religions i.e., the Judaism and the Islam.
As far as Hinduism is concerned it does not have any of the above-mentioned qualities to qualify itself to be called as a religion. It is completely polytheistic and idol worship is widely prevalent. In fact, believe it or not, Hindus are busy adding new gods and goddesses to their pantheon. As if the number of gods and goddesses they have already been worshipping is not enough, they even started worshipping Saibaba of Shirdi, a Muslim ascetic and Mary Mata, the mother of Jesus Christ.
They have a variety of scriptural literature such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharatha, the Bhagavatha, the Vedas and the Upanishads. In fact, the ‘Bhagavad-Gita’ is actually a small part of the Mahabharata. They have innumerable pilgrimage places located in different parts of India and they also have infinitely diverse methods of worship.
Hinduism neither proscribes apostasy nor does it advocate the branding of the followers of other faiths as ‘Kafirs’. Anyone can criticize Hindus and Hinduism and get away with it. Since it is not a religion it does not make any efforts to proselytize the people who follow the Abrahamic religions. It is constantly and continuously evolving, in other words, it is ancient but ever renewing.
However, please don’t think that I am a big fan of Hinduism and therefore, all praise to it. It is a way of life with many inherent drawbacks.
The rigidity of its caste system took a heavy toll on the Dalits and the discrimination faced by them could well be compared with the apartheid practiced against the blacks. It is, in fact, worse. The arrogant and foolish upper caste Hindus simply refuse to treat their Dalit brethren with dignity and don’t leave any opportunity to dehumanize them. They even subscribe to utterly ludicrous and superstitious beliefs which have become a major hurdle in their path to progress. It is, as far as my observation is concerned, the costliest way of life. Hindu population, though overwhelmingly poor, spend a lot of money on religious rituals and other practices.
The ‘brahmins’, instead of guiding the Hindu community in the spiritual path, are busy fleecing their fellow Hindus in the name of performing various rituals. They chant mantras which, to most of the Hindus, don’t make any sense and sound like plain gibberish. In many cases, the people who chant the mantras themselves don’t have any idea of what they are chanting. As a result of this Hinduism has become a way of life which is incomprehensible to the masses and therefore, beyond their reach. The Brahmins, who are considered to be learned in Hindu theology, miserably failed in taking the exalted and universal ideas propounded by the ‘Sanatana Dharma’ to the masses. Instead, they reduced Hinduism to a bunch of meaningless rituals, which they officiate by charging exorbitantly. They, in their pursuit of money, even invent new rituals from time to time and resort to scaremongering to compel their fellow Hindus to perform them.
In summary, Hinduism indeed does not have any of the qualities a religion must have. In fact, the followers of the true religions feel that Hinduism is a pagan faith and its practitioners indulge in heathen worship. Though the words ‘paganism’ and ‘heathenism’ have some stigma attached to them, they are largely harmless as they advocate freedom and environmentally sustainable living, and most importantly, shun expansionist ambitions. To conclude, the supreme court is perfectly right in ruling that Hinduism is not a religion but merely a way of life.