The cataract of religion

J Devika | Updated on May 11, 2018 Published on May 11, 2018

Shame Shame: Eight men accused men of raping and murdering an eight-year-old girl in Kathua pleaded not guilty, despite incriminating evidence. Supporters of the accused take part in a hunger strike   -  Reuters


A collective call to the Hindu conscience to repent for Kathua got in return an avalanche of abuse, threats and a reminder to recollect the community’s lofty social worth

Over the past few weeks, I have received a large number of chidings, insults, and death threats over statements I made publicly against the horrific rape of an eight-year-old in Kathua. My comments condemned the shameless defence of the alleged perpetrators and the claims of self-defence in the face of an assault on Hindus. I vowed to not enter a temple until full justice is done to the wronged child, and to reject all of my (savarna) relatives and friends who had the slightest sympathy for the dastardly defence.

The number of Hindus who felt that a woman had no business saying anything about the rights and wrongs of religion was not a few. This was brahmanical unreligiosity — in Ambedkar’s terms — in all its virulence. Ambedkar makes a clear distinction between rule-based religion driven by blind observance and principled religion which does not degenerate into meaningless rules that bolster ruthless hierarchies. Seen thus, Hindutva followers have no religion nor do they seek one. They are driven by the plain desire to restore caste and gender restrictions. They seek a set of ideas of seemingly Indic provenance that can be easily weaponised against minorities and opponents, enabling them to be totally illiterate of their own sacred texts and still foam at the mouth at ostensible foes.

But what intrigued me were the responses from some progressive men — especially a senior Malayali male journalist, whose Facebook post generated much traction. He dismissed the incident as individualised and personal, worthless in a land of reformers who had built great social movements in the 20th century.

It is interesting how such habits of the mind die hard — speaking volumes of the shallowness of leftist thinking in Kerala. The claim that individual voices count nothing in the face of looming fascism when it arises from the Left in Kerala today is more symptomatic of a certain amorality long growing here. We saw it in full form during Hadiya’s struggle for justice. Incarcerated by her own father and harassed by Hindutva elements, this young woman was long denied justice by courts; her plight was ignored by the CPM-led government. The ‘good-Muslim bad-Muslim’ game is played here with the same ferocity as anywhere else in India.

The other set of interesting responses were from intellectuals invested in the anti-caste struggle. Some feel that such a gesture can only reinforce the savarna status of the person behind it. Others feel that this is yet another hopeless effort to reform brahmanical religion by ‘reclaiming’ temples. To these I can only say that denying that I still remain in savarna society, however non-conforming I may seem, is certainly unhelpful, especially for me. As long as I carry within me its attributes, however minor, the responsibility of speaking against its violence remains necessary. I do think that anti-caste savarnas should do their own anti-caste work and think through their paradoxes.

Secondly, temples have to be democratised, not reclaimed. The brahmanical grip on temples has only grown, and it is time Hindus struggled to throw their temple doors open for all. That is not really to reform Hinduism, but to make sure that temples are not misused by those who capture them. And as long as I have not socially or spiritually exited it, I am bound to protest those injustices.

What struck me about the debate is the dislike and distrust cutting across political divides, of a woman’s capability or intention to be a moral agent. The Hindutva elements make no bones about this.

It may also be unsurprising that some leftist male intellectuals do not think anything of dumping moral agency — maybe they take it for granted, since the moral agent was mostly imagined as a man. And as for the distrust of the savarna woman who seeks moral agency, as long as that stays, I have to live on this perilous edge of savarna society the best I can.

(Views expressed are personal)

J Devika


J Devika is a historian and critic based in Thiruvananthapuram

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Published on May 11, 2018
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