Interview: Ramagopalan

‘It is just a homecoming’

Print edition : January 09, 2015

Ramagopalan, Hindu Munnani leader, on his way to immerse the Vinayakar idol in the sea. Photo: G. SRIBHARATH

Interview with Ramagopalan, founder-leader of the Hindu Munnani in Tamil Nadu.

Ramagopalan was in his late fifties when he escaped an attempt on his life at the Madurai Railway Junction three decades ago. He survived many more such attempts later. Since then, he has been the spearhead of the Hindutva propagandist machinery in Tamil Nadu. He became a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) at the age of 19.

Today, at 88, he is active as the founder-leader of the Hindu Munnani (Hindu Front), which was born in the aftermath of the Meenakshipuram conversions in 1981. He was responsible for turning the Vinayagar Chathurthi festival, until then celebrated solemnly within the sacred precincts of temples and houses, into a raucous street show, fanning the winds of communalism. The casualty has been the secular bonds and social amity among religious communities in the State. The State’s secular image took a beating when a few unfortunate incidents, such as the Coimbatore blasts of 1998, took place. After going through a thorough frisking, since the Hindu Munnani leader is under Z category security, Frontline was allowed to meet him at the Munnani’s office in the crowded Chitandripet locality in Chennai to get his views on conversions, reconversions and the caste system in the Hindu religion. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you view the raging controversy over conversions and reconversions?

It is just a “homecoming” for those who migrated to an alien faith, like the prodigal son. It was not a forced one. It was spontaneous. They realised that the faith they embraced had not offered them what they wanted. For many, it was stifling and oppressive.

The minorities here are not those who came from beyond Khyber Pass. They are our people. How can you shed the unique practices your faith taught you and your forefathers for generations? Hinduism is accommodative and known for its tolerance. It is not a retrograde, reactionary and repressive faith. For example, our women are free and educated. Can a Muslim woman enjoy such freedom? Hence, it is time we viewed the issue of conversion from a deeper perspective. Hinduism does not force anyone to come into its fold.

But Hindutva poses a serious threat to the secular fabric of the country, and the Sangh Parivar, with the BJP in power at the Centre, is promoting it earnestly. You are trying to turn Hinduism into a monolithic religion.

You communists harbour a preconceived notion about an issue and hold onto it steadfastly. You resist change. Anyway, can you define secularism? The actual meaning is that it should not favour any faith or exploit politics for gains. Do communists and Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu practise that? No. The Dravidian parties continue their vitriolic attack on Hinduism while communists are anti-majority and pro-minority. Who says Tamil Nadu is a State of secularism? It is anti-Hindu. These acts of double standards and deceit are for vote-bank politics, which has corrupted the system.

Communists indulge in anti-Hindu propaganda under the garb of secularism. Though [Narendra] Modi became the Prime Minister with an overwhelming majority, you continue to attack him. The country has discarded communists. Modern-day youth will not buy into your archaic Marxian ideology. We also do not have any necessity to make or declare Hinduism a monolithic faith in the country. Or else we would not have accepted the minorities. We are magnanimous.

But none of the converts are willing to come back to Hinduism because of the prevalence of the oppressive caste system. Many, including those in Meenakshipuram, had blamed caste-based segregation as the main cause for their conversion. In that case, in which caste will you fix those who are reconverting to Hinduism?

I disagree with you totally. Nearly 90 per cent of the converts in Meenakshipuram have returned to Hinduism. That is why I called it homecoming. The Hindu Munnani has been playing a vital role in stopping conversions in Tamil Nadu. For example, we stopped a mass conversion of Dalits in Ramanathapuram district a few years back. We are making Dalit youths aware of the values of Hinduism.

I accept that caste has been a deterrent factor in Hinduism. But which religion is free from internal divisions? Dalits face strong discrimination in churches and there are divisions in Islam. Can anyone deny that? But caste discrimination today is not as prevalent as it was a century ago. Political leaders like Dr S. Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) are taking up caste issues to keep their social groups intact. In fact, civilisations had seen humans live in groups. There is nothing wrong when one tends to protect one’s sister and wife from alien forces. But if the caste system is eradicated, I have no regrets.

Are you against any faith other than Hinduism? Do you not have a moral obligation to safeguard the interests of minorities?

I am not against any faith. But I am strongly against religious fundamentalism. There is no space for fundamentalists in a civilised society. The minorities live here freely and happily unlike the Hindus in Pakistan, who suffer inhuman subjugation. We do not interfere in their religious practices. Are we questioning their practice of wearing purdah? But a few evangelists resort to conversions. Is it not like waging a war against other faiths? What I insist is that we need a vigilant Hindu society today.

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