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  Opinion   Columnists  24 Dec 2022  Pavan K Varma | Hindus tolerant, inclusive: Why rush to take offence?

Pavan K Varma | Hindus tolerant, inclusive: Why rush to take offence?

The writer, an author, former diplomat and is in politics.
Published : Dec 25, 2022, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Dec 25, 2022, 12:00 am IST

Hinduism, which has survived for millennia because of its conquering eclecticism, will survive people like Mishraji too

Madhya Pradesh state home minister Narottam Mishra. (ANI)
 Madhya Pradesh state home minister Narottam Mishra. (ANI)

I have not had the honour and privilege of meeting with Shri Narottam Mishra, the Hon’ble Home Minister (HM) of Madhya Pradesh (MP), and a leading light of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but I would greatly welcome the opportunity of doing so.  If I were to meet him today, I would hesitate though to wish him Merry Christmas, because he might conclude that this is an anti-Hindu act, that has “hurt” his religious sentiments. 

I am not being facetious. When Fab India came up with an advertisement titling its new collection of fabrics for Diwali as Jashn-e-Riwaaz, the celebration of tradition, Mishraji, along with many others of his ilk, were greatly offended. The reason: the use of Urdu words for a Hindu festival! This set a new bench line for linguistic exclusionism for a religion that has generically made inclusion and assimilation into a fine art. I am now genuinely afraid that the all-powerful Mishraji might make saying “Diwali Mubarak” a non-bailable offence. 

Should we meet, I would like to congratulate Shri Mishra for his relentless efforts to reduce a great and grand religion like Hinduism into a perpetually insecure, irrationally vulnerable, uncharacteristically brittle, unacceptably dogmatic, comically puritanical and oppressively patriarchal faith. This is no mean achievement, since the Hinduism I know, and millions of others follow, is tolerant, liberal, inclusive, eclectic and has survived for millennia precisely because of its broadminded profundity of thought. 

Hindu women are, to my mind, the special targets of Mishraji’s self-anointed role as the “protector” of Hinduism. For him and his acolytes, the ideal is the chaste Hindu nari, who is “modestly” dressed in traditional Hindu attire, obedient, subservient, inhibited, demure, sexually dormant, and devoted, without any aspirations of her own, to her husband and his family. This kind of Hindu woman best represents pristine Hindu culture, since she is willing to voluntarily forsake, in deference to patriarchy, all agency over her body, her desires, her choice of food and drinks, her dress, her ambitions and her right to marry a man of her choice.

This male dominant world view becomes clear from the things that deeply annoy Shri Mishra and his “masculine” followers. Sabyasachi’s mangalsutra ad was considered highly objectionable because it showed a woman with a low neckline in an intimate position with her husband. Alia Bhatt’s ad for the fashion label Manyavar was repugnant because the woman had the “non-Hindu culture” temerity to emphasise gender equality between Hindu men and women, and wanted the ceremony of kanyadaan to be renamed kanyamaan, thereby conveying that a woman needs to be treated with respect rather than just a commodity to be given away. The jewelry brand Tanishq was ostracised because it portrayed a consensual marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man, whose family lovingly accepted their daughter-in-law and were even prepared to celebrate a Hindu ritual for the sake of their ’new daughter’. This was considered as “Love Jihad”, as though a Hindu woman has no right to choose whom she wants to marry.  Dabur’s Karwa Chauth ad was condemned because it hinted at two women celebrating their intimacy. The ad was cleared by the Censor Board, and the Supreme Court had decriminalised homosexuality in 2018.  But no matter.  Hindu women must behave as Hindu men think they should. 

In a democracy people are entitled to their views. So is Mishraji. But the problem is that he believes that only what he considers correct Hindu practice is right, and all other viewpoints are wrong. For a dialogic civilisation, where the three foundational texts — the Upanishads, the Bhagwat Gita and the Brahma Sutra — are all dialogues willing to consider the opponents point of view, this a highly dangerous threat to the real spirit of Hinduism. But Mishraji’s concerns, it would appear, are far more focused on the particular form of Hinduism that he, as a man, approves of, and as the Home Minister is forever willing to enforce using the police. 

For his supporters, however, he is more than benevolent. When Bajrang Dal goons vandalised the set of Ashram 3, a web series being shot by Prakash Jha, for “hurting” Hindu sentiments, he almost condoned the attack. The series, Ashram 3, is about a rogue godman. Hinduism — like all religions — has enough of these charlatans, just as it has truly spiritually evolved saints. What is wrong in exposing those who misuse religion? Adi Shankaracharya, himself mocks those who use religion only to fulfil their own desires: “Jatilo mundi lunchitakesha hakashayambara bahukritavesha, prashnayapi ca napashyapatimudhou daranimitto bahukritaveshaha: Many are those whose locks are matted, many whose heads are closely shaved, many who pluck out all their hair, some of them wearing robes of saffron, some of them clad in different colours — all these things are for their stomach’s sake.” If Shankaracharya lived today, he could have been attacked for denigrating Hinduism!

Narottam Mishra has the Madhya Pradesh police under him, as also the law agencies.  He has, in addition, crowned himself as the pontiff of the moral police.  If his favourite colour is saffron, how dare Deepika Padukone flaunt her flawless body while wearing it, and that too while romancing with Shah Rukh Khan, a Muslim?  In the land of the Kamasutra, Khajuraho and Konarak, and the ethereally sensual poetry on Radha and Krishna, immortalised by Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, and the poems of Chandidasa, Vidyapati and Bihari—to name just a few—he has revived Victorian morality, which is totally alien to the Hindu worldview of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, where the sensual is given due place within the structure of an overall balanced life.  Ignoring this entire enlightened tradition, he decides on what is ‘appropriate’ Hindu behaviour, thereby reducing Hinduism to a series of illiterate fiats backed by punitive measures and threats of boycott. 

Hinduism — the Sanatan Dharma — which has survived for millennia because of its conquering eclecticism, will survive Mishraji too.  But women are in immediate and imminent danger due to his patriarchal mindset. The modern Indian woman, confident, educated, independent, with a mind of her own, and aware of her rights, needs to firmly inform Mishraji that she will not sacrifice her freedoms to his hopelessly outdated diktats.Her strength will ultimately prove to be his weakness.

Tags: bharatiya janata party, narottam mishra, hinduism, sanatan dharma, deepika padukone