Religions are the best friends of COVID-19

April 5, 2020

Rohit Dhankar

The central and UP governments still seem to be far away from tacking the problem of migrant workers. Obviously there have been a series of kneejerk responses to the problem right from the beginning. The different responses from providing buses, to freeze where the pedestrian travellers were, to providing shelters, everywhere there seem to be lacunas and loopholes. May be the governments are making their best efforts, but the magnitude of the problem is such that they are not able to cope. Or may be they are making half hearted efforts so are leaving loopholes.

Some unconfirmed and/or incomplete news regarding Gujarat government arranging buses for 2000 pilgrims stuck in Uttara Khand and foreign tourist being taken in buses during the lockdown have also been circulating. These news items, if true in the form they are circulated in social media, certainly show differential treatment mated out by the government to different sections of people. And that is not reassuring in the present times. All these problems and many more are there.

This article, however, is about contribution of religion to spread of coronavirus. If one discounts the people generally dubbed as “bhaktas”, “IT cell members” and “Right Wingers”, all other Indians seem to be denouncing attempts to “communalise” or making a “Hindu-Muslim” issue or “associating corona spread with any particular religion”. All seem to be unanimous in this. And it sounds the right way to look at the situation as well. COVID-19 is equally dangerous to all, what ever crime the Jamaat committed there are no grounds for assuming that all Islam supports it, nor for holding every individual Muslim as responsible. Actually, no sane person is thinking or saying that every individual Muslim is responsible for it. Many Muslims have actually condemned the acts in harshest terms in print and electronic media. So, certainly every Muslim can not be seen as responsible for this.

But, have religions played a significant role in spreading the virus in South-East Asia? An article in the Wall Street Journal says they have[1]. It gives facts and figures to support the claim that “from Malaysia to Iran, faith groups and pilgrims have emerged as risks, transmitting the disease in ways that are proving difficult to trace and contain.” Tablighi Jamaat figures in a big way in connection with Indonesia, Malesia and Pakistan. Churches in connection with Singapore and South Korea. It does not have anything on India, though by now Delhi Markaz even is known to have links with a similar event in Indonesia.

Therefore, asking “whether religions resist more to closing down congregations than other non-religious congregations?” seems to be a legitimate question in present times. If one goes by the example of stone pelting in Ratha Yatra at Akkalkot, two Telangana ministers offering pooja on Rama Navami, Yogi Adityanath participating in shifting of Rama statue, Karnataka state government permitting 4-5 priests to celebrate Kharaga festival in side the temple, etc. and perhaps numerous others, then one has to come to the conclusion that religious gatherings are relatively more difficult to control.

In have absolutely no hesitation in saying that in all the incidents mentioned in the last paragraph Hinduism is a significant, may be the most significant, factor. There is no way of escaping the conclusion that all these acts are motivated by the desire to fulfil some or other supposed to be religious obligation as per Hindu belief system(s) and practices. The motivation to undertake these acts, desire to ignore the social distance orders, anger for stone pelting in one case, and seeking and granting permission to celebrate festival; all are based on the Hindu belief system(s) and practices connected with these occasions. If one argues that these incidents are not connected with Hinduism, it does not make sense at all. Therefore, all these incidents have to be understood as motivated by Hinduism, and at the minimum, Hinduism is a very significant factor in all these.

Is this conclusion communalising the issue? First lets see what is communalism. Mild communalism, put simply, is “loyalty and commitment to the interests of your own group (Ex. ethnic or religious) rather than to society as a whole”. Rabid communalism would be “loyalty and commitment to your own group, even in situations it might harm the whole society or other particular groups”. Now suppose a citizen of India, X, who happens to be a Muslim, comes to the above-mentioned conclusion after looking at the facts of these incidents that beliefs and practices generally associated with Hinduism are a significant or the central motivating factor in all of them. Is X being communal? In what sense? He is stating a logical conclusion, we do not know his real motive, his facts cannot be denied. There is no obvious benefit to his community in this. Aren’t those, who blame him of communalism, being communal? A counter argument could be: that the Hindus who call X communal are actually trying to save the image of their own community, in the face of possible danger to the whole society, and therefore, showing commitment to their own group even in the face of harm to the whole society. Therefore, the Hindus who call X communal are themselves behaving in a communal manner.

Hinduism recently has received a very bad press nationally and internationally, and almost every so-called Indian liberal is attacking Hinduism for almost everything that goes wrong in our country. Does this situation, Hinduism receiving a bad press presently, makes pointing out something reasonably true anti-Hindu or communal? I don’t see any rational grounds to come to that conclusion. Therefore, to me stating that “all the above-mentioned incidents have to be understood as motivated by Hinduism, and at the minimum, Hinduism is a very significant factor in all these” is neither anti-Hindu nor communal. It is simply a statement of the case as it is. Period.

Next, is X, in stating as said above, making it a Hindu-Muslim issue? Again, in this simple statement I see nothing of Hindu-Muslim issue. Suppose Mr. X is analysing overall impact of all such religion incidents on the coronavirus spread in India. And suppose further, that he comes to the conclusion that there are many more incidents of this nature related to Hinduism than they are related to Islam. And he says that openly. Is he making a Hindu-Muslim issue out of it? I find it hard to accept that. He is simply comparing the incidents, and this understanding might be useful in preparing the future course of action. Thus, as long as his facts are correct and his reasoning is valid, sharing publicly the results of his analysis is neither communal, nor anti-Hindu, nor is he making a Hindu-Muslim issue out of it.

Hindus may like or dislike it, but Asharam, Rampal, Nityanand, etc. all are products of Hinduism. They became influential and could dupe people because there are certain systems of beliefs, practices and rituals which they could use for their own purposes. It could be argued that they did not follow the philosophy and spiritual thought of Hinduism. Similarly, the stone pelting in Akkalkot Rath yatra and other incidents mentioned above are not supported by the philosophy of Hinduism. But a religion is not just its philosophy. It is, as said above, a complex system of beliefs, preachers, believers, social structures, rituals and practices. And all these people draw from the history, mythology, theology, philosophy (even if distorted) and practices of Hinduism. They also shape modern Hinduism. And it does not matter whether you like it or not as long as they have millions of followers who think of themselves as Hindus, they are products of Hinduism. Saying all this, even by a non-Hindu, is not communal and not anti-Hindu. It is just the statement of views that person has formed on the basis of some facts and reasoning.

Is Tablighi Jamaat issue being communalised if some one states that 33% cases till date are connected with its event in Delhi?

From this point of view; noting, stating and arguing that in aggression, in being adamant, in terms of scale and in terms of bold public theological support to continuing congregation come-what-may, Tabligi Jamaat takes the cake. The facts are available to all to check and see. Also, there are several Imams all over the world proclaiming that Allah’s azaab comes because of deviating from the true Islam and coronavirus can not harm believers. In face of all this it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Islamic thought and hadith is liberally used in support of continuing congregations, and instigating people to violate public safety measures. This is the most dangerous aspect of Jamaat incident: it gives elaborate religious justification for endangering oneself, one’s community and the whole society; and declares is pious. I have not seen any such religious justification from any religious leader, other than Islamic scholars. It has to be countered, and to counter it has to be admitted and understood.

In saying so no one is saying that every Islamic scholar supports this view. Actually not. Several Islamic scholars have denounced this view and have said that this is not the ‘true interpretation of Islam’. That however, is neither here not there. As the Maulanas who preach this view call it the real Islam and the counter view is seen as not true Islam; and they also have millions of followers. We do not know; we cannot know the true essence of any religion be that Hinduism or Islam; simply because there is no such thing as true essence of any religion. Religions, be that Hinduism or Islam, are very adept at wriggling out of responsibility of obnoxious acts committed in their name, simply by saying that this is not according to the true meaning of this religion. Personally, I don’t think religious thought can be absolved of the responsibility of such interpretations.

Therefore, the repeated charges of communalising, anti-Muslims and making Hindu-Muslim issue on everyone who states that Tablighi Jamaat has contributed heavily to the spread of coronavirus is hiding behind a smoke screen and avoiding the truth. A problem when ignored, does not go away, it becomes bigger and more harmful.

However, that does not mean that all Islamic thought supports it, nor does it mean that every Muslim supports it or is responsible for it. Those who claim that all Islamic thought supports it and all Muslims are responsible are making false charges against Islam and Muslims, and thus, communalising. But claiming that Jamaat is centrally responsible and the power of Jamaat is drawn from Islamic theology and practices is the truth and has to be stated as it is. Branding impartial truth as communal is a communal act.

The charge that the Tablighi Jamaat is being unfairly selected may be true for some TRP hunting TV channels, but is not generally true. The repeated occurrence of obduracy of Jamaat members, the magnitude of the act, the arrogant defence and defiance eclipse all other such acts, that’s why it figures more in the conversations and discussions. All other acts of this nature by all religions are equally criticised, the debate on them dies quickly because no one comes forward for an unjustified defence for them. When a determined argument savvy group tries to justify unjustifiable in their intellectual arrogance, debate prolongs and truth gets repeatedly underlined.

[Listens to part of the Maulana’s one long bayan here. It takes patience and keen listening abilities to get the force and purport of the lecture.]


5th April 2020


कोरोना-बंदी में भोला

April 2, 2020

रोहित धनकर

भोला कोरोना-बंदी में अपनी छत पर बैठा था। वह घर के अंदर बैठा-बैठा कुछ ऊब गया था, तो शाम ढलने पर छत पर चारपाई लगाई, हुक्का भरा (यह उसकी बहुत बुरी आदत थी) और चारपाई पर बैठ कर हुक्का गुड़-गुड़ाते हुए कुछ सोचने लगा। उसकी मुद्रा कुछ गंभीर थी, चारपाई पर पैर लटका कर बैठा था, कोहनियाँ दोनों घुटनों पर टिकी थी और ठुड्डी दोनों हाथों की एक-पर-एक बंधी मुट्ठी पर। जब वह सोचता था तो उसे ऐसे बैठने की आदत थी उसकी। ये हुक्का पीना और सोचना उस की दो बहुत बुरी आदतें थीं। अचानक भोला को कोई बोलता सुनाई दिया।

आवाज़: भोला किस सोच में डूबा है?

भोला ने नजर उठा कर देखा उसका पड़ोसी ज्ञानचंद अपनी छत से पूछ रहा था। ज्ञानचंद और भोला बिलकुल अलग-अलग तरह से सोचते थे। उन में सहमती कभी-कभार ही होती थी। दोनों में लेकिन बनती खूब थी। भोला कहता ‘ज्ञानु का ज्ञान अंधा है’, ज्ञानचन्द कहता ‘भोला तो बस बेअकल-भोला ही है’। अभी भोला को लगा चलो ज्ञानचन्द से कुछ बहस ही सही। ये घर-से-काम के चक्कर में भोला एकदम आलसी और काम-चोर हो गया था।

भोला: ज्ञानी, तुम टिपणीस जो लिखता है पढ़ते हो?

ज्ञानचन्द: हाँ, कभी-कभी। क्यों?

भोला: तुम्हें याद है इंदोर में 21 मार्च को जनता-कर्फ़्यू के बाद पाँच बजे लोग थाली-कटोरा बजते जुलूश की शक्ल में सड़कों पर आ गए थे। मोदी को समर्थन दिखाने के लिए?

ज्ञानचंद: हाँ, तो क्या हुआ? ये थाली-कटोरे वाले तो बेवकूफ़ियाँ करते ही रहते हैं।

भोला: हाँ, तब टिपणीस ने यही कहा था कि इन लोगों ने अपनी अंधभक्ति में दिन-भर के किए कराये पर पानी फेरदिया। और अपनी मोदी-भक्ति में लोगों को खतरे में डाल दिया। तो क्या तब टिपणीस मोदी समर्थकों और थाली छाप-हिंदुओं के विरुद्ध पक्षपाती (biased) हो रहा था? या सभी हिंदुओं के विरुद्ध हो रहा था?

ज्ञानचन्द: नहीं, वह तो ठीक ही कह रहा था। सही बात थी।

भोला: अच्छा, और जब योगी ने करोना-बंदी की अगली ही सुबह राम की मूर्ति दूसरी जगह स्थापित करने का तमाशा सरकारी अधिकारियों के साथ किया था, तब टिपणीस ने कहा की इसने आदेश तोड़ा है, ये धर्मांध आदमी है। तब वह पक्षपात कर रहा था, हिंदुओं के विरुद्ध? या हिंदुओं को बदनाम कर रहा था?

ज्ञानचन्द: नहीं भोला, वह ठीक कहा रहा था। पर तुम टिपणीस के चक्कर में क्यों पड़े हो?

भोला: हुम्म, और जब शायद इंदोर में ही, नवारात्रा के लिए जुलूश को धर्म के नाम पर सब के लिए खतरा फैलाना कहा तब? क्या वह पक्षपात था? वह हिंदुओं को बदनाम कर रहा था?

ज्ञानचन्द: बिलकुल नहीं, वह धर्म के नाम पर इन हिंदुओं के समाज को खतरे में डालने वाले करनामे को गलत कहा रहा था। और यह कारनामा धर्म के नाम पर तो था ही। इस में बदनाम करने की क्या बात है।

भोला: हुम्म, अच्छा, अब वह कहा रहा है कि तबलिगी जमात ने जानते-बूझते इतने लोगों को एकत्रित होने दिया। कि जमात का हैड मौलाना साद (Sa’ad) बार बार अपने भाषणों में कहता रहा (17 मार्च, 26 मार्च) कि अल्लाह का अज़ाब अल्लाह को और इस्लाम को नकारने से आता है, एकत्रित हो कर इबादत (नमाज़) से नहीं। और मस्जिदों में सामूहिक नमाज़ से दूर होता है। कि मस्जिदों से दूर रहने की सलाह मुसलमानों के खिलाफ साजिस है। कि यह मौका मस्जिदों से दूर रहने का नहीं बल्कि लोगों को मस्जिदों में ज्यादा बुलाने का है। टिपणीस कहता है कि यह धर्म के नाम पर गैर-जिम्मेदाराना काम है। कि इस में मौलाना के मुरीद मुसलमान अन्य मसलमानों की, अपनी स्वयं की और गैर-मुसलमानों की जान के लिए अपने विवेकहीन विश्ववास के कारण खरतारा फैला रहे हैं। तो क्या अब वह मुसलमानों के विरुद्ध पक्षपाती हो रहा है? क्या वह मुसलमानों को बदनाम कर रहा है? क्या वह biased है?

ज्ञानचन्द: (अपनी सफाई से तरासी दाढ़ी खुजलाते हुए) उम्म हूँ  उम्म …

भोला: (भोला बोलते हुए नीचे जमीन पर देख रहा था। ज्ञानचन्द की आवाज न आने पर गर्दन उठा कर देखा तो ज्ञानचन्द इधर-उधर देख रहा था) क्या हुआ ज्ञानी? दाढ़ी में जूएँ हो गई क्या?

ज्ञानचन्द: हुम्म, हाँ, टिपणीस के पास क्या प्रमाण हैं कि इतने लोग जानते बूझते एकत्रित होने दिये? कि मौलाना सच में मस्जिदों में ज्यादा लोगों को आने को कहा रहे है?

भोला: ज्ञानी भाई, दिल्ली सरकार के आदेश 12, 13, 16 और 19 मार्च के जमात के सामने थे। मौलाना के औडियो और विडियो (उन में मौलाना नहीं दिख रहे पर किसी ने इंकार नहीं किया है कि आवाज़ उन की ही है) इन्हीं की वैबसाइट से, उन्हीं के नाम के साथ विडियो का नाम भी दिया है, तारीख भी दी है। ये सब प्रमाण नहीं हैं क्या?

ज्ञानचन्द: ये सब गोदी मीडिया चनेल्स की मुसलमानों को बदनाम करने की साजिस है।

भोला: पर विडियो तो लोगों ने खुद उनकी साइट से लिए हैं। जमात कह रही थी कि हजार के करीब लोग फंसे है, दिल्ली सरकार ने निकाले तो कोई 2300 निकले। दो दिन में अचानक जो इन्फ़ैकशन के केस बढ़े हैं वे जमात के लोगों से संबन्धित हैं। तो bias कहाँ है यह सब कहने में? ये मुस्लिम-विरोधी क्यों है?

ज्ञानचन्द: भोला, अपनी मुस्लिम-विरोधी मानसिकता से निकालो। ये सब मुसलमानों के विरुद्ध कु-प्रचार है।

भोला: पर ज्ञानी, कई मुसलमानों ने लेख लिखे हैं, टीवी पर कहा है कि जमात ने यह अपराध किया है। कोई भी सब मुसलमानों के विरुद्ध नहीं कहा रहा। पर बड़ी तादाद में मौलाना जैसों के मुरीदों को जरूर कह रहे हैं। मुसलमानों के विरुद्ध बात है तो वे मुसलमान क्यों बोल रहे हैं? और यदि मौलाना जैसों की मानने वाले बहुत लोग हैं तो चिंता की बात तो है ही, इस को नकारने से क्या बनेगा?

ज्ञानचन्द: जब और धर्म, खास कर हिन्दू लोग ऐसी ही गलती करते हैं तो इतना हल्ला क्यों नहीं मचाता?

भोला: जब ऐसी गलती पर हिंदुओं को लोग दोष देते हैं तो उनके पक्ष में कब ऐसी दलीलों की बाढ़ आती है? गलती की, लोगों ने बोला, कोई समझदार व्यक्ति बचाव में नहीं उतारा। बात खत्म हो जाती है। पर जमात का नाम लिया को ढेरों तुम जैसे ज्ञानी बचाव में उतार पड़े। तो लोगों को भी अपनी बात के प्रमाण देने पड़ते हैं। बात बढ़ती है। और फिर ज्ञानी साहब, मौलाना के अलावा किस धर्म गुरु ने कहा है कि किसी भी हालत में एकत्रित होना, समूहिक पूजा-पाठ मत छोड़ना? और यदि ऐसा कहा और किया है, तो उस को दोष देने से कौन रोक रहा है? बताओ कब और किसने कहा?

ज्ञानचन्द: भोला, तुम में अक्ल तो पहले ही कम थी, आजकल टिपणीस की तरह से तुम भी मुस्लिम-विरोधी हो गए हो।

भोला: पर अंध-ज्ञानी भाई, (भोला ने चिढ़ाने के लिए कहा) मैंने तो जो कुछ कहा उस के लिए तथ्य या तर्क दिये। तुमने मेरे तथ्यों को तो नहीं नकारा। तर्कों को भी नहीं काटा, तो दोष किस लिए?

ज्ञानचन्द: तुम संदर्भ और व्यापक परिदृश्य देखने में असमर्थ हो। शूक्ष्म विश्लेषण करने में असमर्थ हो। तुम्हें समझ नहीं आ रहा।

भोला: तो समझाओ भाई, मैंने क्या छोड़ा है? क्या गलती की है? ये मुस्लिम-विरोध आदि उपाधियाँ क्यों दे रहे हो?

ज्ञानचन्द: अभी मुझे काम है, फिर कभी समझाता हूँ। पर भोला, सोचो, जो लोग फंसे थे मरकज़ में, वे गरीब लोग हैं, उनके कुछ धार्मिक विश्वास है। विज्ञान और धर्म में एक-दूसरे को नकारने की जद्दो-जहद चलती रहती है। इन में से बहुत से लोगों को वैज्ञान की चिकित्सा उपलब्ध भी नहीं है। तो मौलाना जो कहा रहा था वह चिकित्सा के अभाव में धर्म के सहारे की बात भी हो सकती है।

(यह कहते हुए ज्ञानचन्द अपने घर में जीना उतार कर नीचे चला गया।)

भोला सोचने लगा: जमात तो बिलकुल गरीब संस्था नहीं है। वहाँ धर्म-प्रचारक लोग आए थे वे भी कितने गरीब हैं, पता नहीं। फिर क्या किसी को अपने धर्म को चिकित्सा के अभाव में सहारा बनाने के लिए दूसरों की जान को खतरे में डालने का हक़ मिलजाता है? हो सकता है की गरीब लोग चिकित्सा के अभाव में धर्म का सहारा लें; पर क्या मौलाना भी यही सोचता था?

भोला को ये बातें समझ में नहीं आईं। पर सोचा ज्ञानी पड़ोसी है जाएगा कहाँ। फिर पकड़ लेंगे कभी। इन दिनों तो घर से भाग भी नहीं सकता। जब बहुत जरूरत होगी छत पर चढ़ कर आवाज़ लगा लेंगे। यही सोचते हुये भोला अपना हुक्का ताजा करने छत से नीचे चला गया।


2 अप्रैल 2020









Should one defend Tablighi Jamaat?

April 1, 2020

Rohit Dhankar

This is not surprising that in India many people are busy defending Tablighi Jamaat’s crime against humanity. What is surprising is that they are oblivious of possible dangers in defending it.

The defence of Tablighis rests on three very spacious arguments. One, that the central government is responsible as they gave the visas to foreigners from countries where coronavirus is spreading. Two, that the Delhi Police knew that so many people are congregating in Tablighi Markaz, they should have vacated the premises. And three, that many other places, particularly temples allowed gatherings till about 16th or 17th March. There was one more defence till yesterday, four, that the people entered Markaz before the government declared lockdown and then they could not go from there. But this last one has collapsed due to Delhi government’s orders of 13th, 16th and 19th March.

One, it is difficult to completely absolve the central government of responsibility to implement the instructions of self-isolation for foreigners and misuse of tourist visa for religious preaching. These preachers have travelled as far as Patana and Jharkhand and have been living there in Mosques. This, simply put, means that the government has been lax in security measures; and it is very grave indeed. And for this it should be criticised. However, this does not absolve the Tablighis from their moral responsibility and failure to inform the police regarding whereabouts of their ‘guests’. The culpability of government can not be used as a defence for the crime of the Tablighis.

Two, the Delhi Police is guilty of handling a hoodwinking organisation with kid-gloves. The 23rd March video released by the SHO shows that the police has been telling them to vacate the premises even before 23rd March. The Tablighis were digging their heels on this or that pretext. (I will talk of the real reason below.) But, again, it is difficult to give the police a clean chit. They should not have been scared of touching this Jamaat and should have done their duty even if that required use of force.

Three, that there were some temples and Hindu gatherings can not be denied. However, they were before the lockdown, and one needs to find out if the states where they occurred had declared a ban on congregations of more than 200 as Delhi government did on 13th March. Since the idea of social distance and fear of coronavirus spread was already known before these events, the concerned organisations (temples etc.) cannot be absolved of moral responsibility. But, again, the culpability of temples does not make what Tablighis did right. In last few years, the argument that “if A made mistake X, then you can not blame B for making the same mistake” is being used too frequently. This is a fallacious argument. We should criticise, and if need be punish, both A and B. Therefore, if there are any other religious places which had such gatherings staying in congested places, they should also be criticised. This can not be an argument for Tablighi Jamaat’s defence, though, can be an argument for criticising the concerned other religious places.

However, at the same time, we have to make a distinction between ‘violating an order because of some constraints or inadvertently’ or violating them deliberately. And this, as we will see further down is an important distinction.

Another very strange argument advanced in this regard is that some events, like Ramanavami gathering and some yagna, were planned. One wonders how planned and then abandoned in the face of government orders can be equated with violating the government orders with impunity. But that is the way some people in this dear country of ours argue day in and day out. And no one points the foolishness of this line of argument to them.

Now let’s try to have a cursory look at the two very grave concerns in this whole episode which not many people are talking about.

One of these concerns emerges from listening to Maulana Saad’s audios. Maulana Saad is head of Tablighi Jamaat and a very respected Islamic scholar. He has millions of followers world over. Imagine an organisation which can host about 10-15 thousand guests every day through out the year in Delhi Markaz. And the Jamaat has many more such palaces, may be a bit smaller but perhaps in dozens. Thus, Maulana Saad is a very powerful and influential religious leader.

This Maulana has been holding congregations in the Markaz, perhaps attended by thousands, and delivering lectures right till 26th March morning. In these lectures the Maulana argues in many ways and in great detail that:

  1. In these days of coronavirus threat leaving Mosques is against the hadith (he quotes one).
  2. This is the time to congregate more in the Mosques. To bring people more into the mosques. The torments like illnesses come because of leaving ibadat, and it will go away only by coming more to the mosques for ibaadat.

“yah mauka kaam ko badhaane ka hai. Yah waqt is ka ki gast karke logon ko masjid ki taraf lane ka hai. Jo azaab gunahon ki wajah se aa rahe hain ve azaab ibaadat ko chhodane se khatm nahin honge, balki ibadaat ki nirdat(?) ko badhaane se khatam honge.”

The Maulana repeats this argument and message in many videos tracks and in many ways. I found the video of 26th March morning (?) (after Fajr) most instructive. It is very long (1:54:57) and like all religious discourses very repetitive. But explains the Maulana’s views great clarity. In this video the Maulana explains the importance of “imaan” (faith) and “ilm” in great detail. At the end comes to the conclusion that imaan and ilm dictate that namaaz should be offered in the mosques and the message of Islam should be given to people by personally visiting them. No other considerations come in the ways of those who have imaan and ilm in these duties. Which means he is not only preaching to live in close proximity with each other, to pay in large congregations; but also, to visit people during the lockdown. One can say that these are his religious views and he has the freedom of expressing as well as trying to convince others to accept them. The problem is that these religious views endanger lives of thousands of people, and are capable of creating a very large-scale health hazard.

This theology and asking people to stick to these duties ‘come what may’ makes the Tablighi act of congregation very different from other acts of congregation either because of lack of facilities to vacate the premises or because of some religious stupidity for a day or two. If the people stuck in a yatra or a Gurudwara and could not disperse, it may have been for various reasons. It can be equated with the Tablighi congregations only if there is evidence of deliberate theological support, deliberate staying together and deliberate instigating people not to obey the government orders. I am not saying that there have not been any such ‘theologically minded’ deliberate acts of instigating people to disobey the government orders. All I am saying is, we should not equate acts of ‘being stuck’ with ‘acts of theological disregard’ of the orders. If there are such preachings of the temple priests and Mahants they should be equally condemned and punished. But if there are no such acts then the false analogy can not be used to defend the Jamaat.

The real concern in this is: that an interpretation of a religion is being preached that clearly declares that when there is a conflict between a government order and supposed to be religious duty a large section of believers will go by the supposed to be religious duty and disobey the government order. This attitude is very dangerous and can break the law and order any time. The issue is, in a democracy should the religious dictum be subordinate to the constitution or the religious dictum be supreme even if violates the orders of the constitutionally elected government? Facing this question squarely is necessary.

The second concern is that those who are defending the Tablighis at this moment, are completely oblivious that they are not defending it only in a particular situation and in a particular act; they are supporting a mindset of continuous conflict between the state and the religion. And that too on the basis of unreasonable theories, and even in the public health matters. Consider the Maulana’s explanation of why illnesses spread and how the Allah vanishes them.

The added problem is that fulfilling the religious duty as the Maulana preaches endangers the lives of large number of unbelievers as well. Thus, those who do not believe in the ‘Allah sent azaab’ theory will pay the price for the beliefs of the adherents of this faith. Sticking to one’s religious acts even if it kills others can not be defended.

All those who want to defend the Jamaat in this episode will do well to listen to Maulana’s lectures and decide for themselves whether they really want to support this mindset. The listening to the lectures will also make clear if the Jamaat’s explanation of being stuck is reliable or there has been a deliberate disregard.


1st April 2020





Religion as a bully

July 5, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

In small towns and provincial colleges there used to be a sub-species (in more than one senses) of homo-sapiens called “dada”. It was “sub” in the sense of a “sub-set” as well as “less than”, less than human at the least in thinking and moral sensibility. It was a bully. In small towns the dadas indulged in land encroachment for themselves as well as on behalf of their protected. As land grabbers they made money as well as created an aura of invincibility in the face of government authority and police. This also helped in creating fear. Everyone was scared of them but called them “gundas” behind their back, which was an apt description.

They also proclaimed themselves as guardians of the ijjat and rutba of some or other politician or some old powerful feudal family. If someone said anything which they considered ‘insulting’ to their malik they used the fear created in the society and invincibility in the face of police to browbeat that person into an apology or abject capitulation.

Two recent incidents in the newspapers draw a close parallel between religion and these dadas or gundas. One is concerned with temples demolished in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) to widen the roads. I could find no news item which talks about the legal status of the ownership of land on which these temples were built. But going by the way temples mushroom allover India in the middle of roads and on unused government land it is almost certain that they were built on encroached property. They obviously were a serious traffic hazard and perhaps caused accidents. The government demolished a few of them in order to widen the roads and ensure smooth traffic flow.

This angered the Hindu swamis and BJP and they started protesting. As soon as the protests began the AP government capitulated and promised to rebuild the demolished temples on the same spots.

This is the usual story about middle-of-the-road-temples. Some smart fellow builds a temple on the road, no one is ready to stop him because of fear of ‘hurting religious feelings’, temple becomes established. It becomes a traffic nuisance and source of income for the encroacher.

About two years back Vasundara Raje government removed a large number of such illegally built temple from roads. One felt happy that the roads became better and traffic flow smoother. But then one leant that all these illegal occupiers of government property were allotted alternative plots of land for free to relocate their temples. In the name of religion first illegally occupy government land, cause serious nuisance and then get legally allotted lend for free in the bargain to remove that nuisance. This seems to be the modus operandi. The religion is clearly acting as a bully here.

Another news item in The Hindu (5th July 2016) was about so called sacrilege of Quran in Malerkotla of Punjab. This has resulted in arrest of a few people and a police investigation against an AAP MLA. Earlier in this incident some Muslims “resorted to burning of vehicles and damaging property following rumours that torn pages of the holy book were found in a cemetery”.

“The mob set buses, cars and other vehicles on fire and damaged some buildings. Police had to fire in the air to control the mob” says a newspaper report.

What do these incidents communicate?

The usual recourse to “hurt feelings” is not enough to explain these happenings. The pattern is too obvious and they happen with alarming regularity. Earlier there was tension and burning of shops in a UP town after someone saw  Arabic written on some paper plates. There was tension in Jaipur on the issue of removal of a temple which was serious traffic hazard.

Nor can this phenomena be explained by that trite statement that “it is not religion, it is the politicians using religion for their own nefarious purposes”.

One may ask: if religion can be used so often and so successfully for nefarious purposes then shouldn’t there be something fundamentally wrong or even evil about religion? It must have something in its structure that makes it a fit instrument of villainy. Now can anything fundamentally holy and unblemished be used so successfully for such a long time for nefarious purposes?

These kinds of incidents are actually to create fear of all things religious in the common people’s mind. This is to make religion above the law, above humanity, above the good of the people. It is to create an aura of invincibility in the face of the law of the land so that it can perpetually bully people. It is plain attempt to dominate. Politician is only a small unscrupulous and selfish player, the real bully is the religion itself. One may ask: but religion is not a person, how can it be a bully? Well, religion is ‘personified’ in the form of the deity, in the form of a book or a building. And it has its viceroys who act in its name. And a whole section of the society which draws benefits and privileges from its operations back those viceroys.

Contradictory acts

If the places of so-called worship are so holy that they cannot be removed why built them illegally on someone else’s property? How can something built stealthily in an illegal manner be holy? How can greed, unconcern for inconvenience to people, immorality of unjust occupation generate piety? What kind of god likes stealth, greed, injustice, and troubling innocent people? No, it is neither hurt feelings nor holiness; it is plain tactics of browbeating people into unquestioning submission. The ruckus created on these incidents is to maintain that fear, the tactics of the Bombaiya films’ bhailog: “we rule as long as the fear exists, so keep the fear intact” as they say in filmy dialogues.

If a book, Quran, is so holy to some believers that they can go on a rampage on seeing its torn pages why do they distribute it free on some occasions on the road side? They distribute it especially to non-believers. Should something so holy, dear to heart to the extent that one can burn property of other people and even try to kill if it is disrespected, be distributed to non-believers? Why make it freely available in the market place for a few rupees? What is the guarantee that any one who buys it will respect it? Is it sold with that condition? Why not keep Quran strictly within authorised safe sanctuaries if disrespect to it infuriates some believers?

Suppose someone buys a copy of Quran along with Capital, Nyaya Sutras and Critique of Pure Reason. And places them in his bookshelf side by side. Further, suppose termites damage the bookshelf and many of the books in it including all the four mentioned above. What is this non-believer supposed to do with these damaged books? Can he throw them out with all other books which he loved to read and keep as prised possessions? Is throwing The Quran out sacrilege? If one throws out termite eaten copies of Capital or The Nyaya Sutras or Critique of Pure Reason is he being disrespectful to these books which all are much richer in wisdom and knowledge than Quran? If throwing out damaged copies of these books is not disrespect to them why is that disrespect to Quran? A non-believer can read the Quran with the same intention of gaining insight into human thought as he reads other books. The rage generated and pretended in the name of Quran is simply a way of believers to impose their own attitudes on unwilling others. This is curtailing their freedom as building temples in the middle of roads is.

They have to be stopped. But bullies never stop as long as one keeps on surrendering before them. Bullies stop only when they are shown their proper place.


A survey on freedom of speech

March 13, 2016

I am running a survey on Freedom of Speech here .

This mixes up questions on religion and nationalism; and statements and slogans. The basic purpose is not to understand legal position but to understand how some of Indians active on internet think. This survey is not about what is the legal situation in the country, but what YOU AS AN INDIAN CITIZEN THINK.

Please complete it if you find interesting and/or useful.

If you don’t think it to be of any use you are free to state here BLUNTLY.

Those who are interested in the sources of these statements and slogans can see the references below:

Freedom of speech survey

Rohit Dhankar

Statements in books, pamphlets, seminars, public meetings:

He [Ganesha] cannot “compete with his father [Shiva], a notorious womaniser, either incestuously for his mother or for any other woman for that matter”.[1]

[Sita]: “That I’m an unfaithful wife and I’ve slept with Ravan.” “You didn’t do anything of the sort,” said Luxmun. He struck his knee and winced with pain. Sita said : “I did.”[2]

“In the months that followed, the staff of The Curtain warmed to the new task. The fifteen-year-old whore “Ayesha” was the most popular with the paying public, just as her namesake was with Mahound”[3]

“As long as Islam is there in this world, terrorism will be there. Until and unless we root out Islam from this world, terrorism cannot be eradicated.”[4]

“Prophet Muhammad was a homosexual and child molester.”[5]

Kamalesh Tiwati ne hamare Nabi ke sath badtamizi kii hai, yadi Uttar Pradesh Sarkar use saja nahin detii hai to uska sar kalam karne wale ko Bijnaur ke Musalman 51 lakh rupaye ka inam denge. [Kamalesh Tiwari has insulted our Prophet, if the UP government does not punish him, the Muslims of Bijnaur announce a prize of Rs.51 lakh for anyone who beheads him.][6]

“Any person who slaps Aamir Khan will be rewarded Rs 1 lakh by the Shiv Sena. This is important because no one living in our country should dare to say anything against India… Anyone from the hotel staff or the film crew can slap him and take the reward,”[7]

Slogans in public meetings (all from JNU programme on 9th Feb 2016):

  • “कश्मीर के नौजवान संघर्ष करो, हम तुम्हारे साथ हैं” [Youth of Kashmir, struggle; we are with you.]
  • “कितने अफज़ल मरोगे? घर-घर से अफज़ल निकलेगा” [Hogmanay Afzals will you kill? An Afzal will come out of every home.]
  • “कश्मीर मांगे, आज़ादी” [Kashmir demands freedom]
  • “पाकिस्तान, जिंदाबाद, जिंदाबाद” [Long live Pakistan]
  • “Right to self-determination, long live, long live”
  • “अफज़ल कि हत्या नहीं सहेंगे, नहीं सहेंगे” [We will not tolerate Afzal’s murder]
  • “अफज़ल हम शर्मिन्दा हैं, तेरे कातिल जिन्दा हैं”. [Afzal we are ashamed, your murderers are still alive.]
  • “कश्मीर कि आज़ादी तक”, “जंग रहेगी, जंग रहेगी” [Till the freedom of Kashmir, there shall be war.]
  • “भारत की बर्बादी तक”, “जंग रहेगी, जंग रहेगी” [Till the destruction of India there shall be war.]
  • “JNU के जयचंदों को, होश में लाओ” [Bring Jayachadas of JNU to their senses]
  • “देशद्रोहियों को, निष्काषित करो” [Expel the enemies of the nation.]


[1] Scenes and characteristics of Hindostan, p. 177. Oxford University Press, New York, 1985. (As quoted by Ashok Vohra, in a paper read in Udaipur.)

[2] The Ramayana as told by Aubrey Menen, page 243 of pdf version, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1954.

[3] The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, page 402 in the pdf version I am using. Available at

[4] Anantkumar Hegde, BJP MP for Uttara Kannada, The Hindu 2nd March 2016.

[5] Kamlesh Tiwari, as reported The Times of India, City-Meerut, 4th December 2015.

[6] (Video)

[7] Punjab Shiv Sena chief Rajeev Tandon, as reported in Hindustan Times, 26th November 2015


Of Cows and Pigs: holding a country at ransom

November 30, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

This morning there was a news item that Haryana Police has killed a cattle smuggler who was smuggling cows. It is perhaps the fourth cow related death in last 2-3 months. By the afternoon there is a news of mob attacks on a newspaper who dared to publish a cartoon with a piggybank featuring in it.

Haryana has recently enacted a law that bans cow slaughter and smuggling to other states. The constitution of India mentions in a directive principle that cattle, including cows and calf, should be protected. There is a high octave campaign from some Hindu organizations to make cow a symbol that could be used to help arouse emotions and foment trouble. Hindus at the moment lack a symbol which can be used to raise cries of ‘hurt feelings’ and is capable of creating a rage across the community. They have tried Ram. Currently are trying cow and Bharat mata. Where there are no laws to protect such symbols they want to enact such laws. Where there are laws—respect for national flag and anthem, ban on cow slaughter—they are trying to act as vigilante and trying to take the law in their own hands. So far the fundamentalist organizations among the Hindu community are in a minority and face a lot of criticism from the intellectuals in the country, both Hindus and Muslims.

In this regard the liberal people in the country—all, without any regard of religions—should strongly condemn the vigilante attitude of some Hindu groups. Where the law is broken—for example, not sanding for national anthem, if there is actually such a law—people should inform the police and the tendency to act as the judge, jury and hangman should be strictly curbed. The liberals should also start a campaign against removing ‘cow and calf’ from the directive principles; and work against the laws banning cow slaughter. This has to be done without painting the whole nation and the whole Hindu community as intolerant or bigoted.

The Muslim mob has attacked Lokmat office, burnt copies of the paper and is protesting against an article that criticizes ISIS and carries a cartoon with a picture of a piggy-bank. It is construed as blasphemy and insult to Islam. This is the cartoon:


One wonders what is offensive about this cartoon. Why is it considered blasphemous? The Muslim community (Islam) does have the symbols which could be used for arousing emotions and anger. Allah, Muhammad, Quran, and any association with a pig can be easily used to arouse Muslim mass rage. Though the actual fundamentalists in the Muslim community are also in a minority at the moment. But their capability to foment trouble is much greater. Something as simple as naming a character in a piece of fiction as Muhammad has been used in India for wide spread riots.

The liberals have been almost always soft on such attacks on freedom of expression coming from Muslim groups. They do not seem to realize that rubble rousing Hindu groups are very jealous of the fact that Muslim groups have rallying symbols that can be used to agitate the whole community while the Hindu groups don’t. They want to create such symbols. The liberals also don’t seem to realize that being soft on bigotry of Muslim groups, the kind shown in the Lokmat incident, will make the Hindu hardliners take even more intolerant stances. This will also create a favorable feeling for the fringe groups in the larger community.

Following the massive protest, the editor of the Lokmat later extended an immediate apology for the cartoon and assured that action will be taken against those responsible for the publication of the particular cartoon.” This shows the power of Islamic fundamentalism and fear created by it. As long as we want to speak openly about intolerance of Bajarang Dal, VHP and BJP but capitulate on the first sign of Muslim anger we will not be able to curb intolerance.

Curtailment of freedom of expression, be that for the feigned love of cow or hatred for pig, has to be equally criticised. Both groups need to be kept under control.


Dadri lynching and religion/दादरी हत्या-कांड और धर्म

October 5, 2015

Rohit Dhankar/रोहित धनकर

[This is a survey. Please give your opinion. यह एक सर्वेक्षण है. कृपया अपना मत बताइए.]

(इस पोस्ट का हिंदी अनुवाद नीचे है, स्क्रॉल करें.)


According to a news item in The Indian Express on 4th October 2015 a “UP Homeguard spread beef rumour to instigate attack on father and son, says police.” The paper further says, “According to a senior police officer, Vinay [the homeguard] had a personal dispute with Akhlaq earlier and had been instigating a group of youths to attack his family, alleging that they were involved in cow slaughter.” (Emphasis added)

Let us take this news item as the truth. Actually it may or may not be true, but for the purpose of this little survey I want to run suppose that it is true. Rest of the analysis and questions all assume this statement to be the truth. Hope I do not need to repeat it any more.

Now my claim is: “If this is the truth then Hindu religion has to bear the blame for Dadri lynthing.”

What is your opinion? Please express below in the comments.

Arguments for and against:

  1. The claim made above is not justified. Because:
    1. The real reason is the personal enmity between the homeguard and Ikhlaq.
    2. The homeguard used Hindu religion to instigate public sentiment and lynch Ikhlaq.
    3. The homeguard most probably did not believe in the religious injunction on beef eating.
    4. He certainly did not believe that Ikhlaq has killed a calf or cow.
    5. His own sentiments had nothing to do with his religion, they were governed by his personal enmity with Ikhlaq.
    6. Therefore, it cannot be blamed on Hindu religion.
  1. The claim made above is justified. Because:
    1. Yes, there was enmity between the homeguard and Ikhlaq, and that certainly was one of the reasons for the situation that developed.
    2. But, the homeguard could instigate the Hindu mob because their religion has certain beliefs (at least according to the people in the mob) regarding not eating beef.
    3. And, their religion has created a community with a strong sense of belonging, and identity; and this identity is seen by the mob-members as opposed to Muslim identity.
    4. They believed that the Muslims insult their belief and disrespected cow. And they wanted to protect (either genuinely or pretentiously under the influence of mob-mentality) their own respect and respect for cow. Alternatively, because of the same Hindu-Muslim identity issue they wanted to establish Hindu supremacy.
    5. Which means that the Hindu religion has created a mind-set that was ready to be exploited by the homeguard.
    6. Therefore, the Hindu religion should be blamed.

What do you think? What are your arguments?

Please give your true opinion in the comments, however, you can give it anonymously if you like. Hoping to get a reasonable number of responses.



अंग्रेजी अख़बार The Indian Epress में छपी ४ अक्टोबर २०१५ की एक खबर के अनुसार, “उत्तर प्रदेश के एक होमगार्ड ने पिता-पुत्र पर हमला करवाने के लिए यह अफवाह गोमांस की अफवाह फैलाई. ऐसा पुलिस का कहना है.” अख़बार आगे लिखता है: “एक वरिष्ठ पुलिस अधिकारी के अनुसार विनय [होमगार्ड] का इखलाक से कोई व्यक्तिगत विवाद था. और इस लिए वह युवाओं के एक समूह को इखलाक के परिवार पर हमला करने के लिए उकसा रहता, यह आरोप लगते हुए कि वे लोग (इखलाक के परिवार वाले) गौहत्या में लिप्त हैं.”

तर्क के लिए मान लीजिये कि यह खबर सत्य है. वास्तव में यह सच भी हो सकती है और झूठ भी. लेकिन मेरे इस छोटे से सर्वेक्षण के लिए मान लीजिये की यह सच है. यह तथ्य है. आगे का सारा विश्लेषण और सवाल इस खबर को सच मान के लिए गए हैं. आशा है की खबर को सच मानने की बात को आगे दोहराने की जरूरत नहीं है.

अब मेरा दावा (claim, मानना)  यह है: “यदि यह खबर सच है तो दादरी ह्त्या-कांड के लिए हिन्दू धर्म दोषी है.”

आप का क्या मत है? कृपया अपना मत नीचे कमेंट्स में दीजिये.

पक्ष और विलाक्षा में तर्क:

  1. ऊपर हिन्दू धर्म के बारे में किया गया दवा अनुचित है, सिद्ध नहीं होता. क्यों कि:
    1. अशाली कारण होमगार्ड और इखलाक के बीच की दुश्मनी है.
    2. होमगार्ड ने हिन्दू धर्म का उपयोग जनभावनाओं को भड़काने के लिए किया.
    3. बहुत संभव है कि होमगार्ड तो गौमांस खाने के धार्मिक निषेध में विश्वास ही ना करता हो.
    4. यह तय है कि वह यह नहीं मानता था कि इखलाक ने गौवध किया है (क्यों की उसे तो सच्चाई का पता था).
    5. होमगार्ड की स्वयं की भावनाओं का धर्म से कोई लेना-देना नहीं था, वह तो व्यक्तिगत दुश्मनी से संचालित था.
    6. अतः, इस के लिए हिन्दू धर्म को दोषी नहीं ठहराया जा सकता.
  1. ऊपर क्या गया दवा उचित है (सिध्ह है), क्यों कि:
    1. निसंदेह होमगार्ड और इखलाक के बीच दुश्मनी थी, और निसंदेह जो परिस्थियां बनाई गई उस के पीछे यह एक महत्वपूर्ण कारण था.
    2. पर होमगार्ड हिन्दू-भीड़ को भड़काने में सफल हुआ ही इसलिए कि उनके धर्म में गौमांस खाने को पाप माना जाता है, कम से कम उस भीड़ के अनुसार.
    3. और, उनके धर्म ने एक समुदाय बनाने में मदद की है जिसमें लोगों में ‘उस समुदाय का सदस्य’ होने का एक प्रबल भाव है, एक अस्मिता भी बनाई है; और इस अस्मिता का ‘मुसलिम-अस्मिता’ से विरोध है, ऐसा भीड़ के लोग मानते थे.
    4. वे यह भी मानते थे कि मुसलमान उनके विश्वासों का और गाय का अपमान कर रहे थे. और वे लोग अपने विश्वासों और गाय के लिए सामान को कायम करना चाहते थे, (या तो वास्तव में या भीड़-संचालित मानसिकता में.) या फिर, इसी हिन्दू-मुसलिम अस्मिता से संचालित हो कर वे मुसलामानों पर हिन्दू प्रभुत्व स्थापित करना चाहते थे.
    5. इस का अर्थ यह हुआ कि हिन्दू धर्म ने ऎसी मानसिकता बनाई जो होमगार्ड द्वारा उपयोग किये जाने के लिए तैयार थी.
    6. अतः, इस घटना के लिए हिन्दू धर्म ही दोषी है.

आप का क्या मत है? और उसके पीछे अप्प के क्या तर्क हैं?

कृपया कमेंट्स में अपना असली मत दीजिये, चाहें तो नाम ना दें. आशा है समुचित संख्या में लोगों के विचार आयेंगे.


Is the cow still holy?

September 30, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

“The 50-year-old father of an Indian Air Force personnel was beaten to death by a mob on the outskirts of Delhi on Monday night, allegedly over rumours that he had eaten beef.
Mohammad Ikhlaq and his 22-year-old son were dragged from their house by around 100 villagers in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh and beaten with bricks. Ikhlaq’s son is critical.” From NDTV site, 30th September 2015.

Reading the news item makes it is clear that the killers knew the victims; they lived in the same area (is it a village?). One finds it difficult to believe that people known to each other will kill on such grounds. The announcement from the temple regarding a calf being killed indicates a plan. Who knows deep down the incident there might be some old animosity or grudge. Temple and holy cow may have been used as a pretence to attack the family. And that (if it happened to be so, I am only guessing in order to understand the bizarre incident) is much more dangerous and heinous than if the killers actually believed in ‘protection of holy cow’ and actually believed that the family has killed a calf. Pretended religious sentiments are more dangerous that actual. These inhuman schemes of the rogue elements may get concretises with the help of unjustified laws like beef ban. I am not discounting the larger communal politics here, rather am hinting that the larger divisive politics plays through personal animosity or old grudges among people known to each other.

The issue of cow protection is not new. Arya Samaj in the guidance of Dayanand Saraswati started a movement in 1882, and established cow protection societies all over India. This movement led to serious riotes in 1893. In independent India there was an anti-cow-slaughter movement in which the parliament was gheraoed by a mob of thousands in the leadership of Hindu organisations and Shankaracharya Niranjandev Tirth.

One of the problem in this issue is also the article 48 of the constitution, which is a directive principle; it states: “Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry.—The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” It seems to me inclusion of the words “cows and calves” serves no purpose here as the article is about agriculture and animal husbandry. Organising animal husbandry on “scientific lines” may require protection of some animals for environmental and economic reasons; but it may also require slaughtering some animals for the same reasons. Specifically mentioning “cow and calves” here gives a religious tinge to this secular constitution. In my view it should be amended and these words should be deleted. But, all said and done, we should remember that it is only a directive principle, and by definition should “not be enforceable by any court”.

The present proponents of the beef ban, however, are no respecter of the constitution. The debate and thin justification mainly hinges on two kinds of arguments: one, that Hindus have always respected cows and never ate them; and two, that killing and eating cow by others hurts Hindu sentiments.

The first claim has two parts: ancient Hindus (Aryans?) respected cows and never ate them. Respected in terms of ‘valued’ might be true, as they considered them their wealth, and cows and oxen played an important role in their agriculture. The second part is certainly not true; as one finds references to eating beef as well as to declaring it a sin. Which is not at all surprising; Hinduism always had several views on almost all issues. There might have been people who happily ate beef, and there might have been another set who declared them sinners. Actually, who will declare a non-existing practice as a sin? And why? Declaring a practice as abominable or a sin also proves its existence, at the least till the time of declaration.

However, the debate regarding whether the Aryans and ancient Hindus ate beef or not is totally irrelevant in the present case. We have to remember that we are not living in ancient India. Even if the ancient Hindus did not eat beef it does not mean we should not or cannot eat it today. It does not mean at all that non-Hindus cannot eat it. Only about 200 years back Hindus motivated and sometimes forcibly burnt women on the funeral piers of their husbands in the name of sati; it was not considered a crime. Today it is a crime. Ancient Hindus did not allow shudras and women to study vedas; and if shudras were found studying vedas they were punished. Today, anyone including shidras can happily study vedas if they want. In the epic of Ramayana it is mentioned that Shambuka was killed by the so-called maryadapurushottam Rama simply because he was indulging in tapasya to gain power and he was a shudra. No maryadapurushottam can do that today. By the way, even Ramayana in this tale of oppression recognises that change is inevitable. It says that in Satayuga only Brahmans could do tapasya, in Treta Brahmans and Kshariyas were allowed, in Dwaper, when story of Ramayana is supposed to be situated, Brahmana, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas could do tapasya, but Shudras could not. It also mentioned that Shudras will be allowed in Kaliyuga, our own yuga.

We are living in a diverse and democratic country, and in kaliyuga, we have a constitution which gives us freedom to regulate our own personal lives. Eating what we like and not eating what we don’t like is our personal matter. So what ancient Indians (Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas, Charvakas, etc.) did or did not eat does not matter and constitutes no argument today. Please also remember that Charvakas were as good Indians as Hindus, perhaps better, and I am sure, though have no proof, they had no problems with eating beef.

That brings us to the second argument in the current debate: that if others eat beef it hurts Hindu sentiments. This argument has several problems.

First, beef eating by others may hurt sentiments of some Hindus; but they are in a minority. Because there are plenty of Hindus who actually eat beef. And there is a greater number of those who themselves may not eat beef but nothing happens to their sentiments if others do. This brigade whose sentiments are hurt (if they are actually hurt, that is) is a small minority. They do not represent Hindus.

Second, the ‘hurt sentiment’ is a bad argument in a democracy. Jain sentiments may get hurt if you eat any animal flesh, Muslim sentiments may get hurt if you eat something as dirty as pork anywhere in their vicinity. Rajput sentiments were hurt due to Jodha-Akbar TV serial, Jat sentiments are hurt if their girls marry in their own gotra or a Dalit. In each case the rights of Indian citizens are trampled underfoot, and the state which should provide guarantee of liberty to act as per the constitutional rights fails. The ‘hurt sentiment’ argument is the biggest danger to our secularism, to openness in society and to freedom of expression.

This flawed argument has played havoc with the freedom of expression in India, even if we ignore rest of the world. The Indian society and liberal intellectuals have been either very tolerant or selective in criticism to this spacious argument. Let us realise that the ban on cow slaughter and ban on Satanic Verses, in spite of seeming different on the surface, basically use the same argument of hurt feelings/sentiments. In both cases one group wants to impose one’s own way of life on the rest of the people: one on what you can eat, other on what you can read.

This argument is basically a gift of our own distortion of secularism which we call sarvadharma-samabhava. The beauty of sarvadharma-samabhava is that if you accept an unreasonable argument of one religious community, you have to accept an equally unreasonable argument from another community. Thus a competition in being more and more unreasonable and to grab public space starts between the communities. Since the state want to be polite to religion it cannot stop the slide on the slippery slope. This is the defect in Indian secularism.

Professor Irfan Habib rightly said in an interview that “[i]t is absurd to say that if we treat all religions equally, then religion can play a part in the state”.  Professor Thapar, another famous historian and public intellectual, also said in a lecture that Indian definition of secularism is “limited and incomplete”. It seems to me that both, like many others, recognise the problem and its gravity. But they seem to see the damage it can cause only partially. They both claim, in somewhat differing terms, that this definition privileges the majority religion. This conclusion, in spite of the correct recognition of the problem, is only partially true. Neither one can build a theoretical argument to support it fully, nor is it corroborated by empirical facts.

The acceptance of religion based decisions in the public affairs and in the state policy basically opens the way for influencing the state and public decisions in favour of religions. It results in attempts to impose religious ideas and ways of living on unwilling non-believers. All religions in a democracy tainted with sarvadharma-samabhava can use that opportunity, and they actually do.

If one looks at the list of banned books and other public acts allowed or banned in the name of religion the list shows that Hindus and Muslims both have been using it quite frequently. The only solution, therefore, is that no legitimacy should be provided in the name of religion. If someone’s sentiments are hurt due to other citizens’ legitimate acts within the constitutional boundary it is their own problem. If A eats beef and B’s sentiments are hurt because of it, there is something wrong with B, not with A. May be B does not understand democracy and individual freedoms. Or maybe he wants to impose his ideas on others. Or maybe he simply does not know why, but feels terribly disturbed to the point of wanting to kill. Or he may not feel anything, just sees an opportunity to further his selfish ends and simply pretends. In all these cases it is the problem of education or general thinking in the society. It needs to be rectified, not appeased. It seem to me that most cases of hurt sentiments on religious matters are actually mob pretentions.

If we want to save secularism any law that legitimises imposition of ways of life of one group on unwilling others should be resisted. Beef ban is a dangerous step for democracy. Unlike banned books, it provides occasions to rogue elements in general public for settling scores and spreading violence. In the last decade or so there have been several incidents (remember five Dalits killed in Haryana, in 2002?)  in the name of cow; so much so that now it might start looking like ‘unholy’ rather than ‘holy’. [Please don’t read it as blaming cow. Cow is neither holy nor unholy, it is simply cow. The ‘holy’ and ‘unholy’ characterises the thinking of people in this controversy.]