Is Hindu Dharma good and Hindutva bad?

 My article “When Germany is Christian, is India Hindu?” got amazingly good response with thousands of facebook likes. However, some readers felt I made a mistake by not distinguishing between good, tolerant Hinduism, which is a private belief, and bad, intolerant Hindutva, which stands for the ‘communal agenda of an extreme right Hindu party’ that wants to force uniform Hinduism on this vast country, an act which is completely un-Hindu and against the pluralism of India.

Is Hindutva really different from Hindu Dharma and dangerous? Or have those, which coined the term, an interest in making it look like that? No doubt, Hindutva has a bad name in the eyes of many, in spite of the ruling of the Supreme Court in 1995:

“Hindutva is indicative more of the way of life of the Indian people. …Considering Hindutva as hostile, inimical, or intolerant of other faiths, or as communal proceeds from an improper appreciation of its true meaning.”

I would like to explain from a personal angle, why I came to the conclusion that it is indeed ‘an improper appreciation of its true meaning’, when Hindutva is branded as communal and dangerous.

For many years I lived in ‘spiritual India’ without any idea how important the terms ‘’secular’ and ’communal’ were. The people I met were appreciative of India’s great heritage. They gave me tips which texts to read, which sants to meet, which mantras to learn, etc., and I wrote about it for German readers. I used to think that all Indians are genuinely proud of their ancestors, who had stunningly deep insights into what is true about us and the universe and who left a huge legacy of precious ancient texts unparalleled in the world.

However, when I settled in a ‘normal’ environment away from ashrams and pilgrimage places and connected with the English speaking middle class including some foreign wives, I was shocked that several of my new friends with Hindu names were ridiculing Hinduism without knowing much about it. They had not even read the Bhagavad-Gita, but pronounced severe judgment. They gave the impression as if Hinduism was the most depraved and violent of all religions and responsible for all the ills India is facing. The caste system and crude rules of Manusmiti were quoted as proof. Reading newspapers and watching TV, I also discovered an inexplicable, yet clear anti Hindu stand.

My new acquaintances had expected me to join them in denouncing ‘primitive’ Hinduism which I could not do as I knew too much, not only form reading extensively, but also from doing sadhana. They were not amused and declared that I had read the wrong books. They asked me to read the right books, which would give me the ‘correct’ understanding. They obviously did not doubt their own view to be the correct one. However, instead of coming around by reading Romila Thapar and co, I rather got the impression that there was an intention behind the negative portrayal of Hinduism: Christianity and Islam were meant to look good in comparison. My neighbour, a writer with communist leanings, henceforth introduced me to his friends as “the local RSS pracharak”. Many ‘secular’ Indians consider the RSS as Hindu fundamentalists, occasionally equating it even with Islamic terror groups. So no surprise that an elderly lady once retorted, “In this case I am not pleased to meet you.”

What was my ‘fault’? I dared to say that I love Hindu Dharma, as it (its off- springs Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism included) is the only religion that is inclusive and not divisive, whereas Christianity and Islam divide humanity into those who have the ‘true faith’ and those who are wrong and will pay for it eternally in hell, if not already on earth. Standing up for Hindu Dharma (and not only following it in private) indicted me as belonging to the ‘Hindutva brigade’ that is shunned by mainstream media. Of course my stand is neither communal nor dangerous for India. Hindu Dharma is indeed inclusive, and needs to gain strength at the expense of Christianity and Islam, which are exclusive and therefore communal.

No doubt something is seriously wrong about the public discourse on ‘secular’ and ‘communal’ in India. I can’t believe that those media anchors and invited guests don’t know it. Indians are intelligent. So why would they get secular and communal wrong?

Secular means worldly in contrast to sacred or religious, and secularism is a western concept.  State and religion were intertwined since Christianity became state religion in the Roman Empire. The Church declared what is the truth, for example that that Jesus is the only way or that the earth is flat, and everyone had to agree. If scientists disagreed, they were in serious trouble. Not without reason those centuries of Church domination are called ‘dark ages’ and the liberation from her tight embrace is called the era of ‘Enlightenment’. For Christian Europe, it was a great and hard fought achievement to get ‘secular’ states, where the Church could not push anymore her agenda through state laws. Several centuries ago, even the Sunday mass was obligatory in German kingdoms. Nobody was allowed to leave Christianity. The blasphemy laws kept the flock in check. Heresy was punished severely. Jews suffered discrimination and persecution all through history being branded as the killers of Jesus.

After Martin Luther split the Church into Protestants and Catholics, fierce wars were fought over supremacy which destroyed much of central Europe. In 1648, after 30 years of fighting, a compromise was found: the subjects of a region had to follow the religion of their ruler. Only in 1847, a Prussian king introduced a law for ‘negative religious freedom’, which meant, his subjects had the right to leave the Catholic or Protestant Church. Ever since, the Churches are losing sheep from their flock. It points to the fact that Christianity did not grow because its dogmas were convincing. It gained strength because those born in the faith could not leave it. The blasphemy laws propped up Christianity.

India has a completely different story. Sanatana Dharma was never based on unreasonable dogmas and did not need state oppression to keep believers in check. It was not in opposition to science. It was helpful to society as a whole by giving guidelines for an ideal life that acknowledges the invisible, conscious essence in the visible universe. It did not straight jacket people into an unbelievable belief system. It allowed freedom of thought and many parallel streams with different ways to connect to this essence emerged. “Hinduism is a way of life”, is often said. Following Hindu Dharma is actually an ideal way of life.

Since I grew up in the Catholic Church and know the narrow mindedness that is indoctrinated into children, I wonder why on earth Indians would prefer dogmatic religions to their ancient, benign Dharma. Don’t they see the real communal danger? Those ‘secular’ friends, who fiercely defend the right of the religious minorities to assert their exclusive identity, don’t seem to realise that both, Christianity and Islam cannot live with others peacefully. Both religions need to dominate. And both are very powerful worldwide, politically and financially. As long as they have not yet the numbers in India, they may downplay the central tenet of exclusiveness in their ideologies. But exist it does.

Secularism has dented the influence of Christianity in the west. But the Church did not give up its goal to make the whole mankind believe in Christ, and focusses now on the huge mass of Hindus. In Islam, the clergy still has a hold on the faithful and in several Muslim countries leaving Islam is punishable by death. As the Quran itself forbids the followers to leave the faith, it is difficult to forego the blasphemy laws.

The Indian secularists seem to fight for the right of Christianity and Islam to be communal and for their followers not to integrate into the Indian society, but to stress their separate identity. And what is this separate identity? It is merely an unverifiable belief that gravely impacts the mind-set. This mind-set not only creates outsiders, but it creates outsiders that are looked down upon. How can educated Indians be blind to the danger and risk having in future more partitions on the basis of unsubstantiated religious beliefs, including the risk of more terrible bloodshed?

Strangely, the dogmatic, exclusive religions are not accused of being divisive, but Hinduism is. Why? Hindus are required to see Brahman, the one Godhead, in everyone, never mind how he connects to his creator. In contrast, the followers of dogmatic religions are not required to respect those who reject their respective ‘true religion’. They are even allowed to hate them. The ease, with which Christians and Muslims killed unbelievers, is frightening. Only 70 years ago six million Jews were murdered in cold blood in gas chambers in Germany. Only a little over 40 years ago, hundred thousands, if not millions, of Hindus were butchered in Bangladesh. There are many more examples. Humanity needs to win over such madness. How? Hindu Dharma has the key: acknowledge that we are all members of one family – coming from the same source with the same blood as it were…

By Maria Wirth


  1. In one line this can said as ‘Vasudeva Kudumbakam” meaning ‘One World One family’ – that is the nutshell of Hinduism.

  2. I wish you were writing in one of the mainstream English language newspapers in India. We flaunt our supposed freedom of expression and freedom of press – but it’s strange that very few in the Indian press question this “secular” narrative dominating our political discourse.

    Which makes me think that perhaps there is a method in this madness – since it’s not logical to believe that all of the journalists and intellectuals crying hoarse about “secularism” in India are idiots.

    The Indian media houses are not obliged to reveal their source of funding and they pretend to be equi-distant from all political parties. Yet the kind of narrative they broadcast relentlessly – backed by the very Nehruvian, Left-leaning intelligentsia in India – is spurious at best and dangerously motivated against the interests of India at worst.

    Thanks for a good, hard-hitting post.

    1. Dear Sampurna ji

      After a long time, I could read a better and decent comment and the way you perceived the ideologies of Indian politicians and Indian meaning of secularism. Well mentioned Sampurna ji. Best wishes.

  3. Panner · · Reply

    Another excellent piece of thought from Maria.

    As Hinduism does not preach proselytising like Christianity and Islam, we are indeed easily subjected to pressure to convert. Also, as it does not preach superiority, many Hindus develop a very positive and humane approach to other thoughts. This attitude has been taken advantage up for centuries and continues even to this day.

    It is indeed high time that Hindus take pride in what is one of the world’s most tolerant religion


    1. Petronius · · Reply

      According to you, Hinduism “as it does not preach superiority,” . If that be so , why some caste like Brahminism is considered superior to the other three castes? Correct me if I am wrong, didn’t Shivaji , born in a lower caste, promote himself as a Brahmin one fine morning ? While Hinduism may not preach superiority per se, the average illiterate Hindu may feel inferior when he enters a clean place of worship, a Church for example, where there is orderliness and brightness in the sanctum Santorum .

      1. Dear Petronuis,

        In literal meaning, every person who is interested in ‘Brahm’ – the Supreme One – is a Brahmin.
        The caste system was originally setup to identify people having different skills, to build up an ideal society. The idea was never to oppress. People could switch castes based on their skill-set, and there are several such examples available.

        Unfortunately, with the passage of time the caste became hereditary, as due to closely-knit family culture in India, children would often end up undertaking their parents’ skills and profession. Slowly the caste system got ugly as people in powerful positions starting exploiting those less fortunate. But remember, this is not what Hinduism preached, it happened over a period of time.

        Now it’s high time Hindus wake up and identify their own glory, rather than behaving like apologists for being Hindus. We need to clean our house and save our house before it gets destroyed by those with ulterior motives.

        Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, Sarve santu niramayah, sarve bhadrani pashyantu, ma kashchid dukh bhagbhavet!!

      2. The cultural Hindu does in fact resort to ideas of superiority and inferiority – something that is manifest in the caste system. But what Maria Wirth writes is about Hindu philosophy, and not its cultural tectonics that is the cause and effect of many centuries of upheavals and abuse.

        In Hindu philosophy work is worship and a person is advised to work according to one’s ability and aptitude. Aptitude is called “guna” and this is what decides the “caste”. When I say this, I’m referring to the Bhagavad Geeta – which is considered one of the seminal texts of Hindu philosophy – although you will find lesser texts (lesser in hierarchy and importance) such as the Manu Smriti that refer to caste as birth-based. Is there a conflict? Yes, and it’s natural that there would be conflict, because Hindu belief systems are not dogmatic. Hindu philosophy, jurisprudence, ideas of state, law, and much of everything is based on “argumentation” (called “mimansa”) which calls for learned people of varied dispositions to argue and the argument with the most merit is given recognition. This is something you will not find in any of the organised religions – which centres on bullying dogma and faith-based “willing suspension of disbelief”.

        As for your assumption of “the average illiterate Hindu’s” feeling of inferiority in a sparkling clean Church – has it ever occurred to you what this illiterate Hindu would think about your Church and its ideology when he/she learns that this edifice stands on 2000 years of slaughter and conversion that has seen the extinction of the aboriginals of both the Americas, Australia, and the entire pre-Christian history and civilization of Europe? Or conversely, has it ever occurred to you what an average illiterate white American Christian, an average illiterate white Muslim from Algeria, or the average illiterate brown Saudi Arabian thinks of a sparkling clean smelling-of-incense mandir? They will have different thoughts – and perhaps compete with yours in their “average” level of ignorant hate-mongering.

  4. Maria’s writing is based on a deep understanding of the Hindu consciousness, and of india and her current plight. Unfortunately, our English language press, weighed down as it is by its colonial mind-set, prefers to exist in its ignorant cocoon of privilege, and accordingly promotes Wendy Doniger without providing a counterpoint, even if that is also Western. It doesn’t fit their colored view both of their country & religion, as well as of themselves. I hope India’s youngsters read Maria Wirth, for a clearer and more accurate understanding of their country, culture,and themselves.

  5. Hear hear! At last some sensibility. But maybe it’s the wrong forum. Sensibility is often not welcome when opinions have attached themselves like leeches.

    1. My reply is in response to Nail Truth’s comments.

  6. raghuraman · · Reply

    There is no discrimination toward other religions in Hinduism. Hinduism views all authentic religions with a potential to raise the consciousness of its followers to a higher level of understanding God, themselves, and humanity. This is merely one of the beautiful aspects of Hinduism; that it provides the greatest latitude of diversity in the ways of understanding God. That is why you can mix Hindus with anyone, and they can peacefully coexist, just as you presently have Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and others all living together peacefully. But as soon as you mix those of other religions who are dogmatic in their views, there is trouble. The reason is that there is no room for diversity of thought in such people. They think that in the eyes of God no one else is saved. They think they must “save” everyone by making everyone else just like them. And the way that is done is by converting all others to their own dogmatic beliefs. Thus, they give no credence or understanding toward any religion but their own.
    The world could be a peaceful place if it were not for the constant attempt by various groups to control and convert. It is on this account that there have been so many years of bloodshed, slaughter and torture to force others to be of only one religion. Such religions cause themselves not to be united with God, but to stand separated from God for not providing the way to see the spiritual nature and Divinity in all beings. Such religions actually create disharmony between man and God because of forcing their followers to focus on our superficial differences rather than our deeper unity and commonality as beings of one common God.
    In this way, Sanatana-Dharma is not a religion that stands separate from others. It is not that Hinduism or Vedic culture opposes other spiritual paths. But it represents and provides the means through which anyone can attain the highest spiritual understanding possible. It helps one understand who and what we really are, above and beyond all the superficialities that are often found in the fundamental and materialistic religions. Therefore, once again, anyone, no matter what religion or culture one may be, can still use the Vedic path to increase his or her overall understanding of him or herself, the universe, and God, and awaken our natural spiritual love for one and all.

    courtesy: Stephen Knapp

    1. Panner · · Reply

      Beautifully said, Raghuraman.



  7. raghuraman · · Reply

    Thanks Panner !!

  8. raghuraman · · Reply

    The explanations given by Balaji are very simple, lucid and excellent!!!!

    1. Thanks Raghuraman, Sarvam Krushnaarpanam!

  9. Excellent Article..pls keep it up.

  10. […]      Media know only Engl, colonial version of Hinduism, that’s #WhyMediaIsAntiHindu. If only they knew more, for example …   […]

  11. “tanSEN was bengali my dear friend, so were a lot of other people! want to see the entire list as it stands today? so was subash chandra bose and sri aurobindo :) and i can name a million others and i am proud to say our greateness can be exerted beyond our national borders. we are the fifth largest speakers!

    we bengalis have won pretty much every award in the world stage you name it we have it and we are damn proud of what we have :)

    its the only country in the world which took rebellion because it couldn’t speak its mother tongue and it won! and won so hard that the UN had to adopt that day as the international language day, which celebrates languages from all over the world.

    did you know that the FAMOUS SEARS TOWER is architectured by another bengali?”

    MBA, IMT Ghaziabad
    Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

  12. You kept the title as if you are dealing exclusively with hindutva , hindu dharma and its merits and demerits. But why you drag other religions faults in to it. Its like comparitive study showing every religion has faults. Define it and give your opinions on how they effect society , instead you got diverted and tried to prove something else. Articles contains more of christian history than hindu dharma and hindutva. You got attention from one section of people. Any way nice work , try to justify the title.

  13. You are doubtless, unaware of the activities of the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha and the right wing outfits.
    Maybe(and it’s a big maybe) Hindutva is conceptually good, but the versions that are preached by Togadia , Adityanath and their ilk are not.
    I don’t know if you’ve seen the twitter posts of the Hindutva right wing? Because you certainly write like you have not.

  14. Welcome Jai (another anti-Hindu in hidden name)

    I am happy to know even you are still a practicing Hindu. Let me respond you your queries. I dont know the authenticities of your stats you mentioned about SCs and STS. Are you worrying or provoking them to convert?

    As far as casteism is concerned, I do agree it is happening across India, here and there. Yes, in northern India, the rate is higher than that you compare to southern India, but the solution? We have, definitely!

    Tell me Mr. Jai, out of 10 children in the house, one or two behave mischievously with others, what the parents do? Correct them or push the children from the out of house or the parents leave the house?

    One finger had injury and you treat it or cut it off from your body or kill yourself?

    You go to any part of the world and you find such discrepancy people everywhere, only numbers differ. The point is, when atrocity takes place on any human, for any reason, why not we oppose immediately? You know why we dont respond,we all cowards. The stronger may attack us, or our family members, we all worry about.

    Life is once to be lived. If you spare you life for the good reason, you die, but your name and act will remain in this world forever and set an example for future generation.

    Oppose such atrocities, discrepancies, inequalities, not the religion you were born. Tell me where it is written Vedas or Upanishids to treat humans based on their birth? Either you did not understand the Hinduism or misquoted by mischievous people.

    I am not treating any human differently, why not you take my example when you take your neighbour’s example?

    The problem in India is now, we dont correct ourselves first and point finger on others about their problem and nor we let others to correct the society when somebody comes forward. We say he is not son of the soil. What you want, change in society or the nativity of a person contributing?

    Let me quote this:

    ” ā no bhadrāḥ kratavo yantu viśvataḥ (1.89.1 rigveda) / आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः

    Let good (thoughts) come from everywhere, from all the world ”

    This is what all our Hinduism is about!

    Let me complete with some thought I read once in somewhere and reproduced in my blog which is as follows:

    Adi Sankara said:

    “Aakashat patitam toyam, Yadha gachhati saagaram, Sarva deva namaskara: Keshavam prati gachhati!!”

    It means: Just as every rain drop that falls from the sky flows into the Ocean, in the same way every prayer offered to any Deity flows to the divine cosmic power (Kesava).

    In short, you may worship or believe in any God. No problem…Even if you don’t worship or don’t believe, still it is no problem….This message from the GOD is so confident, so secure, secular and broad-minded. Because it can only come from the true creator of the universe, if at all there is a creator. And you are not asked to protect this GOD and resort to violence.

    You don’t have to spread the message of God. You don’t have to defend the God. If somebody says badly about God, don’t have to get angry or fight for God. A true Hindu believes that God protects us; we don’t have to protect God.

    So a true Hindu cannot get hurt in the name of God or religion….

    Lokaha Samastaha Sukino Bhavanthu (May the whole world be happy)

    Sarve jana Sukhino Bhavanthu (May all the people be happy)

    Sarva jeeva janthu sukhino bhavanthu (May all forms of life be happy)

  15. PannerSelvam Dharmalingam · · Reply

    Well Said Maria! Unfortunately, many Hindus are oblivious to the fundamentals of their religion. I am a fine example. Always embarrassed to say anything about Hinduism, because of my lack of knowledge. The only platitude we seem to offer in defence of Hinduism was that “Hindus don’t proselytize”.   But now that I have started reading and talking to others, I have come to realize the richness of Hinduism. We cannot deny that casteism has reared its ugly head for such a long time that people around have equated Hinduism with casteiism. But rather running away, many eminent Indians  have always fought the evil. Examples abound of the likes of Sri Ramakrishna, Swamy Vivekananda, Swamy Dayananda Saraswati etc. We have achieved a great deal, but much work needs to be done. So, it is incumbent upon all Hindus to speak up and bring Hinduism to even greater heights. Let us aspire to be the likes of our revered leaders.   Om PannerSelvam  

  16. Balaji.. Who are you man… profound thoughts… truly impressed.. lets get connected…

  17. Thank you Rajagopal. I just shared my thoughts that I read here and there. Our birth to serve other human and you can see God in this. Sarvam Krushanarpanam!

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