Print Edition - 2015-08-04 | Oped
Let us be
- The revulsion shown by some Western nations towards Nepal’s Hindu identity borders on hypocrisy
Aug 3, 2015-
The concept of secularism in the Western world was a reaction against the exploitative character of religious theocracy that had a vice like grip in society. As an organisation, the church emerged over time as an economic and political force which controlled the lives of the people in the name of the Almighty. It tried its best to stifle innovation, creativity and curiosity and threatened those who raised questions about the dogmas outlined by the theocracy. However, this did not go unchallenged and in due time, violence and unspeakable brutality in the name of religion became common.
The conflict between the ambition of the feudal rulers and the religious establishment was ultimately settled in the form of a new concept known as ‘secularism’, where the role of the theocracy was restricted in politics and the affairs of the state.
Nevertheless, religion continues to define the identity of many nations around the world. In this context, it is interesting to note that many Western nations that are openly advocating that Nepal should shed its identity as a Hindu state in the constitution are not willing to do so in their own countries. For example, there are 26 countries in the world that openly declare themselves to be Christian nations or affirm state support and recognition of certain Christian denomination as a part of state policy.
Of European hypocrisies
Interestingly, smaller European countries that have been advocating secularism in Nepal as the new ‘mantra’ of democracy and modernisation are also anything but secular. The constitution of Norway, for example, declares the Church of Norway as ‘Norway’s people’s church’ and is supported by the state. Similarly in Finland, the church has a special relationship with the state and has the power to collect taxes from its members and tax all the corporations. To top it all, the state collects the taxes for the church. Similar is the case in Sweden where the church has a special status with its own regulation in the Church of Sweden Act. The constitution of Sweden states that the monarch of Sweden has to be a Christian and also a true Lutheran. Members of the royalty hoping to ascend the throne must accept the Lutheran doctrine.
Even Britain, a nation that the world admires for its contribution to democratic values is apparently mighty proud of the fact that it is a Christian nation. The Church of England is an ‘officially established religious institution’ and the British monarch, who has to be a Christian, remains the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. A person no less that the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, recently said that Britain is a “Christian country” even though only 60 percent of the population has declared themselves as Christians. He even asked people to feel proud of saying that Britain is a Christian country. Personally, I have nothing but praise for the Cameron because he has the courage to say what he feels, a quality rare among politicians, and it is good to know that his religious beliefs give him this strength. However, when members of the Western diplomatic establishment in Nepal try their best to influence Nepali politicians through direct lobbying and indirect INGO activities to erase Nepal’s identity as a Hindu state in the constitution because it is somehow against democracy and ‘modern values’, their activities stand out as nothing but an exercise in hypocrisy bordering on some variant of the ‘white man’s burden’ which was used as one of the justifications of colonialism in the past.
The revulsion shown by some Western nations towards Nepal’s Hindu identity has been projected under the garb of modernity while ignoring their own attitude towards Christianity. How come a Nepali politician expressing his support for Nepal’s identity as a Hindu nation is viewed as obstructionist while the commitment to Christian identity by the head of the government of a Western nation is taken as a statement of national dignity and pride?
Perhaps the difference in perspective is because of the differences in the conceptualisation of man’s relation to God in Christianity and Hinduism. Christianity does not give a person many options in his search for the divine. If a person wants to reach heaven, there is only one way to do so and that is by believing in Jesus Christ. Any other thinking is sure to pave the way to hell for eternity. The binary nature of this argument is a powerful motivating factor for building organisations and imposing discipline on the followers. In the dark ages, the church successfully used this logic to expand on an unprecedented scale. Those who challenged the church were brutally eliminated. The age of reason and enlightenment defied this interpretation and naturally, these were times of great struggle and violence. Now, in the 21st century, the struggle between the church and the state has taken a back seat with each side careful not to challenge the truce established over the centuries. Nevertheless, the basic model of a monotheistic religion that presents our relationship with God in a stark black and white framework remains the centre piece of its rganisational structure and behaviour.
Hinduism, on the other hand, is more a way of life to achieve peace and serenity than a monotheistic religion. For Hindus, there is always a large grey area between any two extremes where the mind can dwell and contemplate on the mysteries of life and define a man’s relationship with God on an individual basis. This spiritual model is radically different from a tight binary framework and develops a kind of loose and wobbly organisation structure that is not tuned to expansion. Instead of a single-layered explanation, as in other major religions of the world, Hinduism has a multi-pronged and multi layered explanation of life and living and provides a degree of flexibility that is not found in other religions. Such flexibility has two important implications. First, it allows Hindus to develop a greater degree of toleration to other religions. Therefore, religious conversion and the logistics needed for this purpose has never been of serious concern to the Hindus.
Personally, in my student days, I had no qualms visiting churches with my friends and taking part in the prayer ceremony of different Christian denominations without any feeling of erosion in my faith that remains a fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism to this day, a peculiarity of Nepali culture. I feel proud and confident of this heritage. Second, it also allows numerous traditions and rituals to evolve reflecting not just the spiritual quest of the human mind but also the lust for power and domination and that means the institualisation of different forms of economic and political discrimination. To a large extent this has been a problem of all major religions. But socio-economic discrimination and exploitation in the name Hindu religion remains a major challenge that we will have to face with courage and conviction.
For our Western friends who are lobbying for secularism and who hope that ultimately Nepal will shed its Hindu identity and make it easy for missionaries of different hues to expand the ‘kingdom of God’ I have a simple request: do listen to what Cameron said about Britain being a Christain nation. If Britain can declare its convictions and identity so clearly, why are other countries trying, albeit indirectly, and sometimes even directly to deny the same privilege to Nepal? Perhaps, the leadership of our country should take a deep breath and ponder over the issue.
Lohani is a former foreign minister and a senior leader of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party
Published: 04-08-2015 11:27