We are living in an age of communal polarisation. Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me there are more people questioning, especially in urban regions, their previously held political and religious opinions. We have heard several “liberals” talk about how they are disenchanted with Hinduism with the rise of Modi’s Hindutva.
As a consequence of polarisation, there will be more people drifting towards the Left and more people moving Right while the gap between the two factions widens, leaving the moderate camp less in numbers.
To clarify, India has always been a ‘communal’ country so speak. However, prior to the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian polity was primarily polarised on the basis of caste. And although caste politics still dominates Indian politics, the BJP has engineered its success by developing a coalition of castes on the basis of Hindutva.
It is under these circumstances that I began questioning my own long-held beliefs about the concept of religion. I am unsure when I turned atheist exactly but it was sometime when I was 15 years old. My becoming an atheist is not very surprising considering that I studied in a Catholic school until the 8th standard. And many things I saw back then appeared stupid as a kid, many of them still appear stupid.
Although I did not witness any religious orthodoxy at home but at school, the situation was a bit different. The end result of it all was me losing faith in the concept of religion itself. I shifted to a Kendriya Vidyalaya in class 9 and religious orthodoxy was no longer a part of my life in any manner.
During adolescence, when every single boy is a rebel, I rebelled against religion. Still, my atheism wasn’t a dominant aspect of my political beliefs. And although I would occasionally have arguments with my parents on religion, my atheism did not stop me from performing my prayers or observing rituals. Because it made my parents happy and atheism wasn’t worth an easily avoidable quarrel with my parents.
It’s when I went to college that atheism became a dominant aspect of my political ideology. I read a lot of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and watched a lot of videos on YouTube and I became convinced of the superiority of my ideology. I hated Narendra Modi, I hated Hindutva and I genuinely believed that Hindutva is a bigger threat to India than Islamic extremism. Embarrassing, I know.
My online behaviour reflected my opinions quite well. I was arrogant, extremely rude and generally insufferable. I believed myself to be a better person by virtue of my beliefs and thought it justified my rude behaviour towards religious people. In short, I was the quintessential ‘liberal’. However, due to the time I spent in a Christian school, my opinions on religion was consistent regardless of the religion in question. And to be fair to myself, I was far more critical of Abrahamic religions than of Hinduism.
Then I joined Twitter. And everything turned upside down. The immediate thing that struck me as shocking was the fact that I appeared to have far more in agreement with supporters of Hindutva than ‘liberals’. Three months on Twitter and I stopped referring to myself as a ‘liberal’. But the real change happened when I started discussing Hinduism with people. And I realised the limited scope of my knowledge about Hindu history and philosophy.
One thing that embarrassed me a lot was the fact that Hindus were always willing and patient enough to discuss and explain the tenets of Hindu beliefs. Contrary to the behaviour of ‘Liberal’ atheists that I have observed online, including myself at that point, Hindus were not arrogant or conceited. Their first reaction towards a disagreement was not derision or ridicule or insults. I found that they genuinely believed in dialogue and entered a conversation with respect if the other side observed the same courtesies. It was markedly different from the behaviour of ‘Liberal’ atheists and ‘liberals’ in general who were filled with condescension. Condescension, which is the trademark of liberalism, is natural when you believe that the religious beliefs of others are the primary reason why the world is so messed up.
The people I had extensive discussions with have become very good friends of mine over time. It didn’t take me long to realize that they had plenty of arguments I had no rebuttal to. Their answers on the concept of Gods, the necessity to worship the Devas, the historicity of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and on a variety of issues were quite substantive. After six months of reading hundreds and thousands of pages of material on Hinduism and politics, I realized that my atheism was no longer tenable and I could not really call myself an atheist anymore.
During the period of extensive reading and discussions, I pondered over many thoughts concerning the validity and necessity of religion. I remembered the exemplary courage my mother had displayed a few years earlier in the face of great personal adversity and wondered the extent to which religion helped her maintain composure. Every morning, she stood in front of the Gods and prayed for a desirable outcome and then went about doing what needed to be done convinced that the Gods won’t let her down. It is an extremely subjective experience but it’s an observable fact that religion gives people the strength to achieve impossible targets, both great and terrible.
I looked around and noticed the positive impact religion had on people’s lives. And I had to admit that religion was a great unifier contrary to claims that it only divides people. I also realized that not all religions are equal and pagan religions have an innate superiority over monotheistic faiths. Tribalism is human nature but pagan religions, like Hinduism, have the capability to help man transcend those boundaries.
One thing that I agreed on with Hindus from the very outset was the dangers of Abrahamic extremism. After reading through all that, I realized that ‘liberalism’ or ‘liberal’ atheism could not be a counter to them. Because these ideologies do not have the ability to unite people on a grand scale. Of course, the greatest shock that I suffered during my transformation was when I learned that ‘liberalism’ is very much a religion in itself, a God-less one, sure, but a religion nonetheless. Anyway, with the rise of Trump and the refugee crisis and the terrible chaos it unleashed on Europe, I realized that liberalism could never be the answer to Indian concerns. Thus, for a brief period, I was in a vacuum politically.
Then I began reading Hindu history. And the person who fascinated me the most, needless to say, is Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. I was completely unaware of the great accomplishments of the Maratha Empire and I was on the verge of completing my graduation. At a certain level, I felt betrayed by the education system because I believed and that these were facts I should have learnt at school. Shivaji Maharaj’ valour on the face of certain obliteration, his determination to establish Hindavi Swarajya and the millions of sacrifices the Marathas had made to overcome the mighty Mughal Empire was awe inspiring. And I wasn’t even aware that it was the Marathas that ended Mughal rule over India and not the British. I was disgusted and I was angry at being deprived of the knowledge of my own history.
Soon, I learnt of Lachit Borphukan from Assam, the valour of Rajputs and the resilience of a great many Hindu Kings under attack from Abrahamic zealotry. It filled me with immense pride and made me realize that the only reason I could be a vocal atheist in the first place was that of the sacrifices made on the battlefield by my Hindu ancestors. And I realized that it was the history of our glorious civilization which provided our greatest heroes with the inspiration and our Gods who blessed them that ensured their success in the battlefield. The history of the partition of the country and the reasons for it had a sudden profound impact on me as well when I read into the atrocities that people suffered, something that my education in school did not impress upon me.
Ultimately, it was prolonged dialogue with my Hindu friends and a sense of duty towards my ancestors which brought me back to the Hindu fold. If there was one historical figure who inspired my return the most, it was Shivaji Maharaj. His life and ambition and his glorious legacy are enchanting and I felt drawn to him.
My journey back to Hinduism revealed to me why I became a ‘liberal’ atheist in the first place. It is fairly obvious now that I think of it. I was unaware of the glorious history of the Hindu civilization, I did not fully appreciate the virtues of Hindu Dharma and my education did not instil in me a pride about my Hindu identity. But most of all, it was the sense of duty I felt towards my ancestors, a deep sense of gratitude that made me a Hindu again.
I also realize that it’s very easy to be a ‘liberal’. You can justify your conceit, your selfishness, your arrogance, neglect of your duties by coming up with bizarre arguments based on the doctrine of ‘Rights’ and individualism. Hinduism does not offer me such luxuries. It has made me more humble, more down to Earth, more compassionate and kind to people in my daily interactions.
Once I became a Hindu again, Hindutva was the obvious political preference. Because at the end of the day, Hindutva is merely Hinduism re-arming itself in a world dominated by monotheistic cults and nation states. More importantly, Hindutva provides an opportunity for Hindus to transcend their differences on the basis of caste, creed, language and region. I realized that liberals go on and on about tolerance and unity and all that and yet, while they ignore minority appeasement and fanaticism for the sake of coexistence, they constantly try to instigate hatred between Hindus on the basis of caste and region and language.
I cannot speak for anyone else apart from myself. But it was the hypocrisy of ‘liberals’, learning more about Hindu history, the lessons on Dharma from my friends on social media which felicitated my return to Hinduism. Most importantly, perhaps, credit goes to my parents who through their piety ensured that I never lost touch with my Hindu roots and could always find my way back when my head was in the right place again.