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

Posted on July 29, 2014 in My Story, Specials, Staff Picks

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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