A ‘new’ India

As we come to terms with a new 'Hindu' identity for India, can we promise to uphold the Indian constitution as supreme?

A ‘new’ India

I grew up believing that religion is personal. Even as our Christian school herded us into morning assemblies where hymns to Jesus were sung, even as Muslims took up three-fourths of city thoroughfares for Friday afternoon namaz, and even as Hindus exuberantly celebrated Diwali and Durga Puja with loud crackers and artistic pandals. Religion in India has been many things; but most often it’s been a celebration. This week’s Pran Prathistha ceremony at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya witnessed a nationwide euphoria. Lights and larger than life cut-outs of Lord Ram adorned streets, local nukkad pujas were held, homes, residential complexes, and even some corporate offices joined in with their own celebrations. Saffron flags and chants of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ greeted people on the roads, television, and even some emails! This jamboree also left many uncomfortable. As I sit to write on the 75th Republic Day of our magnificent nation, I have more questions than answers as I try to decipher the new identity of India.

Would it be right to say that India has changed this week? A culmination of several years of attempting to reignite the ‘Hindu’ identity of the majority finally reached fruition. The effervescence of religious fervour that we witnessed in the last few days, while also good business (I wrote about it last week), is also symptomatic of an evolved India. When the party in power, claimed for years that this is what the Indian population wanted, many scoffed at the assertion. And while there is some excellent PR and brand-building machinery in place, the enthusiasm of the general public at bringing ‘Lord Ram home’ cannot be discounted. All of us who harp on the secular nature of the nation perhaps need to accept the social, cultural, and religious reset that has already taken place. That the people of this diverse nation, don’t want to lead with the identity of plurality and multiculturalism. The voters’ choice clearly shows which way the winds blow and where in India. Do we have various religions in India? Yes. Do we claim to give them equal rights? Yes. But do we want to be known as a diverse nation or a Hindu country? The answer to this question is becoming resoundingly different. Allow me to explain how conversations, perspectives, and the narrative itself have metamorphosed.

Someone recently told me that in their residential complex, a long-standing legal case was miraculously resolved in the run-up to the consecration of the Ram Mandir. They had wanted to set up a temple at the residential complex, some residents (including Hindus) had opposed it saying that why should only one religion enjoy a place of worship. The person went on to tell me that while they are secular and hold no qualms about other religions, why shouldn’t they have their temple? Lo and behold, a few days before January 22, the legal case was withdrawn and they were to finally have their temple. On the sidelines of another event, someone else narrated how everything was in place for a Lord Ram puja at home. Religion is no more personal; gone are the days of speaking about religious matters in hushed tones or avoiding the topic altogether at corporate events and office spaces. Today, we are more likely to avoid gender choices and sexuality as topics of conversation rather than religion.

Many sections of Hindus say they feel vindicated — they express a kind of relief, like a ‘coming out’ if you may, wherein they can openly declare ‘Jai Shree Ram’ without being viewed as anti-Muslim. To be able to rejoice and revel in their own faith with freedom is exhilarating I’m sure. And that’s why it’s also of paramount importance that even while consumed in this mirth, we don’t deny religious freedom to minorities. I wish I could say that the recent festivities were limited to devotion and conviviality. Religion can be the most powerful political tool, and as expected, news reports abound of skirmishes between Hindus and Muslims in Mumbai’s Mira Road, and vandals unfurling saffron flags in a mosque in Agra and churches in Madhya Pradesh.

We have to accept that in India today there is no separation between church and state; or rather temple and state. But does the strengthening of the Hindu identity have to come at the cost of impinging on the religious rights of others? And that’s my question for all those who may have celebrated Lord Ram’s homecoming but bear no ill-will towards other religions. Can’t you be Hindu and also secular? Or does one have to come in lieu of suppressing another? Showcase the graciousness of the victor and rebuke fringe elements whose only purpose ahead of the Lok Sabha polls is to instil fear and divisiveness. And on the 75th Republic Day of India, can we uphold the Indian Constitution above all else?

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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