I am used to abuse from BJP trolls. But they seemed especially abusive when I wrote last week that the new Ram temple being launched at Ayodhya would eventually turn out to be a minor event with few political consequences. I said India already had lakhs of temples and one more in Ayodhya would make a little difference. The trolls castigated this as the delirious maundering of a “sickular” “atheist” “libtard” who knew nothing of Hinduism.
In response, let me present my mother. She spent the last two decades of her life at the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh and became a sanyasin. She was a devout Hindu. But would she have approved of the mob that destroyed the Babri Masjid in 1992? No, she would have called them thugs, a disgrace to all that was good and great in Hinduism.
The media has tom-tomed the bhoomi pujan of the Ram temple as a major event for all Hindus. Sorry, but it is an event for Hindutva, not Hinduism. My mother would have questioned the mega publicity given to the new Ayodhya temple. For the vast majority of Hindus, the new temple will matter much less than local temples, and cannot compete with great Hindu centres of worship such as Tirupati, Varanasi, Thanjavur, Badrinath, Puri, Vaishno Devi or Shirdi.
My mother would have called temple building a commendable Hindu act that communities did in every village. My father built a Ganesh temple in New Delhi. Did this have anything to do with politics or politicians, or putting down another religion? Absolutely not. During the Partition riots of 1947, our family was in Shimla. A Muslim family came running into our house chased by a Hindu mob. My mother quickly locked the Muslims in the attic and let the Hindu mob rampage in vain through the house. Who represented the devout Hindu, my mother or the Hindu mob?
My mother would have preferred me to be deeply religious, yet smiled indulgently at my atheism, and said there were atheist traditions like the Charvaka school of philosophy within Hinduism. The Hindutva trolls seem blissfully unaware of this. Anyway, they worry less about atheists, who are small in number, than secularists, and constantly claim that secularism is anti-Hindu or entails looking down on Hinduism. That is pure tripe.
Mahatma Gandhi was without question a devout Hindu. He was also a fundamental secularist and saw absolutely no contradiction between the two. He said people called God by many names and so claimed to have different religions, but all prayed to the same Holy One. This was the foundation of his secularism and belief that all religions should be treated with equal respect. Secularism was not lack of respect for Hinduism but respect for all.
Gandhiji was also a believer in inalienable individual rights, and the duty to respect beliefs of others and not force one’s views on them. Hence, he supported cow slaughter by non-Hindus. Despite being a devout Hindu who held a daily prayer meeting, he was shot by Nathuram Godse for being too secular. His last words were “Hey Ram.” Was he a sickular libtard?
Today the Hindutva crowd claims it alone represents true Hinduism. It cannot stand Gandhiji’s secularism and adores Godse. BJP Member of Parliament Pragya Thakur, under trial for killing 10 people in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blasts, has lauded Godse as a great patriot. She was criticised and disciplined for this by Modi. Yet the Hindutva crowd has been emboldened to erect many statues of Godse and has made him a deity in a Hindu temple in Gwalior. Yogi Adityanath has proposed changing the name of Meerut to Godse city.
I just looked up Wikipedia’s list of Indian atheists. I was amused to find that the list included both me and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the founder of Hindutva! Savarkar strongly opposed traditional Hindu beliefs and viewed Hindutva as a politico-cultural rather than religious project. He hated Muslims. In some speeches he called himself an atheist, though more correctly he rejected the old Sanatan Dharma and sought a major modernisation of Hinduism. He said there was nothing sacred about cows and advised Hindus to give up vegetarianism. Savarkar’s biographer, Dhananjay Keer, points out that when his wife died, despite entreaties by his followers, he refused to allow any Hindu rituals. I wish the Hindutva trolls would highlight this.
What should the trolls learn from the three examples of my mother, Gandhiji and Savarkar? First that devout Hindus can be those that save Muslims from Hindu mobs. Second, that the most devout Hindus can be the staunchest secularists. Third, Hindutva promotes not religious Hinduism but Hindu majoritarianism.