7 July 2020
Hindu spiritual leader demands all non-Muslims in India identify as Hindus
A prominent Hindu spiritual leader has recommended that all non-Muslims in India should identify as Hindus, a demand that reflects the nationalist Hindutva agenda of many in the ruling BJP party.
The Shankaracharya of Puri in Odisha (formerly Orissa) State called for amendments to Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which grants citizens freedom to profess, practise and propagate their religion.
He says that Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs were part of the “sanatana dharma” (eternal Hindu religion) but were declared by political parties to be minorities to win power and votes. Tribals were declared to be minorities, he claimed, to “erase the identities of Hindus from the country”.
The Shankaracharya pointed to various similarities in the beliefs of Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus. These include their belief in rebirth, belief that the Ganges is a holy river and the cow a sacred animal, belief in the non-destruction of the soul even if the body is destroyed as well as their belief in Om, which is the origin of their faith.
Reportedly, Christians were not mentioned at all by the Shankaracharya, but other Hindu extremists have sometimes drawn a distinction between religions that originated in India (such as the four whose similarities he discusses) and those that do not, such as Christianity and Islam. Indian law also makes this distinction in that Christian and Muslim Dalits are not given the quota advantages in education and employment which Dalits of the other religions enjoy.
Many Christians say that India has experienced increasing religious polarisation and nationalism since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came to power in 2014. Many in the BJP identify with the extremist Hindutva agenda, which seeks to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, which contains Varanasi, the constituency of Modi, has the worst record of anti-Christian violence, recording 86 incidences of violence and hate crime against believers in 2019, and 132 incidents in 2018.