PK hits Hinduism more than Islam: But when religion itself is a lul thing, does it matter?

Conversion row: Right to religion is a basic right. Right to propagate is offensive and should be removed. Nobody should be allowed to propagate faith.

 |  BREAKING NEWS INTO PIECES  |  6-minute read |   22-12-2014
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Everybody is talking religion. Everybody has one and nobody needs to be a pundit to talk religion. You don't need logic, reason or any basis to have your say because these things, to begin with, are alien to religion. The war zone starts right at our western border and goes on till Greece. The land of continuous conflict. At home, the reconversion drive in our midst that has pushed us into the middle of another religion-centric discourse. And as if that wasn't enough, Aamir Khan's PK is threatening would have made Rs 100 crores by the time you finish reading this. This sweet film has led to calls for boycott from the ones known as "Internet Hindus". They think it is an attack on their faith. It is time to clear the fog and throw some harsh light on hard facts.

PK as a film is overtly anti-religion, not just Hinduism. It attacks Hinduism more directly than other religions because the story is based in India, 80 per cent of which is Hindu. The story is about an alien trying to get help from God. Hindu hardliners' main peeve is that the film handles Islam with kid gloves. I would call that a smart move by Rajkumar Hirani. Hindus are not at the same level on offence meter as Muslims are. The siege syndrome has just infected Hindus. Among Muslims, it is at a critical level.

The boycott call is behind the support call both on box office cash register and on Twitter trends. Because on a meter of taking offence and ignoring to taking offence and killing people, Hindus are at Level Two. That's Boycott level. To demand a ban is Level Three. To enforce shutdowns is Level Four and going totally mental is Level Five. You can show a scared Shiva character running helter-skelter and get away with it. Showing the Prophet is a sure-shot suicidal move only the Scandinavian have attempted till now.

So, full marks to Rajkumar Hirani for keeping it sane. Hirani thought Hindus could take a joke or two. He has been quite there if not spot on. He hasn't been knifed yet. Lunatics, from all religions, have no sense of humour. But there is a greater chance of getting killed in ridiculing Islam than ridiculing Hindus or Christians. Hindus have too many Gods and godmen for everyone to get offended by one film. Hindus are also really old and settled being Hindus. Christianity, over 2,000 years old, is more settled than Islam, which is in its darkest period right now and is perceived to be at war, within and without. The golden rule of rubbing salt is you don't rub it on a fresh wound.

The film comes at a time when there is a fierce debate going on about conversion. As the Hindu Right wants converts to revert to Hinduism. Christians and Muslims believe conversion is a fundamental human right and a one-way street. The government wants the pitch to rise to a point where it can thrust a ban on conversion down everyone's throat.

The Constitution allows the right to follow one's faith and propagate it. Christians and Muslims want it to stay that way. Their claim is conversion, unless by force, fear or allurement, must be allowed. This is where the problem lies. There is nothing called conversion out of conscience. Luring someone in the name of heaven, or by instilling fear of hell, falls in the grey area between forceful and voluntary conversion. These grey areas will always lead to controversies. Missionaries are called missionaries because they have a mission. We all know what that is. It's called saving the soul. From the wrath of God?

The Hindu hardline calls it ghar wapsi, which itself is a can of worms. How long back do you want to go in history? Hindus were peaceful pagans before organised religion came into this land. They worshipped anything from sexual organs to trees to stones and so on. They had too many books and too many gods to be organised under one umbrella. The king was the avatar of Vishnu, revered and worshipped. The land provided plentiful to people who were busy living than looking for meaning of life. Talking to God was not the in-thing here like it was in the dreary deserts of Palestine where life was tough, the sun was harsh and people wondered about the meaning of life. They had a series of prophets until Muhammad put a full stop to it.

The pagans of this land had no problem in accepting Christianity because adding another man to worship in your pantheon full of gods isn't big deal. Hindus would have got Muhammad too into their fold. Depiction of Muhammad wasn't a big deal either. Persians and Indians drew the Prophet with all due respect when it did not invite instant death. But that was then. Islam spread like an all-engulfing ideology and it ruled lands so far and wide that its decree mattered.

Hindus, unless strictly prohibited, fund nothing wrong in pluralism when it came to worshipping all gods and avatars. Mahavir and Buddha were widely accepted as avatars. Guru Nanak founded a unique amalgamation of faiths and Hindus and Sikhs were visiting each other's places of worship. They continue doing so. Since it was allowed, Hindus worshipped Muslim saints as their own and continue doing so. There was no one Hinduism until Hindus were identified as Hindus, by the others. You know where the word Hindu came from and all that jazz. Besides they were no longer rulers of the land and the newly-arrived religious people were, they didn't want to be left out. They brought out their books. They brought out their philosophies and looked for syncretism within. They accepted the moniker Hindu and began identifying with it. What the people of the book called pagans progressed into a religion, sort of. No longer a way of life. They didn't have a word for religion because dharma means principles, not a sect or faith.

Religion, as it happens, tends to consolidate and all it needs is enough centrifugal force. The centuries when Islam and Christianity spread did not belong to Hindu rulers, per se. The siege mentality wasn't as pervasive so they were fighting among sects, caste or language. Like Islam had/has different versions and a central version, Hinduism began acquiring strengths/weaknesses of Islam. If there could ever be Wahhabism outside Muslims, we see that in action today. There is a great deal of pressure to bring homogeneity. A tradition as diverse as Hinduism is being homogenised in a slow, painful process. The all-new assertive Hindutva has replaced the good old inclusive Hinduism. There is no central authority yet but there is a sustained effort to create one. A centre around which everything moves. The BJP's historic victory is generating the centrifugal force to make the Sangh Parivar the centre of political Hinduism. Political Islam has wreaked havoc in places it held sway. Political Hinduism will be equally destructive, if not worse.

The conversion debate will not end until conversions continue. There is need to snip the right to religion and restrict it to that. Propagating one's religion cannot be a fundamental right. Isn't developing a scientific temperament among our fundamental duties? A nation that insists on rights and ignores its duties is a nation headed for a mess. Every citizen should have the absolute right to follow his/her religion as belief must remain a basic right in any democracy. Propagating your belief, which is ridiculously unscientific and fantastically stupid, is a dangerous luxury if we need to move towards being a rational society.

 

Writer

Kamlesh Singh Kamlesh Singh @kamleshksingh

Journalism student. Ed honcho at the India Today Group Mediaplex. God's Loyal Opposition. Useful Warning: Tweets may hurt religious sentiments.

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