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The Talibanisation of Hinduism

How do you define an utter and complete jerk?

It’s a hard one for me to answer because I am the sort of man who tries to see both sides of every argument and not to be too judgemental about other people.


But now, I think I have one definition ready. A jerk is a man or woman who thinks that he or she has the right to pass moral judgements about other people’s food habits.


   Most of these judgments are based on ignorance and foolishness. But even if they were not, they would still be wrong. Food is a private matter. Nobody has the right to tell anyone else what to eat or what not to eat.


   Oh yes, I am prepared to make exceptions for well-intentioned people who worry about the effect of the greenhouse gasses released by say, the farming of livestock. Because these people are not making moral judgements; they are offering a scientific perspective on farming and climate change.


   My problem is with people who jump on to moral high horses and pass religious or pseudo- religious judgements on food habits.


   If you are on social media, then you have probably worked out what I am talking about. Over the last few days – in the run up to Dussehra, in fact — we have had the Puja (or Pujo) festivities. These are centred around Bengal where Puja is the biggest festival of the year.


   Puja is, of course, religious in origin but over the years it has become more cultural and social than purely religious. It is a celebration of what it means to be a Bengali, or a resident of Bengal. Or even (like me) a sort of honorary Bengali. Personally I believe in the religious element. But I recognise that mostly it is about friendship, community and joy.


   North Indians don’t always realise any of this. Nor do they recognise that most Bengalis are non-vegetarian. Bengal is one of the few states where even Brahmins eat meat and fish.  The consumption of non-vegetarian food is not a big deal in Bengal; as far as Bongs are concerned, it is just food. And they love it.


   One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Kolkata in the 1980s, was that Bengalis, who were then not one of India's wealthiest communities, spend a higher proportion of their income on food than most other Indian ethnic groups. Unlike many other communities they don’t do this to show off: a Bengali will eat with the same relish whether his or her family is eating alone at home or whether guests have been invited.


   Because eating is so important to Bengalis, a large part of the Puja celebrations will consist of food. At puja pandals, the bhog, the full meal cooked for the festival is served free to anyone who comes and it is nearly always delicious.  You will also get all kinds of snacks from rolls to momos. Some of the food will be vegetarian. Some of it will be non-vegetarian. Bengalis make no real distinction. All that matters is that it is tasty and made with love.


   The problem is not when puja festivities are organised in Bengal. It is when they are held outside the state. North Indians and self-appointed guardians of Hindu tradition begin to get agitated. Social media is full of snide comments about how Bengalis have insulted the goddess by serving meat. And then it degenerates into a slanging match between Bengalis and Hindutvawallas. (There is a word for these people that begins with ‘b’ and ends with ‘t’ but The Print’s style book will not allow me to use it so let’s just say ‘jokers who exploit Hinduism for political ends.’)


   I respect the fact that many Hindus remain vegetarian on holy days. I follow that practice too. If we have a prayer ceremony at home, then I don’t eat meat that day. But that’s an individual choice. I would never dream of imposing it on anyone.


"What better response could there have been to this brand of nasty, ignorant, political Hinduism than the delicious mutton curry enjoyed by Bengalis at their Puja Pandals as they celebrated in a way that mixed love, joy and devotion."


   Nor would I be foolish enough to be judgemental about some other community’s way of celebrating its festivals. If Bengalis want to eat Mutton Rolls at their pandals, good for them. They are not harming anyone else. So why is it the business of anybody else?


   And besides who are these self-appointed guardians of Hinduism who have no idea of the diversity of Hindu religious practices? Why should they, in their foolishness and ignorance, feel qualified to pass judgements about ways of marking religious celebration that they know nothing about?


   The attack on Puja food is one more example of the level we have been reduced to by the attempted Talibanization of Hinduism. Years ago, in the 1980s, when the Ram movement was taking off, I asked Dr. Karan Singh, one of the world’s greatest scholars on Hinduism and the founder of his own Virat Hindu Samaj, what he made of it.


   He was disturbed by the movement, he said, because it was organised in a pseudo-militaristic way that struck him as being un-Hindu. He was concerned that though the movement was about the Ramayana, Sita had such a small role to play in it. As far as he could see, it was also very macho, an example he said of the Semitisation of Hinduism.


   I have often thought back to what he said because as time has gone on, the emphasis has shifted from a minor Semitisation to full-fledged Talibanization. The jerks who claim to represent Hinduism today are demeaning one of the world’s great religions by imposing their own rigid rules and restrictions: if you sell beef, you will go to jail. If you eat meat during a festival, you are not really a Hindu. Hinduism has to be all about vegetarianism.


   This is nonsense and has very little to do with Hinduism. Much of it is political. The same politicians who treat beef-eating as a cardinal sin are happy to encourage beef-eating in states where they need the votes of beef-eaters. (The North East, for instance.)


   The claim that Hinduism has always been about vegetarianism emerges out of illiteracy and ignorance. Throughout the ancient period, the so-called Golden Age of Hindu civilisation, meat was eaten. The majority of people in today’s India are not vegetarian as survey after survey reveals.


   So why then have we created this bogus new orthodoxy in which meat eating is bad? It’s a crazy set of rules that ignores that reality of Hindu India. Nor is vegetarianism necessarily a mark of virtue, the world over. Let’s not forget that Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian.


   The answer, sadly enough, appears to be that this Talibanised form of Hinduism is defined only in terms of its opposition to Muslims. If Muslims eat meat, then it must be bad. If they eat beef, then it offers an opportunity to persecute them.


   That, sadly enough, is what these jerks have reduced one of the world’s greatest religions to in the pursuit of their nasty little political agendas. Fortunately there are enough Hindus left who will tell them where to get off.


   And what better response could there have been to this brand of nasty, ignorant, political Hinduism than the delicious mutton curry enjoyed by Bengalis at their Puja Pandals as they celebrated in a way that mixed love, joy and devotion .


   Because that’s what Hinduism is about; joy not hatred.




  • BK 04 Nov 2023

    One must not make the mistake of judging another community from the prism of their own narrow understanding! If it offends one, please don't join, celebrate your way... Without being judgemental and self righteous!

  • Rao 31 Oct 2023

    Well, we're talking about a Puja/Pujo here not a general social gathering. Durga Puja's have a 'Sattvic" sanctimonious setting to realize the full benefits and blessings of the Mother Goddess, usually. Introducing 'Tamasic' food is just going to render the Pujo useless. Organized pandals are also a cultural thing & not fully Sanatana Dharma. Maybe we can spend our time better thru meditation on the holy mother, instead.

Posted On: 26 Oct 2023 11:00 AM
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