Religiosity in India, is a way of life, it is ‘Indian culture’, it dictates arguments. It has its own version of rationality, which might be far from logical. Religious rationality makes people justify all kinds of intolerance and malpractices. We live in a country where atheism is almost unacceptable. It goes beyond the ‘religious rationality’ to such a level, that it is easier to understand other religions, but almost impossible to understand atheism. Lack of pan India movements -- on things like scientific temper or anti-superstition -- or the threat that such movements pose, are both infact quite understandable. And, not surprisingly, the only pan-India movement which has gained momentum in recent times has to be the ‘Gau Rakshak movement’
The process of thinking and rationalising – fact, objective realities or belief – are mainly guided by this ‘Religious rationality’. From Caste to gender, from class to hatred for other religions, the malpractices and discriminations of everyday existence are justified by religion. Religious rationality tops objective logic when it comes to questioning.
I include all religions here, because it doesn’t matter what the BJP and likeminded people tell us, all the religions and sub religions and sects and subsects in India, think alike. ‘Religion’ guides us all. All the religions have adopted practices, with co-existence, the good, the bad, the ugly from other religions.
The simplest, most commonly accepted Indian belief like “respecting the elders”, for example, cannot easily be argued against. Chronological age advantage being the reasoning for respect, should not infact be this easy to accept or internalise, as it is. All of us, the rational, the believers, the nonbelievers, are a part and parcel of a society, which thinks based on ideas which have probably existed since the beginning of development of Indian-ness.
Caste, for instance, which exists in almost all religions which exist in India. It is actually unimaginable how people have for ages believed others or themselves to be “inferior” (or “superior”). Experience by people like Bezwada Wilson, from the ‘Safai Karamchari Andolan’, who actually work on ground with Manual Scavengers, tell us that the idea that existed was that of doing the God’s work for the society. The belief propagated for generations was that of one being born for the task. Blaming oneself for the unimaginable and inhuman task. There was no “other” to blame. Because in the intrinsic consciousness, led by religion, the “other” is always inferior, not different. The “other” is created for hate to exist. The other religions, the “other” (“inferior”) caste, or gender. I am reminded here, of the most disgusting form of protests in the recent times, by students calling themselves ‘Youth for Equality’. The one in which they came out on the roads after OBC reservation, to sweep the floors and clean the shoes. The idea being that if “others” come into the education sphere, these are the tasks that the students from so called “upper” castes would end up doing. How does an educated student justify this form of discrimination to their mind? Because it has been taught and fed since childhood. Because that is the only reality they believe in. Education – science etc – just adds to knowledge of science, it does not make one question one’s basic ideas, it does not automatically lead to scientific temper. DRDO scientists perform pooja before missile launches or how IIT Delhi workshop looks for medical miracle in cow urine and cow dung are examples of science devoid of scientific temper. Our education system does not promote scientific thinking. Ofcourse, things are changing for the worse now ever since Hindu nationalist government in the form of BJP came to power. Along with all the vices of their predecessor Congress, they also promote Hinduism, in a monolithic form. So, from Mughal’s disappearing from textbooks in states like Maharashtra, to disappearance of Jawaharlal Nehru as first PM, from some school textbooks, all in the name of ‘Indian culture’.
Caste, class, religion and other-gender intolerance, is associated also with the religious upbringing and ‘religious rationality’. That is to say, ‘Religious Rationality’ aids in justifying these material and structural discriminations.
When one is taught the distinction between the good and bad (be it good girl vs bad, good Hindu vs bad), the frame of reference is the religiousness, not directly or explicitly, but because this is how our thought process exists. This is how one’s thinking has been trained for generations. We are taught not to question. Obedience is a valued virtue. Good children do not question the elders. We respect and we follow, from childhood to old age, there is always someone to respect and follow without questioning.
If we actually see the number of people who have read or understood religion, the number would be a minuscule minority. The traditional age-old practice of spreading ideas by word by mouth has been an absolute success (we can blame social networking now- the newer form of word of mouth).
It is not easy to propagate ideas of equality and egalitarianism in our society. Far from it. Rationality and logic are not easy to explain, and that is not because people don’t understand, but because there is already a parallelly running rationality which exists in the mind justifying inequality, intolerance etc.
This country is full of good Hindus, good Muslims, good Sikhs, good Isais.
In such a country, a good Hindu or a good Muslim or a good Sikh or a good Isai, they stand together in one united battle against logic, which is different from theirs, and against questioning of their rationality.
That is why people are ready to kill the likes of Kalburgi, Dabholkar and Pansare, while people are ready to die for rapists like Ram Rahim and Asharam, Sakshi Maharaj and the lot.
The followers of Ram Rahim, the “Dera Sacha Sauda” leader, are mainly “lower” caste Sikhs and Hindus. While it might have started as a space to give power and an independent godman to the people from non-Brahmanical castes, but eventually the character of the masses, take the same trajectory, as that of any other “upper” caste godman and his/her followers. The all-pervasive caste system makes one follow the supremacy of the “upper” castes. Prof Gopal Guru has explained us the important role that capitalism played in the development of Sanskritization, due to the upward mobility desires etc.
As a country, we haven’t had pan-India religious reform movements, the ones questioning religion from within. Reform movements have only happened in some parts of the country. And beyond internal reform, we have had some movements, again in parts of the country, like ‘self-respect movement’ of Periyar in the past, or ‘anti-superstition movement’, by Dabholkar in recent times or the like.
The long-term solution is to question the intrinsic ‘religious rationality’. It must be so difficult for people working tirelessly on the ground in defence of progressive egalitarian ideas.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.