Image courtesy of leading 2 change consulting
On January 7th 2015, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, two brothers who belonged to Al Qaeda terrorist organisation, stormed the office of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly newspaper, in Paris. Armed with rifles and other weapons, they killed 12 staffs and injured 11 all because the magazine, known for adhering to free speech, had audaciously featured cartoon of Prophet Mohammad, whose depiction is strictly prohibited in Islam and anyone defying are deemed blasphemous by Muslim community.
This brutal attack was followed by a series of other attacks that took place between 7th and 9th January. France was under high alert of terror and had caught the world’s attention. While many had absolutely condemned this horrifying assault on freedom of speech, I believed the other way around. I was someone who justified the attack and reasoned that the staff of Charlie Hebdo should’ve never invited the wrath of Muslims by provoking them. In short, I blamed the survivors and the victims of this terror attack, akin to the way a society blames a rape victim for attracting rapist’s attention.
Today when I look back and contemplate, I squirm with shame and often regret my past mindset and actions.
There used to be days when I believed India was intolerant post 2014 Lok Sabha General Election, Hindu majority were becoming intolerant who couldn’t peacefully co-exist with minority communities esp. Muslims (although technically, they are the second largest majority). I objected and chuckled at the idea of India insisting on ‘Hindu identity’ when more than 50 countries exist as Islamic officially and no one seems to have any problem with that.
By now, you’ve recognized who I was – a classic example of a ‘secular’, ‘liberal’, social justice warrior that you come across on social media – one who has internalized, and flaunts anti-Hindu bigotry, one who is fine with Hinduism being mocked (even legitimately due to prevailing caste system), but cannot tolerate criticism of ill practices under Islam and Christianity because “that’s communalism and their sentiments needed to be respected”.
In short, I was a ‘useful idiot’ to a gang of opportunists who – given a choice – wouldn’t mind discarding me when I was no longer beneficial to their cause. I behaved like a bigot against my own community, and a soft bigot with low expectation with other communities (a term, coined by former US President George W. Bush in the year 2000, that means being excessively tolerant to the intolerance demonstrated by the group of people not considered oppressive to avoid being labelled as ‘Bigot’)
I’m a practicing Hindu, grew up in an environment where I was never taught to fear God and Goddesses. I’ve always been open to the idea of Hinduism being constructively criticized. My tolerance level is so strong that I even find some sketches of Hindu deities, illustrated with an intent to be made fun of on so many occasions, genuinely funny; the extremely nasty often riddled with sexual innuendos – I overlook.
There was one time though when I was truly offended: when the case of brutal gang-rape and murder of the little girl Asifa was ongoing in April 2018, an artist from Kerala had created a nefarious caricature of Lord Shiva and with a condom on his Trishul to put the whole Hindu community down and slot them as 'rapist'. I was furious; absolutely furious. However, unlike the Charlie Hebdo reaction, I never wished ill or death for that person, and even today despite having severe misgivings about the episode, I still cannot gather courage to even think of harming the person. I don’t think I need a pat on my back, a cookie or a prize for not having the urge to wipe out someone, for that’s how normal human beings with sane minds and senses ought to be. Unfortunately, it is becoming a rarity these days.
At the end of the day, with all its goodness and flaws, I personally maintain that Hinduism is a mature, flexible religion that allows space for different perspectives – even for the most negative and nerve-wrecking – no matter how offensive some of us might find them. I am of the opinion that Hindu Gods & Goddesses aren't as megalomaniac figures as we think who would get offended by what their own creation says. Having said that, I certainly understand there are anti-Indic forces who take undue advantage of this and continue to mock Hindu deities and cultures in the guise of 'freedom of expression', and there would soon come a time when we must protect the civilization against these forces vying for our destruction.
Other than that, I have realized that either I should be okay with all religions (including mine) being mocked, or not be okay with any religion being mocked. As I walk away from my earlier self, I have come to choose the former. After all, having true faith doesn't make me fragile. And finally, would I subscribe to the Indian version of secularism as practised by those that call themselves ‘secular’? Given how the phrase has misguided me for years and has kept me away from understanding the ground realities; I won’t.