Criticism of Hinduism
Hinduism is one of the most ancient world religions, tracing its origins back over 5,000 years. Today there are more than 900 million Hindu people worldwide, but mainly in Bharat (India), and the nations of the Indian subcontinent.
As the Hindu religion was born in
India, its criticism is irreversibly linked with the broader problems that India's people face today.
1 Social oppression
The division of society into four heirachial classes has resulted in much social oppression of the lowest caste, the Shudras. Critics also decry the socio-political fragmentation caused by the caste system. For example, there are over 80 subcastes of brahmins, and the Jat Hindu communities of Punjab and Haryana are considered a separate caste by themselves.
Hindu response and reform
The four varnas caste theory in theological Hinduism, while not initially rigid, came to be used with time as a device to maintain the domination of the upper castes, brahmins and kshatriyas (the ruling order) over the rest of society, using divine doctrine and notions of racial purity. Many modern Hindus feel that the caste of the person should be not determined by birth, but by adult choice or individual tendencies.
India and all of modern Hindu society almost universally condemns untouchability, even if the caste system debate is open. Untouchability was outlawed after India gained independence in 1947, and people who were formerly identified as untouchables have made considerable economic, social and political progress in India. However, subtle discrimination and isolated acts of violence in the inner parts of India frequently cause political and sectarian tensions. It must be noted that untouchability was derived from the caste system, but is not supported by Hinduism in any of it's scriptures or texts.
Status of Women
The oppression of women through condemned practices like Sati (widow self-immolation), the restrictions against divorce, property rights, child marriage or widow re-marraige were practices that arose in India's Middle Ages.
Hindu Response and reform
The Hindu scriptures have provisions for divorce, property rights for women and widow re-marriage. Although, the practices restricting these rights developed within Hindu society in the middle ages, they are not supported by the religion.
The diverse nature of hinduism and hindus doesn't provide the atmosphrere to have a common establishment encompassing all hindus together as one. Even though hindus are quite tolerant in general, when criticims or issues arise against hindus or hinduism, there is no invididual or organization present to address that. Though certain organizations play the role of self-appointed guardians of hinduism, the very nature of hinduism doesn't accord an official stature to such an organization.
Hindutva is alleged by critics to be anti-Muslim, and symbolic of efforts of a small, radical group of Hindus to undertake ethnic and religious cleansing of millions of non-Hindus from India, and re-establishing a caste-based system of apartheid and untouchability, and brahmin domination.
Contrary to allegations, most organizations (such as RSS) subscribing to Hindutva frequently campaign against untouchability and caste based discrimination. Some of Hindutva is considered by it's proponents as a means to reassert Hindu rights in a country where they are increasingly feeling marginalized despite being in majority. It is also considered to be a reaction to the forcible conversions of Hindus to Islam and Christianity, the Partition of India, increasing criticism of age-old Indian customs and an influx of Western cultural influences.
Ideology clash with Abrahamic religions
From the worldview of the three Abrahamic religions, Hinduism is criticized as being polytheistic, which they consider to be evil. It should be noted that many Hindus do not view themselves as polytheists, and some feel that monism or monistic theism would be more apt. Hinduism does, however, present an appearance of polytheism to external observers not familiar with its philisophy. More correctly, the Smarta view dominates the view of Hinduism in the West and has confused all Hindus to be seemingly polytheistic and is an inclusive monotheistic religion. In Hinduism, views are broad and range from monism, dualism, pantheism, panentheism, alternatively called monistic theism by some scholars, and strict monotheism, but are not polytheistic as outsiders perceive the religion to be. Hinduism has often been confused to be polytheistic as many of Hinduism's adherents, i.e., Smartas, who follow Advaita philsophy, are monists, and view multiple manifestations of the one God or source of being. Hindu monists see one unity, with the personal Gods, different aspects of only One Supreme Being, like a single beam of light separated into colours by a prism, and are valid to worship. Some of the Hindu aspects of God include Devi, Vishnu, Ganesh, and Siva. It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West. After all, Swami Vivekananda, a follower of Ramakrishna, along with many others, who brought Hindu beliefs to the West, were all Smarta in belief. Other denominations of Hinduism, as described later, don't hold this belief strictly and more closely adhere to a Western perception of what a monotheistic faith is. Additionally, like Judeo-Christian traditions which believe in angels, Hindus also believe in less powerful entities, such as devas.
Contemporary Hinduism is now divided into four major divisions, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. Just as Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in one God but differ in their conceptions of him, Hindus all believe in one God but differ in their conceptions. The two primary form of differences are between the two monotheistic religions of Vaishnavism which conceives God as Vishnu and Shaivism, which conceives God as Shiva. Other aspects of God are in fact aspects of Vishnu or Shiva; see Smartism for more information. Only a Smartist would have no problem worshiping Shiva or Vishnu together as he views the different aspects of God as leading to the same One God. It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West. By contrast, a Vaishnavite considers Vishnu as the one true God, worthy of worship and other forms as subordinate. See for example, an illustration of the Vaishnavite view of Vishnu as the one true God, at this link. Accordingly, many Vaishnavites, for example, believe that only Vishnu can grant the ultimate aim for mankind, moksha. Similarly, many Shaivites also hold similar beliefs.
It is also charged with idolatry, which is defined as worship of God who does not conform to the Abrahamic YHVH. These accusations are natural because of the exclusive nature of Abrahamic religions. Hinduism on the otherhand, is more tolerant of God as defined by other religions and does not subscribe to similar ideas of false god or idolatry.
Hinduism has often proven to have one of the strongest currents of reform and adoption to change than any other world religion. Unlike other systems riveted to a particular set of books or doctrines, Hinduism is constantly evolving.
The first reform and synthesis of modern currents of change came when the ancient Vedic religion was synthesized with the religious practices and philosophies of the Dravidian peoples to form the basis of modern Hinduism.
India's independence movement, and the victory of freedom in 1947 helped the new democratic Government of India to end social, economic and political discrimination against women, children and members of different castes.
It has been the result of a reformist effort by Hindu society, that the evils of customs like untouchability and caste discrimination, tracing back thousands of years, were significantly eliminated from most parts of India from 1947 till today, just around 60 years.
Hindu women have today unprecedented access to higher education, and have rights to divorce, inherit property, run businesses and choose their own professions and are considered with respect and dignity in all Hindu religious activities.