The hold of religion on people seems to be strengthening every passing day. The newspapers run regular features relating to religious activities that, one can sometimes foretell, might cause trouble and conflicts. Some narratives are about the conflict situations that have already occurred and some are those that could well end up in tragedy.
With the installation of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government at the Centre the Hindu Right Wing organisations seem to have developed a lot of muscle – or that is what they appear to think. Their recent activities and utterances of some of their hotheads inject some amount of foreboding into the environment creating a lot of unease among the minority communities as also among such of the Hindus who are not of fundamentalist orientation. While the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right wing Hindu nationalist non-governmental organisation with the aim of consolidating the Hindu society, has started opening and flapping its wings, there are other numerous fringe organisations that take inspiration from the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu cultural organisation, are more fundamentalist in nature and have also started flexing their muscles. The latter seek to protect the traditional Hindu mores and, in the process, indulge in moral policing – sometimes becoming violent in
These fundamentalists are not much different from those of other religions, particularly of Islamic faith. Of late, they have been running campaigns of reconversion of Hindus who happened to have been converted earlier and taken into the Christian and/or Islamic folds. Branding the campaign as “ghar wapasi” or home-coming, i.e. return to the Hindu fold the various regional units fanned out in the country looking for prospective candidates for reconversion. They claim to have converted thousands of Christians and Muslims in various parts of the country. The conversions and “ghar wapasi” became hot news and provoked disorder in the Indian Parliament rendering the last few sessions in the Upper House infructuous.
Worse, the Hindu fringe elements have been travelling to places that are communally sensitive where communities are already polarised and the chances of conflicts were bright with the persisting tensions. Some converts who were formerly dalits (untouchables) were assembled and were claimed to have been “reconverted” as Hindus at some places. There have been charges flying around that they were conned into the claimed conversions and were offered illegal inducements. Many Hindu religious organisations disowned such conversions as the obligatory procedures were not observed. Besides, the question of putting them in a caste slot was also not possible as Hinduism has castes as an essential feature of its social set up. Besides, an institutional weakness, or strength whatever one may call it, is that none can really be converted as a Hindu. He or she has to be a born Hindu. The Supreme Court of India has pronounced a judgement to this effect way back in 1977. The ritualised (re)conversions would, therefore, seem to be of hardly any consequence.
All this apart, fishing for trouble the fringe elements of Hindu organisations pick on issues that could cause communal discordance. One such was about a recent Bollywood film “PK” which, according to them, had insulted Hindus and their gods and god men who in India have somehow come to abound. Their shenanigans have been exposed by some of their one-time gullible faithful. If not more, at least two of the very popular god men are now in jail for conning their followers and for rape of their female followers besides being charged for other criminal offences. It is the poorer and less aware sections of the population that fall prey to the machinations of the so-called god men who are nothing but confidence tricksters. After having viewed the film, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous province of India, exempted it of all taxes in order to enable more people to watch it and presumably get educated. The central government has also declared that, unlike previous occasions, the film would not be subjected to a review by India’s films Censor Board. Even the chairperson of the Censor Board, Leela Samson, emphatically asserted that “PK”’s certification would not be reviewed. And, now a high court has pronounced that there is nothing in the film warranting its review or re-consideration. Nonetheless, the unHindu-like demonstrations by Hindu groups, sometimes violent, had already done damage to various cinema halls as they went rampaging through them breaking furniture, kicking and spitting on the film’s posters with photographs of its hero, Amir Khan, a highly respected film artist of the country.
The governments earlier yielded to such unreasonable demands and the agitating fundamentalists got away with whatever they wanted. Salman Rushdie, An Indian Muslim litterateur settled in England, was prevented from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2012 as the Islamic fundamentalist groups asked for banning his entry into the country because of his book The Satanic Verses published years ago which they thought insulted their Prophet. Likewise, Tasleema Nasreen, a Bangladeshi author of repute, was chased out of her own country for her book “Lajja” (shame) written on the anti-Hindu riots soon after demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in India in 1992 and settled down in Kolkata only to be blatantly chastised and threatened and was chased out of the city again by Islamic fundamentalists for her mere plain and forthright utterances. Both the state and the central governments proved to be so weak that they succumbed to the unreasonable demands of the Indian Islamic fundamentalists and refused sanctioning extension of visa to her. Likewise, MF Hussain, an eminent Indian artist, spent last years of his life abroad as Hindu fundamentalists were up in arms against him for depicting Hindu goddesses in the nude - a way of depiction they did not like. There have been umpteen instances where Hindu and Muslim right wingers have forced the government to take steps to prohibit art and literature on frivolous grounds.
The recent activities of the Hindu hotheads were exploited by the Opposition in the Upper House of the Parliament where the current government lacks majority. The last few days of the winter session were disrupted because of the disorder created by the fragmented Opposition which managed to unite against the government. No work could be performed and many of the bills that were slated for introduction and discussion could not be dealt with. The BJP government had come to power with a mandate of development and had shelved its controversial issues that it had been pushing for long years. Those mandate-based plans of the six-month old Modi government were seen to be fizzling out. As was generally expected Prime Minister Modi expressed his displeasure at ‘re-conversions’ and rabid Hindu utterances and activities of members of his own Party and of several Hindu organisations. Eventually, the RSS let it be known that needless and avoidable controversial speeches or actions should be avoided by the right wing organisations. Even the “ghar wapasi” had to be put on hold by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Looking at all these confrontations over religious affiliations of people one wonders as to why has the world been reduced to a battleground over them. Religion, faith or belief is a very personal matter that evolves in an individual over a period of time according to his/her upbringing, education and exposure to the world around him. Each has a right to have his own faith and belief and practice in any which way he/she likes. Each, likewise, has a right to associate with any faith or religious group and interference in this matter by others ought to be unwarranted, even unwelcome. In today’s fractious world where there are numerous issues that could light the fuse what seems to be necessary is to cultivate humanistic traits among people and not religious bigotry. Religious leaders would do the world a great service if they converted people in their fold as real and thoroughbred ‘humans’ – with all the positive human attributes.