If Islamic extremism is often linked to socio-economic malaise in Muslim societies, the current wave of Hindu extremism can be attributed to India’s success, writes Shikkha Dalmia in the libertarian magazine Reason (August/September).
She notes that India continues to belie forecasts about secularization, as its burgeoning Hindu revival has grown alongside a rise in prosperity and technological innovation, and its intellectual and elite classes are among the most religious elements in society. Hinduism “has rapidly metamorphosed into a religion of prosperity,” flourishing in a “competitive religious marketplace that offers devotees a wide array of spiritual options…”
Whereas Hinduism’s many rituals were largely confined to women and wives, “…Now it has become fashionable for men and women alike to partake in public and showy religious ceremonies.” Religious pilgrimages and temple donations are at an all-time high, mostly led by those whom Dalmia calls the “Hindu nouveau riche.”
More traditional fields that were once seen as being swept away by modernization are being revived; “solace seekers,” scripture-based counseling, are now finding new clients, as the “stigma against going to therapists is driving Indians into the arms of gurus.” Religious institutions are also now playing important social roles to fill in for India’s inefficient and corrupt governments, Dalmia adds. “Nearly every order promotes some pet cause, whether it’s environmental cleanup, rural education, organic farming, or simply tending to the poor.”
She sees the revival of Hindu nationalism, including the recent election of Narendra Modi as prime minister, as an effort by India’s Hindus to shed the perception that Hinduism is a “loser religion”…in part by straining to make sure that India’s economic rise is attributed to its spiritual source. Hence, they have undertaken a program of pro-Hindu scientific and historical revisionism, which involves dissing minority religions.”
(Reason, 5737 Mesmer Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90230.)