For the rest of the world, secularism means separation of the Church (religion) and state. It is a concept that was required in Europe for fledgling nation states to escape the suffocating choke-hold of the Catholic Church which had spread its tentacles into all spheres. But transplanted into India by the Republic founded in 1950, Indian Secularism has grown on to become a unique beast, unlike any seen anywhere in the world.
In modern India, secularism has become the religion of the state. The first and most fundamental tenet of this new religion i.e. Indian Secularism, is to ‘transform’ the religion of the majority, i.e. Hindu Dharma (aka Hinduism). The second tenet is that the Constitution is our ‘holy book’ (judges have sworn to die for it) and that ‘Constitutional Morality’ dictates tenet # 1.
The latest demonstration of this unique variant of secularism comes from, where else, Communist-ruled Kerala. 22 women priests have been trained to perform the ‘poojas anchored in the Hindu faith’, informs a The New Indian Express (TNIE) article by one Aathira Haridas. Are there any other kinds of poojas not anchored in the Hindu faith? But such curious phrasing grows even more curiouser later in the TNIE article, as we will see.
The article informs us that last week these woman priests received ‘deeksha’ (initiation from a Hindu guru) from KV Subhash Thantri at the Nagaraja Kshethram, Peramangalam, near Muvattupuzha. Thantri means the head priest of temples in Kerala.
KV Subhash delivered a sermon-on-demand to TNIE:
“The rules anchored on discrimination are meant to be broken. Women figure among the majority of devotees. So how can they not be allowed to perform the priestly duties? It is nowhere said that women cannot perform the poojas. The only women priests we have now are those who have been initiated on the basis of their ancestry. Anyone who has faith and has learned the rituals can perform the poojas. There shouldn’t be any discrimination based on gender or caste.”
Fair enough, you might argue. And why are we blaming the Indian state for this move? Well, if you think that any ‘sudden transformation’ in Hindu traditions does not have the hidden hand of the secular state pulling strings from behind, you have some catching up to do.
It so happens that KV Subhash is a ‘priest’ who was in favor of the CPM government’s move to end the ancient tradition at Sabarimala temple where women in the 10-50 age group do not visit the Sabarimala temple as the deity Ayyappa Swami is said to have taken strict Brahmacharya vrata (vow of celibacy). Note: There are at least 1000 other temples dedicated to Sri Ayyappa across Bharat where women visit freely as the deity in those temples is not celibate as is the case in Sabarimala.
The protests by lakhs of Hindus braving police brutality as the CPM government tried to forcefully implement the SC order in the Sabarimala case, is proof of what ordinary Hindus think of KV Subhash and his ilk. Mind you, Kerala’s four devasom boards which control most of the major temples in the state, including Sabarimala, are under control of the government. Not surprisingly, many thantris end up toeing the govt. line; so we need not be too harsh on KV Subhash.
Are Christian and Muslim women going to act as Hindu priests?
The TNIE article states:
Among the trained woman priests are those who had followed Islam and Christianity.
Aysha (name changed), 25, has just been initiated into the world of priestly rituals. She dedicates all Sunday evenings to learn mantras of the Hindu faith. Linet P Joy, a 35-year-old from the Christian faith, says she always had a divine calling and was able to answer it now.
“I sang in the choir for 14 years. It requires dedication and I always believed in the divine power. Having learned all the rituals, I feel I can help more people. The ultimate aim is to perform duties in the temple,” says Linet, a native of Thrissur.
Have Aysha and Linet converted to Hindu Dharma? The article says they ‘had followed’ Islam and Christianity, implying they no longer do, but then it says Linet is ‘from the Christian faith’. Aysha might be dedicating Sunday evenings to learn Hindu mantras, but is she still doing namaz five times a day? Is being a Hindu priest like some part-time role now that even non-Hindus can do it; with faith in the deity and Hindu worldview being unessential, as long as you know how to do the ritual or chant the mantra?
Is this not further delegitimization of Hindu Dharma as a valid religion? Or is Pinarayi Vijayan the new Akbar, trying to create his own Din-e-Ilahi?
The TNIE article then goes on to indulge in some Brahmin-bashing for ‘reserving’ the right to conduct temple rituals, side-stepping the fact that most Hindu temples have hereditary priests as per their related Agama shastras and there are many hereditary non-Brahmin priests too.
The article also touches upon the Hinduphobic M K Stalin government’s recent declaration that ‘trained women would be allowed as temple priests’. Suffice it to say that both Kerala and TN governments would not dare to dictate Christians and Muslims on whom and how to appoint as their religious clergy. Women are barred from ordination to Christian priesthood, and are not even allowed to vote at Vatican synods. The appointment of a woman in a managerial position at the Vatican was being celebrated as a sign of progress in 2020! As for Islam, we only recently managed to do away with the medieval practice of instant triple talaq – something which even an Islamo-fascist nation like Pakistan banned long ago – so let’s just leave it at that.
Hindus have always evolved new traditions and sects in tune with the times, allowing diverse paths to co-exist with incredible harmony . But just like any other community, we reserve the right to change organically, and will resist outside intervention especially from bad-faith actors like the secular Indian state.
The interference and control that the secular Indian state exercises over the Hindu religion is something that ardent secularists and atheists can only dream of in the ‘advanced and first world’ countries of the West. Communist China is probably the only other country that treats religion like this, but then again it does that with all religions and is not selective like the Indian State.