Five separate and seemingly unconnected incidents from last week portend something rather dangerous to India, and who we are as a people.
- Ravi Sisodia, one of the murderers who lynched Mohammad Akhlaq, recently died in UP. For his "martyrdom" in performing his "national duty", his coffin was wrapped in the national flag. What's objectionable here is not just the fact that the use of Indian tricolour to drape coffins is exclusively reserved for state and military funerals. What's really objectionable is that people are valourizing both the killing of another human being as well as the bravado displayed by the brazen defiance of the law. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has demanded ₹1 crore for his family as compensation for his "heroism", and no less than a Union minister went to pay his respects!
- Because Nawazuddin Siddiqui was acting in a rendition of Ramleela in his native village in UP, right wing fundamentalists forcefully shut down the programme because it "disturbed the peace". Mind you, their issue wasn't the content or performance of the play. The real problem was that he bore the wrong name.
- Contrary to what his family and friends feel or the factual circumstances that forced Rohith Vemula to commit suicide, an official committee went on record to a) absolve everyone of his death (despite overwhelming evidence of interference by the State and harassment by the university administration) and b) to suggest that Rohith wasn't even a Dalit (again despite what he and his mother have lived their lives as). The panel's findings seem to insinuate that suddenly the entire episode is less problematic.
- Lalit Karnatak, a school teacher in Bageshwar, Uttarakhand was so incensed at Sohan Ram's presence inside a wheat grinding shop that he murdered him on the spot. His reasoning was that Sohan's presence had "polluted" the entire shop.
- The VHP sprinkled cow urine on everyone at garba venues in Gujarat so as to drive away non-Hindus and "purify" Hindus.
In all five instances, the primary reason for discrimination was either religion or caste. While Akhlaq and Siddiqui were targeted for being Muslims (or as in Gujarat, for not being Hindu), Sohan Ram and Rohith came under attack for being Dalits.
It is imperative for us to understand (and engage with the idea) that what is happening is not just against India's Constitution, but also against Hinduism!
Completely antithetical to the idea of India, a vast majority of Indians subscribe to regressive caste and religious norms. Atrocities against Dalits (Una, Faridabad, Shirdi etc.) or hate crimes against Muslims (Dadri, Muzaffarnagar, Udhampur etc.) occur because most Indians aren't socialized to constitutional norms. They sincerely believe that there is only one way for an Indian to be. That is why people are forced to rigorously adhere to regressive rules about food (meat bans), dress/technology (women cannot not wear jeans or carry mobile phones) and societal conduct (pray only to this God, speak only in Hindi, don't go into this temple, or don't visit this ceremony, say Bharat Mata ki Jai) etc. All of these are completely antagonistic to the idea of India and Indian-ness.
To the discerning observer, there is one common denominator to all these atrocities that scar our body polity. Most of the principal perpetrators are people who are convinced that they're doing what the scriptures have sanctioned. These are not violent criminals or psychopaths, but ordinary decent Hindus who live their lives peacefully. Under the right circumstances (usually systematically engineered communal or casteist tensions), these people are overwhelmed with hatred and anger against people they've lived with for generations. And they are encouraged to take matters into their own hands. This pattern has repeated itself many a times, and such tensions will only escalate lest we address the fundamentals.
It is therefore imperative for us to understand (and engage with the idea) that what is happening is not just against India's Constitution, but also against Hinduism! This may not matter so much to those in metropolitan cities, but it does to a vast majority of our fellow Indians.
Ill versed with the philosophical basis of Hinduism, people unfortunately overlook that the atman (self) is the Brahman (absolute) and ishavasyamid sarva yaktichh jagatya jagat (all that we see in this universe is pervaded by God). Given God exists in everything and everyone, an attack on an individual is also an assault on God. Yet Hindus in Dadri felt it was perfectly legitimate for them to barge into Akhlaq's home, threaten his wife and children and kill him before their very eyes.
The message that percolates down is that the State semi-officially sanctions the idea that its perfectly acceptable to discriminate against (even attack) anyone who lives differently or doesn't fit in.
Furthermore given the Maha Upanishad says ayam bandhurayam neti gananā laghuchetasām, udāracharitānām tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam (only a narrow minded person calls one his brother and not the other. For those who are large hearted, the entire world is a one big family) and the Atharveda urges us to cultivate love, affection, empathy and good will for all, it is abundantly clear that Hinduism does not give anyone the authority to force people to close their enterprise because it has someone from another religion in it (like in the Nawazuddin Siddiqui incident) or burn an entire family because they belong to another caste (Faridabad). Arguably, this could also cover denigrating and threatening anyone with differing ideologies (as many did during the FTII and JNU incidents).
Finally given ahimsa paramodharma (non-violence is the highest dharma) is paramount, a negative action like killing is maha-pataka (mortal sin) and a fundamentally un-Hindu act. In this light, what happened in Muzaffarnagar, Udhampur and Dadri are completely unjustifiable!
It should be clear to all of us that what is being done in the name of Hinduism is just a disguised way of consolidating privileges (religious and caste based) or furthering ideological agendas (creating a Hindu Rashtra). In doing this, Hinduism has been reduced to a prison for those within, and a justification for genocide against those outside.
The issue is exacerbated when the State actively turns a blind eye (and in some cases actually endorses) these norms. Ministers, MPs and other political leaders have actively supported these norms (remember Yogi Adityanath, VK Singh, Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Prachi, T Raja Singh, Madhu Mishra, Giriraj Singh etc.) while the government maintained a studied two-year silence not only on the above mentioned hate speeches but even atrocities. Furthermore when the country's Prime Minister pens a hagiography on MS Golkwakar (a man who said that "non Hindus in India can claim nothing, deserve no privileges, far less any preferential treatment-- nor even citizen's rights"), the message that percolates down is that the State semi-officially sanctions the idea that its perfectly acceptable to discriminate against (even attack) anyone who lives differently or doesn't fit in.
We have to discard not only those regressive and backward norms that hold us back but also those that proselytize them.
Our founding fathers and mothers recognized casteism and religious discrimination as abominable legacies that could not exist in a society that was to be built on equality and equity. That is why India's Constitution lays down elaborate norms to ensure that the terms of engagement between Indians are based on mutual respect, compassion and tolerance. Most importantly, they ensured that people didn't have to belong to one particular religion to be citizens.
And yet, we do the exact opposite. Just how long are we going to bracket and divide ourselves on the basis of our religions and our castes? Just how long are we to be conscientious bystanders to all the madness that's consuming India? Just when are we going to finally say, "stop"?
India has the potential to be one of the greatest nations in the world. We can be a strong, prosperous and just society; a beacon of multiculturalism. If we are to realize that dream, we have to discard not only those regressive and backward norms that hold us back but also those that proselytize them. It'll do all of us well to remember that the fate of our greatness lies in the choices we make.