This article is available in Polish here.
It has been an year since Narendra Dabholkar was assassinated. While rationalists, humanists and freethinkers are remembering what Narendra Dabholkar fought for, and are fighting for justice as his assassins are still at large, a Hindu right wing page, which has Subramaniam Swamy’s blessings, has a different take on Narendra Dabholkar:
It is accompanied by this blurb:
Conversation between a neutral observer and an anti-superstition activist can go like this:
– “Though I doubt how much actual reforms you actually do, it’s appreciable if that helps people”
– “Well, thanks for support”
– “.. you’re welcome. But I feel you guys use this activism as a garb to attack every thing of Hindu faith. Why so?”
– “.. how else do you suppose we receive FCRA funds in millions from abroad?”
– “I rest my case”
Murder is an extreme crime. However for some it becomes a silver lining that white washes their deeds and saves them from a possible public shame.
More, it gets the label of greatness to some.
One such example is so called anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar.
He was murdered last year and his murderers are still at large. They took Dabholkar’s life and also an opportunity for the law to catch up with his deeds and the media made him a ‘martyr’.
The vitriol against Dr. Dabholkar cannot simply be brushed away as the act of some fringe group. The accusations of “Hindu hatred” and “foreign funded” must be familiar to anyone who has done any criticism of superstitions or the Hindu religion. They have an ideological basis in Hindutva, involving these main ideas:
- Criticism of Hinduism is “Hindu hatred”
- Such criticism ought to be illegal, the implied premise being India is a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) and so being a “Hindu hater” is being against the nation.
- Such criticism is “foreign” funded, which is another way of saying that it is funded by Christians, Muslims or even Hindus who aren’t the right kind of Hindus – i.e. not being properly patriotic and dutiful to the Fatherland and the Holy land.
The idea of “Hindu Hatred” has a strong parallel to the idea of “Islamophobia”. You can be empathetic towards Muslims while at the same time not condoning the irrationality of Islam. And yet, Islamic apologists term criticism of Islam as “Muslim hatred”. They have a vested interest in thwarting criticism of Islam and so take refuge under Islamophobia in an attempt to silence their critics.
The anti-superstition act that Dr. Dabholkar fought for targets very specific acts and it covers superstitions that are prevalent in Christian and Muslim communities as well. It would be ignorant to term his activism as being selectively targeted at Hinduism. Even if it were, it would still be wrong to call it Hindu hatred as there is nothing wrong in wanting to reform Hinduism. It would be perverse to suggest that one can’t reform Hinduism until and unless they reform other religions first.
In fact as Narendra Nayak notes here, Dr. Dabholkar was quite mild in his approach:
Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was not a virulent campaigner like many of us. He was very mild in his approach. He did not even claim to be an atheist (though he was one) and told the people that they could be comfortable with their belief systems as long as they were not inhuman and against human dignity.
He was trying to bring reform through education like asking people not to pollute water by immersing painted idols, or not to cause noise pollution through crackers and such social messages. He was a great planner and led by example. The MANS has a mobile exhibition on creating scientific temper with a bus going around the state.
And yet Dr. Dabholkar is called a “Hindu hater”. One has to be quite radicalized to call him that. But then radicalized is what Hindutva is, as we’ll see below.
Establishing India as a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) is a foundational goal of Hindutva. The definition of Hindu Rashtra, according to its proponents, goes something like this:
The word Hindu is not a religious label. It derives from the Persian word Sindhu which meant the land east of the Indus river. As such all inhabitants of that land are Hindus and so India is a Hindu nation. There is also the matter of a shared culture that is distinct from Islamic or Christian cultures, which originated outside of the Indian subcontinent. This shared culture is Hindu culture.
Given that definition, what can make someone a Hindu hater? If being born in India and growing up in its culture makes one a Hindu, Dr. Dabholkar should be a bonafide Hindu. Why then is he a “Hindu hater”? The answer lies in the Orwellian doublespeak that Hindutva employs. When it says a “shared culture”, it actually means a subset of cultures in the Indian subcontinent – the subset which constitutes Hinduism the religion, even more specifically the Vedic religion.
That is why criticizing superstitions, which are a vital part of any religion, is denigrating the “shared culture”. Anyone who does that becomes a “Hindu hater”. Since Hindutva considers India to be a Hindu rashtra, a “Hindu hater” is an anti-national and so can be prosecuted legally. That explains why the above image implies that Dr. Dabholkar could have been legally prosecuted for his “deeds”.
This is a conspiracy theory that in the recent years has captured the imagination of the average Hindutvawadi. Every now and then at Nirmukta we get comments on the lines of how we are Christian missionaries, and accept foreign funding to besmirch Hinduism. Like this one for example. There would have been more, but such comments usually don’t make it past moderation. But as I said earlier, these accusations are a common experience to anyone who has done any amount of criticism of Hinduism.
What makes a Hindutvawadi believe that people like Dr. Dabholkar accept foreign funding for the express purpose of blaspheming their religion? I don’t really know. My guess is that it is tied to being an ‘anti-national’. Since activists like Dr. Dabholkar do have a tremendous impact, it must be hard for his Hindutva detractors to digest the fact that he had made such such good inroads. In their minds, the only logical explanation must be these nebulous “foreign funds” or even intelligence agencies like the CIA or KGB wanting to destabilize India. The thought that one can be a good Indian citizen and also a reformer doesn’t even occur to them. (Ironically, there is this NGO which gets foreign funding.)
So all these factors came together in making that despicable hit piece on Dr. Dabholkar. He is framed in cross-hairs to suggest that he has been a target for a while, but fate intervened and saved them the trouble of maintaining the aim at him. Now of course, they would claim that the cross-hairs are metaphorical and that they only wanted to “target” Dr. Dabholkar legally, but then again it’s the Orwellian doublespeak in action. Dr. Dabholkar did nothing illegal. They’d have to amend the Indian constitution to make criticism of superstitions illegal. But given how unlikely that is, even with a government at the helm that champions the Hindutva cause, I wonder if somebody wasn’t thinking “The law isn’t working as it ought to, so we need to take things into our own hands and deliver justice”.
Updated on Sep-4-2014: Fixed a typo.