I planted a little jasmine vine in a corner of the window box that ran the entire length of my living room balcony. It thrived, creeping up the grill gradually. I planted geraniums in the rest of the window box, and some impatiens at the other end. They all existed side by side, and I had a lovely window box for maybe three years.
By and by, the geraniums stopped growing. They stopped producing flowers. The impatiens at the far end just withered away. I called the building gardener to tell me what was going on. He laughed at my puzzlement. “Amma, the jasmine is killing all the other plants”! He loosened the soil and showed me how the dense root system of the jasmine had insidiously spread to the very end of the window box – all 10 feet of it – and choked the roots of the defenseless geraniums and impatiens.
Something similar is happening in India right now. Religion, like the jasmine vine, is spreading its roots stealthily, pernicious, unseen under the soil, strangulating other important aspects of nationhood. Everyone has forgotten that it was planted for its beautiful white, fragrant flowers, meant to uplift our souls. And we have failed to prune it, so its roots are proliferating and choking us, encouraged by politicians. Something that could have enriched our lives as Indians has been subverted by an unscrupulous few.
Hindus talk about India being a Hindu Rashtra. This is a form of ethnic nationalism, defined by a shared culture, heritage and common ethnic ancestry. They say Sanatana dharma is a collection of the teachings of this land; there is no such thing as Hinduism, anymore than there is a religion called Americanism. ‘Hindu’ just referred to a geographic region, not a religion, until the 19th century, so this is a Hindu Rashtra, they say. However, much has happened in the last few centuries to make India a mixture of many ethnic groups. We cannot be a purely Hindu country now, especially since ‘Hindu’ is now viewed as a religion and not an ethnic label. How can they disregard the history of two millennia and try to turn the clock back?
Hindus’ fears are fuelled by those Christians who are involved in activities like the US–sponsored Joshua Project. This seems to be a detailed plan backed by the former American president, Bush, to spread Christianity in India. To quote from Wikipedia, ‘The Joshua Project (formerly part of AD2000), is an organization seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the least followers of Christ. Joshua Project maintains ethnologic data to support Christian missions and is based in Colorado Springs, USA. Focusing on ethnicity, they maintain a database of “unreached peoples” listed by country and language.’ India is on this list. Hindus fear that if the Joshua Project is successful, India will become a pawn in the hands of the US, a new form of colonialism. Americans don’t like yoga being taught in schools because they worry that their children may be introduced to Hindu concepts in the guise of exercise. Isn’t the Joshua Project doing the same with poor, needy people who are too desperate to notice what is being done?
Muslims worry about their minority status, and fear makes some of them join fundamentalist groups. These groups of Indians are controlled and used by enemies of India to destroy India. What is happening? I see their businesses thriving. I see their children getting educated. I see young women in burkhas sitting alone enjoying an idli-vada breakfast at the Shiv Sagar near my house. I see girls with hijabs riding scooters even after dark. I don’t think what is happening to Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh is likely to happen to Indian Muslims, because India doesn’t have a state religion. Nor will they be driven out of any state like the Kashmiri pandits, a minority community, were driven out of Jammu & Kashmir. A recent book by Hasan Suroor, titled ‘India’s Muslim Spring’ says that Muslim youngsters today have a strong sense of belonging to India. Isn’t that the way it should be?
Each of these three religious groups is working against the country. This is like having an autoimmune disease, the body producing antibodies against its own self. The enemy is in the country, destroying it from within. Do they even realize what they are doing to the country?
India does not need to be saffronised, christianised or islamicised. We never hear of Jains, Buddhists and Parsis going on about their religion or trying to undermine India, using religion as an excuse. The Sikhs did it for a while in the seventies and eighties, but not anymore. Maybe the rest of us should learn a lesson or two from them about how to keep our religion to ourselves, work sincerely at whatever we do, and get on with life.
So, all you young entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of nation-building, please work to create an India that doesn’t make a big deal out of religion. I know most of you are not concerned about religion now, but when you’re in your forties, you’ll find yourself exploring religion. That’s when you should take care to put India first, so the country is not destroyed by religious exclusivism. So many of the world’s problems are caused by religion, started by middle-aged or old people, who recruit young people to do their dirty work for them!
Guest post by a noted Bangalore based psychiatrist and author Dr Shyamala Vatsa