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The Two Faces of Shashi Tharoor

When, men like Tharoor propel social taboos in the name of culture and faith, we can’t expect any change of mindset

Shashi Tharoor

‘Hinduism’s suitability for the modern world lies in many ways in its recognition of non Dogmatism and uncertainty’

Good Hindu Dr. Shashi Tharoor in ‘Why I am Hindu’ pg 287

‘I am all for women empowerment but the issue is of sanctity. The entry of two women inside the premise of a temple shrine is an unnecessarily deliberate and provocative act.’

Bad Hindu Dr. Shashi Tharoor on Sabarimala

The second remark by Dr. Tharoor came at a time when women all over Kerala had formed a 620 km long human chain to protest religious patriarchy and violent unconstitutional protests by the right wing and supporters of even the Congress party. Consequently, two brave women for the first time entered the temple. Their acts of liberation are ‘provocative’ to the liberal mind of Dr. Tharoor, and ‘Naxalite’ according to another elected politician from the BJP. Though Tharoor believes that one legend can’t be the final ordained word of God yet he has succumbed to the poltical necessity of these vitriolic times: regressive and radical religious outlook.

His father Chandran Tharoor said that Indian democracy is a hypocrisy. Indeed it is, because of its politicians who engage in politics of convenience. Tharoor was reminded of this, when the ruling party turned down his private member bill to decriminalize homosexuality to shelve the majoritarian (heterosexual and religious) wrath. He has, in his book went on to illustrate the irony of how an unelected judiciary scrapped the notorious section 377 of the India Penal Code while an elected government undermined and suppressed the rights of a sexual minority.

The bigger and out of the book irony is Tharoor’s political patriarchy borne out of electoral convenience that undermines the same Apex court’s verdict on Sabarimala, whose word Tharoor celebrated on 377 and the BJP on Triple Talaq. He has stood up to his father’s word and let the hypocrisy of our politics remain intact in his own actions. Tharoor in a way has “non violently” yet ideologically sided with the radicals who deny women their place in the society. This is unarguably the same force that he publicly criticises and warns of.

His words are painful. Had a ‘bad hindu’, as Mr. Tharoor calls all the proponents of radical Hindutva made this remark, I would not have been irked so much. Dr. Tharoor is a self proclaimed ‘good hindu’ and now he merely seems to be experimenting with softcore political religiosity. “Good” enough to write a book on the nuances of hinduism, ills of hindutva and why hinduism is the faith of his choice- ‘Why I am a Hindu’. The Hinduism that Tharoor advocates in his book stands for anti-casteism, plurality, secularism and gender justice citing the religious noble heads of the past like Vivekananda. In the very introduction of the book Tharoor has quoted a hymn from the Rig Veda that questions the Creator. He adores the line, ‘Maybe He does not know’!

Shashi Tharoor has ignored how his advocacy of the Temple’s tradition sidelines women and their struggle against the patriarchal shackles of the tolerant utopian society his book talks of. Tharoor may not know but still in many Hindu households, even in the metropolis of Delhi, women are not allowed to the kitchen and temple area during their menstruation days because of similar legends and traditions. The Sabarimala verdict may have given a sense of respite to them, had it been implemented in its true spirit. He has ignored how religion has been discriminatory for women and, therefore the attempts to change this tradition is anything but ‘unnecessary’.

When, men like Tharoor propel social taboos in the name of culture and faith, we can’t expect any change of mindset. We get angry when the world calls us, ‘The most unsafe place for women’. However we let our social institutions maintain subtle religious misogyny as a cultural norm. Dr. Tharoor’s flawed theocratic opinion fails the democratic aspirations of this country. Social ills, despite the religion they are associated with, must be viewed as ills and not ‘traditions’. When the world wants to garland Dr. Tharoor as a bastion of liberal thought and the best of public intellectuals in India, he must adhere to the principle of equality enshrined in the constitution and progressive theology celebrated in his own book. Mr. Tharoor must revisit the following excerpt:

Shashi Tharoor Why I Am A Hindu

In the book, I find Dr. Tharoor has a ‘liberal mind’ and a ‘secular heart’. Why could Asiya Bibi of Pakistan not get justice in an unsecular Pakistan, was the question that saddened and anguished our Media. Their top court’s verdict could not be implemented because of islamist fanatics. We, the secular people of India, used this opportunity to mock Pakistan and its inability to implement the court’s order. We conveniently forgot Sabarimala and the statement of Amit Shah (and now Mr. Tharoor) inspite of our state’s failure to upheld the verdict.

We also forgot the Padmavat row where despite the court’s order some right wing groups vandalised cinema halls and created an unpleasant nationwide law and order menace. We have no answer to the question- what will happen if the court gives judgement in favor of Muslims in Ayodhya? Dr. Tharoor must recall his Hindu Pakistan comments and understand their gravity in relation to his current affinity in politicisation of spirituality. What distinguishes Tharoor as a politician is his faith in liberalism, internationalism and apoltical religiosity.

I want to seriously recommend Mr. Tharoor to carefully read his own book: Why I am a Hindu’. He has contradicted his own written word in practice. He has ridiculed and unsubscribed to his own faith in what according to him is the most cardinal fact about the Hindu religion: ‘The greatest truth to the Hindu is that which accepts the existence of other truths’. I want the ‘Good Hindu’ Shashi Tharoor to tell the ‘bad Hindu’ Shashi Tharoor that relating purity with Gender is itself an impure thought.

[Mohammad Alishan Jafri, second-year journalism student at the Delhi School of Journalism. You can find him on Twitter @AsfreeasJafri.]

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