Religion and bigotry

Aug 18, 2015-

In the revered vicinity of Pashupatinath, I saw a priest encouraging people to join the a protest at Tundikhel. Picking up a bullhorn, he shouted, “Hindu rashtra jindabad, bideshi sanskriti chaidaina” (Long live Hindu nation, we don’t want Western culture). The irony struck me as I noticed a man in the crowd wearing a T-shirt with “Buddha was born in Nepal” printed on it. The recent demos for a Hindu nation cannot be missed. Talking to a few people of all generations, I got a mixed response, but most leaned towards a Hindu state.

While I have heard arguments that cows will be chopped anywhere, I find myself asking, “What about equality?” The moment we deviate from secularism, we undermine someone else’s religion. And above all, that is what is wrong with a Hindu state. That is discrimination on a national level. The constitution is the pinnacle of hope for many, especially the marginalised, like women seeking national identification of their children whose fathers have abandoned them and Madhesi citizens seeking national recognition. And we Hindus, the largest population segment in the country, are bullying our way towards a Hindu state.

To put it bluntly, Hinduism has discrimination embedded in it. Take the instance of the signboard outside Pashupatinath: “Only Hindus allowed”. Give me an instance where you have been denied permission to enter a house of God in Nepal. I, being a Hindu, am allowed into all abodes of God. My friend, a Buddhist, has one less shrine to visit. Now tell me if that isn’t discrimination. Religion’s place is in the private realm—our homes, temples, churches, synagogues and mosques. To incorporate this into our national identity is a step against equality. No religion should be excluded and nor any favoured. Given the diversity of religious beliefs in Nepal, the government should remain neutral in religious matters. And since the country has already adopted secularism, why go back?

Secularism involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.

The demand for a Hindu state violates the first principle of secularism. Secularism is a basic right. It ensures equality ofens, at least in the religious paradigm. It insinuates the belief of belonging in a country. It unites the citizens of our country. Should the government align with a particular religion, the rest are bound to feel like outsiders.

Being a majority does not give us the right to undermine others. And undermining somebody is exclusion. Seclusion is the feeling of being unwanted, and I do not wish the citizens of my state to feel unwanted. It is theirs as much as it is ours. Hence, secularism.

PANKAJ THAPA

Published: 19-08-2015 07:51

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