Discounting Gods

Meera Nanda, philosopher of science with initial training in biology is a visiting fellow (2009-10) at the Jawaharlal Institute of Advance Studies, JNU. Author of the books Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodernism, Science and Hindu Nationalism (Permanent Black) and Postmodernism and Religious Fundamentalism: A Scientific Rebuttal to Hindu Science (Navayana), Breaking the Spell of Dharma and other essays: A Case for Indian Enlightenment and The Wrongs of the Religious Right: Reflections on Science, Secularism and Hindutva (Three Essays Collective) her new title from Random House is The God Market: How Globalization is making India Hindu.

Some facts are startling. That we have more places of worship than educational institutions or health services is obvious once one thinks of it- its so much easier to build (and staff!) a temple than a school or hospital, but given the fact that India is a secular republic, is this really OK? And some others:

"Educated Indians in small towns are becoming more religious than less educated villagers. Half the total number tourist trips in a single year are for religious pilgrimages. State governments are selling land to temple trusts at throwaway prices, and corporate houses are setting up institutions for ‘value-based’ education?

The secular Indian state is constitutionally bound to have no official religion. However, India is not free from politicized religiosity which expresses itself in a growing sense of Hindu majoritarianism. The rising tide of popular Hinduism is directly linked with India embracing the gospel of free markets.

Middle-class Indians are becoming more actively religious as they are becoming prosperous. The last decade has seen the proliferation of powerful new god-men, a massive rise in temple rituals, the creation of new gods, and the increased demand for priests. The state is enabling the Hinduization with the help of the private sector. From actively promoting religious tourism, to handing over higher education to the private sector, some of whom use religious trusts to run the institutions that impart ‘value-based’ education, to giving away land at highly subsidized rates to gurus and god-men, many of the privatization measures of the government are linked with the promotion of Hinduism.

In this hard-hitting and controversial book, Meera Nanda uncovers the nexus between the state, temple and corporate India to reveal the ugly truth behind India’s leap into globalization and poses the question:

What room does this India that dreams saffron-tinged superpower dreams have for non-Hindu minorities? What happens to the India that Muslims, Christians, non-believers and other non-Hindus also call home as the country begins to see itself as India@superpower.OM? Can the country deliver on the promise of secularism without cultivating a secular culture in a secular polity?"

In our Religion and Politics sections, hardcover, 320 pages, Rs 395. ISBN: 9788184000955