Off-centre | Dharma Sansad in Haridwar was a blunder, Hindu Dharma is not hate speech
It is time to state unequivocally that Hinduism and hate speech do not mix. When it comes to Hindutva too, whatever the political compulsions or advantages, there is a line which we must not cross
Some days ago, I wrote an article defending Syed Waseem Rizvi’s right to convert to Hinduism (https://openthemagazine.com/columns/a-conversion-to-remember/). On 6 December, Rizvi’s return to his ancestral fold, or ghar wapsi, was conducted by Yati Narsinghanand, the Mahant of the Dasna Devi Mandir, Ghaziabad. Rizvi took on the name Jitendra Narayan Singh Tyagi.
I had called the event “a conversion to remember” because, quite apart from Hindu-Muslim relations, it spoke to several of the anxieties of our times. Are we a secular country, as notified in our Constitution? If so, how is this secularism inflected, if not overtaken, by the current wave of Hindu majoritarianism sweeping across the land? What, moreover, is the fate of those re-converting to Hinduism? Which caste or community would they belong to?
Rizvi’s, or Tyagi’s, case addresses if not answers some of these burning questions. To pick up on the last of these, a person returning to the congregation of their forbears can also return to their original clan, jati, or caste. Or, if they wish, they can take on any other, as suits their profession or temperament. Or opt to be “casteless,” as many today are for all practical purposes.
More seriously, it is obvious that those entering or returning to the Hindu fold must be protected. If they are murdered or lynched for apostasy by their erstwhile co-religionists, the right to freedom of religion, guaranteed in our Constitution, would be grossly violated.
There are already death threats aplenty and rewards running into lakhs for Tyagi’s execution. Someone in the know of the whole matter confided in me, “His life is not just threatened, but practically over. They will definitely get him sooner or later.” I was rather sad to hear that. While converting, Tyagi had averred on national news channels, “I was removed from Islam. The prize money on my head is increased every Friday. Today, I am embracing Sanatan Dharma.”
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Tyagi angered Muslims with a controversial, some say highly inflammatory, book on Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. FIRs were lodged against him in addition to calls for his beheading. His wife and children, not to mention other members of his family, have already repudiated him, cutting off their ties. In response, he said, “Why wouldn’t I embrace Sanatan Dharma which will accord me a decent cremation with full honour and all the proper rites?”
I had argued that if we are a truly free society, Tyagi must have the right to express his views but, at the same time, he should refrain from being deliberately incendiary and insulting to other communities. That would only hurt the Hindu cause, which he seems to espouse, in addition to being dangerous and disruptive to Indian society as a whole. In Uttar Pradesh, particularly, which goes to the polls to elect its new assembly in February, such irresponsible behaviour would be highly inimical to social harmony and good relations between Hindus and Muslims.
Unfortunately, Tyagi and his mentor, Yati Narasimhanand Giri, have done precisely what I was afraid of and had cautioned against. From 17-20 December, the Juna Akhada, which is a respectable Hindu order of monks, organised a Dharma Sansad or religious conclave at Ved Niketan Dham, Haridwar, where several deplorably hateful and violent speeches targeting Muslims and Christians were delivered. Some of these are available on social media and have already been widely circulated.
R Jagannathan, editorial director of Swarajya, called it “Hindutva’s ‘Godse’ moment.” We need not go so far because, after all, it cannot be said that the Dharma Sansad in Haridwar represents either Hinduism or Hindutva. But Jagannathan is surely right in that such conclaves and hate speeches only give a handle to those who wish to defame Hinduism and delegitimise Hindutva.
Quite predictably, Opposition parties had a field day capitalising on what some have called this “Hindu self-goal”. Saket Gokhale of the Trinamool Congress filed a complaint on the basis of which an FIR against Tyagi for “derogatory and inflammatory statements against Islam” was filed. The Uttarakhand police tweeted, “Taking cognizance of the video that is going viral on social media for spreading hatred by giving provocative speeches against a particular religion, a case has been registered against Wasim Rizvi alias Jitendra Narayan Tyagi and others under Section 153A IPC in Kotwali Haridwar and legal proceedings are in progress.”
Author and senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor fumed, “This is bloodcurdling stuff. Is it too much to expect. @CMuttarakhand to take action under the existing hate-speech laws?” Karti Chidambaram, MP and son of Congress leader P. Chidambaram, said “Narsinghanand Organises 3-Day Hate Speech Conclave in Haridwar… are the Faux Hindutva Nazis planning a holocaust? Will the Union of India & its institutions be a blind/mute spectator?”
The difficulty is that such forms of hyper-Hinduism are not only against the spirit and practice of Sanatana Dharma, but they are as easy to condemn as they are hard to purge. There is a feeling that when it comes to religion, no political party or group in the subcontinent is entirely honest. They wish to use or misuse religion as it suits their purposes rather than taking a principled stand against what is permissible and where we should, as a nation or society, draw the line.
If polarisation is paying in elections, no political party or outfit will refrain from resorting to it. It is one thing really to oppose something that is reprehensible but another to condemn it publicly but encourage it covertly. So the soul-searching has to be genuine and far-reaching. What kind of an India do we want to bequeath to our children and what kind of Hinduism or Hindutva do we actually espouse or endorse?
It is time to state unequivocally that Hinduism and hate speech do not mix. When it comes to Hindutva too, whatever the political compulsions or advantages, there is a line which we must not cross. The reasons for such restraint are not just strategic and pragmatic, but spiritual and dharmic. Lest Sanatana Dharma itself loses its character in the country that discovered and practised it from ages immemorial.
From such a perspective, the so-called “Dharma Sansad” ended up being quite adharmik.
The author is a professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views are personal.
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