Recently, Bajrang Dal kicked up a controversy after giving a call to Hindus in Assam’s Silchar to shun Christmas festivities.

This dampened the overall festive atmosphere in the Barak Valley’s largest town as churches to which the Hindus usually throng in large numbers on Christmas evenings preferred to keep their doors shut for visitors other than members from the Christian community.

Though COVID protocols were cited as the reason, it was not lost to the public that the move was ostensibly aimed at warding off any unpleasant situation in the backdrop of the boycott call.

Hence, unlike in other parts of Assam where people thronged the churches in large numbers despite COVID19 protocols, Christmas was a subdued affair at Silchar and other parts of Barak Valley.

The Bajrang Dal also had a tiff with Ramkrishna Mission (RKM), Hailakandi after the former objected to the latter celebrating pre-Christmas at its premises on the evening of December 24 along with other RKMs across the world as has been done all along.

Perhaps unbeknownst to many, RKM, which is a religious organisation and carries out extensive educational and philanthropic work in India, has a tradition of celebrating the night of December 24 since its inception after the practice was reportedly initiated by none other than Swami Vivekananda himself.

The Bajrang Dal decreed that Hindus, including organisations like RKM, should stay away from celebrating Christian festivals in protest against the recent forced closure of a centre run by RKM at Shillong allegedly by “Christian” activists of Khasi Students’ Union.

Of course, later, the local unit of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, of which Bajrang Dal is an arm, distanced itself from the entire controversy even as both the parties reportedly called it truce.

The incidents, which largely failed to make any media headlines elsewhere barring in Barak Valley, obviously don’t bode well not only for the social fabric of region or the country but for the future of human civilisation – and, not the least, Sanatan Dharma itself, the oldest but living dharmic tradition. For, it needs no iteration that Sanatan Dharma aka Hinduism is beyond any unquestionable organised dogma called religion.

Hence, its essence isn’t lost just because some of its practitioners celebrate Christmas or visit a church or a majhar. It isn’t any ism and its foundation isn’t that weak or vulnerable so as to crumble by someone attending a particular place of worship or eating a food of specific kind. As its very name suggests, it is Dharma, a universal consciousness that is beyond any belief, prophet, book or time.

But, fears are being increasingly expressed in certain quarters ever since Modi Inc rode to power that India was allegedly being sought to be turned into a “Hindu rashtra”, a euphemism for a theocratic state, by so-called right-wing Hindu or “Hindutva” forces.

In fact, the term “Hindutva” gained wide traction in usage as the so-called secularists and liberals of the country began using it liberally to blast the ruling dispensation, accusing it of promoting “Hindutva” ideology.

And “Hindutva” is sought to be differentiated from “Hinduism” by labelling the former as an ideology of extremist and religious Hindu bigots out to “suppress” the minorities, while portraying the latter as a religion. Another term being used concurrently and loosely is “saffron” to refer to anything related to Hindutva. No wonder, “saffron terror” also gained traction in usage.

And the concern of the “secularists and liberals” seems genuine with Hindu groups organising “ghar wapsi” programmes by allegedly forcing Hindus who converted to other religions to embrace Hinduism again, issuing diktats against inter-religious marriages or against celebrating non-Hindu festivals, disrupting Valentine Day celebrations, etc.

The turn of events in Barak Valley during Christmas seems to be part of this nationwide trend, which has set alarm bells ringing in certain quarters. And there can’t be any justification for such reprehensible acts either.

Any reasonable person won’t be able to subscribe to a philosophy of exclusivity that’s sought to be propounded by these so-called militant Hindu groups. For, exclusivity may be at the core of organised religions, but definitely not Sanatan Dharma, which is universal and hence inclusive.

After all, where can one found such profound concepts like “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family) or “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava” (equality of the destination of the paths followed by all religions) other than Sanatan Dharma. Thus, Hindus can’t be herded together or put on fetters in matters of belief.

However, this universalism of Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism can’t be an excuse for evangelists of other faiths to ridicule or mock it, or smell an opportunity in its liberalism to proselytise its practitioners, which is equally repugnant.

Thus, while condemning the extremist Hindu organisations, it would be only fair not to turn a blind eye to militant evangelism and large-scale conversions pursued by certain religious groups in this country to convert the Hindus.

But, while militant Hindu groups are constantly attacked by the intellectual class (and rightly so), there seems to be no similar outrage against mass religious conversions in this country largely with international funding that threaten to wipe out many native culture and traditions, nor against the radical non-Hindu forces.

In fact, the rise of right-wing Hindu forces in the country is seen by many as a direct consequence to the mass religious conversions, the seemingly general aversion for Hindu culture and tradition among the intellectual class and growing radicalisation among other religious groups. But unfortunately, all this has come at the cost of some Hindus imbibing certain characteristics that can only be termed “anti-Hindu”.

Nonetheless, the right-wing forces ought to realise that Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism is above narrow parochialism, it’s about humanity, which is its core essence. While contextualising the situation, the Hindus need to understand that their rich dharmic heritage won’t lose its essence by someone celebrating Christmas or Eid.

Rather they should become spokespersons of its universality.

Yes, oppose conversions tooth and nail, but by making every Hindu aware and proud of her/his rich and ancient legacy and even become its ambassador, not by issuing a Talibani-style diktat. For, such decrees only seek to belittle and demean the rich Sanatan Dharma heritage and equate it with dogma (as religions tend to be).

(The writer is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. He can be reached at eternalflame2000@gmail.com)

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