Hinduism and Democracy
There are approximately 1 billion Hindus in the world, most of them in India.
The caste system
Democracy is based on the individual, the freedom of the individual and every individual's right to equality and recognition. This is where Hinduism has a problem in the form of the caste system. The three original castes of Hinduism were the priests, the warriors and the peasants, and besides them, there were all those who stood outside the caste system, best known as the untouchables. In reality, they were slaves for the others.
The caste system defines people as unequal from birth and throughout life, and there is nothing the individual can do to break out of his caste in this lifetime. Through coming to terms with one's lot, one can hope for a better life next time and, moreover, it is one's deeds in previous lives that determine what caste one lives in now. Hinduism and democracy ought therefore to be incompatible with each other.
It is therefore all the more impressive that India, as a predominantly Hindu country, has banned the practice of the caste system. The ban is admittedly not respected by a large proportion of the population and millions of people continue to live as "untouchables", but the process is under way and let’s not forget that we are talking about 1 billion people who have to break away from over 3,000 years of tradition and belief.
Belief in predestination
Apart from the caste system, there is a strong belief in predestination in Hinduism. Belief in predestination inhibits the idea that one can improve the conditions of one's life, so although one can improve society, there is no great personal incentive.
Personal responsibility and freedom
There are thus plenty of challenges, but there is nothing in Hinduism that directly contradicts democracy and the idea of individual participation and responsibility. On the contrary, it applied to members of the warrior caste who enjoyed great prestige for striving to develop themselves spiritually as individuals and for defending and protecting society.
Since the Hinduism of today, for good reason, has been required to adapt to modern society, and it is really only the priest caste who to some degree are able to live by the old caste regulations, it is probably only a matter of will and time before Hinduism, democracy and personal freedom for all will truly go hand in hand, not least because India is investing massively in education and information and is determined to become an active part of the global community.
Next chapter: Buddhism and Democracy