The Scientific Indian

Hindus are pacifists?

I am having lunch with a couple of Italian colleagues in Milan. They speak of politics and religion – mostly in Italian. I look from face to face gathering clues about the subject matter, all the while killing pasta with a fork. The pasta tastes like shoes. I cover it up with large quantities of tomato sauce.

“Berlusconi .. Italy …screwed..”, a long pause, then laughter. I join in with the sauce sloshing in my mouth, carefully tilting my head upwards so as not to spray sauce on the gentlewoman in front who looks at my mouth nervously.

A few moments pass and I hear “…hindus … pacifists.. shevi.. shiva.. shiva? Shi-va?”

One of the colleague stares at me expectantly. Oh, shoot, what was he asking? I scurry through my unusually volatile short-term memory and salvage pieces of the recent discussion.

“Yes, Shiva. He is the god of destruction. The real god creates him every time he recycles the universe. Besides Shiva, two other gods are created; Brahma, the god of creation; and Krishna, the housekeeping god”

“Hindus are pacifists. No? Unlike christians and muslims. They are not violent”

What? Hell, no. Hindus are as religious as anyone else. What did he think? I give him a briefing of hindu religious fervor in recent years: the Shiv Sena, RSS, Babri masjid, Gujarat… [a good summary here]

Awkward silence. I’ve contradicted my hosts. Uncouth. Perhaps I should say the pantheism of hindus might be a source of tolerence unlike the monotheistic religions which want to kill unbelievers (for the emancipation of the heathens themselves, of course). I decide against it. That would be condescending and could easily be proved wrong if someone bothered to look at hindu religious history. Instead I say he may be right, a lot of violence in the world now seems to happen without help from hinduism, and smile engagingly.

Everyone relaxes.

“I like Shi-va”, a colleague says.

“Yeah. I like him too. He brings sweet mercy of death.”

We all laugh.


  1. #1 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    May 25, 2007

    “Hindus are pacifists. No? Unlike christians and muslims. They are not violent”

    What? Hell, no. Hindus are as religious as anyone else.

    Interesting equation of violence with religion.

  2. #2 meerasedai
    May 25, 2007

    I’ve come across this misconception too. I think in the US, we just don’t hear a lot about extremism in India and surrounding areas unless its (briefly) about Muslims in Pakistan or one purposefully keeps up with news of the region.

  3. #3 derek
    May 25, 2007

    I’m sure Hinduism has a lot to say about passivity, just like Christianity and Islam does. I mean, it’s not as though Jesus went around saying “thousands of years after I’m dead, I want you to remember, that when someone strikes you on the cheek, you should bust a cap on his ass, to teach him not to mess with the Jesus People.”

    He never said that, but after a thousand years or so, people get to thinking their religion is just a sort of tribal badge. So you kill anyone wearing the other badges, to show how tough your religion is.

  4. #4 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    May 28, 2007
  5. #5 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    May 28, 2007
  6. #6 Michael Burton
    May 29, 2007

    The only Hindu we westerners have heard much about is Gandhi. I think that is why we think Hinduism is pacifistic.

    Is there any religion in the world that doesn’t move its followers to fight?

  7. #7 Matthew L.
    June 4, 2007

    I’m surprised that anyone would think that you could make blanket statements about any religion as large as Hinduism. I mean, some Christians are strict pacifists, some are very bellicose, most are somewhere in between. Why would Hindus (or Buddhists, or Jews, or Muslims, or members of traditional/tribal religions, or anyone else), be any different?

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