To tell you about my introduction to Fundamentalism, I will have to start the story right from the days of my schooling. I was born and brought up in a very protected environment; it was high on intellectual/academic inputs but almost completely lacked real time exposure to life. I knew only two campuses, NIRD (National Institute of Rural Development) where I stayed and NPA (National Police Academy) where my school was. By protected environment I mean, I had no opportunities to make day to day operational decisions. My life was highly structured, wake up at six, in the toilet for half an hour completing my sleep, opening books for half an hour, getting ready for school, catching the school bus at 8.15, coming back at 3.30, again opening the book for about an hour, playing in the campus from 5 to 7, again opening the book from 7 to 9, then watching TV till 10 and then finally going to sleep. This was my daily schedule which changed only on holidays and festivals.
By intellectual inputs, I mean, I believed beyond doubt in facts like India is the greatest country in the world, India is an example of unity in diversity, Indian freedom fighters were the greatest people ever born on earth, we should respect elders, all religions should be respected, cigarettes and liquor are a curse to the society etc. Lack of practical exposure can be ascertained by the fact that, I was bhaya to all girls younger to me and all girls elder to me were didi’s (no scope left for morality!!), Rakshabandhan was among the most awaited festivals, the number of Rakhis on a boy’s hand was a measure of his local standing, and finally, I believed that affairs between boys and girls could happen only in movies! These thoughts and perceptions were deeply ingrained in me, this can be figured out by the fact that carnal feelings towards a female always had a fair amount of guilt attached to it, traces of it still carry on!
Although, I started experiencing life firsthand from class eleven. The first shock of my life came to me when my father was transferred to NIRD’s regional centre at Guwahati, Assam, as its director.I moved to Guwahati when I got into class twelve. The Director’s Bungalow, in the campus, was not ready. Thus, we had to take a house on rent in the city. New place meant new set of friends, both at home and school, new thoughts, new practises and new topics of discussion. One important topic of discussion which gave me my first shock was “the indifferent attitude of India towards the North Eastern states” (I do not know if this still remains as the favourite topic as things have changed a lot in the past 15 years there). I actually could not understand the difference between “India” and “Northeast”. It was little later that I could figure out that India meant “New Delhi”. Most people might not be able to relate to my confusion, but, believe me it was confusing. My belief of India had shaken. Now, it meant, “Hyderabad and India were different”, this was not acceptable to me. I started taking these discussions personally, I started defending India because I believed India could never be wrong. This was my first expression of Fundamentalism. I call it fundamentalism because I defended India because of my feelings and beliefs, not by rationality or logic. I made my logic on the basis of my feelings and beliefs; one can call it as conditioning also. Above all, it was a fundamentalist approach because I felt that I was right and “they were wrong”.
This was the time when my de-conditioning started. I, while introspecting, had started questioning my beliefs. I started searching for India. Some of my personality traits like an inquisitive and rebellious mind, docile nature and ability to survive in an unsettled physical and mental state have been very helpful in my quest. These traits also act like double edged swords, thus, if I have gained a lot out of it, I have also lost a lot. Anyways, all this is a part and parcel of life! Also, I will limit my discussion on my quest for India here as this piece of writing is also a part of the same. One realization I made during my stay in the Northeast is about the importance of politics and economics in a person’s life. Although, I still did not know (at that time) how these two things are important! Fortunately or Unfortunately, I somehow qualified for engineering immediately after my twelfth class. My only option was REC Srinagar as I was not a domicile of the state and was not eligible for admission in Assam Government Colleges and my score in the entrance test did not qualify me for a seat in any other REC. I believe, this was destined to happen as this was the place that I was about to get the second major shock of my life.
The two questions which I had to answer within a few days of coming to Kashmir and were no less that a shock to me were: - “Tum Hindustan se aye ho?”(Meaning, have you come from India?) and “What is your religion?”. Although, my being a Hindu and being from a different state did not in any way affect my relationship with the locals. But still, my confusion prevailed. As far as I remember, I up till an age of 13 or 14 did not know that I am a Brahmin. Another thing that I was fed with during the 1992 riots is that, it was not Hindus and Muslims fighting, these were all hired criminals. There was no difference between Hindus and Muslims. I still do not know if this is the right way of upbringing secular children in secular India! In the context of the questions relating to Hindustan and religion, I later observed that religion had a lot of involvement in the daily life of a Kashmiri. This never existed in my life; I did not know the importance of religion in my life. The only thing I knew was that Eid was a Muslim festival and seriously felt sad for Muslims because they did not have exciting festivals like Holi and Diwali. Because of this involvement of religion in daily life, I got introduced to Islam. It was great and exciting, the people talking about Islam were not necessarily the Mullahs, there were many clean shaven, jeans wearing, and convent educated boys giving logical views on practises in Islam and their validity in daily life. I was impressed and in my own words “I would have converted to Islam, had those people convinced me of their view on mandatory hijab by women and had they not, of course unknowingly, hurt my pride as a Hindu”(Of course, courage would have also been required). I had started comparing Hinduism with Islam. I did not know about any logic supporting daily life practises in Hinduism. On the contrary, I had only heard of bad practises like casteism, sati pratha, etc in Hinduism. To be precise, I had started developing an inferiority complex. I felt, I belonged to a non contemporary religion which had outdated practises. I had no answers for these questions and was also unable to find a source to get the answers. My major handicap that continues to be one is that I am not a voracious reader and there was no source other than books, especially in those days when internet had just reached India, which could have solved my problem. But, I was destined to get my answers from a different channel. Differences cropped up between students from other regions and the students from Kashmir, tension escalated and later the students from other regions decided that it was not safe for them to continue their studies in Kashmir. They decided to approach the Government of India and ask the government to move us all out of Kashmir. The government, after months of following up and protest, finally agreed. I was moved from REC Srinagar to REC Bhopal. In the process of following up with the government, I got in touch with RSS (Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh). RSS sympathised with us during our migration process and helped us on many accounts. Also, interaction with some top leaders like LK Advani, who were also former RSS pracharaks, created a soft corner for RSS in my heart. This was the start of my association with Hindu fundamentalism.
REC Bhopal was altogether quite different from REC Srinagar. Students were least bothered about the world and were interested in living their life to the extreme. As usual, I because of my habit of giving valuable advice free of cost on all issues irrespective of the issue’s relevance to me and irrespective of having being asked to give one entered the “Hall of Fame” of the college. In the mean time, I also had RSS pracharaks visiting me. This was because, I was among the few people who entertained them and showed keen interest in their “idea of India”. I was already confused with both India and Hinduism. These were the people who connected India with Hinduism. Their idea of “India is Hinduism” and “ Hinduism is India” excited me. This was for the first time I was hearing rational talk on India and Hinduism. My inferiority complex, of being a Hindu, attracted me towards these pracharaks and they quenched my thirst for logical Hinduism. Adding to my inclination was the fact that these pracharaks were highly qualified men with modern logic supporting traditional Hindu practises. One of them was a M.Tech from REC Bhopal itself. As my association with RSS increased, I was invited for a two day introduction camp in Bhopal itself. I attended it, this increased my attachment with the organisation. Again, I went on a two day visit to tribal villages in Madhya Pradesh. This further increased my respect for the organisation. I started conforming to the view that it is only because of the sangh that the country is surviving attempts by foreign forces to disintegrate it. My logic started growing stronger and stronger in support of the sangh. I started feeling that these were actually the answers I was looking for since a long time. But, my personality traits mentioned above helped me again. It was later, I realised that all that these people whom I met in Kashmir and Bhopal were talking about two truths. Like these two many other truths also existed in the world. Religion is a social, economic and political system which stands on very strong logic. But, believing that only my system is right and that of others is wrong, is a fundamentalist approach. Although, you will not find a single fundamentalist claiming openly that other systems are wrong, but, they so strongly impress upon the fact about their system being right that a person by general analogy infers that the other system is wrong! A person starts looking only at the threats associated with the other system and does not look at the liberals having faith in that system around him as his strength. Another weakness of these fundamentalists is that these people use time based and incident based logic. This can be noted by two common observations, a fundamentalist always says before he puts his point, “in those days” or “if you look at this incident”. Now, I reply to these arguments by saying; “gone are the days” and “look at other incidents”.
I was lucky that I got out of the clutches of fundamentalists, but, everybody is not that lucky. Some end up losing their lives and consider it to be their passports to heaven, jannat, swarg etc. Mind you all these are different. Because, reaching here requires you to stick to different set of practices. As one of my college friend, Kesari Kumar, used to put forth to my Kashmiri seniors. “Sir, you will never go to swarg because you eat beef and I will never go to jannat because I do not offer namaz”, Strange Indeed! Even more dangerous than their misinformed death is that, these people inspire many others to follow their path. In the specific case of Kashmir, I would consider that inferiority complex has developed in a Kashmiri after being branded as a terrorist for more than two decades now! This multiplies in an idle condition where a person has nothing to do for self development. He receives no appreciation, here he finds the idea of giving life for the purpose of so called truth better than living. He might get appreciation for his sacrifice, but what is the use when he himself is not there to listen to it. Adding to the woes of a Kashmiri is the way in which the world conceives of Islam these days. This is the view that needs to change if the world wants to get rid of Islamic fundamentalism.
Thus, although its not an apple to apple comparison, as I got solace in the company of RSS, a Kashmiri Muslim might get it in the company of Hisbul Mujahedeen. Its easy to move out of RSS. But, does a fundamentalist organization like Hisbul Mujahideen give you the option to move out? If the organization gives it, does the main stream government give another chance to the Kashmiri? I do not think its that easy to rehabilitate. So, Does a Kashmiri have a way out? Isn,t life very rude to a Kashmiri!!