The onslaught of extremism and fundamentalism is pushing the docile, tolerant people to the wall. But logic demands that they cannot play the ostrich
By Dr Rajagopal Soondron
There are three kinds of human beings; one kind moves about to look for food while the other goes after treasures. But there could be another category – those who thrill after adventure, for the sake of discovering new fun and the meaning of life.
No wonder as travelling facilities expand, poor people are set to migrate to richer countries. While others go everywhere looking for business and fortunes, some of us tour the world to learn about others’ cultures and traditions.
The time has now come for us to go into space to exploit the comets or planets that could hide a lot of precious metals needed for our industries. But there are also others who want to go into intergalactic space to understand the universe, or seek the meaning of life and consciousness.
However, there is nothing new under the sun, for the human tribe had started trekking thousands of years ago looking for food and better places to live.
Who knows that in the eastern savannah of Africa some 70000 years ago some of our ancestors decided to venture out for more tubers and venison as climate change decimated their life. They realized that it was the way for survival. By that time they had started to eat flesh, especially after discovering that roasted venison was tastier – all contributing, according to the experts, to the expansion of their brain and the emergence of intelligence.
Concurrently curiosity and wonder at the changing natural cycles of daily life emerged out of their budding grey cells. Maybe a few ancestors had asked themselves: wherefrom did that golden ball of fire at the horizon come so regularly every day? Its regularity even outlasted their temporal existence. They might have wondered how about moving to find out? And so possibly some ancestors set out to explore – to look for food no doubt, but at the back of their mind to keep moving east towards the rising sun.
Did this happen long back? With the ancestors finally moving to the Arabian peninsula, and with time, they kept walking east until they came to the Indian subcontinent.
Regular waves of people probably made that journey. Entering that subcontinent they started to practise their traditions, the social and tribal customs they had left behind and retained on their long exodus out of Africa.
No wonder we discover that even nowadays there are so many beliefs and rituals in India, and different tribes of people with different traditions.
But the greatest wonder is that, with the passage of time, there has been a system of assimilation, absorption and give-and-take in that long cohabitation between those different clans. Far from us to say that all was always rosy and peaceful. Our ancestors were no saints; they had their share of warfare, of butchery and hate. But somehow or other there has been adaptation; as the country was huge there was space for everyone, so people moved to safer regions to avoid physical conflicts.
Surely similar scenarios had been going on in other parts of the world as people moved out of Africa. But in India there was another form of process going on – it became a cauldron of experimentation and experience. The arrival of different tribes lent itself to the set up of different deities and Gods. Gradually there was a sense of live and let live, after it was realized that warfare was futile. But that sense of flexibility carried the day and it was in that setting that abstract thinking and a more universal concept of God got seeded.
Elsewhere in the world people elected for a rigid monotheism, always believing that logic dictated that there can be only one God, but in India everyone were allowed to have his God and to fashion Him in his beliefs and traditions. Perhaps that’s how, if now we travel far and wide in the subcontinent, we will discover a panoply of Gods and deities, coexisting under the same roof. It is that freedom of belief, of flexibility and adaptation of different people that the intellectual, always seeing beyond appearances, will discover on his travel tour.
It was the background that gave rise to the concept of Hinduism – that umbrella-like shade that has allowed people of different beliefs to seek refuge under it. No wonder we will discover practices that we would not see elsewhere in the world where invading armies of past tyrants had tried to enforce a common law, custom or norm of life. But not so in India.
It is against this backdrop of tolerance that we now enter the 21st century – where already two major threats had been menacing that thousand-old civilization and culture. One is communism and the other religious extremism. These two have something in common: they would happily and cunningly make use of the concept of democracy – which appeals to Hinduism – to come to power. And once in power they would unhesitatingly abolish that very democracy which empowered them. Hence the danger posed by extremism. The intolerance shown by these two is anathema to the basic way of life in that traditional country. There is the danger of extremism to undermine the docility, tolerance and flexibility of the thousand years old indigenous people.
Hinduism has shown broadmindedness by agreeing that life is always a dynamic process, amenable to changes with time. The Nataraja symbolises the Universal dance to convey that eternal change relentlessly shapes our life and destiny. In so believing there has been a long process of absorbing, of adapting to foreign concepts and beliefs. The British colonialists who played such a dirty game on the Indian people left their language behind, and the people did not hesitate to include English as yet another lingua franca of the subcontinent.
But however broadminded one can be, one cannot remain immune to changes that threaten to undermine one’s own sacred basic beliefs of freedom, flexibility and tolerance.
Some of our ancestors in the jungle may have been cannibalistic; others were not, a difference that was the demarcating line between them. They never mixed until they went to war.
Similarly modern conflicts will drive back the native to espouse once again old tribal reflexes; we are back to old primitive practices. Different beliefs, ideologies, conceptions of the Creator are driving us back towards animosity. Monotheism and polytheism, flexibility and tolerance, rigidity and intolerance are at loggerheads.
The onslaught of extremism and fundamentalism is pushing the docile, tolerant people to the wall. But logic demands that they cannot play the ostrich – if not their very survival and fundamental way of life will suffer.
Are they back to square one? Must they go tribal once again? Or must Homo Sapiens rise once more, and in a spark of genius decide, like our ancestors of 70,000 years ago did, to go “East” again in search of greater inspiration and a greater truth?
That would be worthy of this new decade of 2020s.
Happy New Year to all Homo Sapiens.
* Published in print edition on 10 January 2020