Burning Effigies [in the Name of Lord Shiva]

Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
[This article originally appeared on the Op-Ed page of the Kathmandu Post today. See it here as it appeared on the paper.]

Indian Hindu Rightwing Fundamentalists Demonstrate In Agra, India Against Nepal Government Decision To Apointment Nepali Priest in Pashupatinath Temmple

The other day I came across a Reuters video on an AOL web site that showed some angry men on the street burning effigies of the government of Nepal, shouting slogans against the Nepali Maoists and demanding the restoration of the Indian priest at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. The visuals were not from Gaushala or Chahabil or any other places in the Nepali capital.

They were from Agra, India. The people in the video were not immigrant Nepalis who are in their millions in India but the members and leaders of a radical Indian Hindu outfit called Bajrang Dal. I don’t recall when I first heard about Bajrang Dal but whenever I come across this name, the images of angry men with swords in their hands willing to kill people from other faiths come to my mind. I am always proud of the fact that we don’t have such a squad like Bajrang Dal that frequently promotes religious disharmony in society in the name of defending Hindutva in Nepal. It was widely reported by Indian media last October that members of this group were involved in raping a Christian nun in Orissa. That is why the Agra video frightened and shocked me.

Were they really hurt by the Nepal government’s decision to replace Indian priests with Nepalis? Rajiv Sikri, former Indian diplomat with hawkish views regarding Nepal, thinks so. “In India,” said the former Indian foreign secretary in a program titled “Pashupati Nath – Atheists Assault Faith” that was organized in New Delhi on Thursday, “one thing that touches people is religion, the faith.”
People in Nepal are no less religious, I think, but the only difference is that we are very tolerant towards other faiths while Indians have too many problems that are related to religion.

While watching that video and later listening to Sikri, a thought came to me: “Do these people have to tell us Nepalis how to protest? Hey, do you know that protest has become part of our life in the past several years? We are far better and efficient at burning tires and effigies, shouting slogans and dealing with tear gas. Do we need Bajrang Dal activists in Agra to do that for us? Certainly not. I am not a Maoist and I hated Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s brazen intervention in Pashupati. But I also didn’t enjoy hearing anti-Prachanda slogans from Indians. I remembered what Cordell Hull, former United States Secretary of State, once said about a Caribbean dictator: “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

In a democratic and globalised world, people have their right to express themselves on the events around the world. But I feel Indians who were offended by the recent Pashupatinath row should instead concentrate on how they can successfully face their own home grown challenges. I don’t think the removal of a priest from Pashupatinath hurts the sentiment of Hindus around the world as much as it does by the news reports that suggest the possible involvement of Hindu sadhus and sadhvis in terror activities. That really hurts the sentiment of Hindus around the world. Look what India with the largest Hindu population in the world is doing? Producing Hindu terrorists? The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its leaders who were so quick to call our President and Prime Minister to express their concern regarding the removal of a corrupt priest from the temple and score brownie points in their political constituencies in India should stop dialing +977. They should instead work to rescue the Hindu prestige that is in the trap called Malegaon blast. Police are investigating the possible involvement of Hindu activists, including a sadhvi, in the 2006 serial blasts in a Mosque in Malegaon, a town in Maharashtra, that killed 37 people.

Indian Hindu Rightwing Fundamentalists Demonstrate In Agra, India Against Nepal Government Decision To Apointment Nepali Priest in Pashupatinath Temmple

In the abovementioned Delhi discussion on the Pashupatinath row, speakers heavily criticized the Indian government for not taking up the issue with the Nepal government. We should to this, one said. We should do that, another urged. While listening to them another thought came to me: If only they had organized one such program to criticize their government for encroaching Nepali land in the Shree Antu village of Ilam district. After all, both incidents were reported in the same week. Stating that the temple row was part of a grand game that also made Nepal a secular state, BJP spokesman Ravishankar Prasad said that he was worried about the growing Pakistani influence in Nepal. I wanted to remind him where the Mumbai attackers entered India from.
One participant made fun of the comment made by Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood Wednesday in which the diplomat had said that the dispute at the Temple would not sour Nepal-India ties. “This is how the government thinks!” he said.

A friend of mine who accompanied me to the program had this question in his mind: Why don’t these parties and organizations who are so concerned about Nepal being a secular state declare India a Hindu state? Why are they so happy using the Christian AD calendar while talking so much about Hindutva? Isn’t this a great Hindutva hypocrisy?

Maoists, the atheists who believe in Marx and Mao but certainly not Bishnu and Shiva, are the last people on earth who are qualified to intervene into religious affairs. Similarly, Indians who have a troubled history of religious intolerance and fighting are the last people on planet to tell us how we should deal with our temples. While Maoists believe religion is opium, right wing Indian religious organizations like Bajrang Dal spread the opium of hatred via their radical activities.

The whole temple row is a tussle between two thugs with equally sinister motives. Both the Maoists and the alliance of Bhattas and Bhandaris have their eyes firmly fixed on the income of the temple. There are many instances when Maoists have captured properties that earn rent. Even after leading the government, subverting the system and trying to take control of everything has remained their intention.

The Bhatta-Bhandari alliance is no different. They have been looting the temple for centuries.

Binod Chaudhari, the member-secretary of the Pashupati Area Development Trust from 2000 to mid-2006, told a journalist this week that Bhattas and Bhandaris were the ones who blocked the Trust’s effort to make the income of the temple transparent. “When I took on the responsibility of member secretary, the temple was in a mess,” Chaudhari said. “The records of revenue from the temple’s lands were not properly managed. The revenue were shared between the Bhattas and the Bhandaris…When we started to manage the donations, there was stiff opposition and non-cooperation from the Bhattas and Bhandaris.”

That cannot continue. The Nepali Congress folks who happily marched to Pashupatinath temple last week to express their solidarity with Bhattas and Bhandaris should realize that they can’t shoulder one thug while kicking other. Both thugs must be kept away from the holy shrine. The income of the temple must be managed transparently. That is the only way forward after the mess we saw last week.

(The writer is the New Delhi bureau chief of The Kathmandu Post.)