There is practically no difference between a Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or Hindu,
fundamentalist. They are all primarily, ‘intolerant’. Standing next to the mortal remains of
Lata Mangeshkar Muslims have prayed to Allah, Hindus to God (Bhagwan), and Christians to
their almighty Father. Seeing Bollywood icon Shahrukh Khan lifting his hands to prayer and
blowing on to her body, some Hindu fundamentalists thought that he spat on to her face.
Social media went overboard in creating mayhem over the issue. I have noticed that in
India, even though many Muslims are aware of Hindu rituals and practices, most Hindus are
ignorant about the same among Muslims. Similarly in Bangladesh Hindus understand
Muslim rituals more than what Muslims know of Hindus.
To a large extent, intolerance stems from ignorance. I do not know who gained what by
defaming Shahrukh Khan, but what is evident, from the way people from all cultures stood
behind Shahrukh, is that all that is needed to put up a strong resistance to fundamentalist
Hindu forces are a few rational, secular Hindus.
An unnecessary controversy over the burqa has erupted in another part of the country,
Karnataka. A diktat has been issued instructing female students to not wear burkhas to
college. A group of students, donning saffron scarves have taken to the streets protesting
against the burqa. The Chief Minister preempts a communal riot and orders to close
schools and colleges for a few days. But schools and colleges cannot be perpetually closed.
The have to be re-opened some day or the other. Can riots not happen then? They surely
can. Frankly speaking if the mind and attitudes do not change riots will always be waiting to
happen. The hatred and fear for each other needs to be washed clean. The distance
between the Hindus and Muslims has not been bridged even after 75 years of the partition.
Pakistan has separated from India and has turned into a religious state. But India never
wanted to become a Pakistan. If it wanted, India could very well turn into Hindu state 75
years ago. The Indian constitution upholds secularism not religion. This country, with a
majority Hindu population is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world.
The laws of this country give equal rights to people from all religions, castes, languages,
creeds and cultures.
It is perfectly alright for an educational institution in a secular country to mandate secular
dress codes for its students. There is nothing wrong in such a message from the
school/college authority that states that religion is to be practiced within the confines of the
home. They need not be carried to the school or the college. Educational institutions, meant
for fostering knowledge are not influenced by religion or gender. It is education that can lift
people from the abyss of bigotry, baseness, conservativeness and superstitions into a
lighted world where the principles of individual freedom, free-thinking, humanism and
rationality based on science is valued highly. In that lighted world women do not feel pride
in their shackles of subjugation rather can break free of them, they do not perceive covering
themselves in a burqa as a matter of right but as a symbol of female persecution and cast
them away. Burkqas, niqab, hijabs have a singular aim of commodifying women as sex-

objects. The fact that women need to hide behind barred walls to prevent men who sexually
salivate on the sight of women – is not an honorable thought for both women as well as
Twelve years ago a local newspaper had published an article of mine on the burqa. Some
fundamental Muslims massacred the office and burnt it down. They also burnt down shops
and businesses around it. Hindus also came down on the streets to build up a defense. Two
people died when police opened fire. A simple burqa can still cause fires to burn in this
state. Riots can still break out over the burqa.
A burqa and hijab can never be a woman’s choice. They have to be worn only when choices
are taken away. Just like political Islam, the burqa/hijab is also political today. Members of
the family force the woman to wear the burqa /hijab. It is a result of sustained
brainwashing from a tender age. Religious apparel like the burqa/hijab can never be a
person’s identity. Identities are created by capabilities and accomplishments. Iran made the
hijab compulsory for women. Women stood on the streets and threw away their hijabs in
protest. The women of Karnataka who still consider hijab as their identity need to strive
harder to find a more meaningful and respectable identity for themselves. I earnestly wish
and hope that they not be burdened with a religious apparel of a hijab or a burqa as their
When the right to education is violated on the pretext of a hijab, when someone forces a
woman out of a hijab as a precondition to education, I stand in favor of education even in a
hijab. At the same time when a woman is forced under a hijab I stand in favor of throwing
the hijab away. Personally I am against the hijab or the burqa. I believe, it is patriarchal
conspiracy that stands strong behind forcing women into wearing this. These pieces of
clothing are symbols of subjugation and insult to women. I hope women do soon realize
that a burqa is nothing different form the chastity belt of the dark ages that was used to
lock in the sexual organs of the female. If chastity belts are insulting why not the burqa?
Some say that the furor over the burqa in Karnataka is not spontaneous and that it is lent
support by political forces. This sounds very familiar to saying that riots do not happen, they
are rather made to happen. I have often heard that riots are manufactured before major
elections and they are almost always between Hindus and Muslims. Apparently they do
count for a few votes. However, small the number might be, they are important. I was also
thrown out of West Bengal for a few votes.
On a different note, it is heartening that riots do not happen. It would be frightening if they
did happen spontaneously. Then we would have surmised that Hindus and Muslims are
born enemies and can never live with each other in human habitation.
I believe that even the riots during the partition did not happen, they were made to happen.
Some Hindu fundamentalists are crying hoarse that India will be turned into a Hindu state,
all non-Hindus will be either killed or converted to Hindus or be forced to leave the country.
All masjids will be turned to temples.

I really do not know if such people are big in numbers. I know India as a secular state and
love it that way. I have confidence in the country. Is India changing? Will it change? I am
aware of the liberality of Hinduism as a religion. One is free to follow it or not to follow it. As
in Islam, Hinduism does not force one to following its practices. Hinduism doesn’t prescribe
to torture, kill, maim or hang people for not conforming. Superstitions are still there, even
though a lot has waned with time. But, India will be a country only for Hindus, any one
criticizing Hindus or Hindutva will be killed – are statements that are new to me. I have
criticized all religions and religious fundamentalism in order to uphold women’s rights and
equality for more than two decades now. My writings on Hinduism and religious
superstitions suppressing women’s rights have been published in Indian
newspapers/magazines and have also been appreciated. But today, as soon as I pose a
question like, “Why do men not observe Karva Chaut for the welfare of women?” millions of
Hindus hurl personal attacks and abuse on me demanding my expulsion from the country.
This is a new India. An India that I cannot imagine. I find their behaviour similar to Muslim
fundamentalists. Utterly intolerant.
I imagine India as a Hindu state. Will all fundamental and open-minded Hindus be able to
live peacefully in such a country? Will there be no discontent among the higher and lower
castes, no discrimination between men and women? A state only for Hindus! May be true!
Just the way Jews have carved a state for themselves, Hindus will also probably carve out
one for themselves.
I will have to leave a Hindu state too as I cannot become a Hindu. I am an atheist. Humanism
is my religion. I choose to stay with that. Gauri Lankesh was a humanist. She was not fit for a
Hindu state, neither am I.


  1. Bruce says

    Thanks for this essay. I never knew a lot of this.
    In the USA, our Constitution establishes us as a secular country. Yet, I fear that millions of Americans do not understand this, and do not understand that democracy does not mean the majority gets to impose their preferences on everyone else.
    To me, it seems obvious that India is a country with a big military, and that there is some chance that if it wanted to, it might be able to take over Bangladesh, and Pakistan. And then maybe also Afghanistan and Iran and Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Egypt. If it absorbed all countries to its west, then the new super-India might be a majority Muslim country.
    The traditions that made India secular and keep India secular today are the same traditions that could keep such a hypothetical super-India secular also. One would think that even the most devout Hindus would prefer to live in a secular India, rather than in a majority-rule super-India in which the majority of the people might vote to make it an Islamic state.
    But I fear that in India, just as in the USA, it is too hard for some to imagine a new circumstance in which the religious majority has changed, and where a secular tradition is all that remains to protect the rights of the former majority.
    By speaking for free secularism, we are speaking also for the protection of the rights and liberties of the current majority, as well as of any other possible future majority or minority. Speaking for the rights of ALL people is trying to help and free all people, not limit them.
    Likewise, if Karva Chaut is in some way a celebration of love, it seems that true love should be universally shared between all people, so there need be no gender restrictions or traditions that tell only one limited group to make a sacrifice and not everyone. Any festival that is worth having, I would think, is worth having for everyone equally. Imagining equality for all should not be difficult to think of, even for religious groups or genders. Equality is fair, and it seems that every group understands this when they are NOT in control. But somehow, it is harder to remember this when one has some control.

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