Love And Hate Among India’s Worshippers
In recent years, even as intolerance has risen, stories of communal harmony continue to push past the hate, writes Priya Ramani.
The banners outside 150 temples in Dehradun prohibiting the entry of “non-Hindus” should not be seen in isolation and dismissed as the actions of an errant Hindu Yuva Vahini, founded by now Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and often described as his “private army”.
Places of worship have always been convenient battlegrounds in India. This theme plays out in various movie-worthy scripts around us.
In recent years, faux historical dramas have hogged the spotlight.
Was the Taj Mahal really part of a temple complex called Tejo Mahalaya, as a Bharatiya Janata Party official suggested in 2015, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi first came to power? You can read one answer here. Restore the temples razed to build a mosque within the Qutub Minar complex, a petitioner told the Delhi High Court in 2020.
After the Ayodhya verdict, senior BJP leader Vinay Katiyar told Outlook magazine that, “After the ‘shila puja’ (laying of the foundation stone), we can start mobilisation for temple building at Kashi and Mathura.” The next piece of this puzzle was fitted on March 11, 2021, when a district court in Varanasi issued notice in a case filed seeking the “restoration” of the Kashi temple at the site of the Gyanvapi Mosque.
Historical theatrics compete furiously with the true-life genre. In India, reality is always crazier than fiction. These can play out in viral videos like the one of the teenage Muslim ragpicker who walked in through a break in the wall at the Dasna Devi Temple in Ghaziabad earlier this month for a drink of water at the hand-pump and was beaten mercilessly.
“They are not allowed entry to the village temple, not invited to public functions and when invited they will have to eat separately,” a new book produced and published by the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDNet), in partnership with Zubaan Books, said about a village near Ahmedabad, although the same applies in many towns and villages. “Not even donations from Dalits are accepted for building of temple or religious activities and even in death they are segregated in a separate cemetery for Dalits.” You can download the book here.
The indigenous people’s edition has seen some of the most unequal fights between mighty companies who want to convert adivasi sacred spaces into temples of ‘development’. In the woman-oriented version of this script, the fight for women’s entry to the hill shrine of Kerala’s Sabarimala temple had all the ingredients to snag the top spot; and in the believe-it-or-not iteration of this theme, the winning entry would surely be the story of Faisal Khan.
Khan, who revived the Khudai Khidmatgar movement in India, believed in using religion to combat hatred, and introduced many to his unique interfaith practices. Last year this effort to spread amity between Hindus and Muslims got him arrested for 45 days. He still faces criminal charges of “promoting enmity”.
It’s easy to see why the Hindutva state perceived Khan’s message of flexible love as dangerous. Growing up, I had easy access to this flexibility. The church that had stood since 1905 in my Jesuit school compound stamped its lesson of compassionate love on my teenage heart. It was a cool, breezy, quiet haven where I could meditate in peace. We could actually sit while we engaged in elaborate conversations with god. When nobody was looking, we made animal shapes from the warm wax that dripped from the perennially-lit white candles.
I’ve always been awkward at religious places but much later in life, I felt at peace when a quiet voice instructed me on the wudhu, or ritual ablution. I was visiting a 170-year-old Bengaluru mosque run by the Rahmath Group that had invited people to experience what a mosque is all about.
In India, as you know, wherever you find hate, you will find love too, and our places of worship are no exception to the rule.
The Bengaluru mosque was reaching out to bridge the gap between communities in a troubled time, but we have always had a rich history of interfaith practices in our places of worship. Sufi shrines in our country attract thousands of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh pilgrims. Mosques, temples, and churches often co-exist peacefully on the same narrow streets.
In recent years, even as intolerance has risen, stories of communal harmony continue to push past the hate. So namaz and gurbani are performed simultaneously; after heavy rains, a gurdwara opens its doors for namaz on Eid; the management committee of a temple hands over a vacant plot near their new temple so Muslims can build a mosque; communities join hands to rebuild a damaged mosque.
In fact, Muslims helped rebuild the Dasna Devi Temple, outside which the Hindu Yuva Vahini put up the poster prohibiting the entry of non-Hindus.
The Uttarakhand Police registered a case against those responsible for the posters. “Why are they trying to favour the Muslims like this?” one member of the Hindu Yuva Vahini told The Quint. “I can not believe this is happening in a place like Uttarakhand. I do not care if they register a case against me, but I am going to ensure that these posters are up outside each temple in all of Uttarakhand.”
Such dedication and outspokenness would be great from those who believe that a plural and just India is the only way forward. And that our places of worship must echo with love not hate.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.