Avoidable Religious Skirmishes

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
doing so.

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.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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Views: 3302      Comments: 11

Comment I shall feel obliged if as a Bengali you read Tagore, not in translation but in the original. Not only Dharmamoha, he wrote many such prophetic poems.

kumud biswas
20-Jan-2015 11:02 AM

Comment I stand corrected. AS far as Mr. Biswas''s blogs are concerned, I confess I have not read them and perhaps to that extent have remained under-educated. I have resolved to make up the loss I have suffered.

Proloy Bagchi
20-Jan-2015 00:41 AM

Comment Mr. Bagchi may like to read one of my blogs - Zamindar Rabindranath -5, now featured in boloji.

kumud biswas
19-Jan-2015 10:26 AM

Comment I would like to tell Mr. Bagchi that I am not a woman, I am a regular contributor and have posted hundreds of poems and songs of Tagore in my translation and I also read postings by others. You could very well verify these facts from boloji itself. Why should we blame the political class alone. I posted Religious obsession long ago. You are a Bengali I suppose. You never bothered to read it, let alone a large number of blogs on Tagore I have posted so far. This is only a message, please erase it after reading.

kumud biswas
19-Jan-2015 08:56 AM

Comment I am so delighted and at the same time so grateful to Ms. Biswas. I thought the poem ''Religious Obsession'' fits the current times like a glove. I wonder why our political class is not able to see the ''truth'' of this obsession.

Proloy Bagchi
19-Jan-2015 01:06 AM

Comment Another Tagore poem on the caste system in my translation which seems to be relevant.

The Outcaste

They are the lowliest of the low
They are ineligible for initiation.
At the portals of temples they are barred
By those whose business is the worship of God.
They seek Him where He actually exists
Where there is no fence
And is lighted by spontaneous love –
In the starry skies, in the flowering woodlands
In the deepest passions they feel
In the loves and losses of their loved ones.
They cannot reach him along the way
Consciously designed with walls and barricades.
I have seen their devotee in the morning light
On the banks of the Padma –
The river that has no hesitation
In breaking the foundations of old entrenched shrines.
I have seen him going his lone way singing
With his ektara in his hand
In the quest of the one who is closest to his heart.

I am a poet, I belong to them
I have failed in the observance of rituals
I am uninitiated
I am forbidden to enter the temple
Where God is imprisoned
My offerings cannot reach His altar.
The priest came out smiling and asked,
‘Have you seen the deity?’
I said, ‘No.’
Surprised he enquired, ‘You don’t know the way?’
I said, ‘No.’
Again he asked, ‘Have you no caste?’
‘No’, I replied.

My days thus passed;
Now I think -
Who is my deity,
Whom have I worshipped?
Is it he whose name I have heard from many
And read about in many tongues and scriptures
Imagining him to be the object of my devotion?
To prove this I have tried hard
To propitiate him through my worships.
But now I see I have failed to do that –
Because I have failed in the observance of the rituals
I am uninitiated.
Shut out by the closed door of the temple
My devotion went towards the horizon –
Beyond the walls
Below the starry skies, in the flowering woods
Along the way deeply marked
By the loves and losses of my fellow beings.

*** *** ***
Those who are bound by rules and rituals
Thought I was not a human being
So friendless I used to play
In an open place where all roads meet
Carefully avoiding my touch
They passed by that place.
To offer to their deity
They plucked all the flowers prescribed by their scriptures
Leaving those which blossom in all climates and lands
Under the omnipresent sun
And are accepted by all.
Ignored by the pack
And hungry for companionship
I have wandered about
For friendship of those
To whom all are welcome
Who have no walls
Who are without any guard.
Outside the settlements
I have found the companions of my loneliness.
In the golden ages of history
They came with torches, weapons and messages
They are deathless heroes and savants
They are my friends
We belong to the same tribe and race
I am ever sanctified by their eternal sanctity.
They are on a pilgrimage of truth
They meditate for light
They are the fittest to be immortal.
I have lost the man
Where he is surrounded by boundaries
But I have found him at last
Where he is unbound by borders.
With folded hands I have prayed to him,
O you timeless one, you represent all humanity –
Please save us from the arrogance of narrowness
Of those who wear the marks of sects.
Blessed indeed am I, O great soul
I have seen you through the mists of darkness -
I have failed to follow the rituals
I am an outcaste.

*** *** ***

Transcreation of excerpts from poem 15 of the collection Patraput by Rabindranath Tagore.

kumud biswas
16-Jan-2015 23:56 PM

Comment A very topical issue. Instead of a comment I would like to quote a Tagore poem in my translation -

Religious Obsession

Who is obsessed by religion
He is blind
He only kills and gets killed.
Even an atheist is blessed
Because he doesn’t have the vanity of any faith.
Humbly he lights up his reason
Defies the authority of scriptures
And seeks only the good of men.

He who kills as infidels
The followers of other faiths
Dishonours his own faith
He kills the son in the name of the father
Busy only with the rituals
He loses his reason
He hoists a blood-stained flag in his temple
In the name of God
He worships the Devil.

Those who have retained in their creed
The shame of ages, the cruelties and barbarities
With those rubbish
They are building their own prison –
I hear a bugle is blowing
The bugle of universal doom
With his scythe the god of destruction is coming.

Planting him as a stake who comes to liberate
Putting him up like a dividing wall who comes to unite
Flooding the world with poison in his name
Who brings love from a divine source –
They drown sailing in a boat they themselves have scuttled
Yet they blame someone else!

I invoke you O you the supreme judge
Please come to end this degeneration of religion
Save those who are deluded by their faith.
Your altar they have flooded with blood
Please completely smash it
Hurl your thunder at the prison walls of faiths
And bring to this cursed land
The light of reason.

Translation of the poem – Dharmamoha – from the collection Parishesh by Rabindranath Tagore.

kumud biswas
16-Jan-2015 23:47 PM

Comment There are many religions in the world, Christianity in all its denominations is one of them, but the system of morality in human society everywhere boils down to principles of right behaviour that are remarkably common. Christ preached love of neighbour as a principle, expanded by St Paul to be inclusive of all men, Jews and Gentiles. Hinduism and Islam likewise are rooted in principles of right behaviour that removing the religious label are basically an expression of doing God''s will in love and service of one’s neighbour. Under the religious label of Christian, Hindu and Muslim, the good man in each category is the one who adheres to a principle of moral behaviour, or is in affection of doing what is right as the Divine will. Religion determines right action in each context, thus showing up the difference in each to lie in superficial forms of doctrine and ritual as determined by physical circumstances. Religion is thus by nature exclusive to a community, and in a world that is increasingly a family of nations, that is a divisive influence, more so in the past, distracting from the following of the principle of right action by definition universal.

The providential ascendance of science and secularism tends to the universal consensus of what is right as acting in accordance to principles of humanity - that even judges religious beliefs based on exclusive principles as deficient. A typical case is the bringing to justice of those priests as perpetrators of child abuse in Roman Catholic schools on secular principles defining a child’s rights in society that within the RC circle would be excused or suppressed in the importance attached to the status of priests, children being considered by comparison less important. In this sense, secularism is a universal religion in all but having a God as its professed head; but in the honouring of the principle of humanity as the principle of right action honours the very God that St Paul preached, and all religions actually identify as the Divine principle. Is there not here the solution to religious difference - and skirmishes - based on a ritualised approach to God, in the recognition of one Divine principle of rightness of action expressed in love of neighbour that governs all of them, and that is by coincidence the unnamed God of secularism?

16-Jan-2015 20:38 PM

Comment This comment refers to the one bu Buddha and Rudra

Perhaps all my articles have not been seen. In any case, I must say that I am non-theistic and I hold no brief for either religious right-wingers or secularists. In fact, I just do not like the secularism practiced by the Congress. It is this party which has caused the imbalance in the North-East by playing,strangely, communal politics. That is why perhaps a respected member of the Party called the term ''secularism'' as dodgy.

I wrote this piece as the matter provoked me to write about it. There is nothing more or nothing less to it..

Proloy Bagchi
16-Jan-2015 00:44 AM

Comment Isn`t it strange that re-conversion makes all the pseudo secularists cry foul but the same group keeps mum when millions are converted to Christian or Islamic faith by force or money?
All the reports show--Muslims started the riot by burning thousands of pilgrims coming from pilgrimage. No one talks about that but all the pseudo secularists are up in arms when the Hindus retaliated.
Secularism exists because of tolerant Hindus of HIndustan.
Look at Kashmir or eastern part India--where are the secularists hiding?
I would love to read any article by Mr.Bagchi criticizing Muslims or Christians politicians.

Buddha D.Rudra
15-Jan-2015 11:20 AM

Comment Religion should now be classified under business. It is a big business. Each religion has its own marketing material. They are in need of money, and get if there are more numbers attached. Each religious place should be seen as profit center. The rate at which they grow, gives idea of their healthiness. To promote, some greedy religion have gone ahead with inducing or even forcing people (mainly poor) to convert and thus become more powerful. Even educated people become prey. This is altering the character of the nation and causes serious law and order problem. Politicking increases. Religious leaders find their way into parliament. At present it is termed as personnel matter, and successive government don''t want to interfere and it has become a vicious circle, mud slinging game and Government is mute spectator. Can BJP introduce anti conversion law and classify religion as business. .

14-Jan-2015 04:15 AM

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