Untangling Hinduism: I am Atheist

October 4, 2016

No, I don’t celebrate Christmas. No, I have never eaten meat. No, Hindi is the language, Hindu is the religion. No, I am not arranged for marriage. No, I can’t name all the Hindu gods. No, Shiva is not a “chick,” but also gender is not actually fixed in Hinduism or in any reality. No, I won’t tell you my caste. No, my dark skin doesn’t “reduce my caste;” it doesn’t work like that.

I have dedicated extensive energy towards demystifying Hinduism. As all marginalized peoples, I am often put in a position of reaction; bold statements or questions are often thrown at me from deep-seeded ignorance and a system rooted in whiteness. A system that upholds a narrow perspective of the world and feeds on anti-Blackness. In this system, my identity is up to exploration and debate; Indian and Hindu are conflated. My “-American” identity is much less “intriguing” than my assumed reverence for cows. It was a lot of work, my obligation to be an expert Hindu. Especially given that I have never believed in a god.

A powerful shift occurred about a decade ago. The university Chaplain asked me to read from the Bhagavad Gita during a convocation the week of my college graduation. To perform Hinduism for my predominantly white liberal arts college. As founder of the South Asian Club, I was apparently seen as the voice of Hinduism. What the school administrators didn’t know is that I hadn’t actually read the Bhagavad Gita, or any Hindu texts. Well, not until that same semester, when I (and a slew of dreadlock-wearing white students) took a course on Hinduism taught by a non-Hindu, gay Puerto Rican professor. A deep part of me felt extremely uncomfortable about the request to do the reading. However, I let my naïve dedication to diversity overtake my actions and I performed the task.

For years that decision ate at me. Somewhere I knew that Hinduism did not connect with me on a religious level beyond cultural tradition. Playing the part of Indian Hindu did little more than fuel the perception of me as an exotic and mysterious source for white exploration. My responsibility to represent Indian people in spaces where we are often ignored had come at a price of my own personal identity. Therein lies the insidiousness of white supremacy. It causes peoples of color to fight so hard to be seen, we end up fighting ourselves, and often losing.

Inevitably, I came to recognize that I do not believe in a god. This did not come to me in any particular Earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting moment. I was just tired. When I began to claim my atheism, I caught a glimpse of liberation and I ran with it. For much of my life, clinging on to religious Hinduism had been a survival tactic. Rooting in atheism is a way for me to thrive outside of racist motifs or prescribed dharma. No human or deified creation can claim my role in this one and only life.

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