Religion is a personal choice
“Pramanyabuddhirvedeshu Saadhananaam Anekatha Upasyaanam Aniyamo Hindudharmasya Lakshanam”, wrote Bal Gangadhar Tilak defining Hinduism - that is, ‘utmost respect to Vedas, multitude of religious rituals and having the freedom to worship the god of their choice signify Hindu Dharma.’
In his book, Varnasrama dharmangalum mathajathikalum, K Raman Pillai, politician and writer, ponders on Hinduism seeking to validate the age-old caste and creed distinctions that have been ingrained in the Indian society for centuries.
Raman Pillai says human beings around the world were divided into four ‘Varnas’ (caste) and that these divisions were not imprinted on a person by birth, but determined by his social activities. Hence, there was no question of untouchability involved in the caste division. However, the Indian society tells a different story. Quoting the Rigveda, Raman Pillai writes, ‘Universe is an exceptional man whose presence is palpable. It is written that his face is ‘brahmana’, his hands ‘kshathriya’, abdomen ‘vaisya’ and the feet, the lower part of the body, ‘shudra’. Raman Pillai claims that this concept of four ‘varnas’ is applicable universally.
In his chapter ‘Matham’ (religion), Raman Pillai argues that there’s no religion known as ‘Hinduism’. The name originated from the religious believers’ nationality. The word ‘Hindu’ also signifies their culture, civilization and way of living. Hence, he insists that the word one should use for the religion is ‘Hindu Dharma’. A person’s nationality is something he is born with, while, religion is thrust upon him by parents or society. Even then he has to cross many hurdles (rituals such as baptism, circumcision, learning the Vedas etc.) to enter the chosen religious world. Raman Pillai says religion is a personal choice and cites a quote from Osho Rajaneesh’s autobiography.
Though the English language translates Dharma as religion, he says, they are not the same. According to Raman Pillai it was the British, who presented Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism as separate entities which have no connection whatsoever with Hindu Dharma.
They concealed the significance of ‘Saivam’, ‘Vaishnavam’, ‘Saktham’, ‘Dhwaitham’, ‘Adhwaitham’, ‘Vishishtadhwaitham’, ‘Boudhdham’, ‘Jainam’ and ‘Shikham’ in Hindu Dharma and Hinduism as a religion has no existence without them, Raman Pillai asserts.
In one of the chapters, ‘Jathikkethire poradiyavar’, he gives small vignettes about personalities who fought against the injustice in the name of religion and castes like Buddha, Mahavira, Sankaracharya, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa to Dr B R Ambedkar.
The media gets special mention for its strong stand against religious unfairness over the years. Barring a few personalities, most in the media have always stood for the rights of lower castes, Raman Pillai states.