Contrary to the assessment of many of my trolls, I am neither a Vatican agent nor a victim of love jihad. It so happens that I am Hindu, not only by birth but also belief – except that my beliefs and my idea of Hinduism appear to be rather different from those of its self-certified proponents.
To me, Hinduism is the willingness to accommodate, the embracing of many as opposed to one, not just in terms of gods but in terms of philosophies and interpretations. There have been times in my life where I have played with agnosticism, but I have never been able to put down the existence of life – plant, animal, and human – entirely to accidents of science. My forays into agnosticism have also helped me question and explore the rationality of religion.
Like many other Hindus who enjoy the catholic nature of their religion, I have been deeply troubled by the steadily narrowing understanding of Hinduism, particularly since 2014. I have been conflicted by my adherence to a religion which has been violated repeatedly by those who claim to be its adherents, and misused as a tool for communal hatred and trigger for communal violence. I look on as other people who claim to be Hindus justify their fanaticism, rationalising that retaliation is not militancy.
I belong to a family whose members follow at least three different religions, and belong to various parts of India and the world. This has left me with a passion for languages and an interest in religion, and a personal sense of hurt when I see religions and languages used to stoke conflict.
August 5 will remain a strange date in my life. In 2019, it was the day Article 370 was revoked and Kashmir – a place of ethereal beauty and the site of unimaginable brutality – was plunged into a communication blackout. I tried desperately to contact friends to make sure they were safe, and it would be weeks before I could. In 2020, the anniversary of the day a state was dissolved and a promise reneged on became the day the prime minister of a “sovereign, socialist, democratic republic” prostrated himself before a shrine built over the rubble of a mosque, which was allegedly built over the rubble of a temple.
I don’t feel angry, and I don’t feel disappointed. I feel numb, as if I live in a dark age where – like the characters in King Lear – one must be aware that the worst cannot have come for as long as we can say “This is the worst”. The worst has only come when we are aware that we are falling into a bottomless pit filled with painful projections, and the intervals between stabs are filled with dread of the next stab.
Over the last six years, I have watched some members of my own family grow increasingly rabid and the others increasingly disillusioned.
How can they not see that just as one man destroys an ancient statue on the say-so of his imam, other men destroy an ancient mosque on the say-so of their netas?
How can they not see the absurdity of a time when god has been made a litigant in court, without his informed consent?
How can they not see that at a time when nothing is sacrosanct, all that is sacred to them will be the first to be attacked when the seat of power hosts a different strain of virulence?
When we see images of people crawling like termites to turn a monument into dust, how do we see soldiers of god and not ignoramuses dismantling history? How do they not see their own act as comparable to the barbarism of Aurangazeb who razed temples as they razed a mosque?
I have often wondered at the opulence of temples and the absurdity of offering up creations of god as tributes to the gods themselves, whether it is animal sacrifice, flowers killed by plucking, or ghee that is actually the blood of a cow who was deprived of the right to feed her calf. As a vegan and animal rights activist, I have never subscribed to manmade rituals that pay obeisance to god.
To me, gods don’t need temples as long as they find a home in their worshippers. But which god could find a home in someone who would brandish weapons?
The similarities and differences between religions are fascinating, and a discussion of stories and scripture could bridge the gap between science and faith to some extent – we could look at how people used faith as a tool to monitor societal behaviour. What lessons can we draw from the mindless cruelty of paranoid tyrants? Does it not seem strange that the Pharaoh Ramses, Herod the king of Judea and Kansa the king of Mathura all ordered the massacre of innocents in a quest to murder an infant who was prophesied to be the killer of each?
Temples have been the sites of theft, and other kinds of desecration. Can gods find peace behind ornate locked doors hiding precious jewels and paranoia?
The one couplet from the Bhagavad Gita that no one who has watched B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharata can forget is:
yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata
tadatmanam srjamy aham
“Every time moral order and the predominance of religion are in decline, and irreligion takes over, I will come down to earth (and set things right).”
To look at the deserted streets of Srinagar, which has been under lockdown for over a year, to see the foundations of a temple laid on the ruins of democracy in a secular republic, one wonders whether we can claim moral order prevails today.
Yes, we can build a Ram temple. But who will build Ram rajya?
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com