I always thought of myself as agnostic – someone who was indifferent to the concept of God. It was only later that I learned that agnosticism stood for the belief that man did not possess the faculties to prove or disprove the existence of that higher power. In any case, my disdain and skepticism for the idea of God extended to religion as well. I began to view the two as one and the same and grew increasingly intolerant of those who believed. My grouse would almost always start with the argument that some of the biggest wars in the history of the world were fought over religion and God. And that God was nothing but a figment of man’s imagination, and religion a regressive and sexist device born out of man’s desire to dominate.
While the genesis of these views can be traced to my hormone-fueled teenage years – a time when it was considered “cool” to be a rebel and have a contrarian view of things – I have over time mellowed down. I have come to understand that the two are not the same and that a distinction needs to be made. That the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and trade required a semblance of order. That the moral, ethical and social code of conduct that religion provided was necessary for societies to exist. That religion actually provided the framework within which the constitutions of many modern day democracies were conceived. Continue reading
Devdutt Pattanaik’s retelling of the Mahabharata (Jaya) makes an interesting observation about dogs and why they’re considered inauspicious in Hindu culture. There are (at least) two instances in the epic where dogs are shown in poor light – when a dog steals Yudhisthir’s footwear from outside Draupadi’s chambers and when a dog follows Yudhisthir on his ascent to the heavens. The first because it led Arjuna to violate the arrangement the Pandavas had with Draupadi. And the second because it was symbolic of attachment and stood for all that was worldly. And perhaps the reason why ‘kutte’ is still bandied about as an expletive is because this epic – along with its counterpart from an earlier age – has shaped our thought and behavior for centuries. Perhaps it is time we questioned our literal interpretation of these stories (as Devdutta Pattanaik points out in an article from 2009) for our fight against our chauvinistic minds is not just about changing our attitude towards women and issues like homosexuality but also animals.
As I finished watching a late-night screening of PK on Monday, I was struck by a deeply unsettling thought: what if I had a daughter who wanted to spend her life with a Pakistani? Would I be okay with it? Despite professing to be a liberal, I was ashamed to admit that I had my reservations about the idea. And as I began to probe the reasons behind this hypocrisy, I realized that my prejudices were a partial product of growing up in a system that constantly views Pakistan as the enemy. Our books paint their heroes as antagonists. Our movies treat their government and people with disdain. Our media, riding on the viewership that comes with such jingoistic and pseudo-nationalistic agendas, feeds our xenophobia. And as we continue to thump our chests and take pride in the histories of the wars we’ve fought and won, and as we revel in our purported superiority over our neighbors, we forget that there exists a similar set of people plagued by the same set of problems we encounter – education, poverty, unemployment, religion – on the other side of the border. And then there’s the question of my own beliefs; if I can firmly endorse freedom of choice and speak-up for the lesser fortunate and marginalized, how is it that I have a problem with this thought? Is this the limit of my liberalism? And therefore, am I only a liberal when it’s convenient and visible? I’m not a father… But I hope that when the time comes, I am able to give my children a future unencumbered from the prejudices and biases of our history.
As Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, attempts to provide the panacea to all that ails this country, a steady wave of saffronization is spreading, one that is barely perceptible but very much extant. Nehru’s legacy is questioned; Nathuram Godse is called a patriot, and it is suggested that he should have killed Nehru instead of Gandhi. And the leader of the largest secular democracy of the free world gifts a copy of the Gita – the guiding light of those who bask in the glory of Hinduism as a way of life – to another world leader. Maybe I read too much into it… But when a respected Parliamentarian and a Union minister calls for the Gita to be declared the National Book of India, I sense a saffron undercurrent. I sense it when money is raised to fund conversions of Muslims and Christians. I sense it when those self-appointed guardians of the Hindu culture and chest-thumping pseudo-intellectuals dictate the heroes I should worship and the language I should speak. I sense it when textbooks are purged and history is rewritten in hues of religion. It is only a matter of time before the parivaar and its perverse ideology merge with the party, and one will become an extension of the other, if it isn’t already.
PS: This post isn’t meant to disrespect anyone or offend any sensibilities. I have read a part of the Gita (an English interpretation) and I believe in a lot of what it says… Having said that, I think it is extremely inappropriate to politicize the scripture, and use it as a means to spread a right-wing agenda.