I’d an interesting conversation with a friend today about religion and different political parties in India.
He is pro-BJP, while I am absolutely against. Perhaps there are some good people in the party but I just don’t like their whole Hindutva policy. I do not like any party which focusses on religion, which pretty much means all Indian political parties are out. Except, I feel the BJP does it more than anyone else.
But I was a little shocked to realise that this friend – who is educated, well-traveled and belongs to the “upper middle class” section of society – was absolutely pro-BJP. And believes as India is a Hindu nation, the Hindus need to be given more rights. A fact that I absolutely do not agree with.
India is a secular country, which means equal rights to all. And yes, special privileges to some who come from a weaker section of the society.
“A Hindu man, from the day he has his family, works for his family, ensures his children eat no matter what he does, supports them and struggles for them,” the friend said (summarizing). That stopped me.
I figured the lifestyle is dictated by socio-economic conditions rather than religion. I know affluent Muslims and Hindus who live the same way while a poor Hindu and Muslim drink and abuse their families. Islam forbids drinking but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. Hinduism forbids a lot more things but that doesn’t stop anyone either.
“Babar bought in blood in India. The Aryans lived happily” the friend said.
Why do we pick and choose parts of history that is convenient to us? The Aryans invaded India in the first place, if you really want to trace history. Dravidians were the original inhabitants of India. India’s culture grew with the mixing of various cultures over centuries. There were the Aryans, who bought in the caste system. There were the Parsis, the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians. Each religion came by as it developed, as the world changed. There was Buddhism and Jainism as well… started here in our own country. So on what basis do we say that a country belongs to one culture alone? And how long does a culture need to exist on a piece of land before we accept it as a part of our culture?
The BJP recently tried to pass a bill that bans cow slaughter in Karnataka. I found it ridiculous. It violated several basic rights of an Indian citizen. And this was passed to merely detract people from other problems in the state and win the Hindu vote bank! I thought it didn’t work and was rather pleased to see such strong protest against it. But apparently there were supporters. Cows are gods in the Hindu religion. But then so is nature. That doesn’t seem to stop people from chopping trees, from taking over forests.
Why pick and choose? What gives anyone the right to pick and choose? If we really did that, then the Harijans would still be living as the untouchables, women would still be burnt alive on funeral pyres and widows would be banished to live on river banks, begging for food.
There is a story in Kannada literature of a hunter named Bedara Kannappa. (one version of the story) – Kannappa is a fierce hunter who always gets a game. One day he waits for his prey in a tree… the day passes and no animal goes by. He gets frustrated and while waiting, he slowly pulls off leaves from the tree and drops it on the ground. He does not notice then that there is a Shiva Linga under the tree. Finally, when he looks down and sees the Linga he makes a promise to Shiva that if he gets a game, he will give Shiva a part of it. Right then, a deer comes by, the hunter shoots it, leaves some for the god and goes home. The same things happens over the next several days.
When the priest comes to worship the next time, he is horrified by the meat lying around the temple. He curses whoever ‘defiled’ the temple and cleans it. After a couple of times, the priest loses his temper and hides in a bush nearby to see who is the culprit defiling the temple. He catches Kannappa and yells at him for spoiling the temple. The hunter argues that an offering is an offering and that the God does not have a problem with it. Shiva hears their argument and cries at the priest’s abuse of the hunter. The hunter, seeing tears emerge from the Linga, promises to stem the flow of tears and cuts out his own eyes and offers to God. Shiva is pleased by this final act of devotion, appears in front of him and restores his eyesight and tells him that he is pleased with the devotion Kannappa has shown in all these days.
The story forms a source for the reason why Shiva is worshipped with 101 leaves of a particular tree. However, people now would absolutely frown (like that priest did) at getting meat into the temple. Temples are holy places, temples are not meant for “unclean” people was the consensus which led to people being barred from entering. It was that way of thinking that eventually led to the system of untouchables.
There are several stories of Indian gods doing things that people forbid devotees from doing. Who interprets this religion? The Upanishads and the Vedas, which are considered the basis for several rituals and customs, are also supposed to have chants which were used to kill animals.
Then why is vegetarianism considered the “hindu way of life?”
Religions are interpreted according to the political needs of that time. And religions can co-exist if they adapt to the time as well. The Vedas and the Upanishads also preach co-existance with other cultures and gods. Then why the antagonism against Muslims and Christians?
There are equally rigid Muslims and Christians. There have been Christian people who pose as missionaries and try to convert others. There have been Muslims who preach that their god is the best. I would say shoot them all, regardless of religion.
The RSS, the Shiv Sena are political tools. Their offshoots are no better. What else would you call an organization that would beat up women and children in the name of protecting culture? I remember a time when they came recruiting on my doorstep. It was a wonder that they did, considering they knew how ‘forward’ we were… but they still did. They got chased away. Perhaps it was their opening line – “we are hindus. we need to stick together” that cause the problem. Maybe it was the loud proclamation of how we are the best.
No. I am not satisfied with any religion or anything any of it has to offer. I do not want a god that discriminates by what we eat, what language we speak, what we wear and who are our friends. I don’t believe a real God does that anyway. I don’t believe God cares about what hymns I’m singing, what temple/mosque/church I pray at. I don’t believe God really worries about how many coconuts I’m going to bring him today. I don’t believe God cares about the wine I drink, the people I date. I guess God would just be happy if I didn’t kill anyone, cheat anyone and go do whatever it is I was meant to do.
I am not insulting any religion here. Each one of us require a faith to live. To believe in. I just don’t think that it is related to what a political party wants us to believe or any priest telling us that this is the way to live. I love the confusion of cultures in India.
(These are my own thoughts, borne or reminded from the conversation I had with some people over the last week and today. No offence to anyone, no forcing anyone to come over to my line of thinking. We can all coexist.)
Edit: A friend and someone I deeply respect wrote this article on a website. The timing is interesting because it is about the same topic with a slightly different view about Hindus regard their gods