The ostensible success of the Ram Mandir Movement is proof that the Nehruvian brand of secularism hitherto propagated in India found a very limited support base, confined mainly to sections of the English-educated elite. Its appeal remained limited for good reasons. The liberal, secular intelligentsia, rooted in the Western liberal tradition, is often unable to comprehend, leave alone appreciate, the sentiments and cherished beliefs of India's diverse people. Their attitude is similar to that of the colonial rulers who contemptuously dismissed the social, religious and cultural beliefs of the Indian people as superstitious mumbo-jumbo.
Today, a large body of Hindu opinion seems tired of this thoughtless and disrespectful critique of India's indigenous traditions and culture which has led to brutal neglect of indigenous learning and knowledge systems. The deadening system of education designed by the colonial rulers was meant to destroy Indian self-respect. Yet the same self-contempt is perpetuated in the modern education system that has produced generations of people alienated from and ignorant of India's traditions of culture and learning. I have vivid memories of the outrage I experienced as an 18-year-old when I was a student of English Honours at Miranda House. I was rudely ridiculed by some of my fellow students who saw in my hostel room a copy of the Tulsi Ramayan. For these students it was a symbol of backward-looking religiosity fit only for semi-literate grandmothers.
The people who are joining the Ram Mandir movement in large numbers are doing so in the mistaken belief that they are thereby reviving the glory of India's cultural heritage. But actually, the Ram Mandir movement is grounded not in the love of Ram or Ramayan but in the hatred of Muslims.
There are strong voices within the Hindu tradition which forbid violence even to animals and plants, leave alone human beings. God is seen as all-pervasive rather than a formidable creature dwelling in some distant heaven. The word dharm in Hindu civilization has always been used in an expansive sense - denoting "the law of one's being" - rather than in the narrow sense of a particular religion. Unlike the God of Semitic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - the Gods of the Hindus are not jealous Gods. We Hindus have an easy relationship with our Gods. We laugh and joke about them as one would with one's friends. We play games with them and even take the liberty of getting annoyed with them. They rarely order their worshippers to attack other Gods and religions. Our Gods are not known for wreaking vengeance on their devotees if they go and pray to other Gods, or in mosques, gurudwaras or churches.
An important task for those who wish to restore lustre to the Hindu faith would involve restoring the tradition of temples as places of learning, of religious studies, of theology, as centres of arts and culture and ensuring they remain in the hands of worshippers, not politicians. And we need to redeem Ram as a religious figure, religious in the sense of representing a revered moral, ethical code and as an embodiment of rare spiritual ideals which have inspired generations and generations of people to upright lives in this land.
Article copyright Himalayan Academy.