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Why I’m Offended When Someone Abuses My Secular Hindu Credentials

Union minister Anantkumar Hedge’s remarks that secularists are like “people without parentage” offended me deeply.

Updated
Politics
4 min read
Why I’m Offended When Someone Abuses My Secular Hindu Credentials

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I learnt all my Hindu sanskar (values) from my dadi, my grandmother, who is no more. She was as religious as a person can get. Other than daily pujas (prayers), fasting and celebrating all festivals with proper rituals, she would spend a month, whenever she could afford, on the banks of the holy river Ganga in the month of Shravan.

Despite never being exposed to formal education, she could recite shlokas from the Gita at will. She knew most of the stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, and was well versed with Vedas and Puranas. She used to worship cows and would make us drink cow urine. Cow dung was religiously used to purify her puja ghar (place of worship).

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She was a quintessential Hindu for me. She would openly scold Muslims for selling eggs and chickens, as she considered them “Kristant” food (I don’t know what that means. Perhaps she meant profane food. But she never spelled that out for her grandkids). But she would privately tell us: bechara apna dhandha kar raha hai (the poor guy is trying to make a living).

Even though she could not bear the sight of eggs and chickens, but allowed her son (my father who ate eggs) and her grandchildren to eat the ‘profane’ food. Sehat banegi (will be good for health) is how she would justify it.

The only restriction was that we were not allowed to go near her if we hadn’t taken a bath after eating chicken.

A photo of the author with his grandmother.
Hinduism allowed her the flexibility to adjust with what was needed for her family.

Basics of Hinduism Are Not at Variance With Secularism

The biggest festival in our house was Ram Navami and my grandmother was delighted to learn that there would be a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya. Few months after the demolition of Babri Mosque, I asked her a simple question: Dadi, Ayodhya mein Ram Mandir banane ke liye ek Masjid ko tod diya gaya. Aapke hisab se theek huwa kya? (Grandma, a mosque was demolished to construct a temple in Ayodhya. Is this the right thing to do?)

Her answer has remained the most important lifelong lesson for me on the essence of Hinduism. 

Dharmik sthal to dharmik sthal hota hai, usko todna to theek nahin hai (A religious structure is a religious structure, demolishing it is not right.)

Given the values I have growth up with, I took great offence to a statement by Union minister Anantkumar Hedge who said that secularists are like “people without parentage.”
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It amounts to insulting my parents and grandparents. It is very likely that my grandmother did not get to hear the word secularism, but she was and will always be a living example of how Hinduism is quite compatible with what our founding fathers envisaged when they decided for the country to have a secular outlook.

Other than closely observing what ordinary Hindu men and women like my grandmother practise and preach, leaders like Hedge must go through some of the Constituent Assembly debates on secularism. The debate was between “nothing to do with religion” vis-à-vis “equal respect to all religions”. What we adopted was equal respect to all religions or Sarva Dharma Sambhav.

If the stated objective of the Constitution (being a minister, Mr Hegde is obliged to protect the Constitution) is to equally respect all religions, why should I not be proud of my parentage who taught me to follow precisely that?

Why Did BJP’s Founding Fathers Add the Word “Secularism” in the Party’s Constitution?

Instead of shaming us, Mr Hegde should go back to his political roots and turn the pages of his party’s Constitution. The third paragraph of the BJP’s constitution says:

“The party shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy and would uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.

First page of the BJP’s constitution.
(Photo Courtesy: BJP.org)

Since the BJP’s constitution proudly mentions the word “secularism”, should BJP leaders allow others to use unkind words for their founding members, including former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee whose birthday was celebrated on 25 December?

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Incidentally, Vajpayee has gone on record saying that:

There is also no need to be sceptical about Indian secularism. In spite of unfortunate aberrations, whose recurrence must be prevented, India will always remain an open, inclusive and tolerant nation, with the freedom of faith guaranteed to all not only by the statute book, but also by the living traditions of this ancient civilisation.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Speech from 2003, on The Hindu’s 125th anniversary Celebrations

We Must Guard Against Using Religion as a Political Tool

While I will desist from naming and shaming, as grandmother’s Hindu sanskar inside me do not allow me to do that, I would request Mr Hegde to read what Jayaprakash Narayan, the doyen of anti-Congressism in the country (akin to BJP’s stated goal of Congress mukt Bharat) had to say on the use of religion in politics.

Jayaprakash Narayan added that it was only when religion was used to serve socioeconomic and political interests, that there was communal violence. What needed to be done in the interests of secularism was to incorporate an article in the Constitution prohibiting the use of religious institutions for political purposes or the setting up of political organisations on a religious basis. It was not religion per se, but its politicisation which engendered violence in the modern state.
EPW, July 27, 2002
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