I have been shaken out of my indolence by this evocative article by Dr. Daya in the Lankaweb website. Though I could have left a comment there to point out the lacunae in his understanding of what constitutes Hinduism and Hindu culture, I thought nothing short of a separate blog entry would do justice to the points I want to raise in defence.
Dr. Daya starts his blog entry by thanking and revering the Sinhala royalty, nobility and the Mahasanga for protecting their nation from certain extreme forms of Hindu Indian prejudices, injustice and violence. Without pointing out which Hindu practices were discriminatory and criminal, he starts his misinformed accusation in the very first paragraph. He enumerates the practises only as we read further down in his article.
For a head-start, I think it is worth pointing out the historical foundations of Hinduism and Buddhism to the uninitiated. Hinduism, as a form of life was practised in the Indus Valley (in the present-day Pakistan) as early as 2500 BC by the Indo-Aryan race. Buddhism as a religion emerged much later between the 6th and 4th century BCE as an offshoot from the mainstream Hindu thought. The founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha himself was a prince born into an aristocratic Hindu family in Kapilavastu in present-day Nepal. Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka by Samrat Ashoka of the Kalinga dynasty in the 2nd century BCE. Hence, much of the tenets of present-day Buddhism that is practised in Sri Lanka evolved from the religious practises that were enshrined in the Hindu religion.
It is also my duty to point out to Dr. Daya that Hinduism will be the last religion in the world to advocate the practises that he has mentioned. The principles of Hinduism (like Buddhism) were initially not written down and transmitted to future generations through books and stone carvings. Their codification came much later when oral transmission from a qualified the teacher (Guru) to the Student (Sishya) was no longer viable. As time elapsed, the original texts were lost and numerous self-proclaimed reformers emerged and interpreted the texts that were left in a manner that suited their cheap material objectives.
Now, let me answer the questions you have raised.
Caste System: While the Sanatana Dharma, the code of social etiquette recommended caste-based assignment of jobs to different sections of the society, there is no indication of discrimination under such a system. Dr. Daya should read my article about the basis of Sanatana Dharma where I have already argued its noble intentions.
Preference for “Son”: The scholarly achievements of vedic women like Gargi and Maitreyi indicates how women education was held in high regard in ancient India. There is nothing in Manu Smriti or Sanatana Dharma that recommends female infanticide and the preference for a “Son”. Hence, if such practices crept into the Hindu way of life, it is the handiwork of the people who called themselves custodians of the Hindu religion. To assume that Hinduism legitimizes such behaviour and hold the religion responsible for propagating such activities is an accusation that has no supporting evidence.
When Buddhism held sway in India, the injustice they meted out to the practioners of the Hindu religion need no special mention. The implicit logic in Dr. Daya’s article reflects Buddhism as occupying a “holier-than-thou” position vis-a-vis Hinduism. It was the intolerant Buddhists of India that threw the idol of Lord Badri Narayan into a river at Badrinath and installed a Buddhist monastery in its place. Even the countries that proudly talk about Buddhism and tolerance have been no strangers to violence. In whichever countries Buddhism has became official ideology – whether it is the Theravada school in Southeast Asia or the Tantric school in Tibet/East Asia – have been no strangers to violence. The Buddhists in Sri Lanka have defied all humanitarian considerations in the ethnic cleansing that they attempted in Northern Sri Lanka. Even in Japan, long before metaphysical flights exerted their charm, Buddhism took hold first and foremost as a tool for protecting States.
Moreover, Buddhism was wiped out of India not because the Hindu Kings overpowered their subjects and institutionalized Hinduism like the Mughals did with Islam in India. Eminent Hindu reformers like Adi Sankara defeated renowned Buddhist scholars with their arguments and reinstated the supremacy of Hinduism as the succour to all vices of the material world. There is also an instance of a Buddhist scholar called Mandana Mishra who, after being defeated by Sankara in Tarka Vadam, accepted defeat and became Sankara’s disciple.
My advice to Dr. Daya is simple. You have to do your groundwork before drawing out your allegations. Citing a few unqualified studies to base your arguments on Hindu religion is not appropriate. While I don’t deny the presence of discriminatory practises in India, to hold the religion responsible for authorizing such activities is an argument that lacks basis. Also, the followers of Buddhism in Sri Lanka cannot occupy a moral high ground for their own behaviour in the war with the Tamil Tigers has attracted international wrath for the inhuman way in which it was waged.