Religion makes a mockery of gender neutrality

Man created God in his own image to subjugate women and others whom he classified as inferior. He stratified society into castes and classes in God’s name, to create a monopolistic industry again in God’s name, to ensure a few women surrendered their bodies and souls to their gurus to achieve nirvana — sometimes fulfilled in carnal desire.

This man-made spirituality under the cloak of religious freedom assured by Articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution is the anti-thesis of gender neutrality guaranteed by Articles 14 and 16. The freedom to profess, propagate and practice the religion of one’s choice is mainly enjoyed by men with women having to meekly follow religious doctrines formulated and practiced by men, forcing gender iniquity on women and feeding an industry built on credulity.

And so we have:

• Bishop Franco Mullakal’s resignation as the Bishop of Jalandhar has been accepted by the Pope in Rome. He is the first Indian bishop to face this ignominy in the history of the Catholic church. He is facing the charge of raping a nun 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The victim turned oppressor because this nun’s congregation circulated her photograph alleging she was seen at public functions in the company of the allegedly sex-tainted bishop. It took five of this nun’s confreres to stage a silent demonstration in her support before the Kerala high court to build public support for the beleaguered nun.

• Asaram Bapu, whose real name may have been Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, a bogus Godman who set up 400 ashrams since the 1970s both within India and abroad was popular among politicians and common people for his religious discourses. In 2018, Asaram was sentenced to jail for life for raping a minor girl in Jodhpur.

• Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan, born 20 years after Asaram Bapu’s birth, was the head of the social group Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) since 1990. He was listed as being among the 100 most powerful Indians of 2015 by the Indian Express. Like Asaram Bapu, he too was convicted of rape by a special CBI court on August 25, 2017 which led to 38 of his disciples dying while unleashing mayhem and 300 others injured. On 28 August 2017, Ram Rahim was sentenced to 20 years in jail for rape. He has been charged with murder and forced castrations.

• Dhananjay Bhave, the priest from the Mangueshi temple at Ponda in Goa whose anticipatory bail plea was rejected when he went underground to escape arrest after he allegedly molested two young girls who had come to seek the blessings of the deity. The trial has yet to commence after framing of charges. The Goud Saraswati Brahmins who performed pujas at the Mangueshi temple in 1543, on behalf of their family deity, Lord Manguesh, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, would have been thunderstruck at the antics of Bhave who has allegedly defiled the temple and its deity.

The list is endless which leaves us to infer that Indians seek spirituality in God’s representatives, not realising that nirvana can be achieved through one’s own efforts and not through the abominable wisdom of a few priests who act as self-proclaimed spokesmen for God. As a result, India emerges as the fourth most intolerant nation in the world, according to research done by the Pew Research Centre, a non-partisan organisation which listed India after Syria, Nigeria and Iraq among 198 intolerant nations they have studied in 2015. The Thomson-Reuters Foundation ranked India in 2018 as being the most dangerous nation for women.

So, Articles 25 to 28 which have been interpreted as ensuring religious freedom within India fuels an industry with the likes of Bishop Franco Mullakal, Asaram Bapu, Guru Ram-Rahim and Dhananjay Bhave. It is their variants who lead the country into riots such as the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, the 1990 anti-Hindu riots in Kashmir, the 2002 Gujarat riots and the 2008 anti-Christian riots which destroyed an entire community. Today, these leaders decide national policies and incite riots through godmen while professing the doctrine of sarva dharma sambhava or the Indian variant of secularism which still discriminates against women.

The violence on August 25, 2008, against Christians in Kandhamal sparked by Hindu radicals who accused Christians of converting other Hindus to their religion, led to the destruction of 5,600 homes, with 300 churches and other places of worship, being razed. An investigative reporter, Anto Akkara has alleged that seven innocent Christians, six of them illiterates, including a mentally-challenged person have been languishing in jail for a murder they knew nothing about.

But what has all this got to do with Bishop Franco Mullakkal? Like those who destroyed temples, mosques or churches, the bishop is also allegedly responsible for destroying the faith of the nuns in men’s monopoly to represent God, if the allegations levelled by the victim-nun is found to be true.

The bishop resigned because he was forced to do so by snowballing public opinion built by a relentless media which ignored the plight of the Kandhamal Christians after the 2008 riots, and the over 2,000 murdered in the 2002 Gujarat riots, 223 missing, and 2,500 injured. Of the dead, 790 were Muslim and 254 Hindu. The Concerned Citizens Tribunal Report, estimated that as many as 1,926 may have been killed. Their kith-and-kin have been consigned to oblivion forever.

In her letter to the ambassador of the Pope in New Delhi, the beleaguered nun has plaintively asked if canon law is meant only for the priests and bishops but is indifferent to nuns and women. It is true that canon law has not envisaged the extraordinary predicament of a nun accusing a bishop of raping her. That is the domain of the Indian Penal Code which was enacted in 1860.

What this ravaged nun has not realised is that man created God in his own image to formulate religious doctrines with man as the centre of the universe created by a male-God to subjugate and dominate women for all eternity. Forget the right to gender neutrality guaranteed by the Constitution.

(The writer holds a PhD in law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay high court.)

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