Viewpoint: Tolerance of Hindus has been tested... and it continues
For most Hindus, religious tolerance is not just a civic virtue but also a religious value, and respecting other religions is an integral part of being Hindu. We justly demand the same respect to be given to our faith and beliefs, writes Prem Shukla.
Recently documentary filmmaker Leena Manimekalai shared a very controversial poster of her film, depicting a woman dressed as Goddess Kaali, smoking a cigarette and carrying the LGBTQ flag. Several people considered the poster an insult to Goddess Kali and called for legal action against the filmmaker. Several political and religious leaders have also expressed their objection and called for strict action against the filmmaker. TMC MP Mahua Moitra added fuel to the poster controversy, saying she had every right as an individual to imagine Goddess Kali as a meat-eating and alcohol-accepting Goddess. Most FIRs filed were under Section 295A of IPC (hurting religious sentiments).
This section of the IPC punishes ‘deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’ with imprisonment of up to 3 years or a fine or both. Essentially, acting as India’s blasphemy law. However, India is not listed among countries with blasphemy laws, mainly because section 295A does not explicitly mention or define blasphemy.
A 2019 Pew Research Centre analysis found 79 countries with laws or policies banning blasphemy. In several of these countries, mainly Muslim monarchies in the Middle East, the offences against religion carry harsh punishments. Let us see the history of blasphemy in some of the majorly populated religions and see if it is in some way responsible for the recent laws of blasphemy in various countries.
Blasphemy in Islam is an impious utterance or action concerning God. It is limited to not only mockery or vilification of attributes of Islam but also denying any fundamental beliefs of the religion. This includes denying that the Quran was divinely revealed, the prophethood of one of the Islamic prophets, insulting an angel, or maintaining God had a son. Scholars have interpreted Hadith (another source of Sharia) as prescribing punishments for committing blasphemy, which includes death.
In the modern Muslim world, the laws concerning blasphemy vary by country. Some countries prescribe punishments consisting of fines, imprisonment, flogging, hanging and even beheading. Contemporary accusations of blasphemy against Islam have ignited various international controversies and given rise to mob violence and assassinations.
Blasphemy in Christianity: Christian theology condemns blasphemy. It is spoken of in Mark 3:29, where blaspheming the Holy Spirit is spoken of as unforgivable -- an eternal sin. “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is conscious and hardened opposition to the truth because the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6). Further, it is stated as conscious and hardened resistance to the truth leads man away from humility and repentance and without repentance, there can be no forgiveness. Major creeds and Church theologians have condemned it as a serious sin.
The most common punishment for someone committing blasphemy was capital punishment through hanging or stoning, as is justified in the words of Leviticus 24:13-16. Punishment for blasphemy has been given as recently as 1919 in the state of Victoria (Australia), 1964 against Hannu Salama in Finland, 2003 in Greece to Gerhard Haderer and so on.
Blasphemy in Judaism: As stated above in Leviticus 24:16, the punishment for blasphemy is death. In Jewish law, the only form of blasphemy punishable by death is blaspheming the name of the Lord. The Seven Laws of Noah, which Judaism sees as applicable to all people, prohibit blasphemy. In the Dead Sea Scrolls texts, called the Damascus Document, violence against non-Jews (also called Gentiles) is prohibited, except in cases where it is sanctioned by a Jewish governing authority ‘so that they will not blaspheme’. In Israel, blasphemy laws were enacted by the pre-State British Mandate to suppress the 1929 Palestine riots.
Indian-origin religions, also called Dharma religions, Hinduism and other religions stemming from the Indian subcontinent, such as Buddhism and Jainism, traditionally have no concept of blasphemy. Nastika, meaning atheist or atheism, is valid and accepted stream of Indian origin religions where Buddhism, Jainism, Samkhya, Carvaka and Ajivika in Hinduism are considered atheist schools of philosophy in the Indian religions.
The Nasadiya Sukta in the Rig Veda is regarded as the Hindu creation hymn. However, unlike the creation hymns of the Semitic religions, it does not assert that the universe was created by an omnipotent, omnipresent God and how it was done. Instead, it merely wonders: “Who really knows? Who will proclaim it here? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of the universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen -- perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not -- the One who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows or perhaps even He does not know”. Let's take certain instances from Hindu religious texts that would definitely seem blasphemous in the book of Abrahamic religions.
In the conversation between sage Vyasa and Lord Ganesh, when the former asks Lord Ganesha to be his scribe and write down the Mahabharata. Sage Vyasa requests the lord to write down the verses as he composes them, as there is no one else who can do it at his speed. To this, Ganesha replies that he would gladly do so. However, once he starts writing, the sage cannot stop thinking that his composition must flow without a gap. The Sage accepts Lord Ganesha’s terms, further saying that the Lord must not write a single verse without understanding it.
The Sonda (Swaadi) Matha is in the middle of a forest near Sirsi taluk. If you were to stay overnight at the temple and get to sleep right in front of the sanctum sanctorum, at around 3:30 am, you might suddenly wake to hear the sound of the temple bells. You will see no one near the bells but shall see the bells swinging. If you try to leave the temple premises, you will find the large door heavily bolted. The temple authorities will give you a bizarre explanation. They will say that you cannot step out because, in the temple pond, Lord Vishnu is performing puja to Vadiraja Theertha, a 16th-century Madhwa saint.
In an instance in Ramayana, Jabali showing disbelief in the concept of the afterlife, criticises the Shraddh ritual that Lord Ram was to perform as a family obligation, stating: ‘People here busy themselves with the rite for the ancestors. But just look at the wastage of food -- what really is a dead man going to eat? If something one person eats here could fill the belly of someone else, one could simply offer the sacrificial offering for a traveller, and he would need no provisions for the road.’
One can notice such instances as questioning the understanding of the Lord as seen in the first example or the Lord Vishnu worshipping a Man (or Mortal) and thirdly a Man criticising the acts of Lord Ram, will all be considered blasphemous in the Abrahamic religions. In fact, there is no word for blasphemy in Hinduism and is also absent in Sanskrit, considered to be the mother of all languages. The religion’s concept of ‘utmost freedom of thought and action’ attracts many followers.
Hinduism does not prohibit anyone from questioning its fundamental beliefs, and it has never banished anyone if they wrote a different scripture or failed to observe a particular ritual. As Mahatma Gandhi wrote, ‘even atheists can call themselves as Hindus’. One should also note that all instances in the above examples or any other such examples in Hindu texts are to enrich the readers/followers morally. They give us the freedom of expression. However, such freedom should never become a tool to offend the religious sentiments of such a large sect of people.
The tolerance of Hindus has been continuously tested by destroying various shrines and temples over the past centuries. This trend continues even in democratic constitutional India. Now they are not destroying temples by bulldozing them but by abusing their beliefs and insulting their faith. In the name of film, art and literature, there is a strategic attack on Hindu culture by depicting and insulting Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Saraswati and now Kali.
If Charlie Hebdo prints cartoons of the Prophet, it is a global crime, but if MF Hussain paints a nude portrait of Goddess Saraswati, it is declared art. Congress government bans (the movie) 'Da Vinci Code' but applauds (Aamir Khan-starrer) ‘PK’.
There was a time when Lord Ram was insulted in Ayodhya by organising Ramayan Mela through Communist organisations like ‘Sahmat’ during the Congress regime. Now, these anti-India and anti-Indian people are restricted in spewing venom against Kali in Canada. Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes in and propagates ‘Sab Ka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ mantra, which is derived from ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’. He knows that the strength of India lies in its rich heritage, culture, dharma and spirituality. The development of the Kedarnath to Kashi corridor is proof of the same. Hence current day India has stopped taking such insults and derogations lightly.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has glorified Kali in such a manner which does proper justice to the image of Kali in the mind of humanity. PM Modi, while addressing the birth centenary celebration of Swami Atmasthananda (a disciple of Ramakrishna mission) recently, said that Ramakrishna Paramhansa was one saint who had a clear vision of Goddess Kali and his disciple Swami Vivekananda had also felt the spiritual vision about the Goddess, which infused into him extraordinary energy and strength. PM Modi went on to say, “when faith is sacred, then Shakti shows us the way herself. Maa Kali’s unlimited blessings are always with India. With spiritual energy, India is moving ahead with the spirit of world’s welfare.”
For most Hindus, religious tolerance is not just a civic virtue but also a religious value, and respecting other religions is an integral part of being Hindu. We justly demand the same respect to be given to our faith and beliefs. Leena Manimekalai, who tried to depict Goddess Kali in a derogatory fashion, is the same person who, back in 2013, swore that she would surrender her passport, ration card, pan card and her citizenship if ever Modi became this country’s prime minister in her lifetime. Now not only has Modi become the Prime Minister of India, but he is also boosting the country to reach its apex. All anti-Modi groups became anti-India, and they are unable to damage the glorified image of India. Hence are trying to spit on it, but it is a common observance that when you spit up, it falls on your face.
The author is the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Views expressed are solely of the author