India is divided these days between two extremes of thought. The right-wing is in power at the government, and is leaving no stone unturned in trying to convert India into a Hindu nation. On the other side are liberals, minorities, and those who are proud of India’s multicultural nature (like me), who are fighting tooth and nail to stop the government in its Hindutva agenda.
One of the accusations hurled by the right-wing at secular Indians is that we are aping Western values when we resist calling India a Hindu nation despite being in the majority. The right-wing establishment believes – or projects it thus – that secularism is born of insecurity in one’s own religion, history and culture.
As a born Hindu who does not wish for India to become a Hindu nation, here are my reasons:
Firstly, as a secular nation, I am more than just Hindu. I am also Christian, Sikh, Muslim, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain and everything else that we are. The BJP-RSS entity wants to eradicate those parts of us; they want to slice us into pieces instead of building us into a united whole. That is not acceptable to someone who has enjoyed and owned the festivals, foods, gurus, religions, languages and cultures of all Indians as her own.
Secondly, majoritarianism is unjust and inhumane. Having more of one type of people doesn’t illegitimatize the rest. There are all kinds of minorities in every population: left-handed people, LGBTQ, those with an Rh negative blood group, those with disabilities. Are the circumstances of one’s birth a fair parameter of one’s worth? If this is about religion, who are we to judge God’s creations?
An evolved society is inclusive; it makes space for every kind of minority and it thrives in their uniqueness and diversity. The current government and its supporters assume that by harassing minorities, they will earn more power for themselves. But by flexing muscles at those already at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, they belittle us all.
Thirdly, I do not ascribe to the BJP-RSS narrow vision of Hinduism. My religion is large, all-encompassing, democratic, diverse, multifaceted and beyond boundaries. It seeks self-knowledge, it shuns rituals as crutches for the weak, and every seeker’s quest begins and ends with a question. There are no absolutes in my religion, no straitjacketed morality, just karma and its consequences. I belong to a civilisation where both Ram and Raavan are worshiped, where gods do hash, where goddesses slay, where some of the greatest teachers were atheists or agnostics, and where the greatest scriptures have no bylines.
On the other hand, the right-wing version of it forces its own very unilateral and annoyingly sexist and casteist values down my throat – on cows, beef, temples, Hindi, menstruation, prayer, names, marriage, clothing, sexuality, rituals, lifestyle, other people… the restrictions are endless and the checklist ever-growing. (I wonder if this is even Hinduism; it appears more like a bizarre, dystopian, politically motivated pseudo-Hinduism created by sexually frustrated, small-minded, insecure, privileged men.)
Fourthly, historical hangovers are unhealthy for modern, forward-thinking societies. The argument that Hindus in the past suffered at the hand of invaders and during Partition and so we must punish some others today is unreasonable, illogical, petty and myopic. We must correct the mistakes of history, not repeat them, if we want to move ahead.
So, yes, I believe with my heart in the idea of a multi-religious India and this is nothing to do with Western values (which I believe have just as many pros and cons as ours do). I am supremely secure in my beliefs, and I thank my lucky stars every day that the founding fathers of our democratic nation decided to include the term ‘secular’ in the Constitution. It has expanded our world and allowed us the freedom to eat, pray and love as we please.
What is left of India if we give up the essence of what makes us Indian?
Lead photo: At a restaurant having an Indian pizza with my spouse and offspring. We all have completely different surnames but we’re decidedly one family.
Syndicated to CNBCTV18