Editorial: Row over religion
A bone of contention regarding Sanatana Dharma, which today is used as a synonym for Hinduism, has to do with its approach towards caste
CHENNAI: A slugfest transpired this month in the State and national political arenas on account of the purportedly offensive comments made on Sanatana Dharma by a member of Tamil Nadu’s ruling dispensation. Calling for the eradication of religious order, the State Sports and Youth Welfare Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin invoked the ire of the Central leadership at its highest echelons, with PM Modi hitting back saying that the Tamil leader had crossed a line and that a befitting reply will be given to such rhetoric.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also lashed out at a section of the media in Chennai, where she dared the attendees to make similar remarks involving other religions. The barbs flew fast and furious as a ‘seer’ in Ayodhya announced a Rs 10 cr bounty on the DMK scion’s head, while the AIADMK alleged that the ruling party had cast votes against Ram Nath Kovind and Droupadi Murmu in the presidential elections.
The cacophony of allegations has occupied India’s political mindshare for a while now. But, we must sift through the white noise to get to the source of the discontent. A bone of contention regarding Sanatana Dharma, which today is used as a synonym for Hinduism, has to do with its approach towards caste. The assumption that caste is a natural social order based on the occupation of an individual lies at the heart of centuries of discrimination meted out to people from underserved communities.
The architect of our Constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar in his treatise Annihilation of Caste, spoke against a form of Hinduism that was practiced mindlessly, controlled by a select group with casteist agenda at its foundations. He even suggested ways for the reformation of Hinduism. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian movement, led by Periyar was even more critical as he had called for a dissolution of the caste system. The messaging was embraced by leaders here, never mind the State putting its muscle behind consecrating thousands of temples, clearing the deck for appointment of archakas from all communities, and building goshalas.
It might be wishful thinking to presume, ‘Not all Hindus’. But as history shows us, equality among the masses is still a far-fetched dream. Earlier this month, students at a government primary school in Usilampatti refused to eat breakfast cooked by a Dalit woman. The timing couldn’t have been more telling as Tamil Nadu was being feted by the rest of India as the poster child for providing free breakfast for needy school children. Add to this, the manner in which Hindutva extremists have weaponised the term Sanatana Dharma, by carrying out their so-called righteous retributory attacks on Muslims, Christians and Dalits.
The ruling party at the Centre is cashing in on the controversy which has been presented to them on a platter by the DMK. Even if the brouhaha might have furthered the political interests of the Dravidian behemoth in the State, it must consider the ramifications of such remarks for the INDIA alliance, whose members are spread across the rest of the nation. Those pledging allegiance to this union certainly need to exercise a modicum of restraint and prudence when it comes to their comments and actions, if they are even remotely keen on presenting a formidable challenge to the NDA and unseating the BJP, as the 2024 elections beckon.