Enough is Enough.


So Obama’s Presidential Transition Team has an Indian woman now. Sonal Shah. Her appointment has sparked off a controversy. Not coz she’s Indian or anything, but because her father was closely associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Some groups called ‘Coalition Against Genocide’ (who count amongst their achievements getting the US to deny a visa to Modi) have kicked up a controversy about this. And predictably, the lady has denied any links with VHP and RSS and says she is against divisive politics.

I’m sick of the whole ‘Right is wrong’ approach that has been drummed into our heads. In any other country, the VHP would be just another religious group, the RSS one of the foremost volunteer organizations, and folks supporting these groups would just be nationalists… but in ours, we are fascists, neo-Nazis, Hindu versions of Zionists, terrorists, mischief-mongers, communalists, you name it.

The VHP has never outright supported any sort of violence, and never has the RSS hand in communalism, if ever it had one, been proved. Godse assassinated Gandhi of his own volition, and the RSS had nothing to do with it, for all you folks who suggest that line of thought. In fact, that was a mere excuse for Nehru to ban an organization which was against his policies… that man couldn’t stand any differences in opinion now, could he? He blacked out Godse’s defense of himself in court… read it here, and you’ll understand why it was blacked out.

I’m sick of watching people apologize for the religion they follow, even though it’s the one which has shown maximum resilience, maximum tolerance, maximum flexibility to its followers, maximum objectivity and maximum ability to change and adapt as the situation demands, and almost never seem like an anachronism.

It doesn’t do to be in denial anymore about our past and heritage, or to continue to believe myths that make us feel ashamed of our rich history and traditions. It only serves to deplete us, bring down our self-esteem and self-confidence, turn cynical, not have faith in ourselves and our abilities. Lesser cultures have sped ahead of us merely by virtue of their self-confidence.

The past might just be the past, dead and gone, and never to return. But it surely would serve to inspire us, to give us the energy to go on with our duties even when we feel we’ve hit a brick wall.

Like, Koreans work fifteen hours a day, take very short breaks, and in general do things which we folks would consider symptoms of OCD… but they work at whatever they are doing with the feeling that every drop of sweat they shed is helping build their economy, which was shattered by the wars and invasions. And apart from boosting deo sales, it makes their country a rich, prosperous one. I don’t mean to say that’s the path to salvation, but this is just to illustrate what a bit of patriotism and self-confidence can do.

Separation of religion and state is ideal for oppressive, hierarchical religions, but not for pagan heathens for whom religion is a way of life. We worship rain, money, food, tools, animals, you name it. Religion is so ingrained into our lives that to shift-delete it from our lives would be to obliterate our identities and all that we stand for.

Being ‘conservative’ means to ‘conserve’ the ideals our forefathers have left us. For other countries which were left legacies that aren’t organic, and are not sustainable, it might be ideal to have revolution as the midwife of history, but when we already have a nicely-working legacy system, it doesn’t make sense to break it all down just because it’s old, though it might be more robust than any new system you might bring in. Ancient does not necessarily mean outdated.

In the Indian context, it makes more sense to preserve than to destroy what we have.

A Muslim country like Indonesia considers the Ramayana as an integral part of its culture, so much that it finds representation in currency notes, and we question and deny the same thing, which is more a matter of faith than logic. And choose to emboss our currency notes with another sacred cow.

I see no anachronism in chanting the Gayatri Mantra, wearing a sacred thread, going on a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram, believing Setu existed, celebrating a thousand-odd festivals, worshipping thirty-three crore Gods and Goddesses, doing the Surya Namaskar, rendering the Omkara, playing religious music on All India Radio, speaking Sanskritized Hindi, Tamil or whatever Indian language, being vegetarian, being allowed to joke about my religion, being allowed to believe, or not, having enough authority to bring in reform as and when I choose to to my religion.

I see no point in espousing atheism and denigrating Gods and idol worship if the alternative is you are supposed to revere sacred cows like this one and this one and against who it is illegal to commit any blasphemy.

Hare Krishna and  Vande Mataram.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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11 Responses to Enough is Enough.

  1. karthik says:

    The humanities electives in my college (offered nearly every semester) always included a course with a title akin to “History, Culture and Nation”, or “Cultural Studies” or “Social and Cultural heritage”.
    These classes were rife with arguments being tossed around the room, but there was one thing everybody agreed upon, a variant of which you’ve echoed in the paragraphs above:
    “It doesn’t do to be in denial anymore… even when we feel we’ve hit a brick wall.”

    I was entirely apathetic towards these discussions because no one could ever explain, objectively, why my self-confidence should be linked to my heritage or traditions. It involved a leap of faith that I just couldn’t “get”. What am I missing?

    A second, and similar statement I fail to appreciate the weight of is: “Religion is so ingrained into our lives that to shift-delete it from our lives would be to obliterate our identities and all that we stand for.”
    As someone who finds atheism the most natural and obvious point of view, I don’t understand why anyone would tie their identity to their religion.

    The impassioned prose made for interesting reading, even if I couldn’t relate to parts of it at all.
    I apologize for the long(ish) comment.

  2. the Monk says:

    I have to agree with Karthik. I am an agnostic leaning towards atheism, and agnosticism is a way of thought that comes naturally for me, and I doubt I have suffered any loss of identity any more or less than a “religious” person because of my faith (or the lack thereof). It is very dangerous, I think, to tie your identity to something bigger than oneself; and this is particularly true for matters of faith, because of the very nature of faith itself: it is only as good as the strength of your belief, and not strong on its own merit. I believe that Hinduism has survived so long primarily because it has at its core a very agnostic principle: do your duty without worrying about the consequences. I call this agnostic in nature simply because it involves placing one’s faith in the only thing that can be immediately ascertained, your duty.

    Also, if being conservative merely means conserving the traditions of our forefathers, then I would be better off not being one. I am all for conserving what is right and good (deciding what is good and right merits a post of its own), and not simply everything that is handed down to us. Our forefathers can (and have been) be famously wrong, and there is no reason to follow everything that does not work simply because it’s been around for a while.

  3. wanderlust says:

    okay… the power’s been playing hide and seek with me for the past two days and i write a nice reply to karthik when the power fails… this has happened five times.
    here goes
    @karthik:
    if everyone behaved like your past or origins didn’t matter, what you say would hold good. sadly it is not so.
    where you are from is like a brand. and for good reason – it really does say a lot about you, that people feel they can trust that sort of a heuristic enough to understand how people work. now going into a debate of ‘why do we judge people’ is meaningless and will be quite off the point… let’s just say we do judge people.
    and when you are told good things about your origins, or where you are headed, you do tend to put more into your daily work. induction programmes of software co.s are designed to tell the freshers how awesome they all are, and that they were personally handpicked, and that they are somethign special, and that they have the best job in the world, their employers are folks with x% stake in y,z,a,b,c consortiums, they hold m% of the total intellectual property in this domain… why do you think?
    if people feel what they are doing is going to matter in the building of a strong nation or some such megalomaniacal idea, or basically given to think they hold more responsibility than they really do, they do work harder. and errors due to lack of will are considerably lesser.
    this whole image thing can work the other way, too.
    if you are constantly made to feel ashamed of your origins, you tend to begin to feel you have nothing left to lose if you perform badly.
    have you heard of that experiment in bihar or someplace where they took a bunch of kids and told them to perform a task, and found everyone was equally competitive… and then they told some of the kids that they weren’t as good, and they found that competitiveness went down among those kids.
    and when you go out of your country, your ‘traditions’ are what set you apart, which make you an object of curiosity. there are a lot of little things that spring from your upbringing, your environment, the things you are used to… and if you are less than confident about carrying it off,, others’ esteem of you subconsciously goes down, and it manifests in the way they treat you.

    atheism the most natural point of view… the thing is, religion is a lot more than just god. it exists for a purpose. we have sacred cows for a reason. we worship money and books coz we need to give them a high value; that ensures that they are taken seriously…. and i guess they need to be. small things like touching a coin you’ve stepped on to your eyes might strike as mere tokenism, but that’s the sort of small things that make a big difference.
    we pray to the sun every morning, asking for energy to face the day. we revere food, hence do not waste it. we see god in all living things… hence we shy away from even killing an ant.
    it’s easy to say we can rationally do all these things too, but the sort of value you’d give the same things won’t be the same if you do it rationally. some amount of irrationality is required to follow principles to the T.
    and religion and god is subjective…. we have people making pilgrimages to abbey road studios, to the statue of freddie mercury in budapest, to che guevara’s birthplace… people just need irrationality like that to give them a purpose in life. if people dont have a god, they go about inventing one.
    as for longish comment… your comment is pretty short, by my standards.

  4. wanderlust says:

    @the monk:
    i don’t think it’s accurate to define hinduism by essence-of-Gita-in-one-line-for-attention-deficit-westerners, or that it’s possible to explain hinduism in terms of theism-atheism-agnosticism, because it wasn’t designed like that that such a perspective might give an accurate picture.
    hinduism is a way of life, not a religion. it has no central philosophy or whatever, because it was never ‘founded’ with a set of principles and a written constitution. any such document would only be the product of reverse engineering. either that, or it’d be the equivalent of dale carnegie or shiv khera in today’s world.
    >>It is very dangerous, I think, to tie your identity to something bigger than oneself; and this is particularly true for matters of faith, because of the very nature of faith itself
    do you not say that you are an Indian? or that you are from NITT? or that you belong to such-and-such family? again, it would probably not matter if others didn’t view you as a ‘hindu’ or as an ‘indian’ or as ‘belonging to that clan from this village’, but people do tie your identity to a larger whole. it’s inevitable. you automatically, subconsciously want to fit people into the larger scheme of things, identify their place in society. there’s nothing wrong with this trait… it only serves to simplify the way you perceive the world… something like an indexing mechanism.
    so any such ‘identity’ would be more like a tag on a blogpost than the title.
    and conservatism… it’s just another questioning policy to make life simpler – it’s a pain to judge everything on its own merit.. it’s a waste of computational power and time that could have been used for a zillion other purposes. just like leftism.
    right-conservatism minimizes the changing of methods to do things to a need-based one, while leftism says to change everything.
    and just like any other optimization, both of these won’t work in all situations.
    now leftism would work when bulk of the needs are to change an existing system. the system might need to be changed totally for a lot of reasons, maybe it was faulty design that is beyond repair.
    rightism works in an environment where bulk of the tasks are to get things done and the existing system is fine enough and would only probably require tweaks from time to time.
    these approaches don’t need to be watertight… you can always branch off and experiment. if it works, it’ll be integrated into the main branch.
    people who recommend the former approach for India are those who feel india is beyond repair. folks who advocate the latter approach are those who feel india’s fine.
    i feel india’s fine. i feel hindu society works great; it even has an error-correcting mechanism, and provides well for all schools of thought. it has a few issues, but then there are always tradeoffs in a system and optimization is a burgeoning business. it comes closest to an ideal system in my opinion, atleast theoretically. hence i am a conservative.
    PS: if a discussion is a tad deep, try not to make comments that only skim the surface.

  5. Shreevatsa says:

    Sorry to not even skim the surface, but I find this confusing.

    You seem to be saying several independent things:
    1. “The VHP has never outright supported any sort of violence […]”: VHP and RSS are not violent, Godse was not part of RSS. [Are you saying violence is bad? The choice of words…]
    2. Our religion is cool and awesome; we should be proud and preserve our culture. Look at Korea and Indonesia.
    3. The Hindu religion is “pagan”, so… we do not need separation of religion and state? “Religion is so ingrained into our lives that to shift-delete it […]”
    4. “I see no point in espousing atheism and […] if the alternative is you are supposed to revere [Congress party]”.

    I don’t understand 3 at all. What does the nature of one particular religion have to do with the state not interfering/involving itself with religion, and what does separation of R&S have to do with shift-deleting it from our lives?

    And don’t you think 4 is a very false dichotomy? It is not even a dichotomy, at that…

  6. wanderlust says:

    @shreevatsa:
    1. for the past seventy-eighty years, we’ve been brought up eschewing violence. so it’s only natural that the indian public would express disgust at a group that is known for violence. i say that this group is not known for violence, so hate them for different reasons.
    3. why was there a need for separation of church and state in the first place? in medieval europe, the clergy wielded too much power, and wielded it for their own selfish reasons… basically plunged europe into darkness. this was because of the centralized structure of the church. this is not the case with what the ‘civilized’ world likes to call ‘pagan’ religions, as religion is more decentralized. there is less of a chance of religious power being misused (no don’t say chandraswamy… i’ll only say rasputin).

    sadly post-independence, every single act that was linked to our history started being seen as ‘religious’, when the correct term would actually be ‘cultural’. and, separation of religion and state was interpreted as obliteration of religion from state. and they began to see breaking coconuts at the beginning of something, or playing bhajans on AIR as ‘religious’. and secularism began being defined as ~(religion). so if you wanted to be secular, you had to follow practices that weren’t ‘religious’. hence the net effect of separating religion from state turned out to be the shift-del of religion from public life. more on this on request.
    4. non-theism is supposed to free you from shackles of various sorts, isn’t it? atleast that’s what you’ll glean if you listen to karunanidhi or kancha ilaiah. not believing in god was supposed to make you more rational and more open about your views, and more open-minded when it came to accepting other points of view. and if you (are forced to) start believing Gandhis of all sorts and Nehru are infallible, you’re back to square one.

  7. Shreevatsa says:

    3. No, “Separation of…” was an American concept that was later adopted by a few other countries because it makes sense. [The Indian constitution does not mention such a thing in those terms, AFAIK.] In medieval europe, it existed or not in different places; I don’t think it mattered much. The Church was powerful without exercising its control through the government. I don’t see what it has to do with the structure of a religion’s establishment. Independent of anything else, I wouldn’t want religion to make the government impose Sharia law, say, or want the government interfering in affairs of temples or whatever religious institutions.
    Your second paragraph is about another aspect, and I agree with you.

    4. The shackle-freeing power of anything is limited by the fundamental human need to be in shackles 🙂
    And if some claims are false it only discredits the people making those claims… it doesn’t make everything else true 😛 [You are right that discarding some one belief will not automatically make anyone rational and open-minded. That’s the usual confusion between a statement and its converse…]
    In particular, you seem to be claiming a dichotomy of the sort “either you are religious or you follow karunanidhi or kancha ilaiah and worship persons X, Y, Z”. Why should such a thing be true?

  8. wanderlust says:

    3. because it makes sense in their context.
    the indian constitution mentions ‘secular’ and that is sufficiently perverted to mean separation of hinduism from state.
    as for medieval europe, see here
    structure matters. if it’s centralized, you have a standardization body and all that that comes with it… some sort of absolute power. which obviously corrupts absolutely.
    4. i meant those who want to sever their connection to religion solely because they think it’ll make them more liberated. all i’m saying is look for a different reason to discard religion, this one doesn’t work.

  9. Shreevatsa says:

    3. Of course the structure matters for how and what control the religious establishment exerts over people. I meant that the “secular” or “separation of church and state” idea is a good one no matter what the structure: power-exerting religions will have undue power no matter what (and it’s worse without the “separation”), and other sorts of religions have nothing to gain, and only freedom to lose, by being subject to the state’s interference. (We seem to be talking about different things: see WP’s section on “friendly” and “hostile” separation.)
    There is an obvious argument for religion being part of culture, and a secular policy not in any way implying the absence of absence of religious works in the public sphere. (For example, the ASI spends money on the upkeep of temples, and no one complains.] The fact that this argument is not made more often has to do with various political reasons, and has nothing to do with the idea of “separation” itself.

    4. Ok, it makes sense. The idea of abandoning religious beliefs for the purpose of being more “liberated” is clearly absurd. (Compared to any goals that might come from religion, the goal of being liberated seems insignificant 😛 Yeah yeah Pascal’s wager…) In fact it is so absurd that one must wonder whether anyone really makes that argument, or you’re just setting up a straw man 🙂 [Of course, politicians being what they are, all things are possible.] I would expect more common arguments to be that religion itself is some form of shackles, that the only reason one believes in it is because of some suppression, and that this particular shackle is worth being liberated from.
    In this form, there is no dichotomy; there is no promised “free your mind from everything” land; it is perfectly plausible that following some random person will impose its own constraints on you, BUT: it doesn’t say anything about religion and religious beliefs themselves. Your statement of “I see no point in espousing atheism […] if the alternative is […]” doesn’t make sense, because they are independent (although possibly not uncorrelated) choices, not alternatives.

  10. wanderlust says:

    @shreevatsa:
    i’m sorry to say this, but this conversation is getting rather tiring with long references and much nitpicking from both of us, apart from the conversation proceeding on different threads it’s hard to keep track of.
    i’d like to reply to one point you made, though.
    >>For example, the ASI spends money on the upkeep of temples, and no one complains.
    temples are CONTROLLED by the government unlike mosques, churches, synagogues and sufi tombs. so… welll, that’s the least they can do!

  11. Shreevatsa says:

    You are right, I apologise.
    My only point was that religious beliefs need not, and ideally would not, be aligned along political lines, but I said too much instead. I’m sorry for the disruption,

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