Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Don’t demolish illegal religious shrines????? Really?????

Today’s paper talks about the Maharashtra CM agreeing to stop the demolition of illegal religious shrines in Bombay. Yes, you heard it right.....they are illegal. Everyone admits to the fact that the shrines are illegal, but the entire political machinery is conspiring to make sure they are not demolished. In fact, the Shiv Sena (thru its mayor Shraddha Jadhav) has gone a step ahead and demanded that all illegal shrines built until 2009 be actually “regularized”. A city that touts itself as being India’s most modern and liberal, and being the financial capital of the 2nd fast growing big country, often displays very primeval behavior.

These kind of political decisions really aren’t new to Bombay. In the past, illegal slums have been regularized by politicians of all types. If memory serves me right, the last slum regularization covered all slums that came up till the year 1995. During the last elections in 2009 or so, there was a plan to extend the date to 2000, but the Supreme Court stepped in to prevent that from happening. There have also been specific cases related to religious shrines in several other cities in India. What’s going on here?

The reasons for such inanities are not difficult to find. There are two types of political parties. One, the likes of the BJP and Shiv Sena, who have made religious machismo part of their political strategy. They are the ones who actually demand that illegal shrines be made legal. Then there are parties like the Congress, which are inherently less orthodox, but simply lack the determination and political will to go with their beliefs. Especially in today’s times, when the Congress has been battered out of shape and wants no further controversies. When it comes to protecting religious orthodoxy, the Shiv Sena and BJP are happy to partner with the likes of Bombay Catholic Sabha and St John the Baptist Church Committee....on most other occasions, they can’t see eye to eye!

However, the guiltiest of all, are our own people. If illegal shrines are demolished, people feel offended. I saw a banner at a local church here in Bandra which read “Mr CM, demolish corruption; not our crosses”. They might as well have said “If you demolish the cross, we will be cross”! Excuse me, but what if the cross is illegal? Likewise, what if the temple or mosque is illegal? Sometimes I feel, even more than the people, it’s this institution called “society” that’s responsible for such dogmatism. People don’t want to appear to be out of line with society even if their personal views are different; imagine a chaste Hindu publicly suggesting that his neighborhood illegal temple should be demolished because its illegal. Society would demolish him instead! So we are all “hostages” of our society. I know this is true because almost all people I speak to about such issues agree in private that illegal structures should be demolished. But when it comes to expressing their opinions in public, they shy away from their views.

Its behavioral patterns like these that have made the judiciary go into hyper-activism mode. What if the SC had not stopped the proposal to legalize illegal shanties till the year 2000? What if the Supreme Court had not capped reservations in college education and jobs at 50%? What if the Supreme Court had not stopped vehicles more than 15 years old from plying on the streets? There would have been total mayhem all over. I am usually not in favor of judicial activism, but I understand why they have had to get in....because the Executive has failed to deliver.

And why should we be allowed to take our religious beliefs and practices to the streets? Again, taking the “people are hostages of society” argument further, it appears that visiting temples and churches is an intensive public relations exercise for most people....its important to be seen in public performing religious activities! The Sunday mass in church, the Friday public namaaz and the Thursday (or is it Tuesday?) maha artis are all examples of trying to fit into society. This creates major law and order problems.....almost all riots in India have happened because of religious reasons. In fact I remember that the Hindus wanted to do their maha artis on Fridays to taunt the muslims. But who cares for all this in religious India?

Let I be accused of being an atheist, let me clarify right here right now that I have always believed in religion. I think religion is like the Operating System of a computer. Without it, you wouldn’t even know how to boot up; forget how to function! But the OS is always inside the computer, never outside! And OSs modernize with time; you have newer versions coming out all the time. How come religion never modernizes?? (But let me not go there; that’s really the plot for another post!).

The real truth is that we are a bunch of spineless people when it comes to religion. All of us. Let’s not blame the politicians alone. We don’t have the guts to stand out of the crowd. We are victims of society. Rather than defining society, we like to be defined by society. Obviously, our politicians reflect our own spinelessness. Somehow, this just does not sit squarely with the image of a fast developing economy. We need to grow economically......but we need to modernize culturally as well....


  1. Is there a way to like this post? :) My views exactly.. I believe religion is a way of life.. its meant to be imbibed in life and not shown off to the society!