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Diversity is central to Hindu identity

Experiences of Foreign Religions in India


India, Hindu India, is the only country where all religions have been allowed to practice freely for over thousands of years.  Long before religious tolerance became parlance of western legal systems, Hindu Indian rulers were protecting and supporting religious diversity in their kingdoms.  For example, Judaism found unconditional refuge in India when it was persecuted all over the western world.  Jews have been living unmolested and prosperous in Kerala since 562BC during the first destruction of their temple in Jerusalem.  When the Second Temple was destroyed and Jews were once again exiled in 70 AD, once again a new contingent arrived and found safe haven in Kerala.  At other times when Jews have had problems in Europe or the Middle-East, they have migrated to India for safety.  Jews only suffered in India when Portuguese and Muslims came to rule areas previously ruled by Hindus.     


Historically, Keralite Christians believe Apostle St Thomas arrived in Kerala soon after Christ’s death and converted some of the local Jews to Christianity.  In the Fourth Century, Persian Christians came with Thomas of Cana and introduced Eastern Orthodox rites in Syrian language to the Keralite Church.  When the Portuguese arrived in India in the sixteenth Century, they forcefully wiped out much of the original writing from the local churches and replaced it with Roman Catholic, Latin rites. 


Till the arrival of European version of Christianity, Keralite Christians suffered no religious persecutions in India.  Arrival of virulent form of Catholicism spelled disaster for local Jews and Christians who had been safe till this time.  Hindus also suffered under Portuguese rule and introduction of inquisition saw widespread destruction of local culture and history.


Earliest mosque in India was built by traders in Kerala and dates back to 629 AD, during the lifetime of the prophet.  Hindu kings allowed all their subjects to practice their own religions in peace.  Later spread of Islam was by the sword through invaders who came through the Khyber Pass.  They did not reciprocate religious tolerance they were shown by locals.


In the tenth Century, Zoroastrians from Persia fled Muslim persecution in their homeland and found safe haven in Gujarat.  They have been one of the most financially successful foreign religious minorities in India.


Hindu kings have offered refuge and succor to all religions, foreign and local, throughout history.  Even at personal cost, they have protected the diversity of religions during Mughal misrule of India.  Many Hindu kings have given land and financial support to all religions as their personal contribution to diversity.

Even now, when India is a secular socialist democracy, Indian state provides financial support for Muslims to perform Haj and Christians to go to Palestine for pilgrimage.  Though it is a relatively poor nation, India affords financial support for pilgrimage of its religious minorities that it does not provide for its own majority Hindus.         

Despite all this, some non-Hindu non-government-organizations claim they are ‘repressed’ in Hindu majority India.  They insist they should have a-prior claim to India’s resources and should have their progress guaranteed by positive discrimination, reservation and legally enforced quota.  They also believe they should be able to propagate their religions in any way they choose whilst Hindus should be debarred from ever preaching their religion amongst non-Hindus.

In fact Indian constitution provides for freedom to preach and convert.  However, this is not an exclusive right of Muslims or Christians. By the rights enshrined in the law, Hindus can also propagate their religion and they too can convert people if so they wish. Muslims and Christians are happy if Hindus convert to their religion, but complain if members of their community convert to Hinduism - WHY? Aren't people allowed to choose which religion they want to belong to?  Right to convert is open to all religions and no one can claim monopoly to it.

In the past, unlike Christian and Muslim kings, Hindu kings have never persecuted any religion - no matter how minor.  In modern India, Hindutva is far more tolerant of other religions than Islamic political parties. Even the so called secular parties in India aren't as tolerant of others as the BJP. Infact in India, and only in India, being secular actually means being anti-Hindu. Vote-bank-politics in India has ruined the word secular and turned it into a weapon to beat nationalist, pro-Hindu parties.

Christians and Muslims who insist on hegemony and insist on having exclusive rights ‘to the truth’, blame Hindus, who have always encouraged diversity of being as close minded as them.  Indeed, it was this insistence on hegemony by Muslims and their fear that Hindus would also insist on hegemony that caused the partition of India.  During the Independence movement, Muslims feared that if they were to become a minority in a united India, Hindus would wreck revenge for having been persecuted for a 1000 years by Muslim invaders and rulers.  They did not expect to be treated nicely or equitably because that is exactly what they had done for a 1000 years with their Hindu countrymen.  The two nation theory was based on Muslim fear of Hindus forcing them to repay the wrongs of  a 1000 years. 

Histories of India and Pakistan have proved that Hindu dominant India has been far more tolerant of its minorities than the two Pakistans.  Indeed, in India the over all population of Muslims has grown since independence, where as in the two Pakistans, population of all minority religions, including Hindus, has gone down.

Hindu India has always been very tolerant of all religions, foreign and native.  History bears this out.  One can only hope Hindus will be shown the same tolerance by Muslims and Christians that they have shown them.


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