Thought Box



by Vinta Nanda February 21 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins, 13 secs

Keeping religion a personal matter and not politicising it is crucial to prevent discrimination, promote social cohesion, and uphold the principles of a secular India. It gives way for diverse communities to coexist peacefully, writes Vinta Nanda.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, post the two World Wars, democracy looked like the only solution for evolving nations of the world to adopt as a system of governance. Most philosophers and thought leaders viewed it as the ‘idea’ that will harmonise differences in cultures and religions, and a ‘paradigm of thought’ that’ll narrow the distance between the growing chasms between the privileged and the underprivileged, the entitled and the marginalised.

But, as the technology revolution caught momentum across the world, along with globalisation and free markets, in India we first saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, and at the end of the month of January this year, the grand opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

Built by Mughal emperor Babar in the 16th century, it is believed by a section of Hindus that the Babri Masjid replaced a temple, which was originally there at the birthplace of Lord Ram. After a battle fought over years in the Supreme Court of India, which delivered a verdict in favour of the Hindus, the mythology of Lord Ram, who lived more than 3000 years ago, has become civilizational History, and the consecration of Ram Lalla has subsequently taken place on 22nd January 2024. The rituals were performed by none other than, ironically, the democratically elected Prime Minister of India.

After we published the article titled FLASHBACK TO THE TIMES OF HINDUTVA a couple of weeks ago, there were several reactions that came in rapidly. It is evident that a section of Hindus feel that this is their moment. I say to them, “Why not? Hinduism is a religion many follow, and Lord Ram is the most revered among the many Gods we worship”. A well-meaning lady, an acquaintance, sent me a message through text after reading the article, and I am reproducing the short conversation with her here:

She: Agree Vinta! But we the majoritarian have suffered for more than 500 years.

Me: How have you suffered?

She: In Odisha. Mughal invaders had destroyed 300 temples and forced conversion of the entire western belt of Utkal (then consisting of Jharkhand + Bihar + Bengal). Our Jagannath (Trimurti) temple was destroyed…burnt, the idols (made of neem wood)…and thrown into the Bay of Bengal.

We thank our ancestors who survived the Mughal atrocities and sacrificed so that we could pursue our religion. That’s why Muslims are not allowed in the premises of Puri…Indira Gandhi was also forbidden because she was half Parsi…her bodyguards were allowed…but not her…being a PM. I don’t hate Muslims but…I hate their messages sent to humanity…violence and non-tolerance.  

Me: Same messages us Hindus are sending out today, isn’t it?

She: It’s in retaliation to 500 years of suppression…

Me: Why have you settled both your daughters in the US? They should live here (in India)!

She: They pursue our religion…both are married to Brahmin families…both go to temples and observe Navratri and Durgashtami.

Me: Isn’t it funny what you’re saying?

She: I just returned last month…every small city in the US has temples. There was a Vitthal temple in San Diego. Now the number of temples have increased.

Me: Okay!

So, you must wonder why I am sharing this exchange here. Like many of you, I’m even trying to understand the difference in the way I think to her. Both of us are educated Hindus (she in fact is more educated than I am, she’s a doctor) yet we have differing views. It continues to baffle me why people believe it’s important to spend their entire lives feeling things which I don’t feel at all. A temple is a place of worship. We should go to all places of worship, be it temple, mosque or church, and pray. That’s it for me because all else is history, civilizational or mythological, whatever you call it.

I don’t think it is necessary to reverse what is believed to have happened five hundred years ago or even seventy five years ago, especially because we are now a democracy. I also don’t think, after reading many interpretations that are available of history, and India’s civilizational history, there is any one particular truth. There are several points of view and the coexistence of them is what makes the world, and all the conversations that take place in it, vibrant and colourful (imagine conversations in India if everyone was to agree with each other about everything). I think in vain, obviously, because there are scores of people around me who say, and assertively, that theirs’ is the ‘one and only’ truth.

In the conversation I’ve reproduced above, the lady said that only Hindus are allowed to enter Jaganath Puri temple, and in the same breath she says that her children living in the United States of America are staunch Brahmins who follow their faith. She also informs me of the many temples there already are in America. My question to her is this: will she dare to say that only the Brahmins are permitted to offer prayers in the Hindu temples in the US? Will she dare say that her children can practice the same Brahminism in the US, which offers them certain entitlements in India? Jaganath Puri temple may not permit a non-Hindu to its premises, but I ask, can the newly built temple in Ayodhya boast of doing the same?

So, where are these thoughts coming from to so many people? Who is informing them that we (the Hindus) have waited for more than 500 years for this to happen and that there is some sort of validation in it for us when the government, instead of doing its job of delivering services and prosperity (not handing it over to corporations to do), reverses it? Obviously a supercilious mainstream news bandwagon, along with the hubristic nouveau historians methodically distorting history with the tacit support of a democratically elected government and the mass media now fully owned by crony corporations! It’s for you to guess what the crony corporations stand to gain by allowing this to go on unabated at the behest of the government which favours them.

I haven’t waited for the Ayodhya temple to be built for a single day of my sixty years of life unlike all of them who’ve waited 500 years. Nor also have scores of my friends. What we are waiting for since the last ten years is our voices to be heard, our films and vehicles of expression to be given passage and not be censored, our freedom of speech and expression to be restored, and for us not to feel threatened when we share our thoughts and opinions.

While for centuries now there have been several movements to bring peace, urging populations to be open to the many streams of thought that exist across the globe and ushering them to a modern present and unknown future, cults and sub-cults have emerged systematically and successively with agendas to stagnate and astern the momentum of evolution by bringing it to a halt. Recent history is witness to who has benefited from the many reversals that have taken place in the past, and who it was that suffered. Genocides and displacements of millions of people from their ancestral lands continue to take place today, in Ukraine, in Palestine, in Manipur…the list is endless.

I say, go ahead and hold your views by all means. In any democracy there is space for both alternative and mainstream ideas to co-exist, however correct or incorrect they’re viewed to be. But the use of state machinery, manipulation of the narrative and the monopolisation and dominance of the discourse through threat and the ownership of mass media to diminish and silence all voices of dissent is unlawful.

The Praan Pratishtha, therefore, and the consecration of Lord Ram in Ayodhya, is no more than a ploy of the present right-wing government, a bid to appease its vote banks and hold on to power for a third term after the upcoming general elections. This dramatic proclamation of the Prime Minister ‘Abki baar chaar sau paar’, is a perception being drilled into peoples’ heads to make way for sinister manipulations during vote counting, not a reality. Of course the emotions of many Hindus sway to this slogan’s tune because of the mass media, democratic and academic institutions, which are in the control of the ruling party and its cronies.

Using a religious figure for political purposes results in the distortion of his teachings and the introduction of divisive elements into the spiritual realm. It leads to the exclusion of individuals from diverse backgrounds who may not share the same religious beliefs.

Embracing Lord Ram as a cultural and moral symbol, rather than a political tool, will promote unity and encourage shared values that go beyond religious affiliations. To retain its religious sanctity, and the cultural richness of Lord Ram’s story, it is essential to respect the diverse interpretations and beliefs surrounding him and not use his image for political gain.

There are scores of Hindus like myself, believers as well as atheists, well-read and informed, with worldviews that are different, who think contrarily, and the present scenario is challenging them. This is bound to have far-reaching consequences.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.