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How It Feels To Be An Atheist In A ‘Hindu Rashtra’

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By Dhruv Arora:

When I was growing up, I looked up to my parents for guidance. I learned a lot from them; they taught me to love. Both of them are quite religious, but there’s one thing that I will forever be indebted to them for, that in spite of being so deeply religious, they promoted critical thought in me and gave me the freedom to form my own opinions. They are still religious, and I have come to identify as an Atheist. I still sit with my parents for every religious ceremony that takes place in my house, completely on my own accord; not because I believe in a supreme being, but because I love my parents and do not mind spending an hour of my day in a ceremony I may not believe in, if it would bring them happiness. This is because I have grown up with the idea that it does not matter what your religious beliefs may be so long as you can respect others and love them for who they are, not who they pray to (or don’t).

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Throughout my early years identifying as an Atheist, I was quite vocal about my disbelief in idol worship and the idea of praying to an “almighty being”. I was critical of all religions. Also, identifying as a feminist, pro-rights, pro-queer male, advocating for everyone’s rights was at the forefront for me. I remember spending a lot of time criticizing Islam for its regressive practices and rituals, because along the way, I had come to know a lot of Muslim people who had become close friends and would inspire me to think even more critically when faced with something actively regressive in nature; and in addition to my own religion, culture and practices, because of the people close to me, it was very important to me to highlight those problems as well. Of course, as with every religion, Islam’s problems (to me) were not limited to a regressive approach towards women, sexuality, and queer rights, but more deeply connected to an idea of a sense of superiority and belonging attached to their own religion.

I should make it clear that at no point did I (nor do I now) support violence, nor did I have any problems with people belonging to different countries (including Pakistan). I advocated for love, as I do now, and I am as far from being a “nationalistic” individual as I can possibly be. My critique was and has always been targeted at the idea of religions and gods, and not the people belonging to a community attached to those gods. More specifically, I did not have a problem with people identifying with a religion so long as the personal religious preference was not imposed on other people. It is also important to note that at this point, I did not know or care to involve myself in the current socio-political context of India. I was not inclined towards politics, was severely under-informed and would often have Alia-ian slips when faced with political trivia.

Over the last few years, however, things have changed. I find myself much more deeply involved in the political framework of this country and feel a sense of ownership towards how this country is run. I have my own political inclinations based on the person I have grown to be. Having no religious or nationalistic ties, I found myself in a peculiar position of advocating for equal rights for people from various religious and cultural backgrounds, while at the same time struggling with my critique of the very religions that these people belonged to. There was a time, not too long ago, when not believing in god did not automatically make me a target, but things have evolved with the political scenario and now we stand at a position where I am labelled a “Muslim Sympathizer” and an “Anti-Hindu advocate” when I advocate for equal rights across communities, religions, cultures and orientations, whereas the fact is that I am no more than a critical Atheist. I am someone who will question your beliefs while I fight for your rights with you.

Somewhere between my political, my (non-)religious and pro-equality stands, I looked back and realised that I was on a path different from practically each one of my friends growing up, and my preferences now made me an outcast in contrast to my own history and the people I grew up with. As disheartening as the realisation was, today I am convinced more than ever that I must stand for love, equality, and critical thought. It took me some time to realise that I could still be anti-religion and pro-people, and at various points on this path, I would have to raise my voice in favour of religious (and other) minorities. We have somehow evolved into a nation in support of the very ideology we claim to hate, and for me, the problem is not Muslim-centric or Hindu-centric, but religion-centric. We have come to mix “people belonging to that region” with the flawed idea of “inherently bad people” and we have come to mix religion with the state. I stand for a separation between these two entities. Being subjected to as much hatred as my identity attracts is all the reason I need to be an advocate for love, equality, and critical thought.

To know more about this story and what I think, follow me on Twitter at @thedhruvarora.

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  1. Udayan

    I am an atheist too, and I totally second your religious views, however, there is no “Hindu Rashtra” in the world. India is just a nation with a Hindu majority, the only one except Nepal. And, It is one of the most favorable countries for minorities (including jains, christians, parsis, buddhists, muslims etc.). If you actually stand for equality for minorities, you must stand against fooling them with partisan appeasement, as has been the culture in Indian politics since independence. You also seem to me of the faction that believes fashioning a skull cap is an endorsement of being secular. I hope I am wrong, but if I am not, then, FYI, it is offensive towards that particular religion and I am sorry for all those people who think that being secular means to favor just one community among all the minorities.

    1. Not a moron

      ” You also seem to me of the faction that believes fashioning a skull cap is an endorsement of being secular.”

      What evidence do you have of this?

      Nothing.

      You are calling him a Congress supporter for being opposed to your brand of politics.

      You are a moron.

  2. Babar

    I am not sure about your sources of Islam as you state it is regressive towards women, since Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and 3 out of every 4 converts are women. If Islam oppressed women, then I am not sure why women in the western world would be accepting Islam in huge numbers.

    1. Nilesh

      First of all, you should provide a source for your claim that 3 out of 4 converts to Islam are women.

      Second, you are still making an appeal to popularity. Majority has been wrong at various times in human history. Popularity doesn’t decide truth.

      Islam is oppressive to women: It doesn’t give them equality of testimony, divorce laws among many things. Just read a few testimonies of people who left Islam: http://wikiislam.net/wiki/People_Who_Left_Islam

      Since apostasy is punishable by death penalty in Islam, many people are afraid to declare that they no longer believe in Islam. You cannot trust the numbers when people are regularly attacked for “blasphemy”. Here, this is a news from yesterday itself in Pakistan: http://www.dawn.com/news/1122143/four-ahmadis-killed-over-alleged-blasphemy (4 ahmadis, including 3 children were killed)

      You should study your religion more carefully.

    2. Rubeena

      Oh dear. Eid Mubarak. I think you need to get your facts right there. Islam is the fastest growing religion today. http://lmgtfy.com/?q=which+is+the+fastest+growing+religion+in+the+world
      And Islam doesn’t, doesn’t oppress women at all. I being a Muslim woman can proudly say I have never been oppressed or forced by any other man. In fact women are given the utmost rights in Islam and again you need to study on that before commenting.
      P.S. I don’t intend to turn this as a religious war, just so you know! As this guy didn’t do his homework well and confronting a guy baseless( I don’t care if he is Muslim or not), thought of pouring some facts onto him. 🙂

    3. Nilesh

      You didn’t read correctly. The claim made was that 3 out of 4 converts to Islam are women, and not that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.

      “Women are given the utmost rights in Islam” Notice, how you avoided the term “equal”. Anyway, here you go: http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Women_in_Islam_-_From_Islam%27s_Sources

      And don’t worry. It’s not a religious war. I don’t follow any religion. I am an atheist. So bring out your best arguments and don’t worry about offending me. I don’t follow any book that tells me to kill disbelievers.

    4. Nilesh

      Imrana wasn’t oppressed at all. Do you think you know Islam better than Darul Uloom Deoband and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board?

      Link in case you have forgotten: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imrana_rape_case

    5. Nilesh

      To keep the record straight from my side, it does seem true that many of the converts to Islam in west are women. The 4:1 ratio mention is about right. Here is my source: http://www.academia.edu/300375/Women_and_Conversion_to_Islam_The_American_Womens_Experience

    6. Rubeena

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3iUCqqNdZg
      that is for offending my book. You really need to study the book and then comment brother. And yes I know better about my religion than any one else. I used to be like you once, its clear and out, you just need to STUDY before google’ing or sticking to wikis.
      And I did not avoid the equal rights. I just said women are respected the most. We do not practice Sati, we can get married after our husband’s death, we can go to mosques at all the health conditions, we do not have caste systems, we do not give dowries, we receive meher from men we are going to marry, we can go to the Qazi to dissolve our marriage, we have right to show our faces and sit side-by-side to our husbands. These are just few of them.
      Please do not compare Islam here that is practiced in India where all the above points are simply invalid. Islam is straight and simple with the Sharia, it’s people who mend it for their benefits and leave bad traces for the people like you to point. I again emphasis, read the book with the meaning and the situation circumstance that was then written accordingly before you read the articles that aren’t from the scholars or Alims.
      Now you might bring Zakir Naik’s videos here. I say don’t. I would suggest you to watch or read of Nauman Ali khan. He doesn’t force you to convert or try to apply the point on you. Just watch or read what Islamic scholars say before again you comment here.

    7. Rubeena

      One example to prove you wiki as trash(Yes, I called it all trash). As I said getting you facts right.
      http://www.letmeturnthetables.com/2008/08/does-islam-consider-women-like-donkeys.html
      Read it from the books not from the internet where everyone has right to EDIT.

    8. Nilesh

      Thank you for referring me to Nouman Ali Khan. Although you keep skirting the issues I have mentioned. Women’s testimony is not as good as men’s. They cannot marry more than one as men can.

      AIMPLB supported the fatwa released against Imrana. If you are going to claim that AIMPLB is “mending it for their benefits”, can you really blame us for saying that Islam is oppressive? They represent the indian muslims, you know.

      BTW, I am curious to know: are there any women scholars on AIMPLB? Their website is not at all informative.

    9. Rubeena

      Well, again, in the old days, men were given the rights of polygamy just so to spread Islam and breed. Consider a woman with three husbands, if a baby is born, can you tell who is the father of the baby? Well not every woman is blessed with virginity which can be renewed year after year like Dropadi.
      I am not supporting polygamy here because in Islam a marriage is valid only with the consent of both man and the woman involved. So those men who got married to many wives had a permission of those women.
      And coming to Imrana’s case I am against that fatwa as much as you are. I don’t trust Indian fatwas and laws. They are more biased to men and simply away from Sharia. If that was happened in any Islamic country, first of all, rape is a punishable act in Islamic Sharia. You cannot even touch a woman without her permission in Islam and after that rape, he would have stoned to death.
      Anything that is invented in Islam that is not in Hadeeth or Koran is simply invalid in Islam. So according to me that fatwa is invalid and thank Allah, that father-in-law is culpable under the court of law.
      Trust me brother, my father is an advocate, I have seen what Sharia is and what the book says. It’s the people today, who ‘mend it for benefits’. I can provide you with many preposterous fatwas and rules some Muslims practice just because a scholar have said to follow so.
      I personally advice one to study everything, everything on and in Islam.
      I can provide you with a quotation of an extremist Saddam Hussein “Women make up one half of society. Our society will remain backward and in chains unless its women are liberated, enlightened and educated.” I don’t support Saddam here or his past work and I am too against his bad works, but just emphasizing on how Islam treats women, even a person like him respects us.

    10. shoaib

      Many population stats around the world say that the ratio of men to women is 10:11 . Even medically a female child has more chances of surviving than a male one(Ask any medical doctor for this fact, not you personal wikiislam website). Eg: In america there are 10 million more women compared to men.
      Only in countries like India where we have this ugly Oppression on women like Female child infesticide, Sati etc .. women’s ratio is less.

      What is the solution to More women compared to Men in the world?

    11. shoaib

      what is wikiislam? your personal website?

      its foolishness to even give such source in public forum.

    12. Divyansh

      You people are real polygamy supporters… You believe in polygamy, but don’t just practice it because it is illegal… You must be ashamed of such a belief of yours -_-

    13. Vishwas

      Because most of women converts are not convert their religion at their own we’ll,but you forced them to do that.

  3. Surabhi Singh

    seems like my autobiography.. but yes.. advocating for those targeted by mob of fundamentalists.. whether they are muslims, christians, children, poor or women.. could be our only stand in life..

  4. Ashwin

    Wow! I could really connect with almost all that’s written here. I’ve tried to change people’s(mostly those close to me) disgusting approach they have when it comes to people of A different religion or caste but people just refuse to to drop their nationalistic and religious ties.

  5. Prabhpreet Singh Dua

    I may not be an atheist, people’s parameters for dividing themselves aren’t only limited to religion. They also include language, state, cast, economic status and more inane ways to divide and rule.

    Perhaps, our society, like the United States, should be freedom-centric. And this ideology can only change when people adapt their belief systems to respect everyone’s freedom (and the law too!), like you seem to. Unfortunately, our national common denominator of our “cultures” advocate that to be Indian means to be part of your “culture” which equates to judging others on completely unimportant parameters and never questioning them with an open mind. We need to break free and I think the internet is doing a pretty good job at it 🙂

    TL;DR version- be the change you want to see.

  6. shruti chandra

    Well….thanks i could almost see myself writing that article.
    @udayan i would say there is no difference btw a man wearing a turban, or someone wearing a Tilak or someone wearing a skullcap. Its how we have come to see skullcap as symbol of communal while noone questions religious symbols of other communities. Secularism can mean a lot of things including primarily absence of religion from public life (French secularism) to keeping equidistance from religion (indian secularism).

  7. rakesh

    I can relate to you as an atheist but contrary to you, i turned from a muslim sympathiser to pro hindu.. i am an atheist but i see more faults with the muslims.. take any country and if there is unrest the reason is more likely to be muslims

  8. Tanya

    All you wrote is quite relatable, but being an atheist doesn’t mean following a particular religion. It is beleiving in that supreme being. Irony is, that people who fight over Gita and Quran are usually the ones who have never read them!

  9. ANUVA

    I don’t think one needs to be atheist to give freedom to other people’s idealities and accepting them.Maybe you have seen the common post where a small girl understands that the topic isn’t as much important as the time and energy devoted for it .Well,I liked a part of the article where you talk of equality to others .

  10. Aishwarya

    Any religion is a prescribed way of life. It is meant to bring harmony in the lives of people living in a society. As the times change, the needs change hence every religious practice goes through modification to suit the time and need. Conflicts occur when people refuse to adapt this change. They get stuck up in the practices forgetting to concentrate on what that practice was meant to lead one to. For example Sati at one point was Sen as necessary in India. Bharat at that time was constantly invaded by foreign forces and only the men went to war. This meant that if they lost their women back at home would be put through unimaginable torture. They preferred dying rather than falling into the hands of the enemy. However after a point in time, these invasions and wards didn’t happen. Raja Ram Mohan Roy in the early 1900 fought against the stuck up society and abolished Sati. Indian culture has adapted beautifully to change which is why it is today the oldest living culture in the world. It has the capacity to adapt and that alone survives.
    Each of us practicing whichever way of life must always be open to change. A rigid minded person whether theist or atheist is dangerous for the evolution of any society. A questioning atheist is always better than a blind acceptor of any religion and its practices.

    – A Practicing Hindu

  11. shoaib

    Mr.Neerav …
    wikiislam is not a standard website like Wikipedia.
    its foolishness to even share those links as source.
    Get your facts right first.

  12. Mansoor

    Brilliant piece..being born into Islam, I’ve been in situations (almost daily) where eyebrows are raised when I say I’m an atheist. Thankfully my parents didn’t shove their beliefs into my head. I know how exactly you must be feeling being an atheist in India. Cheers to you that you have stood up to your beliefs.

  13. the king

    Well i wasnt pro or anti anything at first place personal god is just a concept full of lay contradictions PGs like YHWH allah jenovah but could u write an article on how u came to non belief pls be honest DAWKINS ki kasam

  14. about hindu religion

    I think this is extremely considerable data in my situation. That i’m contented reading ones article. Nevertheless choose to comments on several standard challenges, The website taste is usually excellent, the actual posts really is superb : Deb. Excellent activity, many thanks

  15. raza

    wonderful article ……almost similar to my thoughts but I am irrreligious n religion critic at the most agnostic but not atheist as i believe in supreme being !m critic of especially of islam n hinduism .. more of islam at anytime due to its regressive practices .. how ever most hindus are secular inherently … and i wud like INDIA to stay hindu majority for the same reasons of secularism …..n wont pamper to so called minorities just cos they got away with partition

  16. Vibs

    The author of this post a typical example of semi-hindu or atheist vote bank which AAP is targeting and have successfully convinced people that ONLY they are TRULY SECULAR in nature. Unfortunately new congress in form has emerged in the country who has news ways to lure young generation voters who are mostly atheist or at least semi religious in their inclination.

  17. Simranjit Singh

    You & me are on the same-page, same-boat. People here either try to turn you else drown you.

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