I encountered a product of Religious Nationalism Yesterday

evening walk on galta road

Last evening, my colleague Piko (Priyanka), and I went for our usual walk, albeit a bit later than usual. I had initially considered skipping it, but when Piko called from the parking lot asking if I still wanted to skip, I decided to join, figuring she wouldn’t want to walk alone as it would get dark by the time she returned. So, I decided to give her company and we agreed to a shorter walk so that she could have her walk and I could save some time for my pending things for the day.

As we approached the end of our route, near the corner, two scooters passed by. One had three boys, the other two.

This is an old indicative photo of the same spot.

We crossed the road and I touched a tree (my custom), signaling to Piko that we could turn back. As Piko again crossed the road and I remained on the other side, the scooter with two guys took a U-turn and pulled up in front of me, questioning who I was. The exchange went like this until Piko interrupted.

He: “Where do you live?”

Me: “This is our area. I live in the nearby Meditation Centre, and we’re just out for a walk. What’s the issue?”

He: “This is a reserved forest. You can’t claim it’s your area.”

Me: “Everyone who lives around here shares ownership and responsibility for this area.”

He: “Who’s in charge of the center? We’ve heard once someone goes in, they don’t come out.”

Me: “There’s a trust managing the center. Rajkumar Gauttam oversees its operations. You’re welcome to visit to know more.” (at this point I realized what happening here but I did not want to overreact and hoped that he would not escalate the matter further, so gave him factual responses.)

He: “What’s your name, and what do you do at the center?”

Me: “I’m Kamal. We manage the resources, so you could say I’m a manager.”

At this point, I sensed he was drunk too, but before I could react and ask him a cross question, Piko intervened and did my part.

Piko: “What’s your concern, Bhaiya? did we ask anything to you?”

He: “Ma’am, I’m Hindu, and I want to safeguard my area.”

(He assumed that I am a Muslim with a Hindu girl, or at least he pretended this.)

Me: “As I said, this is my area too, and I’m just out for a walk outside my center where I live. There is no need to concern”

Piko: “What does religion have to do with this? We walk here every day, and I’ve never seen you before.”

He: “I come here twice a week. I was just concerned for…. (your safety). I know Priest Avdhesh Acharya. I go to Shreenivas Ji Ke Balaji to feed the ants. I apologize; I was just concerned.”

With that, we all went our separate ways.

As Piko and I continued our conversation on our way back, we discussed how the poison of religious tension has reached the grassroots level. This Religious Nationalism is now at its height and it’s not only a debate topic for civil society anymore but affecting everyone’s everyday life. In my thirty years of life, I’ve never experienced anything like this, personally. Whether to blame religion, the people, or the political landscape is a matter of debate.

Blaming religion seemed misplaced. As a Hindu, I know my religion emphasizes ultimate respect for women. No truly religious person would ever scare a woman in the name of her safety.

Blaming the people also felt unfair. People are people; they come in all kinds, with many vulnerable to manipulation by the darker aspects of society, while most are simple and guided by the wisdom of their elders. In my rural upbringing, I was taught to respect everyone, regardless of gender or religion. I remember my Nani Ma saying (whenever I fought with my cousin), “Do not think of hitting your sister; if you do so, your hand will grow on a tree that has a lot of spikes.”

But the political landscape cannot evade scrutiny. The current political climate contaminates the very essence of social coexistence. Locally, we often remark that communal tension is a malady of cities, while people in villages lead harmonious lives. However, this perception has drastically shifted. The erosion of communal harmony is deeply troubling, as it violates everyone’s fundamental right to live with dignity. This religious nationalism instills fear and frequently leads to vigilantism.

How ironic that those boys, asserting themselves as guardians of our culture, disparaged it alongside our religion by their actions. They didn’t even consider that their actions which were fueled by intoxication, a visit to a temple in that state is not religious at all, and drunk driving vehicles and feeding forest animals constituted violations of traffic regulations and forest protocols. The boys we encountered were merely emblematic of this widespread affliction. And who gave relevance to those boys? our poor politics. Isn’t it?

In legal terms, for the incident that occurred yesterday, I will hold the state accountable for its failure to protect my rights. but in the end, the blame game only served to highlight the complex interplay of religion, society, and politics in shaping our experiences and perceptions.

3 responses

  1. Ruchi agarwal avatar
    Ruchi agarwal

    While reading this article, one thing clearly strikes me that our politicians have succeeded in spreading hostility in name of religion.

    M deeply perturbed about this scenario.
    No more words to express it.

  2. Ashutosh avatar

    Baat toh sahi hai Boss.. Dharam ke naam pe sabka popat ban raha hai.
    Political parties aag laga rahi hai or samaj ke kuch log us aag me ghee daalkar maje le rahey hain.

  3. Mysterious K avatar
    Mysterious K

    Still they are what they are, We can’t change other one’s prospects forcefully unless they want ownself, But I appreciate all the response from Priyanka Di and Your side. Sometimes we have to use hard words to protect our Integrity and Respect.

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