Shri VD Savarkar wrote in his scholarly book ” Indian War of Independence”: “The destruction of the religion of a conquered race makes the problem of retaining it in perpetual slavery much easier.” We did become an independent nation, escaping dominion status which was actually granted to us in 1947, throwing off the yoke of British rule with a wisely thought-out constitution in 1950 in which Dr Ambedkar wisely declared us a sovereign republic deriving authority from “We, the People of India” instead of leaning to the throne of England. However, the brown babus of Macaulay replaced the White Brits who ruled us till 1947.
Unfortunately for us, many of those who came to rule us, post-independence as the head of the executive and as the head of the judiciary, had a definite derision for the history of the cultural fountainhead which gave birth to the most tolerant and most vibrant philosophical and spiritual thought, much deeper than their British predecessors.
Even Nehru who gave the now famous speech of Tryst with destiny in impeccable English on the midnight of 1947, addressing a nation in which less than 0.5% understood the language, had the interest in the cultural heritage and history of India akin to that which a schoolboy has in a frog he dissects in his biology classes. There is no affection and there is such stern coldness with which the subject is touched.
Those anglophiles who ruled us then tasked others who thought like them to write and re-write the history of India. They were the people whose fingers were almost frozen with the coldness with which they approached the subject. Their minds were burdened with the White man’s burden which was heavier than that the white men themselves carried from whom they had taken the charge. What the British did hesitatingly, they did brazenly, with a cynical and almost criminal cunning.
Little did the brown bosses realize that by cutting the roots they are drying up the vast and expansive branches of the Banyan tree of Indianness, or Bharatiyata, if I may use the term. What was cultivated carefully across the years by Sage Agastya walking down Southern India, creating the first Tamil Grammar in Vedic age, and later by Adi Shankaracharya walking all the way to the North setting up the foremost pilgrimage centre in Kedarnath, starting to come down slowly, brick by brick. Every nation has a character, and in India, that character would flow like an invisible river Saraswati, underneath the distinct eclectic regional ethnicity which we are known for. It is difficult to break a unifying culture which opens like a vast umbrella that connects regional distinctness unless the part, as well as the whole, is attacked together.
We find this being done in many ways: Language wars, regional factionalism. Our Deepawali, their Jallikattu; Our Dahi Handi Handi, their Sabarimala- this is all a part of the mischievous game. There are many revolutionary decisions taken by the judiciary of late. To take an example, adultery has now been legalized and so has been same-sex relations. The common theme- who are we to judge the choices people make. Is it not that the same principle has been put aside when it came to the case of Sabarimala.
Many have tried to turn it into a case of gender equality. Strangely, those are the same people who oppose any genuine development activity in the tribal lands claiming to be protecting the tribal way of life, even if it means perpetuating hunger and lack of education. The case was filed by an entity led by a North Indian, Muslim man, who as per his faith, doesn’t believe in idol worship. Being a man, the restrictions of entry applicable to menstruating women do not apply to him. The man had no skin in the game, no locus-standi. The hype and hoopla notwithstanding, this judgment makes no impact on the general cause of women emancipation, even from a very neutral point of view. The cause of women freedom doesn’t move further an inch with this judgment, not one inch.
I am not a devotee of Lord Ayappa, the presiding deity of Sabarimala. I know that those who are devotees of Ayappa believe him to be an eternal celibate and thus as per the laws of Brahmacharya, believe that He may not be visited by women in fertile age. Neither the devotees nor the non-believers of Ayappa have a right to define, mould and modify the behaviour of the deity, towards a section of women.
I can say that those who object to the manner in which the deity avoids a class of women are exactly trying to define that. Had this movement been towards some restrictions which do not allow women to pray, all across the nation, in all the Hindu temples, I could appreciate the feminist angle here. But this is a case of one of the five or six temples, among thousands across the nation, which restricts women. There are to my understanding around five-six temple which do not allow men, on the basis of the believed nature of the deity there. The believed nature of a deity can only be defined by the believer, not by a non-believer.
The media has gone berserk talking about the woman’s emancipation angle here. I am confounded. Some have even compared this Sabarimala judgment with Sati. There are two flaws in the argument. One, If one goes by Vedas, Sati has no sanction in Hinduism (vested interests cover only one of the hymn, ignoring the following one which indicates widow remarriage). Sati impacted those women who had no belief in Sati. Sabarimala impacts only those who believe in Sabarimala and those who believe in Sabarimala.
This equivalence is brought in merely to shut the Hindus opposing Sabarimala judgment down. Sati, with its continuance, brought grave risk to women. The opposition to Sati came from within the Hindu community. There was a five-judges bench which decided on Sabarimala issue. One of the judges dissented and that judge is a woman. Essentially, four men judges decided how emancipated women should behave and lives they ought to live.
The dissenting Judge, Justice Indu Malhotra, very pragmatically, tried to draw a distinction between social evil and customs, when she observed that “It is not for the courts to decide on which religious practices should be struck down, except in case of social evil like Sati.” She was outnumbered four to one. The judgment was hailed across the media as a pioneering step towards women emancipation, on the day a woman was beaten up and kicked around in West Bengal.
Those who objected to Triple Talaq and Confession of Women only to Women priests in the Churches owing to the complaints of sexual harassment suddenly found their modernistic voices and began talking about liberalism, evolution and change. The Sabarimala judgement is a top-down order. The PIL was filed by a party which is not from the inside of the community of believers of the deity. The judgement did not consider the faith and feelings of those whose faith stands fractured here. Lokmanya Tilak guarded against this colonial method of civilizing the natives from outside when he said that “In reforming the society, care ought to be taken to avoid the creation of a gulf between the people on one hand and the reformers on the other.”
I have not gone to Sabarimala. I do not know if I will. But it impacts me. I am quite old to light firecrackers on Diwali. But I was shattered when firecrackers were banned in Delhi on Diwali last year without any scientific reasons or studies at the behest of a case brought in by Congress leader and lawyer, Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
The judiciary has been treading the path of public approval carefully and diligently; going with the internationally fashionable causes. It is a small thing. Those who believe in Sabarimala will respect the tradition, notwithstanding the Court judgement; will respect the deity and follow the tradition. Those who did not believe, will not go anyways. Just as one Deepawali without firecracker will not matter. But I do get a feeling that it is like someone trying to test the boundaries, distances of annoyance one could travel trampling a faith. If you keep quiet, it will come to you.
If Court can decide that Lord Ayappa can now grow up and learn to live in a mixed-gender group; they may tomorrow also decide that Lord Ram is old enough to not bother about his birthday and birthplace. After all, if we look around, all that would be left in Ayodhya will be the empty nest of four Queen mothers. Ram must grow cosmopolitan, magnanimous and give up this silly fight for a land near Sarayu. Grown-up people anyway leave their ancestral places.
Faith is fickle, belief brittle. It is like a mirror. Once it cracks, it never recovers the like before. Religions is not regional. Sanatan’s strength is not only derived by the depth in time; it also derives strength from its spread in space. We are not the people of the book. We are people of faith. When faith is fractured, the whole castle of culture collapses.
Lokmanya Tilak, the founding father of Congress, said in a speech, something true beyond time, with which I end this. I hope these words of Tilak resonate for long in your minds. Every time a faith is needlessly trampled, irrespective of whichever faith it might be, without any human reason for such trampling; the nation like India which derives its strength from history and spirituality, weakens. It is not about North and South.
Tilak said in Bharata Dharma Mahamandala, in Benaras on 3rd of January, 1906, “Hindu religion as a whole is made up of different parts co-related to each other as so many sons and daughters of one great religion….so long as you are divided among yourselves, so long as one section does not recognize its affinity with another, you cannot hope to rise as Hindus. Religion is an element of nationality. The word Dharma means a tie and it comes from the root Dhri- to bear or to hold. What is there to be held together? To connect the soul with God, and man with man.”
As the dust around Sabarimala settles down, let us remember, this is not the last affront, Sabarimala is not the last front. It is not about defending a religion. It is about protecting our way of living which has survived the centuries. Let us connect the soul with God, and man with man.