Dhruv Rathee trolled but what exactly is a Hindu atheist?

On Wednesday, Youtube sensation Dhruv Rathee managed to turn himself into something of an internet meme when he claimed he was a ‘practicing Hindu Atheist’.

Now, you can be one of those things, or even identify with two of these monikers taken taken together. But even the best among us (on Twitter) were stumped by Rathee's statement.

"As a practicing Hindu Atheist, I'm deeply offended at this insult of my religion," Rathee had said, quoting Abhijit Iyer-Mitra's tweet suggesting that Prime Minister Modi "thinks of Hindus and Hinduism as condoms".

But who or what is a "practicing Hindu Atheist"?

Interestingly, Hindu atheism is not a new concept. A school of thought that has existed since 600 BCE, it has resonated with many influential people over the years, including Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen and former Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju.

Atheism, if one consults the dictionary, refers to a lack of belief in the existence of God(s). Hinduism consider atheism to be an acceptable concept, and there are several schools of thought in Hindu philosophy, both heterodox and otherwise. Essentially, one can identify with Hindu philosophy and yet not give it a religious spin.

To quote a 2006 interview with Amartya Sen, "In some ways people had got used to the idea that India was spiritual and religion-oriented. That gave a leg up to the religious interpretation of India, despite the fact that Sanskrit had a larger atheistic literature than exists in any other classical language."

If one looks at Vikram Sampath's biography of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, he too is alleged to be an atheist. To quote from the overview of the book as posted by Penguin, he was "an alleged atheist and a staunch rationalist who opposed orthodox Hindu beliefs, encouraged inter-caste marriage and dining, and dismissed cow worship as mere superstition..."

Coming back to Dhruv Rathee, we're not sure exactly what he was trying to say, and it would seem that we're not alone. Along with those critiquing his use of "practicing Hindu atheist", there were also those who pointed out that Rathee appeared to have missed the point of the tweet he was critiquing.

"Practicing Hindu atheist? Next, Practicing Vegetarian meat eater? Practicing Alcoholic Teetotaller?" wondered one Twitter user.

"The insult is to Modi in that tweet, not to Hinduism. If anything the tweet laments the cynical use of Hinduism for narrow political gains. And WTF is a practicing Hindu atheist? Nastik? Nirishwarwaadi? Major category error in use of atheism," wondered another user.

But far be it from us to be critical.

To quote Rathee himself, "I support full freedom of speech. Everyone has the right to freely express their opinions."

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