India Intelligence Report

   Indian Political Perceptions on Religion


Information & Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunshi said that he has asked the board that certifies films not to approve the Da Vinci Code movie before he gets a nod from the Catholic Church. Coincidentally, the newly elected Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Karunanidhi said that he was going to go by a 2002 Supreme Court verdict that allows non-Brahmin priests in Hindu temples and appoints priests. A few days ago, a Federal minister has asserted that police must not destroy Muslim Darghas even if they were built illegally and without permission.

These different announcements demonstrate the difference in how politicians see different religions in India. When it comes to Hinduism, the approach is cavalier and insensitive and when it comes to Christianity or Islam, the approach is pandering which the Bharatiya Janata Party calls "appeasement."

While the merits of these three issues are very different, it brings into focus the lack of process in how India handles issues concerning religion. The issue of Da Vinci Code movie is a fundamental freedom of speech issue; the one of the Dargha is one of legality, while the one about the appointment of priests is about a narrow interpretation of a judgment.

India has developed a seriously wrong notion of intolerance: It bans books, movies, and literature when someone complains about its contents; as seen in Pune, allows groups to burn down ancient manuscripts because they disagree with someone's interpretation of history; as seen in Karnataka, Gujarat, and anti-Sikh riots allows one group to target another when their sentiments are hurt because of language, religion, or their perception of damage to the nation.

Da Vinci Code

Those who have read the book know that this is at best a filmy trash written by the author with questionable research based on serious theories of other researchers. While it postulates some theories on the succession of Jesus Christ and does implicate the Church, it does no serious damage to Christianity. It is not true, as the Indian Catholic church claims, that the movie questions Christianity. 

In South Korea, a court refused to stop the movie there saying "there is no probability that the movie can make viewers mistakenly believe the contents of the movie are facts" because "it is clear that the novel and movie are all fiction."

Thailand has not responded to demands from its Christians that the censors cut the end and fix some sub-titles.

Philippines refused the movie and instead gave it an adult rating and authorities said "it does not constitute a clear, express or direct attack on the Catholic Church or religion or does not libel or defame any person." 

In Singapore, authorities have declined to ban the movie but instead gave it a NC16 rating requiring viewers to be older than 16 years and authorities said "only mature audiences will be able to discern and differentiate between fact and fiction."

In Europe, a train called The Da Vinci Code set a world record to travel from London to Cannes where it will be released. While everyone recognizes the serious nature of the movie, no one is asking for a ban nor is anyone granting it.

Therefore, the following questions need to be raised:

  • What is the need for a ban in India? 

  • Does the Indian Catholic church believe that the Indian Christians cannot distinguish between fact and fiction? 

  • Do the priests doubt the depth of belief system of Indian Christians? If so, what a sad story does it say for their thinking! If anything, Indians are the strongest believers in any issue and not easily swayed. 

  • Even if they are, is it not in the Constitutional interest of the nation to encourage free thought, speech, and action?

  • Should it deny others who are not Christians or believe in Christianity the pleasure of seeing the movie? 

  • Should it deny the nation the freedom to judge how trashy can literature get? 

  • Why should the Church assume so much power? 

  • Does it not against the whole spirit of secularism and the separation of religion and the state?

Dargha Issue

The destruction of the illegal of Dargha in Vadodara raises questions of impropriety in building code, civil behavior, bad governance, and illegal actions by religious body.

  • Did the State Government recognize the existence of these religious structures by way of electrical connections, mailing addresses, delivery of mail, sewer connections, water connections, registration of trusts, etc?

  • Being illegal and constructed on public land, how did these religious structures/institutions manage to obtain these recognitions? 

  • Did the State ever notify these structures that they were illegal and demand that they vacate the premises?

  • Was there an attempt at good-faith negotiated settlement by the illegal party?

  • Why did the Gujarat High Court initiate the destruction of the religious sites without an application but sorely on the basis of a newspaper article?

What sort of verification or validation was insisted by the State and Administration before they started the demolition drive?

Non-Brahmin Priests

The issue of non-Brahmin priests is an old one with roots in the violent Dravidian Movement of the 60s and 70s. At that time, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) passed a law that allowed non-Brahmins to be priests which was stayed by the Supreme Court. After decades of arguing, the Supreme Court determined in 2002 that non-Brahmins can be priests provided they learn the Vedas and can follow the procedures required by the religion.

The whole controversy was unnecessary to start with and basically born of the Dravida ignorance of Hinduism and hatred of Brahmins who they accuse of being responsible for the lack of growth of their communities. In the '60s there was a grand announcement to build a temple for Ravana, they garlanded an idol of Rama with footwear, threw fish at religious processions, etc. The whole propaganda petered out when they found out that Ravana was a Brahmin and Rama was not. They were shocked to find out that of the 63 Great Shiva devotees only 5 were Brahmins and the rest were ordinary folks who are worshipped as Gods and before the worship of Shiva Himself. They could not believe that Nandan was not discriminated Dalit (as a later version would make it out to be) but a Dalit who fought his own insecurities and was ultimately treated as a Brahmin. They could not understand that how Brahma-Rishi Vishwamithra (one of the seven greatest Rishis) was not a Brahmin by birth. The learning that Rama, as Kshatriya, ate meat and was presented fish by Guha stupefied them. 

While there are many instances of what we call Hinduism today that nobility of a person is not determined by birth alone, this is a serious revelation to the Dravida parties. While they all claimed to be anti-Caste, their supreme leader E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker chose to retain in his name "Rama" and also his caste "Naicker". Hence, it is easy to trash Karunanidhi as a charlatan that he is, dividing societies and peoples, but then through his decision he brings up several issues that are worthy of introspection and that he needs to answer:

  • What is the process through which he is going to certify that non-Brahmin can be a worthy priest?

  • Who will test his appointments and what are the minimum criteria that he will set?

  • If he thinks that study of Vedas is not required to be a priest, he will be right. In fact, many Kali, Mari-Amman, Aiyanar temples in India do not have or require knowledge of the Vedas. However, the study of Vedas is not so much for prayer to God (He does not need or ask for prayer from humans for His glorification) but for internal awakening of humans. To quote Tamil Saint Manikavaachagar, who was not a Brahmin, the meaning, sounds, and philosophy of the Vedas is for internal wakening and accepting of one's Karma. While this deep meaning is now lost on most, is he going to deny everyone the benefit of this belief? What gives him the right to make this change?

  • If he thinks that priests need not know the process of prayer, he would be right again. God does not need any particular process or ways of prayer. As Kannappa Nayanar story shows, God will treat those who do not know and know the process equally. It is not for the benefit of God that there is a prayer process but one to sustain the attention of people on something good. Since Hinduism has such a process, this is something that should be followed. If he thinks that being the Chief Minister gives him the right to change religion, then he has to be fair to all religions. Would he dare impose such conditions on Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs? 

  • Then there are questions about the legal status of these people who are now going to be appointed to the temples as priests. Currently, the reservation laws of India say that those who are Brahmins by birth are forward class and therefore do not get any reservation. Since these non-Brahmins are appointed as priests, will they still be considered as such or will they will be treated as Brahmins and therefore forego reservation? If they are now still considered as non-Brahmins would that not go against conventional thinking that the priests are Brahmins and not all those who are born Brahmins are priests? Besides, from the story of Nandan we known that a person may be born into any occupation (Jati) but belong to a different classification (Varna). This is the confusion brought in by barbarian hordes about 1200 years ago and the Dravidian parties continue to harbor them.

The root cause of divisions based on religion, caste, language, and ethnicity is the politicization of these sensitive issues. It is time we bring a stop to these feudal practices.