From right to left and backViolent confrontations, rhetorical blusters and hard-to-believe accusations have been the traditional hallmarks of right-wing groups, but more troubling is their selective rendering of history
With the cross and prayer halls becoming ubiquitous in my locality, some have started noting with sarcasm that the number of churches in the area might soon exceed the number of temples in the city of gods. Although this remark might be taken for jest, it does point at a lurking sense of discomfort and fear prevalent in some quarters about the perceived threat the ‘outside religion’ poses to Hinduism. Christianity, they think, is using every diabolic means possible to eliminate Sanatan Dharma from this land, and if steps aren’t taken to curtail this threat, things will go out of hand. The recent turn of events around the world have only given their fears a major boost.
Despite being a globalised world, there are few things that fan around the world with an equal measure of shock and intensity. The fall of the Twin Towers on September 11 was one. The recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika is another. But now we can be sure that there is one another candidate vying for the spot: conservatism.
From being largely consigned to ashes through reforms in the second half of the 20th century, conservative ideology and right-wing political groups have seen an unprecedented rise in the West in the past few years. Donald Trump is dominating the American presidential campaign on the Republican side now, and his plan to construct a wall along the US-Mexico border and deport all arriving Muslim refugees has found many backers. The descendents of the old guard of French right wing, Jean-Marie Le Pen, are at the forefront of French politics. And with the rising tide of refugees from Islamic countries entering Europe, countries ranging from Italy, Greece and Germany, to those in Scandinavia are seeing a renewal in the fortunes of right-wing groups.
And just like a virulent disease, this ideology has found its way to our shores which, throughout history, has been marked by diversity. For Modi’s agenda of Hindutwa and his attempt to saffronise India is no different from the wave of conservatism in the West. This was in full display recently, when the BJP tried to punish a student leader for his speech. And with a professor openly accusing the Indian state of occupying Kashmir, the situation looks to become more tense in the coming days.
Violent confrontations, rhetorical blusters and hard-to-believe accusations have been the traditional hallmarks of right-wing groups (as a member of the Italian right-wing party the Lega Nord said, “Africa hasn’t produced great geniuses”). But more troubling is their selective rendering of history. Those who talk about the glittering achievements of Europe often seem to make no mention of the blood-soaked history of colonisation and slavery that it carried out (let alone the contribution of Islam in the making of modern-day Europe). Conservatives in America willfully ignore the fact that their present industrial prowess derives as much from the slavery of black African-Americans and forced occupation of native lands, as from the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of white Americans. And in our part of the world, Hindu sympathisers, while making no bones about the atrocities of the likes of Mahmud of Ghazni, hardly talk about eliminating the abusive caste system or promoting multiple cultures and traditions that have existed in this place for centuries.
Similar is the case with Nepal. While problems ranging from poverty to corruption to political instability and natural disaster abound, some have found it worthwhile to start talking about the problems of Christianisation and the doom it forebodes for our culture and religion. But, like their peers worldwide who seem to suffer from an irrational and inflated sense of pride for one’s own race and religion, they conveniently gloss over the fact that ‘foreign religion’ is but one of the many religions that have come to exist in this land, that Hinduism was once as much foreign to these parts as Christianity seems to be now and that the fiction behind the glorious achievements of our kind belies the history of crimes we have been committed in the name of racial purity and religious supremacy.
Forced proselytisation is wrong but it is equally wrong to persecute those who opt to follow another religion, whether due to poverty, interest or any other reason. If we are to preserve Hinduism, Buddhism, Bon, Jainism and many other religions that have a long history in this land, we should start out not by making a scapegoat out of a religion vying for converts and space but by redressing the discrimination and prejudice our cultures perpetuate.
“Sabai masiyo (Everything is destroyed),” I hear some people in my neighbourhood say, referring to the groups of Japanese, Korean and even Western faces distributing pamphlets and booklets about Christianity. They are yet to realise that we ourselves are to be blamed for the problem in the first place.