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Delving into the politics of Sanatan Dharma

In these toxic times, what we are witnessing in the name of religion, or even Sanatan Dharma, is the politics of hatred, division and violence.

Delving into the politics of Sanatan Dharma

Furore: The provocative call by Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi Stalin (right) to eradicate Sanatan Dharma has angered the self-proclaimed champions of Hinduism. PTI



Avijit Pathak

sociologist

THE politics of anger centred on religious identities persists in contemporary India. Recently, Udhayanidhi Stalin, Tamil Nadu Youth Welfare and Sports Development Minister and son of Chief Minister MK Stalin, added yet another dimension to this politics. His provocative call to eradicate Sanatan Dharma — the way one should eradicate ‘coronavirus, malaria and dengue’— has hurt the sentiments of the self-proclaimed champions of Hinduism. No wonder they seem to be equally angry.

While Amit Malviya, the head of the BJP’s media cell, equated Udhayanidhi’s remark with a call for “genocide of 80 per cent population of Bharat” that follows Sanatan Dharma, Home Minister Amit Shah saw it as a sort of ‘hate speech’. And many of us, as ‘forward caste’ Hindus, are provoked to believe that Udhayanidhi, the Dravidian politician who seems to be following the likes of Periyar, known for his sharp critique of Brahminism as an institutionalised hierarchy, is wrong to question the ‘eternal truth’ of Sanatan Dharma; it is like hurting our cultural/religious foundations! However, amid this politics of anger, we fail to reflect on a series of critical questions relating to what is generally being perceived as Sanatan Dharma and Brahminical Hinduism, or spirituality as an emancipatory quest and the orthodoxy of organised/institutionalised religions.

In this context, there are three issues that need to be seriously reflected on. First, even though the believers tend to remain emotionally attached to their beliefs, practices, rituals and scriptures, it is not a bad idea to remain open, cultivate the power of reason and critique malpractices that go on in the name of ‘faith’. For instance, as someone born in a ‘Hindu’ family, I am not altogether free from its cultural/symbolic/religious habitat. The Upanishads, particularly the profound reflections on the nature of the ‘self’ beyond all sorts of limits and finitude, fascinate me; and the ideal of ‘detached action’ that I find in Krishna’s conversations with Arjuna in the Bhagavadgita continues to occupy my imagination. Yet, I would argue, we need to be receptive and appreciate the power of inner critique which helps religious systems to evolve and grow.

After all, not everything about institutionalised Hinduism is about the sublime prayers of the Upanishads, or deep reflections on love, action and renunciation. Instead, we live amid oppressive caste practices, patriarchal subjugation of womanhood and the burden of hollow rituals often sanctified in the name of Sanatan Dharma. However, there is nothing ‘eternal’ or ‘Sanatan’ about caste, patriarchy and violence. It has to be critiqued and eradicated. Hence, we ought to invoke the likes of Kabir and Narayana Guru, or Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Mahatma Gandhi. Their spiritual orientation did not prevent them from critiquing many rigid/orthodox practices sanctified by corrupt priests or the Brahminical clergy. And even the way Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar came with a hammer, critiqued Brahminical Hinduism, interrogated many ‘holy’ texts and sought to demolish the ‘religiously sanctioned’ structures of the oppressive and hierarchical caste practices ought to be listened to. Yes, they played a key role in opening our eyes. Well, we need not agree with everything they said. Yet, far from being merely angry and reactive, if we become open enough to converse with them, we can possibly move towards a more egalitarian and gender-sensitive religious practice. Is it easy to condemn and castigate Udhayanidhi, and thereby hide our misdeeds in the name of Sanatan Dharma, but exceedingly difficult to look at ourselves?

Second, we also need to look at the politics of the self-proclaimed protectors of Sanatan Dharma. As the proponents of Hindutva — a hyper-nationalist doctrine that seeks to stimulate one’s ‘Hindu identity’ for creating a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ — have begun to occupy the political/cultural landscape of contemporary India, we see the rise of new conservatism. We see its manifestations in the popular discourse: abhor the power of reason; promote the brigade of babas and gurus who fascinate their disciples with all sorts of ‘miracles’; give a false sense of ‘empowerment’ to the otherwise directionless youth, corrupt their minds through the cacophony of loud religious slogans, transform them into angry deshbhakts and create a non-thinking/non-reflexive crowd always ready to teach a ‘lesson’ to the minorities or those who have a different way of seeing the world. No wonder, instead of engaging in a meaningful dialogue with the critiques, the champions of Hindutva behave like any other fundamentalist religious group. Gandhi’s ahimsa, Buddha’s compassion, Mirabai’s ecstasy — nothing fascinates them. Instead, they are always angry. Is this anger becoming an integral component of what they seek to regard as Sanatan Dharma?

And third, it is high time we began to realise that our authentic spiritual quest has nothing to do with the ongoing politics of anger centred on the merits or demerits of Sanatan Dharma. Instead, our true religiosity is refreshingly free from the boundaries of all brands of organised religions; it is essentially a quest for a mode of living that, despite the acknowledgement of the temporality and impermanence of everything we are otherwise so attached to, radiates the spirit of intense love, gratitude and the power of mindfulness.

In a way, it is about a process of inner transformation — from the burden of inflated egos to the lightness of emptiness, or from separation to union. It has no caste; it has no nationality; it is boundless. However, in these toxic times, what we are witnessing in the name of religion, or even Sanatan Dharma, is the politics of hatred, division and violence.

#Sanatan Dharma #Tamil Nadu


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