When I think back on the contentious but secular mosaic of India I experienced between 1998 and 2005, I am stunned to see the ominous turn it has recently taken into religious intolerance.
At that time, Hinduism was dominant but not overbearing. With colorful rituals and beloved gods including an elephant and a monkey, it offered entertainment and escape, solace and hope for the masses. One of my most moving experiences was accompanying a modest Hindu family on a long train journey to the Ganges, where they waded in at dawn and baptized their shrieking baby boy in the frigid waters, certain that he was now blessed for life.
Promotion of the “Hindutva” ideology, an all-encompassing guide for life, often took the form of public services, carried out by disciplined youth cadres. I once watched a squad of these young, uniformed activists collect bloated corpses after a cyclone in Orissa state, while residents watched, grateful but horrified.
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