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Hinduism Accepted Me As An Atheist, Hindutva Doesn’t

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As someone born and brought up in a very religious Hindu family, I got to observe a lot of traditions that have become a part of my identity. I am an atheist now, and I do not practice idol-worship. I vehemently oppose any superstitions observed by my friends, my family and my extended family. And I am not the only one in this. I have friends who do the same.

The fact that I was brought up in a Hindu family with deeply conservative values is important here because these are values being portrayed as the core values of Hinduism by self-proclaimed representatives of the belief system.  Whereas, to be honest, the idea of Hinduim is nowhere close to the ideas of Hindutva . Because it exists only to serve the purpose of propaganda, and mob incitement. This is not what the people of this country grew up with. I can vouch for myself and the many people that I have come to know over the many years of living in this country.

Yes, no belief system in the world is flawless. There, I said it. Not even mine. But nowhere in my entire life have I seen people get this overwhelmed by their own faith. I became an atheist and adapted to a new system of belief or diselief, whatever you may call it. But since this system was already in existence and extensively written about—read Charvaka, the ancient Indian school of philosophical skepticism that rejects even Vedas and Vedic rituals—it became easier for me to unlearn what I had learnt. And I wasn’t sent to the gallows for it.

If I could question the beliefs of my own family and they quietly accepted the flaws and worked on them, it’s their faith that helped them. The tradition of open debate has been a part of our culture since the ancient times. Read the debate between dualism and non-dualism.

As a scholar of politics and society, I’m fairly aware of the role that religion plays in our daily lives. It is almost impractical to ask people to drop their religious identities. It gives them a sense of belonging, a sense of collectiveness, a sense of shared identity, in its purest and most positive form. I can get badgered for it from a certain perspective, but every single phenomenon in the world has been used by the ones who could wield the power to turn it around. Religion is also one of them. Speaking from a realistically, nothing is inherently evil unless it is made out to be. Anything started out with the purest of intentions can go horribly wrong if handled carelessly, maliciously. The power to create, can also turn into the power to destroy everything that comes in its vicinity. Nuclear power, can be one case in point.

I remember growing up as a Hindu kid, I was taught that even the Holy Trinity—Brahma,Vishnu, Mahesh—has its own flaws and we should never be so vain to think of ourselves as incorruptible. I was taught that Shiva was the first symbol of the atomic dance of destruction. I was taught that every hero falls from grace at some point, and it is only wise to get up and try again. And I was taught that even if you do not get to be the hero, helping one is an act of heroism in every sense. The Dashavataaram story of creationism taught us that anyone can be a God, if they truly strive for it. From the ‘Vaaraaham’ avatar of Vishnu to the ‘Vaaman’ one, I was taught that appearances don’t matter, the grandeur of one’s soul and the willingness to do good prevaile at the end. Of course, I take these myths with a pinch of salt and perceive them as nothing more than stories handed down through generations, but I am impartial enough to not ignore the undertones of inherent kindness that is intended to be imparted through these. I was taught to look at myself before pointing fingers at someone else.

What I wasn’t taught was that someone’s eating habits will endanger my belief system. I wasn’t taught that I need to produce babies incessantly to protect my ‘identity’. I wasn’t told to sit down and shut up and follow someone blindly or to elevate the status of my belief system by insulting someone else’s. I wasn’t taught to inflict violence. And wasn’t taught to kill people for what they chose to wear or whom they chose to worship.

Then how come these things are now associated with Hinduism, or Hindutva as they now call it? Perhaps because this is a mere political tool in the hands of people who need the tides to turn in their favour. The business of religion has become a lot like a free market. The need to create unnecessary fear, a fake urgency, is riding high to make people buy things they don’t need at prices they can’t afford, to impress people who don’t exist. Gods are being bought and sold at the bid of who can afford the highest number of sacrifices. Sometimes these sacrifices can be forwarded and shared through Facebook and WhatsApp. At times, Twitter too. What a benevolent group of man-made Gods, giving humans every chance to reach out to them to smite the enemy. Sweet!

During these times, what are we to do? As conscientious citizens of this country, how do we counter this propaganda? The very first step is to recognize that it exists. That it is actually hurting the belief system we were raised with. That it is hijacking our conscience and turning us into blind sheeple who follow the pack and plummet to their doom. That it is ruining the long-standing harmony between the people who are our blood brothers and share a common ancestry. It is not what we stand for, and it is time to publicly reject it. Not just passive-aggressively on social media, but in real life too. Turning a blind eye like an Ostrich will not stop the storm. Let us not allow anyone to tell us that it is wrong to question the authority. Don’t believe that it is too much to demand responsibility from the governments, no matter which side you’re on. This might sound preachy and I hate it if it sounds like that, but sadly we are left with no choice. An average human being does not want war, doesn’t want bloodstained hands, doesn’t want uprooted families from the neighbourhood.

If we are turning into a collective pack of hyenas baying for blood every single time someone dares to disagree with us, it is about time we went back to the woods and left humanity alone.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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