When it’s the thought that counts, but not in a good way
(Published on October 22, 2016 in Business Standard)
What’s left of our rationality took another tooth-loosening blow in Mathura the other day. One morning, according to newspaper reports, several dozen Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, and other Hindutva activists showed up at the Bindu Seva Sansthan Ashram, and made round eyes and scary teeth at its leader, Swami Balendu, because the Swami had organised a meeting of—wait for it—atheists. The activists felt that the godless have no business meeting in their extremely goddy town.
So far, it’s your garden variety, lunatic fringe problem. What really matters is that the police officials who accompanied the activists backed them up, saying that the Swami and his godless guests were on their own in case of a law and order problem. It is not clear, from the reports, whether or not there followed a moment of silence during which everyone looked at their feet and wondered what, then, the police is for, exactly. Going with the flow, the Mathura administration withdrew the permission they had previously granted for the meeting. Atheists were harassed and warned not to write about all this on social media. Needless to say, the meeting was cancelled.
That marks a new low in the tedious god-bothering that is spreading like a nasty fungus across the land. Zealous religion has always made a nuisance of itself—people shutting down art exhibitions, burning books, breaking things, roughing up other people, rioting and so on—but now we’re manufacturing stupidity at a dizzying rate. Back in the good old days, it took paintings of nude gods to enrage the sanctimonious. Now, disavowing religion is enough. Rationality is enough.
That’s because if there isn’t a god to dictate your life to you via a priest/prophet/rabbi/some other amanuensis, you might actually start using your brain and coming up with thoughts of your own, thereby disempowering those who like to control your politics.
And this is political—it has nothing to do with spirituality, that private, individual thing that requires no external validation or agreement. When administrative mechanisms—like the police—align with a majoritarian religious agenda, facilitating social veto and citing law and order problems as a reason to not maintain law and order, we are well on the way to losing our collective marbles. And to being a horribly pious, violent, fearful, brainless, boring country.
The Samajwadi Party’s pathetic law and order track record in Uttar Pradesh is a fabulous self goal, since it allows thuggish elements—including, but not limited to, the Sangh Parivar—to take swift advantage of the power and developmental vacuum, currently with an eye on the 2017 polls. But then, the attack on rationality is not limited to one state’s poor law enforcement. It’s coming directly from the Centre.
Religion has always been treated with kid gloves in India, thanks to the Congress’s weakness for its vote-gathering potential. But it is being weaponised by the Sangh, and loaded on to the super-efficient delivery mechanisms of nationalism, education, and government dictat. The Sangh doesn’t understand the first thing about freedom—the freedom to question, to express yourself, to worship or not, to ridicule, to debate. It hates independent rational thought, because its very specific vision of India is one in which everyone is emotionally blackmailed into remaining cooperatively in their ordained place in the power pyramid, in return for having more money in their wallets.
Street muscle and mixed messaging is therefore very efficiently ripping secularism out of the Constitution. Some things, we are being told, are beyond question—including the list of such things. Hinduism. Nationalism. The armed forces. Power. Rich people. Money. The national interest. Development. The national honour. All of these newly sacralised things were vigorously questioned by the same people, when they were not in power.
So it’s wildly funny to watch the Sangh invoke the Constitution to demand a uniform civil code on the grounds of equality. I happen to agree with the idea of a UCC, but only as long as it rips religion out of politics. Keep the state out of the house of worship, the bedroom, the hospital, the funeral, the wedding, and the family, except to ensure individual rights and law and order; let people opt in to religion or nationalism or the family structure if they wish to, and ensure that the state backs up their guaranteed individual rights if they wish not to. Lift the inviolability of ‘family’ law and expose it to the scrutiny of the Constitution. Strike down triple talaq as well as the laws on cow slaughter; abolish Muslim polygamy as well as tax breaks to the Hindu joint family. Uphold the right to worship anything, and the right not to worship anything. Be truly equal.
But that’s as fanciful as the idea of god, because in Sanghese, equal means ‘some more than others’.