Monday, 3 February 2014

On Hindus Being 'Marginalised In Our Own Country'

A friend (SK) posted a link to a news item about a section of Muslims protesting against the introduction of a set of coins commemorating the silver jubilee of a Hindu temple because they carried the image of a Hindu deity.

SK had no hesitation in calling this reaction "nonsense" and pointing out that this sort of thing was responsible for the backlash from Hindus and the resurgence of the Hindu right wing. He also pointed to the seeming "hypersensitivity of Muslims to any expression of Hinduism and Hindu sentiment in India, and how the Indian government routinely genuflects to deny Hindus even minimal expression of their religion". He went on the describe the feelings of the "average Hindu, who, for decades, under the aegis of the [Congress] party, has felt marginalised and unable to express [their] religious feelings openly in the only large Hindu-majority country in the world" and who would like to practise their religion "without having the heavy hand of the government clamp down on them to silence them because they might inadvertently "hurt" someone who is not a Hindu".

I largely agree with SK. I think a section of the Muslim community's "leaders" is routinely tweaking Indian society (read Hindus) to see how much they can get away with. The correct response is to tell them to get stuffed, but the Congress is incapable of such firmness. In actuality, I'm sure most Muslims wouldn't care about what's embossed on coins. This is plain communal mischief on the part of the Muslim "leaders", and the Congress falls for it. I keep referring to these people as "leaders" (in quotes) because they don't represent anyone but themselves. They do not uplift their followers in the least. Together with the government (Congress-led for most of our history), these people have acquired the power to dictate to their own community (whether they like it or not) as well as to the rest of society.

Being an atheist also helps me see the silliness of every religion, and I have no patience for people whose "religious sentiments are hurt". They really need to grow up. I oppose the ban on the books of Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen, the movie Vishwaroopam, and also on the works of MF Hussain, however objectionable these may be to one section of people or another. The government really needs to grow a spine and tell  people to get used to living in a democracy where the freedom of speech is protected.

I have often mentioned that I condemn the pseudo-secularism of the Congress and would welcome true, neutral secularism where nobody gets special treatment. Unfortunately, in recent times, the target of right-wing Hindu parties like the BJP has shifted from "pseudo-secularism" to "secularism" itself! When secularism itself has become a bad word, it means we have lurched from a centrist position to the right. We have moved from the poisonous communal pandering of the Congress to an equally dangerous mood of backlash.

A friend of SK's (DP) also commented on this, agreeing on the coin issue, but taking issue with SK's statement that Hindus feel marginalised in their own country.

I agree with much of what you have written about the coin issue. And I won't go into the linkage to Congress, or the excesses of the Hindutva brigade. But I have a problem with the complaint that Hindus are not allowed "even minimal expression" of their religion or that Hindus have become marginalised in this Hindu majority country. This is an often-repeated argument that I find disingenuous.

Ganesh Puja, Durga Puja, Navratri are celebrated with full enthu[siasm], very publicly (and with much digging of roads to create pandals) all over the country. Holi and Diwali are celebrated with gusto (neither Muslims nor govt oppose this, but some "pseudo-modern" Hindus do complain about the noise and the colour). Various pujas and kirtans are held publicly.

I have worked in 3 companies now, and in each one of them, from privately held to publicly listed, Ayudh Pooja is conducted on Dasehra, new labs and facilities are inaugurated with breaking of coconuts, new construction is started with a bhoomi puja (and after ensuring absence of rahukaalam), sweets are distributed on Diwali day, etc. Government and private functions are routinely inaugurated by [a ceremonial] lighting of the lamp.

British or American heads attending Diwali party is like our PM attending iftaar: it is a gesture towards minorities. Incidentally, when did you hear about Obama throwing a lavish Christmas party? In fact America shies away from overt Christian expression - Merry Christmas has now given way to Happy Holidays, and there was some debate about whether the British govt should put up Christmas trees in govt offices (same has been debated in US also).

While Indian PM may not attend Diwali parties, he does wish the country Happy Diwali.

Also, the Indian govt spends enough effort to provide safety and organizational support to yatras in Amarnath, Vaishno Devi, Sabarimala, etc.

In summary, I would like to know from the "complaining" Hindutvavadis (or Hindus) what exactly it is that they want to do which they are prevented from doing, either by govt policies or by social restriction.

I added my two bits to DK's points:

I have been a rationalist since my late teens and have never since defined myself as Hindu, so this is my perspective.

When working in Bombay in the 80s, I saw Ayudha Puja being celebrated in my employer's office as well as in several client offices. They would apply sandalwood paste to the monitors and place flowers on keyboards, and these would remain for days until they dried up and fell off. The strange thing is that many of the same offices required you to remove your footwear before entering the computer room because of the fear of dust! But apart from muttering to my friends, there was nothing I could do. There was no way I could have stopped the practice.

Similarly, I have seen in bank branches (more in Tamil Nadu than in Bombay) that there are these huge pictures of Hindu deities as you enter the branch (usually Ganesha, Lakshmi and Saraswathi). I have always thought it inappropriate for public sector banks in a secular state to display images of deities, but do you think I, or anyone else, could have done anything to have them taken down?

These are examples of how Hindus are 'marginalised in our own country'. I can only marvel at the effectiveness of right-wing propaganda.

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