I'm half-Hindu. The other half is Muslim. I've spoken about one aspect of this earlier and am therefore going to skip some parts of the preamble.
I grew up accustomed to people marvelling at my knowledge of "Hindu" mythology, and other religions. I also grew up practically unaware of what Islam was about. Since my family didn't pay much attention to it, I was only aware of who the "heroes" of Islam were: The Prophet, Hazrat Ali & his martyred sons Imam Hasan & Imam Husain, and their clan.
As I grew older, I mixed with more Hindus than Muslims, by virtue of the simple fact that they're in greater numbers in India. Also by virtue of the fact that my parent's mixed-marriage effectively precluded our either staying in areas determined by ethnicity or fraternizing based only on it.
Apart from a few stray incidents I rarely met a religion obsessed Hindu (churkhi & janayoo notwithstanding). This may have to do with the fact that my Muslim sounding name may have deterred them in some way, but despite that I can say with a fair degree of confidence that the Hindus I met were not the kind that carried religion outside on the street with them. Only once when I was about six or seven was I asked in the park, "What religion are you?" by a group of similarly aged youngsters. I am still unable to comprehend how 7 year olds could ask me a question like that. Unless they had instructions from home to ask... Wierd, very wierd.
So my best friends were Hindus right through school, graduation & post-grad. Irrespective of whether I was in UP, Rajasthan or Maharashtra.
It's important for me to state however that I hadn't scratched the surface yet. Young & forgiving I ignored the people who refused to rent me a room to stay in upon hearing my name. I told myself that they're an aberration.
So what has changed now? Have the recent events in India, made me change my opinion of the average Hindu? Have people like bal-t & advani & modi, have babri & gujarat made me rethink? Has the rise in the number of bjp supporters made me rethink my stand? Has the absolute glut of hindutvis on web forums everywhere made me rethink?
To be honest, the first few did not. But the last two really have!
I've just needed to look at my friends in order to dispel any doubts about the first few questions. But the second set of questions bothers me... Is is because I've realized that there's another world lurking behind the anonymity that the Internet offers? Is this a new phenomenon or has it always existed & I've been oblivious to it?
I have also been bothered by some of the statements that some of my Hindu relatives make. Something about Hindus being tolerant & being taken for granted. These are well educated, high ranking, retired people! To be fair, they've always voted the jansangh and to be fair they had to leave Lahore leaving everything behind, but it worries me nonetheless.
So to answer my own question... has all of this changed my stance towards Hindus outside my family? Frankly it hasn't. 5 or 6 incidents are not representative of the attitude of all Hindus. And 15 idiots on web forums do not make up the entire Hindu population!!!
My experience with non-family Hindus has been largely great. I continue to enjoy the love & admiration of friends & family. There is no reason for me to being doubting the larger populace of Hindus, even those that don't have the advantage of a Western education!
So how do we deal with the sections in the media that are right-wing? How do we deal with pronouncements of bal-t, advani & modi? How do we deal with the extremists in web forums?
This is the second part of my mission. I intend to meet them head on. Ignoring them is dangerous, so they must be countered. In every forum! People like Alyque Padamsee are doing it in the offline world, using the clout they have. People like us should do it in the areas where we have the clout.
I will volunteer time at schools & colleges & teach children & youth about tolerance & communal harmony!
I will debate them in web forums, TV shows, wherever I get a platform. I will present facts to them. Most importantly, I will show them how they're hurting the image of the average Hindu by doing all of this. How they're giving an opportunity to the extremists to showcase their hatred to potential recruits!
Educated, liberal Hindus should use media to clear the air about what the religion stands for. They should showcase the lives of Hindus like themselves using TV, papers, novels, films whatever is available. They must undo the damage that the conservatives have caused. A PR exercise is as desperately needed to safeguard the image of the tolerant, secular, progressive Hindu as it is by similar Muslims!
Work should be done to improve the lot of minorities & backward sections like Dalits. Educated Hindus should actively condemn when something goes wrong in areas like that!
My mission going forward is to impress upon each uber-conservative Hindu I come across, the importance of being as modern & liberal. And how it's important for their community to come across as that, if they're to contribute to solving the problems that face all of us today. We must sow the seeds of the idea in their mind.
If you agree dear readers, please help me do the same. Please speak to every hardliner you come across & tell them to live their life as they would like their religion to be perceived. If they want to be viewed as progressive, educated, liberal, loving & peaceful, then they must be that themselves. Do spread the good word.