The callous but administratively justified response of Uttarakhand Police to the news that a group of Muslims had sneaked into the holy Hindu shrine of Badrinath to perform salah (namaz) has exposed the incompetence of secular government entities that can judge people’s actions only on the basis of godless concerns like safeguards against the Covid-19 pandemic and no noise pollution. They are similar parameters that a court of law in the secular nation-state of India considers whenever Hindus complain of forcible entry into their places of worship, imposition of modern mores on scripture-based traditions, fiddling with rituals etc, as seen famously in the Sabarimala verdict. Notably, the judiciary does not dare alter the practices of Muslims or Christians and a Supreme Court judge of Zoroastrian faith goes to the extent of losing his temper in the course of a hearing when asked why the Parsis must not reform their religion.
The namaz in the abode of Vishnu provokes the question of why state after state ruled by the BJP, believed to be more than mere representatives of Hindus, witness such outrageous incidents. Not so long ago, the Akshayavata in Kashi was sacrificed at the altar of town planning by the local corporation. But that, as well as the incidents of love jihad that unfolded in Uttarakhand during the rule of Trivendra Singh Rawat, proves that civic administrators are an insular law unto themselves. It will be too much to suggest that a sannyasi like Yogi Adityanath would have wanted the destruction of scores of mediaeval and ancient temples of Varanasi while the passage to the Vishwanath Temple was being broadened and beautified. The section of the BJP that does deserve brickbats comprises leaders like former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who sanctioned the breaking of customs at Shani Shingnapur and Union Minister Piyush Goyal who could not face Rajiv Malhotra’s probing questions on Hinduism on one occasion and, on another, sought pride in reading the Kalimat aṭ-Ṭayyibah (which says, “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet”). Hindus cannot condone the recent confusing messages emanating from the RSS either. While it is entitled to turn inclusive, tolerant, pluralistic and multicultural, the leadership of the organisation must be asked if they have also approved of the efforts of some intellectual swayamsevaks to excise parts of the Ramayana and Manusmriti. But it is finally the secular state that is making these souls go adrift.
In this day and age when the mainstream media in the country, as well as the international media, finds Hindus alone responsible for riots, lynching and other forms of violence showcasing ‘intolerance’; when neither the conversion drive of missionaries nor the rampant incidents of violence perpetrated by Muslims are reported, the performance of namaz in Badrinath is the final invasion into the indigenous civilisation. As of now, no organisation of the local religion is capable enough to put up a sound resistance. Constant sensitisation of the masses, a culture of discussions on topics of history and interfaith politics in every family, and the springing up of thousands of community protection groups across the country seem the only solutions. This is how indeed several neighbourhoods are fighting for survival. In the long term, efforts to preserve our traditional way of living will need help not just from a uniform civil code. India must decide whether it wants secular interventions in all religions or a reading down of Articles 25-28 of the Constitution of India that grant citizens of the country the freedom of religion, which will end the denial of that freedom to Hindus. Importantly, the state (the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive including municipalities and the police) must withdraw from all Hindu places of worship, turning them into private properties that prohibit trespassing where those eligible for entry will be decided by the scriptures and gurus of the sect for which a given shrine is at the centre of their belief system. Ultimately, the constitution must get rid of the Emergency-era imposition of secularism and find a viable substitute. Saying that India would walk on the path of dharma behoves spirituality; the preamble needs legalese.